Review of Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give, by Ada Calhoun

September 20th, 2017

Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give

by Ada Calhoun

W. W. Norton & Company, 2017. 192 pages.
Starred Review

Maybe I shouldn’t have picked up this book. My own marriage ended badly. I tried hard to keep it from falling apart, but finally figured out that if one party really wants to get out, one person can’t knit it back together by themselves. Now I’d like to get married again – and this book reminds me of that. It also reminds me that I don’t actually want some nice man to get divorced just so he’ll be available! I don’t actually want the sort of man who doesn’t try hard to stay in his marriage. And I don’t wish divorce on anyone. So in a way, thinking about what makes a marriage isn’t necessarily a place I should go right now!

But – the book was so much fun! And really does speak truth. Though I agree with the author that you wouldn’t necessarily want to point out these truths at the wedding of a dewy-eyed bride and groom. They’ll find out soon enough.

Here’s how she explains the book in the Introduction:

Now in the second decade of my second marriage, I can’t look newlyweds in the eye and promise they’ll never regret marrying. (Well, not sober. Maybe this is why weddings correlate with binge drinking.) I adore my husband and plan to be with him forever. I also want to run screaming from the house because the person I promised to love all the days of my life insists on falling asleep to Frasier reruns.

“The first twenty years are the hardest,” an older woman once told me. At the time I thought she was joking. She was not.

And this is why I don’t give wedding toasts – because I’d probably end up saying that even good marriages sometimes involve flinging a remote control at the wall.

She’s got some good insights.

The main problem with marriage may be that it’s not better than the rest of life. Suffering occurs in marriage because we think it will be different – purer, deeper, gentler – than other relationships. We expect our partners and ourselves to be better – more patient, more faithful, more generous – than we are. We believe ourselves exceptional, first in the depth of our passion and then in the breadth of our failure.

I like this take on it:

By staying married, we give something to ourselves and to others: hope. Hope that in steadfastly loving someone, we ourselves, for all our faults, will be loved; that the broken world will be made whole. To hitch your rickety wagon to the flickering star of another fallible human being – what an insane thing to do. What a burden, and what a gift.

But most of the book isn’t just musings. It’s also stories – stories from her own married life. And these stories do lead to musings, and truths, and some good thoughts about what marriage has to offer these days. She doesn’t offer a particularly religious perspective, so I wasn’t sure I’d really think I’d find them applicable – but she does offer a practical perspective. What does marriage do for you? This is worth thinking about, and she approaches it in a humorous way.

She finishes the Introduction this way:

Such are the thoughts I keep to myself, sitting in rented folding chairs, watching friends begin their married lives. To the newlyweds, I say congratulations, and I mean it sincerely. To say out loud the rest of what I’m thinking would be bad manners. And so I’ll say it here instead.

wwnorton.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Empty Grave, by Jonathan Stroud

September 16th, 2017

The Empty Grave

Lockwood & Co. Book Five

by Jonathan Stroud

Disney Hyperion, 2017. 437 pages.
Starred Review

I finished The Empty Grave today, and with it the entire Lockwood & Co. series – and Yes! The series ends well. I can now officially say that from start to finish, this is one of the best children’s book series ever. These books make good family reading, since adults will enjoy them every bit as much. Children need to be old enough to be able to not be afraid of all the murderous ghosts (and murderous people). If your child doesn’t mind some severe spookiness, I highly recommend this series.

This series deals with an alternate reality England where there’s a “Problem” with ghosts roaming the countryside and haunting buildings and places where they died. These aren’t friendly ghosts – if they touch you, you’ll die. And only children can see them. Lucy, Lockwood, George, and Holly still have their independent agency for dealing with ghosts – but powerful forces are ready to put them out of business – or perhaps simply kill them.

In this final installment, all the threads come together. Can the smallest agency in London expose what’s at the root of the Problem? Or will they be silenced? We’re told at the beginning of this book that Lucy survives. But will any of her friends survive with her?

I really mustn’t say any more about the plot. Yes, this is a series you should read from the beginning – It’s brilliantly crafted, with important pieces revealed at just the right time. In this book, it all comes together in a satisfying, and very suspenseful, way.

Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus series is brilliant – but Lockwood & Co. goes far beyond it. You come to care about all the characters deeply (even George!) and to understand the complex situation and all that’s at stake. This series is magnificent! Read it!

LockwoodandCo.com
jonathanstroud.com
DisneyBooks.com

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Source: This review is based on my own copy, preordered via Amazon.com.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of All’s Faire in Middle School, by Victoria Jamieson

September 13th, 2017

All’s Faire in Middle School

by Victoria Jamieson

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2017. 248 pages.
Starred Review

This graphic novel is every bit as delightful as the author’s earlier one, Roller Girl. In fact, I liked it a little better, since I’m more familiar with Renaissance faires than I am with roller derby.

Imogene and her family have always been involved in the Florida Renaissance Faire all her life. Her father is an actor who plays the evil lord of the dragons, and her mother runs a craft store. Impy has always been homeschooled at the faire, along with her annoying little brother – but now she’s ready to go to middle school.

The middle school part of the story doesn’t have any big surprises – making friends and figuring out how to fit in, tough teachers, and eventually Impy has to face some not-very-nice things she does to please the so-called friends. All that makes a delightful parallel to the Renaissance faire, where Impy has a more responsible role this year as an actual cast member – her father’s squire.

Of course, the two worlds intersect when the leader of the mean girls has her birthday party at the Renaissance faire.

I’ve read other books about homeschooled kids adjusting to school, but this one’s a graphic novel, so it’s extra colorful (literally), and all the Renaissance faire parts make for great images.

And make no mistake about it, starting middle school is a whole lot like going on a quest and fighting dragons.

victoriajamieson.com
penguin.com/kids

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Maud, by Melanie J. Fishbane

September 12th, 2017

Maud

by Melanie J. Fishbane

Penguin Random House, 2017. 400 pages.
Starred Review

Maud is a novel based on the teen years of Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon.

I actually didn’t expect to like this book too much. I’ve read all of her journals, and they are wonderful – and I was skeptical that they could be written as a novel even close as good as the journals themselves. I have read a biography of L. M. Montgomery, written by Harry Bruce, and it was dissatisfying after reading the journals.

But though I still think the journals are better and L. M. Montgomery’s writing itself is unsurpassable, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Now, I knew what was going to happen, and the characters felt like old familiar friends. It’s been awhile since I’ve read that first journal, so I didn’t necessarily remember every detail, either. It was like someone telling me a favorite story I’d almost forgotten.

And I did really enjoy this book. It’s easier reading than the journals, told in a coherent story, with some themes throughout – Maud looking for a place where she belongs and determining to make her mark as a writer – and being willing to sacrifice the normal ambitions of her friends – finding a husband – in order to follow that dream of being a writer.

It has been awhile since I read the journals, but I do believe that Melanie Fishbane stuck very close to the actual details of Maud’s life. So readers can enjoy this book with the knowledge that it’s true and really happened.

And the novel did help me understand why Maud turned down her suitors, including boys she actually loved. Getting married young, in those days, really would have cut off her chance to go to college and to become a writer. I understood better the choices she made when they were presented in novelized form.

Bottom line, this book presents a lovely and inspiring story of L. M. Montgomery’s teen years and the rise of her ambitions to make her name as a writer – ambitions that she went on to fulfill. If you don’t know her story, I highly recommend this book. And it turns out, even if you do know her story, you will thoroughly enjoy this retelling.

@MelanieFishbane
penguinrandomhouse.ca

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Now, by Antoinette Portis

September 9th, 2017

Now

by Antoinette Portis

A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, 2017. 32 pages.
Starred Review

I’ve said before that some of the best sermons are found in children’s books. This book speaks loads about contentment and joy and living in the present.

Here’s how it begins:

This is my favorite breeze.

This is my favorite leaf.

This is my favorite hole
(this one)
because it is the one
I am digging.

And that’s how it continues. The simple yet beautiful pictures (I love the way she draws the breeze!) show a girl with light brown skin enjoying each favorite thing on a double-page spread.

The one variation is when her boat goes into the storm drain, and we read, “That was my favorite boat.” No sadness or crying, just enjoying this moment.

The book winds up like this:

And this is my favorite
now
because it is the one I am having

with you.

The final picture is of the girl in her mother’s lap reading a book, so there’s a nice self-referential element.

This book just makes me smile!

And the next time I go for a walk around my lake, I’m going to be saying things to myself like:
This is my favorite breeze.
That is my favorite flower.
That is my favorite bird….

What a lovely concept to share with children!

mackids.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Upside of Unrequited, by Becky Albertalli

September 8th, 2017

The Upside of Unrequited

by Becky Albertalli

Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins), 2017. 340 pages.

This is a nice solid contemporary teen romance – or teen not-romance. I related to Molly, the protagonist, because I was all about unrequited crushes when I was 17.

Okay, maybe I didn’t have as many as Molly, who’s had crushes on 26 different guys. But I know the feeling of watching seemingly everyone else pair up, and wondering if it will ever be your turn.

The book starts out when Molly meets Mina, of all places, in the restroom at a club. Mina is exactly the type of girl who Molly’s twin sister Cassie falls for.

Sure enough, Cassie and Mina hit it off. But though Cassie has plenty of experience, she’s never had an actual girlfriend before. When it happens, Molly starts feeling left out.

And Cassie decides she’s going to get Molly a boyfriend. And she’s chosen Mina’s good friend Will, who is admittedly hot. But meanwhile, there’s this sweet geeky guy working at Molly’s new summer job. Cassie points out that while Molly has never been kissed, she’s also never been rejected. Maybe she needs to put herself out there? Cassie will make sure it happens!

This is all set during the summer of 2015, when the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal – and so Molly’s and Cassie’s two moms decide to get married. The family has a wedding to plan!

Like I said, I related to the plight of unrequited love. You don’t see it often enough in young adult books! Though my heart went out to Molly – because all of her friends were talking about sex – who had it and what it’s like, guys and girls both – just emphasizing that she seems to be the only one with no opportunity. It felt realistic for a modern teen – but I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with that. So Dear Reader, be warned – this is a sweet teen romance, but there is a lot of talk about sex.

But this is indeed a sweet story. I loved the characters. I loved the joy of the girls’ moms when they could get married. (Living in Maryland, they drove past the White House to see it lit up with rainbow lights.) The twins had some other close friendships and I enjoyed the way those were portrayed, besides the pressure when everybody seems to have their own idea of who Molly should fall for.

And I do like the look at this question – Can anyone possibly fall for a girl whose own grandma calls her fat? Aren’t unrequited crushes much simpler?

beckyalbertalli.com
epicreads.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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I’m on the 2019 Newbery Committee!!!

September 7th, 2017

My library system did a blog post about my getting on the 2019 Newbery committee. I went on too long, so it was heavily edited and made much more readable. Here’s the unedited original version, where I explain how long it took and why I’m so thrilled to be on the Newbery committee at last:

My name’s Sondra Eklund. I’m Youth Services Manager at City of Fairfax Regional Library, and I was recently elected to the 2019 Newbery Award Committee, and I’m so excited!

What does this mean?

I’ll be reading as many books as I possibly can that are published in 2018 in the United States by American authors for children ages 0 to 14. At the start of 2019, I will meet with 14 other people in a locked room, and we will choose the winner of the John Newbery Medal – for the most distinguished contribution to American children’s literature published in 2018. We will also decide if we want to name any Honor books which are also distinguished.

Committee deliberations are top secret, and I can never reveal what goes on in the room where it happens. During the reading year, I can talk about which books I like, but I cannot write about any eligible books online, and I must never give any indication of what books the committee is considering.

After the award has been announced, I can post reviews of books I enjoyed if I wrote the reviews before any committee discussion happened. But above all, I can give my opinion, but never “the committee’s” opinion – except in the announcement of the winners.

Now, as you can imagine, there are many, many children’s books published in America in any given year. This is where library customers and staff can help. I’m going to read as many books as I can, and other committee members will read as widely as they can. There is a nomination process during the year, so committee members will formally nominate, from our reading, which books we will consider in the final deliberations.

But just in case some good books get overlooked, if you or your children read an especially good children’s book published in 2018, I hope you’ll let me know! Our first job as committee members is to read as widely as possible, and you can help tip me off if there’s a book out there you want to be sure gets read. I hope to visit some local schools and talk about how the process works and get the kids on the lookout for good books as well.

How did I get on the Newbery committee?

Eight of the fifteen committee members are elected by the membership of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA). The chair and six other members are appointed by the ALSC president. I was elected to the position, and here’s how that happened:

I became a librarian as my second career. (I used to teach college math, but then got to work in a base library in Germany and fell in love with libraries.) But I have always loved books and especially children’s books.

I began writing Sonderbooks.com, a website of book reviews, in 2001. As I was getting my Master’s in Library Science, in 2007, the ALA Annual Conference came to Washington, DC. I went to the conference and was thrilled to attend the Newbery/Caldecott Awards Banquet. I got to hear Susan Patron give her acceptance speech for the Newbery Medal given to The Higher Power of Lucky.

That was when it dawned on me that I was now a member of the group that awards the Newbery Medal! Was it possible I could become part of the award committee some day?

Then I discovered School Library Journal’s Heavy Medal blog – with speculation each year about who will win the Newbery Medal for that year. When they posted the link to the Newbery committee manual, and I read every word, I knew this was something I should pursue.

Not long after that, I learned about an invitational seminar to train ALSC members to serve on the media evaluation committees – like the Newbery committee. I applied – and was not accepted. But I kept on applying (the seminar only happens every other year), and the third time was the charm. I attended the Bill Morris Invitational Seminar on media evaluation in Dallas, Texas, in 2012.

At the seminar, we heard from past chairpersons from various award committees. They gave us many pointers for serving on these committees and we got to enjoy some practice discussions. They also advised us to get involved in other ALSC committees and to put our name into the hat for award committee service.

So in March 2012, I put my name in, and got on the ballot in April 2013 to be on the 2015 Newbery Committee! I was so excited!

Then – I missed being elected by 15 votes! (Out of about 800 ballots cast.) It was already too late to get on the ballot for the following year, so I very sadly gave it a rest and worked on other ALSC committees.

I served on ALSC’s Children and Technology Committee 2011 to 2013, followed by the Grants Administration Committee 2013 to 2015, and then was chair of the Grants Administration Committee for the 2015-16 year. I admit I was putting the time in to build my resume – and was pleasantly surprised by how much fun it was to help ALSC by working on these committees.

I also became a member of Capitol Choices, a DC-area group of librarians and other children’s book folks who meet monthly and choose the 100 best children’s and young adult books of the year each year. Their discussion is great practice for the critical evaluation necessary in award committees, and there are several past members of award committees in the group.

I was still publishing my website of book reviews, so I also applied for and got to be a Cybils judge. The Cybils Awards are Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards. I have served on panels for Middle Grade Science Fiction and Fantasy, Fiction Picture Books, and Young Adult Speculative Fiction. I’ve enjoyed the intense reading time – though this only lasts for two months, unlike the Newbery reading, which will last for a year. One of the things I learned from this work is that different people have different tastes, and other children’s literature professionals will appreciate things I didn’t see about certain books. But working together, we can make some great choices.

When March 2016 rolled around, I decided I was ready to try again. I gave my name for consideration to be on the Newbery Award Committee ballot. This time, I made a web page with my qualifications and printed cards to pass out at ALA Midwinter Meeting and the ALSC Mini-Institute that happened a couple months before voting.

This time I got the news on April 12, 2017 that I was indeed a member of the 2019 Newbery Award committee!

I did have forms to sign and policies to agree to – mostly about secrecy. But as soon as publishers start publishing books for 2018, I am ready and excited to read and reread and to work with the other committee members to determine which is the most distinguished American children’s book published in 2018! Stay tuned in 2019 to find out what we choose!

And if you read an American children’s book published in 2018 that you think is particularly distinguished – send word to Sondra Eklund at City of Fairfax Regional Library! You might have just helped discover the next Newbery Medal winner!

Review of Stormy Seas, by Mary Beth Leatherdale

September 6th, 2017

Stormy Seas

Stories of Young Boat Refugees

by Mary Beth Leatherdale
illustrated and designed by Eleanor Shakespeare

Annick Press, 2017. 64 pages.

Stormy Seas is in large picture book format – but the large amount of text on each page presents information for upper elementary age children. There are striking illustrations on each page, usually incorporating photographs – getting the information across with charts and maps as well as text.

This book tells the individual true stories of five young people who were refugees and traveled by boat: Ruth, 18 years old in 1939, leaving Germany; Phu, 14 years old in 1979, leaving Vietnam; José , 13 years old in 1980, leaving Cuba; Najeeba, 11 years old in 2000, leaving Afghanistan; and Mohamed, 13 years old in 2006, leaving Ivory Coast.

For each young person, the book describes their journey, explaining why they were desperate enough to leave, the frightful conditions of their boat journey, and each story ends up with what happened to them after their journey. All of the journeys were much longer than I ever would have realized – the narrative includes the time they had to spend to get on the boat in the first place.

Most of the journeys didn’t have a happy result when they landed, either. Ruth’s ship of German Jewish refugees got turned away from Cuba and had to sail back to Europe. Phu and his family got put in a refugee camp. José and his family were shocked by the neighborhood in New York City with its poverty and drugs. Najeeba was held in a detention center in Australia for 45 days. Mohamed ended up homeless in a train station in Rome for awhile.

There’s nothing like stories and faces to give you empathy. This book does provide numbers of refugees and gives statistics. But the individual stories put faces to those numbers in a way that will stick with the reader.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Yours Sincerely, Giraffe, by Megumi Iwasa

September 5th, 2017

Yours Sincerely, Giraffe

by Megumi Iwasa
illustrated by Jun Takabatake

Gecko Press, 2017. First published in New Zealand in 2016. 102 pages.

Yours Sincerely, Giraffe is a light-hearted chapter book perfect for beginning readers.

Giraffe is bored. When he finds a bored pelican who is starting a delivery service, Giraffe decides to write a letter. He tells Pelican to give it to the first animal you meet on the other side of the horizon. That turns out to be very far away.

But Pelican finds a seal who delivers mail to Penguin. So Giraffe and Penguin start a correspondence.

They don’t understand each other terribly well. But how can you expect a penguin whose only companion is a whale to understand what a long neck is?

Giraffe decides that he’s going to try to dress up like penguin. He takes all penguin’s descriptions and does his best – with very funny results.

This story is good, sweet fun.

geckopress.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Sonderling Sunday – The Festival Interrupted

September 3rd, 2017

It’s time for Sonderling Sunday! That time of the week when I play with language by looking at the German translation of children’s books.

Tonight I’m going back to the especially Sonder-book, Der Orden der Seltsamen Sonderlinge, which is the translation of The Order of Odd-fish, by James Kennedy.

Last time, I left off in the middle of Chapter 23, page 314, in English, Seite 399 auf Deutsch.

Here’s the sentence that begins the section:
“The sun sank behind the trees, and the sky darkened, but the festival went on.”
= Die Sonne versank hinter den Bäumen und es wurde dunkel, aber das Fest ging weiter.

“A sweaty man by nature”
= Der Ritter neigte ohnehin zu Schweißausbrüchen
(“The knight tended anyway to sweat-outbreaks”)

“particularly damp” = besonders verschwitzt

“golden swimsuit” = goldfarbenen Badeanzug

“Stroke him, reassure him.” = Streichelt ihn, beruhigt ihn.

“pinching” = zwackt

A good sentence to know:
“Now you’re just being silly.”
= Jetzt sind Sie aber wirklich albern.

And you thought we’d never learn how to say this!
“ridiculous farts and burps” = alberne Fürze und Rülpser

Ha! I caught a mistake in the translation! The English says:
“It was difficult to believe the music was grunts and snorts forced out of a giant worm.”

But the translation says:
dass es schwer zu glauben war, diese Musik würde aus Grunzen, Schnauben, Fürzen und Rülpsern eines gigantischen Wurms bestehen.

See what they’ve done? Although when Sir Alasdair began playing the Urk-Ack by climbing inside it and pinching its organs at first all that came out was farts and burps. Now he has progressed and is giving a lovely concert – but the translator put the farts and burps back in! Oops!

“like a blob of pink putty” = wie ein rosafarbener Gummiball

You should be able to say this:
“This is my moment of triumph!”
= Das ist mein Augenblick des Triumphes!

“explosive” = Sprengstoff

“roguishly” = schelmisch

“candy wrappers” = Bonbonpapier

“reckless zeal” = rücksichtslosem Eifer

“The audience was booing.” = Die Zuschauer buhten.

“caterwauling” = jaulenden

“adoring fans” = hingebungsvollen Anhänger

“jeers” = die höhnischen Zwischenrufe (“the sneery calls”)

“the stage” = der Bühne

“savior” = Retter

“pusillanimous” = kleinkarierten

“Consarn it” = Sapperlot

“handyman” = Faktotum

“tousling” = verwuselte

“whirlwind” = Wirbelwind

“parachutes” = Fallschirmen

“conductor” = Dirigenten

“shoved aside” = beseitegeschoben worden

Here’s a good sentence to know:
“I expect you to solve all my problems!”
= Ich erwarte, dass Sie alle meine Probleme lösen!

“waved” = wedelte

“crumpled papers” = zerknüllter Blätter

“cameo” = Nebenrolle

“unbutton” = aufzuknüpfen

“grunting and grinning” = grunzend und grinsend

“footlights” = Rampenlichter

“waggled his hips” = wackelte mit seinen Hüften

“a throbbing, squirming mass of blubber and muscle”
= eine pulsierende, wabernde Masse von Speck und Muskeln

And that brings us to the end of Chapter 23!

I think it’s fun how little these phrases give away the plot – I hope they tantalize the reader to want to know the details!

Bis bald!