Review of Super Late Bloomer, by Julia Kaye

Super Late Bloomer

My Early Days in Transition

An Up and Out Collection

by Julia Kaye

Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2018. 160 pages.
Starred Review

This book is published for adults, though it will definitely have an audience with some teens, but it’s not a children’s book, so I think I’m okay to post the review during my Newbery reading year.

This is a memoir in comic format, taken from the Up and Out webcomic. Julia Kaye is a transgender woman who transitioned as an adult. This book tells the story of her transition.

I loved this book. My own daughter is transgender and transitioned as an adult – so I think it helped me understand what she’s gone through and is going through.

The comic format, even using simple lines, is great for showing emotion and helping the reader feel what the author was going through. You can feel some of the pain of gender dysphoria and feel why misgendering causes ongoing pain and insecurity. The book communicates that even though there are ongoing causes of pain as someone transitions – that doesn’t mean transitioning is all a mistake. It doesn’t magically make all issues go away.

I’m hoping that transgender folks will enjoy this book to read about someone else having experiences similar to their own. And cisgender folks can enjoy it to get an inkling of the kind of bravery it takes for transgender people to present themselves to the world as who they truly are. As well as better understand and empathize with fellow human beings.

We may not all be transgender. But we all know what it’s like to feel different, to feel like people are staring at you, or to be unhappy with the way we look and the way people respond to us. This book helps the reader understand what we have in common.

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Review of Barking to the Choir, by Gregory Boyle

Barking to the Choir

The Power of Radical Kinship

by Gregory Boyle

Simon & Schuster, 2017. 210 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a second book by Fr. Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest who works with gang members in Los Angeles and founded Homeboy Industries, which gives jobs to former gang members.

This book continues the inspiring stories from his first book, Tattoos on the Heart. What’s so amazing about these books is that Father Boyle honestly sees the gang members he works with as wonderful people – people he can learn from himself. And with his stories, he enables the reader, also, to see them as valuable people, loved by God – even delighted in by God.

Father Boyle genuinely learns from the homies he lives among. I liked this quote:

We always seem to be faced with this choice: to save the world or savor it. I want to propose that savoring is better, and that when we seek to “save” and “contribute” and “give back” and “rescue” folks and EVEN “make a difference,” then it is all about you . . . and the world stays stuck. The homies are not waiting to be saved. They already are. The same is true for service providers and those in any ministry. The good news, of course, is that when we choose to “savor” the world, it gets saved. Don’t set out to change the world. Set out to wonder how people are doing.

He’s here divulged something of the secret of his ministry. He’s not trying to save gang members – he’s savoring them, genuinely feeling privileged that he gets to know them.

And that kind of love changes lives.

This book is about kinship. About community. About enemies becoming friends. And the astonishing love of Jesus that enables that.

Human beings are settlers, but not in the pioneer sense. It is our human occupational hazard to settle for little. We settle for purity and piety when we are being invited to an exquisite holiness. We settle for the fear-driven when love longs to be our engine. We settle for a puny, vindictive God when we are being nudged always closer to this wildly inclusive, larger-than-any-life God. We allow our sense of God to atrophy. We settle for the illusion of separation when we are endlessly asked to enter into kinship with all.

There are a whole lot more inspiring quotes in this book, and they’ll gradually show up on Sonderquotes.

Read this book! You will be challenged. And you will be blessed.

HomeboyIndustries.org
SimonandSchuster.com

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

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Review of Footnotes from the World’s Great Bookstores, by Bob Eckstein

Footnotes* from the World’s Greatest Bookstores

*True Tales and Lost Moments from Book Buyers, Booksellers, and Book Lovers

by Bob Eckstein
Foreword by Garrison Keillor

Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 2016. 176 pages.

Any book lover will enjoy this book. It’s quirky – even has the cover opening in a different direction from the way the pages turn.

The author is also an artist and has a painting of each featured bookstore – and they truly are from all over the world. If I had lots of money and time, it would be so much fun to buy a copy of this book and travel the world and try to visit all the bookstores.

Each bookstore has a brief description, usually including something notable about it. Then on top of the painting of the bookstore, there is a quotation from someone who works there, telling a story about something that happened at that store.

As an example, here’s what they’ve got for Books of Wonder (minus the painting), a store I ordered Wizard of Oz books from for my kids. I’ve never visited it, but I’ve got a warm spot in my heart for it.

Books of Wonder’s claim to fame is that it was the model for the bookstore in the 1997 film You’ve Got Mail. Nora and Delia Ephron, who wrote the film, were both longtime customers and friends of the store – and Meg Ryan spent a day working at the shop to prepare for her role in the film. In 1985, Books of Wonder established a joint imprint with William Morrow and Company, publishing its own children’s books. Its standing-room-only events have included celebrated authors like J. K. Rowling, Madeleine L’Engle, Maurice Sendak, and Eric Carle.

Here’s the quotation written over the “sidewalk” in the painting of the bookstore:

“My very first book signing was like a dream. Held at the famous Books of Wonder in Manhattan, I shared a table with the great Lane Smith. The first customer was an adorable little girl who, clutching her book very tightly, approached me with an angelic smile. As she gazed up at me with a look of adoration and pure love, her father bent down and said, ‘No, dear. Lane Smith is the other guy.’ The smile immediately devolved into a quick, hideous grimace as she zipped over to the other end of the table. I can still recall her face as if she was the only person to approach me that day, because she was.” – Mo Willems

There’s lots more where that came from! This book will make you smile and also make you want to go shopping for books.

bobeckstein.com
clarksonpotter.com

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Review of Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved, by Kate Bowler

Everything Happens for a Reason

And Other Lies I’ve Loved

by Kate Bowler

Random House, 2018. 178 pages.

I approached this book with some trepidation. Although I do not, in fact, believe that “everything happens for a reason” – I do believe that “All things work for the good of those who love God.” I believe tthat God can and will bring good out of even terrible things. So would my faith be shaken by reading this book?

No, my faith was not shaken. But I got a lesson in what not to say to someone going through a terrible trial.

Kate Bowler wrote this book while undergoing treatments for stage IV colon cancer at thirty-five years old. She was supposed to die very soon after diagnosis – but ended up in the 3% who have a type that was being studied for a new treatment. (I checked – She is still alive in August 2018. Though she does say that the doctors were not expecting to cure her.)

Kate is a historian who studies the prosperity gospel in America. So she has a lot to say about getting cancer in that setting.

She takes the reader with her on her journey of trying to live with this. I liked the part where she explained that she took up swearing for Lent. She tells what various people say to her – most of it unhelpful but also about friends who come alongside.

I also liked the part where she explained that at the worst time, she felt God’s presence.

It seemed too odd and too simplistic to say what I knew to be true – that when I was sure I was going to die, I didn’t feel angry. I felt loved.

Reading this, I was struck that we each have our own story. Yes, we can find meaning in our story – but we’re being presumptuous to try to explain to someone else the meaning in their story.

Her two appendices in the back are especially helpful. The first is things not to say to people experiencing terrible times. The second is things you might try saying (such as, May I bring you a meal?). Here’s how she feels about being told, “Everything happens for a reason”:

The only thing worse than saying this is pretending that you know the reason. I’ve had hundreds of people tell me the reason for my cancer. Because of my sin. Because of my unfaithfulness. Because God is fair. Because God is unfair. Because of my aversion to Brussel sprouts. I mean, no one is short of reasons. So if people tell you this, make sure you are there when they go through the cruelest moments of their lives, and start offering your own. When someone is drowning, the only thing worse than failing to throw them a life preserver is handing them a reason.

katebowler.com
randomhousebooks.com

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

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Review of Going Into Town, by Roz Chast

Going into Town

A Love Letter to New York

by Roz Chast

Bloomsbury, 2017. 169 pages.

This book is an introduction to New York, which New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast created for her children, who did not grow up in New York City, like she did.

Here are some selected things she says about the book. You’ll have to imagine the entertaining cartoons that go with these words.

This is not a “definitive guide book” to Manhattan. In fact, it’s not really a guide book. There’s nothing in here about the Statue of Liberty, for example. Why? Because I’ve never been. I’d like to go. Someday. Just not today. Please don’t make me go today.

This is also definitely not one of those “insider’s guides” where I tell you about the hippest clubs, the swankiest restaurants, the edgiest neighborhoods, the coolest gyms, or the store where the best people buy the most exclusive shoes.

It’s not a history book. Do not imagine, even for a second, that I’m going to tell you a bunch of cool facts, like how Betsy Ross invented concrete, or that a thousand feet under Grand Central, somebody discovered an old Pilgrim restaurant, and look, here’s the menu: . . .

I feel about Manhattan the way I feel about a book, a TV series, a movie, a play, an artist, a song, a food, a whatever that I love. I want to tell you about it so that maybe you will love it too. I’m not worried about it being “ruined” by too many people “discovering” it. Manhattan’s been ruined since 1626, when Peter Minuit bought it from Native Americans for $24.00.

Now my kids are grown-ups. The city has changed since I was 23. Things have happened. Some good, some bad, some very bad. But I still love it more than anyplace else, and hope you will too.

She does communicate this affection in the pages that follow. And despite saying it’s not a guide book, the next time I go to New York City, I’m going to check out this book and carefully review her chapter on the basic layout of Manhattan – it makes it all very clear and logical and would be tremendously helpful.

And along the way, I’d get many ideas of things to do and places to visit. And on top of all that, the book has plenty of things that make you laugh. It’s fun to read even if you never have gone to New York City, but will certainly make you want to remedy that situation.

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

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Review of Stairways to Heaven, by Lorna Byrne

Stairways to Heaven

by Lorna Byrne

Coronet, 2011. First published in the United Kingdom in 2010. 293 pages.
Starred Review

Stairways to Heaven continues the life story of Lorna Byrne begun in Angels in My Hair, including telling about the process of becoming an author and people finally knowing that she can see angels.

Lorna Byrne has been able to see angels all her life. This book begins after her husband’s death and tells how the angels helped her move with her youngest daughter to a new home. Along the way, she reveals many things that angels have told her about life and about spiritual things.

Some of the things in this book seem a little out there. I’m thinking that it’s possible that even with all the study of the Bible I’ve done, I don’t know everything there is to know about spiritual things! Lorna Byrne doesn’t claim to know it all either, and she has a simple, humble style. She just tells what the angels have told her.

Since this book covers publishing her book, she’s also starting to answer many of the questions that people ask her now that the world knows she can see angels.

For the most part, these things are extremely inspirational and uplifting. Some points I especially like are that each one of us has a guardian angel who loves us and is with us always. And that there are many other angels all around us that we can call on to help.

This paragraph sums up nicely an important thrust of her teaching:

Many of us don’t understand how important the relationship between mankind and angels is. We have free will, but we have angels to prompt us to do the right things, to prompt us to do what God would want us to do in each and every circumstance. This is the task God has given angels and, because it is God’s task, angels will never ever give up. Every time you pray you are talking directly to God. Regardless of your belief in angels, angels are praying with you at the same time, adding power and strength to your prayer. This is one of the tasks God has given the angels. We never pray alone.

This is an inspiring and eye-opening book, though, like me, you may have to set aside some of your previous assumptions to fully appreciate it.

lornabyrne.com
hodder.co.uk

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Review of Calypso, by David Sedaris

Calypso

by David Sedaris
read by the author

Hachette Audio, 2018. 6.5 hours on 6 CDs.

Hearing David Sedaris read his books always makes me laugh. I will admit that his humor is often crude or rude – but, yes, it is very funny.

In this book he mostly talks about his family. This includes the death by suicide of one of his sisters, so you wouldn’t think there’s a lot of room for humor – but if you think that you probably haven’t ever listened to David Sedaris.

He also talks about buying a beach house on the Carolina coast to share with his family. And his father, who is politically conservative, getting older. And David himself getting older and dealing with physical challenges – and getting addicted to his Fit Bit.

A lot of what’s funny about this audiobook is also very strange – like feeding his own tumor to a snapping turtle. But what can I say? It’s also incredibly funny the way David Sedaris tells it. I guess it helps to know you’re doing something strange.

I always say that nothing is better for keeping me awake on a long drive than a good laugh. You can find that here. (Though let me give fair warning: I wouldn’t want to explain these jokes to kids. In fact, it might be embarrassing if anyone else were in earshot. Funny, though!)

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Review of The Atlas of Beauty, by Mihaela Noroc

The Atlas of Beauty

Women of the World in 500 Portraits

by Mihaela Noroc

Ten Speed Press, 2017. 352 pages.
Starred Review

This book is amazing! Amazing and wonderful.

Mihaela Noroc has traveled the world and taken pictures of women – beautiful women. These beautiful women come in all colors and sizes, young and old, dressed formally or casually. There is even at least one transgender woman. Many are not what you would call traditionally beautiful. But when you see them through the photographer’s eyes, you know – every one of these women is beautiful.

They come from countries all over the world. As an example, one of the collage pages has photos from Ethiopia, China, Singapore, Germany, France, Spain, Nepal, Uruguay, USA, Switzerland, Mongolia, Greece, Romania, India, Portugal, Chile, Sweden, and England. Another collage has pictures from Uzbekistan, Egypt, Cuba, Portugal, Tajikistan, Netherlands, Italy, Russia, Germany, Peru, India, Greece, Guatemala, Russia, Nepal, Argentina, England, Turkey, South Africa, Colombia, Ethiopia, China, Spain, and Mexico.

And these women are indeed beautiful. This photographer makes the viewer see beauty in even the most old and “plain” women she features.

The book does remind me of Humans of New York with little stories of each portrait subject.

For example, I opened the book at random and came on this pair of photos:

HELSINKI, FINLAND
After her mother was diagnosed with cancer, Katariina started to see life in a different way. For years she had worked in the perfume industry, but her mother’s illness made her think more about health issues related to beauty products, and to want to do something. She gathered a team of specialists and created an amazing free phone app that scans the barcode of a cosmetic product and informs the user about the safety of the ingredients.

EAST JERUSALEM, DISPUTED TERRITORY
After studying in the United States and England, this young Palestinian returned home to put her knowledge in the service of Palestinian people. Raya was pregnant with her second baby when I met her, but besides becoming a mother for the second time she was also on a mission to empower Palestinian women.

As a young entrepreneur, Raya started a cosmetic company, and most of her employees are Palestinian women from marginalized communities. She also works for Palestine’s largest bank, and one of her main projects is to increase the percentage of female employees in all ranks at the bank.

“Supporting so many women is what keeps me going, and gives me the passion, enthusiasm, and energy to have two jobs at a time when I have two young children.”

Many of the text descriptions are shorter, such as this pair:

NAPLES, ITALY
I met these sisters, Monica, Francesca, and Rosanna, in their hometown, though now they all live in different parts of Italy, far from one another. They had reunited to visit their mother, and spend some time together.

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS
When I met Rachelle, she was glowing with pregnancy and the city’s late afternoon light.

“We are resting, after a long day at work.”

The book actually doesn’t need any text at all to be stunning. Though it’s also amazing how many different places on the globe she traveled and took pictures of women.

This book is marketed and produced for adults, with very small print in the captions. But if I had a young daughter in my home, I would be sure to purchase this book and place it where she could easily browse through it. Now that I think about it, if I had a teenage daughter in my home, it might feel all the more important. As it is, I’m going to purchase my own copy to remind myself that Beauty comes with many, many different faces.

Looking at this book made me feel part of a sisterhood of women from all over the globe, part of the human family. It reminded me that we come in all shapes and sizes and ages and colors. And we are Beautiful.

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crownpublishing.com

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

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Review of The Card Catalog, by The Library of Congress

The Card Catalog

Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures

The Library of Congress
Foreword by Carla Hayden

Chronicle Books, 2017. 224 pages.

A history of the card catalog – it’s surprising how interesting that turns out to be. Well, okay, it’s interesting to me!

This book traces the development of the idea to put catalog information for libraries on 3 x 5 inch index cards. Originally, the Library of Congress would publish a book listing the books in its collection. So listing the information on cards was much more practical. Eventually, the Library of Congress was producing catalog cards for libraries across America.

But that’s only a small portion of this book. The bulk of the pages are pictures of items in the Library of Congress collection – along with pictures of their catalog cards.

There are many classic books, also interesting memorabilia – and on the facing page you’ve got the catalog card – some of them yellowed and beat up – for that item.

This is a beautifully designed book and is lots of fun to browse through. Because it’s mostly pictures, it doesn’t take too long, either.

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chroniclebooks.com

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Review of Tattoos on the Heart, by Gregory Boyle

Tattoos on the Heart

The Power of Boundless Compassion

by Gregory Boyle
read by the author

HighBridge Audio, 2010. 7 ½ hours on 6 CDs.
Starred Review

I put this audiobook on hold after my sister Becky told me that her daughter’s college graduation had the best graduation speaker she’d ever heard – he even got a standing ovation. That was enough of a recommendation for me. I was not at all disappointed when I started listening.

I got the audiobook because while I’m on the Newbery committee, that’s the best way for me to get books read that are written for adults. And with all the Spanish words used in this book, it was nice to hear the author read it. He doesn’t use a lot of variety in voices, but that’s okay – it works with this book. But I ended up checking out the print version in order to pull out quotes for Sonderquotes – I kept getting blown away by his words and I wanted to remember them.

Father Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest, is the founder of Homeboy Industries, an organization that gives jobs to gang members and helps them get out of gangs and removes their tattoos. He lives in downtown Los Angeles, and has since the 1980s (when I lived in downtown Los Angeles for a few years) – and knows and loves gang members. He learns their names and knows them as people – and that makes a powerful difference.

The book is mostly stories, and they touch your heart. Something about seeing, through Father Boyle, that God sees and cares about gang members – helps me understand with my heart that God sees and cares about me. And not only does God care about me, He delights in me. Gregory Boyle shows that it’s possible to not only tolerate kids who are gang members – but even to see that they are delightful. Wow.

Here’s what Gregory Boyle says at the end of the Introduction:

In finding a home for these stories in this modest effort, I hope, likewise, to tattoo those mentioned here on our collective heart. Though this book does not concern itself with solving the gang problem, it does aspire to broaden the parameters of our kinship. It hopes not only to put a human face on the gang member, but to recognize our own wounds in the broken lives and daunting struggles of the men and women in these parables.

Our common human hospitality longs to find room for those who are left out. It’s just who we are if allowed to foster something different, something more greatly resembling what God had in mind. Perhaps, together, we can teach each other how to bear the beams of love, persons becoming persons, right before our eyes. Returned to ourselves.

He achieves these goals in this book. He does such a good job of putting a human face on the gang member for me – that it was unfortunate timing that I was listening to this audiobook at the same time the president called members of MS-13 “animals.” The contrast was huge. (Gregory Boyle, by the way, doesn’t name any of the gangs he works with, so as to not give the gangs that dignity. The people, however, he lavishes with dignity.)

The beauty of this book is watching Father Boyle treat gang members as delightful human beings. It’s obviously not easy, and comes with a lot of pain. At the time of writing the book, he had buried more than 170 people he cared about because of gang violence. Many of the stories he tells end with the tragic too-soon death of the subject of the story.

And the things he pulls out touch your heart. He talks about the “no matter whatness” of God’s love and God knowing us by name. You’ll see lives changed because someone showed compassion on an outcast – and maybe that will change your life, too.

Look for more quotes on Sonderquotes. I highly recommend this book.

highbridgeaudio.com
homeboyindustries.org

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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook 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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