Episode 48: Laura's February 2021 Reading

On this week's dose of book recommendations, library love, and literary enthusiasm, Laura breaks down the books she read in February 2021. From recommendations from friends and book club books, to ALAYMA award winners and books popular on Instagram, we've got a lot of books to chat about today. 

Books mentioned on this episode (affiliate link) 

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Laura Miller, host of the Library Laura Podcast

Recommendations from Friends and Podcast Guests

Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi (recommended by Eden @ponchospages) - This is one of the Rick Riordan Presents books, and it definitely felt like a Percy Jackson style story, but with an Indian girl and the Hindu deities as the focus of the story. Funny and interesting, especially since I knew next-to-nothing. 

Mort by Terry Pratchett (While recording I totally said this was recommended by Hannah, but it was actually recommended by my friend Jewel. But if we're being honest they both tell me to read Pratchett...so honest mistake!)  A young boy gets apprenticed to a surprising new boss...Death. Things get interesting from there. There is adventure, love and humor like only Terry Pratchett could write with that premise.  

Faithful Place by Tana French (recommended by Laura Stegman) - One of the Dublin Murder Squad books. A page turner! I enjoyed, although it was a bit more gritty than my normal tastes. 

The Book of Candlelight and Ink and Shadows by Ellery Adams  - thanks to my friend Kendra for turning me onto this series. It's everything I could ever hope for in the Cozy Mystery / Ameteur Sleuth genre. 

One Time by Sharon Creech (found at Barnes & Noble, Kathleen also recommended) - an interesting story of a teacher teaching her students how to write. If you like classroom stories and the first lines of books, you'll enjoy this book. I didn't particularly relate to the characters and the book was just...weird enough for it not to be a 5 star read for me...probably more of a 3.5. 

Book Club Books 

The Stationary Shop by Marjan Kamali (book club pick for January) - A story of love and loss set in Iran (and later America). I read it right after I read Faithful Place and I kept finding thematic overlaps between their stories of near-misses and first loves. A great book club book that piqued my curiosity. I would love to visit the Stationary Shop...it sounds gorgeous. 

Becoming by Michelle Obama (February book club pick) - After being told by Jewel for a long time that I need to read this book, I finally read it when my book club selected it for February. An interesting look at motherhood and life as a First Lady from Michelle's perspective. I respect her a lot more after reading this book. 

The Plot is Murder by V.M.Burns (@linesIunderline #hyggedunit February pick)  - this book had all the right things going for it, ameteur sleuths, dogs named Snickers and Oreo, set in a book shop, grandmas helping solve mysteries...but ultimately it didn't hold up for me. That being said, we just read an Agatha Christie last month, so the bar was pretty high! 

Podcast Guests

Real by Carol Cujec and Peyton Goddard - An amazing story of a girl with autism in middle school. You must check out Library Laura Podcast episode 46! 

Let's Learn About Chemistry by Stephanie Ryan (ebook is $0.99) - I had fun reading this board book designed to teach young kids about chemistry through the "one of these things is not like the other" game.  My sister Rachel co-hosts an episode with Stephanie and it'll be out soon. 

Rosefire by Carolyn Clare Givens - This book from Bandersnatch Books exceeded its Kickstarter goal! I enjoyed interviewing Carrie about this YA Fantasy book that surpassed my expectations on Episode 45

Award Winners 

*Hear more about these books and more on episodes 42 and 43

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (Newbery Medal 1968) - this was a re-read for me after I found it in a thrift store a few months ago. I definitely want to go run away and live in the MET now. Don't you? 

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller (Newbery 2021 Medal) - A touching story with a touch of magic and mystery. Lily, her mom and her sister move in with her halmoni (Korean for grandma), who is known for her stories. But Lily's not the only one who wants halmoni's stories, so does a magical tiger that appears. This one hit close to home with me...I lost my grandma this spring. 

Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (Newbery Honor 2021, Odyssey Award nominee 2021)  - This is a stunning book. It's an emotional and fast-paced book that I stayed up until 1 a.m. finishing because I COULD NOT LEAVE THEM in the situation they were in until I knew the resolution. It has some serious content warnings for sexual abuse, attempted suicide, and drug addiction. But it also has amazing messages of hope, friendship, sisterhood, doing the right thing, positive representation of therapy, positive representation of foster parents, and some seriously brave young women. The audiobook is excellent. 

Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros (Pura Belpré 2021) - I can see why Kris loved this book, and she's right, the line "they tried to bury us but they didn't know we were seeds," is one I will not soon forget. This touching story of a young boy whose mom is deported and what the family must do to try to get her back. Meanwhile, Efrén is also a middle school student and is navigating the drama of a class president election that will test his friendships. It's a interesting and well-told story that puts a personal face on news stories. 

Turtle Boy by M. Evan Wolkenstein (Sydney Taylor Book Award for Middle Grade 2021) - Will Levine is called Turtle Boy, and it's not because he likes turtles (which he does) but rather because of his unfortunately small chin. Between being shy anyway and the bullying he's experiencing over his appearance at school, he's more than usually reticent to do anything that requires...well...human interaction. That doesn't bode well for his upcoming community service to prepare for his Bar Mitzvah. His Rabbi (who is awesome and hippie and has great intuition) won't take no for an answer when it comes to Will visiting RJ in the hospital. Even though Will goes against his will, an unlikely friendship begins to form. This is a funny and tender story of friendship, love, loss, and being brave enough to try new things even when they scare you. 

Catherine's War by Julia Billet (Batchelder Award nominee 2021 - for book in translation) - I am so glad this book got translated from French into English so I could enjoy it. It's a graphic novel that tells the story of a young Jewish girl in Nazi-occupied France who must move around to stay alive. She brings her camera with her everywhere, and this book documents her journey. Based on a true story and lovingly told. It's short and poignant. 

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds (Odyssey Award nominee 2021) - I can see why this book won an audiobook award. Jason Reynolds is a skilled narrator! This is the young readers version of Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi . I appreciated the assertion that this book isn't a history book, but a "present book," with the history being told to shed light on how we got where we are now and what our actions should be in the present time. I also appreciated the language around the distinction between anti-racists and assimilationists...I hadn't heard this concept articulated previously and it gave me some insights on the world around me. 

A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat (Newbery Honor 2021) - A Thai-inspired fantasy world combined with a retelling of Les Mis. It sounds weird but it works. Also, you don't have to be familiar with Les Mis to enjoy this story. A young boy who has grown up in prison. A world where rich and poor are divided by the quality of light they can afford to buy from the monopoly that controls all light sources. A politician's daughter who has a lot to prove, and whose story holds more secrets than she even knows. A leader of an uprising. A Buddhist monk.  This story is beautiful and insightful and full of friendship and courage. 

Planting Stories: the Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré by Anika Aldamuy Denise - I didn't know anything about Pura Belpré, the woman for whom the ALA award for Latino/a literature is named. Thanks to Kris's recommendation, I picked up this book, which is a picture book biography of her life. She was an amazing person and is now officially a hero of mine. She was a librarian who wrote stories for children when there were no children's stories in Spanish in the NYPL. 

Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson (Coretta Scott King Award for Author 2021) - This sobering story is told in verse. It's about the impact of pro-sports on athletes' bodies, especially ZJ's dad, who is having mysterious symptoms that we now better understand as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) as the result of repeated concussions. 

Show Me A Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte (Schneider Family Book Award for Middle Grade 2021) - The Schneider Family Book Award is for books that represent the disability experience. Show Me A Sign is a historical fiction set in Martha's Vineyard in 1805. This is before the creation of what we know as American Sign Language, but Martha's Vineyard Sign Language was one of several precursors to ASL. Mary is a young girl who has always lived in this small community until a series of events remove her and she realizes how unique her village truly was. It's written by a deaf librarian! And it's beautifully and compellingly told...I couldn't wait to see how it ended. 

Itzhak: A Boy Who Loved The Violin by Tracy Newman (Schneider Family Book Award Nominee for Young Children 2021) - When I saw the cover of this picture book biography I knew I had to read it. I knew of Itzhak Perlman as a famous violinist, but I knew less about his early life, his discovery by the Ed Sullivan show, or his childhood bout with polio. My younger sister is a violinist, so this book held a big connection for me. It's beautifully told and illustrated and provides a great introduction to a fascinating man.  

...The other books 😀

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab - So, I read this book because #BookstagramMadeMeDoIt. The moral of the Addie LaRue is "be careful what you wish for. " It was okay, but not amazing, in my opinion. Pros: lovely prose, interesting premise, cool interweaving of art and history into the storyline. Cons: it felt long, Addie seems immature for having lived 300 years, the Darkness was pretty creepy.  Overall it felt like a waste of my time, and I feel bad for saying that. 

The Long Way to A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers - After hearing What Should I Read Next producer Brenna F. talk about how much she enjoyed this space opera, I was excited to give it a try. Overall I enjoyed it, but it felt a little heavy-handed in places. If I had to pick, I would choose Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes instead. But if you're in the mood for a space adventure, this would be a good pick. 

The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner - the newest book by Susan Meissner starts out as a fairly normal story about an Irish woman who agrees to be a mail-order bride for a man in San Francisco. But both are hiding more secrets than either imagined, and the earthquake and fire literally breakdown their façade and expose secrets long buried. This story kept me enthralled and guessing. 

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World by John Mark Comer - This was such a good book! I appreciated Comer's perspective and his consistent pointing back to Jesus as the One we should imitate. If we want what Jesus had (peace, relationship with God) then we need to live like He did (slowly, minimally, with Sabbath rest). I won't be doing everything Comer recommends in this book, but it's a good reminder to counteract the frenetic pace of the world. Incidentally my church was talking about the role of technology in our lives about the same time as I read this book, and both of those conversations together really made me examine my smartphone addiction. I never even thought about turning off the email notification "red bubble" on my phone...and it's magical. Highly recommend. It's changed me from mindlessly clicking and scrolling my email to checking it when I need/want to. What a difference!! Sometimes little changes are big changes. 

What did you read in February? Whether it's one book or lots, I'd love to hear from you. 

With lots of literary love from my library to yours! 



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Library Laura
Laura is an avid reader who is happiest when surrounded by books, tea, blankets and/or friends. Host of the Library Laura Podcast.


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