This Book is My Jam: Symphony for the City of the Dead by M. T. Anderson

Welcome to This Book is My Jam, a semi-regular feature in which I talk about a book I recently read and really loved. I read books written for kids, teens, and adults, so it could be aimed at any age group.

symphonyHave you ever read a book that you loved so much you can’t be coherent about it? When you try to talk to people about it, you just freak out, and people perhaps back away, with a little bit of fear in their eyes? If so, you understand how I feel about Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M. T. Anderson. It’s really hard for me to put into words how much I loved this book, but I’m going to try.

This book tells the story of Stalinist Russia, of Russia’s role in WWII, of art and music, of how impossible it would be to live under a totalitarian regime, and so much more. And despite being full to the brim with all of this history, it never feels like too much. It flows beautifully, and clearly lays out the rise of Communism in Russia, what happened when Stalin took power, and how this affected every facet of life in Russia.

Anderson tells this story through chronicling the life of Dmitri Shostakovich, a Russian composer who lived through it all. Using Shostakovich to study this time in Russian history was a brilliant move. He became a world famous composer, with popularity in the West as well as in Russia, and Anderson explores how this was problematic for Shostakovich. The fact that he constantly lived on a tightrope–sometimes beloved, sometimes close to being part of the purges is shown, and the tension for the reader is almost unbearable. I know that I can never really understand what it would have been like to live during this time, and the constant fear it must have made people feel, but I understand it just a little more through Anderson’s excellent writing. Anderson also looks at the ideas of bravery and heroism and how it’s hard to make them apply in a totalitarian regime. As he says, it’s easy from the comfort of our own homes and time to say we would be part of the resistance, but it was much harder to do when the lives of your friends and family were under constant threat.

The book also explores the idea of truth, and how hard it is to know objective truth in the case of Shostakovich’s life. Anderson talks about why the famous biography of him (written by someone who defected from the Soviet Union) is problematic. This book is aimed at teens, and I think this is such an important message for teen readers to hear. I like that it encourages questioning sources and thinking about where they come from and why they might have issues.

If you want more of my thoughts, you can check out my Goodreads review (and please friend me on Goodreads!), but, really, you should just go out and read this book. It was published for teens, but is a really excellent read for adults, as well. It’s one of those books I think everyone should read.

This Book is My Jam: Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Welcome to This Book is My Jam, a semi-regular feature in which I talk about a book I recently read and really loved. I read books written for kids, teens, and adults, so it could be aimed at any age group.

goodbye strangerYou know those books that the more you think about them, the more you remember the characters, and the more you sit with them, the more you love them? That’s Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead for me. I really enjoyed it when I read it, but I finished it over a month ago and just can’t let it go. I want more people I know to read it so we can talk about it. If I had a middle school aged daughter, I’d want us to read it together and talk about it. In fact, in writing this review, I decided to bump my Goodreads rating up to 5 stars.

Here’s why I loved this book:

  • The relationships between the women and girls in the book. I thought this was going to go in a mean girl direction at one point, and it really didn’t. The story centers around 3 girls who have been friends for forever and have decided that they will never fight. While they figure out that this may be unrealistic, they are (mostly) supportive of each other and really try to embody what it means to be good friends. There’s also a lot of time given to mother/daughter relationships, and the conversations the girls have with their mothers are authentic and wonderful. There’s an older sister who makes an appearance and takes one of the girls under her wing. It’s really a tribute to the wonderful richness of female friendships and relationships and shows how positive those can be.
  • The portrayal of middle school. I said in my Goodreads review that I wasn’t sure these kids sounded like middle schoolers, and I stand by that, but I do think the way middle school is portrayed is accurate. Boys who want girls to send them a certain kind of picture: that’s a thing. Pushing boundaries and trying to figure out who you may be: that’s most definitely a thing. A lot of the books that deal with middle school are aimed younger than this, and present a somewhat sanitized version of what middle school is. I thought this was honest, and aimed at older middle schoolers, and I think more books like that are needed.
  • The characters. This is a really character-driven novel and I loved all of them. As I’m writing this, I realize I miss them!

For me, Rebecca Stead just keeps getting better and better, and Goodbye Stranger was most definitely my jam.

Goodbye to Summer Reading

The summer reading program at my library ended a while ago, but I’m talking about the online summer reading program I did this year and just ended yesterday! Here’s my last check-in:

Books Read (If you click on the link, it will take you to my full Goodreads review):

Lost in the sunLost in the Sun by Lisa Graff. I really love Lisa Graff. I think she writes lovely books for children. This book was no exception. I loved the characters, the portrayal of family, and everything about it really. It’s a heavy book–it wasn’t really light, summer reading, but I truly enjoyed it and spending time with Trent.

A Spool of Blue Thread by Ann Tyler. My first Ann Tyler book. Maybe not the best one to pick for my first read of hers. Well written, and great characters, but I wished there was a little more plot.

The Miser of Mayfair by Marion Chesney. I got pretty sick this summer for a couple of days, and while laying on my couch, feeling awful, I needed some comfort reading. So I picked up this series, a Regency Romance series that I LOVED in high school. Fun to revisit an old favorite.

girl on the trainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. A bit slow to start, but once I got going, I had trouble getting out of my car when I got home (listened to it on audio).

Plain Jane by Marion Chesney. Part of my sickness reading, another Marion Chesney from the same series as The Miser of Mayfair. (Did I mention that these only take an hour or two to read?)

liar temptressLiar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott. Civil War spy women: what’s not to love? I really learned a lot reading this book, and found it really interesting. I wished at least one of the women profiled was a woman of color, and I was less interested in the stories of the two women from the South, but the book is packed with fascinating details.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer. Good audiobook, and interesting idea. This is also a book that a lot of my teen volunteers were telling me to read this summer, so it’s obviously popular with teens!

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan. A fun little fantasy romance about what it would be like to fall in love with a prince. It’s Prince William and Kate Middleton fan fiction, basically, and it’s a lot of fun.

goodbye strangerGoodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead. Stead is another author I really enjoy, and I thought this book dealt with a lot of issues in a way that didn’t feel heavy handed or over the top. The more I think about it, the more I really love the way it portrayed female friendships, and friendships and mentoring from older women to younger girls/women. It’s nice to see a book that really shows friends looking out for each other, rather than trotting out the mean girl or frenemy trope.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. A fun graphic novel with some pathos thrown in. I wasn’t familiar with the webcomic before reading this. This made me want to read Lumberjanes posthaste.

echoEcho by Pam Muñoz Ryan. I highly recommend listening to this on audiobook. There’s music playing throughout, and it’s magical. Magical is a great way to describe this story–part fairy tale, part historical fiction, all lovely.

Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights by Ann Bausum. I didn’t know much about the Stonewall Riots before reading this book. I liked that this followed the history of the struggle for LGBTQ rights both before and after Stonewall. I listened to this on audio, the wonderful Tim Federle narrated, and I definitely recommend this as an audiobook.


Those were the books I read over the summer. Between this and my midpoint check in, I read 24 books over the summer–double my original goal! As for my other goals, I didn’t start any Jane Austen books (boo–will have to make that my goal for fall!), but I did read some books that have been on my to-read list for forever, and I read widely and across genres, so I’m happy with that. Yay for summer reading! And now I’m ready for soup, sweaters, and the cooler weather that comes with fall. It can start any time now!

My Summer Reading Check-In

Summer reading at my library is moving along swimmingly, but this check-in is about the online summer reading program I’m participating in this summer. I’ve already blogged about my goals for the summer. So, how am I doing?

Books Read (if you click on the link, it will take you to my full Goodreads review):sphere

Sphere by Michael Crichton. I can’t believe I haven’t read any Crichton before! I thought the science-y stuff was really interesting, and am definitely planning on reading a few more of his books–Jurassic Park and Andromeda Strain–very soon.

Texts From Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg. Funny, fast, and literary all at the same time.

P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia. I adore spending time with the Gaither sisters, and I think I liked this book even better than the first one, One Crazy Summer. I listened to it on audio–a great listen! Print

To Dance With Kings by Rosalind Laker. If you’re interested in the history of Versailles, or in epic family sagas, this book would be a good one to check out.

The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove. An interesting concept about a world where different places are also different ages. Listened to this one on audio, as well.rithmatist

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson. I generally listen to Sanderson books, but this one had quite a bit of drawings in it that were central to the plot so I read it. While it took me a while to get into it, once I did I was completely sucked in. It has Sanderson’s trademark interesting, complex magic systems, as well as great world-building.

Quiet Leadership by David Rock. I read this for my CALLI final project, where we are going to talk about “tough conversations.” I’m really excited about digging more into this topic. So, while this wasn’t exactly fun summer reading for me, it was interesting.

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. A really fascinating mystery/thriller set in Soviet Russia.

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest. A mystery/thriller for teens featuring really cool comics throughout. The cover is one of my favorite new book covers I’ve seen lately.i am princess x

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella. One of my favorite chick lit authors writes a YA book! It’s more serious than her adult books (although still with her trademark humor)–it’s about a girl with an anxiety disorder and her road to recovery. I enjoyed this quite a bit.

Spoiled by Jessica Morgan & Heather Cocks. I have been meaning to read this one for a while, and also have The Royal We (their new book) on hold at the library. This is good, easy, light summer reading. I personally was less excited about the Hollywood angle in this book, but am excited for the royalty angle in The Royal We. fad mania

Fad Mania by Cynthia Overbeck Bix. A YA nonfiction book that talks about various fads in America throughout the 20th century.

How I’m doing on my goals: Well, one of my goals was to read 12 books, and this list is exactly 12, so I’ve definitely already fulfilled that goal! Since this reading program goes until the end of August, I will probably read closer to 20 books over the summer, although we’ll see. Some of the books I’m planning on reading are longer, and may take a while to get through.

Another goal: to start on my project of rereading all of Jane Austen’s books. I haven’t started on that yet. Once I get through the last few library books I have at home, I may try that next.

Another goal: to read books that have been on my to-read list for a while. I’ve definitely been doing that: Child 44, Spoiled, and To Dance With Kings have all been on my to-read list for a log time, so I was excited to read them all.

Last goal: To pick books that sound fun and get into the spirit of summer reading. I’ve definitely been doing this–I haven’t let myself get too concerned about genres or anything like that–I’ve just been picking up books that I want to read and savoring them. Yay for summer reading!

Currently Reading:

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler. I’m listening to this one–it’s my first Anne Tyler. Apparently I’m really into family sagas this summer!

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff. One of my favorite children’s authors just came out with a new book and I’m tearing through it. It’s really heavy, but so far beautifully written and gripping.

How’s your summer reading going?

Summer Reading for Me!

texts from jane eyreI’ve decided to join an online summer reading program at At work, it’s fun to encourage kids in their summer reading, and now it will be fun for me to keep track of my own reading, as well. My goal from now until August 29th is to read 12 books. I’ve already read two (Sphere by Michael Crichton and Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg), so I’m guessing I will exceed my goal, but I have some longer, classic books on my list, so wanted to give myself plenty of time to read them.

My personal summer reading goals (beside the 12 books):

  • To at least start on my goal of rereading all of Jane Austen’s books.
  • To read some books that have been on my to read list for a while, but that I haven’t gotten a chance to read because they are adult books and I mainly read children’s books.
  • To pick books that sound fun and get into the spirit of summer reading!

dance with kingsThe next book on my list: To Dance with Kings by Rosalind Laker. I heard about this through one of my favorite podcasts, The History Chicks, and it’s been on my to read list for a while. It’s a huge, multi-generational saga–exactly what I love to read in the summer! Happy summer reading, everyone.

Storytime Picks of the Month: February

In this monthly feature, I pick my favorite storytime reads of the month–one from my baby storytime, one from toddler storytime, and one from preschool storytime.

This is an extremely late Storytime Picks of the Month! So without further ado, here are my favorite storytime books from February:

brown bearBaby Storytime Pick: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr. This is a classic for a reason. It just works! Whenever I read this in storytime, I know that a bunch of babies are going to run up to see the book, point things out, and just generally get really excited about it. It’s also a great book for encouraging parental and baby participation. We can all say together what the different animals and their colors are. It’s just a book that works, and one that my babies always love. Definitely a go-to for baby storytime.

spots feathersToddler Storytime Pick: Spots, Feathers, and Curly Tails by Nancy Tafuri. This book hits all of the fun notes for toddler storytime. There are animal noises and guessing the animals, and just a bunch of fun. Toddlers love to guess which animal is coming next. Basically, this is at the perfect level for toddlers and their development–it seems like all toddlers love farm animals and it’s a participatory book that all my toddlers are able to participate in. Another go-to for me for my toddler storytime.

where's my teddyPreschool Storytime Pick: Where’s My Teddy? by Jez Alborough. This book has the benefit of being both adorable and allowing you to read it in a crazy, over-the-top way which is always fun. I love yelling “Where’s my TEDDY?!?!?!” dramatically. Also, we have a big book of this book in our storytime collection, which also always makes for a fun experience for everyone. We used this as part of an opposites storytime this month (which was a really fun theme if you’ve never done it), and it was a great choice for preschoolers.

This Book is My Jam: Trustology by Richard Fagerlin

Welcome to This Book is My Jam, a semi-regular feature in which I talk about a book I recently read and really loved. I read books written for kids, teens, and adults, so it could be aimed at any age group.

TrustologyThis is a surprise entry into “This Book is My Jam.” Because it’s a management book that I had to read for my CALLI program (management and self help books are usually anything but my jam–I read them for good information, but I don’t usually expect to be moved by them). Because the title is (sorry to the author) kind of silly. Because I just honestly didn’t expect to like it, and wasn’t excited about reading it. And then I read it, and really liked it!

The basic premise of Trustology: The Art and Science of Leading High-Trust Teams is that managers need to be better about trusting their team. According to Fagerlin, trusting your team leads to happier employees, more productivity, and more money for the business. Of course, in libraries we aren’t about profit, but who wouldn’t want more productivity and a happier work environment? The book is divided into 3 sections. Here’s a brief rundown of what those sections talk about:

Trustology 101: Trust’s Big Lie. This section talks about the fact that the way we think about trust isn’t correct. We think of it as something to be earned, not something to be given freely. The author says we need to think of trust as something that can only be given–and only you, individually, have the power of giving trust. If you want to have a high trust team, you have to choose to trust your people and keep making that choice day after day. Fagerlin talks about how often we don’t give people the benefit of the doubt or chance to tell their side of the story when breakdowns in communication happen. If we do that, he says, we hold people hostage to our own assumptions of their behavior. That means trust can’t happen.

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