Paine, Rhiannon. Too Late for the Festival: An American Salary-Woman in Japan.

Chicago: Academy, 1999.

I have a longstanding interest in the culture and social structure of modern Japan, and I read a lot of contemporary Japanese authors (in translation) and also memoirs written by Westerners who have lived and worked in Japan for an extended period. Many of those have been teachers of English, which gives them a certain angle on the country, and which also usually means they speak at least a little Japanese themselves and have done some research beforehand.


Published in: on 19 July 2018 at 5:09 am  Leave a Comment  
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Bass, Alexis. Love and Other Theories.

NY: HarperCollins, 2015.

This is the first YA novel I’ve read by Bass and it’s pretty good. Aubrey Housing, age seventeen and a high school senior somewhere in the Midwest, has early acceptance to the best college in the area. Maintaining the necessary grades for so many years has had a stultifying effect on her social life, but now she decides its time to take her friends’ advice and cut loose. And on the first day of her last semester, she’s sitting in drama class, thoroughly bored, when transfer student Nathan Diggs walks in, a very good-looking guy from San Diego.


Albertalli, Becky. The Upside of Unrequited.

NY: HarperCollins, 2017.

I’m a retired big-city public librarian, and I started reading YA books back in the ’60s, simply as part of my job. (I sort of skipped that whole genre, what there was of it, when I actually was a young adult.) I’ve followed the evolution of the field, the shifts in topics and assumptions about the changing world teenagers inhabit, because every decade of young readers over the past half-century has been rather different from the previous decade. Changes have accelerated substantially since I was that age. And this book simply couldn’t have been written, much less published, as little as thirty years ago.


Jemisin, N. K. The Obelisk Gate.

NY: Orbit Books, 2016.

This isn’t a sequel to The Fifth Season so much as the middle section of a continuous epic narrative, and it’s easily as good as the first volume. And, like the first volume, it also won the Hugo and was nominated for the Nebula. Essun (who once was Damaya and then was Syenite) is a very powerful orogene, a manipulator of the geology of the Earth (which, one begins to suspect for various reasons, is actually our Earth, perhaps in the far future), has found sanctuary in a community that includes many others of her kind — which amazes her, since people like her are universally feared and frequently killed as children, as soon as they begin to show their abilities.


Thrash, Maggie. Honor Girl.

Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2015.

This “graphic memoir” is the author’s first book, but she pretty much hits it out of the park. It’s the 1990s (I think) and 15-year-old Maggie, an Atlanta native and daughter of a federal judge, is spending the summer at the same Kentucky camp where she’s gone every year since she was little (as did her mother and her grandmother). She has friends there but she’s not really one of the popular girls. But this summer is different. This is the summer she’s blindsided by falling in love with tall, blonde Erin, a 19-year-old counselor.


Jemisin, N. K. The Fifth Season.

NY: Orbit Books, 2015.

I finally read Jemisin’s earlier “Inheritance” trilogy a few months ago and enjoyed it immensely. I’m pleased to discover that the first volume of her more recent “Broken Earth” trilogy is of equally high quality. There’s a reason it won the Hugo and was nominated for the Nebula and several other major awards. The author’s worldbuilding skills are fully on display and the characters and the setting will rope you into the story from the first page.


Reck, Jared. A Short History of the Girl Next Door.

NY: Knopf, 2017.

Matt Wainwright is fifteen years old and a high school freshman in south-central Pennsylvania, and he’s also six-foot-three (he comes from a tall family), so he plays basketball. He’s good at it, too, and one of his two big goals is to make the varsity team his sophomore year, after Liam Branson, the current star, has graduated. Right across the street in their cul-de-sac from Matt lives Tabby Laughlin, the same age as him, and whom he has basically grown up with, ever since they were infants and Matt’s mom babysat Tabby.


Brown, Chester. Paying for It.

Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2011.

Chester, who lives and works in Toronto, has been a working cartoonist for quite a long time and his books tend to serious subjects and transparent honesty. The subtitle here is “A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being a John,” and that’s exactly what it is. When he broke up with his third long-term girlfriend (though they kept living together), he decided enough was enough: No more traditional relationships. It wasn’t worth it.


Stratford, Sarah-Jane. Radio Girls.

NY: New American Library, 2016.

It’s the fall of 1926 and young Maisie Musgrave, born in Toronto and raised in New York by whomever her actress mother was able to dump her on, has returned to her adopted home of London. Moreover, after several years as one of the barely-working poor, she has just been hired as a secretary at the four-year-old BBC up on Savoy Hill. Mostly, she’s the typing assistant to the executive assistant to the Director General, John Reith, who hates being forced to hire so many women.


Atwood, Margaret. Moral Disorder and Other Stories.

NY: Random House, 2006.

To my mind, Margaret Atwood is one of the very best living writers in English and has been for some time. Her novels are never less than first-rate, and so too are most of her short stories. Not that many people are equally good at both. This volume actually falls somewhere between the two forms. The stories were written and originally published separately, and over a period of years, but they all are episodes from the life of Nell, a Canadian woman now (apparently) in her seventies, as she looks back and remembers her life.


Published in: on 16 April 2018 at 4:12 am  Leave a Comment