Amy Says Read This

Seriously, you should totally read this.

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Mind Your Manners, Alice Roosevelt! by Leslie Kimmelman

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Kimmelman, L., & Gustavson, A. (ill.) (2009). Mind your manners, Alice Roosevelt!. Atlanta: Peachtree. ISBN: 9781561454921

Annotation: Teddy Roosevelt could handle almost anything. Except his oldest daughter, Alice, who liked to break rules and get into mischief.

Reaction: This picture book is as much about Teddy as about Alice, but it did have some fun facts about the President’s daughter, including that she owned a pet snake at one point!

The art is detailed and reflects the mischievousness of Alice and the whole of Roosevelt family. Gustavson’s depictions of Alice and her family’s antics are really my favorite part of the book, making it a much more enjoyable read than the text alone.

This book is not quite as much fun as What To Do About Alice, which focused more on Alice’s exploits rather than her father trying to get her to behave, but it was a good read. I enjoyed the way it depicted the family, and I think it’s always fun to see “behind the scenes” in the lives of famous people.

Media Used: Oil on prepared paper

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Illustrator’s Website


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2014 in Review: My Top Reads

Looking back at my year of reading, I’ve read a lot, thanks to book clubs and graduating and not having a job for awhile. Plus, I’m now in an organization that puts out monthly reviews, which gets me even more excited to read and read and read and … I’m discovering over and over that my literary eyes are bigger than my stomach. Because no matter how many books I read there are hundreds more that I WANT to read, and I have to remind myself regularly that there’s nothing wrong with not being able to read everything ever.

I do feel fortunate that of all the books I read this past year, I rated nearly 20% of them 5 stars and only a handful 1 or 2 stars. However, that many 5 star books makes it difficult for me to narrow it down to my top picks for the year. Some are re-reads of past favorites, like Sandman, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Time Traveler’s Wife, some are sequels in series that I’m super excited about and in love with (Hello, Stormlight Archive and Saga) and others are massively popular hits; I mean, we’ve all already read The Fault in Our Stars, right? So … I guess it really isn’t that hard to figure out which were my ultimate favorites this year.

Originally, I thought this was going to be my Top Five of the year, but I read too many good freaking books, so have a Top 5% (in no particular order):

(All images from

(All images from

Kiss Kill Vanish by Jessica Martinez – First of all, this cover is phenomenal, and thankfully, the story within backs it up. The main character, Valentina, is tough and smart and conflicted. The plot hooked me right away, and I couldn’t wait to read more about what happened to Valentina and see what she was going to do next. And I LOVED the ending. I think it would have been really easy for this to end unsatisfactorily, but Martinez gave us an ending that really feels true to the characters she created, and I thought it was wonderful.

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta – This is, hands down, my favorite book that I read this year. In fact, I read it twice within a couple of months because I love it so much. This is one that I try to recommend as much as possible, to people who are looking for a great YA novel after finishing The Fault in Our Stars or If I Stay, to people looking for a good audiobook, and all my friends have heard about it around 50 times. It’s so good, and y’all need to read it, seriously. Read it. (Be warned, the first 100 pages or so are a little confusing, but it picks up quick after that!)

Landline by Rainbow Rowell – I love Rowell. She’s a great storyteller, and her characters are so wonderful and real, and I want to read everything by her. I made the mistake of starting this one (her newest) right before bed, and ended up reading it in one sitting (by the time 5am rolled around, I was really thankful I wasn’t working at the time). Her writing is smart and funny and wonderfully consumable; all of her books have sucked me in and left me thinking about the characters for days afterwards. (Incidentally, I also gave one of Rowell’s other books, Fangirl 5 stars this year, and I gave Attachments 5 stars last year [actually, Attachments might be my favorite of hers that I’ve read {I’ve yet to read Eleanor & Park}], so basically, you can’t go wrong with my gal Rainbow).

Primates by Jim Ottaviani – This book is a graphic novel look Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas, how they came to study primates and what they did to advance what we know about them. It’s a great introduction to these women for middle grade (and older!) readers, and it presents the information in a fun, accessible way. I think this could be a great book to use in a classroom and could easily encourage kids to do more reading on their own about primates or these scientists. Also, the reveal of Dian Fossey’s fate (murdered by poachers) left me sobbing in bed at the tragedy of it, though the book, thankfully, doesn’t come right out and say that she was murdered by poachers; Ottaviani handles it delicately and age-appropriately.

East of West by Jonathan Hickman – The story in this graphic novel is a little weird, but it was interesting, and I enjoyed this take on the apocalypse. But what really appeals to me about this book, and what has me recommending it to people is the art. I love the art SO MUCH. I love the image of Death as a long, lanky cowboy, the fight scenes are stunning, and the use of color is really well done. I spent more time than usual just enjoying Nick Dragotta’s art as I read this, and it’s what made me want to continue the series.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Adichie has created a completely compelling and thought provoking story in Americanah. She spends a lot of time talking about race and feminism in America through the lens of a non-American black woman, and I found it really eye opening and encouraged me to examine my own white privilege. But even more than that, the characters were so well written, and I was always anxious to see what happened next with them.

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan – I read this at the beginning of the year, so my memories are a little hazy, but my one line review gives me a pretty good idea of how I was feeling when I finished: “This book is just so damn beautiful and heartbreaking.” I do remember how I felt so powerless, right along with Sahar, and I really liked this portrayal of LGBTQ issues in a country that is so different from the US. I wish I could better remember how Farizan wrote the transgendered characters Sahar encounters, but I do remember liking that Farizan made it a point to draw a distinction between being gay and transgendered, and that gender reassignment surgery would not magically fix Sahar’s problems, in large part because she was not born in the wrong body.

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley – This book follows two girls, one black, one white, in 1959 Virginia, as the local high school integrates for the first time. It shows us the torment Sarah experiences as one of the first ten black students to attend the white high school, and her inner turmoil as she comes to grips with the fact that she likes girls. And we follow Linda, as she reevaluates all the beliefs she’s held her entire life, and it makes the reader examine the how and why beliefs are formed and whether they are true beliefs or not. I really liked this book for the way it showed how the Civil Rights Movement was something very personal for the people involved and put a (fictional) face to the struggle.

(If you’re looking for even more lesbian coming of age stories, check out The Miseducation of Cameron Post, a great book about a growing up lesbian in a small town in the ’90’s.)

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay – This was sort of the year of my feminist awakening, and I’m trying to make it a point to try to read more books about feminism in our modern culture. This book came on my radar during the Goodreads Choice Awards voting, and the title and simple cover really grabbed my attention. This book was really an engaging read, and Gay’s style makes even her essay about competitive Scrabble fascinating. As I noted in my initial review on Goodreads, not every essay spoke to me, but they were all well written and thought provoking. This is another one that encourages the reader to examine his or her own privileges and view the world from different perspectives.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – After reading The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, which is hilarious and wonderful, I was not expecting how different this book would be, and I think We Were Liars helps demonstrate Lockhart’s range as a writer. There’s very little funny here, and the suspense kept me obsessively reading from the first page. This book was supremely compelling and the big reveal is a total gut punch. It’s really well crafted, and the characters manage to be pretty unlikable yet totally fascinating.

What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend by Lissa Rankin – I feel like the title of this book tells you everything you’d ever need to know about it. It was fascinating and had a lot of helpful information about various issues concerning one’s lady business, as well as a lot of hilarrible (hilarious and horrible) anecdotes that make you feel a lot better about whatever weird things are going on with your junk. I think there’s good information in here for anyone who possesses a vagina, and Rankin has answers to the questions you didn’t even know you had.

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Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff

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Cliff, T. (2013). Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant. New York: First Second. ISBN: 9781596438132

Annotation: When Lieutenant Selim interrogates a mysterious female prisoner in Constantinople, he discovers that she is Delilah Dirk and has an amazing history. When she escapes prison, his boss assumes he is in league with her, and Selim had to fight by her side in order to survive.

Reaction: This book is wonderful. It’s a little more cutthroat than I had expected, but Cliff’s sound effect panels, which are so SO great, and beautiful colors make the story more light hearted than the amount of stabbing she does indicates. Plus the dialogue is wonderfully quick and witty, which is something I always appreciate. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but any character with a good one-liner is a character I love.

While this book doesn’t technically pass the Bechdel Test (Which says that a book/movie/video game, etc has 1. two or more female characters, 2. who have names, and 3. who speak to each other about something other than men), Delilah is such a badass character, that I’m willing to forgive the fact that she’s the only lady who really plays a part in the story. She is the most compelling part of this story, and I long to see more of her adventures. Also, I think there is the potential for Cliff to introduce more equally awesome female characters in the future.

The art in this is completely gorgeous and detailed. Cliff doesn’t say in the book what he used, but it looks to me like it was some sort of computer program. Whatever media he used, Cliff wielded it expertly. The characters are wonderful and real, and though Delilah might have the body dimensions of a regular super heroine, she is not as classically beautiful as we would expect the title character to be. And would you look at those backgrounds?! Ridiculous. They are so intricate and detailed and really help pull the reader into the story.

I would recommend this to high school readers and up, especially those who love an amazing strong heroine driven graphic novel. This is also great for people who are into the history of the Turkey/Greece region of the world or a good pirate adventure.

And everyone in the whole world should read Delilah Dirk and the Easy Mark, which is to say, “Delilah Dirk starring a CAT.”

Media Used: (from Twitter) The line art is pencil-on-paper and the colouring is all digital.

Author’s Website

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Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

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Sepetys, R. (2013). Out of the easy. New York: Philomel Books. ISBN: 9780399256929

Annotation: In New Orleans at the start of 1950, Josie is just trying to find a way to get out of the French Quarter and start a life where she can get an education and nobody knows that her mother is a prostitute.

Reaction: I really enjoyed this book. The main character is a strong, super relatable, hardworking teen girl, who is doing the best she can in the crappy circumstances she was given. There’s a little bit of a mystery surrounding the death of a wealthy stranger, but the story is mainly about how Josie handles the tangled web of lies about his death and her plans for getting out of the Quarter.

She’s surrounded by colorful secondary characters, who really help to make this book a good read. Her patchwork family includes the madame where her mother is employed, the madame’s driver and housekeeper, all the other prostitutes, and the father/son bookshop owners who have let her live in the apartment above the shop for eight years. She also encounters plenty of sleazy characters, not the least of whom is her own mother. Reading about Josie’s complicated feelings towards her mother is a little heartbreaking. As an outsider, I just wanted to give her some Real Talk about wasting her love on someone who clearly doesn’t care about her and is incapable of being loving or supportive, but it’s often hard for people to accept that their parents are horrible people, and it was nice to see Josie struggle with that.

I would recommend this for teenagers who love historical fiction or strong female characters. Sepetys really brings to life Josie’s world, showing us all the ugliness that surrounds her, but also the love and support she finds.

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Zahra’s Paradise by Amir & Khalil

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Amir & Khalil. (2011). Zahra’s Paradise. New York: First Second. ISBN: 9781596436428

Annotation: After the 2009 Iranian elections and subsequent protests, a 19 year old boy goes missing. This is the story of his family’s desperate search for him.

Reaction: I don’t know what to say about this book. I didn’t like it. I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t take any pleasure from reading it, except the pleasure of reading a well crafted, riveting story. But I’m glad to have read it. I think it was worthwhile and important and I think more people should read it.

Amir and Khalil, writing under pseudonyms for safety reasons, created a story that, while fictional, is probably similar to what a lot of Iranian families went through after the 2009 election and protests. They capture the narrator and his mother’s desperation to find Mehdi after he never came home from the protests. The circles they have to run and the danger of asking too many questions just to find any information about him are ridiculous and heartbreaking.

I remember the tweets from protesters after the elections and the tweets from those outside Iran after the government cut off internet access. At the time, I didn’t quite realize just how brave and heroic the protesters were, but they faced imprisonment or worse for the chance at freedom.

I’ll admit to being a bit confused during the book occasionally simply because I don’t know anything about Iranian politics, but they have really helpful guides in the back (that I would totally have used while reading if I had known about them before I finished).

I would give this to mature readers, probably juniors and seniors in high school and above, but it’s especially for those who liked Persepolis. I think this would go with a high school current events unit really well, as it gives the reader a real sense of what Iran is like for regular people, and the additional context of a class discussion about the politics and modern history there would really be helpful.

Media Used: None listed

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Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

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Bradley, K. B. (2011). Jefferson’s sons: A founding father’s secret children. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9780803734999

Annotation: It’s an open secret at Monticello that Beverly, Maddy, Harriet and Eston are Master Thomas Jefferson’s children by his slave Sally. How does this family deal with knowing their father is a great, influential man who owns them?

Reaction: Bradley tells her story over the course of 22 years through three slaves owned by Thomas Jefferson, using the 3rd person limited point of view. By switching narrators, she is able to cover the full history of her chosen time period while keeping the narrator a child. The first narrator shift was a little jarring for me, as I was really invested in Beverly’s story and wanted to continue with him, but by the second shift, it was expected and smooth reading. I enjoyed how she was able to show the reader how each previous narrator grew and matured through the eyes of the new narrator.

This book was a really fascinating look at a man who is generally idolized by the American History. While the story centers on the slaves who narrate the story, two of whom were Jefferson’s illegitimate children, their feelings about “Master Jefferson” color the narrative and give the reader a different perspective of the man. By the end, I found myself having a hard time reconciling the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence and was an integral part of creating this country with the man who not only owned slaves, but had children with one of them and ran up ridiculous amounts of debt. Whenever I start feeling bad about my school loans again, I’ll console myself with the knowledge that at least I owe less than Thomas Jefferson did.

I would use this book as part of a 4th or 5th grade history unit to provide students with a different perspective than a typical history book has. I think an important part of history is to teach children about the good and the bad, giving them a rounded view of the world. I would even recommend this for adults, as I feel I learned a lot from reading this book. It has challenged my thinking about Thomas Jefferson, which I always think is the mark of a successful book. Bradley pushes her readers towards new ideas and forces us to rethink what we were taught.

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Players in Pigtails by Shana Corey

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Corey, S., & Gibbon, R. (ill.) (2003). Players in pigtails. New York: Scholastic Press. ISBN: 9780439183055

Annotation: Katie Casey LOVES baseball, and when all the male players get drafted for WWII, she finally gets her chance to play for real, in front of huge crowds.

Reaction: I LOVE A League of Their Own (“There’s no CRYING in BASEBALL!”). I watched it so many times as a kid, and I still find myself quoting it in my daily life. It’s a great, funny movie, featuring strong women who kick butt and don’t let men tell them what to do.

I also loved Shana Corey’s other books that I’ve read, so I knew I wanted to check this out and finding out that she was inspired by A League of Their Own made me more excited about it. Corey includes the 1908 lyrics to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” and surprisingly, the verses that no one knows are how much a girl loves baseball! Corey’s fictionalized account of Katie Casey who ends up playing for the girl’s baseball league during WWII is a fun introduction to this part of our US history.

Gibbon’s illustrations are a great accompaniment to the story. The art is cute, colors bright and eye-catching. Gibbon really captures the awesome, liberating feeling of all these girls getting a chance to live their dreams.

I would give this book to girls who love sports and need to see women involved in professional sports. It’s also a great book for to use in a classroom as part of a WWII unit to highlight women’s roles at home during the war, and it shows boys that girls can be just as talented in sports.

Media Used: Watercolor and colored pencil

Author’s Website

Illustrator’s Website: None