Monday, December 31, 2012

Four Star 2012 Part One

Here is the first half of my four star books. If you are unable to scroll back I will remind you that these are the ones that I liked very much indeed, but was able to function while reading them. My YA four stars will be in the next post...

Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan – The was the gripping story of a group of black musicians in Germany as the Nazis come to power. I don’t have much to say other than I wished it had come with a soundtrack.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn – A very disturbing and yet entertaining story about a brittle woman who lost everything when she was a young child and her family was murdered. Twisty and dark…

Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn – It felt a bit like Major Pettigrew if he were the Queen of England. Lovely secondary characters and an interesting perspective on the Queen.

View From Mount Joy by Lorna Landvik – When I was reading it, it felt like a five star. So funny and I didn’t want to put it down. It was a pleasure to read but somehow it didn’t stick with me.

Curse of the Spellmans, Revenge of the Spellmans and The Spellmans Strike Again by Lisa Lutz – These were some funny mysteries. A couple of them broke the five star barrier. The first because it was such a sweet surprise and the other one because it felt like she was really writing a strong story instead of just coasting on her awesome characters.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles – Okay, it could be that I was reading it in Disneyworld, but I thought the big reveal was kind of a snooze. The roaring 20s setting was delicious and the characters fascinating, but they never did what I wanted them to, which can be very frustrating when you are muttering advice to them under your breath as you read!

Baby's in Black: Astrid Kirchher, Stuart Sutcliffe and the Beatles in Hamburg by Arne Bellsdorf – This was fascinating. I love the movie BACKBEAT and this tells essentially the same story, but with wonderful details. It really shows Stuart and Astrid as artists. The only flaw is that every character looks the same. Not that I remember to look at the pictures in most graphic novels, anyway…

The Hypo: The Melancholic Young Lincoln by Noah VanScriver – The art in this book was marvelous and the story was very interesting, Lincoln just starting out and hooking up with Mary Todd. It dealt with his mental and physical issues as well as his work and life. It got a little weird near the end, but all in all, worth a read.

Level Up by Gene Luen Yang and Thien Pham – This was a quick little read, but it was emotionally draining. The story was about a kid whose (now dead) father slaved his life away so that he could go to medical school. But he would rather play videogames. As a former young person I was gripped and moved. As a parent I was less so…

Girl Walks into a Bar by Rachel Dratch – It seems unfair of me to only give this four stars because I didn’t like the way her life turned out. But I did. She is funny and her writing is clear, but I didn’t laugh out loud as much as I thought I would and I don’t want her to have to settle.

My Life as Laura by Kelly Kathleen Ferguson – This was hysterically funny! KKF has an existential crisis and decides to follow the path of Laura Inglass Wilder, in a nearly era specific dress. She was signing her books at LAURAPALOOZA this summer (don’t ask, just google if you must) and I kind of bought one on a whim because the piece she read was very funny – I figured it was like movie previews where she only tells the best part. But I was pleasantly surprised by the consistently entertaining story.

Little Princes by Connor Grennan – I don’t usually like books where people do nice things for people in other cultures and leave with a sense that those simple folk are really the wise ones. (See Three-Cups-of-Shut-the-Hell-Up) but Grennan was humorously self deprecating throughout and he didn’t write about helping a bunch of orphans, he wrote about helping some individual kids. Nicely done, Grennan.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? By Mindy Kaling – I may have given this four stars rather than five because I found her SO annoying as Kelly Kapur on THE OFFICE, but now that I adore her on THE MINDY PROJECT, I might have liked this even more. Either way, Kaling is funny as can be and her topical chapters were a hoot!

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Morin – Morin is an English journalist who apparently wrote this in 20 minutes, or a couple months. She mentioned having to write it fast. There were some fantastic bits in here and some annoying bits. She certainly let it all hang out, but she tried to walk the middle ground between being a real mate and wanting to let you know just how cool she really is. That being said, there was important content here, I love her as a social commentator, but not much as a memoirist. Less Caitlin history, more Caitlin’s ideas, please!

Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt – Hey, Gary Schmidt went to the same college as me! And he is a fellow Michigander! And he can write! This was a beautiful story about friendship and rising above circumstances. However, there were also some birds and a cancer story arc that was probably a little over the top. I still loved it, but I felt like it is one of those middle grade books that was written so that kids could read it in school and find meaning, not that it was written for adults, but I think adults are going to prefer it.

Master of Deceit: J. Edgar Hoover and America in the Age of Lies by Marc Aronson – I just love those oversized middle grade non-fiction hardcovers that Marc Aronson and Jim Murphy keep sending my way. I get such a rich backstory on historical figures and events without all that wordy embroidery that I have to wade through in adult non-fiction. Do I feel guilty? Sure, a little. But I end up smarter at the end just like in a real book. This one was about Hoover,  a creepy little bastard who we are well rid of! Fascinating reading, though.

How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown – A sweet, funny, sciencey book – who knew such a think existed? Brown discovers a planetoid bigger than Pluto just as he is falling in love and starting a family. It is nice to see how he does this universe shattering work but maintains perspective in his family life as well.

The Cure For Everything by Tim Caulfield – Yes Tim, you are so skinny and healthy. Now shut up. Actually, don’t shut up, just stop being annoying. Caufield was fascinating and he tried to bust all these health myths by making himself as shockingly healthy as possible. He didn't make it sound fun, and he kind of made it seem impossible – but it was interesting.

Unnatural Selection - Choosing Boys Over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men by Mara Hvistehdahl – Oh my gosh! Stop having boy babies RIGHT NOW!!! Selective abortion in many places is leading to a very skewed gender inequity in the birth rate. This book freaked me out a little, but was a fascinating read.

West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein – Oh sure, I have seen the play and the movie, but I never read it, so this counts. Oh, no reason…

I will write up the rest of my yearly reading bonanza tomorrow!

Happy New Year!

Three Stars 2012!

It is so rare for me to continue reading a book I don’t like that the LOWEST level on my scale is three stars this year! Here is my scale:
  • Three stars - I liked these a lot, but I don't expect everyone to love them as much as I did.
  • Four stars - These are the ones that I liked very much indeed, but was able to function while reading them.
  • Five stars - The books that I loved - that I could not put down to pay attention to my family or even make snacks.

FICTION WRITTEN FOR ADULTS (and clever teens, I suppose) 
Jack: 1939 by Francine Mathews – Young Jack Kennedy gets involved in espionage in Europe during WWII – neat concept, but there was a distance to the characters.

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan – A survival story of a young woman in 1914, it probably had more depth than I was in the mood for. Not the book’s fault. Just my lazy mind!

Prospect Park West by Amy Sohn – A bitchy Brooklyn summer comedy of bad manners. It was kind of fun to read, but I didn’t like any of the characters. You have to give me at least one fictional friend per book, or something twisty. Otherwise I feel ripped off. 


How to Fight Lie and Cry Your Way to Popularity (and a Prom Date): Lousy Life Lessons from 50 Teen Movies  by Nikki Roddy [non-fiction] – Great title and cute graphics, but the “lessons” are a little slight. I enjoyed it, but I ripped through it in about 10 minutes. 


Want To Go Private by Sarah Littman [YA] – A scary little potboiler about a young girl who is groomed by a pedophile and runs off with him and suffers the consequences. It was bleak and well written, but I felt icky after I finished it. That doesn’t mean it is bad. I think it is a valuable book, but I didn’t enjoy it. And sometimes I just need to enjoy a book. I can enjoy a creepy book, but this one had a little too much of a lesson to it for me to stop cringing at what was happening.

The Other Side of Dark by Sarah Smith [YA] – Another one that is a perfectly well written book. This is a bit of supernatural fiction with a fascinating topic, set in Boston with excellent historical detail and racial viewpoints. A young girl dealing with the loss of her mom becomes obsessed with a historic building and befriends the wealthy son of parents with very high expectations. It was really interesting, but not enjoyable.

So those are my three stars – of the 76 new books I remember to write down for this year, only these 6 were three stars! Stay tuned for the fours and fives!


Usually I don't count my rereads when I am tallying up the yearly totals, but I was shocked at how low my numbers were for the summer. Then I remembered that I did a lot of series rereading. And doggone it, I want those numbers so that when a student asks me how many books I read a year I can honestly say - around 100. So here are the repeat offenders.

Shining Through by Susan Isaacs and The Stand by Stephen King
These are two of my all time favorites. I bought them to read on the ipad to see if I liked it. I did, but I think only because I knew I loved them. I have had a heckova time dragging myself through the digital copies of  MY LIFE by Keith Richards and THE GUNSLINGER by Stephen King that I bought. And I am pretty sure that if I were reading them in print I would have cranked. I read these both in November

The rest of these are series books that I read in July and August.

Magic By the Lake
The Time Garden
Knight's Castle
The Well Wishers
Half Magic
Edward Eager is a mid-century playwright and children’s author who was influenced by E. Nesbitt and writes fantastic magical books with high expectations. And I love him!

Winona's Pony Cart
Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown
Heaven to Betsy
Betsy in Spite of Herself
Betsy Was a Junior
Betsy and Joe
Carney's House Party
Betsy and the Great World
Betsy's Wedding
Maud Hart Lovelace wrote these and they are my favorite series of all time. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am fairly obsessed!

On the Banks of Plum Creek 
By the Shores of Silver Lake  
Little Town on the Prairie       
These Happy Golden Years    
I attended Laurapalooza (the Laura Ingalls Wilder Convention) this year. It inspired me to reread these. They hold up very well. I reread THE LONG WINTER every year during the first snow day, but we had no snow days this year! Look for it in next year’s list!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Well, this is mortifying!

 Iw went to the blog to show off my year end list from 2011 only to find that I haven't posted in almost a year! Good grief! I have read a lot, but you wouldn't know it from here! Well, you are just going to have to wait until next week to see the most recent but they will show up eventually...