Saturday, February 04, 2017

Bring on the Fives!

Well, yes, it is February already, but I really don't think the year starts until mid-March, so this is a perfectly timely list. Of the books I read this year, these are the ones I had a hard time putting down. I don't have any real criteria for why these books made the cut, other than I looked forward to reading them whenever I wasn't reading them. Many of them are reviewed on Goodreads so feel free to take a look there if you want an actual review. These are mostly just blurbs to describe them in case you are curious. Just assume that the actual first line of every blurb is “I just LOVED this book!!” (My favorite in each category is emboldened.)

  • GEORGE by Alex Gino – A trans girl named Melissa is just starting to blossom from an elementary school boy named George. A stellar best friend, a bully and Charlotte's Web are pieces of this beautiful story.
  • ECHO by Pam Munoz Ryan – There is some subtle magic here in the three stories of mid 20th century kids and the harmonica that threads through their maturing.
  • ESPERANZA RISING by Pam Munoz Ryan – This story of a wealthy young girl from Mexico who undergoes tremendous changes when she and her mother emigrate to California is moving, informative and entertaining.
  • A COURT OF THORN AND ROSES by Sarah Maas – Okay, it claims to be a retelling of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Now, I love Robin McKinley's BEAUTY, but this is a close second in awesomeness. It helps that it is a completely different kind of retelling. Sex and violence and trust issues abound. My students were obsessed with this...
  • GIRLS LIKE US by Gail Giles – Two developmentally disabled girls try to make their way in the world. It took me a couple false starts to get into this amazing story, but it was totally worth it in the end.
  • DEATH COMING UP THE HILL by Chris Crowe – Hmmm... I seem to have given this 4 stars in goodreads, but 5 on my yearly list. It is the story of a kid deciding what to do with his life in the Vietnam war era. It has an interesting format – it is written in haiku with one syllable for each soldier killed in Vietnam. It packs a punch.
  • NOT IF I SEE YOU FIRST by Eric Lindstrom – The story is your basic blind girl trying to get over her dad's possible suicide while navigating boys and possibly trying out for the track team. Same old cliches... (heh) Great tone and characters who make all kinds of mistakes but refuse to be pitied.
  • ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES by Jennifer Niven – Manic depression and grief are explored in this gutting love story set in the great state of Indiana.
  • MONUMENT 14 by Emmy Laybourne – Kids wait out an apocalypse in a superstore and it is more gripping than it has a right to be.
  • FRONT LINES by Michael Grant – An alternative history of WWII where young women are also in combat. Three different perspectives make this north African theater story come to life.
  • THE FIRST TIME SHE DROWNED by Kerry Kletter – This one hurts – it is the story of a girl coming out of a mental institution into college. It is clear from the beginning that her toxic mother is the problem, but there is more to it than even that. It was not a fun read, but very powerful.
  • FANS OF THE IMPOSSIBLE LIFE by Kate Scelsa – A great friendship book featuring quiet Jeremy, depressed Mira and manic-pixie-gay-boy Sebby hits all the right notes as these three come together and make each other stronger than they are apart.
  • ALL AMERICAN BOYS by Jayson Reynolds & Brendan Kiley – In two voices, Reynolds and Kiley shine a light on an incident of clearly race-influenced police brutality and the fallout in the community where it happens.
  • THE GIRL IN THE BLUE COAT by Monica Hesse – In Amsterdam, a young woman who is trading in the black market to keep her family afloat gets pulled into the search for a missing Jewish girl.
  • EMMY & OLIVER by Robin Benway – Oliver was kidnapped when he and Emmy were small. Emmy's life is changed due to the fear that this instilled in her parents. When Oliver comes back, once again, everyone is impacted by the uproar.
  • UNDER A PAINTED SKY by Sherry Lee – Samantha and Annamae each escape a horrible fate to head to California in the gold rush disguised as boys in this spectacular female empowered western.
  • THE MEMORY BOOK by Laura Avery – Sammie has dementia. Her plan was to graduate and get out of new Hampshire to attend NYU. She has always been the smartest, and now she is not. And the disease that is causing this is terminal. Bring tissues.
  • DROWNED CITY by Don Brown [graphic novel] – This is a pretty minimalist telling of the Hurricane Katrina story. The line drawings are strangely moving and the factual text is heartbreaking even as is just tells the story straight.

  • WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Well, yes, we should. This slender volume leaves no room for argument.
  • PASTRIX Nadia Bolz-Weber – This grace-fueled story of NBW's journey from drugged out stand up comedian to Methodist minister is a liberating view of how to be a Christian and a proponent of social justice at the same time.
  • ON WRITING Stephen King – Well, he knows how to write, and he tells the rest of us what it is like. Thanks, Uncle Stevie!
  • LIFE MOVES PRETTY FAST Hadly Freeman – This love letter to '80s movies was a joy to read and influenced my re-watching profoundly!
  • I'M YOUR BIGGEST FAN Kate Coyne – Coyne is a celebrity journalist and this is the hilarious story of how she got that way.
  • HUNGRY HEART Jennifer Weiner – I love a fat girl book and have been surprised that I haven't really taken to Weiner's fiction. But her memoir is honest, beautifully written and fascinating.
  • BORN A CRIME Trevor Noah – Who knew that this handsome, funny fella could write like nobody's business? His story of being bi-racial in South Africa as apartheid is in its death throes is brilliant.
  • THE LIFE CHANGING MAGIC OF NOT GIVING A F*CK by Sarah Knight – I was raised to believe that being involved in the community is important for a rewarding life, but the sense of obligation that fueled some of my volunteer activities was not always healthy. This book helped me to determine what things I feel strongly about doing and what I was doing because I felt I should. It is an incredibly liberating read!

  • AFTER YOU by Jojos Moyes – After her boss/boyfriend/obsession dies, Louisa has to pull herself together. This sequel to ME BEFORE YOU was stronger than its predecessor in my opinion. In parts it was predictable, but the character of Louisa is compelling even when she is just treading water.
  • BE FRANK WITH ME Julia Claiborn Johnson – This is an adorable story about an assistant to a New York publisher who is sent to California to help a reclusive writer get some work done. She doesn't know that basically means being a nanny to the writer's unusually interesting son, Frank.
  • THE NEST Cynthia Sweeney – Four siblings have to deal with the fallout when the family fortune they have all been planning on to pull them out of their troubles is depleted in this whip-smart story.
  • THE SUMMER BEFORE THE WAR Helen Simonson – That would be WWI. Beatrice is a young woman teacher (or old maid depending on your viewpoint) who moves to a small British village just as everything is going kerflooey. Great characters and setting with a slow-burn story that unwinds just as it should.
  • THE OPPOSITE OF EVERYONE Joshilyn Jackson – I just love everything this woman writes. Paula is a lawyer who specializes in ugly divorces, when a young man enters her life it brings up memories of her strange childhood and forces her to deal with its fallout. It is the kind of book where I remember exactly where I was when I read every part of it.
  • THE GOLDFINCH Donna Tartt – It's super-long, almost too long, but I'm stumped as to what could have been left out. The first two thirds is one of the best books I have ever read. It's the story of a boy who goes through a horrible tragedy and steals a priceless painting. The last third, I just pushed through to get out the other side, but it was a great ride.
  • ANOTHER BROOKLYN Jacqueline Woodson – This book is so slight, yet a very powerful look at what it is is like to grow up a black girl in 1970s Brooklyn. It often felt more like poetry than prose to me which added to the emotional heft.
  • COMMONWEALTH Ann Patchett – So I ended up writing Ann Patchett ANOTHER fan letter, practically scrawled in crayon after I finished this family saga. Two marriages break up and a new family unit is cobbled together in this amazing story.
  • THE STAND: CAPTAIN TRIPS Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa [graphic novel] – I love THE STAND and I was nervous about how a graphic version would play. I shouldn't have worried. This version keeps the story cranking and the visuals are a huge improvement on the made for TV version that had superseded my own imaginary version.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Books Read in 2017 Part One

Looking at my reading stats this year, I did pretty well. I read 124 books all the way through. Now, because I am me, I probably started 248 books, read 20 pages and walked away. It is very liberating to walk away from a book! As a result, I don't have any books on my list to which I gave less than 3 stars. Not one book did I read out of a sense of obligation. Some of those books were, admittedly, rereads. I have my Betsy-Tacys and my Little Houses, I tend to revisit THE STAND and 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD with alarming frequency, but of my 124, 109 of them were brand new! (Well, new to me. I don't keep track of publication year for the books that I read, a flaw that I have fixed in the 2017 spreadsheet.)

When I look at the list I see that only one of my 3-star books was not a picture book! It was CON ACADEMY by Joe Schreiber, a perfectly acceptable book that I thought might be good for summer reading. It was a boarding school crime caper that was perfectly readable and about which I can remember virtually nothing. All my other 3-stars were picture books.

And now time for the dreadful confession. If you take away all the picture books on my list, I only read 66 new books. Gee, I was feeling so proud of my 124 books, but now that I have done the math. Yikes. I guess the reason that it feels like I am not reading much lately is because I am not reading much lately. Must do better. Must step away from the internet. Must stop binge watching.

Well, of those picture books, I gave out seven 5-star ratings:
  • DJANGO by Bonnie Christiansen – I love Django Reinhart and didn't know he had disability issues.
  • THE PRINTER by Myron Uhlberg – I could not love Myron Uhlber more, he writes beautful books about his dad who must have been amazing.
  • THE PIRATE OF KINDERGARTEN by George Ella Lyon – I feel like all kindergarteners are secretly pirates...
  • DAD, JACKIE AND ME by Myron Ulberg – Myron's dad, again!
  • A FINE DESSERT by Emily Jenkins & Sophie Blackall – Some controversy here, but and I think that in the hands of some revisionist history nuts, this book could be interpreted badly, but it is thoughtful and shows the humanity of enslaved people, albeit in a way that might not be clear to an audience of children without historical context.
  • FOR THE RIGHT TO LEARN by Rebecca Langston-George & Janna Bock – Who doesn't love a picture book where the heroine gets shot in the head? Um... everyone? Except the writers handle the more terrifying parts of the Malala Yousafa story delicately and make it work for young readers.
  • PIANO STARTS HERE by Robert Parker – First off, this is not the Robert Parker who wrote the Spenser books, so don't be disappointed. But it is a great story about a young boy, legally blind, who wants to play the piano, and does. I read a lot of books about kids with disabilities for a course I am teaching and this was one of my favorites.

Below you will find a list of my 4-star books. Some of them I did review on Goodreads before Goodreads began to feel like a job, some of them you are just going to have to look up for yourself if you are interested. These are all books that I enjoyed tremendously, I just didn't loooooooove them.

Adult Books -
  • ELIZABETH IS MISSING by Emma Healey [fiction]
  • WEEKENDERS by Mary Kay Andrews[fiction]
  • UNDERGROUND AIRLINES  by Ben H. Winters [fiction]
  • THE FORGOTTEN ROOM by Karen White, Beatriz Williams & Lauren Willig [fiction]
  • WINTER STREET by Eiln Hilderbrand [fiction]
  • THE STAND: AMERICAN NIGHTMARES by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa [graphic novel]
  • FILMISH by Edward Ross [graphic novel]
  • A LIFE IN PARTS by Bryan Cranston [memoir]
  • ROUTE 66 STILL KICKS by Rick Antonson [non-fiction]
  • UNMENTIONABLE by Therese Oneill [nonfiction]

Children's and Middle Grade non-fiction
  • JUDY BLUME by Kathleen Krull
  • TURNING 15 ON THE ROAD TO FREEDOM by Linda Blackmon Lowery
  • SALLY RIDE by Tam O'Shaughnessy
  • DOLLEY MADISON by Kathleen Krull
  • SONIA SOTOMAYOR by Kathleen Krull

YA [fiction unless otherwise noted]

  • THE DISTANCE FROM ME TO YOU by Marina Gessner
  • PAPER HEARTS by Meg Wiviott
  • KISSING IN AMERICA by Margot Rabb
  • THE UNLIKELY HERO OF ROOM 13B by Teresa Toten
  • THE YOUNG ELITES by Marie Lu
  • KILL THE BOY BAND by Goldy Moldavsky
  • DAN VS. NATURE by Dan Calame
  • EARTH GIRL by Janet Edwards
  • A STUDY IN CHARLOTTE by Brittany Cavallaro
  • WE SHOULD HANG OUT SOMETIME by Josh Sundquist [memoir]
  • A TYRANNY OF PETTICOATS by Jessica Spotswood
Next up is my five stars with blurbs!