Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner

I’d not even heard of this but my daughter found it at the bookstore and used a Christmas gift card to buy it. She finished it before we’d even been home half an hour from the bookstore and said she loved it and I had to read it. Well, I enjoyed it very much too. I don’t know if 11 year olds will get any of the Buffy or Twilight references, but as a 40something who was a huge Buffy fan I loved it that the librarian was British and named Mr. Niles.
AJ just started middle school and has a crush on a girl he likes, Nia. His friends Hunter and Ivy seem to have no trouble at all adjusting to middle school and are very annoying. AJ knows that Nia likes vampire stories so he starts pretending to be one. At this point I had questions: is this a world where vampires are real? Is everyone play acting? Does he really think Nia will like him better? I just went along for the ride and enjoyed it very much. Stylistically I liked the drawing style and the full colors. The trees and woods made it clear we were in the Pacific Northwest (as does the Powell’s bookstore reference.)
A fun graphic novel.

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Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

What a great book to kick off the year! I cannot believe I had not read it before. It was wonderful, 5 stars, and I really enjoyed taking my time reading it because I didn’t want it to end, and I’m still thinking about it a lot.

So, this is a post-apocalyptic novel, one where the apocalyptic event was a pandemic. This particular pandemic was very fast and killed approximately 99% of the population. Here’s the thing I can’t stop thinking about. In the 20 years after the even world there are lots of the usual post apocalyptic things you might expect–no cars, electricity, people have scavenged, formed little towns, there are cuckoo and violent prophets, and the generation that has grown up in that 20 years don’t have any concept of air travel, internet, smart phones, etc. even though the older people do. And what’s kind of crazy is-it’s not like those things ceased to exist. There wasn’t an EMP. It’s just that without people to keep things going, they don’t keep going on their own. Who will run the power station? Of the few people left alive, do any happen to be scientists or robotics engineers or diesel mechanics or oil rig operators or what have you? The human knowledge of the world didn’t exactly go away-it was still in books. But it was no longer applicable. I really can’t stop thinking about that.
What I thought was great about this was the way the story was put together. All starting with an aging actor’s final performance in King Lear. His death curiously ends up bringing together a variety of people in the post apocalyptic world many years later. I liked it that the characters we followed all had some connection to him. Between King Lear and the Traveling Symphony and the Station Eleven comic book, it is nice to see the arts stubbornly sticking around even in humanity’s darkest times.
There were so many parts of this book that I found just deeply sad. They weren’t flashy bits, no dramatic deaths, just all very realistic and intensely sad things to think about. I found myself today thinking that if there was a pandemic I don’t think I want to be the brave survivor-I’d rather be the person who quickly dies in a couple hours.
This was a 5 star book to start the year!

The High Season by Judy Blundell

Well look at that–turns out I actually read 101 books this year. I read The High Season way back in June and never logged it here or on Goodreads. Someone mentioned the book tonight and I figured it out. So better late than never.
I did really enjoy this book–set in a super rich part of Long Island that I basically never heard of-not the Hamptons, but above the Hamptons. The main character manages to own a home there and loves it, but she’s not part of the upper echelon. Alas, her marriage falls apart. And basically everything terrible happens to her. As much as I loved all the details about the ridiculously wealthy and this steamy summer and absurd behavior, I really did get extremely upset on her behalf at the number of outrageous things that happened to her and how she was treated. I think I was ultimately satisfied by the the ending, but not as much as I wanted to be (because there was only one outcome that would make me happy and that was neither realistic nor great storytelling.)

Top Ten Books of 2018

I was afraid I wouldn’t reach my Goodreads goal this year, but I did-100 books! (disclaimer-to make sure I reached that I put down the book that was going slowly and instead read two fast paced, can’t put down books.)  I’m pretty pleased with 100 (though apparently last year I read 124?!)and I know from my double Goodreads accounts that 50 of them were children’s books-exactly half! (Update: I just found out that I never recorded a book I read this summer. Which brings my total to 101.)Some of those books were long, some were short, some were adult, some were YA, some were children’s, some were audiobooks, some were graphic novels, but they were all stories, and that’s really what I’m counting. So, of those 100 stories, which ones will stick with me? What were the top ten?

Looking back at the titles I read I can’t believe some of the titles were this year! A year is a pretty long time and if you’d asked me when I read, for example, the new Kristin Hannah book I would have said “Oh a couple years ago.” But it was, in fact, a January book. And glancing over the titles and seeing what falls into the one year time frame-well, I read a lot of really good books. In fact, I gave 5 star ratings to twenty-four books! They can’t all be top ten though, and just because I thought a book was 5 star doesn’t mean it was my favorite of the year. (And perhaps I’m a bit free with my 5 stars.)

The Top Ten Books of 2018 (in no particular order)

Check Please!: #Hockey, Vol 1 by Ngozi Ukazu– The only graphic novel on my list this year. This book was funny, sweet, and gave a great look into the world of college (and professional) hockey. Unique and feel good. I adored this.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal– Man I loved the structure of this story. It left me wanting more but at the same time I was so tickled by the way she moved me right into another story.

The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain–Light, charming, clever. I simply loved this little treasure.

Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman–Scythe made my top list last year and it was no question this sequel was headed to my best of the year. This was incredible with an ending I can’t. stop. thinking. about. Absolutely fantastic. Mr. Shusterman please don’t write anything else until you’ve finished this! I can barely wait!

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck–I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again-each WWII book I read adds a little bit more to my understanding of this time period. So much of what happened in this amazing and sad story was completely new to me. I think this is a book I won’t be forgetting.

Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain–One of 5 time travel books I read this year. I love seeing how different authors choose to explain time travel (I was fascinated by Once Was a Time) This one presents us with difficult choices and sad situations. I cared a lot about all the characters. Really good.

Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh– Haigh is a fantastic writer and this story just gripped me. It was not light and there were many depressing lives, but oh I loved the way she matter of factly told this story about this coal mining town.

The Truth About Animals by Lucy Cooke– For possibly the first time ever, a nonfiction book on my top 10! And I’m going to admit that I still haven’t actually finished it! Not only are the animal facts fascinating, but Cooke’s writing is well crafted and entertaining. Friends, family, and strangers got to hear me sharing many of these facts throughout the year.

How Hard Can It Be? by Allison Pearson–This book was laugh out loud funny, but also really hit some emotional moments. Pearson’s books are a treat.

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell–Gosh, I love just about by Lisa Jewell. A missing child is a horribly sad topic, but somehow this book didn’t make me cry and I couldn’t put it down.

One thing these books all have in common is that they stayed in my mind long after I read them. Some were funny, some were dark, but I felt they were all really well written and had something special about them.

Let’s recap a few other things and see how I did with 2018 reading goals.  This year I did get back on track with keeping up to date here as well as on Goodreads. I made myself write my review here (perhaps a quicker shorter post than in the past, but I’m getting it done) before putting it on Goodreads, and that worked. As with the previous years I wanted to make time to reread at least one book.
This year I reread Time and Again by Jack Finney, September by Rosamund Pilcher, and a whole lot of children’s and ya books: Locked in Time by Lois Duncan, The Candymakers by Wendy Mass, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone (as an audiobook), Luvvy and the Girls by Natalie Savage Carlson, and Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry.  It was so much fun to read Anastasia and Luvvy again and remember why I liked them so much (esp Anastasia) and reread the scenes I recalled (esp Luvvy.) 68 Rooms was a reread because we visited the object of the story on our vacation and so we listened to the audio on the drive home. Princess Academy was really enjoyable and had the benefit of discovering and reading the sequel. As for Time and Again, I just finished that so it’s fresh in my head. It was good to reread, sort of scratched an itch. September I don’t even remember reading this year! But oh how I love Rosamund Pilcher and would be happy to reread one book of hers each year. (I’m going to exempt this from the top 10.)
Rereading last year’s post I see that there were a few books I put in the runner up category that I really liked a lot and couldn’t wait for sequels. Well, I read those sequels this year: 2 Fuzzy 2 Furious (Unbeatable Squirrel Girl), The Broken Vow (Spill Zone), and Arabella and the Battle of Venus (Arabella of Mars). While Squirrel Girl was just as delightful as the first, and Arabella turned the story around and was still exciting and fascinating, the Spill Zone sequel disappointed me a bit.
Also in sequels–the final Penderwicks book came out and I loved it. Not as much as the previous titles, but it was a worthy goodbye to the fictional family I love. It was fun to find a sequel to Evil Librarian; Revenge of the Evil Librarian was just as funny and bizarre and Buffy-esque as the first. And technically Allison Pearson’s How Hard Can It Be? was a sequel, as was Marisa de los Santos’s I’ll Be Your Blue Sky, even though both took place many many years after the first book and could be read as stand-alones.  The same is true for Elizabeth Berg’s Night of Miracles (though the time frame is closer together.) That’s quite a few books with returning characters! The Wedding Date and The Proposal are not a true book 1 and 2, but Proposal is close, like a spin off. There were a few books I read this year that I hope will have sequels soon, and even more that I remember to look for and read them (Last Girl on Earth, Check Please). And I also read a few books and their sequels nearly simultaneously (Wild Robot and Wild Robot Escapes, Witch Boy and Hidden Witch, Baker Towers and Heat and Light.) Basically I read a lot of books this year that were either by authors I already knew or actual sequels.
More number fun: I read–
3 books by Kate Morton
2 books by Jennifer Haigh
2 books by Antoine Laurain
5 time travel books (one wasn’t exactly time travel, but close to it)
12 graphic novels (I thought it would have been more)
2 nonfiction
2 memoirs (double dipping-one was a graphic novel)
5 audiobooks

Additional Notes (you’d think I’d list 10 books and leave it alone, did you?):

*I read three Kate Morton books this year and it seems like one of them should be on this list because she’s a favorite author for sure. Reading my review of The House at Riverton it seems like I was swept away by it, but I don’t remember much detail at all! Her newest book, The Clockmaker’s Daughter, I loved, too, but did I love it the best? That’s why she’s getting a note this year and not in the list.
*The Night of Miracles by Elizabeth Berg was really lovely and heartwarming. It definitely almost makes the list.
*The Dreamers by Karen Elizabeth Walker is also a definite runner-up. There was just something about this that I loved-kind of a pandemic, less horrifying, but with many of the problems that come along with that.
*Special mention to Snow and Rose by Emily Winfield Martin for being a beautifully illustrated book that felt nice to hold and was a captivating fairy tale (that felt a little like Wildwood) and was part of a lovely memory for the year-snuggling on the couch and reading this aloud to my daughter while she was sick.
*Truly Deviously by Maureen Johnson might have made it to the top ten except I got so mad at the last page.
*One graphic novel made it to the top ten, but there are two extremely close runners up: Be Prepared by Vera Brogol, which was painfully hilarious and wonderfully weird (Russian camp) and The Prince and The Dressmaker by Jen Wang , which was charming and fun and beautifully accepting.

*None of the children’s books I read this year made it into the top 10 (though see the line above-those two almost did), but I did read some great ones that really stuck with me. They are:
Front Desk by Kelly Yang: superb and realistic look at being an immigrant, even more amazing when you read the afterward and find out how much is true
The Wild Robot and The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown: I both read and listened to the audiobooks of these. I loved both of these, wonderfully captivating, thoughtful whole family stories.
The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty: funny and charming, with math to boot!
Dreaming Dangerous by Lauren DeStefano: creepy and weird with a touch of Miss Peregrine but for younger readers
One Good Thing About America by Ruth Freeman: I’ve thought about this book a lot since reading it. It’s not didactic, but I don’t think anyone could read this and not learn something about empathy.
The Road to Ever After by Moira Young: Weird and sweet.

And that’s my year in reading! No specific goals for next year, other than to again make time to reread, perhaps fill in some series gaps (Her Royal Spyness), and to keep up with keeping track because I really do like being able to look back on everything.

Happy New Year!

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

I wanted to end the year and this challenge with a good book and I’m pleased to say this did the trick. (100th book of 2018!) I was immediately caught up in this and really couldn’t put it down.
Giant statues appear around the world and April May, a young graphic designer, is the first to encounter one and, with her friend, film a video about it and post it. It goes viral and that’s when she finds out that it wasn’t just an art installation. April is catapulted into fame, which is really what much of this story is about–fame, creating a persona, becoming a persona. It was an interesting take on something that happens to very few people. This book had a lot to say about social media, fame, and society, but the story I was most interested in was what makes all of that happen, the science fiction aspect of the story.
I loved the idea that people across the world all share the same dream, which is a place where they can solve thousands of puzzles. In fact, I would have liked to have known even more about these puzzles.
This felt like a combination of Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (I’m not exactly sure why), as well as being a reflection of current times.  As with most unknown dramatic events in fiction (and real life?), the world responds with people dividing into factions, one of which is the angry aggressive awful people led by an awful Fox News type guy.
I thought this was great, but I felt a little bummed out just now to log it on Goodreads and see it listed as “Absolutely Remarkable Thing #1”

Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding by Rhys Bowen

I’m startled to see that this is #12 in the series because I’m fairly certain I haven’t read twelve Her Royal Spynesses. I guess that means that I can always go back and have more to read-it certainly doesn’t make you unable to follow what’s going on. I love this series so much. It’s mystery the way I like it-light and British and historical. And, although I consider these light and fun books, Bowen’s historical detail is wonderful.
In this latest installment Lady Georgiana is finally (FINALLY) about to be married to Darcy, having received approval to renounce her right to the throne (because honestly, if she were to be queen a crazy plague would have had to wipe out at least 35 members of the royal family.) I was getting a bit annoyed with how drawn out this was, so was glad it was finally about to happen.
I enjoyed this one very much, in part because I enjoyed seeing Lady Georgiana finally get bold and assert herself in various areas of her life (that nasty Fig! those terrible servants flaunting her instructions! even Darcy!)
As usual she is able to pick up on all sorts of clues that something is not quite right and bravely investigate and put pieces together.
Tremendously enjoyable

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory

I was getting extremely tense that I wouldn’t meet my Goodreads goal for this year and there’s less than a week left in it and I was dragging my heels through a Marcia Willett book .How can that be? I love Willett’s book! But it just wasn’t moving very quickly. I needed a quicker fun book and picked this off my stack. It was just the ticket-fun and fast paced. I was slightly apprehensive because I didn’t love her first book as much as everyone did. This one is quite similar to the first in style, romance, sex, friends, successful careers, and geography. It was halfway into the book before I realized that the main character of this book is the bff of the main character of the other book (which also provides a little peek into an epilogue of sorts for those characters.)
I gave this 3 stars on Goodreads, which is a bit skimpy-if there were fractions I’d give it 3.5 or .75. I especially enjoyed all the small side stories and secondary characters. Perfect vacation fun reading.