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!

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2012: A Year in Books

A mountain of reading
It’s been a busy year of reading! When I look back at 2012 I see I started off the year with a run of the Her Royal Spyness series.  I loved the historical detail as well as the fun of a mystery.  I’m ending the year with mysteries, too.  I’m presently reading The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. I’m going to the source after being captivated by the Sherlock Holmes movies, the tv show Elementary, and the BBC series Sherlock. This year I had a huge boost to the number of books I read by participating in the YALSA Best of the Best challenge early in the year-that got me to read 25 things I might not have read otherwise. I set a goal for myself on Goodreads and was very pleased that I had to move it two times because I met it so early on! I seemed to have a big number of 5 star rated books this year, and all at once, too. In YA books this year I often found myself confused between all the books like  Matched, Divergent, etc. Maybe they need longer titles! I enjoyed participating with friends across the country in a post-apocalyptic book club. We met up using Google hangout, which is a great way to connect. I’m finding myself wondering if I should even be keeping up this blog. The fact is I don’t have a lot of visitors or commentors and I seem to have a hard time keeping up.  I started it for myself and because I didn’t like what was available at the time.  I do like Goodreads a lot now and diligently keep track of my reading there, but there is something nice about having an online place that is just mine. I guess I will just add to my 2013 resolutions the same one i had for 2012-to do a better job keeping this up.

So how many books did I read this year? And what were my very favorite?

Total Books Read: 93.  Wow! That’s way more than last year. I chalk that up to the inclusion of many shorter stories (a couple children’s books) and many graphic novels and short non-fiction books from the challenge. As I’ve mentioned before, though, I don’t feel bad about “counting” something like House of Dolls alongside Code Name Verity, because it’s the story that counts. So some were long, some were short, some simple, some complicated, some prose, some pictorial, but overall I read 93 different stories that came out of an author’s imagination. Thank you, authors, for sharing those stories with me!

There is a category that I don’t keep track of here, and that is audiobooks. I’m not an audiobook listener by nature, but my kids absolutely love them.  Consequently we’ve listened to many together in the car, especially over the summer and for long drives.  The standouts we’ve all enjoyed (ages 5-7, 40-43) have been the World According to Humphrey series and the Brixton Brothers series (narrated by Arte Johnson.) I believe it was also this year that we listened to Gone Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright.  This is one of my all time childhood favorites and it was very exciting for me to listen to it with my family and have them enjoy it.

Now, on to the Top Ten!

Top 10 (12) Favorite Books of the Year (read in 2012, not necessarily published in 2012. Thus, you’ll see a book and its sequel.) I gave 15 titles 5 stars on Goodreads. They are:Mrs Queen Takes the Train,Code Name Verity,Hypnotist’s Love Story,A Surrey State of Affairs,Crown of Embers,I’ll Be There,Rules of Civility,Raven Boys,Probability of Miracles,Girl of Fire and Thorns ,Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt,Scorpio Races,Fault in Our Stars,Ready Player One,and Son.

Of these 15, 8 were YA titles. And of those 15, these are my top reads of the year (in no particular order):

  1. Mrs Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn: an absolute top this year, this was a thoughtful and respectful novel with bits of humor throughout, really engaging.
  2. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein: amazing historical fiction, heartbreaking, vivid, and cleverly crafted. I don’t know that this would really have much YA appeal, but I found it amazing and shared it with my mother, who also liked it.
  3. Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty: a long engrossing story, varying points of view, and uncertainty about the ending, this was completely satisfying as well as entertaining
  4. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline: a book I’ve referenced all year long since reading it last winter. Tailor made for people who grew up in the 80s, including obsessive pop culture references and total immersion into video games and virtual reality. Add in a compelling unappealing vision of the future and a race to the ending and this book was un-put-down-able.
  5. Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater: an unappealing title and cover gave me no interest in this book-I only read it on recommendation and as part of the challenge. It was so captivating I still recall exactly where I was when I got to the end of the novel. It left my head in a fog for days afterward. To say it’s a book about a horse race is a disservice because Stiefvater has created a magical and somewhat violent world with strange creatures and traditions, mashed up with an almost modern world (kind of Brigadoon-y), and all kinds of character issues. Simply wonderful.
  6. The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson: This sequel to Girl of Fire and Thorns was one of the strongest middle books of a trilogy I’ve ever read. It stood on its own as a fantastic adventure story, filled with intrique, love, double crosses, and magic. I found the ending thrilling and perfect.
  7. The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson: This was a marvelous story of adventure, love, and magic all set in one of the most detailed and fully and vividly imagined places I’ve read about. As a reader it was wonderful to watch the heroine truly become a heroine.
  8. I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan: a quiet YA novel that ends up having nail biting suspenseful scenes of survival, combined with a heartwarming and emotional story about love, as well as employing a writing style I especially like, made this a sleeper hit for me this year.
  9. The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder: two weepy cancer books made my top list this year. This one didn’t get as much hype as the other, but was just as good. It’s hard going into a story knowing the main character is going to die, but this one managed to keep a smile on your face for most of it, and when the tears came, well that was ok, too.
  10. Rules of Civility by Amor Towles: a jazzy age novel that entranced me with historical detail, not to mention a really good story about people’s successes and failures
  11. Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater: twice on this list! I enjoyed Scorpio Races so much I didn’t hesitate to read this. I was wowed by the strange story blending ancient magic with modern day life, as well as by the admirable construction of the story.
  12. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: wasn’t sure if I would include this, but then I went back and read my review and was reminded that this was an amazingly well written story about two people who happen to have cancer. Green manages to address the usual cancer story tropes (as does Wunder in Probability of Miracles) and poke at them a bit. Be prepared to have a good cry.

So there you have it. My favorite reads of the year. And you know what? I so enjoyed writing that that I will indeed continue to keep up the blog despite my earlier doubts in the day. Thanks to the visitors who stop by and may your 2013 be filled with wonderful stories that come alive in your head and stay with you after you close the book.

–Sarah

*What’s with the picture? That’s Little Blackie, one of our baby guinea pigs (born Dec 27th), atop my current Sherlock Holmes book, Beautiful Ruins, which I meant to read all year long and didn’t, and an assortment of lovely non-fiction books I’ve gotten this year: Chicken and Egg (how I’ve used it here), Free Range Chicken Gardening, and Colorful Embroidery, which inspired the two embroidered book marks I made this week to practice some stitching. It’s a mountain of reading for a little piggie!

My Year in Reading

This year I simultaneously fell behind on this blog and started using GoodReads. I resolve to get caught up here this winter. Due to that I had a hard time this year counting exactly how many titles I read, but I believe it was 75–not bad!  That does not count all the audiobooks we listened to-this was the year we enjoyed listening to children’s stories in the car.  I loved the Beverly Clear books narrated by Stockard Channing and also by Neil Patrick Harris.  As for myself? Top reads were All Clear by Connie Willis, I Think I Love You by Allison Pearson, What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, and Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan, Case Histories by Kate Atkinson, Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld, Cleaning Nabokov’s House by Leslie Daniels, and The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall.

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

This was the big winner of the Printz award this year and I was quite surprised to discover I had a copy on my shelf.  I honestly had no idea what this book was about and the cover and title were not drawing me in. Then I opened the flap and read the blurb and realized this was right up my alley. Set in the undetermined future (where they refer to our current time as the “Accelerated Age”) the polar ice caps have melted, the seas have risen, and there are ancient cities (New Orleans) completely underwater.  Nailer lives on the beach and spends his days crawling through the ductwork of old wrecked oil tankers scavenging the copper wire in them.  It’s a horrible life and in general life appears to be a horrible post-apocalyptic mess.  His father is a murderous evil being, half-men (scientifically created creatures made from man, tiger, and dog) are wild and murderous, too, children are worked to death, and so on.  After you read a while you come to realize that the whole world is not like this-it’s just the slummy jungle workers who have such a horrible life. The “Swanks”-rich folk, have fast ships, nice clothes, jewels, and the like.  When a swank’s ship wrecks near Nailer he sees the possibility of an escape from his life.

This was a fantastic adventure, and Nailer’s moral dilemmas in a world that doesn’t seem to have morality left in it, pull you in.  Yet when I read this here’s what I kept thinking about:  one of the things I hated in The Road was the pure evil that seemed to be in the post apocalypic world.  Mad Max-y is how I think of it, and I really don’t care for it. And in this book, too, there are characters (Nailer’s father) that just seem to be pure evil-no moral, no ethics, no empathy, and they almost gleefully murder and maim in the most casual way (or take pleasure in it.) I think what I don’t like about that is that I wonder about the author who thinks that up, as well as the widespreadness of it.  Do people truly believe that Man’s true self is like that? That if the infrastructure of civilization breaks down that will be the default? I simply don’t. The only thing I can possibly conceive is if someone saw something that drove them mad.  Nailer’s father is on some sort of super drugs most of the time, but you still believe that at his core this evil person is who he is, it’s not just the drugs.
I just find it interesting that so many authors have these characters because I don’t believe you would create them without believing in the possibility that they could exist.  And tied in to that, curiously, is a conversation I had with my friend about The Forgotten Garden.  We were remarking about how awful some of the characters were, just very cruel and cavalierly ruining lives.  She said that one of her book group friends thought that because life was so much harder then (Victorian London), that it was such a struggle to have basic necessities of life like food and shelter, that the people were harder.  I thought right away of these post apocalypic stories because I feel like that rationale suggests that when life is hard your humanity and ethics fly out the window.  Which is, at its core, the struggle faced by Nailer in Ship Breaker, and it’s all wrapped up in a good adventurous package.

Little House on the Prairie from A to Z by Patrick Loubatiere

I’m a little unclear on where this book came from. Paul brought it home and it may have come with the new Little House dvds.  It’s just a little booklet, definitely not “unauthorized” as it’s almost a tad fawning.  In any event, I loved it.  I have seen every episode of Little House many times (I’d venture to guess that anyone my age in my tri-state area remembers that it was on every day at 5pm on channel 11 (Pix…Pix…Pix…) ) and I truly loved the show.  This little book was enjoyable because it tells what happeend to everyone after the show. W ho would have guessed that Lucy Lee Flippin (Eliza Jane) was in the movie Flashdance? or that Karen Grassle (Ma) is an esteemed actress in theater?

It was a nice trip down memory lane and made me look forward to someday watching these shows with my kids. It also made me feel very wholesome.

Long May She Reign by Ellen Emerson White

whiteI finished this a week ago and was so filled with thoughts about it, that I hope I still have them. Where to begin? Well, first I think Ellen Emerson White is a fantastic author. And before I get into this book, and its predecessors, let me put in a plug for The Long Road Home. It’s a great big fat thick satisfying novel that I always liked because it was clearly for older teens/younger adults, as it is about a young woman returning from a Vietnam tour of duty (as a nurse.) She finds that the U.S. is not that kind to her, she suffers from post traumatic stress, and she has grown up in ways that the other young women she went to school with have not.  A very rich good novel. And, now that I think about it, it certainly shares some similarities with Long May She Reign. Continue reading