Beautiful Blue World by Suzanne LaFleur

New year, new start. Rather than trying to fill in all the missed posts I’m going to try anew to sync up with my Goodreads tally and as I’m able I’ll go back and fill in. So here’s book #2 of 2017:

blueI picked this up because I really l really liked Love, Aubrey and thought I’d try the author’s newest book (plus, pretty cover.) I didn’t read what it was about and so this whole thing was such an interesting surprise to me.(not like Love Aubrey.) A very fast (one day) read and pulled me in right from the start. I found myself making comparisons to first one book and then another. Was it like Number the Stars? Was it something dystopian? Was it like Bletchley Circle ? (Yes, this is what I came back to most. Thinking about the women of Bletchley Park in WWII who were crackerjack at seeing patterns and breaking codes.) Was this fantasy since it had a map at the beginning of made up countries? (no.) Was this WWII historical fiction? (No, but felt most like it.) A very intriguing story about war, friendship, family, and gifted children. It felt like the beginning was menacing-children were being rounded up to fight a war but not told what they were going to do. But when they do go, it is not at all what was expected.  It was clear to me about 3 pages from the end that this was either going to have a terrible unresolved ending, or it was set up for a sequel. And sure enough, after the last page it says the story continues in the next book, with a title already. This book was pretty short and honestly I’d rather parts 1 and 2 were just published as one volume because I’m still caught up in the story and can’t believe it just ended!

Top Ten Books of 2016

Top Ten Books of 2016

It’s a sad truth that I haven’t been putting my reviews here since August. BUT. I’ve still been meticulously keeping track of all I read, and writing brief reviews on Goodreads. Here it is December 31 and I wouldn’t dream of not doing my top ten books of the year post.
First, how was my reading this year? This year I set my goal to be 70 books, which I thought to be reasonable, and possibly even low (ever since the year I didn’t meet my goal, I go for “attainable.”) I easily exceeded and finished with a very nice 91 titles. You can see a lovely image of all the covers here.  My reading changed a bit this year because I returned to work as a school librarian in a school for 4th and 5th graders. Thus, I’ve upped my middle grade reading. As usual I did not count picture books, although I read plenty, though I did include the audiobooks we listen to as a family. Things got a little fizzley at the end of the year, with nothing wowing me or captivating me. Fortunately I was handed a prepub of Miss You by Kate Eberlen right after Christmas and it saved the day. Good to end the year with an emphatic 5 stars!
As in the past two years I was determined to reread at least one or two old favorites, and this year I reread Patty Jane’s House of Curl by Lorna Landvik, Anne of Green Gables and  Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery (beautiful new editions I got for Christmas), Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married by Marian Keyes, and  The Shell Seekers by Rosamund Pilcher.  They are all five star books and were all a joy to reread and rediscover. Every time I read a little detail I’d forgotten I’d have a lovely gasp of recognition.  I’m not going to include any of them on my top 10 list (so I can squeeze more in, of course), but if I did I would put The Shell Seekers and Harriet the Spy on it. The Shell Seekers is on my permanent Top 10 list and not surprisingly this not only held up, but was like a vacation from life as I was totally immersed in it. It will forever be one of my favorite books. It’s engrossing, historical, emotional, and really made me realize how often I refer to it consciously or unconsciously when reading other British historicals. Here was my full review of it.  Harriet the Spy was a treasured childhood book that I have not reread as an adult. Rereading it now I realized that it was an even better book than I’d realized at the time. It’s also more mature than I realized, really tapping in to difficult friendship problems and emotions. The characterization of Janie and her parents was hilarious and I remembered just how much, as a child, I’d love these stark unflattering portrayals of adults and children. Here is my full review of it.

 

Top Ten Books of 2016: (in no particular order)

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende: What a beautiful story. I adored this. It had the lovely writing I expect from Allende, was nicely put together, had some interesting historical parts (internment camps of WWII), and she made characters I deeply cared about. All woven together into a bit of mystery. How did the past part turn into the current part? What happened in their lives? How is this all fitting together? Though my books aren’t ranked, I would put this in the top 3.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling (and others): I was initially reticent about reading this-screenplay, not really Rowling, do we need it? But boy am I glad I read it. It was a very welcome return to HP’s world and extremely satisfying. I loved it.
Miss You by Kate Eberlen: Can’t say enough about this, the last book I read of the year. Dreamy, romantic, nice and long, really everything I want in a book.
The Sculptor by Scott McCloud: The only graphic novel to make the list. This book was fantastic. The ending took my breath away-literally made me gasp, and then cry. It was perfect.
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld: A favorite writer. This was part of that whole Jane Austen rewrite thing (I also read Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler,which I enjoyed.) and it was immensely satisfying. Funny, clever, the whole package.
In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume: O Judy! I loved this! Such an interesting specific historical time (and New Jersey local!) that I really knew nothing about. I loved the many points of view, and of course Judy’s writing. I was very caught up in this story.
Scythe by Neal Shusterman: The only YA to make the list this year. A perfect example of dystopia and I can’t stop thinking about so many aspects of it. A great story and the structure and writing were great.
Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple: A worthy follow up to the success of Where’d You Go Bernadette? I really enjoy her humor and style of writing. This book made me laugh and cringe.
The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley: The only children’s title to unreservedly make my Top 10 list. Absolutely wonderful historical fiction, touching, beautiful story with some really harsh truths about humanity in it. A great addition to this genre (WWII, London children evacuees.)
One True Loves by Taylor Reid Jenkins: I only gave this 4 stars, but I’m putting it on the list because, to be frank, the story has stuck with me more than some of my 5 star books. I love “what if?” concept and I thought she charmingly managed to explore a person’s two possible paths very nicely and neatly.

Honorable Mentions: The list was originally 13, so I’m forcing 3 onto the honorable mention list.

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty: Moriarty remains one of my favorite authors. I know I will like anything she writes. Good long stories with many points of view, human foibles fully on display, and realistic outcomes. I did have to look up which one this was, though, as I can’t keep her books straight. And rereading my review I see that yes, I didn’t like this as much as her other books, but on its own it was compelling and well written. I gave it 5 stars, but given the previous sentences I’m putting it in the honorable mention section.
The Nest by Cynthia D’Apix Sweeney: I know I gave this 5 stars, but I’m bumping it to the HM list because…I really couldn’t tell you much about it unless I reread my review in great detail. At the time I enjoyed it very much and liked the writing but very little of the story has stuck with me.
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson : I truly liked this very very much and am not sure why it only got 4 1/2 stars from me. Unlike The Nest I remember quite a bit about this WWI story, and in fact some scenes remain vivid in my mind. Simonson really captured this moment in time quite well. Though like all WWI stories you know it’s going to be sad..

Other Bests and Honorable Mentions:

I may not have kept track of all the audiobooks this year, but we did listen when we drove places on summer vacation. Also, with the start of my job my son drove to work with me and we listened to books on our very short commute together. My two favorite were both books I’d already read in print, but enjoyed something new from the marvelous audio production. The first was City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, read by Wendy Dillon. The atmospheric sounds added so much, especially at the end of the novel. The other was The Graveyard Book, read by the author, Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is a wonder at reading his books. He’s basically both author and amazing actor. I loved hearing this.

As I mentioned before I’ve been upping my middle grade reading since I’m now a 4th/5th grade librarian. These were the standout children’s titles I read this year:

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan: Wonderful! I loved the structure, which is that the story of this last year of a school (before it is destroyed) is told from many points of view in poetry. So beautifully put together and showcasing many forms of poetry. Really super.
The Seventh Wish By Kate Messner: Drawn to this by the hubbub surrounding its release. I thought it was wonderful and I do so love this genre-realistic with a little bit of magic. Same style as her other book, All the Answers, but this time taking on what it’s like to have a drug addict in the family. Really solid good story.
Baker’s Magic by Diane Zahler: Top notch magical adventure. I loved it and the students I’ve passed it on to have loved it as well. I’m struggling to find a readalike for this. A great story structure-every single chapter came to an end and made you excited to turn the page and find out what happens next.
Pax by Sara Pennypacker: What an ingenious blend of animal story-human story, and not magical, fully realistic. Some dark explorations of contemporary war, lots of stress for animals lovers, and an emotional story. A real gem.
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson: Newbery honor graphic novel, I (and my daughter, and all my students) loved this. No easy answers in friendship and yes, as you grow up, you sometimes grow apart from your friends, and it’s not easy. The roller derby angle is simply a really interesting added bonus to a great story about growing up (not too much!) and finding your own interests and friends.

Honorable mention YA book would be The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. As a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, I loved the premise of this. Consider all those shows and books like Buffy that focus on the few kids who are always fighting off supernatural danger. What about everyone else?? Very clever and fun.

thisisjustOne more honorable mention for a (not new) nonfiction book that I “discovered” on the shelves of my library: This Is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness by Joyce Sidman. I do love the poem This Is Just to Say by William Carlos Williams, and that’s the set up for this terrific story. A class reads that poem and then each writes an apology poem. The second half is the poems that the apology recipients write back. And what’s so impressive is that the stories together (not unlike The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary) form a bigger story. It’s really incredible to read on your own, or as a class.

squidAnother nonfiction that I loved was Giant Squid by Candace Fleming. (It’s getting award buzz, so I’m looking forward to seeing what it gets.) I loved the poetic opening, Eric Rohmann’s gorgeous dark illustrations, and how Fleming writes about a creature that we know very little about! As usual, I loved the extra information in the afterward. If I remember nothing else it will be the astonishing fact that sperm whales have been found with thousands of giant squid beaks (they don’t digest, but remain whole) in their stomachs. Which means there are thousands and thousands of squids swimming around in our oceans and yet we only ever saw a living one for the first time a few years ago!!!!

A very full varied year of reading! I’m so glad I took the time to reread so many old favorite this year and will continue to do so next year. Who knows what 2017 will bring? Well, of course we know some things. My next most anticipated books will be Kevin Kwan’s newest and I just hear that J. Courtney Sullivan has a new book in the works. Hooray!

Happy New Year and Happy Reading!

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

(Reread in June 2016, posting my Goodreads review right now just so I can link back for the year end review!)

This was a favorite book as a child and decided to reread it this weekend. Reading it now as an adult–wow. Louise Fitzhugh was a genius. I have so much to say about this book, which I’ll leave for my longer review on the blog. For here I’ll say: it a treat to walk down memory lane. As with a lot of my childhood rereads I was surprised to find that my memory had distorted the proportion of things in the book (for example, Ole Golly leaves pretty early on in the book. In my memory that was at the end. I thought the spy routes were covered frequently, but they actually were also a pretty small part of the overall length of the book.)
Harriet is a terrific character and the emotions are heartfelt and true. One of the things that really stood out to me (that I believe I also really liked as a child) was the , hmm, I really have a hard time finding the right word. Harshness? Nastiness? Not softness? of the vocabulary and writing. Janie calls someone a cretin. Adults are called out as ridiculous. There’s often a quick sentence that is quite cutting. As a kid it amused me and I liked it. As an adult it amuses me, I like it, and I admire it in the writing and see it as a rarity in children’s books.

The After-Room by Maile Meloy

afterroomI wasn’t expecting a follow up to The Apothecary and The Apprentices, so it was a real delight to see that there was this. Although I didn’t remember too much about Janie and Benjamin’s adventures in the last book, I remembered the important stuff-the avian elixir that allows them to become birds and that they are trying to stop the use of nuclear warfare. In this conclusion Janie and Benjamin meet someone new who also has unusual powers and wind up in Rome. Benjamin, who is grieving for his father, discovers that due to the powder they had drunk before he died are able to connect in an “after-room”-a sort of waiting area for the dead. Of course this has issues of its own, and added to that they are trying to assist Jin Lo, who is in China searching for a nuclear warhead.  I thought the focus on the afterlife and those who have died and our communications with them was a wonderful part of this story.  And, as I felt with the other two books, I really liked this whole concept and time period, which I think is a bit unusual in kids’ stories. A great conclusion to a unique story.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

anneFor Christmas I received a beautiful set of a new edition of Anne of Green Gables (the first four books.) They are paperback with a beautiful cover that shows paper cutting of key elements of each of the stories. It had been quite a while since I had read an Anne book (despite my devotion to her) and now that I had these lovely new books I decided to make good on my re-reading goals. And, oh! How wonderful to return to a beloved story. To one I knew so well. To thrill at certain sentences, and be delightfully reminded of episodes I’d forgotten. It was gloriously comforting and familiar and wonderful. It was so vivid in my head and I realized that I must have watched the movie many more times recently than read the books (I know I watched it last winter while quilting.) So as I read I pictured the movie in my mind and I was pleasantly surprised to realize how much of the dialogue is lifted straight from the book. Matthew’s death was quite a bit different in the book and I found I didn’t cry nearly as much as I do when I watch the movie of it.  I’m excited to move on to Anne of Avonlea, which one chapter in I’m realizing I’d forgotten so much of and it’s all coming back to me.

p.s. obviously these books are very old and the style of writing is already somewhat flower, and then of course Anne is super prone to romantic flowery statements. It always seemed unbelievable that people would really talk like that but recently I’ve been reading my great-grandmother’s correspondence and guess what? They really did talk like that!

A Spiderweb for Two by Elizabeth Enright

melendyIt’s no secret that I am a fan of Elizabeth Enright.  And that of all her books the ones with the most special place in my heart, my most beloved childhood books, were those about the Melendy family. I have written about them here, here,  here, and here. This summer I began reading aloud all of the books to the kids (who are presently 8 and 10, 7 and 9 when we started.)  This was, as you might guess, a very special experience for me. I loved rereading my favorite books and was super relieved that the kids seemed to enjoying them as well. Because let’s be honest-it would have stunk if they grumbled or said they were lame.  But I’m happy to say the cheerful family, Enright’s beautiful writing, and engaging stories stand the test of time.

And then we read the last book, Spiderweb for Two. And this is the one book that I had never actually read, so it was new to all of us. I have say-I was pretty excited. And a little nervous. What if it wasn’t as good as the others? The big difference in this book is that Mona, Rush, and Mark are not there. Mona is living in the city and Rush and Mark are at boarding school (there’s an unwritten book there that I’d like to read.) And that is also the premise of the book–with those three away Randy and Oliver are left at home and feeling mopey. But then a mysterious letter arrives with a convoluted clue. It’s the first of many and this secret treasure hunt lasts all year long. Each chapter is unraveling the mystery of the latest clue, and usually has an adventure or story to go with it. And of course, there is a marvelous surprise at the end.  Though I can’t say I loved this one as much as the others (partly because of the lack of the older kids, but probably in large part due to lack of familiarity), it was still wonderful. We couldn’t wait to find out the secret, who was behind the clues, and how the year would turn out.

I solicited a quote from Tabby as I was writing this as she says: “Spiderweb was really interesting. It was really anticipational, or however you say it. and the end was really nice.  Overall I give it five stars up.”  “I loved all of them.”

The Marvels by Brian Selznick

marvelsI really liked Wonderstruck and the Invention of Hugo Cabret, so was pretty excited to read Selznick’s latest. A beautiful deep blue cover with golden illustration and gleaming gold edged pages, this book looks enchanting and special from the get go. It is the same tremendous size and heft as Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck, and the same storytelling method-large illustrated pages (wordless) and then text. I especially liked the non-text sections of the story. And as for the story? It goes in such an unexpected and strange (but charming) direction. Selznick is an impressive researcher and the afterward is a must-read. Without giving anything away, but so that I remember for myself-it focuses on generations of a family of actors and a present day child trying to unravel the mystery of them and how his reclusive uncle fits in with it all.