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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Top Ten Books of 2017

It’s not quite the 31st but I’m going to start this post today because 1. I’m not sure I’ll read another book in the next 2 days and 2. Even if I do what are the chances that it would make it in to the top 10?
As noted on last year’s top 10 post, I haven’t been keeping up here. Last post was in February! And I do feel bad about that, especially because I categorize my books here way better than I do on Goodreads (and it’s easier for me to vaguely recall a book and look it up here.) Perhaps a resolution for 2018 is to do a better job about posting here first? One reading change I made this fall that I’m having a hard enough time keeping up with is that I started a second Goodreads account just for school for students to follow.
So how did I do with my goals? First, I set a goal of 85 books, and as of today have completed 122. As usual this includes all adult and children’s titles, graphic novels, and audiobooks, but not picture books. I’m pleased with smashing that goal-this might be my highest number in years! But also, I kind of don’t care about the number-it’s more important to me that I found and enjoyed lots of stories. As in the past two years another reading goal was to reread old favorites. This year that included Sushi for Beginners by Marian Keyes, Wild Designs by Katie Fforde, Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts, Adopted Jane by Helen Daringer, and Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery. Fforde and Keyes were authors I used to adore and read everything by. I have to admit I didn’t love rereading Sushi for Beginners. On the other hand Where the Heart Is was wonderful. Apparently I didn’t remember very many details and was surprised by some of the very dark and sad parts, and thoroughly enjoyed the overall warm and emotional story. Adopted Jane was a beloved childhood book that I read aloud with Tabby and it retained its charm. And of course, Anne is perfect.

In audiobook listening Clark and I finished the Gregor the Overlander series, which I have to say was good but nothing I’d ever reread. Man, was it dark. A long drive and back to New Hampshire for vacation afforded many hours for the whole family.  A childhood favorite-Half Magic by Edgar Eager-was an absolute delight on audio. And we all liked a weird Swedish gem called Adventures with Waffles.  The absolute best was The War I Finally Won, which you will see on my list.

When I look at my 5 star ratings for the year, it seems like most of them were children’s books. I read some really great ones, especially some anticipated graphic novels–Real Friends, Swing It Sunny, I Love You Michael Collins, Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, Confessions of an Imaginary Friend (a French delight! )and many others. I also read my very first actual Nancy Drew book!

**If you (me) read through all that, thanks. And now for the main event….**
The Top 10 Books of 2017 (in no particular order):

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley: I was so excited by the arrival of this sequel. I listened to this on audio with both kids, as they were also invested in the story and we thought the reader, Jayne Entwhistle, was phenomenal. Both Bradley and Entwhistle did not disappointment. Again, top notch historical fiction, details sprinkled throughout to make us realize how the start of Ada’s life left her at such a disadvantage (knowledge-wise particularly). Lesser storylines pulled forward in this sequel to shine and be expanded on. Emotional, thoughtful, compelling–I can’t say enough good things about this. I feel like I’ll never forget these characters and what they lived through.
Zenn Diagram by Wendy Brant: A clever premise, a clever title, and a great story all around. A girl who has a touch-psychic ability, falls for a boy who gives her a vision of something “dark”. Why this is and how it works out made a thoughtful and interesting story.

Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan: I think we all knew this would end up on my list way back when I read it in the early spring. This reminded me very much of Maine, which was another favorite of hers. A good long satisfying story, with a bit of regretful history (That I hope angers and perplexes modern readers), and some super fascinating nuns (always of high appeal to me.) This book hit all the marks for me.

The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen Flynn: Two time travel books make it on the list this year, both brought something new and interesting to time travel stories for me. Beginning with the premise that Jane Austen is even more of an icon than she is today and that scholarly time travelers are going to infiltrate her world so that they can recover a lost manuscript, there is plenty of fascinating Jane Austen stuff, as well as the usual time travel delights.

Time and Time Again by Ben Elton: This time travel book Blew. My. Mind.  After I read it I relished telling the entire story to a few people (who were never going to read it) and found even that super satisfying. This is a book I have thought of off and on all year since reading it (and I honestly thought I read it last year.) Basic premise is “if you could stop one event that ended up being the downfall of the 20th century what would it be?” and then going back to try to stop WWI. But. But. It’s wrapped up in a fascinating set-up. And then stuff gets crazy. I’ll say no more. But do let me know if you read it and love it!

The Flower Arrangement by Ella Griffin: I read a lot of cozy, fluffy, charming books this year, but this is one that stood out as cozy and charming, yes, but also really good, a good story, and well written. A flower shop on a street with regular and not-so-regular customers. The proprietress going through a rough time, but still able to select the just right flowers for her customers–and then we see the effects those flowers have. And it all ends up tying together beautifully.

Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence: I enjoyed this book so much I gave it as a Christmas gift (and might purchase it for myself.) Perfect for librarians, but even if you’re not, if you’re a reader you’ll enjoy these letters to books. Gentle humor and sharp commentaries are spot on. A quick read. And bonus–you’ll end up with a list of books you want to read!

Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny: Oh wow did I love this. It was funny, it was awkward, it was touching. I really found so many parts laugh out loud funny, but I was also really touched by the frank difficulties the parents of an autistic child faced and how they dealt with it (some of which was very funny.) The “talk to everyone” younger wife cracked me up. I really cared for the imperfect characters and Heiny is a great writer.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: No surprises here-I’m sure this is on many a top 10 list this year. I adored this. It had the laugh out loud funny parts that reminded me of The Rosie Project, but then it went deep. Honeyman sucks you in with ‘oh funny quirky” and then has your heart breaking for Eleanor. This was just a great solid read.

The Chilbury Ladies Choir by Jennifer Ryan: some seriously fine WWII historical fiction. I can’t believe this was Ryan’s first novel! And while it seemed it would be a “rah rah the women step up while the men are away type of war story”, it went far beyond that. Told in letters, journals, and ephemera the village characters tell a story of blackmail and spies, set among WWII.  This was riveting and like all good WWII fiction, there were a few scenes/incidents that stuck with me for their casual tragedy.

Runners Up: OK, I know this extends the list, but here are some other titles that I wouldn’t bump any of the top 10 for, but I really enjoyed and would recommend.

I Found You by Lisa Jewell: I really like Lisa Jewell and I preferred this to the Girls in the Garden, which I’d read earlier in the year. This had a little more of a cozy factor added to it.
Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan: There was no way this wouldn’t show up somehow! I thought this was a really satisfying end to a trilogy, very well done, and had plenty of those juicy details about the crazy rich Asians, that I so loved in his first book.
The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn: This book made me laugh a lot, which I liked.
Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld: I usually prefer realistic fiction graphic novels, but this bizarre tale had me hooked (and left hanging–where’s the sequel??). Very creative and creepy.
Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley: beautiful story, well written, emphasis on books. One of several bookshop set stories I read this year
Arabella of Mars by David Levine: This just had all the makings of a great story-Mars, regency, woman stowaway on ship, but the ship sails to space, not on the water. All around terrific and I hope I can remember to look for a sequel.
March: Book Three by John Lewis: This trilogy is absolutely incredible. Painful to read, heartbreaking, and very important.
Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill: Newbery winner. I avoided reading (cover and title didn’t draw me in) and I’m so glad I read it because it turned out to be an incredible fantasy magical fairy tale adventure with amazing themes and threads. Barnhill is quite a storyteller.
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Shannon Hale: Oh, Squirrel Girl. You’re a hoot. After loving the comic books I was so excited to see a novel written by the great Shannon Hale. This cracked me up, so funny and delightful.
Venturess by Betsy Cornwall: This was absolutely terrific and best of all, a true great sequel furthering the story from book one, taking it and making something new. I loved the steampunky magic details as well as the unique-in-fiction take on love.

Happy Reading for 2018!
Sarah

 

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!

Top Ten Books of 2015

2015 was a strange year of reading for me. I was constantly several books ahead of “schedule” according to Goodreads, in terms of reaching my goal. But at the end of the year everything sort of fizzled. I started books I didn’t finish (I wasted precious Christmas time reading on a specially purchased cozy Christmas book that turned out to be so annoying I couldn’t even get halfway through; I was very excited about Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On but just didn’t like it very much and slowly read it and finally just gave up), I had a few weeks in a reading funk, I wasn’t motivated to find something good, etc. Finally, at the end of the year I finished up with some great titles, but it wasn’t enough to allow me to reach my goal. I read 62 books (well, that’s how many I have in my 2015 category-it’s somehow a couple numbers off of the GR total and I can’t be bothered to find out why.) 62 books is still an average of more than 1 book a week, which is fine. I also read fewer YA books than usual this year. Although I’m behind on writing up my reviews, I did diligently log and rate every book I read on Goodreads this year, and thus was able to take a look on December 31 at all of them and come up with my top “10” list. (I thought I hadn’t read many great books, but it turns out I’d ready lots of terrific books-just all in the first 6 months of the year!) In this case 10 meant 16. I’ve since managed to whittle it down to 12. Without further ado, the best books I read in 2015 (in particular order):

 

  1. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline: This was a reread. I was in the midst of a slower book and decided to bring this along on our trip to Denver. I’d forgotten how captivating it was, how exciting, and what an interesting world Cline had created. I loved it and read it very quickly. 
  2. The Doomsday Book  by Connie Willis: It had been years since I’d first read this and the reread was even better. Absolutely incredible historical fiction, fraught with tension as the bubonic plague takes hold of a village. 
  3. The Lake House by Kate Morton: As long as she keeps publishing, Morton’s books will keep ending up on my top 10 lists. I just love these fat engrossing stories, Cornwall setting, and unraveled secrets. I really enjoyed how this was told with alternating time points of view (as the incident happened and years later trying to figure it out), and how much of it was a mystery. Immensely satisfying.
  4. First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen: At this point I don’t remember too many details, but I do remember the warm feeling that this was kind of Sarah Addison Allen book I like. A happy revisit to  her first book, magical and a good story.
  5. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman: This book was terrific. How could there be humor in tragic loneliness? But, there was. Ove is cantankerous and rough, and also desperately sad. How a noisy family transforms him is a joy to read. Sadly, I was super excited to read his next book later on in the year and I just couldn’t get into it (though my mom assures me it was good.)
  6. China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan: How could this not be on my list? I enjoyed it just as much as Crazy Rich Asians. Even more money! More outrageous behavior! More high fashion! A completely over the top drama in an international setting.
  7. My Real Children by Jo Walton: This story was a kind that I really enjoy-two stories, each showing a woman’s life, but one is if she had made a certain decision at a crossroads in her life and the other shows the other outcome had she decided differently.  What makes this story so special is how they two converge at the end of her life. Wonderfully constructed.
  8. A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler: Much like when I read First Frost earlier in the year and sighed happily that it felt like a return to Sarah Addison Allen’s earlier writing, I felt the same way about Anne Tyler when I read this. Stylistically right in line with that favorite of mine-Ladder of Years. A Baltimore family with all kinds of sort of unlikable people, but you do root for them. Definitely some sadness. This one was really interesting because of the format and chronology.
  9. The Third Wife by Lisa Jewell: Jewell continues to be a writer I can rely on to provide for stories that draw me in and tease out information slowly. Not a mystery, but always a puzzle. And like Kate Morton, or earlier Marian Keyes,  or Liane Moriarty, an author who can have you convinced you know a character, only to reveal that you didn’t know the whole story about him or her. One of the things I like about that though, is that her characters aren’t bad people. They are just people and people have flaws and aren’t perfect and aren’t always able to accurately judge situations or other people. This book was especially thoughtful about consequences of divorce. 
  10. Armada by Ernest Cline: Not a sequel to Ready Player One in any way, but definitely has a lot of the same elements that makes RPO so enjoyable-pop culture, video games, the 1980s, humor, and action. It felt like watching a movie, and while so many of the elements are nothing new (space battles!) the story felt fresh and fun.
  11. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah: Some more gut-wrenching historical fiction. Add this to my list of WWII books that are weepy, but oh so good, and so important and heart breaking. As soon as you know, going in, that it’s about WWII and the French Resistance, you know there will be death and it will be sad. I thought this book was incredible (as did millions of others, it was a huge hit this year), even if at times I had to take a break from reading because it was difficult and intense.
  12. The Rocks by Peter Nichols: Another one of those books that’s not especially warm and you think so many of the characters (or their choices) are…not great and they are unlikable, but somehow overall the story is compelling. One of the things I especially liked about this was the way the story was told in reverse chronological. That setup alone created a mystery. The Mallorca setting was also exotic and fantastic (and reminded me of Ibiza-not now, but back in the Shell Seekers.)

The honorable mentions:

  • Replay by Ken Grimwood: Guy stuck in a time loop so many times. And for such a long stretch of time. I really enjoyed seeing what he did each time and how time travel-y it was. I didn’t let it be on the top 10 fully because the writing style can’t hold a candle to Nichols, Tyler, Willis, etc.
  • The Mermaid’s Sister by Carrie Ann Noble-the only YA title to make it here this year. I loved this romantic and magical tale.  The other YA title I really liked this year was A Court of Thorns and Roses.
  • Two Across by Jeff Barsch: Crossword puzzle creators in love (sort of.) Paul found the characters just too maddening, but I didn’t let that get in the way of my enjoyment of the crossword details. A weird story.

For 2016 I’ve set a goal of 70, which who knows if I’ll make, but since I love reading and always seem to find time for it, I’m not really interested in challenging myself to read a certain amount. Rather, I’d rather set a goal for myself of what kind of reading I’d like to do. Last year it was to revisit old favorites, which I did this year with one of my top 10 books. I’d like to continue that and this year revisit the Outlander series, as well as The Shell Seekers and Anne of Green Gables-both of which I received lovely new editions of for Christmas.  I’d also like to do more reading this year from what I have. I have stacks of books around that I never get to and have stopped seeing. So, until I can read some of those books (Beautiful Ruins, I’m looking at you sitting on my bedside table for 2 years), I need to stop getting new, new, new stuff from the library. Those things can go on to the “to read” list and be gotten to later.
Wishing you a very happy new year, one filled with captivating and enchanting stories, plenty of comfy couches and chairs and nooks. Happy Reading!

Top Ten* Books of 2014

It’s one of my favorite posts of the year! I look back on all I’ve read this year and choose my top 10 (or, in this case, 12.)So, first a few things about this year in reading. At the end of last year I was very disappointed to have not met my Goodreads goal for the year and subsequently set this year’s goal deliberately low. My goal was 65, but as of today, the last day of 2014, I’ve read 91 (that’s 140% of my goal!) And yes, I count a variety of books, including graphic novels and big long adult books, and short ya books and all sorts of things.  This year I started including the long audiobooks we listen to.  According to Goodreads, I rated 31 of them as 5-star books. Either I’m a lenient starrer, or I have great taste. 37 books were 4 stars. Really, for the most part I do really like the books I choose. I suppose that also means I stick with authors and formats I like, which I suspect is true for most people. Only 2 books got stinker 2 star reviews (a terrible Jackie Collins and a clunker by my beloved Anne Tyler!)
My other reading goal for the year was to indulge in re-reading books/series I’d loved. I started off the year by rereading Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler. I was thrilled that I still loved it, and in fact maybe liked it even more now!  I didn’t reread anything again until the summer when I began the Harry Potter series.  This was extra fun because I read each book after we watched the movie, and enjoyed talking to Clark about them. I really had forgotten just how much I liked them.  I only read the first 4, so next year I’ll continue the series. I also didn’t get around to rereading the Outlander series, which is high on my list of cherished books to revisit. Also next year I’d like to reread the early Nick Hornby books, like About a Boy and Fever Pitch.
Not listed here are the many books we read as a family, including audiobooks. This year we took a few very long car trips and thus listened to many books. We discovered The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom and The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle. Bronson Pinchot (yes, Cousin Balkie!) is my new favorite audiobook reader. These books are looooong on audio (10 hours!) but so worth it. He is an amazing reader and the book is hilarious.  You can read Paul’s reviews here. We’ve also been enjoying M.T. Anderson’s Pals in Peril books. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library was also a wonderful treat. Apparently I’d missed any buzz when this came out,which surely there was amongst my librarian friends as it seems like half of them were mentioned by name in it!
In other reading news I ceased my Fourteen Bears blog. I’d really loved doing it and the way it looked, but I only had between 2 and 4 readers and when I stopped doing it not a single person noticed (not even my husband), so I figured it wasn’t worth doing anymore. Your loss, world!

Now, on to the books! Not listed in any ranked order and two authors have two books each on my list. (Though I read three books by each of these authors and liked them all, there were two by each that stood out.) Lots of my titles were ones that did have big buzz this year and have probably shown up on other lists as well.

Let’s begin with the first book I finished in 2014 (on January 2) and immediately knew would make it to the list 12 months later. I’ve spent the year having it be my go-to recommendation for something hilarious and different, and very much look forward to his second book, which is coming out soon. I’m talking about, of course, Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan.  The fashion, the drama, the intriguing and educational details about Asian culture, the intriguing and fascinating details about the insanely wealthy, and the food! food! food! all made this a highly entertaining and satisfying package.

One Plus One by JoJo Moyes-This author has the distinction of having written one book I loved so much I’d put it on my top list of the year, and another book I hated (Me Before You.) I guess she’s quite versatile. Funny and sweet, it reminded me maybe of a melding of Marian Keyes and the movie Little Miss Sunshine. It’s feelgood, for sure.

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer-There was no way this was not going to end up on my list. A YA novel set in a boarding school for teens with emotional needs? Plus there was an element that I don’t want to call magical or supernatural, but yes, I suppose it’s technically not real. Anyway, I loved this and thought it was a great story, emotional without being burdensome, and a great addition to the boarding school books I adore.

House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell-What a fascinating story! Besides the hoarder element, this was a beautifully constructed, and then unraveled story.  It was not a “fun” read, as it seemed like pretty much everything that happened was depressing, a bad choice,uncomfortable, etc. Yet somehow it was not a depressing book.

Before I Met You Lisa Jewell-It was a year of rediscovering Lisa Jewell. I’d read her a long time ago, then forgotten about her, and then discovered just how many books she’d written since then.  In addition to her newest book (above) I also read and loved this.  Again, one of those stories that I really admire how it was put together. Two time lines that you wait breathlessly for them to merge so that you can finally uncover exactly what happened. This had an interesting historical element and setting of an isolated island.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty-Obviously this is on my list. I love every single thing she’s written.  This was a terrific one, too. Really great. A broad cast of characters, a mystery set up at the beginning, and piece by piece figuring out exactly what has happened and whodunnit.  She does such a good job of blending tragedy, comedic elements, emotion, and not 100% rosy happy endings.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart–I was blown away by this book. Disturbing, sad, beautiful, a mystery.

The Hundred Year House be Rebecca Makkai-Another winner for me because of how this book is put together. Setting up a bit of a puzzle, and then going back and back in time in each section. Although it doesn’t solve the puzzle for the people in the present day, it does for the reader. A really interesting story too, about an artists’ colony.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell-Everyone in the world (who reads YA) loved this and with good reason.  Added bonus for people of my age, it is set in the 80s. This actually drives the plot-a walkman, sharing music on cassettes, etc.  This is a beautiful romance, but lots more here, including isolation, neglect, poverty, and a really bad family scene. You root for the two kids so hard!

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell-I was in a fever of reading everything she’s written this summer. I think Fangirl was even better than Eleanor & Park and was especially taken with the inclusion of sections of the protagonist’s fanfiction (and guess what? She’s publishing a whole book next that is the story that is happening in the fanfiction!).  The whole fanfiction community and world was entirely new to me and was an interesting angle. On top of that, the story of adjusting to college and family changes was wonderful.  An absolutely terrific story.

The Rosie Project by Don Tillman-Come on, who wouldn’t love this book? It was the go-to feel good book of the year. Suitable for people who say they don’t like to read, or people who only like feel-good books, or basically anyone. And yet, it didn’t feel like a lame please everyone story.  What sticks with me that I liked so much is that the whole book manages to find the humor in the clearly Aspberger’s guy strange ways while not making fun of him. A wonderful story and I eagerly await the sequel (though I didn’t think it needed one.)

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen-I liked this a lot. She writes enchanting stories with bits of magical realism. Although it wasn’t a big dramatic book like some of the others on the list, I enjoyed it very much and particularly because I felt like it was a return to the strength of her earlier books (and speaking of which I cannot wait for her new book next month which revisits her first novel.) A rundown old hotel by a spooky lake, lots of family history and secrets. Read this on a hot summer afternoon with a tall glass of iced tea.

So those were my favorites of the year.  There were plenty of other wonderful books I read and it seems like the world will never run out of great books to read.  How was your year in reading? What were your favorites?

Wishing you a very Happy New Year and a 2015 filled with amazing stories!
Sarah

 

 

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.