January 1, 2015
In 2014, I read 119 books. Some were children’s books which is part of the reason that number is so high. Also, my house isn’t very clean.
Many of the books were good, but not many were great. Putting this list together was difficult. If I named only the great books, my list would be too short. If I named all of the good books, the list would be too long. I decided to go for diversity of genre, subject and audience. The books are grouped by intended audience, in the order I read them.
Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz
I love the way the author uses the classic novel Treasure Island in this story of a brother and sister who live with their lying, oft-depressed grandmother for reasons they don’t quite understand–at least not at first.
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
The deportation of the Jews from Denmark during WWII, as narrated by 10-year-old Annemarie, whose best friend is Jewish. The innocence of her voice and the simple yet suspenseful plot has made this story a classic.
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
Ella (Cinderella) is cursed by a fairy with the gift of obedience, making Ella a slave to the whims of others. Ella is a great character and her quest for self-determination makes this a perfect book for young people.
Holes by Louis Sachar
Multiple story lines that blend together to perfection. Well-crafted characters, exciting action, and a strong message. Funny too.
Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin
Rose, obsessed with homonyms and rules, is misunderstood by her classmates and her father, but not by her dog, Rain/Reign. When Rain goes missing in a storm, Rose has the skills needed to find him, but what she finds will surprise you. Beautiful, beautiful book. My vote for this year’s Newbery Award (not that I have a vote. . . )
Young Adult Books:
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater
“Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.” I read this so long ago, I had to take this blurb from the author’s website. I remember loving the characters, the horses, the slow-build romance, and the intense suspense.
Cress by Marissa Meyer
Third book in the Lunar Chronicles series, using Rapunzel as its fairy-tale base. Cress is a prisoner, not in a tall tower, but in a satellite. I love the character of Cress, possibly because she reminds me of me. I laughed a lot. Cannot wait for the last in the series, Winter, out in fall 2015. The prequel, Fairest is out in Feb 2015. (The order of this makes me crazy, but that is for another blog.)
Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire
Set in the last years of the Russian monarchy, Egg and Spoon is a fanciful mix of history, folklore, philosophy, childhood fantasy, silliness, and very clever writing.
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
In order to attend the school he wants in the fall, mildly autistic Marcelo must work in the mail room of his father’s law firm. His father, impatient and unsympathetic to his son’s issues, wants Marcelo to experience “the real world.” Marcelo learns a great deal about life, his family, and what he, himself, is capable of.
Silverblind by Tina Connolly
This world is alive with fantastical creatures, fey magic, and disturbing technologies. The main character, half-fey Dorie, is delightful and complex, and the romance flows easily within the greater plot (saving the fey world) which is well paced and suspenseful. Themes such as the environment and women’s rights are integral but not didactic.
The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
Exciting and suspenseful story of one fictional man’s life growing up in North Korea. What I liked most about this was the main character and the way he sees the world. A different mindset than I’m used to.
Redshirts by John Scalzi
Funny. Very, very funny. If you don’t know, “redshirts” are characters in Star Trek who don’t live to the end of the episode. Scalzi introduces us to characters in a Star Trek-like world who realize this is happening and what they do to avoid becoming a “redshirt.”
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
The fictionalized story of real-life suffragist/abolitionist sisters Sarah and Angelina Gremke and their wholly fictional slave, Handful. Why had I never heard of these women? Their story is fascinating, painful, and inspiring.
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Raised in the foster care system, Victoria won’t allow anyone close to her. She uses her knowledge of the language of flowers to help others, until she meets a man who also knows that language. Victoria’s character is absorbing and the mystery of her past intriguing.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
A psychologically scarred young woman cares for a physically scarred, wheelchair-bound man. The two fall in love. Will her love be enough to stop him from his desire to commit suicide? Moyes handles difficult issues deftly. A great book for book clubs because of the discussion it promotes.
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
A female scientist is sent by her pharmaceutical company to a lab in the Amazon rainforest, after the death of her colleague there, to bring a renegade scientist and her discoveries back to civilization. What amazed me most was how Patchett was able to manipulate and alter my perspectives of the people and events as the story progressed. The ending is perfection.
The Cuckoo’s Calling / The Silkwork by Robert Galbraith
What holds these detective stories above the pack is the depth of the characterization. The stories are complicated, suspenseful and, in places, funny. Galbraith is really JK Rowling, so the level of writing should be no surprise.
The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss
This isn’t the long-awaited final book in Rothfuss’s trilogy, but it does come from the same world. Auri, a minor character in his other books, is the only character in this novel. Although light on plot, Auri is such a compelling character that the book works. Rothfuss’s prose is so beautiful, you might weep.
If you decide to read any of these books because I recommended them, let me know what you think. Happy New Year!
December 22, 2014
December blew in like a hurricane! I feel like this is my first opportunity to sit down and breathe. <heavy breath> Every year this month is difficult, what with the end of the semester grading, students complaining about grades, holiday parties and concerts, shopping (I hate shopping. True story: This year at Kohl’s, after about 30 minutes of shopping, someone took our cart, which had many items in it. We hunted and hunted, to no avail. Furious, I started trying to re-find all the things I’d already found, when Andy, thank goodness, located the cart in a part of the store we had not visited. Did I mention I hate shopping??!?). This year seems crazier than in the past. Maybe I’m just getting old.
So, how did NaNo go? It went well. My goal was to finish the third draft of my Cinderella story. I was unable to do so in November, but I finished on December 11. (Maybe this is the reason for the added craziness.) Of course, lying in bed on the evening of December 11, I thought of several things that needed to be changed, added and altered. So although I’m “finished” I am still working on it. All you writers out there understand that! Still, it is good to have an ending. If I’m run over by a bus today, someone can read the whole story.
Although I am breathing again, I still have lots to do. It will be nice to cross off “NaNo update on blog” from my list.
Here’s wishing you all a happy holiday season!
September 11, 2014
Sometimes I read a book that is so beautiful and perfect that I am inspired as a writer. This happened about twelve years ago with The Girl in the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. When I was finished reading it, I wanted to write again. I’d given up on writing, decided I didn’t have it in me to write an entire novel, but after reading this book, I changed my mind. I wanted to write. I had no illusions that I could write something as beautiful as The Girl in the Pearl Earring, but I wanted to try. I have tried and I’ve been mostly happy with what I accomplished. I thank Tracy Chevalier for that.
Sometimes I read a book that is so beautiful and perfect that I feel like I should just give up as a writer. I could never create anything that comes anywhere near this, and so why bother?
This happened today when I finished State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. This book is perfection. The prose is both beautiful and clear. Sentences flow like a slow river, peaceful but with purpose. Her characters are interesting and flawed and only knowable in part. The way I viewed them changed as I got to know them better, subtly, until I realized my opinion had changed at some point, but where? The story isn’t a thriller, and yet I couldn’t put it down. What would happen next? I could not guess. The ending is painful and brilliant and beautiful. The parallel stories are so clear at the end, but I never saw the ending coming. And the story isn’t over. More will happen to Marina. And yet the story is over. How she will live her life after the final page is up to her and the reader’s imagination. I don’t like this normally, but it works perfectly here.
I love this book and have already started re-reading it. If you haven’t read it, you need to. As for me continuing to write, I will. It is probably just a mood thing. My writing hasn’t been going well, so I can’t help but compare Patchett’s wonderful novel to to the garbage I’ve been penning recently.
Patience and practice, Elizabeth! Patience and practice.
August 30, 2014
Well, a new semester is right around the corner and that means I’ve been looking through the Scholastic catalogue picking the best books at the best prices for my students. This is what we will be reading this semester:
I always start with fairy tales. They’ll read “Cinderella” by Charles Perrault and “Aschenputtel” by the Grimm brothers and pick two more fairy tales to read.
Next is Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. A great story!
Then we get to the part of the semester where they get some choices. They must read one book in each genre:
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
Sing Down the Moon by Scott O’Dell
The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick
Contemporary Realistic Fiction
Rules by Cynthia Lord
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
Love that Dog by Sharon Creech
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
Holes by Louis Sachar
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
My students will choose two other books to read as well, based on an author and a theme.
Do you recognize some of these books and authors from when you were a child? They are worth a re-read or a read aloud to your child or grandchild.
See some titles you don’t know? Check them out!
These are wonderful books. It’s going to be a great semester!
August 24, 2014
Last month, I wrote about my family’s Little Free Library. I wanted to let you know that my neighborhood is using it! We average probably a visitor every day or so. We’ve had many donations, and I’ve been able to tell which books are the most popular (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Babysitters Club) and which books have been borrowed and kept (Divergent, Sushi for Beginners). That’s OK because that is the what the library is all about. Moving books from people to people. We’ve received many, many donations and I spend time once a week re-arranging and re-organizing the titles. This little library is a delight in my life.
But wait! What if you live in my neighborhood, and it is night, and you need a book, and you don’t have a flashlight? Our Little Free Library is open and lit:
My husband and younger son took apart one of those solar lights you can put in the ground to light a sidewalk (an example is in the ground in the photo). They then attached the solar part of the light to the roof of the library, drilled a hole in the back of the library under the roof, set the light inside the library, and voila: our Free Little Library has a solar-powered light for all your night-time book-borrowing needs.
July 21, 2014
The first Little Free Library was started in 2009 in Wisconsin. Since that time, more than 15,000 Little Free Libraries have been built.
I am happy to announce that my family has built a Little Free Library:
Our little library is near the end of our driveway (so the snow plow doesn’t knock it over in the winter). Books are available to anyone who walks by and wants to borrow one. The Little Free Library works on the honor system. Readers can borrow and return a book, or swap books.
People ask: Aren’t you worried that someone will steal the books? The answer is: a free book cannot be stolen!
My little free library is filled with books for both children and adults representing a variety of genres. My friend Sally helped paint the library and suggested the text above the door.
If you are ever in my neighborhood, stop by and borrow a book! To learn more about Little Free Libraries, visit the official website.