Book Review

Read, read, read.  It’s the mantra you hear at every writing seminar from, well, everyone.  You have to read to write.  I completely agree, but when asked the follow-up question: What have you read lately?  I can think of nothing.  Complete Blank.  In order to remember, I have created this page.  It’s a list of the books I read recently that I loved.

Books I Like A Lot:

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins.  Middle Grade.  It’s no wonder Suzanne Collins went on to super-fame with her Hunger Games series.  The evidence of her skill at crafting believable, imaginary worlds, fascinating characters, and fast-paced, nail-biting plot is evidenced here in her first series.  I was immediately drawn in to this bizarre world far below the Earth’s crust and found myself unable to put the book down – a big compliment.  Any middle grade reader interested in a big adventure should pick this up.

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech.  Middle Grade.  In a word – wow.  No wonder it won a Newberry!  This book layers a story within a story so seamlessly that the reader floats between the two without question.  Sharon ties together her multiple story lines with a subtle touch, such that you don’t feel manipulated, only elated at the outcomes.  The main character is quirky, humorous, and sees the world with such originality, you delight in living her life alongside her.  The only catch to this book is that it violates one of my pet-peeves with some middle grade writing.  Sharon’s story is hinged upon the absent mother – the one who runs away to find herself and then gets killed in a violent bus accident.  Yeah.  I struggle to recommend these books that use the crutch of the dead parents to young readers.  The absence of the parent creates a heartfelt and moving tale, but I wish the same sort of touching tale could be told without having to kill off the mother.

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler.  Young Adult.  This multi-award-winning book deals with several oh-so-familiar issues on the way to teens becoming comfortable in their own skins.  However, the concepts of being kind to yourself, sticking up for yourself, and becoming connected with who you are on the inside can speak to readers of any age.  Sometimes it’s good to be reminded to appreciate your unique self, even if the reminder comes in a teen-themed, glossy package.  Also – for any parents out there – this book is a nice reminder of parenting techniques you shouldn’t use.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater.  Young Adult.  Hands down one of the most absorbing tales I have read to date.  From the very beginning, there’s a feel to the writing – a distant longing that draws you in – which is framed by the most lyrical writing.  Maggie’s other book, Lament, had the same effect on me.  I was lost, unable to think of anything but the characters, their circumstances, and the words Maggie used to create her world.  When I finished the book, I had to read it again, to see what nuances I’d missed and to savor her more memorable phrases.  Admittedly, on the first pass, it took me some time to fully understand the players and the rules of the water-horses upon which her story is based.  The second read was certainly richer and fuller and no less impactful.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.  Middle Grade.  A fast-paced, unique storyline set in olden-day France and exquisite artwork blend together in this thick book to develop an exceptional, one-of-a-kind story.  Using both parts together, story and art, creates a reading experience not found in other books.  This is one to pick up in hard copy and by-pass the eReader.  You’ll miss out by not touching it, toting it’s weight around, flipping the pages, admiring the art.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. Adult Fiction. Truth be told, I read this book as part of a book group, and it spurred quite a love-hate debate. Written by a French author, its style is distinctly European and very literary (the vocabulary!). It’s not for everyone, but I really enjoyed it. Some members just couldn’t get through it; they felt nothing was happening. I’ll agree that the beginning was a slow stepping of characterization, but I loved the subtle development of plot and the indulgence with which the author laid out her phrases. That being said, I’m not sold on the ending. I think it could have gone one of two ways, and I wonder if the path it followed was the “easier way out”. Regardless, I used my imagination to fill in the alternate ending, and I was satisfied both ways.

Just Who Will You Be by Maria Shriver. Adult Fiction. This little book packs a simple, easy-to-follow, and meaningful punch. It’s a quick read with themes that resonate at any age or stage in life. Some self-help / inspiration books can be too esoteric or lack insights which foster an “ah-ha” moment for me. While this book could be criticized for its not-so-deep format, I appreciated the instantaneous, real-world applications of Maria’s reflections.

A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass.  Middle Grade Fiction.  This is the third Wendy Mass book I’ve read, and it’s hands-down my favorite.  By the first page, I was hooked and couldn’t stop thinking about the book until it was finished (which took me exactly one day). Not only was the story sweet, uplifting, and incredibly endearing, but I learned something.  Wendy’s main character has a little known disability called synesthesia – meaning she sees color in sounds, numbers and letters.  It’s fascinating!  For my full review of this book, visit my Goodreads page.

Fault In Our Stars by John Green.  Young Adult.  Top YA pick – EVER.  This book was so special, I designated an entire post to it.  I also used themes from it for my critical essay as part of my MFA application.  Read the post for details but be sure to read the book.

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan.  Young Adult.  Another top YA pick.  This book about a made-up town where everyone’s sexual preferences are accepted and integrated into society should be mandatory reading for everyone.  Everyone.  Both young people, whose ideas of social norms are just being formed, and set-in-their-ways adults would benefit from seeing how society flourishes when everyone’s contributions are absorbed, no matter the packaging.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.  Young Adult.  This book is slated as Middle Grade, but I categorized it as Young Adult due to the subject matter.  As with Fault in Our Stars, you don’t expect a book about a terminal cancer patient to be a must-read.  Especially when the book is told from the point of view of a thirteen year old boy who is losing his mother to the disease.  But…this story is so creatively told, and the artwork is so extraordinary (not pictures, mind you, but artwork), that you lose yourself in its pages and find yourself strangely at peace by the end.  Granted, there will be sobbing, but the heart-wrenching drama didn’t stop me from reading it two more times before returning it.

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper.  Middle Grade.  Top MG pick – hands down.  Another must-read book for all ages, in particular the 8-12 year old reader, who would have a lot to learn from this story.  Narrated by a seriously physically handicapped ten-year-old girl, who has genius-level mental capacities, this book opens your eyes to the normal-ness of everyday life for a disabled person, while highlighting the obstacles to their desires because of the limitations of their disease.  This young girl wants all the same things we do – to have friends, be accepted for who she is, and to have her voice heard.  She even wants to look cute in her jeans.  But it’s hard for most everyone, peers, adults, professionals, and caregivers, to see beyond her obvious deformities and realize how much we are all alike.

Divergent by Veronica Roth.  Young Adult.  I heard so much buzz about this book and the sequel, Insurgent.  For once, I was glad to be part of the in-the-know crowd.  Each book was close to 500 pages, and I read them through twice before returning them to the library.  500 pages.  Each.  Read twice.  In one week.  I’ve said enough.  Go and get yourself a copy.  Just commit to losing a few days of your life once you get the books in hand and you’ll be fine.

A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck.  Middle Grade.  I don’t care how old you are, but you need to pick up this book and it’s sequel, A Year Down Yonder.  Such wonderful, funny, quirky tales.  Innocent and appropriate for any ready.  You won’t be disappointed.

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia.  Middle Grade.  What a fun, sassy story.  I’ve heard this book mentioned over and over when referring to “voice”.  It’s the example everyone cites as the perfect use of voice – or more specifically, voice with vernacular.  It deserved every award it received.

Peaches by Jodi Lynn Anderson.  Young Adult.  This book is a new favorite of mine that I’d recommend to any woman who has had a friend.  Or made best friends at camp.  Yes, between the two categories, that’s all of us.  We all need to read it.  It’s the Ya-Ya Sisterhood set in a peach orchard.

Speak by Laura Halse Anderson.  Young Adult.  About time I read this one, and if you haven’t read it, about time you read it, too.  Haunting.  Gripping.  Amazing.  Can’t believe it was her first book.  Sigh.  Some people just have talent.

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler.  Young Adult.  This book took me completely by surprise.  Rocked my world a little, to be honest.  The structure of the novel took a little getting used to.  It’s different, to be sure.  But hang in there.  The originality in the story telling, the point of view, the artistry, it all comes together to make a unforgettable story.

The Stuff That Never Happened by Maddie Dawson.  Adult Fiction.  This was a well-written, easy read that had some hauntingly familiar themes.  For me at least.  Perhaps you can relate as well.

Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry.  Middle Grade.  I wish I’d discovered this series when I was in elementary school.  The story telling, the subject matter, the characterization: they check all the right boxes for me.  I’d recommend this book to any middle grade reader.

Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel.  Middle Grade.  This book really falls into the easy / early reader category.  But it was so darn funny, anyone could read it.  Not everyday that a middle grade novel makes a middle-aged author laugh out loud.  What a fun read.

A Visit From the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan.  Adult Fiction.  I read, reviewed, and liked Jennifer Egan’s The Keep last year.  With this novel, she expands on her signature story-telling style.  Each section weaves a different character, point of view, and perspective so smoothly, she makes it seem easy.  When it’s anything but.  No wonder the book won The Pulitzer.

White Cat by Holly Black.  Young Adult.  With this latest addition to her repertoire, she now reigns as Queen of YA in my mind.  How does she come up with this stuff????  So different from her other works.  So unique.  Smoothly written.  And from a male perspective.  Dang.  Can I drool a little as I brag that I get to meet her?

Tithe:  A Modern Faery Tale by Holly Black.  Young Adult.  So this was great too.  It’s her first book, and somehow I could tell.  She’s only perfected her awesome style over the last decade.  With this book, she opened a door into the world of evil faeries.  A door which Melissa Marr slammed shut.  These girls rock.

The Spiderwick Chronicles (Books 1 – 5) by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black.  Middle Grade.  Yup – Holly again.  I LOVED these.  And my second grader read them right alongside of me.  Easy to read, addictive tales for any age.

The Good Neighbors by Holly Black.  YA Graphic Novel.  Four Holly books in a row.  Am I obsessed yet?  Willingly I say yes.  Graphic novels are not my style, or so I thought.  But I couldn’t but the dang thing down.

Tyrell by Coe Booth.  Young Adult.  One of the most original stories I’ve read in a very long time.  Life in the welfare system as told by a teen-aged African-American boy.  Gripping doesn’t begin to describe it.  So excited to meet Coe as well.  So many questions to ask…

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.  Young Adult.  There is no way, in my wildest dreams, I could come up with a story as original as this one.  The premise, the characters, the situation.  Just read it.  It took me a minute to figure it all out, but then I couldn’t put it down.  Laini’s editor will be at the VCFA writing retreat.  I can’t begin to imagine how someone edited this work.

Specials by Scott Westerfeld.  Young Adult.  They say that the sequels are never as good as the original.  Except in this case.  This book, the third in this series, is as spellbinding as the first two.  I lost a day of my life, unable to move on until it was done.

Bird in a Box by Andrea Davis Pinkney.  Middle Grade.  I’ve never read anything like this.  A historical fiction, set in the 1930′s (background of the Great Depression), told from the perspective of three African-American children, and tied into Joe Louis winning the heavyweight championship.

The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 4) by Rick Riordan.  Middle Grade.  I wrote a review of these books when there was only three in the series.  Now that books four and five are out, I thought it needed another mention.  What kid doesn’t wish they were Percy Jackson?

The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 5) by Rick Riordan.  Middle Grade.  The last book in the series, this book was just as quick paced as the four before it.  Amazing.  Usually I’m struggling through the last few books in any series just so I can have a resolution.  This finale was a pleasure.

Beyond Lucky by Sarah Aronson.  Middle Grade.  What a sweet book.  Sweet is not the typical word choice for book about a twelve-year-old boy who plays goalie on the travel soccer team.  But I walked away smiling.  What a well-told tale.   A nice recommendation for any middle grade reader, boy or girl.  (Oh, and I get to meet Sarah, too!)

Wake by Lisa McMann.  Young Adult.  Wow.  Not expected.  Really a great recommendation from another avid reader / friend.  How did I miss this one?

Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr.  Young Adult.  Well, it’s obvious why she’s a goddess among young adult fantasy writers.  Her alternative reality with fairies, yes fairies, is totally dark, twisted, and believable.  Don’t believe me?  Try one.  Just one.  Do it.  You won’t regret it.

Ink Exchange and Fragile Eternity by Melissa Marr.  Young Adult.  Sequels to Wicked Lovely.  Read them all…

Matched by Allie Condie.  Young Adult. This book came up at a recent conference and it was a great surprise to me.  Something about it resonated long after I’d finished it.  I can’t wait to read the sequel, just released.

Snap by Alison McGhee.  Middle Grade.  I liked this book so much better than Alison’s Julia Gillian series.  Although, it’s not a fair comparison.  They are two different beasts.  My only comment: the subject matter here is mature, beyond what I would expect for middle grade.  The voice, however, is spot on.  I would only recommend it for the mature middle grade reader.

True (… Sort of) by Katherine Hannigan.  Middle Grade.  My comments on this book mirror the ones for Snap. Is it any wonder these two writers are friends?  Excellent book, well written, not content for the average middle grade reader.  (Am I putting down the middle grade reader when I say this?  I’m thinking of my own ten year old daughter…)

Ida B by Katherine Hannigan.  Middle Grade.  Mature content again but executed with a much younger voice than Snap.  (See comments, above.) I could see suggesting this to my ten year old…

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin.  Middle Grade.  I’m jealous.  I’d hate her for her talent if I hadn’t met her.  In real life, she’s really nice.

Heist Society by Ally Carter. Young Adult. I read the second book in this series, Uncommon Criminals (A Heist Society Novel), first.  Maybe because of this, I liked it better than the first book.  That being said, both are fresh and sharp.  Worth a read!

I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have To Kill You by Ally Carter.  Young Adult. Ummm….addictive.  Embarrased to admit.  Made me wish I was sixteen again and going to a private school for spies.  Read in rapid succession the sequels Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy and Only the Good Spy Young.  I stayed up way to late for these quick, tasty reads.

Avalon High by Meg Cabot.  Young Adult. This book was developed into an average made-for-TV-movie (on the Disney Channel).  I picked it up out of curiosity and was so glad I did.  The book was so much better than the movie.  I always wonder what they (the movie people) think they gain by tweaking an author’s work.

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate Dicamillo.  Middle Grade. My third grader read this in school and so, of course, I snagged it from her.  What an amazing book.  No wonder it won the Newberry Honor Medal.  The tone reminded me of books I used to read as a kid in the pre-Diary of a Wimpy Kid era.

The Pretties by Scott Westerfeld.  Young Adult.  Just as good as the first one in his series, The Uglies.  Waiting, biting my nails, until the library gets in the third.

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool.  Middle Grade. Well deserved Newberry Medal winner.  Love that historical novels are getting their due credit.

Lament:  The Faerie Queen’s Deception by Maggie Steifvater.  Young Adult.  Watch out for this one – it’s a sit down and can’t get up until you’re done sort of book.  I’m admittedly jealous of this author’s skill and her fresh, original tale.

Eon:  Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman. Young Adult.  In a word: addicting.  And refreshing.  It’s been awhile since I’ve read a high fantasy novel with a female lead written by a woman.  No male fantasies woven into her relationships with men in this one.  (I’m thinking  A Game of Thrones as I write this.)  The story is so rich, with incredible detail and intricate plot developments, yet it reads fluidly.

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson.  Adult fiction.  Once you get past the stomach curdling descriptions of skin grafting, especially to the sensitive “private” area, this was an engaging, off-beat story with an interesting historical twist.

The Penderwicks:  A Summer Tale of four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy (and) The Penderwicks on Gardham Street by Jeanne Birdsall.  Middle Grade.  These were two wonderful, charming tales of girls, boys, and the whimsy of childhood.  Doesn’t matter how old you are, you’re gonna like them!

The Year of the Dog and The Year of the Rat by Grace Lin.  Middle Grade.  Grace Lin gave an interesting keynote speech at the NJ SCBWI 2011 conference where she shared her journey as a middle grade novelist and picture book author / illustrator.  Understanding the context in which these books were written made them all the more precious to me.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore.  Young Adult.  This fantasy book started out really strong with a fascinating premise.  The ending weakened for me, but I’d still recommend it highly.

Marcelo in the Read World by Francisco Stork.  Young Adult.  I didn’t expect to fall in love with this book based upon its description, but I did.  The voice in this book is so perfectly executed that the rest of us writers fall into the “groupie” category.

Freak by Marcella Pixley.  Upper Middle Grade / Young Adult.  I found this story incredibly gripping.  Pulled me right back into the twisted world of seventh grade and the odd dynamic of bullying.

The Keep by Jennifer Egan.  Adult Fiction.  I got this book recommendation off of the Mookes and Gripes website and liked it more than the reviewer did.  This story within a story had one weak point, in my opinion, when the author did her “cutesy” first person interjection.  Overall I though it was a complicated tale with enough mystery, unknown, and history to keep me reading.

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin.  Adult Fiction.  I read this book in the fall of 2010 after Cheryl Klein mentioned it in her seminar as a story that she couldn’t put down.  It was long but worthy.  Interestingly, as I write this, I find that the book has made it to the 2011 NY Times bestseller list fifteen years after it was published and is being worked into a mini-series for HBO.  I can claim I found it before everyone else!

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray.  Young Adult.  This is the first in a fantasy trilogy that caused me to lose sleep.  Once I started reading, I couldn’t stop.  I both love and hate books like this.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet.  Adult Fiction.  Twenty years after it’s written, I committed to reading it.   All 983 pages.  Whew.  What an engaging, wild ride.  The pages flew by.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  Young Adult.  I read the trilogy along with the rest of the world.  If you haven’t read it yet, run, don’t walk, to the nearest library.  Enough said.

Twilight by Stephanie Meyers.  Young Adult.  I read these awhile ago but they bear repeating.  Why?  Because I seem to be rereading them…again.

The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan.  Middle Grade.  For anyone who loved the Greek myths as a child, these books are for you.  I loved these books so much I bought them for my sister.  Needless to say, she was not a middle grade boy.  These books cross boundaries.

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume.  Middle Grade.  Still timeless.  Reread this one along with my fourth grader.  I’d forgotten the ending…the turtle…classic.

The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling.  Middle Grade.  Also timeless.  Loved the writing, loved the story.  After fifty years, nothing dated about it.

Books I Enjoyed (but could put down to go to sleep):

Dead to Me by Lisa McMann.  Young Adult.  The conclusion of this book shouldn’t have been as shocking to me, but the author wove the tail so convincingly that I walked away stunned.  Such an original premise – a family finding their son a decade after he’d been kidnapped – and the struggles each of them go through with the acceptance and change.  I love books that tell me a story I haven’t heard of yet.

The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Alder-Olsen.  Adult Fiction.  In a word, sick.  Sick Sick Sick.  Jessi is part of the new ‘Nordic Noir’ collection of writers coming out of the icy, snowy, Nordic countries.  Dragon Tatoo blasted open the door and now we’re party to a host of wild thrillers.  I thought the book was well written, and I couldn’t put it down.  But I don’t want to know how some of these writers come up with their ideas.

Redbreast by Jo Nesbo. Adult Fiction.  Another Nordic Noir thriller.  Not as sick as its counterpart The Keeper of Lost Causes, but odd none-the-less.  Definitely a page turning vacation sort of read.

Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman.  Adult Non-Fiction.  A great read for any parent raising young children.  Definitely makes you reflect on your child-rearing style.  Quick, funny, pertinent.  Worth taking a look.

Mabel the Tooth Fairy and How She Got Her Job, Who Hoots, Kindergarten Rocks by Katie Davis.  Picture books.  I met Katie at the 2010 Rutgers conference and finally got some of her picture books out of the library.  Turns out, I had read the Tooth Fairy book to my girls years earlier when we were going through the tooth losing stage.  They are all sweet and funny.  Appropriate for anyone.

How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez.  Adult Fiction.  I love books that teach me something about history or an ethnic group different from my own, or a different country.  This one does all three.  Told through the perspectives of all four Garcia girls, this story travels back in time instead of forwards.  Fascinating story structure for a tale that is a definite departure from many I’ve read.

The Sisters Club: Cloudy With a Chance of Boys by Megan McDonald.  Middle Grade.  I thought the idea of the sisters club, with different sections of the book being narrated by different sisters, was a lot of fun.  The subject matter is subjective, though.  If you like books about boys and first kisses, then this is for you.

Sorta Like a Rockstar by Matthew Quick.  Young Adult.  It took me almost halfway to get into this book.  But once it got good, I cruised to the end, bawling my eyes out as I went.  It’s been awhile since a book has made me do that.  Word.

Girl Overboard by Justina Chen Headley.  Young Adult.  I had the same reaction to this book as the one above.  It took me over one hundred pages to get hooked, and then I couldn’t put it down.  It was such a different story for me, different from my own life, that I got pulled in.  It just took awhile.

Frendle by Andrew Clements.  Middle Grade.  What a cute book.  Perfect recommendation for any middle grader.  Part of my daughter’s battle of the books contest which I stole out of her backpack and read while she was sleeping.

Julia Gillian (and the Art of Knowing) by Alison McGhee.  Middle Grade. I first read this book (and the others in the series) after meeting Alison’s sister, Holly McGhee, at a SCBWI conference.  My daughter had picked this one out of the library because it had a dog on the cover (excellent marketing!), and I snuck it away from her.

I am the Cheese by Robert Cormier.  Young Adult.  This book sat next to Allie Condie’s book on the shelf so I decided it was time to reread it.  What a transformation young adult books have gone through in the past thirty years!  Particular in voice.

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer.  Middle Grade. I enjoyed this book despite myself.  It’s perfect for a middle-grade boy, but I found myself eagerly checking out the sequel as well:  Artemis Fowl and the Arctic Incident.

Going Bovine by Libba Bray.  Young Adult.  Even my husband stopped to ask me about this book.  Normally he overlooks my random reading habits, but this title catches the eye.  And the book follows.  Such a divergence from Libba’s first series, the Gemma Doyle trilogy.  Shows the breadth of her incredible talent.  Sigh.  A must read although it’s long, a little bizarre, and a little heavy.

The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot.  Young Adult. This book was made into a successful movie series starring Anne Hathaway.  Meg Cabot has had a very successful career. (Jealous!!!)  The movies were entertaining, and the books were as well.  I read the second, Princess in the Spotlight, and am assuming I’ll pick up the third as well.

How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell.  Middle Grade. I loved this movie.  I liked the book.  They were not the same story.  So bizarre.

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall.  Middle Grade.  I can’t seem to get enough of these books and read on to the third.  Her voice and her vision with this incredible family never seems to waver.

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper.  Middle Grade.  I must have read this series as a middle grade kid myself because I flipped through the book with an odd sense of deja-vu.  Several writers at a conference were discussing this author and the scandalous opinion that J.K. Rowling poached off of her work.  Aside from the fact that both author’s stories centered around an eleven year old boy, I didn’t find a lot of similarities between the two.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.  Middle Grade.  In preparation for a seminar in which Gail Carson Levine was a guest, I finally read this book.  I say ‘finally’ because we own the movie and the soundtrack, but I’d never read the book.  In this case, I thought both the book and the movie were good, although the movie took a lot of liberties with Gail’s story.  They are two different tales loosely based upon one another.

The Capture: The Guardians of Ga’hoole, Book 1 by Kathryn Lasky.  Another one of those cases where the book varies so much from the movie (which I loved) that I have a hard time reading it.  Always read the book first.  Not that it’s bad, it’s just very different.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay.  Adult Fiction.   Books dealing with the Holocaust usually cause me to run.  I have such a hard time reading stories about tragedy.  But this book worked the subject matter with such a delicate, crafted touch that I found myself hanging in until the end.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford.  Adult Fiction.   I didn’t expect to like this book as much as I did.  It did slow down at several points, but I had so much time invested, I kept on going.

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater.  Young Adult. I didn’t like this book as much as Lament, her ‘fairy’ novel.  The writing was smooth, but I think it’s a fairy vs. wolf thing.

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld.  Young Adult / Adult Fiction.  A friend who knew the author recommended this book.  It wasn’t as gripping a coming of age tale as Freak (above).

Books I’m Glad I Tried (but may not read again):

Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead. Adult Fiction. You can tell that the author put a lot of work into this book. There are so many characters, and back stories, and hazardous collisions, it was certainly a mastery to pull it all off. What struck me the most about this book, however, was how I didn’t like any of the characters. Any of them. Odd. Often times, when reading a book, you find yourself drawn to someone, anyone, whether they are a primary, secondary, or tertiary player. In this case, I found myself adrift, and I wonder if that was part of the author’s intent.

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. Adult Fiction. This was another long book that took a lot of work. Kate Morton’s signature style of blending multiple points of view over multiple time periods is arguably challenging, complicated, and an incredible effort. I appreciate the creativity of her stories and the fresh historical perspective they bring. (I always learn something about history.) My favorite of hers still remains The Forgotten Garden. If you haven’t tried that one yet, be sure to pick it up.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Tenton Lee Stewart.  Middle Grade.  This book gets a lot of chatter.  If your middle grade reader likes mystery / suspense books, then give this one a try.  It is long, however, longer than I expected it to be.  But this book is the first in a popular series.  If your reader likes this one, there are more to follow!

The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann.  Middle Grade.  I really enjoy Lisa McMann’s YA novels, and so I was very interested to try out her first step into the middle grade realm.  It’s certainly an original tale, although I found the beginning really dark.  It was also a slower paced book than the ones I was used to reading from her, and I found my attention wavering.  But – I’ve been finding this with a lot of middle grade books lately.  It’s a by-product of the fact that they weren’t written for me!

Gone Girl by Gillian Flinn.  Adult Fiction.  Another book I read as part of my book group after multiple people recommended it to me.  OK, true confession, I skipped some of it.  Horrible.  I know.  Everyone in my group LOVED this book.  I mean – really got hooked in.  But I had just read John Green’s book Fault in Our Stars (mentioned above), and I think it ruined me for anything that came immediately after.  His book was so real.  Gone Girl wasn’t (by intention).  I hear they’re making a movie out of it, so ignore my shortcomings.  Definitely give the book a try.  Just read the John Green after.

Tomorrow River by Leslie Kagan.  Adult Fiction.  This book’s structure was interesting in that it was written from the perspective of a twelve-year-old girl, but due to the content, it was not labeled young adult.  As I was reading through, I noted that the tone, language, and subject matter routed it in the adult genre although the tales is one about two young girls.  Some horrible things happen to these girls, so it wasn’t my favorite book to read.  That being said, it was well written.

The Shoemakers Wife by Adriana Trigiani.  Adult Fiction.  Best described as a saga, this literary novel follows two Italian immigrant’s journey into American society.  Some incredible turns of phrases, especially in the beginning.  As the story progressed, the passion of the beginning waned a little for me, but that’s most-likely a shortcoming on my part.

The House on Oyster Creek by Heidi Jon Schmidt.  Adult Fiction.  Parts of this book were very relatable to me as a married mother of two girls, and  I loved the imagery of island life.

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson.  Young Adult.  So this was disturbing.  A book chronicling a young woman’s battle with anorexia is not meant to be pleasant.  I knew this going in but still…I could stomach her first book, Speak (which deals with rape, another great topic), a little more easily.

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation by M.T. Anderson.  Middle Grade.  I could see why this book won the National Book Award.  It’s unusual and written with a depth of language not often seen anymore.  For that, I appreciated it.

Eggs by Jerry Spinelli.  Middle Grade.  Well written tale that spins the lives of several dysfunctional families together.  I had the odd sense of deja-vu as I read it…as if I’d read something a lot like it a long time ago…

Secrets of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson. Middle Grade.  This was a beautifully written tale but I found it a little hard to waddle through.  My fourth grader thought the same.

The Candymakers by Wendy Mass.  Middle Grade.  Another cute tale with loads of details about candy making.  A kid’s dream book!  It has gotten loads of great press, but it just wasn’t my favorite.  At times, the detail was a little lengthy.  I hope saying that doesn’t hurt me later.  It’s a personal thing.  For example, I’m reading Wendy’s other book, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, which I’m really enjoying.

The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks.  Young Adult.  I hate putting any book into the not-so-good pile since I know the labor of love that went into its creation.  The idea for this novel was fresh.

Dear Dumb Diary by Jim Benton.  Middle Grade.  To be fair, these novels were not written for me.  My daughters read them.   All their friends read them.  Jim has a great hit, and I’m glad he’s keeping these girls engaged in books and away from the electronics.  However, I just wish the content, writing style, subject matter, etc. was more, well, literary.  It’s the Diary of a Whimpy Kid for teen-y bopper girls.

Abarat by Clive Barker.  Young Adult.  I disappointed myself in not bonding with this book.  I loved the beginning but had a hard time making it to the end.  There was also this odd sense like I’d read it before…

A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce.  Young Adult. I appreciated this original, imaginative remake of the Rumpelstiltskin tale.  The book was well written, it just wasn’t my favorite.  (I’m sorry!)

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt.  Middle Grade.  Based upon the awards this book has received and the chatter I’ve heard from industry professionals, I expected a different sort of read.  It’s definitely original.  I’m unsure at what point I would recommend it to my middle grade girls.

Saturday by Ian McEwan.  Adult Fiction.  I failed this book.  I tried twice to get into it and never succeeded.  But it goes on the list as a nobel attempt.

The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond.  Adult Fiction.  Ok – I skimmed this one.  It was very well written, but the gut wrenching plot line (a kidnapped child) wasn’t one I had the heart to dig into.

Of Love and Evil by Anne Rice.  Adult Fiction.  I hate to say it, because I am a huge Anne Rice fan, but this wasn’t my favorite.

Fairest by Gail Carsen Levine.  Middle Grade.  I decided to try another of Gail’s books (see Ella Enchanted, above).  Perhaps I’m jaded after the Ella Enchanted movie, but I couldn’t get into this alternate story set in Ayortha.

Responses

  1. Glad to see some Nordic Noir made it to your list 🙂


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