Books I Liked A Lot

Books I Liked A Lot (a.k.a the must-read list)

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.

See Also:

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

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

Book Review Home Page

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