— Books I’ve Read in 2014 —
SHARP OBJECTS by Gillian Flynn
Another great novel by Gillian Flynn. I loved GONE GIRL when I read it at the beginning of last year. I raced through it because the pacing compelled me to. This book had a similar rushing pace and a deliciously dark plot that I couldn’t stop reading.
WICKED above her hipbone, GIRL across her heart
Words are like a road map to reporter Camille Preaker’s troubled past. Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, Camille’s first assignment from the second-rate daily paper where she works brings her reluctantly back to her hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls.
NASTY on her kneecap, BABYDOLL on her leg
Since she left town eight years ago, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed again in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille is haunted by the childhood tragedy she has spent her whole life trying to cut from her memory.
HARMFUL on her wrist, WHORE on her ankle
As Camille works to uncover the truth about these violent crimes, she finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Clues keep leading to dead ends, forcing Camille to unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past to get at the story. Dogged by her own demons, Camille will have to confront what happened to her years before if she wants to survive this homecoming.(Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Gillian Flynn here.
Follow Gillian on Facebook here.
AMERICAN BORN CHINESE by Gene Luen Yang
I’ve wanted to read this story ever since I heard about it over a year ago at a conference while listening to a talk about graphic novels. It finally made it to the top of my TBR pile and it was well worth the wait. What a fantastic story. The artwork leaps off the page and the humor is laugh-out loud funny.
All Jin Wang wants is to fit in. When his family moves to a new neighborhood, he suddenly finds that he’s the only Chinese American student at his school. Jocks and bullies pick on him constantly, and he has hardly any friends. Then, to make matters worse, he falls in love with an all-American girl…
Born to rule over all the monkeys in the world, the story of the Monkey King is one of the oldest and greatest Chinese fables. Adored by his subjects, master of the arts of kung-fu, he is the most powerful monkey on earth. But the Monkey King doesn’t want to be a monkey. He wants to be hailed as a god…
Chin-Kee is the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype, and he’s ruining his cousin Danny’s life. Danny’s a popular kid at school, but every year Chin-Kee comes to visit, and every year Danny has to transfer to a new school to escape the shame. This year, though, things quickly go from bad to worse…
These three apparently unrelated tales come together with an unexpected twist, in a modern fable that is hilarious, poignant and action-packed. American Born Chinese is an amazing rise, all the way up to the astonishing climax–and confirms what a growing number of readers already know: Gene Yang is a major talent. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Learn more about Gene Luen Yang here.
Follow Gene on Twitter here.
Follow Gene on Facebook here.
A DANCE WITH DRAGONS by George R.R. Martin
I was so excited to find out what happened to some of my favorite characters who had been absent for too long in the last book. The tension and drama continues, although too many favorite characters meet an untimely demise – I won’t say which ones, but if you’ve read Martin for this long, you know not to get too attached to anyone. I took my time reading this book in between many other novels this year. Who knows how long it will be until the next one? I savored every bloody minute of it.
In the aftermath of a colossal battle, the future of the Seven Kingdoms hangs in the balance once again–beset by newly emerging threats from every direction. In the east, Daenerys Targaryen, the last scion of House Targaryen, rules with her three dragons as queen of a city built on dust and death. But Daenerys has three times three thousand enemies, and many have set out to find her. Yet, as they gather, one young man embarks upon his own quest for the queen, with an entirely different goal in mind.
To the north lies the mammoth Wall of ice and stone–a structure only as strong as those guarding it. There, Jon Snow, 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, will face his greatest challenge yet. For he has powerful foes not only within the Watch but also beyond, in the land of the creatures of ice.
And from all corners, bitter conflicts soon reignite, intimate betrayals are perpetrated, and a grand cast of outlaws and priests, soldiers and skinchangers, nobles and slaves, will face seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Some will fail, others will grow in the strength of darkness. But in a time of rising restlessness, the tides of destiny and politics will lead inevitably to the greatest dance of all. . . .
Learn more about George R.R. Martin here.
STOLEN BY THE SEA by Anna Myers
I’m slowly accumulating all of Anna’s books. This is one that she chose for me out of a few she had on hand. I’m so glad I read this one. It was such touching story. And I know it was a difficult and personal story for her to write. I have only wonderful things to say about this book. As always, Anna puts you right into the heart of an historic event and really lets you experience it through diverse and dynamic characters that you care about from the very first page. This story will stay with you long after you put it down.
Maggie McKenna loves the sea. One of the best things about living in Galveston is being able to swim in the gulf and walk along the seashore with her father. Maggie wishes those special times with her father would never end. She knows she’s wrong to be jealous of the new baby that’s coming, but the bad feelings keep building inside her like a threatening storm. She even resents the time her father spends with Felipe, the Mexican boy from the orphanage who does odd jobs around the house.
When her father has to take her mother to Houston to see the doctor, Maggie is left behind to struggle with the jealously that is sweeping away her common sense. But soon she is facing the battle of her life when the very sea she loves, stirred up by one of the most powerful hurricanes of the century, ravages Galveston, destroying homes and lives in a powerful and violent flood. Her only chance at surviving through the night is to join forces with Felipe as they try to ride out the storm together. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Anna Myers here.
Follow Anna on Facebook here.
HOW I LIVE NOW by Meg Rosoff
I absolutely fell in love with Meg Rosoff after listening to her speak at this year’s SCBWI LA summer conference. She was the first keynote speaker and I can’t think of a better or more irreverent way to start off a conference than with Meg. I firmly believe that her brain works like no one else’s and I wish she could teach mine to work in the way. This story is her first novel and I really enjoyed it. Great characters, intriguing plot, I just raced through the whole book in about a day. I can’t wait to read more of her books.
Fifteen-year-old New Yorker Daisy is sent to live in the English countryside with cousins she’s never even met. When England is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy, the cousins find themselves on their own. Power fails, system fail. As they grow more isolated, the farm becomes a kind of Eden, with no rules. Until the war arrives in their midst.
Daisy’s is a war story, a survival story, a love story—all told in the voice of a subversive and witty teenager. This book crackles with anxiety and with lust. It’s a stunning and unforgettable first novel that captures the essence of the age of terrorism: how we live now. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Meg Rosoff here.
Follow Meg on Twitter here.
SIFTING THROUGH THE MADNESS FOR THE WORD, THE LINE, THE WAY by Charles Bukowski
I wanted to read some of Bukowski’s poems because a poet I admire recommended him. He was such a prolific writer, I didn’t really know where to begin, so I just started with one of the few selections my local bookstore actually had available. That simplified things. This was a collection put together after his death, and it seemed death and endings were heavy on his mind in many of the poems – along with drinking and horse racing. I didn’t much care for many of those poems, although they rang with a true, gritty voice. I did find myself touched by some of the more random poems, especially this one near the end.
nobody but you
nobody can save you but
yourself you will be put again and again
into nearly impossible
they will attempt again and again
through subterfuge, guise and
to make you submit, quit and/or die quietly
nobody can save you but
and it will be easy enough to fail
so very easily
but don’t, don’t, don’t.
just watch them.
listen to them.
do you want to be like that?
a faceless, mindless, heartless
do you want to experience
death before death?
nobody can save you but
and you’re worth saving.
it’s a war not easily won
but if anything is worth winning then
this is it.
think about it.
think about saving yourself.
I have to say, I cried so hard after reading this. It just really hit home with me and where I am right now. I really needed this. This is why poetry is so important. And this is why, despite all of the poems about living in shady hotel rooms and chasing women that I didn’t love, I will read more Bukowsi.
from “neither Shakespeare nor Mickey Spillane”
young young young, only wanting the Word,
going mad in the streets and in the bars,
brutal fights, broken glass, crazy women
your cheap room,
you a familiar guest at the drunk tank, North
Avenue 21, Lincoln Heights
sifting through the madness for the Word, the
hoping for a check from somewhere,
dreaming of a letter from a great editor:
“Chinaski, you don’t know how long we’ve been waiting for you!”
no chance at all. (Poem excerpt from Goodreads description.)
Learn more about Charles Bukowski here.
HEXED by Michelle Krys
This book was written by a lovely writing acquaintance of mine from Canada, whom I’m more than happy to support. This is her debut novel and it was quite a fun read. It got a little slow in the middle, but overall, the pacing was break-neck and the tension was high, just the way I like it. She now has a sequel in works and I’m sure it was be just a wonderful. Congrats, Michelle!
It’s Bring it On meets The Craft in this spellbinding witchy series debut.
If high school is all about social status, Indigo Blackwood has it made. Sure, her quirky mom owns an occult shop, and a nerd just won’t stop trying to be her friend, but Indie is a popular cheerleader with a football-star boyfriend and a social circle powerful enough to ruin everyone at school. Who wouldn’t want to be her?
Then a guy dies right before her eyes. And the dusty old family Bible her mom is freakishly possessive of is stolen. But it’s when a frustratingly sexy stranger named Bishop enters Indie’s world that she learns her destiny involves a lot more than pom-poms and parties. If she doesn’t get the Bible back, every witch on the planet will die. And that’s seriously bad news for Indie, because according to Bishop, she’s a witch too.
Suddenly forced into a centuries-old war between witches and sorcerers, Indie’s about to uncover the many dark truths about her life—and a future unlike any she ever imagined on top of the cheer pyramid. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Michelle Krys here.
Follow Michelle on Twitter here.
Follow Michelle on Facebook here.
Follow Michelle on Tumblr here.
FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell
I’ve waited over a year to read this book! (I loaned my copy to a friend soon after receiving it for my birthday last year and then she moved and it was buried in a box for ages.) All in all, it was well worth the wait. Rowell’s characters are so well-written and so dynamic that they could’ve been people I went to college with. And talk about nostalgia! I was back in my cramped dorm room, reliving those early days with my first roommate within a few chapters. So surreal. Loved this book ALMOST as much as Eleanor & Park. It was really close.
Cath is a Simon Snow fan.
Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .
But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.
Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fanfiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.
Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.
Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fanfiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.
For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?
Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?
And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind? (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Rainbow Rowell here.
Follow Rainbow on Twitter here.
Follow Rainbow on Facebook here.
Follow Rowell’s Tumblr here.
ART & FEAR: Observations on the Perils (And Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland
A close friend recommended this book to me years ago when I was struggling with my craft. I bought it and let it gather dust on my shelf. This year I resolved to delve into the heart of my fears and actually read the book. I’m so glad I did. I wrote a two-part blog post about this subject. The second installment mostly discussed this book here.
Art & Fear explores the way art gets made, the reasons it often doesn’t get made, and the nature of the difficulties that cause so many artists to give up along the way. The book’s co-authors, David Bayles and Ted Orland, are themselves both working artists, grappling daily with the problems of making art in the real world. Their insights and observations, drawn from personal experience, provide an incisive view into the world of art as it is expeienced by artmakers themselves.
This is not your typical self-help book. This is a book written by artists, for artists -— it’s about what it feels like when artists sit down at their easel or keyboard, in their studio or performance space, trying to do the work they need to do. First published in 1994, Art & Fear quickly became an underground classic. Word-of-mouth response alone—now enhanced by internet posting—has placed it among the best-selling books on artmaking and creativity nationally.
Art & Fear has attracted a remarkably diverse audience, ranging from beginning to accomplished artists in every medium, and including an exceptional concentration among students and teachers. The original Capra Press edition of Art & Fear sold 80,000 copies.
Learn more about David Bayles here.
Learn more about Ted Orland here.
ROSE UNDER FIRE by Elizabeth Wein
This is the companion novel to CODE NAME VERITY, which I read last year and loved so, so much. I really enjoyed this story,too, but it didn’t hold quite the intensity and impact that Verity did. This is still a well-written book and well worth the read.
Rose Justice is a young pilot with the Air Transport Auxiliary during the Second World War. On her way back from a semi-secret flight in the waning days of the war, Rose is captured by the Germans and ends up in Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi women’s concentration camp. There, she meets an unforgettable group of women, including a once glamorous and celebrated French detective novelist whose Jewish husband and three young sons have been killed; a resilient young girl who was a human guinea pig for Nazi doctors trying to learn how to treat German war wounds; and a Nachthexen, or Night Witch, a female fighter pilot and military ace for the Soviet air force. These damaged women must bond together to help each other survive.
In this companion volume to the critically acclaimed novel Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein continues to explore themes of friendship and loyalty, right and wrong, and unwavering bravery in the face of indescribable evil. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Elizabeth Wein here.
Follow Elizabeth on Twitter here.
Follow Elizabeth on Facebook here.
TUMBLEWEED BABY by Anna Myers
This is a gorgeous picture book by my dear friend, Anna Myers. I did a blog post and interview all about this book here.
A large, loving family in the 1930s Dust Bowl finds a “tumbleweed baby”—a wild baby—in the plains near their cozy farm home. The baby’s new siblings discover the ways she fits and doesn’t fit into the family, ultimately deciding that her wildness makes her one of them. The rhythm and voice of the text make this feel like a classic tall tale, and it pairs perfectly with the dreamy, warm art from master illustrator Charles Vess. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Learn more about Anna Myers here.
Follow Anna on Facebook here.
LIES WE TELL OURSELVES by Robin Talley
A dear writer friend of mine passed this book along to me from the author’s publicist and asked if I’d like to review it. I had already heard about this book and was actually looking forward to reading it, so I gladly accepted.
I was gripped by the story from the first pages. I could feel the tension of of those black students going through their first day of integration so intently, I don’t think my own muscles unclenched until they were safely home. How any of them made it through an entire week, let alone an entire school year, living with constant fear and torturous conditions is beyond me.
I’ve read a lot about the Civil Rights Movement and I thought I knew about the story of integration, but I’d never really thought about the story from the kids’ perspective. They really held the battle on their shoulders. And Talley weaves such a wonderfully nuanced tale that connects today’s struggle for equality with that of the past, making it just as relevant and just as terrifying. Sarah and Linda’s relationship grows so naturally and painfully that I couldn’t stop reading it. Really an excellent book.
In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.
Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.
Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept “separate but equal.”
Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Robin Talley here.
Follow Robin on Twitter here.
Follow Robin on Facebook here.
Follow Robin on Tumblr here.
DEFIANCE by C.J. Redwine
This was the October Colleen Houck’s Goodreads Book Club selection and another new author to me. This is the first in Redwine’s Defiance trilogy and it looks to be an interesting series. I enjoyed the dual POVs between the male and female lead characters, Logan and Rachel. The strong female character having to camouflage herself, to hide her true nature, her strengths, and train in secret just so she could survive in a male domineering society struck a chord with me. I do live in a very male-domineering, conservative state. (“You didn’t take your husband’s last name? How…odd.” And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, my friends.)
It just makes my skin crawl thinking about trying to adapt to the type of situation the main character lives in. Not being able to move about freely without a male protector? Ugh! I know there are cultures that actually exist where women cannot go out in public without a male relative and that also makes me want to rebel in the worst way. Again, I just think I would have had to go underground in this world or risk being executed for disobedience. Basically, I wouldn’t have survived in that kind of society. Or I would have been leading the revolution. Saudi women defy driving ban, anybody?
Within the walls of Baalboden, beneath the shadow of the city’s brutal leader, Rachel Adams has a secret. While other girls sew dresses, host dinner parties, and obey their male Protectors, Rachel knows how to survive in the wilderness and deftly wield a sword. When her father, Jared, fails to return from a courier mission and is declared dead, the Commander assigns Rachel a new Protector, her father’s apprentice, Logan—the same boy Rachel declared her love for two years ago, and the same boy who handed her heart right back to her. Left with nothing but fierce belief in her father’s survival, Rachel decides to escape and find him herself. But treason against the Commander carries a heavy price, and what awaits her in the Wasteland could destroy her.
At nineteen, Logan McEntire is many things. Orphan. Outcast. Inventor. As apprentice to the city’s top courier, Logan is focused on learning his trade so he can escape the tyranny of Baalboden. But his plan never included being responsible for his mentor’s impulsive daughter. Logan is determined to protect her, but when his escape plan goes wrong and Rachel pays the price, he realizes he has more at stake than disappointing Jared.
As Rachel and Logan battle their way through the Wasteland, stalked by a monster that can’t be killed and an army of assassins out for blood, they discover romance, heartbreak, and a truth that will incite a war decades in the making. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about C.J. Redwine here.
Follow C.J. on Twitter here.
Follow C.J. on Facebook here.
Follow C.J. on Tumblr here.
ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE by Benjamin Alire Saenz
And I still finished it in record time.
Here’s the first passage that stopped me in my tracks:
As far as I was concerned, the sun could have melted the blue right off the sky. Then the sky could be as miserable as I was.
And that was just the writer getting warmed up and talking about the weather. He gets deep and breaks your heart with his words. And you want to thank him for it. This is a book I will read over and over until its pages fall out.
I read this book at the recommendation of a dear writer friend of mine. And now I’m recommending it to you. To everyone who loves great story and words and beautiful characters. You will take this story into your heart and it will never leave you.
Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.(Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Follow Benjamin on Twitter here.
ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE by Gabriel García Márquez
This was a very slow read for me, but also a very enjoyable one. It was so rich with character and setting, I wanted to stay with it. I chose this book after hearing Matt de la Peña speak about it. This book was the first book his father ever read and it opened up an avenue for them to share the world of books together. He also said how crazy it was that his dad chose to start off by reading Márquez. “You don’t just start with a book like this.” After he was done, Matt asked him what he thought. His dad said he liked it. And that was all. He then asked him for another book. That piqued my interest and this book sounded like a challenge. It was and I thoroughly enjoyed the read.
One of the 20th century’s enduring works, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a widely beloved and acclaimed novel known throughout the world, and the ultimate achievement of a Nobel Prize winning career.
The novel tells the story of the rise and fall of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the family. It is a rich and brilliant chronicle of life and death, and the tragicomedy of humankind. In the noble, ridiculous, beautiful, and tawdry story of the family, one sees all of humanity, just as in the history, myths, growth, and decay of Macondo, one sees all of Latin America.
Love and lust, war and revolution, riches and poverty, youth and senility — the variety of life, the endlessness of death, the search for peace and truth — these universal themes dominate the novel. Whether he is describing an affair of passion or the voracity of capitalism and the corruption of government, Gabriel Garcia Marquez always writes with the simplicity, ease, and purity that are the mark of a master.
Alternately reverential and comical, One Hundred Years of Solitude weaves the political, personal, and spiritual to bring a new consciousness to storytelling. Translated into dozens of languages, this stunning work is no less than an accounting of the history of the human race. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Learn more about Gabriel Garcia Màrquez here.
SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut
This is another book I read, or rather listened to, for my observance of Banned Book Week, this year. I actually read this book years ago while in high school. It was lying around the house and had a catchy title. I’m not sure how much I remembered about the book, except how it ended. I remembered how odd it was that an author would tell you in the beginning of a book how the story would end. I was so curious that I did turn to the back of the book right then to see if it did indeed end with “Poo-tee-weet”. This time around, I still found it jumbled and jarring, but a little more profound. It’s Vonnegut. What else is there to say?
Kurt Vonnegut’s absurdist classic Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut’s) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden.
Don’t let the ease of reading fool you – Vonnegut’s isn’t a conventional, or simple, novel. He writes, “There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick, and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters.”
Slaughterhouse-Five is not only Vonnegut’s most powerful book, it is also as important as any written since 1945. Like Catch- 22, it fashions the author’s experiences in the Second World War into an eloquent and deeply funny plea against butchery in the service of authority. Slaughterhouse-Five boasts the same imagination, humanity, and gleeful appreciation of the absurd found in Vonnegut’s other works, but the book’s basis in rock-hard, tragic fact gives it a unique poignancy – and humor. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Learn more about Kurt Vonnegut here.
EARTHBOUND and EARTHQUAKE by Aprilynne Pike
The second book in this series was the selected book for September for Colleen Houck’s Goodreads Book Club, but I could’t just start with book 2, that would be crazy. Who does that?
Obviously not me. I really enjoyed the first book and found the premise of reincarnation of gods who must reawaken their memories from their past lives and then reunite with their soulmates to regain their true strength quite exciting – especially what if you don’t want to keep being a goddess who reincarnate with the same soulmate? What if you want to break the rules? Very complex ideology; a book you can really dig deep into your brain and blow your mind about. Although I thought the second book waned a little in the middle, it definitely picked up steam near the end. I look forward to the third installment.
Plot Summary for EARTHBOUND:
Tavia Michaels is the sole survivor of the plane crash that killed her parents. When she starts to see strange visions of a boy she’s never spoken with in real life, she begins to suspect that there’s much about her past that she isn’t being told. Tavia will soon to discover that she alone holds the key to stopping the Reduciata, an evil society that manipulates global events for its own shadowy purposes. But Tavia must make a choice: to come into her own powers and save the world from the evil Reduciata, or choose free will and a love of her own. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Plot Summary for EARTHQUAKE:
Tavia Michaels has discovered that she’s an Earthbound–a fallen goddess with the power to create matter from nothing–and that the Reduciata will stop at nothing to control her and her power. Captured and imprisoned along with her eternal lover, Logan, huddled in a claustrophobic cell, they lose track of the days, their attempts to escape proving as ephemeral as Tavia’s newly gestating powers.
But then Tavia and Logan are mysteriously rescued–and what they do next will determine not only the fate of their love, but also the fate of the world…(Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Aprilynne Pike here.
Follow Aprilynne on Twitter here.
Follow Aprilynne on Facebook here.
JOURNEY and QUEST by Aaron Becker
Aaron Becker was one of the keynote speakers at this yea’s SCBWI LA summer conference. I happened by his books in a store and showed them to my son. We read through JOURNEY, or rather viewed the beautiful wordless picture book in quiet reverence. My son was entranced. He then wanted to view the second book, QUEST. And then he insisted we take it home with us. Journey reminded me of HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON meets THE WIZARD OF OZ. QUEST just took that world a step further. I was just as enchanted by the gorgeous illustrations and the lovely storylines as my son was.
Becker has a Facebook page, entitled the Journey Trilogy, so it would seem there will be one more of these beautiful books. This page also shows some of his artistic process and how he works from his own models to create the otherworldly landscapes on his pages.
A 2014 Caldecott Honor Book, Journey, follows the adventures of a young girl who escapes the boredom of home to find a magical realm – in which she can control her destiny with her imagination. A Junior Library Guild Selection.
Plot Summary for QUEST:
Quest is the second book in the wordless picture book trilogy that began with the 2014 Caldecott Honor Book Journey. The adventure continues as the girl, the boy, and their purple bird companion make their way back into the enchanted realm behind the red door. They discover that there’s more to this land than they imagined – and they’re more a part of its mythology than they could have dreamed.
Learn more about Aaron Becker here.
Follow Aaron on Facebook here.
Follow Aaron on Twitter here.
THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS (Captain Underpants #1) by Dav Pilkey
I read this as part of my observance of Banned Book Week, as this was the book that made it to the top of the list. Surprised? So was I. I couldn’t see what was so censor-worthy about this graphic novel, especially one that has encouraged so many reluctant readers TO READ! Here are some notes from the author’s website about this series:
This book is based on a superhero that Dav Pilkey invented way back in 1973 when he was a second-grader. The comics that Dav made were very much like the comic book that George and Harold sell on the playground in Chapter 3.
When I began making children’s books in 1986, my goal was to one day make a book about Captain Underpants. I wrote several different versions of this story, including a 48-page comic book, but every publisher who saw it turned it down. When the book was finally accepted in 1996, it was a real dream come true! — Dav Pilkey
Many of the things in the book are taken directly from Dav’s childhood: the practical jokes, the comics, even the cheesy animation technique called “Flip-O-Rama” (Dav and his friends used to amuse themselves by making these flip-action animated pictures in elementary school).
Dav Pilkey had dyslexia when he was a kid. He was always discouraged by wordy texts, small type, and lengthy chapters.
My goal with The Adventures of Captain Underpants was to make a chapter book that SEEMED like a picture book. So I wrote incredibly short chapters and tried to fill each page with more pictures than words. I wanted to create a book that kids who don’t like to read would want to read. — Dav Pilkey
That’s an admirable goal and great reason to create such a relatable series for kids. I happen to know that these books DO inspire kids to create their own comics and stories. I honestly don’t see this as a bad thing that should be censored.
Here’s the actually plot summary for the first book:
Meet George and Harold, a couple of wise guys. The only thing they enjoy more than playing practical jokes is creating their own comic books. Together they have created the greatest comic-book superhero in the history of their elementary school – CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS! But George and Harold’s principal, mean old Mr. Krupp, doesn’t like their pranks OR their comic books. He’s cooked up a plan to catch George and Harold and stop their shenanigans – once and for all! This book is about what happened when that plan backfired, and Captain Underpants leaped off the page to save the day! (Plot summary from author’s website.)
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THE THREE SNOW BEARS by Jan Brett
Retellings are very popular right now, but they are nothing new. On a recent trip to the library, my son picked up this book, and begged to bring it home. We read it through over and over. It is a beautiful and creative retelling of the Goldilocks story, set in Alaska with polar bears and a curious native Inuit girl named Aloo-ki in the main character role. The author traveled to Alaska to research this book. You can find details about her research and fun activities to go along with the story on the author’s website, listed below.
The Goldilocks story takes a fine twist when an endearing snow bear family and a curious Inuit girl meet center stage in Jan Brett’s stunning paintings of a land where the Inuits and the animals share the amazing Arctic landscape.
When Aloo-ki loses her sled dogs, her search for them leads her to an igloo. She can’t resist peeking inside…and then she can’t resist the smell of something delicious…
While Aloo-ki is making herself at home, Papa, Mama and Baby Bear are out walking, waiting for their breakfast to cool off…and who do you think they find?
In the borders, playful Arctic animals in parkas inspired by original Inuit designs have a mischievous time as the lively story bounces back and forth between the snow bears and Aloo-ki until they come face-to-face.
Learn more about Jan Brett here.
Follow Jan on Facebook here.
Follow Jan on Twitter here.
THE 5 LOVE LANGUAGES: THE SECRET TO LOVE THAT LASTS by Gary Chapman
I read this book at the suggestion of my therapist. I had some profound philosophical issues with some of the author’s approaches, especially the idea that you have to keep trying – no matter what – to fulfill the other person’s need for love. (I know, right?) But if I didn’t take it too seriously, I understood the overall ideas. It was okay. I am not one who reads many self-help books. I made an exception here and after reading this book, I remembered why I don’t often read them. If you are one who enjoys self-help books or finds them helpful, maybe you will find this one of value.
Couples who understand each other’s love language hold a priceless advantage in the quest for love that lasts a lifetime — they know how to effectively and consistently make each other feel truly and deeply loved. That gift never fades away. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Learn more about Gary Chapman here.
YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW ME: STORIES AND POEMS ABOUT BOYS by Sharon Flake
I heard Sharon Blake speak during the SCBWI LA conference and she was fantastic. This was one of the few books left to get signed so I snatched it up. She was a delight to meet. So warm and thoughtful. This was my first conference read after I returned home. And I definitely want to read more from her. There is a companion book, WHO AM I WITHOUT HIM: SHORT STORIES ABOUT GIRLS AND THE BOYS IN THEIR LIVES and then there is her first book, THE SKIN I’M IN, that won several awards, that I’d love to read.
This book was great. The perspective was at times, funny, sad, angry, awkward, and complicated, just like a young teen boy is. This isn’t just a good book for boys to read, it’s for anyone who enjoys good characters that will touch you.
They fall in love, plot revenge, seek to be understood. They sit in class, show their colors, date your daughter and dream of making it big. But do you know them, these brazen, brilliant, bold young men walking among us? In my new novel, young men celebrate love, mentor younger boys, wrestle with HIV and contemplate suicide. They dodge adults, brag about becoming president and wonder if they’ll be alive in the morning. Boys: Do we know ‘em? (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Sharon Flake here.
Follow Sharon on Twitter here.
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OH. MY. GODS by Tera Lynn Childs
Another wunderbar book club pick. You have to appreciate the cover art. Though this one brought back barely veiled trauma-esque (new word? I’m going with it) memories from my elementary days and life with my crazy first step-mom, the health nut in love with the 80s running craze, so we became a family of runners. (Seriously, if I had time to spin the tales, you’d agree to her level of insanity.)
Memories of waking up at the crack of dawn before school so I could go jogging. Memories of weekends with the family, taking road trips out of town before sunrise to run races while my friends slept in and watched cartoons. Once I got past these, I found the story charming and delighted in the main character actually enjoying the act of running – I did remember the sense of accomplishment and the runner’s high – although the story didn’t hold that many surprises as far as the plot was concerned, it was entertaining and I did care about the characters. I am enjoying the recurring theme of strong female characters in the book selections, even in the romantic selections. And a story set in Greece is always a fun read.
What If The Greek Gods Were More Than Myth?
If Phoebe Castro can keep her grades up and have another stellar cross-country season, her dream of attending USC with her best friends is only a track scholarship away. She’s made all her plans, so it’s a complete shock when her mom announces she’s marrying a mysterious stranger and moving them half-way around the world—to Greece.
What If Their Descendants Lived Among Us?
Phoebe’s stuck on a secret island in the Aegean attending the super-exclusive Academy, where her new stepfather is the headmaster and the kids are anything but your average students—they are descendants of the Greek gods, super powers included. That’s right, Greek gods are no myth! If Phoebe thought high school was hard, she knows this is going to be mortal misery.
What If You Had To Go To High School With Them?
Securing that scholarship seems like Phoebe’s only ticket out of Greece, but training and maintaining her grades will be grueling, even without a sabotaging stepsister from Hades and a gorgeous guy—what a god!—who just might be her Achilles heel. One thing is for sure—summoning the will to win and find her place among the gods could be Phoebe’s toughest course yet.
In Oh. My. Gods. the Greek gods get a makeover in this romantic odyssey of mythic proportion. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Tera Lynn Childs here.
Follow Tera on Twitter here.
Follow Tera on Facebook here.
REALITY BOY by A.S. King
This book is one of my greatest treasures – and not just because it is inscribed to me by the phenomenal A.S. King herself. (Okay, that doesn’t hurt – *hugs book tighter*) I just love her writing so much. It’s honest and raw. I want to call this one ‘The Anger Book’ because it lets you really get down and dirty with feeling all kinds of angry. And understanding where your anger really comes from – that lack of caring, the seeing-but-not-seeing adults who let things happen, the neglect, the injustices that were done when you were too young to be in control of your destiny. The main character, Gerald, taps right into it all and lets us live vicariously through him as he slowly starts to find his voice and make demands for a new life. Enpowerment on the page. Dig it.
Gerald Faust knows exactly when he started feeling angry: the day his mother invited a reality television crew into his five-year-old life. Twelve years later, he’s still haunted by his rage-filled youth—which the entire world got to watch from every imaginable angle—and his anger issues have resulted in violent outbursts, zero friends, and clueless adults dumping him in the special education room at school.
Nothing is ever going to change. No one cares that he’s tried to learn to control himself, and the girl he likes has no idea who he really is. Everyone’s just waiting for him to snap…and he’s starting to feel dangerously close to doing just that.
In this fearless portrayal of a boy on the edge, highly acclaimed Printz Honor author A.S. King explores the desperate reality of a former child “star” who finally breaks free of his anger by creating possibilities he never knew he deserved. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about A.S. King here.
Follow A.S. King on Twitter here.
CARNIVORES by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Dan Santat
I first heard about this book from the editor when she came to our spring conference. It sounded funny and intriguing, but her description did not even do this fantastic book justice. I snagged this from a fellow writer on the plane ride to LA because I was dying to read it. I laughed out loud and didn’t even care. Dan Santat’s illustrations are stupendous and make the witty text so much funnier with his visual jokes. This is a book you will read over and over until the cover falls apart.
The lion is king of the jungle!
The great white shark is sovereign of the seas!
The timber wolf is emperor of the forests!
But . . . it’s lonely at the top of the food chain. It’s difficult to fit in when plant eaters can be so cruel—just because you ate a relative of theirs that one time! What’s a carnivore to do? Aaron Reynolds’s roaringly funny text is perfectly paired with Dan Santat’s mouthwatering illustrations, creating a toothsome book that’s sure to stand out from the herd. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Aaron Reynolds here.
Learn more about Dan Santat here.
THE COCKOO’S CALLING by Robert Galbraith
This is the first mystery novel written by J.K. Rowling under her pseudonym. I for one, love a good mystery, so I finally decided to give it a go – even after my experience with her first adult novel. And I’m glad I did. This was a much better experience with Rowling back to doing what she does well – telling a great story.
When a troubled model falls to her death from a snow-covered Mayfair balcony, it is assumed that she has committed suicide. However, her brother has his doubts, and calls in private investigator Cormoran Strike to look into the case.
Strike is a war veteran – wounded both physically and psychologically – and his life is in disarray. The case gives him a financial lifeline, but it comes at a personal cost: the more he delves into the young model’s complex world, the darker things get – and the closer he gets to terrible danger . . .
A gripping, elegant mystery steeped in the atmosphere of London – from the hushed streets of Mayfair to the backstreet pubs of the East End to the bustle of Soho – The Cuckoo’s Calling is a remarkable book. Introducing Cormoran Strike, this is the acclaimed first crime novel from Robert Galbraith. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Robert Galbraith here.
Follow Robert on Twitter here.
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(I’m sure you know how to find J.K. Rowling, but here’s her other main site, just in case, here.)
THE PLEDGE by Kimberly Derting
This was my online book club selection for July. Another first-time reading experience for me. I’m getting to know several new authors this way – such great exposure. Although I’d never heard of this author or this book before, I was intrigued by the story’s concept. Segregating people by the use of different languages for each of the classes. What a concept. I also liked the idea of a female-based ruling society. This is the first book in a series. I’m interested enough in this first one to want to see where this continues.
In the violent country of Ludania, the classes are strictly divided by the language they speak. The smallest transgression, like looking a member of a higher class in the eye while they are speaking their native tongue, results in immediate execution. Seventeen-year-old Charlaina has always been able to understand the languages of all classes, and she’s spent her life trying to hide her secret. The only place she can really be free is the drug-fueled underground clubs where people go to shake off the oppressive rules of the world they live in. It’s there that she meets a beautiful and mysterious boy named Max who speaks a language she’s never heard before . . . and her secret is almost exposed.
Charlie is intensely attracted to Max, even though she can’t be sure where his real loyalties lie. As the emergency drills give way to real crisis and the violence escalates, it becomes clear that Charlie is the key to something much bigger: her country’s only chance for freedom from the terrible power of a deadly regime. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Kimberly Derting here.
Follow Kimberly on Facebook here.
Follow Kimberly on Twitter here.
THE GRISHA SERIES (Books 1-3) by Leigh Bardugo
I’d seen so many writer friends geeking out about this series, so I finally broke down and read this onto see what all the fuss was about…and found myself finished with it in the briefest time span of one week. And the wishing there were more. Such a fascinating exploration into the darkness and light in all of us and what we’ll sacrifice for power and what we won’t. All of the layers and depths of character, ah! Just loved it. Bardugo created such an unusual world, and yet so believable. And this was one very satisfying conclusion to a trilogy – not overdone, not pandering. Perfect.
Plot Summary of SHADOW AND BONE:
Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.
Plot Summary of SIEGE AND STORM:
Darkness never dies.
The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her–or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.
Plot Summary of RUIN AND RISING:
The capital has fallen. The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.
Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.
Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.
Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.
(Plot summaries from author’s website.)
Learn more about Leigh Bardugo here.
Follow Leigh on Twitter here.
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HIS FAIR ASSASSIN SERIES (Books 1-3) by Robin LaFevers
A fellow writer had reviewed this book and she had me at the words assassin nuns. Then I saw the gorgeous cover. That’s no damsel in distress with a mighty crossbow, oh, no! Medieval women kicking ass? Love it! And can I say, it’s about damn time! Where has this book been all my life? So, so glad LaFevers came up with this idea. Now I know what I can go as if I ever find myself at a medieval fair. Don’t worry, fair lads in distress, there are damsels about wielding mighty weapons with skill who can protect your honor.
Plot Summary for GRAVE MERCY:
Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?
Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.
Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart
Plot Summary for DARK TRIUMPH:
Vengeance is divine.
Sybella arrives at the convent’s doorstep half mad with grief and despair. Those that serve Death are only too happy to offer her refuge—but at a price. The convent views Sybella, naturally skilled in the arts of both death and seduction, as one of their most dangerous weapons. But those assassin’s skills are little comfort when the convent returns her to a life that nearly drove her mad. And while Sybella is a weapon of justice wrought by the god of Death himself, He must give her a reason to live. When she discovers an unexpected ally imprisoned in the dungeons, will a daughter of Death find something other than vengeance to live for?
Plot summary for MORTAL HEART:
Annith has watched her gifted sisters at the convent come and go, carrying out their dark dealings in the name of St. Mortain, patiently awaiting her own turn to serve Death. But her worst fears are realized when she discovers she is being groomed by the abbess as a Seeress, to be forever sequestered in the rock and stone womb of the convent. Feeling sorely betrayed, Annith decides to strike out on her own.
But across Brittany, the tides of war are drawing ever nearer, with France pressuring the beleaguered duchess from all sides. Annith’s search for answers threatens to rip open an intricate web of lies and deceit that sit at the heart of the convent she serves. Yet to expose them threatens the very fabric of her existence and risks an unforeseen chance at love, one that she can no longer deny. Annith must carefully pick a path and, gods willing, effect a miracle that will see her country—and her heart—to safety. (All plot summaries from author’s website.)
What a great conclusion to this trilogy! I’d recommend this series to anyone looking for a fantastic medieval adventure with a bit of romance on the side.
Learn more about Robin LaFevers here.
Follow Robin on Twitter here.
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THE GREAT GREENE HEIST by Varian Johnson
Author Kate Messner recommended this book to everyone on the planet during the awesome #weneeddiversebooks campaign. She wanted us to all put up (and not even shut up) and help make this book a bestseller, not just because it was written by a minority author, but because it’s brilliant.
After beginning on page one on a road trip and finishing it before I reached my destination, I can attest to the fantasticness of Johnson’s storytelling. Man! I so wish I could’ve gone to school with a kid like Jackson Greene. Or if I were a kid right now reading this book, I would get into all kinds of mischief plotting my own Jackson-like schemes. I loved, loved, loved this character. I so hope Johnson gets to write more Greene adventures. i will read every one of them.
Jackson Greene has reformed. No, really he has. He became famous for the Shakedown at Shimmering Hills, and everyone still talks about the Blitz at the Fitz…. But after the disaster of the Mid-Day PDA, he swore off scheming and conning for good.
Then Keith Sinclair — loser of the Blitz — announces he’s running for school president, against Jackson’s former best friend Gaby de la Cruz. Gaby hasn’t talked to Jackson since the PDA, and he knows she won’t welcome his involvement. But he also knows Keith has “connections” to the principal, which could win him the election whatever the vote count.
So Jackson assembles a crack team to ensure the election is done right: Hashemi Larijani, tech genius. Victor Cho, bankroll. Megan Feldman, science goddess and cheerleader. Charlie de la Cruz, point man. Together they devise a plan that will bring Keith down once and for all. Yet as Jackson draws closer to Gaby again, he realizes the election isn’t the only thing he wants to win. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn mores about Varian Johnson here.
Follow Varian on Twitter here.
Follow Varian on Facebook here.
WONDER by R.J. Palacio
I’ve had this book on my radar for a long, long, time. I’ve even had it in my TBR pile more than once. I gave it away at a Christmas party for a dirty Santa gift when I hadn’t had a chance to get to the store. Just meant I had to buy another copy and wait longer to read it. I guess I wasn’t quite ready for it. But this was the year. I’m glad i finally did read it. The story resonated a little too close to home at times and there were some tears shed, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Mostly they were during the chapters told from the sister’s point of view, oddly enough. I think I was thinking of my daughter and how she could relate to this experience. Anyway, there were just as many moments of laughter as tears and the overall emotion was of hope, so it was a good read. And well worth sharing with everyone who needs to experience some empathy for anyone who’s different – not just on the outside.
August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances? (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about R.J. Palacio here.
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GEORGE FERRIS WHAT A WHEEL by Barbara Lowell, Illustrated by Jerry Hoare
This was my lovely critique partner, Barbara Lowell’s, first published book and I was so happy to have been a small part of the creative process. I’ve seen so many drafts of this story that to actually hold the finalized, finished product, complete with perfect illustrations and actual photos from the assembling of the wheel, in my hand, well, it was just such a thrill. I love, love, love this book, but as I may have indicated, I’m a wee bit biased here. I do think it’s well-designed and well-written and anyone with any interest in this subject can’t go wrong with this book. READ IT! You won’t be sorry.
Have you ever ridden a Ferris wheel? You go up, up, up and can see for miles! But when the inventor of the Ferris wheel, George Ferris, first pitched the idea, everyone thought he was crazy. A 250-foot bicycle wheel that goes around and around and carries people in train cars? Can’t be done, they said. But George proved them wrong. Read about how George’s hard work, courage, and imagination created one of the most famous fair rides today.
George Ferris, What a Wheel covers the concepts Imagination and Problem Solving. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Learn more about Barbara Lowell here.
AFTER THE END by Amy Plum
A dystopian novel that turns out NOT to be a dystopian novel? What a great twist. This was the second selection for my online book club and I thought it was fantastic. I ad not read anything by Amy Plum before so i didn’t know what to expect. Great characters, great story. Challenging philosophical discussions encouraging readers to QUESTION EVERYTHING and come to their own conclusions about what they believe was a much needed dialogue. LOVED the dynamic between the two main characters. I don’t want to give anything away, so that’s all I’m going to say. After I read this, I totally couldn’t stop talking about it to my daughter, who totally couldn’t stop listening to me talk about it and still wants to read the book.
You should, too. Although, fair warning, it does end on a cliff hanger. Book Two comes out in March 2015. NOT SOON ENOUGH!
World War III has left the world ravaged by nuclear radiation. A lucky few escaped to the Alaskan wilderness.
They′ve survived for the last thirty years by living off the land, being one with nature, and hiding from whoever else might still be out there.
At least, this is what Juneau has been told her entire life.
When Juneau returns from a hunting trip to discover that everyone in her clan has vanished, she sets off to find them. Leaving the boundaries of their land for the very first time, she learns something horrifying: There never was a war. Cities were never destroyed. The world is intact.
Everything was a lie.
Now Juneau is adrift in a modern-day world she never knew existed. But while she’s trying to find a way to rescue her friends and family, someone else is looking for her. Someone who knows the extraordinary truth about the secrets of her past. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Amy Plum here.
Follow Amy on Twitter here.
CITY OF HEAVENLY FIRE (Book 6 in Mortal Instruments Series) by Cassandra Clare
I was more than satisfied with this final installment of the series. The last book had me a little worried, but Clare let out all the stops and left nothing out in this final book. She even left the window cracked for some new characters to take off with a new series in the same world so we don’t have to get all weepy at the total loss of the series. Smart cookies that Ms Clare. Still, it’s sad to say goodbye to some of the most interesting and dynamic cast of characters I’ve read in awhile. Maybe we haven’t seen the last of all of them, eh, Magnus? (I certainly hope not.)
In this dazzling and long-awaited conclusion to the acclaimed Mortal Instruments series, Clary and her friends fight the greatest evil they have ever faced: Clary’s own brother.
Sebastian Morgenstern is on the move, systematically turning Shadowhunter against Shadowhunter. Bearing the Infernal Cup, he transforms Shadowhunters into creatures out of nightmare, tearing apart families and lovers as the ranks of his Endarkened army swell.
The embattled Shadowhunters withdraw to Idris – but not even the famed demon towers of Alicante can keep Sebastian at bay. And with the Nephilim trapped in Idris, who will guard the world against demons?
When one of the greatest betrayals the Nephilim have ever known is revealed, Clary, Jace, Isabelle, Simon, and Alec must flee – even if their journey takes them deep into the demon realms, where no Shadowhunter has set foot before, and from which no human being has ever returned…
Love will be sacrificed and lives lost in the terrible battle for the fate of the word in the thrilling final installment of the classic urban fantasy series The Mortal Instruments! (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Learn more about Cassandra Clare here.
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VADER’S LITTLE PRINCESS (Jeffrey Brown’s Star Wars) by Jeffrey Brown
In this irresistibly funny follow-up to the breakout bestseller Darth Vader and Son, Vader–Sith Lord and leader of the Galactic Empire–now faces the trials, joys, and mood swings of raising his daughter Leia as she grows from a sweet little girl into a rebellious teenager.
Smart and funny illustrations by artist Jeffrey Brown give classic Star Wars moments a twist by bringing these iconic family relations together under one roof. From tea parties to teaching Leia how to fly a TIE fighter, regulating the time she spends talking with friends via R2-D2’s hologram, and making sure Leia doesn’t leave the house wearing only a skirted metal bikini, Vader’s parenting skills are put hilariously to the test. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Learn more about Jeffrey Brown here.
THE POISONED HOUSE by Michael Ford
I’m not sure where I came across this little gem. A little reminiscent of an Agatha Christie tale with a ghostly bent. I enjoyed the creepiness and the mystery bit. Nice eery read for a rainy day in front of a fire.
Abi is a servant in Greave Hall, a stately London home. She runs away, but is soon recaptured, to suffer once more under the tyrannical rule of Mrs Cotton, the housekeeper. The house, though, has a dark secret. Something ghostly inhabits the corridors, leading Abi to the very truth someone has tried so hard to bury. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Learn more about Michael Ford here.
THE SHADOW PRINCE by Bree Despain
I read this book as the first selection from my new online book club. I’m not sure I would have picked this book on my own, just browsing through a bookstore, so I’m glad that it came my way. Sort of the point of me joining the book club, really. This modern re-telling of the Persephone myth, with a few twists, was really well done. I enjoyed Daphne’s character as a strong female who didn’t just automatically fall head over heels for the male lead. She had her own goals and plans that needed attention. During our book club discussion I was surprised how many others felt at odds with her character for just this reason, and yet they still loved the book. Great discussion, great story. I look forward to reading more about these characters.
Haden Lord, the disgraced prince of the Underrealm, has been sent to the mortal world to entice a girl into returning with him to the land of the dead. Posing as a student at Olympus Hills High—a haven for children of the rich and famous—Haden must single out the one girl rumored to be able to restore immortality to his race.
Daphne Raines has dreams much bigger than her tiny southern Utah town, so when her rock star dad suddenly reappears, offering her full tuition to Olympus Hills High’s prestigious music program, she sees an opportunity to catch the break she needs to make it as a singer. But upon moving into her estranged father’s mansion in California, and attending her glamorous new school, Daphne soon realizes she isn’t the only student in Olympus who doesn’t quite belong.
Haden and Daphne—destined for each other—know nothing of the true stakes their fated courtship entails. As war between the gods brews, the teenagers’ lives collide. But Daphne won’t be wooed easily and when it seems their prophesied link could happen, Haden realizes something he never intended—he’s fallen in love. Now to save themselves, Haden and Daphne must rewrite their destinies. But as their destinies change, so do the fates of both their worlds.
A pulsating romance of epic proportions, Bree Despain’s The Shadow Prince will leave her fans breathless for the next book in the Into The Dark series. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Bree Despain here.
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THE LUNAR CHRONICLES (Books 1-3) by Marissa Meyer
This was a fun and smart re-invisioning of the story of Cinderella. I loved the changes Meyer made to the original, especially giving Cinder a close connection within her adoptive family. The close bond she shares with her youngest step-sister is tender and painful, especially when that relationship is tested and threatened. Meyer is so creative in how she weaves the classic aspects into this new, futuristic world. The characters are well worth rooting for. This is a kick-ass female lead that we should see more of. I really enjoyed the entire series and I read through it quickly. I look forward to the next installment.
Plot Summary for CINDER:
Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless Lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .
Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Plot Summary for SCARLET:
Cinder returns in the second thrilling installment of the New York Times-bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive.
Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother and the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she has no choice but to trust him, though he clearly has a few dark secrets of his own.
As Scarlet and Wolf work to unravel one mystery, they find another when they cross paths with Cinder. Together, they must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen who will do anything to make Prince Kai her husband, her king, her prisoner. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Plot Summary for CRESS:
In this third book in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles series, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and prevent her army from invading Earth.
Their best hope lies with Cress, who has been trapped on a satellite since childhood with only her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker unfortunately, she’s being forced to work for Queen Levana, and she’s just received orders to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice.
When a daring rescue goes awry, the group is splintered. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a higher price than she’d ever expected. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing prevent her marriage to Emperor Kai, especially the cyborg mechanic. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only hope the world has. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Marissa Meyer here.
Follow Marissa on Twitter here.
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COUNTING BY 7S by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Having a story about a child on the autism spectrum that has been clamored about so much, I was really looking forward to reading this book. Although it was a decent story and I did love Willow as a beautiful character, some of the problems were solved a little too easily and too quickly for my tastes. Overall it was a nice book and I did enjoy it, however it fell a little short of my rather high expectations. I do think most readers will love the characters and it is worth reading.
Counting By 7s is the story of Willow Chance, a twelve-year old girl who has been identified at an early age as ‘gifted’. Willow lives in Bakersfield, California and comes home from school one day to the news that her parents have been killed in a traffic accident.
What follows is Willow’s search to find a place where she belongs.
In equal parts an exploration of the pain of loss and of the triumph of moving forward, the novel looks at how one person can change the lives of many, often without even trying. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Holly Goldberg Sloan here.
Follow Holly on Twitter here.
Follow Holly on Facebook here.
THE DREAM THIEVES and BLUE LILY, LILY BLUE (Books 2 & 3 in the Raven Cycle) by Maggie Stiefvater
This is such a unique tale, it’s hard to describe. I really loved the first book and tore through it so fast, I thought I’d do the same for all of the books. However, this one took me longer to get into. I think it might have been because of all the different viewpoints. The first book was really focused on Blue’s character and her POV and I think I missed that. This book was good, though, and in the end, it won me over.
The next installment was completely different. I fell right in love with it and raced through it in no time. Waiting a year for the conclusion will probably kill me.
Synopsis from Book One, THE RAVEN BOYS:
Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her. His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.
But Gansey is different. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.
For as long as she can remember, Blue has been told by her psychic family that she will kill her true love. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.
Synopsis from Book Two, THE DREAM THIEVES:
Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same. Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life. Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after…
Synopsis from Book Three, BLUE LILY, LILY BLUE:
Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, she has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become hers, and her problems have become theirs. The trick with found things, though, is how easily they can be lost.
Learn more about Maggie Stiefvater here.
View Raven Cycle series own website here.
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THE ADVENTURES OF BEEKLE: THE UNIMAGINARY FRIEND by Dan Santat
This magical story begins on an island far away where an imaginary friend is born. He patiently waits his turn to be chosen by a real child, but when he is overlooked time and again, he sets off on an incredible journey to the bustling city, where he finally meets his perfect match and-at long last-is given his special name: Beekle.
New York Times bestselling and award-winning author and illustrator Dan Santat combines classic storytelling with breathtaking art, creating an unforgettable tale about friendship, imagination, and the courage to find one’s place in the world. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Learn more about Dan Santat here.
Follow Dan on Twitter here.
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THE PIGEON NEEDS A BATH by Mo Willems
I just love all of the Pigeon books and this one is way overdue. Even Pigeon says so one the website. (He can be a little impatient.) I learned recently at our conference that this style of book is actually considered a graphic novel. Who knew? So maybe I could read it in a coffee shop and look hip. Or maybe not. Whatevs. I read what I like. And this I like.
The Pigeon needs a bath! Except, the Pigeon’s not so sure about that. Besides, he took a bath last month! Maybe. It’s going to take some serious convincing to get the Pigeon to take the plunge. (Plot summary from the Pigeon’s Website.)
Learn more about Mo Willems here.
Follow The Pigeon’s Tweets here.
Learn all about the Pigeon Books here.
OKLAHOMA POEMS…AND THEIR POETS edited by Nathan Brown
I read this as part of my need to expand my poetry education and to support my fellow Oklahoma writers. Our Oklahoma Poet Laureate put this fantastic collection together in a very thoughtful manner, including some of the best and brightest of our own Oklahoma poets.
An anthology edited by Nathan Brown, the 2013 – 2014 Poet Laureate of Oklahoma. It includes poems “about” Oklahoma that are written by natives, ex-pats, and visitors alike. These poems are an honest, and sometimes raw, look at the state’s past and present by way of three chapters titled: People, Places, and Odds & Ends. Among the poets represented are Pulitzer winners Stephen Dunn and N. Scott Momaday, as well as Naomi Shihab Nye, Joy Harjo, George Bilgere, Ron Padgett, and many others.(Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Reading this brought me back to my childhood memories and reconnected me to the people of this state. I did a more thorough review of this book here.
Another great thing about this collection is that the proceeds benefit the Oklahoma Humanities Council. Very cool.
Learn more about Nathan Brown here.
Follow Nathan on Facebook here.
LOST SUN by Tessa Gratton
I won this book in a blog contest giveaway. It was actually my first ebook win, too Woohoo! I hadn’t had the pleasure of reading a book by Ms Gratton before, so this book was one of those total surprises. I just opened it up and gave it a shot. It was amazing! The mix of gods functioning within the present day context struck just the right balance to be fascinating and believable. The characters at the center – what fantastic emotional connection! The whole struggle Soren goes through with suppressing his berserker rage to avoid the fate of his father and Astrid tempting him to give in to it – ah! Loved, loved, loved this!
Haunted by unpredictable berserker rage, he distances himself from other students at school.
A prophet by blood, she dreams the weave of fate and sees Soren changing the futures.
BALDUR THE BEAUTIFUL
The most popular god in the States disappears in front of TV cameras, and the country erupts in chaos.
THE DESTINY IS SET.
Astrid and Soren must save Baldur. But in saving a god, will Soren destroy himself… and everything he holds dear? (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Tessa Gratton here.
Follow Tessa on Twitter here.
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HAMSTER AND CHEESE by Colleen AF Venable
Colleen was one of the lovely speakers at our SCBWI OK spring conference this year and she just happens to be an accomplished author in her own right. When not wearing her art and design editor’s hat at First Second Books, she’s writing amazing graphic novels of her own. This is the first in her Guinea Pig, Pet Shop Private Eye graphic novel series. When she told me that she purposely chose to show her female guinea pig without outrageous flares like pronounced eyelashes or giant hair bows to indicate that she was a female because “guinea pigs don’t look like that in nature” I knew I would love her books. And I did. Funny and captivating and mysterious as a detective tale should be. This was an awesome story.
There is a sandwich thief in Mr. Venezi’s pet shop, and everyone is a suspect—from the chinchillas to the goldfish. Never fear! The world’s fluffiest detective is on the case: Sasspants, PI(G). By day, Sasspants is your average book–loving, gizmo–inventing guinea pig. By night, she solves pet shop mysteries with the help of her sidekick, Hamisher the hamster. Our furry little heroes will stop by nothing to find the sandwich thief! (Plot summary form Barnes and Noble website.)
Seriously, after a plot summary like that, how can you resist?
Learn more about Colleen here.
Follow Colleen on Twitter here.
THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman
“There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife.”
It’s not often that a middle grade begins with the homicide of an entire family, save the youngest member, a toddler who escapes by mere chance. Why he and his family were targeted is the great mystery and what fantastical things it leads to are just the beginning of the story of the boy who is destined to straddle the line between worlds. It’s a great tale.
Bod is an unusual boy who inhabits an unusual place-he’s the only living resident of a graveyard. Raised from infancy by the ghosts, werewolves, and other cemetery denizens, Bod has learned the antiquated customs of his guardians’ time as well as their timely ghostly teachings-like the ability to Fade. Can a boy raised by ghosts face the wonders and terrors of the worlds of both the living and the dead? And then there are things like ghouls that aren’t really one thing or the other. This chilling tale is Neil Gaiman’s first full-length novel for middle-grade readers since the internationally bestselling and universally acclaimed Coraline. Like Coraline, this book is sure to enchant and surprise young readers as well as Neil Gaiman’s legion of adult fans. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Neil Gaiman here.
Follow Neil on Twitter here.
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INFINITE by Jodi Meadows
This was a well-rounded and satisfying conclusion to the INCARNATE trilogy. I’m sad to see it end. This was one of the first books I found purely by Twitter friends’ praise and the blogosphere word of mouth. It’s a lovely perk of my growing online community of writer friends, this constant growing list of lovely books I never would have found without them.
The Year of Souls begins with an earthquake—an alarming rumble from deep within the earth—and it’s only the first of greater dangers to come. The Range caldera is preparing to erupt. Ana knows that as Soul Night approaches, everything near Heart will be at risk.
Ana’s exile is frightening, but it may also be fortuitous, especially if she can convince her friends to flee Heart and Range with her. They’ll go north, seeking answers and allies to stop Janan’s ascension. And with any luck, the newsouls will be safe from harm’s reach.
The oldsouls might have forgotten the choice they made to give themselves limitless lifetimes, but Ana knows the true cost of reincarnation. What she doesn’t know is whether she’ll have the chance to finish this one sweet life with Sam, especially if she returns to Heart to stop Janan once and for all.
With gorgeous romance and thrilling action, the final book in the Incarnate trilogy offers a brilliant conclusion to the compelling questions of this fascinating world, where one new girl is the key to the lives of millions. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Jodi Meadows here.
Follow Jodi on Twitter here.
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LET IT SNOW: THREE HOLIDAY ROMANCES by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle
I am not one who usually gravitates towards romance novels, but I do love the three authors that co-wrote this book. This was also the only thing by John Green I hadn’t read, so I felt obligated to give it a try. I’m glad I did.
This book of three short stories was unusual in that all of the stories stand alone on their own, and yet weave together to tell a much bigger, richer tale about a small town hit by a winter storm and tragedies of the heart. These master story tellers keep you entertained while warming your heart in the midst of the freezing cold. It was a nice break from all my serious reading I’ve been doing. Don’t let that make you think for a minute the stories aren’t well-written or lacking substance, they have the goods as well. It was just nice for things to end on a positive note for a change.
An ill-timed storm on Christmas Eve
buries the residents of Gracetown under multiple feet of snow and causes quite a bit of chaos. One brave soul ventures out into the storm from her stranded train and sets off a chain of events that will change quite a few lives. Over the next three days one girl takes a risky shortcut with an adorable stranger, three friends set out to win a race to the Waffle House ( and the hash brown spoils), and the fate of a teacup pig falls into the hands of a lovesick barista.
A trio of today’s bestselling authors – John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle- brings all the magic of the holidays to life in three hilarious and charming interconnected tales of love, romance, and kisses that will steal your breath away. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Learn more about John Green here.
Learn more about Maureen Johnson here.
Learn more about Lauren Myracle here.
WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson
I love Laurie Halse Anderson. She is a fearless author who writes emotion so beautifully. I first read her novel SPEAK years ago and I still can’t get that book out of my head. I heard Anderson speak for the first time last summer in LA and got to tell her how awesome she was in person. She signed this copy of WINTERGIRLS to me simply “Be Brave”. And yet, isn’t that one of the hardest things to be? Her keynote speech was one of the best of the conference and I was so inspired by her, I can’t even tell you. On top of that, she writes this story like she herself suffered through anorexia and had the words of a poet to make the reader know exactly what it feels like to be at war with your own body and to not be able to see yourself as you truly are. She has woven eating disorder pathology and effortless character voice masterfully into a story you just can’t put down.
“Dead girl walking,” the boys say in the halls.
“Tell us your secrets,” the girls whisper, one toilet to another.
I am that girl.
I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through.
I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame.
Lia and Cassie were best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies. But now Cassie is dead. Lia’s mother is busy saving other people’s lives. Her father is away on business. Her stepmother is clueless. And the voice inside Lia’s head keeps telling her to remain in control, stay strong, lose more, weigh less. If she keeps on going this way – thin, thinner, thinnest – maybe she’ll disappear altogether.
In her most emotionally wrenching, lyrically written book since the National Book Award finalist Speak, bestselling author Laurie Halse Anderson explores one girl’s chilling descent into the all-consuming vortex of anorexia. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Laurie Halse Anderson here.
Follow Laurie on Twitter here.
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THE GODS OF SECOND CHANCES by Dan Berne
I met the editor of this book, Laura Stanfill, out in the blogosphere while we were both mutually admiring each others blogs. I found her just delightful and followed her progress as she bravely ventured out to start her own publishing house, Forest Avenue Press. This book is their first fiction release and I am delighted be have read one of the Advanced Reader copies. This book was well chosen. The writing is solid and the pacing moves the story along well. Author Dan Berne brings the Alaskan scenery to life effortlessly as he weaves the tale of this broken family trying to reunite, missing one of its members, and struggling to fit the pieces back together.
Family means everything to widowed Alaskan fisherman Ray Bancroft, raising his granddaughter while battling storms, invasive species, and lawsuit happy tourists. To navigate, and to catch enough crab to feed her college fund, Ray seeks help from a multitude of gods and goddesses – not to mention ad-libbed rituals performed at sea by his half-Tlingit best friend.
But kitchen counter statues and otter bone ceremonies aren’t enough when his estranged daughter returns from prison, swearing she’s clean and sober. Her search for a safe harbor threatens everything Ray holds sacred.
Set against a backdrop of ice and mud and loss, this debut novel explores the unpredictable fissures of memory, and how families can break apart, even in the midst of healing. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Dan Berne here.
EXTRAORDINARY JANE by Hannah E. Harrison
Hannah Harrison is one of our own SCBWI Oklahoma members and we couldn’t be prouder of her first. This is a delightful book that shows off her artistic skills and storytelling ability all in one. I spoke at length about this book in my interview with Hannah on the blog here.
For anyone with a beloved pet, this delightful and heartwarming story set at the circus shows that quiet qualities like friendship, kindness, and loyalty are important and worthy.
Jane is an ordinary dog in an extraordinary circus. She isn’t strong, graceful, or brave like her family. When she tries to be those things, Jane just doesn’t feel like herself, but she also doesn’t feel special. Is she really meant for this kind of life? Her Ringmaster thinks so, but not for the reasons Jane believes. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Hannah E. Harrison here.
RANT by Chuck Palahniuk
This book was thrust in my hand by one of my daughter’s friend’s who’s a huge Palahniuk fan. How can you resist reading a book coming from that much enthusiasm? I did read my first book by Palahniuk last year at this same teen’s insistence and I wasn’t disappointed, so away I went on another crazy literary ride. It was worth it. There is no way to adequately describe one of his books without spoiling the experience, so I’ll let the plot summary speak for itself. If you’re open for a reading adventure of a mature content nature, this is your book. And as all of Palahniuk’s stories, there’s more to it than you may originally believe.
Be careful. You may be infected with rabies.
Buster “Rant” Casey uncovers a huge wealth that turns his tiny rural town on its head. He needs to get out of there. So he becomes obsessed with getting bitten by anything venomous—snakes, spiders, and whatever else he can find. Loving the side effect that is a big ol’ erection, he uses it to get an early diploma and a nice fat check to get him out of town.
Rant arrives in the city which the reader discovers is the opposite of a utopian society. All the residents take on their appropriate character of respectable Daytimers and oppressed Nighttimers—all due to a strictly enforced curfew.
A new Nighttimer, Rant tries to fit in with the “Party Crashers”, a group of demolition derby-ers who crash into other cars adorned with that night’s “flag”. A mattress on top of the car, words written on the rear windshield. As Rant becomes more entwined in the life of the “Party Crashers” he meets and falls in love with Echo Lawrence. He also starts a nationwide rabies epidemic that causes everyone who is infected to be shot and killed on the spot.
Rant comes from the point of view of people who knew Rant Casey. Through changes in space and time, you find out that Rant may be present in more than one person, could possibly be dead, and may have tried to kill or marry his mother. Seriously.
So, next time you think about tying a mattress or Christmas tree to the top of your car, think again, my friends. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Chuck Palahniuk here.
Follow Chuck on Twitter here.
NEVER LET ME GO by Kazuo Ishiguro
I was listening to Kazuo Ishiguro give an interview on NPR and the more he talked about his writing and his life, the more fascinating he seemed. I thought that if his writing was anything like he was, I had to read one of his books. This book is so beautiful. The storytelling is so effortless, I just loved it. Even though the characters and their situation were sad and tragic, I was just so in awe of the whole thing. I don’t know if it was because I was viewing it as a writer or not. One thing I do know is that I could not put this book down.
As a child, Kathy – now thirty-one years old – lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory.
And so, as her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen into love, Kathy recalls their years at Hailsham. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed – even comforted – by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailsham’s nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood–and about their lives now.
A tale of deceptive simplicity, Never Let Me Go slowly reveals an extraordinary emotional depth and resonance – and takes its place among Kazuo Ishiguro’s finest work. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
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MRS. DALLOWAY by Virginia Woolf
I read this as my final selection for the Jazz Age January reading challenge and I really enjoyed it. This is the first I’ve ever read by Ms. Woolf. Her stream of consciousness writing style was unusual, but surprisingly easy to follow. Her choice to focus on the psychological inner lives of the characters versus pursuits of plot broke the mold of the times and raised quite a few eyebrows. I found her story very intriguing as well as insightful. Many of her characters dwelled on the subject of the meaning of life and the certainty of death. Interesting considering how Woolf chose to end her own life years later. Overall, I loved her use of language and the questions raised by her characters’ inner ramblings, even though I wasn’t always sure where her storyline was taking me. The journey was worth the ride.
Mrs Dalloway is a novel by Virginia Woolf that details a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a fictional high-society woman in post-World War I England. It is one of Woolf’s best-known novels.
Created from two short stories, “Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street” and the unfinished “The Prime Minister,” the novel addresses Clarissa’s preparations for a party she will host that evening. With an interior perspective, the story travels forwards and back in time and in and out of the characters’ minds to construct an image of Clarissa’s life and of the inter-war social structure. In October 2005, Mrs Dalloway was included on TIME magazine’s list of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Learn more about Virginia Woolf here.
THE BEAUTIFUL AND DAMNED by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I really struggled with this book I chose for a Jazz Age January read. As this story was supposed to be a semi-autobiographical account of F. Scott Fiztgerald’s relationship with his wife Zelda, I was expecting a little more depth of character in this novel. What I found instead was a train wreck that I couldn’t wait to see the end of and where I had no invested interest in any of the characters on board. It has all the elements of a tragedy, yet for me to feel anything for the characters, to want to care anything for their fates, to weep over their sorrows, I have to care that bad things happen to them. However, these characters are so incredibly self-absorbed and unsympathetic that I just don’t care. When they have the power to alleviate their own suffering, but are just too lazy to do anything about it, I have no compassion. I really could not recommend this book to anyone. Read it at your own risk.
1921 F. Scott Fitzgerald was twenty-five and heralded as the most promising writer of his generation, owing to the success of his first novel This Side of Paradise. Recently married to the girl of his dreams, the former Zelda Sayre, Fitzgerald built upon his sudden prosperity with The Beautiful and the Damned, a cautionary tale of reckless ambition and squandered talent set amid the glitter of Jazz Age New York.
The novel chronicles the relationship of Anthony Patch, a Harvard-educated, aspiring writer, and his beautiful young wife, Gloria. While they wait for Anthony’s grandfather to die and pass his millions on to them, the young couple enjoys an endless string of parties, traveling, and extravagance. Beginning with the pop and fizz of life itself, The Beautiful and the Damned quickly evolves into a scathing chronicle of a dying marriage and a hedonistic society in which beauty is all too fleeting.
A fierce parable about the illusory quality of dreams, the intractable nature of reality, and the ruin wrought by time, The Beautiful and the Damned eerily anticipates the dissipation and decline that would come to the Fitzgeralds themselves before the decade had run its course. (Plot summary from Barnes and Noble website.)
A MOVEABLE FEAST by Ernest Hemingway
I absolutely hated reading Hemingway back in high school THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA was one of the worst books I ever had to suffer through and I hoped I never had to read another Hemingway book again. I mean, who thinks teenagers are going to relate to that crap? That’s what I thought way back then. Flash-forward a few decades and I decided to give the old sea dog another try. I really enjoyed the HBO movie, Hemingway & Gellhorn, especially when presented in the lovely Clive Owen’s packaging. now, I can’t help picturing/hearing Hemingway just as Clive Owens portrayed him. Not altogether a bad thing, if you ask me. Then, the final push that led me to try Hemingway again was my father. He’d read this book and recommended it highly. That kind of sold me on it more than anything else (Sorry, Clive.)
Although this was an unusual piece to reintroduce myself to Hemingway as it was his last work and it wasn’t finished by him, it still did the job. In the end, it made me want to read some of his other works. I still have no desire to reread THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA, but I would like to read THE SUN ALSO RISES as it was the book he was writing during the time period most covered during this book. I did find the order of the chapters and the skipping around of time a little jarring at times, but overall I really enjoyed getting a feel for the period and for the writers living in Paris and how they lived.
Begun in the autumn of 1957 and published posthumously in 1964, Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast captures what it meant to be young and poor and writing in Paris during the 1920s. A correspondent for the Toronto Star, Hemingway arrived in Paris in 1921, three years after the trauma of the Great War and at the beginning of the transformation of Europe’s cultural landscape: Braque and Picasso were experimenting with cubist form; James Joyce, long living in self-imposed exile from his native Dublin, had just completed Ulysses; Gertrude Stein held court at 27 Rue de Fleurus, and deemed young Ernest a member of une gneration perdue; and T.S. Eliot was a bank clerk in London. It was during these years that the as-of-yet unpublished young writer gathered the material for his first novel The Sun Also Rises, and the subsequent masterpieces that followed.
Among these small, reflective sketches are unforgettable encounters with the members of Hemingway’s slightly rag-tag circle of artists and writers, some also fated to achieve fame and glory, others to fall into obscurity. Here, too, is an evocation of the Paris that Hemingway knew as a young man – a map drawn in his distinct prose of the streets and cafes and bookshops that comprised the city in which he, as a young writer, sometimes struggling against the cold and hunger of near poverty, honed the skills of his craft.
A Moveable Feast is at once an elegy to the remarkable group for expatriates that gathered in Paris during the twenties and a testament to the risks and rewards of the writerly life. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
DOLLFACE: A NOVEL OF THE ROARING TWENTIES by Renee Rosen
I received this book for review after answering a request on Twitter for book bloggers. I am so glad I did. This book was a lot of fun to read. I did a full review on the blog in January. Feel free to read more about my thoughts there.
Vera Abramowitz is determined to leave her gritty childhood behind, and live a more exciting life, one that her mother never dreamed of. Bobbing her hair and showing her knees, the lipsticked beauty dazzles, doing the Charleston in nightclubs and earning the nickname “Dollface.”
As the ultimate flapper, Vera captures the attention of two high rollers, a handsome nightclub owner and a sexy gambler. On their arms, she gains entree into a world filled with bootlegged bourbon, wailing jazz and money to burn. She thinks her biggest problem is choosing between them, until the truth comes out. Her two lovers are really mobsters from rival gangs during Chicago’s infamous Beer Wars, a battle Al Capone refuses to lose.
The heady life she’s living is an illusion resting on a bedrock of crime and violence unlike anything the country has ever seen before. When the good times come to an end, Vera becomes entangled in everything from bootlegging to murder. And as men from both gangs fall around her, Vera must put together the pieces of her shattered life, as Chicago hurtles towards one of the most infamous days in its history, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Renee Rosen here.
Follow Renee on Twitter here.
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— Books I’ve Read in 2013 —
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I reread this as part of the year-long celebration of the 200th bicentenary of the book’s publication date. I loved it even better the second time. The language, the great speeches, the fantastic heroine Elizabeth Bennet, ah! What’s not to love?
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
So begins Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s witty comedy of manners–one of the most popular novels of all time–that features splendidly civilized sparring between the proud Mr. Darcy and the prejudiced Elizabeth Bennet as they play out their spirited courtship in a series of eighteenth-century drawing-room intrigues. Renowned literary critic and historian George Saintsbury in 1894 declared it the “most perfect, the most characteristic, the most eminently quintessential of its author’s works,” and Eudora Welty in the twentieth century described it as “irresistible and as nearly flawless as any fiction could be.” (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Learn more about Jane Austen from these sites:
Crash and Burn by Michael Hassen
A fellow writer suggested this book to me and she said, “It’s the best teen novel I have read in a long time. Could not put it down. The voice is amazing”. How could I ignore a recommendation like that? She was not wrong. It is fantastic and has a spot-on teen voice. Felt like I was listening to a story about one of my kids at times – both have ADHD, just like the character. This is Hassen’s first book, but I doubt it will be his last.
On April 21, 2008, Steven “Crash” Crashinsky saved more than a thousand people when he stopped his classmate David Burnett from taking their high school hostage armed with assault weapons and high-powered explosives. You likely already know what came after for Crash: the nationwide notoriety, the college recruitment, and, of course, the book deal. What you might not know is what came before: a story of two teens whose lives have been inextricably linked since grade school, who were destined, some say, to meet that day in the teachers’ lounge of Meadows High. And what you definitely don’t know are the words that Burn whispered to Crash right as the siege was ending, a secret that Crash has never revealed.
Michael Hassan’s shattering novel is a tale of first love and first hate, the story of two high school seniors and the morning that changed their lives forever. It’s a portrait of the modern American teenage male, in all his brash, disillusioned, oversexed, schizophrenic, drunk, nihilistic, hopeful, ADHD-diagnosed glory. And it’s a powerful meditation on how normal it is to be screwed up, and how screwed up it is to be normal. (Plot summary from Publisher’s website.)
Learn more about Michael Hassan here.
Follow Michael on Twitter here.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
My daughter picked this book up at one of our weekend trips to the bookstore. Then she left it untouched in her TBR pile. I’d see it every time I went into her room and eventually it planted a seed. When I started seeing so much chatter all over the Twitterverse about Rowell’s current novel FANGIRL, I mentally put it on my list of books I wanted to read. Then my brain finally clicked. I already had one of her books in the house. I moved it to the front of my own TBR pile and started reading it next. I then promptly fell in love. Ms. Rowell has such an unusual style of writing, yet it’s completely accessible and you totally get what she’s saying. Having lived for a time in stark circumstances and knowing how this reflects on the teenage existence, I can really relate to some aspects of Eleanor’s life. Some a little too closely. Her characters aren’t perfect or beautiful by conventional standards, but their story is divine. After I tore through this book, I told my daughter she had to read this next. She did and she loved it just as much as I did. And guess what I got for my birthday? FANGIRL. Can’t wait to read it! I know I will be reading everything Rainbow Rowell publishes from now on.
“Bono met his wife in high school,” Park says.
“So did Jerry Lee Lewis,” Eleanor answers.
“I’m not kidding,” he says.
“You should be,” she says, “we’re 16.”
“What about Romeo and Juliet?”
“Shallow, confused, then dead.”
“I love you,” Park says.
“Wherefore art thou,” Eleanor answers.
“I’m not kidding,” he says.
“You should be.”
Set over the course of one school year in 1986, Eleanor & Park is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Rainbow Rowell here.
Follow Rainbow on Twitter here.
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Follow Rowell’s Tumblr here.
Billy Twitters and his Blue Whale Problem by Mac Burnett, illustrated by Adam Rex
I heard Mac Barnett speak at this year’s SCBWI LA conference and afterwards I knew I’d have to get this book. It was very hard to find and took about three weeks to finally arrive at my door, but it was worth it. Mac Barnett does not write ordinary stories and this one is no exception. When Billy Twitters refuses to do his chores or keep his room clean, his parents threaten to give him a pet whale. He of course thinks this is an empty threat until one arrives on his doorstep. Then his troubles begin. What I love about this book even more than the actual story is what was included on the outside cover UNDERNEATH the dustcover, for those most curious of children to find: an ad for a special offer to get your very own whale. Mr. Barnett told us all about this at the conference, how these special, detail-oriented, curious kids would find this offer, send off a letter requesting their whale and what exactly they’d get in return. A letter from a Norwegian law firm telling them that their whale was stuck in customs and until it could clear, they included the name and picture of their very own whale, ALONG WITH A TELEPHONE NUMBER. So they could call and talk to their whale. When the kids called, they heard some whale sounds followed by a beep – they reached the whale’s voicemail. Mr. Barnett then played several recordings of an adorable kid named Niko who left dozens of messages for his whale, Randolph. Oh, my God, were they hilarious and cute and amazing. What a fantastic gift he gave that young kid. A friendship with his very own whale. I’m off to order mine now…
The story of a boy and the pet whale that ruins his life. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Mac Barnett here.
Follow Mac on Twitter here.
Follow Mac on Tumblr here.
Insurgent & Allegiant from the Divergent Series by Veronica Roth
This has been one of my favorite dystopian series to read, and the sequel the most anticipated of the year. As wonderful as the world-building is, it all comes down the the character for me. Tris is delightfully unsure of herself, yet strong, even stubborn, at the same time. She learns to embrace what sets her apart, being Divergent, and makes tough choices, no matter what the consequence may be. A great role-model for young women, right up there with Katniss Everdeen. I re-read INSURGENT, the second book in the series, right after I read the first chapter of ALLEGIANT and couldn’t remember what was going on. I do read a lot of books and this is one series I’ve actually read as it’s been published – usually I like to wait for the entire series to be out so I can read through it all in one go. As I couldn’t really recall enough details, I didn’t want to struggle with enjoying the story, so I made myself wait for the finale of this magnificent series by refreshing my memory. INSURGENT was just as good the second time. Although I won’t give out any spoilers here, I will just say I was very satisfied with this series conclusion and understood the tough choices the author had to make. They enriched the story for me and stuck to the characters’ beliefs. I applaud you, Ms. Roth. One hell of a fine trilogy.
Plot Summary for Insurgent:
One choice can transform you—or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves—and herself—while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.
Tris’s initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable—and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.
Plot Summary for Allegiant:
One choice will define you.
What if your whole world was a lie?
What if a single revelation—like a single choice—changed everything?
What if love and loyalty made you do things you never expected?
The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.
But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.
Told from a riveting dual perspective, Allegiant, by #1 New York Times best-selling author Veronica Roth, brings the Divergent series to a powerful conclusion while revealing the secrets of the dystopian world that has captivated millions of readers in Divergent and Insurgent.
Learn more about Veronica Roth here.
Follow Veronica on Twitter here.
Follow Roth’s Tumblr here.
The Delirium Series by Lauren Oilver
One of my daughter’s friend’s gave me a stack of books and told me I had to read them. These two books were in the stack. Coincidentally, I had just read Oliver’s first book, BEFORE I FALL, and loved her writing so much that I wanted to read more. I had actually planned on reading this series on my own. I didn’t need to tell my daughter’s friend this. Why dim the excitement she has for sharing books? So I read as commanded. I did enjoy this twist on the dystopian story. It has some similarities to Allie Condie’s MATCHED series as the goal of this society is to control the population by pairing up its citizens through a matching system once they have gone through an extensive evaluation and have been “cured” of strong unwieldy emotions like love and all the chaos that comes with it. What could possibly be wrong with that? One character remarks that without love, there can be no hate. Another character counters this by saying or worse, you have indifference. Such fascinating ideas and they play out well in this setting. Well written and thought-provoking.
Plot summary for Delirium:
Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing.
They didn’t understand that once love — the deliria — blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the government demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holoway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy.
But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Plot summary for Pandemonium:
I’m pushing aside the memory of my nightmare,
pushing aside thoughts of Alex,
pushing aside thoughts of Hana and my old school,
like Raven taught me to do.
The old life is dead.
But the old Lena is dead too.
I buried her.
I left her beyond a fence,
behind a wall of smoke and flame. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Lauren Oliver here.
Follow Lauren on Twitter here.
Follow Lauren on Tumblr here.
Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
Oh, that Ruta Sepetys. Can she write! She ripped my heart out with her first book, BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY, and then just let me marvel at her awesomeness in this one. The minute you let your eyes wander over the first few pages, you are plunked down smack in the middle of the Quarter. The mood is set so effortlessly, you don’t even notice, it just creeps up on you until you have a sudden urge to eat oysters on the half shell. What a fantastic character she has in Josie. the girl who’s raised by a self-centered prostitute mother who cares more about her wealthy “clients” than taking care of her own daughter, who lives in a whorehouse run by a madam who doesn’t like children, but then neither does Josie, much. Loved this book. Loved it!
It’s 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer. She devises a plan get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street.
Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Ruta Sepetys here.
Follow Ruta on Twitter here.
The King of Sunday Morning by JB McCauley
This is not a book I would ever likely pick up on my own. I decided to try something new and I volunteered to participate in a review tour, not knowing what I would be reading or who the author would be. I was then sent a copy of this book and later found out it was self-published. As a matter of happenstance, I don’t read much self-published work. The publicity set up for this tour was all done very well and it was an interesting experiment to say the least. The book was unusually structured with each chapter being out of sequence in a flashback which took some getting used to. I wasn’t sure how well that served the story initially, but once I got used to it and just read, the story unfolded well enough. It was easy to understand and the characters were fully developed. Not a bad story. Not my favorite, but not bad.
The King of Sunday Morning is a geezer. Not in the traditional sense of the word as in old man. This geezer is a face, a wannabe, a top notch bloke. He is the greatest DJ that never was. He should have been. Could have been. Would have been. Now becoming a has-been….
Tray McCarthy was born into privilege but with the genetic coding of London’s violent East End. Having broken the underworld’s sacred honour code, it is only his family’s gangland connections that save him. But in return for his life, he must deny that which he has ever known or ever will be and runs to Australia where he is forced to live an inconsequential life.
But trouble never strays far from Tray McCarthy and eventually his past and present collide to put everyone he has ever loved in danger. He must now make a stand and fight against those that are set to destroy him and play their game according to his rules.
Set against the subterfuge and violence of the international drugs trade, The King of Sunday Morning is the tale of what can go wrong when you make bad decisions. Tray McCarthy has made some of the worst. He must now save those he holds dear but in the process gets trapped deeper and deeper into a world where he doesn’t belong. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Learn more about JB McAuley here.
Follow JB on Twitter here.
I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
I read this book at the behest of my daughter who loved this book immensely and wished to discuss it with me, without spoiling it for me. She especially wanted to discuss the ending so she could understand it better. I raced through it, not just because of her request, but because it was a fantastic story. So very different in style from Zusak’s THE BOOK THIEF, this book still managed to take the reader on an exciting and yet deeply philosophical journey. I loved this book and I loved the fantastic conversation I had with my daughter about this book even more. That’s what great books do – inspire thought and conversation.
Meet Ed Kennedy—underage cabdriver, pathetic cardplayer, and useless at romance. He lives in a shack with his coffee-addicted dog, the Doorman, and he’s hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence, until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery. That’s when the first Ace arrives. That’s when Ed becomes the messenger. . . .
Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary), until only one question remains: Who’s behind Ed’s mission?
I am the Messenger is a cryptic journey filled with laughter, fists, and love. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Markus Zusak here.
Follow Markus on Twitter here.
Follow Zusak’s Tumblr here.
Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Peña
I heard Matt speak at the SCBWI La Summer conference this year and he was one of the few this year that made me want to stretch myself and be a better writer. Truly inspiring. I met him at the autograph party and he told me he’d be coming to Tulsa to speak in September. I saw him then, too. When I reminded him at that event, he couldn’t believe I came. He said he’d told three people that day in LA about the September talk in Tulsa and I was the only one that showed. That shook him up so much, he mislabeled the book he was supposed to be signing to my daughter. He tried to salvage it, but it was obviously messed up. I thought it was hilarious, but he described it as a train wreck and apologized profusely.
He’s such a down-to-earth guy and a fantastic writer. I loved this book for it’s honesty and heart. The voice is amazing as well. He’s also a huge fan of AS King – not to mention friends with her. (so jealous!) He predicts that King will soon be much more appreciated for her amazing talent. I whole-heartedly agree. For all of these things, I recommend de la Peña as an outstanding writer in his own right.
Danny’s tall and skinny.
Even though he’s not built, his arms are long enough to give his pitch a power so fierce any college scout would sign him on the spot. A 95 mph fastball, but the boy’s not even on a team. Every time he gets up on the mound he loses it.
But at private school, they don’t expect much else from him. Danny’s brown. Half-Mexican brown. And growing up in San Diego that close to the border means everyone else knows exactly who he is before he even opens his mouth. Before they find out he can’t speak Spanish, and before they realize his mom has blonde hair and blue eyes, they’ve got him pegged.
Danny’s convinced it’s his whiteness that sent his father back to Mexico. And that’s why he’s spending the summer with his dad’s family. Only, to find himself, he might just have to face the demons he refuses to see right in front oh his face. And open up to a friendship he never saw coming. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Matt de la Peña here.
Follow Matt on Twitter here.
Follow Matt on Facebook here.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
My husband gave me this book after I mentioned some of my favorite authors were head over heels in love with this book and Holden Caulfield, the main character. Somehow I’d never read it in high school. I’d been assigned horrible books like Silas Marner instead, blech! I did read his novella Franney and Zooey when I was a teenager. It was one of those books I grabbed off my dad’s bookshelf.
As I said in my Banned Book Week post, this one was a slow burn for me. It took me over half the book before I really began to appreciate it. I think many others find this a difficult book to pin down as well. There is no plot summary to be found anywhere that tells you much besides this one from Goodreads:
Since his debut in 1951 as The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with “cynical adolescent.” Holden narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he’s been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today and keeps this novel on banned book lists. It begins,
“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them.”
His constant wry observations about what he encounters, from teachers to phonies (the two of course are not mutually exclusive) capture the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation.
J.D. Salinger was a fairly renowned recluse who died in 2010.
To learn more about him, visit either one of these two dedicated fan sites:
The Mortal Instruments Series by Cassandra Clare
After seeing the first movie (which was pretty darn good, I must say) and reading the prequel series, I decided to reread the entire Mortal Instruments series for fun. It was just as good the third (fourth?) time around. I’ve read this series A LOT. Every time I tear right through one book and quickly move on to devour the next one.
When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder — much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Clary knows she should call the police, but it’s hard to explain a murder when the body disappears into thin air and the murderers are invisible to everyone but Clary.
Equally startled by her ability to see them, the murderers explain themselves as Shadowhunters: a secret tribe of warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. Within twenty-four hours, Clary’s mother disappears and Clary herself is almost killed by a grotesque demon.
But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know….(Plot summary of Book One from author’s website.)
The Infernal Devices Series by Cassandra Clare
In anticipation of seeing the first Mortal Instruments movie, I decided to start reading the prequel series that I’d never gotten around to reading. Like all of Clare’s books, I flew through all three of these very quickly. It was interesting to see this world set in an earlier setting with more of a steam-punk feel and with a different code of morality for the characters where relationships were concerned.
Magic is dangerous—but love is more dangerous still.
When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray crosses the ocean to find her brother, her destination is England, the time is the reign of Queen Victoria, and something terrifying is waiting for her in London’s Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Only the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons, keep order amidst the chaos.
Kidnapped by the mysterious Dark Sisters, members of a secret organization called The Pandemonium Club, Tessa soon learns that she herself is a Downworlder with a rare ability: the power to transform, at will, into another person. What’s more, the Magister, the shadowy figure who runs the Club, will stop at nothing to claim Tessa’s power for his own.
Friendless and hunted, Tessa takes refuge with the Shadowhunters of the London Institute, who swear to find her brother if she will use her power to help them. She soon finds herself fascinated by—and torn between—two best friends: James, whose fragile beauty hides a deadly secret, and blue-eyed Will, whose caustic wit and volatile moods keep everyone in his life at arm’s length…everyone, that is, but Tessa. As their search draws them deep into the heart of an arcane plot that threatens to destroy the Shadowhunters, Tessa realizes that she may need to choose between saving her brother and helping her new friends save the world…and that love may be the most dangerous magic of all. (Plot summary of Book One from author’s website.)
Learn more about Cassandra Clare here.
Follow Cassandra on Twitter here.
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Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
There was so much amazing buzz flying around about this book that I had to pick it up. Young girl pilots and spies in World War II? Yes, please. I’m all for the empowerment of our young women and showing them that they can doing anything. I have fond childhood memories of wanting to be like Amelia Earhart. And what girl doesn’t secretly want to be James Bond instead of the girl who just a pawn that dies?
I remember thinking the minute I finished this book, “Maybe I’m too stupid to write something this good.” It was that fantastic.
Learn more about Elizabeth Wein here.
Follow Elizabeth on Twitter here.
Follow Elizabeth on Facebook here.
See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles
I was blown away by how heart-wrenching this book was. Even after I set it down, I was crying. I have never had a book move me like that before. The family dynamic was so well-written, so believable. I ached for this family, It was never overdone, just real. I LOVED LOVED LOVED this book. Insanely loved it.
Twelve-year-old Fern feels invisible. It seems as though everyone in her family has better things to do than pay attention to her: Mom (when she’s not meditating) helps Dad run the family restaurant; Sarah is taking a gap year after high school; and Holden pretends that Mom and Dad and everyone else doesn’t know he’s gay, even as he fends off bullies at school. Then there’s Charlie: three years old, a “surprise” baby, the center of everyone’s world. He’s devoted to Fern, but he’s annoying, too, always getting his way, always dirty, always commanding attention. If it wasn’t for Ran, Fern’s calm and positive best friend, there’d be nowhere to turn. Ran’s mantra, “All will be well,” is soothing in a way that nothing else seems to be. And when Ran says it, Fern can almost believe it’s true. But then tragedy strikes- and Fern feels not only more alone than ever, but also responsible for the accident that has wrenched her family apart. All will not be well. Or at least all will never be the same. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)
Learn more about Jo Knowles here.
Follow Jo on Twitter here.
How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr
Jill MacSweeney just wishes everything could go back to normal. But ever since her dad died, she’s been isolating herself from her boyfriend, her best friends—everyone who wants to support her. And when her mom decides to adopt a baby, it feels like she’s somehow trying to replace a lost family member with a new one.
Mandy Kalinowski understands what it’s like to grow up unwanted—to be raised by a mother who never intended to have a child. So when Mandy becomes pregnant, one thing she’s sure of is that she wants a better life for her baby. It’s harder to be sure of herself. Will she ever find someone to care for her, too?
As their worlds change around them, Jill and Mandy must learn to both let go and hold on, and that nothing is as easy—or as difficult—as it seems. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Sara Zarr here.
Follow Sara on Twitter here.
Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett
Mac Barnett gave a great keynote address this year at the SCBWI LA Summer conference where he talked about meta-fiction. (met·a·fic·tion (m t -f k sh n). n. Fiction that deals, often playfully and self-referentially, with the writing of fiction or its conventions.) This book is a fantastic example of that and so great. I read it to my roomie at the conference at bedtime and she loved it. Best endorsement there is.
A trip to the park, a walk through the woods, a glint of teeth behind a gnarled tree… And that’s when things go very wrong.
[Combines] twisty plotting, irreverent dialogue, visual hilarity, and sophisticated book design into an arch package. But beneath the silly surface, children will find a meaningful exposition of just what goes into a successful picture book, and how author, illustrator, and character must collaborate and compromise.” — Booklist
Learn more about Mac Barnett here.
Follow Mac on Twitter here.
Follow Mac on Tumblr here.
The Stinky Cheese Man: And Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka
Who could resist a book of subversive fairy tales? Not me. Jon Scieszka was another fantastic speaker at this year’s SCBWI LA Summer conference. I had to buy and read at least one book from his. This won’t be the last.
What if the little old lady and the little old man who make the Gingerbread Man ran out of gingerbread? They might make a little man out of stinky cheese. And their fairy tale might never be the same again. What if someone changed a whole bunch of fairy tales? Those tales might become: The Princess and the Bowling Ball, Little Red Running Shorts, and The Really Ugly Duckling. And the whole book might be called The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Jon Scieszka here.
Follow Jon on Twitter here.
Follow Jon on Facebook here.
Art & Max and The Three Pigs by David Wiesner
I absolutely love David Wiesner. I fell in love with his picture books many years ago when I read his book Tuesday to my kids almost every night. His amazing pictures hardly require words, and Tuesday didn’t have any on most pages, although my kids loved the stories I came up with. It was such a delight to hear Wiesner speak at this year’s SCBWI LA Summer conference and to hear the story of how Art & Max was created. We also needed a new copy of The Three Pigs as my son’s copy was falling apart from so many readings.
Hold on to your hat and your home, but let your imagination soar! This masterly picture book will blow you away right along with the three little pigs’ houses. Satisfying both as a story and as an exploration of story, The Three Pigs takes visual narrative to a new level. When the wolf comes a-knocking and a-puffing, he blows the pigs right out of the tale and into a whole new imaginative landscape, where they begin a freewheeling adventure as they wander—and fly—through other stories, encountering a dragon and a cat with a fiddle, among others. This familiar tale will never be the same old story again. (The Three Pigs’ summary from author’s website.)
Drawing on such diverse influences as George Herriman, Salvador Dali, and his own early encounters with art, David Wiesner has crafted a story that goes straight to the essentials—friendship, creativity, and the mysterious point where these two forces intersect.
Max and Arthur are friends who share an interest in painting. Arthur is an accomplished painter; Max is a beginner. Max’s first attempt at using a paintbrush sends the two friends on a whirlwind trip through various artistic media, which turn out to have unexpected pitfalls. Although Max is inexperienced, he’s courageous—and a quick learner. His energy and enthusiasm bring the adventure to its triumphant conclusion. Beginners everywhere will take heart. (Art & Max summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about David Wiesner here.
You can view his portfolio, take a peek at his artistic process, and play around with an Art & Max coloring book on the author’s website.
Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution by Sara Markus
Somehow I missed this amazing movement when it actually happened. Otherwise I’m sure I totally would have been a part of it. Instead I was flaunting my feminist agenda solo for the most part back in the early 90s. I came across a story about this book in my internet wanderings and had to read it. So glad I did. I am now a huge fan of Kathleen Hanna’s and I just watched a great documentary about Le Tigre, one of her many bands after Bikini Kill. She’s like the coolest older sister I never had, but always wanted. All of this has inspired a fantastic idea for an upcoming YA book of mine that I can’t wait to dig into.
Riot Grrrl roared into the spotlight in 1991: an uncompromising movement of pissed-off girls with no patience for sexism and no intention of keeping quiet. Young women everywhere were realizing that the equality they’d been promised was still elusive, and a newly resurgent right wing was turning feminism into the ultimate dirty word. In response, thousands of riot grrrls published zines, founded local groups, and organized national conventions, while fiercely prophetic punk bands such as Bratmobile, Heavens to Betsy, Huggy Bear, and Bikini Kill helped spread the word across the US and to Canada, Europe, and beyond.
Girls to the Front, the first-ever history of Riot Grrrl, is a lyrical, punk-infused narrative about a group of extraordinary young women coming of age angrily, collectively, and publicly. A dynamic chronicle not just of a movement but of an era, this is the story of a time when America thought young people were apathetic and feminism was dead, but a generation of noisy girls rose up to prove everybody wrong. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Sara Marcus here.
Follow Sara on Twitter here.
Nugget and Fang by Tammi Sauer
This is the latest picture book from my uber-talented SCBWI Oklahoma friend, Tammi Sauer. When I grow up, I want to be as cool as Tammi and maybe even create my own dance. Fang and Nugget are best friends and don’t think a thing of it until Nugget starts fish school and learns that sharks are supposed to eat minnows. Fang the shark sets out to prove to Nugget and his new minnow school friends that he doesn’t want to eat them.
In the deep ocean, tiny Nugget and big, toothy Fang get along swimmingly—until Nugget’s first day of minnow school. There Nugget learns that minnows are supposed to be afraid of sharks! To regain Nugget’s trust, Fang takes desperate (and hilarious) measures. But it’s not until his big sharp teeth save the entire school that minnows learn this shark is no foe. Fantastically stylized artwork adds even more humor to this undersea story of unlikely friendship. (Plot summary from book site.)
Nugget & Fang have their own site here.
Learn more about Tammi Sauer here.
Follow Tammi on Twitter here.
Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk
A friend of my daughter’s handed this book to me and said this was her favorite author. She checked in on me from time to time to see if I’d read it yet and then to see what part I was reading. When I finally read the first page, I had to send her a message. It was something like, “Holy shit!” My mind was blown in the first page and it didn’t change much during the entire ride. That’s what this story was, a wild, time-jumping ride. Palahniuk, who also wrote Fight Club, if that gives you any sense of what level we’re working on, broke so many rules of writing it was unbelievable. But unlike someone like, say, oh, I don’t know, Philip Roth for instance, who does it in a pompous look-what-I-can-do kind of way, Palahniuk actually does it with purpose and skill. He twists the plot in on itself so many times, you’d think it collapse on itself, but instead, it connects to the very beginning forming a nicely flowing loop. This book isn’t for everyone and there are explicit discussions of sex that might put some readers off, but I for one loved the book completely and did not find the discussions over the top at all, but realistic glimpses of the characters’ worlds. I can see why this young woman has read this book many times. I think you’d need to in order to glean the subtleties out of it. This wasn’t your ordinary road-trip with transsexual drug addicts and disfigured ex-models in need of a healthy dose of self-discovery, after all.
One more time, please. This time with a little less face.
Invisible Monsters initially unnamed narrator was once a beautiful fashion model. But only to draw the attention of her parents away from her brother, Shane. The narrator has it all until the fateful day of the accident where the bottom half of her face gets completely blown off leaving her with nothing more than top teeth and a tongue that hangs out of the gaping wound.
Now unable to speak and constantly wiping drool from her mouth, the narrator still gets attention, but only because she is a hideous monster. So here comes Brandy Alexander, the queen of overly coifed hair and heavily painted face. Only one surgery away from being a “real” woman, Brandy takes the narrator under her awkwardly large wing and equips her with the things she needs to be beautiful again. At least as beautiful as she can be with only half a face.
When Brandy isn’t giving our narrator hats with face veils, new clothes, “speech” lessons, and completely new identities, she is finding houses for sale. Not for purchase, but for prescription drugs to steal.
There are drugs, wounds, blood, fire, and new identities. Palahniuk delivers a dose of jilted beauty queens, messed up transsexuals, and twists on top of twists on top of twists. Invisible Monsters will only leave you wanting. Wanting what, I’m not sure. But you’ll want something. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Chuck Palahniuk here.
Follow Chuck on Twitter here.
Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt
This is the companion book to The Wednesday Wars. The book that made me an instant fan of Mr. Schmidt’s. If that hadn’t done it, his outstanding keynote speech at last year’s SCBWI LA conference would have cinched it for me. He is the kind of writer I want to be. So much heart. Talent and heart. Ugh! I could go on gush about him for days. The way he writes like a young kid with limited emotional expression thinks and talks – man! So natural it hurts. you can feel the emotions being stuffed back down so he doesn’t show the hurt. Freaking brilliant. LOVE IT!!! If you’re looking for a great middle grade book for boys to read, try this one.
As a fourteen-year-old who just moved to a new town, with no friends and a louse for an older brother, Doug Swieteck has all the stats stacked against him. So begins a coming-of-age masterwork full of equal parts comedy and tragedy from Newbery Honor winner Gary D. Schmidt. As Doug struggles to be more than the “skinny thug” that his teachers and the police think him to be, he finds an unlikely ally in Lil Spicer—a fiery young lady who smelled like daisies would smell if they were growing in a big field under a clearing sky after a rain. In Lil, Doug finds the strength to endure an abusive father, the suspicions of a whole town, and the return of his oldest brother, forever scarred, from Vietnam. Together, they find a safe haven in the local library, inspiration in learning about the plates of John James Audubon’s birds, and a hilarious adventure on a Broadway stage. In this stunning novel, Schmidt expertly weaves multiple themes of loss and recovery in a story teeming with distinctive, unusual characters and invaluable lessons about love, creativity, and survival. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
You can read the first chapter and watch an interview of the author on his website.
Learn more about Gary Schmidt here.
The Dark by Lemony Snicket, Illustrated by Jon Klassen
How could these two dark and twisty mind NOT collide to create a fantastic picture book to deal with the ultimate worst thing in a child’s fearscape, fear of the dark? It’s too perfect! I so wish this book had been around when I was a scairdycat quivering under my covers at night, waiting for the dark to creep up the stairs from the basement to get me. If only it just wanted to play. BRILLIANT!
Laszlo is afraid of the dark.
The dark lives in the same house as Laszlo. Mostly, though, the dark stays in the basement and doesn’t come into Lazslo’s room. But one night, it does.
This is the story of how Laszlo stops being afraid of the dark.
With emotional insight and poetic economy, two award-winning talents team up to conquer a universal childhood fear. (Summary on Barnes & Noble site.)
Learn more about Lemony Snicket here.
I Want My Hat Back & This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen
I kind of went on a Jon Klassen picture book bender. But seriously. This guy is like the twisted step-child of Maurice Sendak, don’t you think? He at least delivered his newspaper or something. There is a dark and twisty element that is so deliciously fun about these books. And yet still kid-friendly. No, really. All the murders totally take place off-stage. (Talk about your surprise endings. Oops! Spoilers!)
The bear’ s hat is gone, and he wants it back. Patiently and politely, he asks the animals he comes across, one by one, whether they have seen it. Each animal says no, some more elaborately than others. But just as the bear begins to despond, a deer comes by and asks a simple question that sparks the bear s memory and renews his search with a vengeance. Told completely in dialogue, this delicious take on the classic repetitive tale plays out in sly illustrations laced with visual humor and winks at the reader with a wry irreverence that will have kids of all ages thrilled to be in on the joke.
When a tiny fish shoots into view wearing a round blue topper (which happens to fit him perfectly), trouble could be following close behind. So it’s a good thing that enormous fish won’t wake up. And even if he does, it’s not like he’ll ever know what happened. . . . Visual humor swims to the fore as the best-selling Jon Klassen follows his breakout debut with another deadpan-funny tale. (Both plot summaries from Amazon website.)
Follow Jon on Twitter here.
Follow Jon on Tumblr here.
Walking on Alligators: A Book of Meditations for Writers by Susan Shaughnessy
One of the writers in our SCBWI Oklahoma group suggested this book to me a few years ago and I finally finished reading it this year. I’ve read passages from time to time and found them inspiring to get my butt back in the chair. I thought it was time to finish the book and move on to another book on the craft that has been languishing in the TBR pile purgatory. These passages a short and easy to digest when time is not on your side. Nice to have around for inspiration when you find it lacking. Each page header is a quote from a writer followed by a short essay to expand to that particular idea expressed in the quote.
A daily motivator for people who write–and for all those who long to write–providing an insistent wake-up call for the creative urge, with insights on how to work against resistance, live with the loneliness, develop discipline, and dare to take deeper risks in their work. (Description from Goodreads.)
Hereafter by Tara Hudson
Tara was the special guest at our Tulsa schmooze anniversary dinner this past June. She was such a trooper to come speak to us on the opening day of her third book in her Hereafter trilogy. She was so forth-coming about her writing journey – warts and all. I just loved her. What’s more, she’s from right here in Oklahoma. Oh, yeah. I wrote a blog post all about her visit here. She signed her first book for me that night and even agreed to do an interview for my blog later in the summer when the tour slows down. Such a doll!
Drifting in the dark waters of a mysterious river, the only thing Amelia knows for sure is that she’s dead. With no recollection of her past life—or her actual death—she’s trapped alone in a nightmarish existence. All of this changes when she tries to rescue a boy, Joshua, from drowning in her river. As a ghost, she can do nothing but will him to live. Yet in an unforgettable moment of connection, she helps him survive.
Amelia and Joshua grow ever closer as they begin to uncover the strange circumstances of her death and the secrets of the dark river that held her captive for so long. But even while they struggle to keep their bond hidden from the living world, a frightening spirit named Eli is doing everything in his power to destroy their newfound happiness and drag Amelia back into the ghost world . . . forever. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
See pictures from the actual town of Wilburton and hear the playlist that inspired the book on the website.
Learn more about Tara Hudson here.
Follow Tara on Twitter here.
The Great Lollipop Caper by Dan Krall
As some of you may know, I won this delightfully bittersweet tome from Jama Rattigan’s blog giveaway. I wrote a whole post about it here. As Dan also illustrated my friend Tammi’s book, Oh, Nuts!, I have an enduring picture book crush on him forever, now. I truly treasure this book.
One cranky caper is about to learn that being salty might be just as good as being sweet.
And thus a plot is hatched: Caper-flavored lollipops are dispatched throughout the world…and everything goes horribly wrong. Will Mr. Caper find a way to repair the havoc he’s wreaked by over-reaching? Maybe, if Lollipop helps save the day!
This quirky tale, illustrated with humor and heart, contains sweet and salty delights for both adults and children. (Plot summary from book’s website.)
The Great Lollipop Caper has its very own website here.
Learn more about Dan Krall here.
Follow Dan on Twitter here.
Asunder by Jodi Meadows
The sequel to last year’s breakout novel, Incarnate, was a pleasure to read. Jodi Meadows is a delightful author. I just love her. And aren’t the book covers just gorgeous? C’mon! Ridiculous! The storyline is such an unusual concept for a dystopian novel in which everyone keeps reincarnating with their memories/experiences intact. The villagers greet each newborn as the old souls they are until Ana comes along. She is a New Soul. She replaces someone who will never come back. In this book, we get to learn more about why this occurred and if it will occur again. I love the richness that music and composition plays in this world. It’s so beautifully written, even with the dangers, I want to visit Heart and hang out with Ana and her friends. And if you like a little steamy swoon in your dystopian sci-fi, wowza, does she deliver!
Ana has always been the only one. Asunder. Apart. But after Templedark, when many residents of Heart were lost forever, some hold Ana responsible for the darksouls–and the newsouls who may be born in their place.
Many are afraid of Ana’s presence, a constant reminder of unstoppable changes and the unknown. When sylph begin behaving differently toward her and people turn violent, Ana must learn to stand up not only for herself but for those who cannot stand up for themselves.
Ana was told that nosouls can’t love. But newsouls? More than anything, she wants to live and love as an equal among the citizens of Heart, but even when Sam professes his deepest feelings, it seems impossible to overcome a lifetime of rejection.
In this second book in the Incarnate trilogy, Ana discovers the truth about reincarnation and will have to find a way to embrace love and make her young life meaningful. Once again, Jodi Meadows explores the extraordinary beauty and shadowed depths of the soul in a story equal parts epic romance and captivating fantasy. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Jodi Meadows here.
Follow Jodi on Twitter here.
Sisters in Sanity by Gayle Forman
This is the third Forman book in this year’s reading list. After the If I Stay/Where She Went coupling, I found this one, which deals with a similar subject matter to my current YA project. I had to read it next. I must say it’s one of the few books I’ve read that’s dealt with kids in a treatment setting in a realistic way, while still telling a good story. I really enjoyed it. (Ellen Hopkins book Impulse is another good one, btw.)
Have you ever had the out-of-control dream? The one where you know you’re not crazy, but no one around you—not your parents, not your teachers, not even the authorities—will listen to you?
For sixteen-year-old Brit Hemphill, the out-of-control dream comes true when her dad enrolls her at Red Rock, a bogus treatment center that claims to cure rebellious teen girls. At Red Rock, Brit is forced into therapy and her only hope of getting her life back is in the hands of an underqualified staff of counselors, a hardass Sheriff and a cruel shrink. Brit’s dad thinks Red Rock can save her, but from what? Brit thinks that the place is doing her more harm than good.
No girl could survive at Red Rock alone—but at a treatment center where you get privileges for ratting on your peers, it’s hard to know who to trust. For Brit, everything changes when she meets V, Bebe, Martha, and Cassie, four girls who keep her from going over the edge. Together, they’ll hang on to their sanity and their sisterhood while trying to keep their Red-Rock reality from becoming a full-on nightmare. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
You can read an excerpt from this story and all her other books on her website.
Learn more about Gayle Forman here.
Follow Gayle on Twitter here.
The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall
I reached out to the Twitterverse in search of books with strong sister stories and received this gem of a recommendation. (Thanks, Becks!) Ah! What a find! It felt so iconic, so not of this time period, so like the summers of my youth had I been born in a different decade and gallivanted about vast mansion grounds in search of adventures, yet it was written in this century. There was a certain je ne sais quoi about it if you know what I mean.
Meet the Penderwicks, four different sisters with one special bond. There’s responsible, practical Rosalind; stubborn, feisty Skye; dreamy, artistic Jane; and shy little sister Batty, who won’t go anywhere without her butterfly wings.
When the girls and their doting father head off for their summer holiday, they’re in for a surprise. Instead of the tumbledown cottage they expected, they find themselves on a beautiful estate called Arundel. Soon the girls are busy discovering the summertime magic of Arundel’s sprawling gardens, treasure-filled attic, tame rabbits, and the cook who makes the best gingerbread in Massachusetts. But the most wonderful discovery of all is Jeffrey Tifton, son of Arundel’s owner, who quickly proves to be the perfect companion for their adventures.
The icy-hearted Mrs. Tifton is not as pleased with the Penderwicks as Jeffrey is, though, and warns the new friends to stay out of trouble. Which, of course, they will—won’t they?
One thing’s for sure: it will be a summer the Penderwicks will never forget. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Jeanne Birdsall here.
If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch
This book was a serendipitous find. It found me at just the right moment. I was searching high and low for books that had strong sister relationships. I couldn’t find any. Then I found this diamond in the rough. Such heart and guts and a willingness to explore difficult subjects, ah! You will ache for the characters on all sides of this story.
This is Emily Murdoch’s debut novel that just came out this spring. I look forward to reading her next one already. Here’s a quote from her website: “I write to my own drummer, I won’t deny it, but I believe in following my writing heart, not in chasing popular trends.” Amen, sister! A writer after my own heart.
Violin prodigy Carey Blackburn spent the majority of her fifteen years hidden away in the Obed Scenic and Wild River National Park with her mute little sister, Jenessa, and their bipolar mother, Joelle. She didn’t expect Mama to go into town for supplies and vanish off the face of Tennessee, leaving the girls no choice but to return to the father who abandoned them long ago … or did he?(Plot summary from the author’s website.)
Learn more about Emily Murdoch here.
Follow Emily on Twitter here.
Lapse Americana by Benjamin Myers
Benjamin Myers has a special place in my heart, not only as an Oklahoma poet, but as the son of my mentor, Anna Myers. This is his second book of poetry and it is just as rich and diverse as the first one. Here’s one of my favorite poems:
Talking to My Racist Friend
I read somewhere that all the sunlight
smacking the earth
at any moment
weighs as much
as a cruise ship,
which makes me
how much the darkness
in this conversation
Eight semis stacked in a pyramid
and balanced on a teacup?
The Empire State Building
All the dirt in Oklahoma?
Or maybe a cruise ship
of its own,
with doe-eyed passengers
dumbly from the deck
as they sail obliviously off
to kiss the sullen iceberg.
The twin ravens, Thought and Memory, of Norse myth are reborn as American crows to fly an interweaving pattern or remembering and forgetting through the pages of Lapse Americana. Born out of the poet’s childhood during the Pax Americana and situated within the war and economic lapse of the new century, these poems explore memory and amnesia, faith and doubt, presence and absence. They are rooted in rural, working class experience as well as in the poetic traditions of America, Europe, and China. By turns formal and jazzy, confessional and coy, these poems speak of the universal by focusing on the particular, insisting with simultaneous emphasis upon the value of remembering and of embracing forgetfulness. (Book description from publisher’s website.)
Learn more about Benjamin Myers here.
Appetite: Food as Metaphor: An Anthology of Women Poets by Phyllis Stowell
This is another book of poetry I won last year from a lovely blog, Jama’s Alphabet Soup, which always leaves me hungry for great books. This book of poems explores the connection we have to food by exploring some fantastic female poets throughout the ages and their homages to various edibles, but sometimes its about something else altogether. One of my favorites was from Edna St. Vincent Millay:
Never May the Fruit Be Plucked
Never, never may the fruit be plucked from the bough
And gathered into barrels.
He that would eat of love must eat it where it hangs.
Though the branches bend like reeds,
Though the ripe fruit splash in the grass or wrinkle on the tree,
He that would eat of love may bear away with him
Only what his belly can hold,
Nothing in the apron,
Nothing in the pockets.
Never, never may the fruit be gathered from the bough
And harvested in barrels.
The winter of love is a cellar of empty bins,
In an orchard soft with rot.
In poems from as varied women poets as Jane Kenyon, Lucille Clifton, and Anne Sexton, food emerges as a re-occurring and central metaphor in the way women live, in the pulse of the everyday, and as a vehicle for the exotic. From coffee to caviar, from potatoes to dandelions—even in hunger and anorexia—the metaphors of food have worked like yeast in the imagination of these poets. (Book description from Barnes & Noble)
Learn more about Phyllis Stowell here.
The Search for Wondla by Tony DiTerlizzi
I saw Tony DiTerlizzi speak at the summer conference in LA last August and he was so full of energy, he hardly stopped moving. I thought he might fall off the stage at one point. I loved hearing about his inspirations – Wizard of Oz (especially the original with its odd green tone illustrations), the art nouveau stylings of Alphonse Mucha, and an old Jack & the Beanstalk illustration that looked more like a comic book – for the design of this book and seeing some of the illustrations. His imagination is boundless.
When a marauder destroys the underground sanctuary that Eva Nine was raised in by the robot Muthr, the twelve-year-year-old girl is forced to flee aboveground. Eva Nine is searching for anyone else like her, for she knows that other humans exist, because of an item she treasures—a scrap of cardboard on which is depicted a young girl, an adult, and a robot, with the strange word, “WondLa.” Tony DiTerlizzi honors traditional children’s literature in this totally original space age adventure: one that is as complex as an alien planet, but as simple as a child’s wish for a place to belong.
Breathtaking two-color illustrations throughout reveal another dimension of Tony DiTerlizzi’s vision, and, for those readers with a webcam, the book also features Augmented Reality in several places, revealing additional information about Eva Nine’s world. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
This book is the first in a trilogy that now has its own dedicated website here. You can find games, view artwork and character profiles and even experience something called Wondla-vision.
Learn more about Tony DiTerlizzi here.
Follow Tony on Twitter here.
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
I bought this book as a reward to encourage me to finish my latest revision. It sat on my bookshelf staring at me for at least two weeks, begging to be read. Although it did accomplish its job in motivating me to finish my latest draft, it was a very different kind of book than I was expecting. Not one to berate artists for stretching their creativity into different areas or trying out new styles, it was still quite an adjustment to read this version of Rowling versus the HP Rowling to whom I had grown accustomed. It took me a long time to get into the story as there were a lot of characters being introduced at length and a lot of head-hopping with all the point-of-view changes, many within the same paragraph, all of which made it difficult to keep track of what was going on.
After the first half of the book, I was able to get into the rhythm and enjoy the story enough. Although, by being allowed into every character’s head and being privy to all of their thoughts, there weren’t many surprises. Rowling did portray gritty, realistic life in a believable way. And maybe that was her goal with this book – to show that she could write realism as well as fantasy. All I know is that this one was not effortless to read (I definitely did NOT fly through the pages as I did with each HP book) and the writing was very apparent at times. It will be interesting to see where Ms Rowling goes from here. I will still follow as a faithful reader, just a little less enthusiastically.
When Barry Fairbrother dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little town of Pagford is left in shock.
Seemingly an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war.
Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…Pagford is not what it first seems.
And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?
Blackly comic, thought-provoking and constantly surprising, The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about J.K. Rowling here.
Follow her on Twitter here.
Pretty Little Liars Series Books 1-4 by Sara Shepard
My daughter and I started watching the series on Netflix and I knew from hearing Ms. Shepard speak at the SCBWI conference in LA last summer that the show was very different from the books, so I had to give her books a try. I’d also really enjoyed her keynote address and her discussion about why people lie and her preoccupation with the different motivations behind lying. It was just fascinating. The books were a fun change from the other books I’d been reading – very addicting as well. I hate not knowing who this A person is. Will I really have to read them all to find out? I don’t think that will be such a bad thing.
After the mysterious disappearance of their queen bee leader Alison DiLaurentis, four best friends — Aria Montgomery, Spencer Hastings, Hanna Marin, and Emily Fields — drift apart. However, three years later, when the girls are high school juniors, Alison’s body is found, and they suddenly begin receiving vengeful messages from someone named “A” who threatens to expose all their deepest, darkest secrets. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Sara Shepard here.
Follow Sara on Twitter here.
Where She Went by Gayle Forman
Nope I couldn’t even wait a few weeks to read the sequel to Forman’s If I Stay. This book is just as fantastic as the first one. I love that it is told from a different character’s point of view – from the boyfriend, Adam. We see that he has suffered just as much from the accident – lost just as much – as Mia did. Such a wonderful pair of books.
It’s been three years since the devastating accident … three years since Mia walked out of Adam’s life forever.
Now living on opposite coasts, Mia is Julliard’s rising star and Adam is LA tabloid fodder, thanks to his new rock star status and celebrity girlfriend. When Adam gets stuck in New York by himself, chance brings the couple together again, for one last night. As they explore the city that has become Mia’s home, Adam and Mia revisit the past and open their hearts to the future—and each other.
Told from Adam’s point of view in the spare, lyrical prose that defined If I Stay, Where She Went explores the devastation of grief, the promise of new hope, and the flame of rekindled romance. (Plot summary from the author’s website.)
You can read an excerpt of this book on the author’s website here.
Learn more about Gayle Forman here.
Follow Gayle on Twitter here.
Stolen Nights by Rebecca Maizel
I read Rebecca Maizel’s debut novel, Infinite Days, book one in the Vampire Queen novel series, back in 2010, and I’ve been impatiently waiting for this sequel ever since. This story has the unique twist and tells the story of Lenah, a vampire queen who is more powerful than can be imagined and has a strong and devoted coven. Still, it is not enough. She’s slowly going mad from centuries of being immortal and she is desperate to turn back into a human. The only way to do it is through a rare ritual that requires the ultimate sacrifice of the one performing the incantation, her soul mate’s life. Fascinating premise and wonderfully executed. It’s really a story exploring humanity and darkness. This long-awaited sequel does not disappoint and expands the story even further. I hope we don’t have to wait another three years for the next one!
Last year, the love of my life died performing a ritual to fulfill my one wish and make me human. And now I’ve performed the same ritual for my friend Vicken – and survived. Why am I here, back safe on Wickham campus?
The strong magic I used in the ritual did more than just make Vicken human. It drew someone to Lover’s Bay who does not belong here. She wants the ritual. Then she wants me dead. And she will take down any and everyone in my life to get what she wants.
As if that weren’t enough, the ritual has also summoned the anger of the Aeris, the four elements and most fundamental powers on earth. They have a surprise and an unbearable punishment for me – like stepping into the sun for the first time, only to be put into a cage. And now I have to make an impossible choice – between love or life, yearning or having, present or past… (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Rebecca Maizel here.
Follow Rebecca on Twitter here.
My Brother’s Book by Maurice Sendak
My husband surprised me with this book as a spontaneous gift.
It was perfect.
This is Sendak’s last published book. It’s a haunting tribute to his brother Jack, who died 18 years ago. But it’s more than that, as one would expect from Sendak. Here’s an excerpt from an NPR interview giving a few details behind the story of this final book:
The playwright Tony Kushner, who was a close friend of Sendak’s, says, “I really feel that the book is a goodbye from him to everybody who loved him — which was a lot of people…It’s probably the only thing Maurice wrote and published that is perhaps more for adults than for children. It’s a poem that he wrote and then kept in his drawer, waiting for what he felt would be the right time to turn it into a book. It’s a very simple and also a very mysterious story. There are two brothers, Jack and Guy. … It has the logic of a dream. I really feel that in a way, it’s a book that he intended for those of us who grew up reading Maurice and who loved his work. It’s a kind of a farewell for us.”
And what a magical farewell it is. Thank you, Maurice. You are truly missed.
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Wow. How could such a slim book be so powerful? Gayle Forman made me tear up, fight back, and then submit to and ugly cryfest with this wonderful book. Saying anything else would just spoil it for you. Except that there is now a sequel, Where She Went. Music is a very big part of this book and you can sample each of the songs mentioned in the book from a playlist on the author’s website.
On a day that started like any other…
Mia had everything: a loving family, a gorgeous, adoring boyfriend, and a bright future full of music and full of choices. Then, in an instant, almost all of that is taken from her. Caught between life and death, between a happy past and an unknowable future, Mia spends one critical day contemplating the one decision she has left—the most important decision she’ll ever make.
Simultaneously tragic and hopeful, this is a romantic, riveting and ultimately uplifting story about memory, music, living, dying, loving. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
You can read an excerpt of the book on her website.
Learn more about Gayle Forman here.
Follow Gayle on Twitter here.
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
This was another author I wanted to explore. She has a new series out, the Delirium Series, but before I committed to something like that, I wanted to read one of her first books and make sure I liked her enough to invest that much reader love. And I do. Emotion and voice and ah! I could go on for days. What a perfect book to start your writing career.
What if you had only one day to live?
What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life?
Samantha Kingston has it all: the world’s most crush-worthy boyfriend, three amazing best friends, and first pick of everything at Thomas Jefferson High—from the best table in the cafeteria to the choicest parking spot. Friday, February 12, should be just another day in her charmed life.
Instead, it turns out to be her last.
Then she gets a second chance. Seven chances, in fact. Reliving her last day during one miraculous week, she will untangle the mystery surrounding her death—and discover the true value of everything she is in danger of losing. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Lauren Oliver here.
Follow Lauren on Twitter here.
The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E Pearson
I came across this title while in search of something new to download onto my Nook. I’d remembered my daughter raving about this book a few years ago, but little else. Something vaguely about a girl recovering from a car accident and trying to regain her memory. Unfortunately she’d checked it out at the library so it had slipped from my mind as soon as it was out of sight. I’m all for reading something new and trying out authors I haven’t read before, so download it I did.
Amazing story and not at all what I thought it would be. I had no idea it would be such a clever and heart felt exploration into what it means to be human. I ripped through this one in record time. And now I find out it’s a series? Oh, yay!
Where does it lie? In a face? A voice? A bundled string of events we call a lifetime? Is it in our DNA, bone, flesh, ancestry? How do we define our identity, and is it a once and for all definition?
Who am I? Can anyone ever know for sure just what it takes to be who we are?
We all search for our place in this world and how we fit in, but for Jenna Fox that search reaches dark new dimensions when she wakes from a coma and can’t remember who she is. Worse, she doesn’t remember the people who claim to be her parents. There is something curious about them, about the house they all live in–in fact, curious describes her whole life, as she attempts to unlock the secrets of who she was, and who she has become.
The Adoration of Jenna Fox is about Jenna’s search for identity, a quest as old as history, but as startling as the future. (Plot summary from the author’s website.)
Learn more about Mary E Pearson here.
Follow Mary on Twitter here.
Ask the Passengers by A.S. King
I am in platonic forever love with AS King. She has surpassed herself with her latest novel which begs the question, if I give all of my love away to strangers and leave none for someone – something real – does that mean no one and nothing can hurt me? Does that mean I don’t have to define myself or answer the uncomfortable questions I have about myself? And don’t forget that King always adds her own little cosmic/kismet twist to her stories that blend seamlessly into the realism.
Astrid Jones copes with her small town’s gossip and narrow-mindedness by sending her love to the passengers in the airplanes flying overhead. Maybe they’ll know what to do with it. Maybe it’ll make them happy. Maybe they’ll need it.
Her mother doesn’t want it, her father’s always stoned, her perfect sister’s too busy trying to fit in, and the people in her small town would never allow her to love the person she really wants to–another girl named Dee. There’s no one Astrid feels she can talk to about this deep secret or the profound questions that she’s trying to answer. But little does she know just how much sending her love–and asking the right questions–will affect the passengers’ lives, and her own, for the better.
In this unmistakably original portrayal of a girl struggling to break free of society’s boxes and definitions, Printz Honor author A.S. King asks readers to question everything–and offers hope to those who will never stop seeking and sharing real love. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about A.S. King here.
Follow A.S. King on Twitter here.
Austenland by Shannon Hale
I picked this book for a couple of reasons. One, I wanted to read a book by Shannon Hale, whom I follow on Twitter and have never read one of her books. And two, I wanted a book that fit into the Austen Reading Challenge theme that was not one of the usual suspects. This one fit the bill nicely. I look forward to doing a review of this one for the challenge.
Jane Hayes is a seemingly normal young New Yorker, but she has a secret. Her obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, is ruining her love life: no real man can compare. But when a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-crazed women, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become realer than she ever could have imagined.
Decked out in empire-waist gowns, Jane struggles to master Regency etiquette and flirts with gardeners and gentlemen—or maybe even, she suspects, with the actors who are playing them. It’s all a game, Jane knows. And yet the longer she stays, the more her insecurities seem to fall away, and the more she wonders: Is she about to kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own? (Plot summary from author’s website.)
You can read an excerpt of this book on the author’s website. Learn more about Shannon Hale here.
Follow Shannon on Twitter here.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
I’d heard so many great things about this book. Krista Marino, an editor I heard speak at the SCBWI LA Conference recommended it as an example of an adult novel with great tension. She wasn’t kidding. I loved how Flynn slowly revealed who the main characters were and who they became throughout the story – the misleading bits that had you later rethinking what you knew. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll stop there. I did lose sleep a few nights, staying up to read just one more chapter, and then another.
On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick Dunne’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick Dunne isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but hearing from Amy through flashbacks in her diary reveal the perky perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer? As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister Margo at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was left in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet? (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Gillian Flynn here.
Like Gillian’s Facebook page here.
The Diviners by Libba Bray
This book is the berries! Hell, it’s the whole bush. It made me wanna bob my hair and swig back some giggle water down at the speakeasy. I’d been looking forward to reading this book for months. Luckily, I received it as a birthday present – day made! Bray returned to her historical fiction roots with this latest book – adding in a paranormal twist with a murder mystery to sweeten the pot. Bray really nailed the language of the times which added such wonderful authenticity to her writing voice. I love this new series and look forward to the next installment.
Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City—and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult.
Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.
As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened. (Plot summary from series website.)
The author has a designated website for this new series which is fantastic. You can check out a trailer for the book, read the first chapter, follow along on a supernatural tour, and listen to tunes that inspired the author while writing this 1920s tome.
Follow Libba on Twitter here.
Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
I had several people recommend this book to me before I picked it up. Two of them thought it was reminiscent of how I wrote – or at least there was a similarity in the voice. By then, I’d seen the trailer for the movie and I was intrigued. The story did not disappoint. I loved the 90s setting and the letter format. I never thought I was missing anything vital from the scenes, even though everything was being told this way. Now I must see the movie – this couldn’t have been easy to translate into film, but it must have been fun to try.
standing on the fringes of life . . .
offers a unique perspective. but there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.
since its publication, stephen chbosky’s haunting debut novel has received critical acclaim, provoked discussion and debate, grown into a cult phenomenon with over a million copies in print, and inspired a major motion picture.
the perks of being a wallflower is a story about what it’s like to travel that strange course through the uncharted territory of high school. the world of first dates, family dramas, and new friends. of sex, drugs, and the rocky horror picture show.
of those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up. (Plot summary from publisher’s website.)
Learn more about Stephen Chbosky here.
Follow Stephen on Twitter here.
Reached by Ally Condie
This was a thought-provoking conclusion to the trilogy that captured my attention with the fantastic female character of Cassia who finds the strength to follow her own path in a world of such dominance and control. It was a more subtle read than the first two, with the characters reacting more maturely and resolving their relationship issues and conflicts very respectfully, almost too adult-like at times.The focus was definitely more on the bigger picture and the philosophical questions, which I found engaging on a completely different level than the other books.
The conclusion of the Matched Trilogy:
After leaving Society and desperately searching for the Rising—and each other—Cassia and Ky have found what they were looking for, but at the cost of losing each other yet again: Cassia has been assigned to work for the Rising from within Society, while Ky has been stationed outside its borders. But nothing is as predicted, and all too soon the veil lifts and things shift once again. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Ally Condie here.
Follow Ally on Twitter here.
— Books of 2012 —
Birthday present book number two. This was another fantastic book. I really enjoyed Stiefvater’s Shiver trilogy, but she topped herself with this imaginative and oftentimes lyrical story. I cannot wait to read its continuance.
Blue Sargent, the daughter of the town psychic in Henrietta, Virginia, has been told for as long as she can remember that if she ever kisses her true love, he will die. But she is too practical to believe in things like true love. Her policy is to stay away from the rich boys at the prestigious Aglionby Academy. The boys there — known as Raven Boys — can only mean trouble.
You can read the first fifteen pages online here.
Learn more about Maggie Stiefvater here.
Chicago’s favorite wizard is back from the dead…finally! If you love fantasy, you should give this series a try. Usually after reading the latest book, I feel like I need to go back and reread the entire series again to see how all the threads have been pulled together so nicely, as if he planned it that way. This is one series that my husband and I both read religiously and I have to fight him over who gets to read the newest release first. (I lost, by this much.) It was worth the wait – although I did have to threaten him with bodily harm every time he tried to read a passage or tell me anything about…anything.
After being murdered by a mystery assailant, navigating his way through the realm between life and death, and being brought back to the mortal world, Harry realizes that maybe death wasn’t all that bad. Because he is no longer Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard.
He is now Harry Dresden, Winter Knight to Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness. After Harry had no choice but to swear his fealty, Mab wasn’t about to let something as petty as death steal away the prize she had sought for so long. And now, her word is his command, no matter what she wants him to do, no matter where she wants him to go, and no matter who she wants him to kill.
Guess which Mab wants first?
Of course, it won’t be an ordinary, everyday assassination. Mab wants her newest minion to pull off the impossible: kill an immortal. No problem there, right? And to make matters worse, there exists a growing threat to an unfathomable source of magic that could land Harry in the sort of trouble that will make death look like a holiday.
Beset by enemies new and old, Harry must gather his friends and allies, prevent the annihilation of countless innocents, and find a way out of his eternal subservience before his newfound powers claim the only thing he has left to call his own…
His soul. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
You can read the first four chapters online on the author’s website.
Learn more about Jim Butcher here.
My dad built my daughter a bookcase for Christmas a few years ago and filled it with classic books – old copies he’d picked up at auctions and garage sales. Every once in awhile I take one out and read a story that I haven’t gotten around to reading yet. This one grabbed my attention because of the arctic setting and the bit of the autobiographic quality of the writing. I’ve been longing for a good snow for awhile. Still haven’t seen one, but this book helped tide me over for awhile.
Half St. Bernard, half sheepdog, Buck is stolen away from his comfortable life as a pet in California and sold to dog traders. He soon finds himself aboard a ship, on its way to Northern Canada. Surrounded by cruelty, Buck’s natural instincts and behaviour begin to emerge as he works as a mail carrying sled dog, scavenging for food, protecting himself against other dogs and sleeping out in the cold snow.
Sold to a group of American gold hunters who are inexperienced living in the wilderness, the dogs are treated badly and as misfortune besets them, Buck is saved by John Thornton. Indebted to his new master, Buck remains by Thornton’s side, saving him from drowning and protecting him with fierce loyalty throughout their time together. However, Buck can not deny the strong lure of the wilderness around him.
Exciting and action-packed, THE CALL OF THE WILD explores the timeless relationship between man and dog, and the inevitable draw of primitive instincts that pull Buck away from civilization and humanity towards the lawless and harsh wilderness. (Plot summary from Goodreads website.)
Learn more about Jack London from the Literature Network website here.
Another writer friend passed on this ARC to me because she knew I was such a big fan of Linda Urban’s. We had both just loved her debut middle grade novel, A Crooked Kind of Perfect. This book is just as stellar and is a straight-forward kind of perfect all on its own. I probably cried more than normal having just lost someone dear to me when I read it, but I think it made the book even better. This book comes out in early March.
For Ruby Pepperdine, the “center of everything” is on the rooftop of Pepperdine Motors in her donut-obsessed town of Bunning, New Hampshire, stargazing from the circle of her grandmother Gigi’s hug. That’s how everything is supposed to be—until Ruby messes up and things spin out of control. But she has one last hope. It all depends on what happens on Bunning Day, when the entire town will hear Ruby read her winning essay. And it depends on her twelfth birthday wish—unless she messes that up too. Can Ruby’s wish set everything straight in her topsy-turvy world? (Plot summary from Barnes & Noble website)
Learn more about Linda Urban here.
Every Day by David Levithan
One of my most favorite birthday gifts. Ever. EVER. Such a beautiful book. So fantastical, so creative, so touching in such an unusual way. Argh! You should so read this! I love everything I have ever read by Levithan.
Every day a different body. Every day a different life. Every day in love with the same girl.
Every morning, A wakes in a different person’s body, a different person’s life. There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.
It’s all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with—day in, day out, day after day.
David Levithan has pushed himself to new creative heights. He has written a captivating story that will fascinate readers as they begin to comprehend the complexities of life and love in A’s world, as A and Rhiannon seek to discover if you can truly love someone who is destined to change every day. (Plot description from author’s website.)
Learn more about David Levithan here.
This was the best garage sale buy I made this year. I love how effortlessly Gaiman moves from writing picture books to middle grade to adult books. One day I want to be like Neil Gaiman. This is a story in the same vein as American Gods in that it explores Gods and mythologies in a surprisingly human way. I liked this book just as much as American Gods.
When Fat Charlie’s dad named something, it stuck. Like calling Fat Charlie “Fat Charlie.” Even now, twenty years later, Charlie Nancy can’t shake that name, one of the many embarrassing “gifts” his father bestowed — before he dropped dead on a karaoke stage and ruined Fat Charlie’s life.
Mr. Nancy left Fat Charlie things. Things like the tall, good-looking stranger who appears on Charlie’s doorstep, who appears to be the brother he never knew. A brother as different from Charlie as night is from day, a brother who’s going to show Charlie how to lighten up and have a little fun … just like Dear Old Dad. And all of a sudden, life starts getting very interesting for Fat Charlie.
Because, you see, Charlie’s dad wasn’t just any dad. He was Anansi, a trickster god, the spider-god. Anansi is the spirit of rebellion, able to overturn the social order, create wealth out of thin air, and baffle the devil. Some said he could cheat even Death himself.
Returning to the territory he so brilliantly explored in his masterful New York Times bestseller, American Gods, the incomparable Neil Gaiman offers up a work of dazzling ingenuity, a kaleidoscopic journey deep into myth that is at once startling, terrifying, exhilarating, and fiercely funny — a true wonder of a novel that confirms Stephen King’s glowing assessment of the author as “a treasure-house of story, and we are lucky to have him.” (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Neil Gaiman here.
I absolutely loved Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. Everyone in my household did. I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it before, but my husband grew up overseas and he vacationed in Greece almost every summer until he was 14 years old – lucky bastard. Needless to say, he had a thing for Greek mythology and he loved these books. Even so, it took me awhile to embrace his newer series. I missed Percy. Time to get over it. The new heroes are great. I love that he finally has a hero from Aphrodite’s cabin and let’s just say she shouldn’t be judged at face value. I still miss Percy, but it looks like he may be making a guest appearance in the next book. Yay!
Jason has a problem. He doesn’t remember anything before waking up on a school bus holding hands with a girl. Apparently she’s his girlfriend Piper, his best friend is a kid named Leo, and they’re all students in the Wilderness School, a boarding school for “bad kids.” What he did to end up here, Jason has no idea—except that everything seems very wrong.
Piper has a secret. Her father has been missing for three days, and her vivid nightmares reveal that he’s in terrible danger. Now her boyfriend doesn’t recognize her, and when a freak storm and strange creatures attack during a school field trip, she, Jason, and Leo are whisked away to someplace called Camp Half-Blood. What is going on?
Leo has a way with tools. His new cabin at Camp Half-Blood is filled with them. Seriously, the place beats Wilderness School hands down, with its weapons training, monsters, and fine-looking girls. What’s troubling is the curse everyone keeps talking about, and that a camper’s gone missing. Weirdest of all, his bunkmates insist they are all—including Leo—related to a god.
(Plot summary from author’s website.) Riordan has one of the coolest author sites I’ve ever seen with maps to the hero camps, a list of ten signs that you might be a half-blood, and a place to explore Greek mythology even further.
Learn more about Rick Riordan here.
I read this because it was assigned summer reading for my daughter and I never read it when I went to school. I thought I ought to educate myself. You can’t pass up a seminal story like this. Hansberry does a fine job of weaving the different responses to relocating the family to the white neighborhood with the truth of emotion.
Set on Chicago’s South Side, the plot revolves around the divergent dreams and conflicts within three generations of the Younger family: son Walter Lee, his wife Ruth, his sister Beneatha, his son Travis and matriarch Lena, called Mama. When her deceased husband’s insurance money comes through, Mama dreams of moving to a new home and a better neighborhood in Chicago. Walter Lee, a chauffeur, has other plans, however: buying a liquor store and being his own man. Beneatha dreams of medical school.
The tensions and prejudice they face form this seminal American drama. Sacrifice, trust and love among the Younger family and their heroic struggle to retain dignity in a harsh and changing world is a searing and timeless document of hope and inspiration. Winner of the NY Drama Critic’s Award as Best Play of the Year, it has been hailed as a “pivotal play in the history of the American Black theatre.” by Newsweek and”a milestone in the American Theatre.” by Ebony. (Plot summary taken from Amazon here.)
Learn more about the play here.
I bought this book to support my friend and fellow Oklahoma SCBWI member who did the fantastic illustrations for this chapter book written by a father/daughter team. Yes, i am speaking of the Jerry Bennett. Of course I also read it. The story is nice, but the ILLUSTRATIONS, WOW! That Jerry, he’s going places! Now I just can’t wait to see him at our next conference so he can sign it for me: “To my craziest fan ever, now leave me alone or I’m getting that restraining order.” Wait, that’s what John Green will sign when I finally corner him…Oh, I’m sure Jerry will come up with something witty all on his own.
There is no escape from responsibility…even on vacation.
That doesn’t stop 13 year-old Rachel from trying. A day of surfing, away from all five of her younger brothers, is meant to reward Rachel for all of her hard work at home. Instead, it turns into the greatest adventure of her life.
A wipeout catapults Rachel and her surfboard to a strange part of the ocean, far away from land and her family. Rescue arrives, or so Rachel thinks, in the form of an old sailing vessel. She quickly realizes that her heroes are lost pirates, some of which regard her as a threat, others which believe her to be their own rescuer-The Pirate Bride.
Voyage with Rachel as she applies her experiences with her rowdy brothers to the task of earning the pirates’ trust, at the same realizing that even her unruly siblings aren’t as bad as a ship full of lost pirates.
“The Pirate Bride” is an original story from the imagination of ten year-old Anna McKinley and brought to the page with help from her father, Ryan. Adding to the magic and wonder of the story are beautiful, pencil sketch illustrations by the artist Jerry Bennett.
Learn more about The Pirate Bride from the website here.
Learn more about Jerry Bennett on his facebook page here.
I first read this book when I was a kid. I hadn’t realized how much it influenced me until I started working on my latest revision for my middle grade novel, which is a mystery set in a museum. I also had an unhealthy, let’s say preoccupation, when I was a kid with wondering what happened in my favorite places at night and how I could get myself locked up in them without getting caught. I decided I should revisit this fantastic book, and not just to make sure I hadn’t inadvertently plagiarized anything. It was just as good the second time. I’ve started plotting my escape to the Lindt chocolate factory already.
When Claudia decided to run away, she planned very carefully. She would be gone just long enough to teach her parents a lesson in Claudia appreciation. And she would go in comfort-she would live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She saved her money, and she invited her brother Jamie to go, mostly because be was a miser and would have money.
Claudia was a good organizer and Jamie bad some ideas, too; so the two took up residence at the museum right on schedule. But once the fun of settling in was over, Claudia had two unexpected problems: She felt just the same, and she wanted to feel different; and she found a statue at the Museum so beautiful she could not go home until she bad discovered its maker, a question that baffled the experts, too.
The former owner of the statue was Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Without her-well, without her, Claudia might never have found a way to go home. (Plot summary from publisher’s site.)
Learn more about E.L. Konigsburg from her publisher’s author page here.
Another airplane read. This trim book flew by in about an hour on my way out to the LA conference. I read this and it was like a study in emotional simplicity.
“Did Mama sing every day?”
Caleb asks his sister Anna.
“Every-single-day,” she answers.
“Papa sang, too.”
Their mother died the day after Caleb was born. Their house on the prairie is quiet now, and Papa doesn’t sing anymore. Then Papa puts an ad in the paper, asking for a wife, and he receives a letter from one Sarah Elisabeth Wheaton, of Maine. Papa, Anna, and Caleb write back. Caleb asks if she sings. Sarah decides to come for a month. She writes Papa: I will come by train. I will wear a yellow bonnet. I am plain and tall, and Tell them I sing. Anna and Caleb wait and wonder. Will Sarah be nice? Will she like them? Will she stay? (Plot summary from HarperCollins site here.)
Learn more about Patricia MacLachlan on her publisher’s page here.
Wonderful chapter book that I read on the plane home from LA. Eugene was such an eloquent speaker during the Picture Book Panel that I had to read something by him immediately. This book was perfect; a 2012 Newberry Honor Book filled with Yelchin’s moody that put you in the mood of Stalin’s Russia – quite a chilly place to be.
On the eve of his induction into the Young Pioneers, Sasha’s world is overturned when his father is arrested by Stalin’s guard. Yelchin deftly crafts a stark and compelling story of a child’s lost idealism. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Eugene Yelchin on his website here.
This was such a fantastic book with so much heart, I fell in love with Gary Schmidt forever and ever while reading this one and vow to read all of his other books in the near future. He was one of the keynote speakers at the SCBWI LA Summer Conference, actually closing out the conference, and I think he was one of the best. This book came out of an actual experience he had with a teacher who hated him…and he hated her. He was stuck with her alone one afternoon a week and she made him read Shakespeare to keep him out of her hair. The only thing was, he loved it. The parallels may end there. Schmidt set the story in Vietnam era small town America where conflicts of culture and what to stand up for still creep in and impact everything, including how his main character learns to deal with his own father. Great book. Read it!
Holling Hoodhood is really in for it.
He’s just started seventh grade with Mrs. Baker, a teacher he knows is out to get him. Why else would she make him read Shakespeare…outside of class?
The year is 1967, and everyone has bigger things than homework to worry about. There’s Vietnam for one thing, and then there’s the family business. As far as Holling’s father is concerned, nothing is more important than the family business. In fact, all of the Hoodhoods must be on their best behavior at all times. The success of Hoodhood and Associates depends on it. But how can Holling stay out of trouble when he has Mrs. Baker to contend with? (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Gary Schmidt on his website.
This small book of poetry came to me in the greatest of ways. I won it! How fabulous is that? I’m always looking for more poetry to read and this beauty of a book just fell into my lap. Oliver won the Pulitzer for poetry for this fine book. It made me want to go run out into the woods a devour nature with my eyes just like she does.
The fifty poems in American Primitive make up a body of luminous unity. Mary Oliver’s visionary poems enunciate the renewals of nature and the renewals of humanity in love, in oneness with the natural, in union with the things of this world. (Description excerpt comes from author’s website.)
Learn more about Mary Oliver on her website.
A Song of Fire and Ice Series by George R.R. Martin
A Game of Thrones
A Clash of Kings
A Storm of Swords
A Feast of Crows
I fell in love with this series on HBO during the first season and have been wanting to read the books for quite awhile. After season two aired, I knew it would be torture to wait an entire year to find out what happens so I thought what better time to start than now. The first book has not disappointed. Not much was left out in the television series from the first book, actually some nice detailed bits and background peeks into characters, which I love. Book Two is a different story, but the changes from the book only enhanced the experience of the world Martin created, at least for me. Some diehard fans will surely disagree. Overall I think HBO did a smashing job, which made me wonder what they could have done with the wizarding world of Harry Potter if they’d made those fantastic books into a series. Something to think about, eh?
I did have a moment in Book Three where I wanted to physically throw the book across the room after so many very bad things happened to so many characters that I loved – that’s as close to a spoiler as I’ll get. That just shows how connected you become to them.
I have enjoyed discovering the differences and learning so much more about all of these fantastically complex characters. I can’t wait to see what lies ahead in the rest of the books. They do take me a little longer to get through than most books at an average of close to a thousand pages each, but they are well worth it. I still have the remainder of the series – more heavy books of fantastic-ness – to tide me over until next spring. Although everyone who’s already read them assures me I won’t last that long and I’ll be crying for the next book which won’t come out for a few more years. Well shall see!
Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.
Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones. (Plot summary of first book from Goodreads.)
Learn more about George R.R. Martin on his website.
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
“The Booker of the Booker,” so phenomenal it was given the prestigious award twice. This is the second book of Rushdie’s I’ve read. The first was Shalimar the Clown, a few years ago, which I really truly loved. This one took me a little longer to appreciate, despite it’s double Booker nod. Most of the time, my head was spinning from so much information, so many characters, it was hard to keep up. It could just be me. I did like it enough to continue reading more of Rushdie’s work, it just wasn’t my absolute favorite to date. Mr. Rushdie has just recently completed work on the screenplay for this novel and the movie adaption is soon to be released. I must say, I am curious to see how this novel translates into film, especially with Rushdie helping to develop it himself. Check out the website link for the film here.
Saleem Sinai is born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, the very moment of India’s independence. Greeted by fireworks displays, cheering crowds, and Prime Minister Nehru himself, Saleem grows up to learn the ominous consequences of this coincidence. His every act is mirrored and magnified in events that sway the course of national affairs; his health and well-being are inextricably bound to those of his nation; his life is inseparable, at times indistinguishable, from the history of his country. Perhaps most remarkable are the telepathic powers linking him with India’s 1,000 other “midnight’s children,” all born in that initial hour and endowed with magical gifts.
This novel is at once a fascinating family saga and an astonishing evocation of a vast land and its people–a brilliant incarnation of the universal human comedy. Twenty-five years after its publication, Midnight’s Children stands apart as both an epochal work of fiction and a brilliant performance by one of the great literary voices of our time. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Salman Rushdie on his website here.
As I mentioned in my blog post about Mr. Brown, I met him while taking a summer course in Santa Fe on Southwestern literature and culture. Since he’s from around these parts, just down the road a ways, I wanted to read some of his work. I also want to keep reading more poetry. Two birds – one stone, done. I am so glad I did. His writing is incredibly powerful and so full of emotion that I don’t think he left any of himself on the table; he bled right onto the page. I liked this first book so much that I picked another right away. I plan on adding his other books to my growing poetry collection.
In this book of poetry, photographs, and scripture, poet Nathan Brown expands the tradition of spiritual literary struggles by engaging with the Book of Job both as poetry and as catalyst for personal, contemporary questions of innocence and experience, faith and doubt. Often irreverent but always honest, Not Exactly Job is an emotionally powerful and intellectually challenging work. (Plot review from Goodreads.)
This one was almost twice as long as the previous book and that just meant there was more of it to love. This one was written following a very dark time in this poet’s life and he let it all out in the pages, just like a true artist of this form should. You get a real sense of an aching soul, questioning what it all means. This book is a little harder to find, but well worth it.
“Suffer the Little Voices is unrelenting in its exploration of sacred points of experience bound up with skepticism and doubt. Nathan Brown mines these moments as if his life depends on them, and he convinces us that meaning in our own lives hangs on the little precipices of doubt that he identifies. There is no immediate comparison for this remarkably powerful poetry, except perhaps the work of Polish poet Adam Zagajewski. This book is an amazing gift that Brown has given to those who acknowledge the doubts that define the time we live in.” Robert Con Davis-Undiano
Director of World Literature Today
Learn more about Nathan Brown on his website here.
I love Cecil Castellucci and not just because she’s quirky and sweet and has a really high-pitched Minnie Mouse voice that doesn’t match her hardcore rocker exterior. I first read her book Queen of Cool years ago and loved it. In her latest book, she joins forces with a fantastic illustrator, Nate Powell, to merge the graphic novel with YA. The result is mildly intriguing at first and then the images make such an overwhelming impact at the end when you realize their significance. Such a completely different kind of story and yet universal at its core. Loved this book!
Every summer the trucks roll in, bringing the carnival and its infinite possibilities to town. This year Tessa and her younger sister Lulu are un-chaperoned and want to be first in line to experience the rides, the food . . . and the boys. Except this summer, jealousy will invade their relationship for the first time, setting in motion a course of events that can only end in tragedy, putting everyone’s love and friendship to the test. Alternating chapters of prose and comics are interwoven in this extraordinary novel that will break your heart and crack it wide open at the same time. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Cecil Castellucci on her website here.
Learn more about illustrator Nate Powell on his website here.
To be honest, I did not know that these books were going to be wall to wall sex scenes when I picked them up. Not that that would have stopped me from reading…It was time for me to take a break from YA and read a “grown-up” book and boy did I pick the right word there. These books are not for everyone. I found them mildly entertaining, and although I was aware of many of the, let’s say role-play scenarios, that existed in this world beforehand, some others were definitely eye-opening. As far as the plot of the books – what little there was – I was really done reading after the first half of the second book. After that, all the scenes became repetitive, problems were solved much too quickly, and everything was so predictable that the constant, unrealistic sex was no longer amusing. If this sounds like it’s right up your alley, by all means, indulge. Just please don’t let this be the only thing you read this year. Use this as a palate cleanser to ensure that you will thoroughly enjoy the hell out of the next quality book you read.
FIFTY SHADES OF GREY: When college student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly Ana realizes she wants this man, and Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian’s secrets and explores her own desires. FIFTY SHADES DARKER: Daunted by Christian’s dark secrets and singular tastes, Ana has broken off their relationship to start a new career. But desire for Christian still dominates her every waking thought. They rekindle their searing sensual affair, and while Christian wrestles with his inner demons, Ana is forced to make the most important decision of her life. FIFTY SHADES FREED: Now, Ana and Christian have it all—love, passion, intimacy, wealth, and a world of possibilities for their future. But Ana knows that loving her Fifty Shades will not be easy, and that being together will pose challenges that neither of them would anticipate. Just when it seems that their strength together will eclipse any obstacle, misfortune, malice, and fate conspire to turn Ana’s deepest fears into reality. (Plot summary from Google book search.)
Learn more about E.L. James on her website here.
Shine by Lauren Myracle
Lauren Myracle is another writer I started reading because she had been placed on the banned authors list, and I don’t mean just casually placed on it somewhere near the middle. In 2009 and 2011, her books were THE MOST challenged books in the country. That takes quite a bit of parental ire to achieve. She raises difficult subjects like sexuality, homosexuality, and alcohol abuse and explores them with characters that respond like real characters would. I loved her response to being asked about her own children’s reading habits. She said, “As a mom, I want my kids to read any fucking book they want! I want them to read.” That is exactly the kind of writer I want to support. I was an instant fan.
A few years ago, I picked up one of her “internet girls” series to see what all the fuss was about. After reading ttyl, a book that was written entirely in texting dialogue, I was slightly underwhelmed. I think it was because all the action was happening off-stage, so to speak. We kept hearing about everything that was going on through the texting, but not really “seeing” it. For me, l liked it well enough and I could see the appeal to teens (and there were enough controversial issues for the fanatics to get their panties in a wad), but it didn’t hold the emotional punch that I desired. Undeterred, I decided to give her another try when Shine came my way and I’m so glad I did. Emotional impact achieved. I must now go back and read everything else she has ever written outside of the texting series. She has lived up to my expectations and then some.
When her best guy friend falls victim to a vicious hate crime, sixteen-year-old Cat sets out to discover who in her small town did it. Richly atmospheric, this daring mystery mines the secrets of a tightly knit Southern community and examines the strength of will it takes to go against everyone you know in the name of justice.
Against a backdrop of poverty, clannishness, drugs, and intolerance, Myracle has crafted a harrowing coming-of-age tale couched in a deeply intelligent mystery. Smart, fearless, and compassionate, this is an unforgettable work from a beloved author. (Plot summary from Amazon.)
Learn more about Lauren Myracle from Wikipedia here.
I picked up this book because I’ll be attending the SCBWI summer conference in LA this August and Sepetys is on the faculty. I haven’t read anything from her before and I like to have some knowledge of the writers and editors that will be speaking. It helps me decide who’s sessions to attend and it helps me get more out of their talks if I’m familiar with their work. This book was a surprising view of life under Stalin’s rule through the eyes of a people who suffered just as much as the European Jewish population- the citizens deported to Siberian labor camps because of their anti-communist views. Truly moving and endlessly fascinating.
Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch.
In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school, first dates, and all that summer has to offer. But one night, the Soviet secret police barge violently into her home, deporting her along with her mother and younger brother. They are being sent to Siberia. Lina’s father has been separated from the family and sentenced to death in a prison camp. All is lost.
Lina fights for her life, fearless, vowing that if she survives she will honor her family, and the thousands like hers, by documenting their experience in her art and writing. She risks everything to use her art as messages, hoping they will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive.
It is a long and harrowing journey, and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day. But will love be enough to keep them alive? (Plot summary from author site.)
Learn more about Ruta Sepetys on her website here.
Sones writes in verse and she does so very well. I picked up one of her books on the recommendation of my writer friend Sharon Martin from my critique group – who is a phenomenal poet in her own right. Sharon has been published in poetry magazines and her current WIP is an outstanding YA novel written in prose.
Excerpt from author’s site:
My name is Sophie.
This book is about me.
It tells the heart-stoppingly riveting story
of my first love.
And also of my second.
And, okay, my third love, too.
It’s not that I’m boy crazy.
It’s just that even though
I’m almost fifteen
I’ve been having sort of a hard time
trying to figure out the difference
between love and lust.
and my body
and my heart
just don’t seem to be able
to agree on anything.
Learn more about Sonya Sones on her website here.
City of Bones
City of Ashes
City of Glass
City of Fallen Angels
City of Lost Souls
I cannot remember where I first heard about this series, to be honest. I started reading them at the end of 2010 and have re-read them all as each new book arrives – hence why I hate waiting for sequels; I always have to re-read the previous book or I get lost trying to remember all the details. I felt the series was complete after the third book; most of the over-arching story lines had come to a satisfying conclusion. I’ll still read the other books because I like her writing. A lot. It’s just that everything is going horribly wrong all over again and I hate to see that happen to these characters. I guess that’s a great endorsement right there. You’ll care about these characters enough to want to keep them from harm, but we as writers know, you have to hurt your characters – put obstacles in their way, deny them what they truly want – because it makes for great tension and great story-telling.
Here’s a plot summary for the first book in the series from the author’s site:
When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder — much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Clary knows she should call the police, but it’s hard to explain a murder when the body disappears into thin air and the murderers are invisible to everyone but Clary.
Equally startled by her ability to see them, the murderers explain themselves as Shadowhunters: a secret tribe of warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. Within twenty-four hours, Clary’s mother disappears and Clary herself is almost killed by a grotesque demon.
But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know….
Learn more about Cassandra Clare on her website here.
My daughter actually picked this up at the bookstore. She and I read a lot of the same books – she steals mine, I steal hers. Sometimes we even wait until the other one is done reading first. Sometimes. This one looked too enticing to NOT try. A word of caution, don’t read this all alone at night. *Shudders*
A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And a strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children who once lived here—one of whom was his own grandfather—were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive. (Plot summary from author site.)
Learn more about Ransom Riggs here.
I started reading this during April when the Surprise Agent Invasion was in full swing and I needed a distraction. This book was suggested by Cupid as the selection for her blog’s reading group. We’d all read the book and then discuss it online. I’d never done that before so it sounded like fun. It was a great read and although the cover art is outstanding, I’m not sure I would have read it on my own. I’m glad I did. The only downside is that this is the first book in a trilogy and the next one doesn’t come out until 2013. I hate waiting for sequels! Arg! It’s just so agonizing. I like to wait until all of the books are out and then read them right in a row. I may be a bit impatient.
Ana is new. For thousands of years in Range, a million souls have been reincarnated over and over, keeping their memories and experiences from previous lifetimes. When Ana was born, another soul vanished, and no one knows why.
Even Ana’s own mother thinks she’s a nosoul, an omen of worse things to come, and has kept her away from society. To escape her seclusion and learn whether she’ll be reincarnated, Ana travels to the city of Heart, but its citizens are suspicious and afraid of what her presence means. When dragons and sylph attack the city, is Ana to blame?
Sam believes Ana’s new soul is good and worthwhile. When he stands up for her, their relationship blooms. But can he love someone who may live only once, and will Ana’s enemies—human and creature alike—let them be together? Ana needs to uncover the mistake that gave her someone else’s life, but will her quest threaten the peace of Heart and destroy the promise of reincarnation for all? (Plot summary from Jodi’s website.)
Read more about Jodi Meadows on her site here.
When I started actively working on building my writer’s platform, I became a more active participant on Twitter. Part of that included following authors that I know and love, and some that I’ve only heard about, but knew I should probably love as well. Ms. Stiefvater falls into the latter category. I then also decided if I followed these writers, I should at least read something by them, hence my beginning this series. Her writing kept me reading further.
For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf — her wolf — is a haunting presence she can’t seem to live without.
Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human…until the cold makes him shift back again.
Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy with a murky past. It’s her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human — or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Maggie Stiefvater on her website here.
The Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth
This is the debut novel by Roth and it is pretty darn good.
I’ll have to get the sequel, Insurgent, which just came out recently.UPDATE: I HAVE read the second book and it was just as good as the first one. Now I’ll have to wait an entire year to finish off the series! ACK! Have I mentioned how much I hate waiting? I believe I picked this one up because of all the positive word of mouth comments about it out in the twitterverse. I also love discovering new writers to become avid fans of.
In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.
During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves… or it might destroy her. (Plot summary from author’s site.)
Learn more about Veronica Roth on her website here.
This is the first book of poetry on my reading list, but it will not be the last. I think poetry can teach writers a great deal about getting to the essence of emotions and painting images through the beautiful use of language. This book of poetry is very special to me because it was written by the son of one of my writing mentors, the woman who one day soon I will write a long, gushing post about, the ever amazing and wonderfully talented, Anna Myers. Ben is a fantastic writer and poet on his own merits and won the Oklahoma Book Award in poetry last year for this very book. This year, at the Oklahoma Book Awards, I was privileged to hear Ben give a heartfelt introduction as his mother, Anna, received a lifetime achievement award for her 19 published children’s books.
Benjamin Myers’ poems range from Virgil through Shakespeare to Woody Guthrie.Just as facets in gems come to life when light strikes them, so do the themes, images, and tropes in Elegy for Trains when the brilliance of Benjamin Myers’ wit, sensitivity and intelligence illuminate his words. His poems make us see Oklahoma and the world afresh. You will read this book, then want to read it again! book overview from Amazon website.
I am a huge fan of John Green. He had me at Looking for Alaska and I’ve read every novel since. This book is one of his best. Green’s humerus bone must be infused with adamantium because his sense of the comedic is sublime. We even forgive him for following the most hysterical scenes with extremely poignant, heart-wrenching moments that have you grabbing for the tissue box. Always questioning, always thought-provoking in a non-condescending way, always everything I want in a book.
Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.
Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love. (Plot summary from Barnes & Noble).
Learn more about John Green from his website here.
Over Sea, Under Stone
The Dark is Rising
The Grey King
Silver on the Tree
This is actually a five book series that I had on my to-read list after an editor at one of our OK SCBWI conferences recommended her enthusiastically. I received all five books in one huge tome for Christmas (what can I say, my family knows what I love the most). It wasn’t until I started reading the first book, Over Sea, Under Stone, that I realized how old the series was. Cooper first published the first book the series in 1965 and the last one in 1977. The way the editor had been gushing about Cooper’s far-reaching influence in fantasy, I hadn’t realized that he meant from so far back in the past. And yet, there were so many relevant issues that Cooper addressed in her series that could have written about today. She was so imaginative in how she wove the magical elements into her stories, I just couldn’t believe the books were over thirty years old. I loved the settings which takes place all over England and Wales. I especially enjoyed the mini-tutorial on how to pronounce a majority of Welsh words that she worked into a dialogue scene – so fun. Some books were stronger than others. The heavy magic and the full weight of the quest doesn’t become apparent until the second book, The Dark is Rising, which just takes this sudden turn into the fantastic that you want more and more of.
In one of the most influential epic high fantasies in literature, Cooper evokes Celtic and Arthurian mythology and masterly world-building in a high-stakes battle between good and evil, embodied in the coming of age journey of Will Stanton. The Dark Is Rising Sequence chronicles the adventures of Will Stanton, the last of the immortal Old Ones, as he acquires the Things of Power for the Light in its climactic battle with the Dark. (Plot summary from YALSA website.)
Learn more about Susan Cooper from her website here.
I bow down before the queen of teen YA. I never ever thought I’d read a book with such a title or cover, believe me. (Yes, damn it! I did judge.) This may appear to be just your average story about a bunch of beauty queens whose plane crash leaving the survivors stranded on a deserted island with no plug-ins in sight, but as with all of Bray’s books, there is so much more depth and discovery underneath it all. A commentary on girl culture at its very core and a must-read for every young woman. If you have read her Gemma Doyle series, which I also adored, this is quite a departure from that writing style. It’s more like her Going Bovine, although nothing really compares to Going Bovine, does it?
Teen beauty queens. A “Lost”-like island. Mysteries and dangers. No access to email. And the spirit of fierce, feral competition that lives underground in girls, a savage brutality that can only be revealed by a journey into the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Oh, the horror, the horror! Only funnier. With evening gowns. And a body count. (Plot summary from Bray’s website.)
Learn more about Libba Bray here.
A book authored by the dream team. Could YA get any better? Well, if Libba Bray and AS King ever do a mash up, I might just die. Until then, there is this wonderful, fan-fucking-tastic book. (Sorry. I don’t believe in censorship and sometimes there IS no other word that expresses what I mean.) My favorite of the year so far.
I’ve loved John Green since I saw him in LA at the SCBWI summer conference right after his first book Looking for Alaska came out. I think he knows this and he has me on some stalker watch list. As for David Levithan, he pretends he’s an editor but he needs to quit that day job and keep writing wonderfully strong characters that just happen to be gay. His book Boy Meets Boy is not to be missed.
One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two teens—both named Will Grayson—are about to cross paths. As their worlds collide and intertwine, the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, building toward romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most fabulous high school musical. (Plot summary from John Green’s site.)
Learn more about David Levithan at his site here.
Learn more about John Green at his site here.
My daughter bought this one for me for Christmas because she said during one bookstore browsing that I had picked it up and shown interest. I couldn’t remember, but I’m glad she did. This is the first adult book I read this year and I loved every minute of it. MacKinnon’s character makes you actually enjoy hanging out in the creepiest place I can think of; the mortician’s basement.
Clara Marsh is an undertaker who doesn’t believe in God. She spends her solitary life among the dead, preparing their last baths and bidding them farewell with a bouquet from her own garden. Her carefully structured life shifts when she discovers a neglected little girl, Trecie, playing in the funeral parlor, desperate for a friend.
It changes even more when Detective Mike Sullivan starts questioning her again about a body she prepared three years ago, an unidentified girl found murdered in a nearby strip of woods. Unclaimed by family, the community christened her Precious Doe. When Clara and Mike learn Trecie may be involved with the same people who killed Precious Doe, Clara must choose between the stead-fast existence of loneliness and the perils of binding one’s life to another. (Plot summary from MacKinnon’s author site.)
Learn more about Amy MacKinnon on her website here.
I would have read this even if Myers wasn’t our current Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. He is just amazing. I gushed about this book in an earlier post here. I’ve also read his book Monster which won the Michael L Printz award, the Coretta Scott King Award, and was a National Book Award Finalist. It is fabulous. If you like gritty books with so much heart you’ll ache, grab this one.
For fourteen-year-old Reese, it’s hard to stay out of trouble when the code at Progress Center is survival of the fittest. Can he get a second chance, even if he’s locked up in juvie jail? (Plot summary from Myer’s website.)
Learn more about Walter Dean Myers on his website here.
My love for all things Rachel Cohn is well-documented in this post. This woman has voice for days and is a must-read for all aspiring to write for teens.
Very LeFreak has a problem: she’s a crazed technology addict. Very can’t get enough of her iPhone, laptop, IMs, text messages, whatever. If there’s a chance the incoming message, call, text, or photo might be from her super-secret online crush, she’s going to answer, no matter what. Nothing is too important: sleep, friends in mid-conversation, class, a meeting with the dean about academic probation. Soon enough, though, this obsession costs Very everything and everyone. Can she learn to block out the noise so she can finally hear her heart? (Plot summary from Cohn’s site.)
Learn more about Rachel Cohn on her website here.
I originally picked this up after reading about his death last year and then my husband raved about reading The Green Futures of Tycho when he was a kid, another Sleator book and one I have on my to-read list . I’d never heard of Sleator before the article and he was praised as such a great writer that I had to try at least one of his books. I read two; this one and The Test, which I read last year. This one is definitely worth the read if you like science fiction.
Sixteen-year-old Barney is resigned to another boring vacation at his parents’ summer rental, reading science-fiction novels and keeping out of the sun. The summer starts to get interesting when Barney learns their rental once belonged to a Captain whose insane brother had been locked up for twenty years in the bedroom where Barney now slept. Then the neighbors move in, bringing with them the game they call Interstellar Pig. – plot summary from Wikipedia