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Category Archives: Literature

The Best (and Worst) Books I Read in 2014

Last year I read 108 books. Before you get too impressed, please note that there were may picture books in that mix. Overall, I read a lot of good books, some exceptional. Unfortunately I also read a few bad ones. So here’s my take on the best and worst books I read, divided by genre.

Best Picture Book:
BeekleThe Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend
by Dan Santat
I chose this book for a few reasons. One, the drawings are great; colorful with plenty going on but not too much to be distracting. Another  reason is the story itsself. It’s creative and unique. It takes the common experience of a child imagining a friend, and flips it on its head. Instead, the imaginary friend has no child to imagine to life. I’m hoping that this book will get at least a Caldecott nod.

Honorable mentions:
Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen
The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base
This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom Lichtenheld

Dishonorable mention:
Telephone by Mac Barnett

SmileBest Young Reader:
Smile by Raina Telgemeier
This was not a new release in 2014. It was published in 2010 and since then I’ve had many customers asking for the book. I thought it was time I saw what the big fuss was about. First off, this is a graphic novel, which is different from Manga and “diary fiction”. It’s a biopic story of Raina going through tooth troubles while trying to navigate middle and high school. First she breaks her two front teeth, then has to endure years of oral surgeries, braces, moldings, and so forth. Along the way she is trying to find who she is and her voice. The story line is good, the morals fantastic, and the art well done. (Side rant: some parents will not let their child read graphic novels because “they’re not real books”. Um, actually they are and some of them are amazing. Reading is reading. Whether the book has no, few, or lots of drawings. Some kids need the extra help of pictures to comprehend plot or vocabulary and THAT’S OKAY! They’re making the effort! If a parent insists that a child read only a “real” book, then that child is likely to be turned off to reading entirely. How awful and such a disservice to the child!)

Honorable mentions:
Shouldn’t You Be In School? by Lemony Snicket
Origami Yoda series by Tom Angelberger

PoisonBest Teen Book:
Poison by Bridget Zinn
The best potion master just tried to assassinate the princess, who also happens to be her best friend. Now Kyra is on the run, trying to track down the princess in hiding while not getting caught by the royal guard. With a piglet by her side, Kyra hunts down her target, promising not to miss this time.

I flew through this book (I don’t typically fly through anything). It has it all: intrigue, humor, adventure, romance, and a piglet. Who doesn’t love a piglet?

Sorry – I just love that! Anyway…The only downside to this book is that it will make you fall in love with its author, Bridget Zinn. And your heart will break when you learn that the talented young author lost her battle against cancer.

Honorable mentions:
We Were Liars by E. LockhartAll the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Dishonorable mentions:
Perfect Ruin by Lauren Destefano
The Originals by Cat Patrick

RosieBest Adult Book:
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
I didn’t read many adult books (i.e. not children’s or teen) but this was by far my favorite. I once read a description that the main character, Don, is the literary Sheldon Cooper and it is spot on. Don figures it’s time he gets married and sets about finding a wife the only way he knows how: methodically. First, he makes a list of must-have qualities. Second, he writes and distributes a 100-question booklet to eligible women. Now he just needs to review the answers and marry the one who gets them all right. Only, Don doesn’t expect a wrench thrown into his plans. That wrench is Rosie, who fits none of the qualities on his list, yet is suddenly, inexplicably now a part of his life. The book is hilarious and heartwarming at the same time. I couldn’t put it down!

Honorable mention:
Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2015 in Literature

 

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Four great kids’ reads

Adventures oThe Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friendf Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat

This is a story that begins in a land where imaginary friends wait to be imagined by boys and girls. All the friends get imagined…except for Beekle. But Beekle gets so anxious to have a friend of his own, he decides to go searching for him. He looks everywhere; in the park, in a tree but his friend is nowhere to be found. But when all seems lost, Beekle becomes imagined.

Santat’s illustrations are beyond adorable. During Beekle’s search, the reader comes across the other imaginary friends and their kids. It’s a great story, not just about friendship, but also the creative power of a child’s mind.

Here Comes the Easter CatHere Comes the Easter Cat! By Deborah Underwood

Cat wants to take over the Easter Bunny’s job. But there’s a problem: Cat doesn’t realize all the responsibilities that come with the job. But Cat has a solution for all but one and it’s a bit of a deal-breaker. Before Cat can think of a solution, the Easter Bunny comes by and he is so tired from all of the work. Now is the time for cat to take over and become the Easter Cat! Will he do it or will he let the Easter Bunny keep the job?

The writing style of this book is different from most picture books. The reader becomes the narrator and interacts directly with Cat. The illustrations are also well done with soft lines and colors. Each page has the minimal illustrations needed to get the story, and its humor, across.

Puddle PugPuddle Pug by Kim Norman

Pug loves all kinds of puddles – big, small, deep, shallow, and so much more. Pug knows where all his favorite puddles are. One day he comes across the perfect puddle. The only thing is, the puddle is home to Pig and her three piglets. Pig does not want Pug in her puddle. But then something horrible happens to the piglets. Can Pig and Pug forget their differences and work together to find the piglets?

This is a sweet story told in rhyme and the illustrations capture the playful and caring soul of a dog perfectly.

FoundFound by Salina Yoon

A young bear finds a stuffed rabbit. Waning to make sure it gets back home, Bear makes a “Found” flier and hangs it all over the forest. Bear finally finds the rabbit’s owner, who has a surprise reward for Bear.

Yoon’s illustrations are simple, but adorable with bold colors and broad lines. The part of the book I liked best was when Bear posted his flier to a community board that was filled with other lost and found fliers. The fliers are mostly common sayings, like “Lost: My Mind”. There’s even one flier that tips its hat to another beloved children’s book. But I won’t spoil it for you here – just go pick up a copy of Found (and all the other books) today!

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2014 in Literature

 

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Waaaay too many books, not enough time

One of the things I love about Good Reads is that users can set reading challenges every year. This year I had to up my goal a few times because I read a lot of picture books. The challenge doesn’t make you specify what kind of books or number of pages; it just counts the quantity of books.

As of this posting, my “to-read” shelf is at 631 books.1 I can’t possibly read that many books in a year; I fall asleep when I read (hey, it relaxes me!). Still, on average it takes me a week to get through a 300 page book. So a realistic challenge for me would be to read 52 books in 2014 (not including picture books).

But what to read? With over 600 choices, I thought it would be best to put down the titles on a “short list” and read those first. I tried to get a variety of genres as well as finish up some series I started. So, divided by genre, here are the 52 books I will read in 2014:

Classic

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston3

 

Fiction

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

 

Non-Fiction

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

Lucky by Alice Sebold

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

The Great Typo Hunt by Jeff Deck

Love You More by Jennifer Grant

College Girls by Lynn Peril

Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper

The Tao of Martha by Jen Lancaster

I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

Unlikely Friendships by Jennifer S. Holland

The Good Girls Revolt by Lynn Povich

102 Minutes by Jim Dwyer

For Her Own Good by Barbara Ehrenreich

 

Young Adult and Teen

The Void of Mist and Thunder (13th Reality #4) by James Dashner

Reached (Matched #3) by Ally Condie

Divergent (Divergent #1) by Veronica Roth4

Lovesick (Ghostgirl #3) by Tonya Hurley

Delirium (Delirium #1) by Lauren Oliver

Hollow City (Miss Peregrine’s #2) by Ransom Riggs5

Shelter Me by Alex McAuley

The One (The Selection #3) by Kiera Cass

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

Fever (Chemical Garden #2) by Lauren DeStefano

Sever (Chemical Garden #3) by Lauren DeStefano

Perfect Ruin by Lauren DeStefano

Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms by Lissa Evans

Ascend (Trylle #3) by Amanda Hocking

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Me Since You by Laura Wiess

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

The Rule of Thoughts (Mortality Doctorine #2) by James Dashner

Unhinged (Splintered #2) by A.G. Howard

The Testing (The Testing #1) by Joelle Charbonneau

The Fire Chronicle (The Books of the Beginning #2) by John Stephens

The Curse of the Broomstaff (The Janitors #3) by Tyler Whitesides

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

When Did You See Her Last? (All the Wrong Questions #2) by Lemony Snicket

Shutdown (Glitch #3) by Heather Anastasiu

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

So, just over half of the titles I picked are young adult and teen. This really doesn’t surprise me since it’s what I read most of the time. A lot of the titles, from all the genres, were books that I bought on impulse6 because I HAD TO READ THEM RIGHT AWAY. Some I’ve had for years. Others, just a few months. Either way, I thought I should whittle them down first before trying to accumulate more, even if they are just digital. 

The ones I don’t currently own, I will rely on getting from the library. Now that I’m in a smaller town, access to free books is a bit more limited. Indy had over 20 libraries to pull from so almost everything I wanted was available. Here, not so much. There are only a handful of libraries at my disposal so my choices are more limited. Should I not be able to get a title through the library and am unable to afford to buy a copy, I will substitute the title for another in that genre.

And if when I get through my list, I’ll refill my coffee mug and start a new one.

 

1. To give you an idea, my “read” shelf, compiled over 7 years, is at 567. So, it would take me a good 8 years to read everything on my “to-read” shelf if I don’t add anything to it.2

2. Yeah, right.

3. I was supposed to have read this for a class in college. I don’t remember which class and the only thing I remember about the book was the beginning, which I liked, so I think that I didn’t actually finish it. Oops.

4. I want to read this before I see the movie, which is set to release in theaters in March.

5. It’s been over two years since the first book, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, came out and left its readers hanging off a cliff!

6. No, Mom, I don’t own ALL of the books on my list. Just most.

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2013 in About me, Literature

 

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Picture this

I worked in the children’s department at a bookstore for two years before I made the move to be near my sister and nephew. It was those two years that prepared me not only to tolerate tantrums but to know a good children’s book when I see one.

I’ve read several young adult* books that I will share when José is old enough, but he is still of the age when one is read to and picture books are way to go.

As I posted previously, my friend Lisa has a picture book blog, which I like to use as a reference for new and classic picture books. I hold her opinion high so if she says it’s good, then it must be. Another reference I’ve recently found is The Barnes & Noble Guide to Children’s Books by Kaylee N. Davis. It was published in 2012 so there are books that were published this year that aren’t listed. The book breaks down into sections for different age groups as well as different non-fiction topics. It then lists the Newbery, Caldecott, and Coretta Scott King medal winners from their inception until 2012.

As I find, read, and share picture books with José, I will post quick reviews of my (and hopefully his) favorites.

I Want My Hat BackI Want My Hat Back and This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

In I Want My Hat Back, a bear goes to different animals in the forest to see if anyone has seen his hat. Everyone says they haven’t but when the bear starts to describe the hat, he realizes where it is. There is a surprise ending that will have both kids and adults laughing. This Is Not My Hat won the 2013 Caldecott Medal. The story is about a little fish who stole a hat from a very big fish. The book teaches kids sarcasm and irony, my two favorite things. I once had a customer who said that the illustrations were awful as she quickly flipped through the book, and that no kid would like something so dark (color-wise). José owns this book (thanks to Tia Liz) and enjoys looking at the pictures. It just goes to show you, don’t judge a book by its illustrations (especially when said book won the highest achievement for children’s illustration).

BB and the Big Road RaceThe Berenstain Bears and the Big Road Race by Stan and Jan Berenstain

This was one of my favorite books when I was growing up. I had a lot of the Berenstain Bears books, but I was drawn to this particular one because of the rhythm and rhyme. It’s also a favorite of José’s but I think it has more to do with the race cars and “vroom!” noises they make than anything.

Cloudy with a Chance of MeatballsCloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett

I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t read this book until recently. A good friend of mine bought it, along with a few other books, for José. I hadn’t even seen the movie. I knew about it, of course, and its sequel Pickles to Pittsburgh, but that was it. When I finally sat down and read it, I not only found a deliciously funny story, but succulent and fulfilling illustrations as well. If you’ve read the book but never took a good look at the illustrations, do so. There’s a lot of humor in the background.

PartsParts by Tedd Arnold

A kid notices that his hair comes out in his comb and that fuzz is coming out of his belly button. To him, it means only one thing: the glue holding him together is falling apart! This book is a quick, funny read. The illustrations are colorful and fun, as they depict impossible things, like the kid’s head falling off or his arm coming loose. As with Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Parts has a lot of humor in the illustrations. It also has rhythm and rhyme, making it a great “just one more” book at bedtime. There are two other parts to the series: More Parts and Even More Parts. I can’t wait to get them from the library!

*Grades 4-6

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2013 in Literature

 

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Tuesday, Wednesday, happy day!

Tuesdays at the CastleCastle Glower is no ordinary castle. Its alive, or as alive as a castle can be. On Tuesdays while King Glower is busy hearing his subjects, the castle rearranges itself to stave off boredom. Sometimes it even builds new rooms. Princess Celie, the youngest of the four royal children, has a special bond with the castle; it seems to favor her. Perhaps it’s because she’s the first person in its long history to attempt to draw a map of the castle, but no one knows for certain. What is obvious, though, is that Castle Glower helps Celie, along with her sister Lilah, brother Rolf, and friend Pogue, when the king, queen, and eldest son go missing. The royal council declares them dead, making 14-year-old Rolf king, but the children don’t give up hope so easily. The castle helps them sneak around and spy on guests to see if they are friends or foes.

Although Tuesdays in the Castle by Jessica Day George is a children’s book, it captures the hearts of all ages. The writing is light but the action is packed and there’s comedy throughout. The book was a fast read for me, but I enjoyed every bit of it. Prince Lulath was a particularly fun character because his English isn’t very good and he always has his four precious doggies with him. Celie is the main star of the show and readers will be drawn to her kind heart and loyalty to her family and Castle Glower.

***Spoiler Alert***

The sequel, Wednesdays in the Tower, is set to be released May 7, 2013. I had the privilege to read a digital ARC.

Wednesdays in the TowerIn the second book, the king, queen, and eldest son Bran have returned to Castle Glower. This time the castle shows Celie a tower with no roof and a rather mysterious occupant – an egg. It’s no ordinary egg, though. It’s huge and orange, like the color of flame, and is hot to the touch. At first Celie thinks it might be a dragon egg, but soon she learns that it’s actually a griffin egg. Griffins were thought to be mythical creatures, but Celie knows that it is not so. Bran, Pogue, and Rolf all help Celie gather information about griffins, from books in the castle library to old tapestries hanging on the wall depicting humans riding griffins in battle. They know that all of this ties into the history of the castle, where it came from (legend has it that it just appeared one day), and why it has started acting strangely. They just need to figure out how it all ties together.

Again, the writing was light with just the right mixture of action, comedy, and mystery. The history of Castle Glower starts to come to light in the sequel, as well as its capabilities. Celie starts questioning where all those rooms come from on Tuesdays and where do they go when the castle gets rid of them. Many readers probably asked the same questions when reading Tuesdays and George found a good way of addressing those questions without giving everything away right at once. In fact, she doesn’t give everything away in the book, but leaves it with a cliffhanger, an open ending just begging for another sequel. Which brings me to my totally selfish whine: I want to know what happens! The next book likely won’t be out until summer of 2014. I can’t wait that long! Why did I foolishly pick up the first book (and enjoy it, along with the second book) when the series is still being written? Argh!

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2013 in Literature

 

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Check this out!

Happy First Day of Spring!.

The above link is to a blog written by my dear friend, Lisa. It is dedicated to picture books. I always love her recommendations – they are always on the mark! Please check out her blog!

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2013 in Literature

 

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Late update

Back in February, I posted that I had a goal to edit 60 pages of my novel by the end of the month. Seeing as it’s now late March, I thought I should update my readers about said goal. Alas, I did not get 60 pages edited. It was more like 10. I hang my head in shame, but not for so long as to deter me from continuing on. Editing has been the longest part of this process (I’m talking years here) and while I’m editing, I’m coming up with more and more ideas. I did take a good step toward checking continuity by creating a chart with each character’s first and last name, her main story, and other stories she shows up in. This has already helped tremendously as I noticed I’d given one character three different last names! Oops!

I also decided to write an epilogue. For those new to the blog, I should explain a little about my book. It’s called About Last Weekend and it takes place over a weekend. Each “chapter” is a story with one main character. Other characters from other stories come and go so each story is connected with one or more other stories. Some stories take place on Friday night, others Saturday, some Sunday, and a select few over all three days. The epilogue will take place on Monday morning and the characters who survived the weekend will make an appearance. So far, I’ve written a page and a half of the epilogue but more ideas are coursing through my brain!

As always, I’ve been trolling book websites, including my favorite, GoodReads. Publishers list giveaways of ARCs (and some final copies of books) there so that any member can enter into a drawing to get a copy. I have to do a little more research, but I think I might be able to list my own giveaway there, perhaps to entice people to read my book and review it. I will post about this when the time draws nearer.

Now that we’re officially in Spring, I will set another editing goal: edit 3 stories and write 5 pages of the epilogue by April 30th. (This one isn’t nearly as lofty as the first goal but when I say “edit”, I still mean fleshing out scenes and characters.)

Finally, I cannot end this post without thanking my dear, loyal, PATIENT friend Mike. He is the one who gifted me the publishing package 4 years ago. I will finish this novel, Mike! I promise!

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2013 in About me, Literature

 

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