Wednesday, January 14, 2015

My Top Ten Reads in 2014

I try to look at my list of what I've read every year (131 books according to Goodreads!) and make a Top Ten list. Sometimes it turns into a Top Eleven. Or Top Fourteen. But this year I was stingy with the 5 star rating--I gave out plenty of 4 stars, but not many 5. So, here we go, the top books that you shouldn't let get away!

Disclaimer: I have absolutely no influence on anyone on the Newbery, Printz, Alex, or Morris committee. Those committee members deliberate in private and don't listen to people like me who try to predict the winners.  However, you may hear me whoo-woo during the awards ceremony on Feb. 2, 2015, if some of my favorites are announced. Live in Chicago! 

(Alphabetical Order)
(And, yes, I know that these weren't all published in 2014.  But I read them in 2014.)

Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics. Edited by Chris Duffy.

If I still taught English or World History, parts of this would become my textbook. Gripping, horrific, freaking cool, and beautiful.

I wouldn't mind seeing this on the Alex Award list later this month.

 Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell is my Nicholas Sparks. She writes romance for nerds and geeks and, well, for me. 

The tech guy who monitors workplace email falls in love with a girl whose email is always flagged because she uses words like porn and f#ck.  Sounds perfect, right? And stalkerish.


Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

This is for you book clubbers out there.  It's the best novel in verse I've EVER read, and I've read a lot of them. It already won the National Book Award and I hope it gets some Newbery love, too. Woodson shares her growing up story with us in the 60s/70s and covers everything from Jim Crow to the civil rights movement to family heartache to the love of reading. It's poetry and reads like butter.

Conqueror by Conn Iggulden (#5 in the Conqueror series about Genghis Khan)

I was on the Alex Award committee that put the first book (Genghis: Birth of an Empire) in this series on the list. Iggulden is a master--right up there with George R. R. Martin in my eyes. Book #5 concentrates on Kublai Khan and his transition from a China-loving scholar to a kick-ass scholar warrior.  These books fire up my military history passion!

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

This is my pick for the Morris award and I wouldn't be surprised if it showed up on the Printz honor list.

I love the #weneeddiversebooks campaign lately--I know I'm making more of an effort to read things not written by white people about white people who live in areas full of white people.

Brash and hilarious, Gabi is like a Hispanic-American poorer teen version of Bridget Jones. Deeply personal and full of emotion and laughter.

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

I read this more than a year ago in ARC form and I STILL remember it, so that tells you something!

Austin is the Polish hornier version of Gabi from the book above.  Oh, and there are giant grasshoppers.  Please let the Printz committee be talking about  this one. The format and voice are definitely unique!

I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Norah and Jude are twins who are artsy and emotional and blue, if you know what I mean when I talk about the color test.  So I didn't GET them for most of the book, but, whoa, what an emotional roller coaster.

Might get some Printz love? But I'm not as positive about this one--I'd have to go back and re-read.

Just One Day by Gayle Forman

This is the romance and European travel love story I've been waiting for my whole life.

You don't have to, but you'll want to read Just One Year and Just One Night after you finish this one. You won't be able to get enough of Willem and Allyson. 

Tomboy: a Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince

Best graphic novel I read all year

Touching memoir of Prince growing up wanting to dress like a boy.  Makes you rethink gender and how you're treating others and (for me) how to raise kids.

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin

It's all about the package.  I'd like to know how much more the publisher spent on the paper, art, and formatting of this book, please. If this doesn't get talked about at the Printz table for format and design, I don't know what will. 

Thrilling mystery that starts with an obituary of the young artist Addison Stone and reads like a suspenseful soap opera. It's a piece of art!


I usually don't read many children's books, but my library received a grant to purchase 171 K-12 nonfiction books in the area of science, technology, engineering, arts, and math, which means I read many of them.

On A Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein. Written by Jennifer Berne. Pictures by

Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors? The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell by Tanya Lee Stone. Illlustrated by 

Don't tell girls they can't do something, because, if you do, they will try their damnedest to beat you. And Blackwell did! Love how she triumphed as the first American female doctor and paved the way for women at the top of the medical field.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

If You Find MeIf You Find Me by Emily Murdoch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was much better than what I thought it was going to be! Carey and her mute younger sister are found living in an old trailer in the middle of the woods in Tennessee. They have a mother, but she's abandoned them, and their father now gets custody. But the two girls haven't been in society for years--they don't know what modern technology is and have never eaten hamburgers. However, at least their meth-using mother brought them books to read--the girls test above their peers. School is a big adjustment, especially for Carey. She's taken care of her selective mute sister for years, and it's hard to give her up. Janessa adjusts extremely easily, like little kids do. But it's harder for Carey. It turns out that she had a rough time in the woods and her mother would do anything for money or meth, including things that would hurt her daughters. Sick, sad, but happening all too often in our society.

This book doesn't take long to read but it's a good addition to the YA realistic fiction genre.

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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

AttachmentsAttachments by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't know how Rowell does it--she writes dialogue of people I want to be best friends with. She nails the back-and-forth emails of two best friends, and it is kinda creepy that Lincoln, the the tech guy, reads all their emails (because they use flagged words) and becomes emotionally attached to the two women. I love how the characters agonize over walking past a desk or spending time in the break room to catch a glimpse of the co-worker they have a crush on. It's a cute workplace romance between cool late 20-somethings.

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Madame Tussaud: a Novel of the French Revolution by Michelle Moran

Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French RevolutionMadame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution by Michelle Moran
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Oh, I need to read these kinds of books every now and then. I've always been a fan of historical fiction. I was hoping for more romance and less politics in this one, but that didn't happen in Madame Tussaud's life. I loved the descriptions of how she created the wax sculptures and I think it's fascinating that she was a female running a business back then.

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Monday, December 29, 2014

"The President Has Been Shot!" The Assassination of John F. Kennedy by James L. Swanson

"The President Has Been Shot!": The Assassination of John F. Kennedy by James L. Swanson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've studied history, but never liked reading about JFK's assassination. The modern day Bush family reminds me so much of the Kennedy family--too much money and too many legacies.

As I was reading this, I was SHOCKED about how the Dallas police and the Secret Service handled things. Absolutely mortified. Procedures surely were in place, right? Then why weren't they followed? Ugh....

The second half of the book reads like a mystery novel--I was fascinated. The source material at the end is way too much information for me, but great for students.

This would be 4 stars if it weren't for the first 45 pages. I understand that young people don't know much about JFK's presidency, but I'm wondering if that material could have been worked into the fascinating assassination section?

This is a 2014 YALSA's Award for Excellence in Nonfiction finalist and I see why!

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The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

The Invention of WingsThe Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Okay, so people are raving about this book. I loved The Secret Life of Bees so I had high expectations as I approached this one.

But, wow, I really felt like I was reading a book that was supposed to teach me a lesson. Repeatedly.

The book consists of two inter-connected story-lines. Sarah Grimke is one of many children in Charleston, South Carolina, and she is an oddball. She wants to become educated and would love to follow in her father's steps and become a judge. But she's female. She also is against slavery, even though that's how her family made their fortune. At the age of 11, she receives a slave for her birthday present, Hetty.

Hetty, known as Handful to other slaves, is headstrong and smart, and then Sarah teaches her to read. Of course, she yearns to escape.

I feel like I had read this book before. It was nothing new to me--just another book about the relationship between a white woman and her slave. I think this is the problem when I've read a lot of books--I read something that non-readers love and I don't see the attraction. I found myself rolling my eyes at some of the language, especially the paragraphs at the end of chapters when everything was supposed to be dramatic.

"I was relieved and terrified in the same moment. I studied the compact defiance that made up so much of what she was" (353).

"I squatted down and stared her in the eyes. 'Don't you spare me. I've seen my share. I know what the world is'" (271).

The chapters are many and short and all of them end with some important quotation from one of the characters. It's almost like reading a Dickens serial that was created for the masses to read in short chunks.

I did read some adult book club books that I enjoyed this year: My Name Is Resolute, Bellweather Rhapsody, and The Word Exchange.

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Saturday, December 27, 2014

Like No Other by Una LaMarche

Like No OtherLike No Other by Una LaMarche
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sweet little forbidden romance read about two teenagers in New York City (of course). Jaxon is a nerdy, smart African-American boy who is usually too tongue-tied to speak to girls. Devorah is a Hasidic Jew and I loved leading more about that conservative religion. She and Jaxon end up stuck in an elevator and fall in love. The two meet secretly until her family finds out and all hell breaks loose.

Love how the book ended, although I know some other readers would disagree with me. Go Devorah! Not sure if this book represents a way to make her sect more lenient or not? Could the ending of this book really happen?

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Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondhei by E.K. Johnston

The Story of Owen (Dragon Slayer of Trondheim, #1)The Story of Owen by E.K. Johnston
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amazing world--the dragons are amongst us! Siobhan was just a budding musician in Ontario when the nephew of a famous dragon slayer moved into town. Next thing you know, she is his bard and the two are determined to save their small town from a recent infestation of dragons.

I have to admit that it took me awhile to read the last half of the book--and that's what keeps it from being 4 stars. Love the world and the characters, but I guess I wanted more action! I loved the Canadian setting and how the name-dropping occurred--everyone from Lady Gaga to famous authors in English class.

This is definitely an author who is one to watch!

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

War Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon E. McKay and Daniel LaFrance

War Brothers: The Graphic NovelWar Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon E. McKay
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While this graphic novel reads like a memoir, it is based off interviews that the author completed for her book by the same title.

The child solider problem is real and Americans need to realize what's going on. So for that, I'm glad I read this book. It's graphic, but tweens and teens need to understand how child soldiers happen and that there are grey lines between and good and bad in the world. We all have a breaking point.

I could help but think of the Alex Award winning title A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier--the two books could be paired in a World History class very easily.

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Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Gabi, a Girl in PiecesGabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks, Morris Award peeps, for putting this debut novel as a finalist. Because it rocks! And, honestly, the cover kinda scares me so I wouldn't have picked it up without it being on a list.

Gabi is a senior and her life is complicated. Just like real life. Her gay best friend comes out, her other best friend gets pregnant, her meth head dad is swirling down the deep end. And she's never been kissed. And she's fat. And she's becoming a poet.

This has Printz Honor potential. A lot of unique voice here in Gabi--she's a girl I want to know. Her poetry is moving and her ups and downs are so realistic. Her struggles with Catholicism, race, self esteem, morals, etc. are so spot on. Love how the author tackles sex in this book, too. I giggled through the live birth scene.

It's rare that an author can combine poetry and pretty words with realistic, contemporary characters. Conservatives won't like this book. But, whoa, teens will eat this up.

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