Favorite Books from 2016

Time for a rundown of my favorite books from 2016! This was a crappy year for lots of reasons (*cough* election *cough*), meaning it was an especially lovely year to hide in a book. Out of the eighty books I read this year, it’s probably not surprising that eight of my top ten picks are historical, since that’s my favorite genre, and nine out of ten are young adult, since that’s what I mostly read, but I’ve also got a couple of additional picks that really blew me away.

  1. SALT TO THE SEA by Ruta Sepetys (YA historical). This one comes  a photo of me with the author right after she signed my copy of her book. This WWII historical with multiple points of view is most definitely a must-read! kipandruta
  2. OUT OF DARKNESS by Ashley Hope Pérez (YA historical). This book absolutely wrecked me (and I mean that in the most positive way). Anyone who knows me knows I love tragic reads, and this story about a 1937 school explosion in Texas couldn’t be more compelling.
  3. BURN BABY BURN by Meg Medina (YA historical). I wasn’t convinced this story would be for me, since it’s closer to present day (1977), but the details absolutely captured me in the time and place. I absolutely loved Nora and couldn’t turn pages fast enough as the summer of Sam heated up.
  4. OUTRUN THE MOON by Stacey Lee (YA historical). This story takes place in San Francisco in 1906, so the danger to Mercy Wong and everyone she holds dear is evident from the very beginning. Such lovely details and gorgeous writing!
  5. THE PASSION OF DOLSSA by Julie Berry (YA historical). This is one of the voice-iest historicals I’ve ever read, with multiple points of view sharing an amazingly well-researched story.
  6. AUDACITY by Melanie Crowder (YA historical in verse). Clara’s story as an immigrant at the turn of the last century grabbed me right from the start in this stunning verse novel. Such compelling images throughout!
  7. TO STAY ALIVE by Skila Brown (YA historical in verse). If you think you know the story of the Donner party, think again. Though I knew what was sure to happen in the end, I simply couldn’t put this book down.
  8. WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS by Anna-Marie McLemore (YA magical realism). This book is about a boy born as a girl and the girl reborn from the water who loves him, and it is absolutely magical. Each line of the story of Sam and Miel’s romance sings.
  9. GEORGIA PEACHES AND OTHER FORBIDDEN FRUIT by Jaye Robin Brown (YA contemporary). Even if you don’t read a lot of contemporary, do yourself a favor and pick up this lovely story about a queer teen who has to hide who she is as she navigates faith, friendship, and romance.
  10. THE GUSTAV SONATA by Rose Tremain (Adult historical). One of the reasons I loved this book is because of its similarities to Thomas Mann’s THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN, but I also adored the glimpse into post-WWII Switzerland, along with the very fine line between deep friendship and true love.

As a bonus, I was lucky enough to read an ARC of THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE (YA historical by Mackenzie Lee), and I simply cannot recommend this book enough! It releases in June, 2017, so get it on your radar now!

So … what were your favorites? Any great historicals I missed?

Verse Novel-a-thon

To celebrate National Poetry Month this year, I decided to turn my reading list into a verse novel-a-thon, and I can happily report that it was an even more amazing experience than I had hoped. What stories! What voices! What magnificent, gorgeous writing!

My signed copy!

As a Rilke scholar and Poetry Editor at YARN, I of course love poetry. I’ve read and loved some fantastic verse novels in the past, among them BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson, THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander, and AND WE STAY by Jenny Hubbard, to name a few.

At YARN this month, we chatted with two verse novelists, Leza Lowitz and Dana Walrath, who also shared some of their beautiful work. Reading their novels definitely inspired me to read more novels in verse, so you can find more about them in my recommended reading list below. This is by no means a complete list! But if you’ve never read a verse novel before, one of these might be a good start.

UP FROM THE SEA by Leza Lowitz is a haunting tale about the devastating 2011 tsunami in Japan told from a teen boy’s perspective.

LIKE WATER ON STONE by Dana Walrath uses multiple points of view to share a family’s heartbreaking journey during the Armenian genocide.

AUDACITY by Melanie Crowder pulls the reader deep in the head of a striking factory worker at the turn of the 20th century with amazingly visceral details.

SKYSCRAPING by Cordelia Jensen is a gorgeous near-historical set in NYC about AIDS, guilt, love, and family.

WITNESS by Karen Hesse is another multi-POV story for middle-grade readers that takes a serious look at the KKK in a small Vermont town in 1924.

MAY B by Caroline Starr Rose is a beautifully-written middle-grade historical that appeals to Little House fans (with a bit of Home Alone mixed in).

CAMINAR by Skila Brown tells the heart-wrenching story of a boy who survives an attack on his village in war-torn Guatemala.

ORCHARDS by Holly Thompson sends the reader on a journey with a teenage girl to her family’s orchard in Japan after a bullied girl in her class kills herself.

A TIME TO DANCE by Padma Venkatraman is a beautiful story about a bharatanatyam dancer’s healing process when she loses her leg in a tragic accident.

VerseNovelsHaving read all these fantastic novels has not dampened my enthusiasm in the slightest for verse, as is probably evident by my current TBR stack. Can’t wait to make my way through these ones next!

Please feel free to add any other must-reads in the comments!

 

A History Lesson from Erika Mann

Erika Mann, the flamboyant, fascinating daughter of Nobel prize winner, Thomas Mann, piqued my interest a few months ago when I saw the 1932 film, Mädchen in Uniform. Erika plays a supporting role as one of the teachers in the film, and seeing her onscreen sent me in a spiral of research, reading works by and about both of the eldest Mann children, Erika and her close brother, Klaus.

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Library of Congress: Erika Mann

From Berlin’s cabarets in the 1920s to a life of exile in the 1930s that made her stateless until her lavender marriage to English poet, W.H. Auden, got her a passport, Erika zoomed about trying to find joy with no desire to be political.

I have no desire to be political, either, but as it becomes more likely that someone many of us once thought was a joke is now a viable candidate for president, with comparisons to even contemporary leaders that make one shudder, we must look to history for proof of what can happen when radical leaders take power. Because it’s all there.

Erika Mann’s essay, “Don’t Make the Same Mistakes,” appears in the 1940 collection Zero Hour: A Summons to the Free. This appeal, to a young American she meets on a train on the way to Los Angeles, is meant as advice to a country on the sidelines of a Europe under siege, but her words are just as applicable today:

But what constitutes the disease? Fascism, Nazism, dictatorship, defeat? No! Because they already are death. The “disease”—that is the inability of the body to resist Death. The decay of the organism, the breakdown of resistance, that is the disease.

She goes on to write a full essay-within-the-essay for her young companion, outlining the symptoms of decay, her own experience as a non-political actress silenced by a horde of Brownshirts in 1931, a political meeting with a group of friends in Berlin, and ultimately the failure of resistance. Perhaps most haunting of all are her words closer to the beginning of the essay, when she passionately tries to explain why this history matters:

“You will not believe,” I added, and noticed that my tone was a little too intense, “you can’t imagine how painful it is gradually to discover that no country, no nation, no youth has wanted to draw a lesson from our dreadful example.”

Please, draw a lesson. History like this—a dreadful example like this—should not be allowed to repeat itself.

THIEF OF LIES Release Day

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I’m thrilled to be taking part in Brenda Drake’s Release Day Launch (hosted by Jen Halligan PR) for THIEF OF LIES (Library Jumpers #1)! Check out the book and excerpt below, and be sure to enter the amazing giveaways!

Thief of Lies (Library Jumpers #1)Thief_of_Lies_cover
by Brenda Drake
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Publication Date: January 5, 2016

Gia Kearns would rather fight with boys than kiss them. That is, until Arik, a leather-
clad hottie in the Boston Athenaeum suddenly disappears. While examining the
book of world libraries he abandoned, Gia unwittingly speaks the key that sucks her
and her friends into a photograph and transports them into a Paris library, where
Arik and his Sentinels—magical knights charged with protecting humans from the
creatures traveling across the gateway books—rescue them from a demonic hound.
Jumping into some of the world’s most beautiful libraries would be a dream come
true for Gia, if she weren’t busy resisting her heart or dodging an exiled wizard
seeking revenge on both the Mystik and human worlds. Add a French flirt obsessed
with Arik and a fling with a young wizard, and Gia must choose between her heart
and her head, between Arik’s world and her own, before both are destroyed.
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Excerpt from THIEF OF LIES

We stepped into the Children’s Library and stopped in the center of the room. A massive light fixture designed to resemble the solar system dominated the ceiling. The hushed rumble of two male voices came from one of the reading nooks. I crossed the room, paused at the built-in aquarium, and inspected the fish.

Afton halted beside me.

“This is great,” I whispered, not wanting to disturb whoever was in there with us.

“Fish and books. What’s not to love?” Spotting a sign referencing classic books, I
searched the shelves for my all-time favorite novel.

The male voices stopped and there was movement on the other side of the bookcase.

I paused to listen, and when the voices started up again, I continued my hunt.

Warmth rushed over me when I found The Secret Garden. With its aged green cover, it was the same edition I remembered reading as a young girl. The illustrations inside were beautiful, and I just had to show them to Afton. Coming around the corner of the case, a little too fast for being in a library, I bumped into a guy dressed in leather biker gear. My book and notebook fell and slapped against the floor.

“Oh, I’m so sorry—” I lost all train of thought at the sight of him. He was gorgeous with tousled brown hair and dark eyes. Tall. He flashed me a crooked smile, a hint of dimples forming in his cheeks, before bending over and picking up my forgotten book.

He held the book out to me. “Mistress Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?” He’d quoted a verse from The Secret Garden with a sexy accent that tickled my ears.

I stood there like an idiot, my heart pounding hard against my chest, unable to think of a response. The fact that he had read the book and could recite a line from it stunned me. And impressed me.

Say something. Anything.

“Good read there,” he said when it was obvious I wasn’t going to speak. He winked and nodded to a guy behind him before ambling off. When he reached the end of the row, he paused and glanced back at me, flashing me another killer smile, and then he disappeared around the bookcase.

Tingles rose in my stomach. He looked back at me. The guy following his Royal Hotness gave me a final appraisal before departing. His stringy blond hair hung over his large forehead. It looked like he hadn’t washed it in weeks, and there was probably an acne breeding ground under it. He grinned, and I broke eye contact with him, making for the nearest window.

Oh God, you’re so lame, Gia. You could have finished the quote or anything less tragic than not speaking at all. The response I would have said played in my head. With silver bells, and cockleshells, and marigolds all in a row. Why? Why hadn’t I said that?


brenda-drakeAbout the Author

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Brenda Drake grew up the youngest of three children, an Air Force brat, and the
continual new kid at school. Her fondest memories growing up are of her eccentric,
Irish grandmother’s animated tales, which gave her a strong love for storytelling.
So it was only fitting that she would choose to write stories with a bend toward the
fantastical. When she’s not writing or hanging out with her family, she haunts
libraries, bookstores, and coffee shops, or reads someplace quiet and not at all exotic
(much to her disappointment).

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Aside

Most-Anticipated Books for 2016

There are so many fantastic-sounding books coming out in 2016! My TBR pile will be growing quickly as friends read and recommend others, but I had to share my top ten most-anticipated books for 2016. I’ve read a couple of these when they were mere baby manuscripts, and heard or read snippets of others. Five of these are debuts and the other five are by authors whose work I already love. Several are historicals, since that’s my favorite genre, but there are also some fantasy and contemporary picks here. I simply can’t wait for …

Get these books on your own lists pronto! You won’t be sorry, and I’m sure I won’t be either!

Favorite Books of 2015

My favorite books of 2015 are definitely a strange mix of wonderful and weird. This year, I read a lot of the books everyone is raving about, and while I also enjoyed most of those big-hit titles as well, I have to be honest that the books I love are usually a bit off the beaten track. In past years, I included some adult and middle grade books I loved on my year-end list, but this year, I’m sticking with my favorite young adult titles (although as an added bonus, I’ll list my girls’ favorite books at the end!). Hope you find something new to love in my list of ten favorites here!

A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz

I was looking for YA book recommendations with nonlinear plots, and this book, filled with fairies discovering love while warring with gnomes and tightropers in present and past narratives, definitely fit the bill. Beautifully-written story.

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

So this one actually came out in 2014, but I was looking for YA frame stories, and this story does so in such an amazing way, alternating between a present-day teen writing a novel and her main character living that novel. Truly innovative!

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

I absolutely love YA historicals, and this Western with a Chinese-American girl passing for a boy on a high-stakes adventure was a real page-turner with characters I loved. Can’t wait for Stacey Lee’s next books!

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

I almost forgot about this one because I was lucky enough to read an ARC before the book was officially released, but this story absolutely captivates, with unreliable narration between multiple POVs, a creepy, otherworldly element, and ballerinas in prison. Oh, yes.

When You Leave by Monica Ropal

This book is for the outsider in all of us. While it’s a fast-paced murder mystery involving skater kids, it’s also a story about finding acceptance and love among scrappy yet endearing characters.

Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell

This heartbreaking story gives the reader a glimpse of what it’s like to live with ALS by going extremely deep in the head of a present-day Japanese teen (so deep that it hurts).

None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio

I love two things about the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement: that people can now find themselves represented in books (when many couldn’t before), and that those of us who have no idea can experience those emotions through books like this one about a teen girl born as intersex. I simply couldn’t put it down.

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

As mentioned, I generally like books that are weird instead of highly popular, but I guess some of you others like weird books too, yeah? The whispered magic in this book is there from the beginning, and the dual POVs and twisty turns kept me turning pages like mad.

The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough

Another dual POV novel, this book has all the gorgeous and wonderful things I love. I’m fascinated by the 1930s, and if you throw jazz musicians, airplanes, and a magical twist into it, I’m pretty much smitten (as I was by this book if you can’t tell).

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

This book! Gorgeous writing, fascinating atmosphere, a swoony romance, and just the right amount of magic kept me turning pages and savoring each line. All the high stakes that come with Romeo-and-Juliet-esque warring families along with the unique and beautiful weirdnesses of a detail-rich, special story. My absolute favorite read of 2015.

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Bonus Material

Since my eight-year-old daughters (twins!) are reading more and more these days but have very different tastes, I thought I’d share their favorites from this year.

One of my girls reads voraciously and loves everything from fantasy to biography. Her absolute favorite was Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee, and the series she’s currently devouring is The Series of Unfortunate Events.

The other loves to write so much that she prefers it to reading, but she can’t stop raving over El Deafo by Cece Bell (released in 2014), and she also adores the Zapato Power series by Jacqueline Jules.

ElDeafoOphelia

They’re not completely on their own though; we still read books together out loud every day. We’re currently making our way through the Harry Potter series, and the other book we all fell for hard this year was Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell. Next up on our read-together list is Princess Juniper by Ammi-Joan Paquette!

Please share your own favorites here!

Don Quijote with Kids

During an incredible summer with the Spanish half of our family, we did our best to bring Don Quijote de la Mancha to life for our seven-year-old twins. Step one of the indoctrination had them learning how to properly recite the first line: “En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme, no ha mucho tiempo que vivía un hidalgo de los de lanza en astillero, adarga antigua, rocín flaco y galgo corredor.” Check!

Once that was accomplished, there are a lot of Quijote activities in and around Madrid. Stops for us included the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid. You can only enter the library on a guided tour, but the library also houses a free museum with some really cool bookish attractions, especially the kid-friendly Quijote room.

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We also hit passed by a bit of the Rute de Don Quijote in Toledo, but perhaps the coolest event we found was a free walking tour through Alcalá de Henares (the birthplace of Cervantes) with actors playing the parts of Quijote and Sancho. Our girls will not soon forget that experience!P1060778
This was a pretty Quijote-heavy trip, but we had also wanted to get back to Granada to visit the houses where Federico Garcia Lorca lived (one in the city and one outside of town), but unfortunately, there simply wasn’t time this visit. At least we paid FGL a visit at his statue in Madrid:

P1070207Finally, the best tribute to Don Quijote and Cervantes is reading. We found so many beautiful books throughout the trip! Some of us might have cried about the books we had to leave behind, but at least we brought a nice stack home:

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Fall of Poppies Cover Reveal and Giveaway

As a World War I history buff and big fan of historical fiction author, Heather Webb, I’m thrilled to participate in the cover reveal of Fall of Poppies (William Morrow, March 2016), a collection of short stories about loss, longing, and hope in the aftermath of World War I. The collection features bestselling authors such as Hazel Gaynor, Jennifer Robson, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig and is edited by Heather Webb. I for one can’t wait to get my hands on this book!

In case my excitement isn’t enough, a few quick teasers about some of the stories:

A squadron commander searches for meaning in the tattered photo of a girl he’s never met…

A Belgian rebel hides from the world, only to find herself nursing the enemy…

A young airman marries a stranger to save her honor—and prays to survive long enough to love her… The peace treaty signed on November 11, 1918, may herald the end of the Great War but for its survivors, the smoke is only beginning to clear. Picking up the pieces of shattered lives will take courage, resilience, and trust.

Within crumbled city walls and scarred souls, war’s echoes linger. But when the fighting ceases, renewal begins…and hope takes root in a fall of poppies.

And now for the big reveal of this beautiful cover!

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Finally, if that’s not enough, there’s also a giveaway! Enter here for a chance to win print copies of After The War is Over, A Memory of Violets, and Land of Dreams to celebrate the release of Fall of Poppies.

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Summer Reading: Beyond the List

I have to admit it: getting the suggested summer reading list from my twin girls’ school district is kind of like nerd Christmas for us: fondly remembering some books on the list they’ve loved (Little Bear and Frog and Toad series), glancing over ones they’ve read but are kind of done with (Fancy Nancy and Amelia Bedelia series), and discovering fantastic new titles (Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle and the Lulu series).

However, I’m always looking for additional diverse reads for my kids, and Lee and Low Books offers great lists broken down by grade that really fit the bill. My girls read and really enjoyed Under the Lemon Moon by Edith Hope Fine and The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen by Thelma Godin, and they’re already looking forward to more summer reads like these. Also beyond the list are books that empower girls to be all they can be. Mine loved The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires, an excellent story about persistence and failing better (as a writer, I certainly identified with the heroine, too!).

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Our favorite series this year, The Sisters Eight by Lauren Baratz-Logsted, has likewise enthralled us with its resourceful set of octuplets making do without their parents, who have disappeared (or died). We’re reading one book a month to correspond with the month of each book, and I don’t know who’s more excited that July begins on Wednesday, my girls or I!

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I’m so curious to hear what other recommendations others have about summer reading beyond the list, so please do share any tips, tricks, and lists!

 

Favorite Books of 2014!

It’s that time of year again! I love looking back at the books I’ve read over the year, and this one was a particularly good one for me as a reader. There were a lot of 2014 debut authors I wanted to check out, and many of them were among the 76 I read books this year. Most books I read were YA, but a fair chunk this year were books for adults, too. I only had time for a few MG books (alas!), but I might have to do a separate post about some of the great PBs and chapter books I read with my little girls. Without further ado, my top ten favorite books of 2014!***
 
10. AN UNTAMED STATE by Roxanne Gay (Adult). The graphic details in this book aren’t for everyone, and definitely had me cringing, but I don’t think I will ever forget this story. Amazing, visceral writing.
 
9. THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY by Tracy Holczer (MG). I didn’t read many MG books this year, but this one will definitely stay with me. Beautiful writing and a slowly unraveling mystery keep the reader turning pages.
 
8. GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE by Andrew Smith (YA). The frank, open voice of the MC had me laughing out loud. It’s a really over-the-top story with such real, believable characters that I simply couldn’t put it down.
 
7. PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG by Anne Blankman (YA). The chilling setting of Munich as the National Socialists come to power is enough to grab my attention, but the compelling family backgrounds and love story of the characters kept me hooked.
 
6. LIES WE TELL OURSELVES by Robin Talley (YA). This masterful piece of historical fiction opened my eyes with its incredible, horrible details about what it must have been like to live through desegregation, as well as told a beautiful love story filled with hope for two girls who couldn’t be more different.
 
5. LEXICON by Max Barry (Adult). This language-based thriller was definitely up my alley and pretty near impossible to put down.
 
4. LOVERS AT THE CHAMELEON CLUB by Francine Prose (Adult). This is such skillfully-written historical fiction. The author’s characters are based on some very real people, and the world she draws is so richly filled with details that it all seems impossibly true. The multiple points of views add such depth and kept me hungry for more.
 
3. VANGO by Timothée de Fombelle (YA). The gorgeous writing in this story grabbed my attention from page one, and there was something TinTin-esque about the main character’s escapades that kept me hooked to the finish.
 
2. BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jaqueline Woodson (YA). This novel in verse won the National Book Award and I would not be at all surprised if it goes on to win other awards. Such gorgeous writing! The author did such an amazing job pulling us in to what it was like to be a brown-skinned girl at that time.
 
1. THE STRANGE AND BEAUTIFUL SORROWS OF AVA LAVENDER by Leslye Walton (YA). This fantastical novel is as strange and beautiful as its title and I loved everything about it. I’m a sucker for both historical and magical realism, so the blend of those genres together with the uniqueness of the story pretty much made me swoon.
 
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As a bonus, five more YA books I read and loved this year that came out before 2014:

  • SMALL DAMAGES by Beth Kephart. Set in Spain, the beautiful writing in this story pulled me deep into the character’s pain as a scorching Spanish summer helps her heal in ways she never expected.
  • THE WICKED AND THE JUST by J. Anderson Coates. I can’t believe I waited so long to read this book, but it’s definitely a great pick for historical fiction lovers. So well-written, with such amazing details that come across completely differently in both points of view.
  • RECLAIMED by Sarah Guillory. Another masterpiece in multiple points of view, this book is filled with surprises that have the reader guessing until the very end.
  • ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE by Benjamin Saenz. This book has all the feels! The perfect combination of friendship, love, and the deeper meaning behind it all.
  • SILHOUETTE OF A SPARROW by Molly Griffin. This slim little book packs a punch with a great historical setting and a forbidden love story between two teen girls.

***A disclaimer: I had a list of 20 YA 2014 debuts that I was looking forward to reading, and I haven’t gotten to them all yet. One problem is that I purchased some of them, and unfortunately, library books must come first! Two that I’m still particularly excited about reading are NO PLACE TO FALL by Jaye Robin Brown and BLACKFIN SKY by Kat Ellis. I hope to hit them very soon in the new year! In the meantime, happy reading to all!