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.

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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 Ruta 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!

Literary Mothers

The Literary Mothers project, a collection of short essays on female literary influence, poses a great question. Who is your literary mother? It’s been so interesting to read how certain female authors influenced us as writers, readers, or people.
 
I wrote my essay on Banana Yoshimoto, a Japanese author whose work greatly influenced me as a writer. Please do check it out!

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Road Trip Wednesday: Inspiring Author

This week’s topic over on Road Trip Wednesday really spoke to me:

Tell us an author who inspires you.

On the one hand, this is a difficult question because there are so, so many authors who inspire me. Heck, most people who make it all the way through to get a book published inspire me.

But then I thought of an author I recently discovered after asking on twitter for recommendations for beautiful, literary YA, with bonus points if set in another country. From the responses to this call-out, I got a great stack of delicious books. This author’s book was one of those. Thanks again to Dahlia Adler for the recommendation!

SMALL DAMAGES by Beth Kephart was everything I had hoped for. It was gorgeous; it was moving; it was set in Spain. I highly recommend it. Beth has published many other books, and I’m looking forward to reading all of them someday.

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But on top of that, I began following Beth on twitter, and I have been so impressed by how kind and gracious she is, and yanno, that actually inspires me more than anything else. I want to be like that. I want to write gorgeous, moving books, and be nice.

So check out her work! You won’t be disappointed. And have a wonderful, uplifting day. 🙂

2014 Debut Author Challenge

I’m not super-active over on GoodReads at the moment, but it was so much fun perusing this list of 2014 YA, MG, and NA debuts! So many authors I recognize–some of them from back when they were entering contests or signing with their agents, some from writer friends I’ve been cheering for even longer, and some I hadn’t heard of before and am thrilled to have discovered them here! I will probably read even more than the ones I’m listing in this post, but I picked my top twenty I’m really looking forward to reading.

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  • No Place to Fall by Jaye Robin Brown. I cannot wait for this book. Yes, Jaye is one of my critique partners. Yes, I’ve read this book before. Still, I am so excited to read it in its final form! Ahhhh!
  • Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman. Munich in the 1930s? This book sounds so up my alley I can’t even. Is it April yet?
  • A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller. I pretty much love turn-of-the-20th-century anything, but throw in dreams of a career in the Arts, and I’m a guaranteed reader. Can’t wait for this!
  • The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton. I have to admit that the title grabbed me with this one. The description makes it sound like just the sort of literary novel I love, so I’ve got high hopes!
  • Strange Sweet Song by Adi Rule. I hadn’t heard of this one before, but a fantastic singer and magic coming from the woods? Sounds like a mysterious page-turner!
  • The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer. Another one I hadn’t heard of before this list, but it also sounds gorgeous and delicious.
  • Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy. Love the way this sounds like a kind of reverse-Fault-in-Our-Stars.
  • Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis. I’ve really been waiting for this one, and seeing the spooky cover and blurb made me want it all the more. Looks like a total page-turning mystery!
  • Tabula Rasa by Kristen Lippert-Martin. As if Bourne Identity meets Divergent isn’t enough, I was already a huge fan of this author for her writerly perseverance. Plus, she’s really funny on twitter.
  • The Chance You Won’t Return by Annie Cardi. This sounds like such a moving read, but on top of that, I’m psyched to dig in because I was lucky enough to read the author’s first chapter of a different story at a workshop with Nova Ren Suma at NESCBWI last year, and I absolutely loved her writing. Can’t wait for this!
  • Gilded by Christina L. Farley. I love international settings, so Korea with some magic thrown in sounds pretty cool to me!
  • All Four Stars by Tara Dairman. This just sounds totally adorable. An 11-year-old restaurant critic? I can’t wait for the hijinks!
  • Stitching Snow by R.C. Lewis. Snow White in space? Yes, please.
  • At Your Service by Jen Malone. Ahhh, Jen’s first published book! Like ALL FOUR STARS above, this just looks like a super-fun read, and I can’t wait for it!
  • Hook’s Revenge by Heidi Schulz. I have been waiting for this one since I first saw the deal announced on twitter. Captain Hook’s daughter in a Lemony Snickett voice, people!
  • Any Way You Slice It by Kristine Carlson Asselin. This one had me at the Mystic Pizza comparison. I’m pretty sure I know what I’ll be eating when I read this one.
  • Nil by Lynne Matson. The stakes totally grabbed me–a year to escape the island or, um, DIE? Sounds like a total page-turner to me. I’m already invested before I’ve begun reading!
  • Pointe by Brandy Colbert. I’m a sucker for anything with ballet, and I’ll admit that the cover totally drew me in even more, so I’m hoping I love it!
  • The Promise of Amazing by Robin Constantine. This sounds like a cute, fun romance, but on top of that, I was lucky enough to hear the author read from this book a couple of months ago. So funny! Looking forward to reading the rest.
  • Behind the Scenes by Dahlia Adler. Again, I’m a sucker for anything with the Arts, so I was already interested in this, but I also happen to know that some of the author’s favorite books are some of my favorite books, so that makes it all the more enticing.

Like I said, I’ll hopefully end up reading even more than these, so please share what debuts you’re most looking forward to this year!

2013 Favorite Books

I always want to read more books than I can squeeze in a year, and 2013 was no exception.

First off, my final tally for the year: 58 books total. Last year, I read 59. However, this year, I finally started to not finish books I wasn’t loving. On top of the 58 books, I started another 30-40 books. I usually give a book a good 50 pages before bailing, but I found I was sometimes getting as far as 100 pages before deciding it’s not for me. I also skimmed a bunch more books for research purposes, but I didn’t include those in my count either.

So how did the 58 books break down? Probably not surprisingly, the vast majority were YA. The deets:

  • YA: 39
  • Adult: 10
  • Non-fiction: 4
  • MG: 3
  • New Adult: 1
  • YA in Spanish: 1

I had quite a few favorite books this year, and I’ve been recommending some in my Twofer Tuesday posts throughout the year, like these two great YA page-turners. I also read quite a few great adult books, including THE NIGHT CIRCUS (mind-blowingly amazing!), THE EXPATS (fast-paced and thrilling!), and THE GIRL YOU LEFT BEHIND (tragically beautiful!).

As wonderful as so many books I read last year were, my absolutely favorite book of 2013 was one that spoke to me right from page one–one of those books that seemed like it was written expressly for me: FAR FAR AWAY by Tom McNeal.

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The voice blew me away, the writing was gorgeous, and the characters real. I already can’t wait to read it again. If you’re looking for a modern day fairy tale, I simply can’t recommend this book enough.

Happy reading, and happy 2014!!!

Children’s Poetry Blog Hop

My amazing friend and soon-to-be debut young adult author Jaye Robin Brown tagged me to participate in a blog hop about children’s poetry. Thrilling! I adore poetry!

But, hmm, children’s poetry? I have to admit, I was never a fan of the typical happy, sing-songy poetry as a child, unless you count the craziness of Dr. Seuss, because crazy is pretty awesome.

However! As a linguist and trilingual mom, I’m going to pick one snippet from each language that together represent my poetic tastes for children.

First off, English. THE GASHLYCRUMB TINIES by Edward Gorey is one of my favorite books because of the illustrations as much as the text. How can you not love something that begins like this?

A is for AMY who fell down the stairs.

B is for BORIS devoured by bears.

In case you’re not familiar with it, the book takes us through an alphabet of children who met their untimely demise by at least somewhat gruesome means. Well worth a read!

In German, my favorite is the classic DER STRUWELPETER by Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann.

Filled with macabre tales of misbehaving children who suffer the consequences of their actions, these stories are filled with morals like, “Eat your soup, or you will die!” and “Don’t suck your thumbs, or the thumb-cutter will come and cut them off!” My favorite tells the story of Paulinchen, who decides to play with matches:

Paulinchen war allein zu Haus,
die Eltern waren beide aus.
Als sie nun durch das Zimmer sprang
mit leichtem Mut und Sing und Sang,
da sah sie plötzlich vor sich stehn
ein Feuerzeug, nett anzusehn.

Needless to say, things don’t end all that well for Paulinchen:

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Finally, Spanish. We have a wonderful book, FEDERICO GARCIA LORCA PARA NIÑOS, and interestingly, my girls’ favorite poem, Muerte de Antoñito el Camborio, is about the murder of a young man, Antoñito, by his four cousins. But it’s such a gorgeous, haunting poem!

Voces de muerte sonaron
cerca de Guadalquivir.

Voces antiguas quecercan
voz de clavel varonil.

Hope these are some interesting examples! Now on to the interview questions:

1. Who was your favorite poet as a child?

Well, I didn’t much like traditional children’s poetry, and I didn’t discover any of the gems above until I was older, but I would have loved those three if I knew about them then.

2. Who is your favorite poet now?

Rainer Maria Rilke definitely gets top honors, but I have some other favorites, including Pablo Neruda and Sylvia Plath.

3. Is there a song you consider to be poetry?

I’d argue that most songs are in fact poetry, but arguments aside, I’ve been listening to Debussy’s Clair de Lune a lot recently, which was inspired by Paul Verlaine’s poem of the same name. It begins:

Votre âme est un paysage choisi
Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques
Jouant du luth et dansant et quasi
Tristes sous leurs déguisements fantasques.

Beautiful!

I’m tagging another poetry fan and writing buddy, Angelina Hansen. Hope you can post your favorite children’s poems (or one of your own!) and thoughts next Friday for the blog hop!