December book report and my faves of 2017

Reading dropped a bit as we prepared for the holidays last month. And okay, part of that was also me scrambling to finish watching LOST before Netflix took it away. I had started the series when it was on TV 10+ years ago, and even used a few episodes in my classroom alongside our reading of Lord of the Flies, but lost interest (haha, pun intended) until the final episode. Which I watched, slightly confused, but more or less able to piece together what was going on after grilling my husband who had binged on library DVDs. Anyway, I decided to give the whole thing a go, and while I appreciated the layers of storytelling and character development, the ending was more disappointing than when I had skipped over seasons 2-6.

Back to books. I read two last month, so I decided in order to make this post longer (besides the above rambling), I’d highlight my faves from the year. I narrowed down the top four and then got stuck trying to pick a fifth from so many good reads. So top four it is. But first, my December reads:

Back Roads by Tawni O’Dell
This is not a book I would have normally picked up to read, but someone I recently met suggested it as a way of tapping into the male voice. (My current MC is a teenage boy and I worried he didn’t sound authentic.) There is definitely a strong male voice here, although too strong for what I was aiming toward. The story was good, but a bit of a rough read content wise – especially in the end. I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone with a delicate sensibility.

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
I’m making my way through the books on my TBR list that dates back to 2015, and I believe I put this one on there for its bisexual main character (although upon reading would conclude he is gay and not bi) as comp research for my previous book. It’s about a  Also, I loved the book jacket comp: Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind – a fantastic movie about wiping out painful memories. The voice in More Happy Than Not is great, and I felt like I was right alongside his group of friends. But I wanted more speculative fiction, and less homophobia. (SPOILER: The MC wants to undergo a memory erasing procedure so he can “forget” being in a m/m relationship. I struggled with the ethics of that.) I will say, I’ve been really into watching Black Mirror, and the book had a very dangers-of-technology feel to it, which I enjoyed.

Because I think you should GO OUT AND READ THESE BOOKS! LIKE, NOW! I’m going to link to their amazon page. Feel free to also support local booksellers, and/or request that your local library carry a copy. Spread the love, people.

The Long Walk by Brian Castner
First, some background on how I came to read this book (in less than 48 hours). Brian Castner spoke at our local author book club in early 2017, and I was asked to facilitate the discussion. I gave myself plenty of time to read All the Ways We Kill and Die (also a great read and definitely in my top ten for the year), his novel that explores the nuances of modern warfare. I researched Brian, took notes while I read, and prepared questions for the discussion.

Two days before the meeting, my friend texted to ask how I enjoyed the books. Books. Plural. In a panic, I checked the club’s website, and sure enough, we were slated to also discuss Brian’s memoir, The Long Walk. Thankfully, our local library had an e-book available, and I stayed up late devouring the book. Honestly though? I would have devoured it even without the fear of being unprepared for book club. It is not the sort of book you put down, and not the sort of book you ever forget. You can read my full review here. Meeting Brian the next day, talking to him and hearing his story first-hand, was also something I’ll never forget. If you have the opportunity to meet an author you admire, do it. And please, read one (or all) of Brian’s books. website

The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell
I added this book based on a magazine recommendation, and normally things that everyone else likes I read and think, meh. I took The Death of Bees on vacation and basically stuck my head into the book and barely came up for air. It reminded me of one of my all time faves, Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Loved, loved, loved the dark humor and satire.

Salt to the Sea by Rita Sepetys
A friend recommended this book to me, and I listened to it on my phone. It is an award winner, and for good reason. It’s a WWII young adult historical fiction novel, and you’ve probably never heard of the tragedy that takes place at the end – I certainly hadn’t. But that’s not why you should read it. The characters are richly developed, and the story woven beautifully. I look forward to reading more by this author.

No Place Like Home  by Dee Romito
I am lucky because Dee is one of my dear friends. And she is a wonderful writer. Her middle grade books are full of heart and a must read for children and adults alike. Trust me. I read No Place Like Home aloud to my oldest son (he’s 11), and we both loved it. Read my full review here. Especially the end, which I read during a soccer tournament and had to choke back tears.

Not only is Dee a great writer, she is also a fantastic resource for other writers. Her blog provides helpful links and advice, she teaches Scrivener workshops at writing conferences (and spreads the love of sponge candy), and she co-founded our local writer and illustrator group, BNCWI.

So check out her books. You won’t regret it.

What do you plan to read in 2018? I’m excited about my friend Alyssa Palombo’s new book coming out in the fall, and hoping to chip away at my now three year old TBR list. And like every year, I look forward to learning new things, interacting with authors, and losing myself in a good story.

November book report

I know, I know, it’s eighteen days into December. But good news: I finished my yearly reading goal!

And I couldn’t let a month slip past without giving a shout-out to all the wonderful words that entered my brain in story form. November was a very YA/Middle grade focused month. In fact, I didn’t read a single “adult” book.

Glimpse by Carol Lynch Williams
Another verse book recommended by my editor friend. This one did not make me cry, but it certainly tugged at the heart. It is a story of two sisters, one of whom struggles with mental illness, and it reminded me of Stop Pretending by Sonya Sones. Be warned, there are suicide attempts and abuse, some of which was quite difficult to read. I had a hard time with the mother character, but overall enjoyed the quality of verse and story telling.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
Oldest read this book with his class, and I had promised him back in the day that anything he was assigned I would also read so that we could discuss it together. We’ve read a few Avi books together – he is an excellent story teller. The book is fast paced and full of girl power adventure. Critics argued that the character shift was not believable, and while my son and I concurred, we both enjoyed watching her go from prim stuck-up to edgy risk-taker. Fans of Treasure Island would enjoy this read.

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
Here is my review from Goodreads: I recently read Walk Two Moons with my oldest son. It was not my first time reading it. Not my second. Not my third. It was probably the 20th time I’ve read this book, and I cry EVERY TIME. It is a beautiful, moving story about family, friendship, loss, and love. And so much more. If you’ve never read it, you should. Read it alone. Read it to your child. Read it to your pet. Just read it. And have tissues handy.

My youngest reported that his teacher was reading WTM during silent reading time, so I mentioned it during conferences. She had never read it before and asked if it would be okay to share with third graders. It’s not (IMO). There are some seriously heavy parts to this book. I used to read it with 7th graders and feel it would be appropriate for 10+.

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
I loved When You Reach Me. The “mystery” in this one was a bit more obvious (I had it figured out right away), but it was still a great read aloud with my younger son. We both enjoyed the MC’s voice and the various characters, especially the neighbors with their unique names and personalities.

Stay Where You Are and Then Leave by John Boyne
Another book chosen because I loved the first one I read by the author. In this case, it was The Boy in the Striped Pajamas – a total tear-jerker that left me sobbing in my work parking lot last year. (Note: Read the book over watching the movie. Far superior.) Stay Where You Are and Then Leave is another excellent, beautifully woven war story. It deals with PTSD before it was recognized as a mental illness and taps into the heartache of missing a family member. The audio book version is worth a listen, and again I would recommend it for 10+ due to the issues addressed.

Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff
I listened to this verse book on my phone and worry that not seeing the poems may have altered my appreciation a bit. The story is about a young girl trying to make money for college who takes on a job babysitting for a single mom struggling with poverty. It was good, but after trying a few other verse books in audio format and giving up, I’ve decided it may be better to stick with print.

All The Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg
A verse book about finding out who you are and dealing with demons from your past. Deals with post-Vietnam War adoption in a way that didn’t make me want to throw the book across the room (I can be a bit touchy about adoption in literature). Many of the poems were raw and beautiful. It hasn’t been my favorite verse book, but I’d definitely recommend it.

So far, my December reading has been a bit sparse. But I plan to spend some quality time during the holidays wrapped up with a good book. Happy reading, everyone!


October book report

October was a good month for reading. Oh who am I kidding? Every month is a good month for reading! I decided to let my most recent novel do a bit more marinating before I dive back into revisions and have been working on a YA book written in verse. A very fun project, but in an effort to do it well I have been reading a lot of verse books. Which take about a day or two to read depending on the amount of distractions in my life. The few I have read so far have managed to give me all the feels, which hopefully I’ll be able to do with my work as well.

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan
My older son read Riding Freedom and Esperanza Rising in school and I read them too – I told him that anything he reads in school I will try to read as well. Loved them both. Echo was on his suggested summer reading list, and I hoped if I started listening to it in the car he would get hooked and want to read it on his own. He didn’t get hooked, but I did. The story follows three different children in three different parts of the world, all around the time of World War II. There is also a fourth story in the beginning that reads like a fairy tale and holds the stories together with a single object: A harmonica. So of course the audio version has harmonica music. Which was a lovely touch and made the book even more enjoyable. I recommend the audio version for that reason and think this a great story for young and old!

Right Here, Right Now edited by Jody Biehl
A few years ago I joined a book club that focuses on local authors. When possible, the author comes to our meeting (or joins us virtually) and it is a wonderful way to not only discuss great books but also gain insight into the writing process. This year started out with an anthology of Buffalo stories, and although I live in the suburbs, I’ve been here most of my life and found it fascinating to read each story and uncover the different perspectives.

Sweet Madness by Trisha Leaver and Lindsay Currie
This book ended up on my TBR list when I applied for Pitch Wars in 2015 because it was written by one of the mentors. And of course because I love all things Lizzie Borden. When I taught high school English, we did a multi-genre project that involved researching a famous person in history and then writing various pieces based on their life. I used Lizzie as a model and wrote one of my favorite poems. Sweet Madness looks at the story from the point of view of the Bordens’ maid, Bridget and explores what may have happened and why. I can definitely appreciate all of the research that must have been involved.

Witches by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl is hands down my favorite children’s author. I’ve read many of his books multiple times and never tire of his off-beat humor and in-your-face-but-still-subtle life lessons. My youngest did not laugh quite as loud as his brother when I got to the dog’s droppings part, but he still enjoyed the book very much and it was the perfect thing to read as we prepared for Halloween. Such a good read aloud, as long as you can trill your “r’s”.

Heartbeat by Sharon Creech
Sharon Creech is another favorite (stay tuned for the November book report to learn what I’ve been reading with my older son) so I naturally turned to her when starting to read verse books. Heartbeat is a sweet story about a girl who loves to run and the complicated bits that come with growing up. A wonderful weekend afternoon read.

May B. by Caroline Starr Rose
I found this gem online when I did a “writing books in verse” search. It tells the story of a young girl on the prairie sent to help out another family and subsequently abandoned just as winter sets in. She suffers from dyslexia (I assumed, it was not directly stated) and struggles to teach herself to read while figuring out how to get back home. Oh, the feels.

Far From You by Lisa Schroeder
More feels. As I said, these verse books are tearing me apart! I sat on the couch next to hubby and bawled. It’s about a teenage girl who has lost her mother to cancer and has a not so great relationship with stepmom and new baby sister, until they end up in a situation that changes everything. (Sorry, trying to stay vague to avoid spoilers.) The characters are so well fleshed out using sparse and beautiful language. I can only hope to do the same with my piece!

Phew! Always reading, always adding books to the piles (both the virtual one on Goodreads – come find me! and the physical stack on my nightstand). The cooler weather is sure to bring more nights curled up under the blanket, faithful kitty by my side, lost in a good book. Happy Reading!

September book report

Last month I discovered that middle grade audio books sometimes come with fun sound effects and musical accompaniment.  We took a small road trip over the holiday weekend and even though I did relent and allow the boys to watch videos part of the way, I made sure to get kid friendly audiobooks just in case. And now I think I’m kinda hooked.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
We started with this one, and I’m glad the boys switched over to movies because despite the case saying it was a family friendly audio, the themes and some of the language would have been a bit much for my youngest. Definitely a 12 and up read/listen. I enjoyed the story, and hubs said it was an accurate portrayal of how boys feel at that age – specifically in terms of how they think about their relationship with their father.

Pop by Gordon Korman
My son read No More Dead Dogs last year (and I did too, as I once promised to read everything he’d been assigned to read) and we both enjoyed it. Pop was a fun listen; it’s about a young football player who moves to a new town and connects with his older, somewhat quirky neighbor. There are some nice layers to the story, and the boys enjoyed listening on the drive home. Korman is an excellent (and prolific) MG writer – check his stuff out!

See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng
Okay, so here’s where the audio books got really fun. Main character Alex narrates the story into a “golden” iPod that he plans to launch into space. Every time someone else spoke into the iPod, a different voice actor was used. And there were sound effects. My boys thought that part was awesome. They only listened to part of the story as post-summer life began and we all returned to our respective work/school lives. But they heard enough to become invested in the characters, especially Alex. Some elements were a bit unbelievable, but we definitely enjoyed joining him on the journey.

Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy by Sonya Sones
I’m working on a new piece – a novella written entirely in verse. One of my critique group ladies mentioned this book as a model, and oh, it’s good. Finished it in an afternoon. If you read it, but sure to read the backstory too (it was the afterward in the ebook version) about how the book came to be. I will definitely be checking out more of her work.

Tomorrow There Will be Apricots by Jessica Soffer
Sadly, I only finished one physical book this month. It has not been easy to carve out quiet time to read in the past few weeks. But on the nice days, if the boy behaved himself at school, I’d plop myself on a park bench and anti-socially drown myself in a book. I added this one to the list based on a “books you should read” article a few years back, and then noticed a good friend had enjoyed it. It is beautifully written. I loved the interwoven relationships and her unique similes and metaphors. I did struggle a little at time because of the adoption story line – there was negative language and difficult scenes which were a bit of a trigger for me. (For those who don’t know – my sons were both adopted.) But overall it was a lovely book that expertly dealt with the ideas of fueling passion, fitting in, and finding one’s purpose.

That’s it for now. Stay tuned for next month’s reviews. Happy reading everyone!