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Five Books Worth Mentioning: 2014 Q3

You guys all read Janssen over at Everyday Reading, I’m sure. I have always adored her quarterly reading updates.

I am a major-league voyeur – nosy to the max – so peeking into anyone’s reading life is a pleasure, but she also just has a way with the the two sentence book review. So pithy! So fun! I’ve tried to emulate these posts a few times, but I usually burn out after a few mini-reviews. But I’ve always wanted to play along, so I’m going to take a slightly different tack and tell you a bit about five books I read this quarter that are worth mentioning. Emphasis on books I haven’t already mentioned! Some of them are good, some of them are not so good, but all are – at the very least – worth mentioning.

181896061. Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Okay, okay. I’ve mentioned this one before. But I wanted to give Morgan Matson’s latest a quick shout out because I really liked it a lot. It was fun. Breezy. Light, but not fluffy. The obligatory romance wasn’t too easy or mushy, and the premise – girl performs a list of daring tasks left by her absentee best friend – didn’t dominate the story. I’ve tried a lot of “If you like Sarah Dessen, you’ll love…” books, and I have to say, Morgan Matson is one of very few who I have deemed worthy of the Dessen comparison. It’s not a perfect book – some of the conflict between Emily and her Desired Boy could have been, and eventually was, cleared up with a conversation, which is a plot device I’m not a fan of – but it was a smooth, enjoyable book that I wanted to keep reading. So I nominated it for the Cybils. Last year my nomination made it to the short list, so maybe I’ll get lucky again this year!


2. Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

This was a random audiobook pick for me this summer. It was available on Overdrive. I recognized it from Library Reads. The plot – scholarship student spends the summer at her wealthy (and dysfunctional) family’s summer estate – was directly up my alley. The story pulled me in within the first thirty minutes or so. We had a win.

So, not to get too spoiler-y, but what’s the fun of reading a book such as this one? Figuring out the how and the what and the why of this family’s particular breed of dysfunction, of course. I’m listening along while Mabel Dagmar swoons over the beautiful property and the beautiful family and their beautiful family, and then starts to dig into their family secrets… and I start to get a definite Ned Stark vibe. As in, watch your back, Mabel. Also incest.

I won’t tell you what the secret was. If you want to find out, there are plenty of spoiler-y Goodreads comments to be had, mine included.  But I will say this – after a few hundred pages, the fun was no longer “Oooh, what will the secret be? How will this work out,” but instead “WHEN WILL IT STOP WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS FAMILY.”

Unrelated/related: setting is huge in Bittersweet. I think the author was counting on the reader feeling so enamored by this idyllic, sprawling landscape that they might forgive a few of the heinous characters who hang out there. But as I was listening to the these lush descriptions of the family estate – cottages for all of your aunts and uncles and cousins, a family mess hall with a full-time cooking staff, etc – I became skeptical. Who truly lives like this? This environment is so over the top, so luxurious and exclusive and shabby chic that the whole book takes on a certain eau de soap opera.

And then, a few weeks ago, I spent the night at exactly such a family compound. We took a quick tour of the grounds before leaving. Here’s the Big House.


This is not to malign the owners of said estate, of course. While most families boast at least some domestic drama, I hope against hopes that the heights of scandal Beverly-Whittemore weaves Bittersweet is only found in fiction.


3. Warp by Lev Grossman

I’ve been a bit of a shameless Lev Grossman fangirl this year. I will accept any arguments you might have against his Magicians series; while I might not agree with your opinions and will likely argue against them, I don’t hold the books themselves on some sort of literary pedestal. But for the humor, the finely woven literary references, and the audacity of big ideas he tackles within a fairly traditional set of fantasy structures, and his career and worldview in general… I do revere the author.

Anyway, I’m trying to tell you that I’ve read a lot of Lev Grossman interviews in 2014, and I became intrigued by his first novel – Warp. The way Grossman tells it, Warp was a bit of a fluke, a lark, a Right Place, Right Time-in-the-Publishing-Landscape kind of book; a book published by luck rather than by merit. When The Magicians came out, his publishers inadvertently left it off his “Also written by” sheet, further shoving this debut effort into supposedly deserved, out of print obscurity.

But of course, my behemoth of a library system still held a circulating copy of this supposedly lost text. And of course I checked it out. It was Lev Grossman, it was weird and obscure, and it takes place in post-collegiate Boston – of course, I wanted to read it. But you guys know how I operate: just because I’m interested in a book and even check it out and take it home doesn’t mean that I will actually read a book.

But then one Saturday afternoon, I plucked it off of my library book shelf and I just couldn’t put it down. It wasn’t a hidden masterpiece, but it was a good read. So interesting to see the very beginnings of literary talent beginning to take root – certain turns of phrase and characterization. The talent is there. I can see it. An editor saw it. Tracing themes through an author’s long-ago backlist is an entertaining way to spend one’s reading hours; for those of us struggling with our own first written creations, it’s can be comforting. Everyone starts somewhere.



4. Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce

In the latest episode of Jessica Finally Reads Fantasy, I present to you Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce. All of my formerly anti-fantasy tendencies aside, I do feel a twinge of shame not to have read a single book by a prolific, much-beloved and honored children’s author such as Tamora Pierce. Lucky for me, I needed an audiobook on the quick a few weeks ago and found Alanna was ready for me – and I was finally ready for her.

I expected to find a well-crafted medieval-fantasy story with a distinctly feminist bent, and that is what I found. Alanna is a high-born girl who wants to become a knight; with buckets of perserverence, skill, and pluck, she disguises her developing woman’s body and kicks all the boys’ butts. What I wasn’t expecting to discover was the sometimes forgotten charms of a good, old-fashioned episodic school story. See: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Or even Sideways Stories from Wayside School. Each chapter is a vignette, a trial or a triumph that doesn’t necessarily weave a grander plot but when read in succession implies Alanna’s growth and progress. A larger mystery begins to unfold as the stories progress, leading to a climactic confrontation where the heroine must test out those newly acquired skills.

It’s a pattern, it’s a trope, but in the hands of a skilled writer it can be a pleasure. And it’s a pleasure I’m particularly inclined to enjoy, even though I’m no longer 10 years old. Perhaps because I’m no longer 10 years old.


160689495. The Boy I Love by Nina de Gramont

Look guys. I really try not to trash books on the Internet if I can possibly avoid it. Do I express negative opinions about certain books or certain aspects of books? Yes. Do I cast an intentionally rosy glow over every book I read? No. I attempt to talk honestly about the books I’ve read, and of course everything I write about books obviously carries some sort of personal bias, but I am a Professional Book Person. I try not to wield my opinion like a weapon. I try not to poke fun, to mock, to employ hyperbolic gifs, to deliberately read books I know I will dislike. In most cases, I feel this is the responsible way to talk about books on the internet.

Buuuut will you guys look at this book cover for a minute? Are your eyes rolling? Would you read this while riding public transportation? Can you imagine a more ridiculous stock photo/book title combination?

Well, don’t worry guys. It’s nothing like you are imagining. Well, it’s a little like you are imagining, but what I found underneath this book cover was a pretty solid piece of girl-centric YA realism. In the vein of Sarah Dessen, even. And lest you think the book will be too swoony for you, here’s a big fat second chapter spoiler: the boy that she loves? he’s gay.

Not to say that the book is flawless, or even in the top 50% of books I’ve read this year – specifically, some severely wacky third-act plot events lowered my general appraisal – but I just wanted to use my Professional Book Person powers to tell you not to judge this book by its ridiculous cover.


library card exhibitionist


Checked Out

On Hold

a book club

A year ago I was invited to join a book club. I’d never really joined a book club before.

This might seem unusual, but I’ve rarely lacked for people to talk books with. Growing up in a large-ish family with a librarian for a mother? Pretty much a constant book club. Also, studying children’s literature at a Master’s level? Three years of an academic book club. Most of my friends in Boston are readers, my coworkers are readers, and I have perfected the art of tricking my husband into reading the books I love so we can talk about them. My life = big fat book club.

I was a little nervous about it at first – because I am a little nervous about… oh… EVERYTHING at first – but then I showed up and all my grad school friends were already there. My book club is a bunch of ChL survivors, now working in libraries, for review journals, for publishing houses and in schools. We read children’s and YA. We talk about the book for at least fifteen minutes before digressing, usually to other industry-gossip.

It’s a good time, good to keep in touch with folks who aren’t related to me or married to me or who are contractually or financially obliged to show up and work in the same office as me. I don’t know if you’ve had the chance to meet Children’s Lit People in real life, but a vast majority of those I know are exceptionally bright, funny, and not afraid to dig deep into a book. They make for excellent company. I also appreciate the opportunity to inject a little variety into my reading life, especially during the months when my reading life is a bit less out of my hands. Here’s a short list of our book club picks so far for 2014.


2014 or gtfo

As much as I aspire to be content in the present moment, focused entirely on the work at hand today, this morning, this minute, I just really am not a zen meditation lady by nature. This lends a certain “TIME. IS STILL MARCHING ON” tone about this blog, I know. But heaven help me, there are just too many books to read and ideas to discuss and places to visit and things to do and blargh did I mention I’m turning 30 in less than six months? I’m turning 30. So there’s that.

This morning I am thinking about December. I am thinking about December of 2014, when I will be busy writing blog posts and book reviews and Christmas shopping and traveling and what have you, and then all of these magazines and newspapers will start publishing those juicy “Best of 2014″ lists. I will be left, yet again – year after year – wondering how I could have missed so many great books and wondering what the heck I was even reading this year and wondering if I will die without having read The Best Books of 2014.

So maybe a preemptive strike is in order.

Like my big fat Printz posts, the following lists are pure gut instinct and baseless speculation. I asked myself what young adult-ish books I’d be remiss to not have read this year. What books are the must-reads, not because they are better than any other books, but because they have been at the heart of the 2014 reading conversation? I’ve narrowed it down to two lists – the Everyone Must-Reads and the If You’re Into YA Realism Like I Am Must-Reads. Some I’ve read, some I haven’t. Along with the National Book Awards long list, I’ll probably try to squeeze a few more of these into the last quarter of the year, lest 2014 go to complete and utter reading waste.

Alos, leave me suggestions if you have them!!

 The Must List

- read these in 2014 or gtfo -


1) Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

2) I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

3) The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson

4) We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

5) The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin

6) This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki

7) Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

8) The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson


 The YA Realism Must List

- if realism is your genre of choice, then you should read these -


1) Noggin by John Corey Whaley

2) Pointe by Brandy Colbert

3) Far From You by Tess Sharpe

4) Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

5) Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

6) Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

7) 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith

8) The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

9) The Crossover by Kwame Alexander


(I promise to stop making lists of the same 20 books in a different order soon. I really promise!)

the last five memoirs

I have a reading success story for you guys.

After a few years of succumbing to August Reading Doldrums, I think I have finally discovered the secret. I finally reached far enough down into the depths of my psyche and found the inner fortitude, perseverance, and stick-to-it-iveness I needed to keep reading all through the month and into September.

Just kidding. I just reached down into the considerable depths of my self-indulgent nature and said “To hell with all of the books I am supposed to read. Bring on all the trashy memoirs.”

Okay. Only some of the memoirs I read were trashy. And I don’t even know what I mean by the term “trashy.” Low-brow? Confessional? Not-literary? Whatever. I actively sought out a lot of memoirs in August – most of them on audio – and it was the kind of indulgent, impulsive reading that this professionalbookperson doesn’t often get anymore.


The Last Five – Memoirs


I started my memoir streak with Kerry Cohen’s Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity, which I just found so compulsively listen-able that I went out seeking other confessional memoirs. Drugs. Sex. Disease. This was the kind of tawdry stuff August-Jessica was looking for. But I accidentally found Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life instead. Wolff’s memoir had a fair share of dishy moments, but it was definitely a Literary Memoir. No matter. I was sucked right in. Mr. Wolff’s childhood would be unique in these modern times – when his mother divorced, she left Tobias’s brother with her ex-husband and carted young Tobias across the country to make money mining uranium….. but this was the 1950s. Tobias’s story is a really intriguing counterpoint to the narratives of 1950s childhood we usually see in the media. It is definitely a “dysfunctional childhood” memoir – Wolff’s has an understandably complex relationship with his parents, especially after his mother marries an emotionally abusive man – but in Wolff’s hands it’s also a treatise on identity, maturity, and masculinity.

So, not trashy. But very good.



Speaking of testosterone….. so I read a lot of memoirs in August. But I also read a lot of manly man books. This Boy’s Life, yes, also The Magician King and The Magician’s Land (at least moderately man-centric). Michael Chabon’s Manhood for Amateurs. 700 pages of fantastical boyhood and adolescence in The Name of the Wind. Grasshopper Jungle. Freaking Rabbit Angstrom.

That’s a lot of… um… man hours. Or something.

Enter, a pair of lady memoirs. Stacy Morrison’s Falling Apart in One Piece is a memoir about divorce. Delancey is a memoir about marriage, and how opening a restaurant together with your new husband may put you at risk for divorce. Delancey: ultimately uplifting. Falling Apart in One Piece: utterly terrifying. In The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin spends a chapter or so talking about how you can increase your daily feelings of happiness by reminding yourself of how good you have it, and she presents reading super-depressing memoirs as a quick way to do so. I find this particular happiness tip completely questionable (especially coming from privileged white ladies), but I have never felt so horrified and humbled as when I read Falling Apart in One Piece. Morrison met her partner young, had a long and happy relationship, plenty of career success, and finally a baby and a new house. Six months later, her husband asks for a divorce.


Like I said, Delancey was much more uplifting. I loved Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life, and Delancey was just as good. Also, the recipes. Buy the book for the recipes alone. I made her sriracha shrimp and tomato and corn salad twice in two weeks it was so fliiiiipppping good I want to eat some now.


Longtime readers might know that I have a preeeeeettty significant weak spot for sappy, consumable pop-memoirs. I liked The Last Lecture and Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I count Animal Vegetable Miracle and Eat Pray Love as two of my forever favorites. I have a bizarre, enduring affection for Marley & Me. Basically, I’ve got emotions, and if you want to use your sappy life story to twist them, I’m down.

No surprise then that I enjoyed Will Schwalbe’s The End of Your Life Book Club. It’s a sappy memoir, AND it’s about books. I also enjoyed listened to About Alice earlier this year, and between these two memoirs I discovered yet another memoir sub-genre that I enjoy – the “Men Eulogizing the Extraordinary Women in Their Lives” memoir. Schmaltz city, guys. I’m totally okay with that.


Swinging wildly in the other direction, the last memoir I read this summer was the not-so-schmaltzy Kristin Newman’s What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding. Newman is a television writer, so this memoir has all of the playful punch-line-iness of Tina Fey’s Bossypants or Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? But unlike these two memoirs, Newman skips most of the childhood and career biography bits in order to focus in on her late 20s and 30s – a time during which she was a working Hollywood writer for 9 months of the year and a romantically-open world traveler for the remaining 3. She falls in love in Argentina, hooks up in Amsterdam and Russia… and Brazil… and Australia… Any How I Met Your Mother fans in the house? Remember Robin’s trip to Argentina? Newman wrote that storyline. There are  moments of pathos as Newman faces family strife and career challenges and begins to examine what exactly she’s trying to accomplish with her jet-setting life, but ultimately, this is a fun travel+dating memoir that sits in the sweet spot between poignant and lighthearted. Definitely enjoyable.

2014 National Book Awards

This summer was a bit of a warped time situation for me. I went on two vacations and slept in five different states. The Boy was home… a lot. I wore the same five dresses every single week. This summer went on forever. But last week it got cold and I had to wear pants and it’s dark out after work and there are freaking pumpkin spice lattes and how is summer actually over??!?

Maybe this is a side effect of going social media dark in August. I missed out on everyone saying goodbye to the summer, so I forgot to say goodbye to the summer. Instead, I’m just gobsmacked by mother nature and having to wear pants. Ugh.

What I’m trying to say is, BOOK AWARDS SEASON IS UPON US and I forgot to get pre-excited about it, so now I am just extra regular-excited. The longlist for the National Book Awards Young People’s Literature category has arrived, and I really like it a lot.

Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 7.42.56 AM 1

I’m going to brag about having read a grand old TWO of these titles before Monday’s announcement. This is big, guys. How many did I read in 2013? 2012? 2011? Zero, Zero, and Zero. I have turned over a new leaf. I am now the queen of books.

Laurie Halse Anderson puts out a new contemporary YA book, oh, every half a millennium, so OF COURSE I read The Impossible Knife of Memory. I liked it. As I revealed in my Printz Prediction mega-post, I didn’t think it was the Best Thing Ever, but I liked it just fine. I was much more impressed by Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming… sorry, LHA, but if I’m betting on you or Jackie Woodson in an authorial cage match? My money’s on Woodson.

I was not surprised to see Steve Sheinkin’s new YA, The Port Chicago 50 on the list – the NBA YPL committee always seems to have a soft spot for nonfiction. A tiny soft spot. One book per year. I was also not surprised to see Eliot Schrefer’s Threatened on the list, since he earned a nod not too long ago for Endangered. Also, critical darling (and winner of the NBC’s 5 under 35), John Corey Whaley? You are also no big freaking surprise here. Also, while I didn’t read it yet, I would like credit for renewing Noggin over and over again for five entire months. It basically lived at my house. That should count for something.

Deborah Wiles’s Revolution and Kate Milford’s Greenglass House are both getting great reviews, so no surprises here. There’s a lot of YA/MG crossover on this list (the Woodson, Sheinkin, Schrefer, and Hiaasen sit in that 12-14 neck of the woods), but to me, Revolution and Greenglass House are the reps from Team Middle Grade. And I think you could argue that Team Middle Grade has taken the NBA gold for the last five years, so neither of these are to be ignored.

So. The last three. Skink: No Surrender. I do love me some Carl Hiaasen, but nothing about his adult work screams “GIVE ME A MAJOR LITERARY AWARD.” (edit: except for the part where he got a Newbery honor for Hoot… oops) But good to see some comedy/mystery on the list either way, lest we forget how powerful and difficult and important comedy writing. Super happy to see Girls Like Us on the list – woohoo for quiet(er) girly YA realism, and woohoo for Candlewick! And last but not least – Andrew Smith. Mr. Smith, you are having quite the year! I checked out 100 Sideways Miles immediately after finishing Grasshopper Jungle a few weekends ago, which meant I read the NBA longlist knowing that a nominee was sitting on my desk WAITING FOR ME TO READ IT and that’s when you feel a little bit like a literary rockstar.

Yes, I’m just very, overly excited to have read two books out of ten from a fundamentally arbitrary list. Small, nerdy pleasures.



(not so) Premature Printz

When I started dreaming up this post, I was going to title it Premature Printz Predictions. Because I started crafting this post in June, only halfway through 2014.

Sometime between June and now, postulating upon potential Printz pics became… um… timely. So there you have it. I’m a procrastinator. A Printz Predicting Procrastinator. Okay, I’m done. Really.

Flashback to late 2013. I won’t go as far as to say I *called* Marcus Sedgwick winning last year’s award for Midwinterblood. I didn’t read the book, and I didn’t tell anyone my prediction or write it down or even call it a prediction in my own mind. What I do remember, quite clearly, is a moment where I gazed upon what I believed to be the primary contenders for the year’s award and wonder why nobody was talking about it. Sedgwick won a Printz honor for Revolver. Midwinterblood had a Horn Book star. Neither of these are guaranteed, or even likely markers of a potential winner, but both at once gave me definite pause.

But we were all still busy talking about Eleanor and Park, The Summer Prince, Fangirl, and Winger. Buzz books.

Blinded by the buzz? Or just having more fun talking about the fun books?

So this year, I’m wondering less about which books are sure-winners and more about which books we should be talking about and reading. Props, as usual, to Someday My Printz Will Come for their comprehensive longlist, which I consulted more than once while crafting this post. I’ve narrowed down the potential Printz playing field (SORRY) to the following categories:


The Alumni

Honored once, honored again? The Printz has only been around since 2000 – the pool of past winners is modest, and the pool of past winning authors even smaller. Does one Printz – either award or honor -beget another? These 2014 books are all written by previous awardees. There’s no reason that these books should win over other 2014 titles, but I feel like they should be on the table. A good place to start – a way to take the collective temperature of what is going on this year in YA.

I’ve only read two of these – The Impossible Knife of Memory and We Were Liars. I’m not sure Impossible Knife will stand up to the competition – Laurie Halse Anderson does maintain her well-earned reputation with her latest YA realism venture, but I feel like this one screams “Problem Novel!” a little too loudly to be a real contender (edit: says she three days before the NBA longlisted this one…)We Were Liars has a better chance – so well-constructed, with effortless literary allusions and such STYLE (sorry, E. Lockhart fangirl in the house) – but I think the reliance on such a sensational plotline (not to mention the relentless marketing push… FOR THIS ENTIRELY DESERVING BOOK *cough*) may be a distraction.

Now I’m moving on to Purely Printz Postulation (…) but I don’t think the Lynch or the Myers are likely contenders. Like Ms. Anderson, it’s been a long time since either of these authors saw any Printz love and I don’t think there’s anything exemplary going on in either of their 2014 novels that would make them stand out. The Yang I’m a little iffy on as well because Yang didn’t do the artwork for The Shadow Hero.

Of the rest, I can’t really comment, except that I have a tingly Spidey-Sense feeling around The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean.


The Morris Alums

I’m not really into statistics-related math, at least in my blogging-free-time, so please forgive me for making unsupported statements… however, I would hazard a guess that the Morris to Printz corrollation is not as strong as the Printz to Second Printz correlation. This could be because the Morris is a slightly newer award and, by nature, honors first-time writers; perhaps we will see more Morris to Printz winners as these new authors keep at it. However, I think that reading the latest work by Morris winners is another good way to get a feel for what is going on in YA in a given year – these particular books might not be Printz-worthy, but it’s likely that whatever wins will be at LEAST as good as this little stack.

I have sadly read zero of these books, so I have no firsthand insights on any of these particular books, but I could see Jenny Hubbard and Stephanie Kuehn making a Printz appearance this year.




The Otherwise Awarded

These authors are not Printz winners or honors, but they’ve still medaled in other divisions. Schrefer, Johnson, Sheinkin and Griffin are all National Book Award nominees. Sheinkin tore up all sorts of other awards with Bomb a few years ago, and both Sheinkin and Smith earned Boston Globe-Horn Book nods this year.

And what’s more, Schrefer, Sheinkin, and Smith just landed on this year’s National Book Awards long list! Holy cats!

Maybe too much buzz will work against these books in Printz discussions – that’s probably not a kosher thing to say about a supposedly impartial book award committee, but it’s still a possibility – but the Printz isn’t the only game in town. These authors have proven themselves elsewhere; they should surely be part of the Printz discussion.



Buzz Queens

These authors and books may not have any YA specific award pedigree (well, except for 100 Sideways Miles, now!), but they are the ones you’ve heard of this year, by authors who’ve built solid reputations. Wolitzer and Maguire earn accolades for their adult fic, so a foray into YA is worth noting – Egg & Spoon feels a little young-ish for YA, but I feel like that’s probably one of the more common ways we dismiss a book’s Printz-worthiness and then sometimes we get Navigating-Early-ed. Same goes for Brown Girl Dreaming. I’ll Give You the Sun and Afterworlds have a lot of industry buzz behind them, but will that translate to literary acclaim? A reader-friend I trust totally panned I’ll Give You the Sun, so we’ll see how that one does.

I’ve read Belzhar and Brown Girl Dreaming. While I enjoyed Belzhar a great deal, it feels like an awards longshot. Brown Girl Dreaming, however, feels like it could be a big winner in any category you want to put it in.



Wild Cards

The wild cards. The debut authors. The modest buzz. The starred reviews. The sleepers. I think these four books could have a shot at making the Printz list even though they don’t have the frenetic buzz that so often surrounds a YA novel. I’ve read The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender and it might have the right combination of fanciful literary language and magical realism that beguiles an awards committee. Gospel of Winter seems like the kind of quiet problem novel that might slip under the radar but could stand up to some of the more buzzed-about books. Everyone was talking Pointe when it pubbed in April for Colbert’s engaging story, multifaceted characterization, and socioeconomically and ethnically diverse cast of teen characters. This One Summer has been very warmly regarded – SIX STARS! – but I haven’t sensed that awards-push that surrounded, say, last year’s Boxers and Saints. Graphic novels have a tough go during awards season, but this one is definitely deserving. And six stars! Seriously!

So there you have it, guys – not any predictions, really, but a rough playing field for January’s awards. I think all that’s left to say is… um… get reading.


the reading lunch

This August was tough. I was finishing up vacations, coming down from various forms of Summer Fun (that usually involve staying up past my bedtime and/or eating and drinking indulgently), and otherwise re-adjusting to Normal Life. Also, sweating a lot. I’m really no good in hot weather.

So I did what any reasonable Type A weirdo would do – what I’ve done time and time again in my time of need: I scheduled. And scheduled. And then scheduled again, for just a few more hours. Micromanaging one’s life isn’t a sustainable hobby, but I find it soothing. And occasionally I land on something that sticks.

Enter: The Reading Lunch.

2014-08-04 11.39.29

On Mondays and Fridays – the two longest/hardest days of the work week – I get myself out of the building on my lunch break. I bring headphones and two books. I buy a cup of coffee. I finagle a seat. I figure out how much time is left for my break, divide it by two, and set a timer on my phone. I read one book until the timer goes off. Then I read another. Then I go back to work (…and eat my actual lunch while I do email).

This has been a really pleasing ritual for me. When it’s book review season, or I’m doing something like the Cybils, having a dedicated time to plow through some pages takes the edge off. If not, it’s just nice to know I can sit down – guilt free – with whatever book I want. I like bringing two books because unless I am completely obsessed over a book, 30-40 minutes is a long time for uninterrupted reading. 15 to 20 minutes is more manageable, and the timer is part of the ritual: you can read without watching the clock, waiting for the ding. Two books can bring a little variety into my reading life. I can make a little headway on a Required Read and follow it up with a Non-Required Read. I can cheat on my Currently Reading books with something juicy from my Drawer of Shame.

Additional bonuses: Vitamin D, caffeine buzz for your afternoon work, the day goes by more quickly if you leave the building at some point.

If you too are looking for excuses to squeeze more books into your day-to-day, add this routine to your stash of reading tricks.

read – reading – to read



I knew it was coming, the end of this glorious season of free reading. I’d just convinced myself that I had a little more time. Alas, there will be review books in my hands by the time you finish reading this, and depending on my schedule, these could be the last few personal choice reads that I had the luck to personally choose. For a few months anyway. (drama, drama drama)

Now that my last three reads feel like MY LAST. THREE. READS., I feel like I made good choices. Last week I flew through All Joy and No Fun, which satisfied the lack of non-fiction in my year’s reading, as well as got rid of an ARC that sat on my shelf for far too many months. It wasn’t a revolutionary read  for me – I spent three years talking about how adults view children and childhood in grad school; I used to read my mother’s parenting books when I was a kid; I read mommy blogs, for goodness sake – but it might be enlightening for a reader who is, ah, not a big fat weirdo.

I also finished John Updike’s Rabbit, Run on audio this weekend. Oh boy. I made my choice because I’ve never read any full-length Updike, because I liked the narrator, and because I got into the story pretty quickly. All was well, until Harry Angstrom turned out to be one of the more loathsome protagonists I’ve met in literature. I like to deride people who deride books based on the likeability of characters, so I listened on with with intent and humility, but I could really only take thirty minutes or so at a time before I just wanted to throttle him. This might have also been due to the narrator? He was a good reader, but maybe Harry would have been less smarmy in my head if I didn’t have a narrator smarming him up.

In less ambivalent news, I read Grasshopper Jungle this weekend and really couldn’t do much of anything else. Read this, please. It’s not as weird as you think, but it’s also as weird as you think.



While I was waiting for my stack of required reads, I really just devoted myself to muscling through the enormous (but quite good) The Name of the Wind. Seriously, though. Enormous. I purposefully checked out the hardback because I hate mass-market paperbacks so very much, but now I’m stuck with this 700+ page doorstop. I cannot bring it anywhere with me. So I also started reading the new Gretchen Rubin (snagged from Edelweiss!) on my Kindle and my phone. So far it’s not quite as readable as her last two, but it’s all about building habits and making changes in one’s life so I am obviously drinking all of that Kool Aid.

I am also listening to What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding. To be honest, I was cheating on Rabbit, Run with this one. Some days, I just couldn’t force myself to spend any more time with Mr. Angstrom, so I spent some time with Ms. Newman instead. She’s much more winning. This is a comedy/travel memoir that flew under the radar this past Spring, but for those of you who like… ah… comedy and travel and reading about single people’s short-term affairs with foreign men, well, this is CERTAINLY the book for you! I will probably finish it in the next few days – it’s quick, and now that Rabbit’s out of the way…


to read

First up in my stack of Required Reads: The Half Life of Molly Pierce. From what I can tell, there will be some mysterious black outs. Some amnesia. Probably some thrills and some chills and some romance. It also weighs less than 8 pounds (*cough* Kvothe *cough*)Let’s get it done, then!

I am feeling incredibly indecisive about my next audiobook. Firstworldreaderproblems. I have a few queued up but nothing I am feeling ecstatic about. This is (bizarrely, needlessly) anxiety-provoking. I am thinking Ann Patchett’s Patron Saint of Liars might be the winner. I listened to Patchett’s essay collection, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage in May and I really enjoyed it, but I haven’t ready any of Patchett’s fiction… even though she’s one of those authors who writes those books that everyone loves and says you’ll love and blah blah blah I have no excuses at this point, so maybe I should read one. I will. I will listen to this book and be happy. Plus, I have been doing a fair bit of Manly Dude Reading in the past few months, so I have been jonesing for something a little more woman-centric. There. Decided. Peace be with me.


reading wishlist: old books

Let’s keep talking about how there are too many books to read on this planet and the accompanying angst that I, a mere mortal, will never be able to read them all. I’m not going to fit them into 2014, or 2015 or by the time I’m 60 or 80 or 105.

I keep a To Read list. It lives on Goodreads. Any time I hear about a new book I think I might like to read someday, I throw it on the list. It’s huge – 550 books right now – but I like to tell myself that as long as my “read” list is longer then I am in the clear. Also, I trim it regularly. My reading near future isn’t chiseled in stone, and my first impressions of what might be worth reading don’t always stand up to the test of even a few months’ time.

Some books, however, keep making the cut. I added all these books to my TBR just years ago but I’m pretty sure that I will still want to read them some day. Maybe not in 2014, but you know, before I lose my facilities.


Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

Why read it? It’s a Michael L. Printz Honor. It has illustrations by Maira Kalman. It’s humorous YA realism about a breakup. This is all to say: incredibly up my alley.

Well, why haven’t you read it? I want to read it in print for the illustrations… but getting myself to read an older book in print is… ah… challenging. Also, it has illustrations, so the paper is thick, and it’s just a beastly heavy tome. It’s a bit of a Catch-22. Also, some of my friends didn’t like it, so I didn’t have any YOU HAVE TO READ THIS pressure on my shoulders.

But you still want to read it because… It’s a Printz honor, and I don’t toss award-winners from my TBR lightly! Insert your own joke about tossing really heavy books lightly here.

Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

Why read it? Lost of buzz when it came out (YEARS AND YEARS AND YEARS AGO). Sex and drugs and boarding school. Who can resist that?

Well, why haven’t you read it? It came out when I was in grad school, and grad school didn’t allow a lot of time for those Adult Books. Also, it’s not available in any version of audio that I can get my hands on. I’ve tried!!

But you still want to read it because… I recently discovered an unexamined passion for books about young people meeting up in semi-isolated places, getting to know/hate/love one another, and coming of age. Hence my fondness for any sort of boarding school book. I’m keeping this on the list in case I need one handy.


I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Why read it? It’s one of those old-school (1940s) proto-YA books that everyone still raves about. Diary-style first-person, coming of age, etc

Well, why haven’t you read it? See: old books problem. Also, old-school proto-YA set in historical periods of other countries are the kind of books that I sometimes like but never, ever think I’m going to like. So I procrastinate.

But you still want to read it because… It’s one of those touchstones of the genre that just Keeps. Coming. Up. So I’m just going to have to read it at some point. Even if it sits on my TBR until I am 50.


Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

Why read it? I feel like this is a classic of the Modern, Approachable-but-Political Nonfiction genre. Which is a genre I like.
Well, why haven’t you read it? Sheer laziness? Natural preference for fiction over nonfiction when free-reading? I don’t know!
But you still want to read it because… I think it’s exactly the kind of book I’d enjoy. I would be concerned that, at this point, the information might be a bit out of date, but given that the topic is The Real Life Challenges of those Living in Poverty in America, I doubt that much has actually changed in the past 10 years or so.


The President’s Daughter by Ellen Emerson White

Why read it? When this series was republished in 2008, the YA lit blogosphere went a little bit nuts – everyone and their sister was raving about this overlooked wonder. I added it to my TBR list accordingly.

Well, why haven’t you read it? Now that I am halfway through this list, I think the real answer for all of these books is “grad school.” So, I’ll choose “grad school” for this round.

But you still want to read it because… I actually did check this one out once and read 100 pages or so. I was digging it, but… grad school.


The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

Why read it? Well, it’s Barbara Kingsolver. It has a young female protagonist and it’s about motherhood. Also, did I mention it’s by Barbara Kingsolver?

Well, why haven’t you read it? Aaaggggh I am feeling under pressure. I HAVEN’T READ IT BECAUSE I AM BUSY READING HUNDREDS OF OTHER BOOKS.

But you still want to read it because… Barbara Kingsolver. Also, a few years ago (and a few years after I put this book on my TBR) I was helping a group of first year college students do research for their English class and they were all studying The Bean Trees and their paper topics seemed really interesting.


Kristy’s Great Idea by Raina Telgemeier

Why read it? Things I loved as a child: Babysitter’s Club. Things I love as a grown up: graphic novels. It’s just math, guys.

Well, why haven’t you read it? I’m actually unsure of whether or not my former passion for Babysitter’s Club is even worth revisiting. It’s not like I hold the series on some sort of pedestal – I wasn’t that obsessed – but I also don’t have too many remaining memories of what the books were like, just vague impressions of characters and plots. I think it might be better to leave it be.

But you still want to read it because… Raina Telgemeier. That’s pretty much it.


Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Why read it? It’s a giant Jonathan Franzen book, guys. Those don’t come around too many times in your life. Plus, I am always looking to read more books by men named Jonathan.

Well, why haven’t you read it? For those of us with bad backs and limited attention spans. it’s not a giant Jonathan Franzen book. It’s a giant Jonathan Franzen book.

But you still want to read it because… Some of you might know that I am having a deep love affair with The Magicians and Lev Grossman in general, as a human and author. He sites Freedom as a major creative touchstone for writing his series, in terms of craft. So I want to read it.