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a family holiday letter

Dear subset of Friends and Family who know how to read blogs,

Greetings to you and yours at the end of a long and winding 2015.

Do people still write holiday letters? You know, the photocopied missives tucked into their annual greeting cards updating interested parties in the comings and goings of one family over the course of the year? It seems a little unnecessary in The Age of Facebook – anything significant is bound to show up on a feed at some point – and maybe even more unnecessary to post upon a blog. What is a blog other than a perpetual Christmas letter – look at me! Look at what I am doing, and let me tell you all about it!

As of last year, there were a few stalwart Christmas Letter Writers remaining in my family. Whether or not they have taken to the task in 2015 has yet to be determined since one recent event that has occurred in my immediate family is that we have lost our mailbox key. I’m hoping that we will gain access to this box soon and that it will burst open with cards and gifts and Christmas checks and that piece of paper proving that I did show up at jury duty so my HR department can finally be sated.

But I’ve skipped ahead. Let’s roll on back to earlier in this fine year.

The first third of 2015 can be divided as thus:

  1. Snow

Boston had a record-breaking Winter. The first storm arrived just before my Darling Husband’s 30th birthday. The second, just after. The third and the fourth, I just can’t remember. Was there a fifth? A sixth? I’ve blocked it all out. Darling Husband had 10 snow days off from school; I had some as well, but I also had the good fortune of enduring the total breakdown of Boston’s reliable 1000 year old public transportation system! What joy. This paragraph is officially depressing me. Right now we’re looking at a High of 66 for Christmas Eve, so shall we refrain from uttering the S word until 2016 forever and ever amen.

  1. Books

As you may well know, I had the good fortune of serving on a children’s book award committee this past year. The first half of 2015 was spent reading. And reading some more. Scheming ways to convince myself to read even more. Also thinking about books. And making lists of books. Opening boxes and making piles of books and moving the piles from one place to another. My Darling Husband assumed a supportive role, cheering me on and pre-emptively declining social events on my behalf, and also cooking dinner twice a week.

Also, at one point our apartment looked like this:


After four months of housebound snow days and couchbound book reading, we transitioned into the middle third of the year, wherein we decided to GTFO of the house… and the state… and the country.

2015-04-20 10.28.25 HDR

In April, Darling Husband and I paid a visit to Favorite Roommate (and Favorite Roomate’s Favorite Roommate and their sweet pups) in scenic Kansas City, Montana – the City of Fountains. We saw the sights. We drank the local beers. We examined libraries and children’s book stores. We even took a jaunt over to the famed Manhattan, Kansas – home of the Wildcats, and also my baby brother-in-law. TBH, we also did A LOT of pajama-wearing, Pandemic playing, and donut eating. But is there really a better way to vacation? I think not.


In May, I took the fancy bus on down to New York, New York for Book Expo. If you exclude jaunts to visit family, this was my first solo overnight trip ever. I made all of my own travel arrangements, met up with my little cousin for a long walk around Central Park, fed myself (almost entirely on free food), and got myself where I needed to be when I needed to be there. I even had a glass of wine on my bus ride home. WHAT A GROWN UP. Then, in June, I took my SECOND solo trip, this time to visit with my two dearest high school chums in good old hot-and-sticky San Antonio, Texas.


Six days after my return to MA, My Darling Husband and I departed for our second grand European adventure.


Three nights in Paris, during which we…

  • gazed upon Notre Dame, the Musée D’Orsay, the Eiffel Tower, and the Moulin Rouge
  • bought a copy of A Movable Feast at Shakespeare & Co
  • suffered through record heats with the help of a supplementary air conditioning unit that appeared in our hotel room. (it was a giant bag of ice in a Styrofoam cooler)
  • ate a meal consisting entirely of wine, bread, and fresh cheese


Then, three nights in Amsterdam, where we…

  • accidentally wandered into the red light district whilst trying to find an Indian restaurant
  • made friends with our charming Airbnb-mates
  • observed a naked bike rally in the Vondelpark
  • cried at Anne Frank’s house, admired the expansive public library, and ate some street frites


Last but not least, Berlin. Highlights included…

  • a newly constructed, shiny, modern hotel room with a swanky roof bar and REALLY GREAT AC
  • zipping all over the city on big trains and little trains and buses like pros, I’m sure
  • the impossibly delicious creation that is the döner kebab
  • spending time with our dear friend Maren, who zipped on over from Dortmund to show us around town

PHEW. After that, we flew home, exhausted, and took it nice and easy for the rest of the summer.

And by “rest of the summer,” I mean “a few days.” In July, Darling Husband spent four nights on Cape Cod, camping out with his bandmates and ostensibly working on new music. He also bussed down to New York for the night to visit with a high school buddy who was in from Shanghai (and also to liberate his expensive trumpet from the borough of Brooklyn where it had spent a few unexpected weeks. Long, stupid story.) In August, we road tripped down to Sunset Beach, North Carolina to spend a week on the beach with my family. It was, once again, lovely, although we did reach some sort of testosterone tipping point. In where my usual family vacations are spent reading, beaching (tanning?), outlet shopping, and snacking, this time there was fishing and golfing and more golfing and spontaneous outbreaks of Magic the Gathering. Very curious.


At the end of the summer, we said goodbye to about a million of our Boston friends – everyone who was kinda trying to leave Boston for the past three years made an exodus in 2015. There were last drinks and last suppers and the desperate hawking of couches on Craigslist. There were emotions. To Colorado, Portland, Royal Oak, and New Zealand – what amazing, lovely people you now have among you. Treat them well!

The rest of the year has been (relatively) more bucolic. I prepped for a symposium in October and wrote a lot of book reviews. Darling Husband began his seventh (!!!) teaching year. I thought I couldn’t eat dairy for a while but decided I just can’t eat yogurt. We entertained my in-laws for another gracious visit. We switched Peach to diet food and subsequently cleaned up a lot of cat puke. After almost three years of living car-free, we bought a used Prius… and we kind of love it a lot. We attended a Friendsgiving. We went to seven zillion holiday parties. In five days, we will jet out of state yet again to ring our second consecutive new year in Michigan.

It’s Christmas Eve now as I finish up this lengthy missive. I had a nice day working in a completely empty office while Darling Husband did some last minute shopping. We have acquired some festive take out, I am cooking up a pineapple upside down cake, and we are settling in for a long winter’s 60+ degree night of enjoying some classic, cheerful television programming.

I’m thinking a few episodes of Game of Thrones.

I’m also thinking that I am a very lucky lady. Thank you to all of my dear ones who made 2015 the year it was for me… and my Darling Husband and my chubby orange cat. I’m wishing you the very happiest of holidays and a fabulous, fabulous, fabulous new year.






thoughts on the end of the year



It’s December 1st today. I am taking that last calendar flip of 2015 as permission to do a little end-of-year contemplation. This year, man. This freaking year. Do I say this every year? I can’t find textual evidence at the moment, but I wouldn’t be surprised. When we moved to Boston in 2009, my life took off at a gallop. Thankfully, we’ve had a preternatural amount of good fortune during these last six years – much of what keeps my schedule packed is the Really Good Stuff – exciting career and professional activities, travel, time with friends and family, and good old-fashioned book readin’.

But busy is still busy. I’m still reasonably confident that I have enough hours in my weeks to accomplish some stuff while I’m kicking around on this good green earth… but I’m beginning to suspect that I might also spend those weeks (months, years) waiting for some mythical period of rest.

Is this just adulthood? A generational condition? Is it Boston? My genes? My life choices? An inability to say no? That pesky proclivity toward overachieving? Probably all of the above. Sometimes, my busy-bodiness irks me, especially when I find myself putting off tasks because I’m waiting to wrap up XXX or have a few spare moments to YYY; am I running myself ragged just so I have a good excuse to stay away from some of those bigger, scarier life goals? But I’m also the kind of person who enjoys a certain level of leisure in my daily life – I get up early so I can (re)-read chapters of Game of Thrones with my coffee, rarely do anything productive past 8:00 p.m., and am all too ready to trade my required reading for a fun book (orrrrr another episode of Master of None) when I’ve had a long day.

So, am I so prone to manic over-scheduling that my life needs a sea-change? Or am I better off manipulating my daily hours and habits so I can better utilize work and leisure time?

Well isn’t THAT a question?


Way back in early October, I sat down in front of an empty page of a notebook to think about what would come next. I was just finishing up my Year of Reading Madly responsibilities, with three months left to spare. What should I accomplish now?

My mind started churning through that never-ending laundry list of Things to Do Later; the habits and hobbies and tasks to attempt in the event of that Mythical Time of Rest. I’d even made a list on some restless Saturday past. But there, in that moment with my notebook, there was a little voice in my head that said “Why not do nothing?”

And I listened to it.

So no arbitrary goal setting, no trying to squeeze in “Just One More…” before the end of the year, no new habit building or NaNoWriMo or anything else remotely aspirational. Not necessarily three months of wild indulgence or sloth or apathy. Just three months of getting the stuff I need to get done and then doing whatever. Three months of regular old living.

It felt like a good choice. I imagined that in between my normal activities (working, cooking, cleaning, exercising, book reviews, etc) I’d find some downtime during which I might flex my autonomy. Follow my interests. Read the books I felt like reading. Write whatever I felt like writing. Spend some quality time with my husband. Maybe watch a little more television than usual, and do some holiday baking. Regroup in January.

That was the plan, and… so far, on December 15th (God, these posts come slow…) I give myself a B-.

Points off for continuing to set the occasional goal and schedule.

And even more points off for… being too damn busy.


So here’s what I’ve been up to.

I review books for a biannual review journal, so I’m smack dab in the middle of what I like to call Guide Season. The books are usually reasonably quick reads, the reviews brief, and I have a few years of practice now; the process isn’t overwhelming. But every four weeks – a deadline. Every four weeks – another stack of books to plow through.

I’m also preparing to participate in ALSC’s Bill Morris Book Evaluation Seminar in early January. I am really 100%, unequivocally geeked about this particular professional opportunity! We’ve got a reading list to work through before the day of discussion; thankfully, there are a lot of 2014 heavy-hitters that I’ve already read once or twice, but I’m still planning on giving each book another go around. Plus, there are articles to read, a professional book to revisit, and awards criteria to consider. Geeked, but… work.

This Fall I’ve also been doing some work for another ALSC joint – the May Hill Arbuthnot Lecture Award Committee. This year, my committee selected the speaker for the 2017 Arbuthnot Lecture – which can be given by a children’s author, illustrator, editor, scholar, or anyone else equipped to write and deliver a lecture that would mark a significant contribution to the field of children’s literature. It’s a virtual committee, so there has been plenty of research, discussion, and fighting with technology to be had. The speaker will be announced in January at Midwinter, so look out for that! Then, we will move on to taking and selecting a bid for the speech’s location.

And last but certainly not least, I’m waiting patiently for January 1st, upon which it will be time for yet another year with the Cybils YA Nonfiction Award. I have read only a scant few of this year’s nominees, so I am guaranteed at least a few books to add to my docket quite soon, along with the associated discussions.

Add in a cookie competition at work, more holiday parties than I can actually physically attend, and five nights in Michigan for New Year’s… what a great time to take a step back flex one’s autonomy!


It’s also the time of year where I typically buckle down and blog heavy for my annual end-of-year Best Reads Extravaganza.

This year, though, I am feeling conflicted. Yeah, I read a *ton* this year. 172 books completed and counting. Also, since I started my awards reading late in 2014 and wanted to avoid too much chatter about eligible titles, I set my fiscal cut-off date a little earlier than I usually do – even more books!

But it’s really been just such a strange reading year. I read so much and so fast that they are blurring together in my memory. I read some really good ones, yes, but many many many more that didn’t stand out, or that I liked but weren’t really my kind of book – books that I could gladly recommend, but few that stirred up the kind of passion that make me excited to sink time into blogging about.

The second half of the year has been even stranger. In June, I read entirely books for review. In July, more review books, plus a random assortment of other unremarkable titles – mostly adult. August was pretty good, but I only read 6 books. But in September, I only read 1! October was back to reviews; November reviews + graphic novels; December, reviews.

My busy life took over my reading life in 2015. There haven’t been too many hours in the day where I could read freely, and when those hours come, and episode of Great British Bake Off or going to bed an hour early is often more appealing. My attention span is too shot to handle dense audiobooks – podcasts and light adult nonfiction and memoirs are all I can handle.

But a year of reading critically has had an impact on what kinds of books I want to make time to read and what I think about those that I do. I feel significantly harder to please  – even if I had a magical reading holiday to tackle 10 books of my choosing, I can’t imagine that I’d feel passionate about a majority of them. Even if they were the most well-recepted, critically-amazing, just-up-my-alley kind of books. It’s harder for me to get amped up about any one particular book, but it’s even harder to decide what books to try out – to audition. I find myself wanting to wait for more and more critical input to arrive before I read something, lest I find myself wasting time.

This is something I’m hoping to work through in 2016. For now, I think I might swing back to the blog later in the month to do a Top Ten or a few fun lists. Something lower key than usual, but I can’t give up the tradition entirely after… ah… nine years? (NINE YEARS??!?)

And then… a crazy-short vacation.

And then… a crazy-crazy ALA Midwinter.

And then…

2015 National Book Awards

Well, it seems I have somehow missed the window for blogging about the National Book Awards longlist… and judging by how long it takes me to churn out a fully-formed post these days, I’m criss-crossing my fingers that by the time you darling readers see this post, I won’t have missed the window for talking about the freaking shortlist. Gah!!


The ten finalists in the category of Young People’s Literature struck me as quite the… surprising bunch. Individually, I wasn’t surprised to see any particular title on the list, but together they just seemed a bit of motley crew. Two middle grade titles, one fiction and one memoir. Two nonfiction titles for older readers. A spread of YA – one realistic, one historical, and three on the spectrum of fantasy. Oh, and a non-realistic graphic novel to round out the bunch. That’s quite the spread.

Since some of these books fell under my 2014-2015 Read All the Books jurisdiction, I have read an impressive five titles this year! Most recently – Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda and Nimona. Both of these I found kind of… left field-ish? I don’t know. While you see YA realism on the NBA lists occasionally, light romantic/comedic YA realism? Not so much. As I mentioned last month, I thought Simon was enjoyable, but perhaps a bit thin; not surprised to see it fall off the long-list. I read Nimona earlier this week as part of a Graphic Novel Extravaganza – loved the medieval/superhero mash-up setting, loved Lord Ballister Blackheart as a character and loved Goldenloin as the best character name ever. Very fun and very comic-y, which again, you don’t see very often on awards lists… and maybe I’m used to considering meatier GNs, then, because I left Nimona feeling like she was a bit light on theme, maybe? Also, am I just the oldest person around or were that the world’s TINIEST dialogue text? Alright. Curmudgeon out.

Two I read in early 2015: Bone Gap and X: A Novel. Bone Gap: a genre-bending YA story that reads like a fairytale with a really endearingly misunderstood protagonist and a creepy-as-hell rural setting. X: a novelization of Malcolm X’s late teen years in Boston and NYC that focuses on how his experiences (and morally questionable teen-aged behaviors) led him on a path to self-discovery and activism. Both satisfying reads, but for my tastes, kind of middle of the road? Since X has already dropped off, we’ll see if Bone Gap can go the distance.

Of the titles I haven’t yet read, two are already out of the running: Gary Paulsen’s This Side of Wild and Rae Carson’s Walk on Earth a Stranger. I almost ordered This Side of Wild for the library as fiction rather than biography a few weeks back, which is… embarrassing. Walk on Earth a Stranger sounds like a fantasy book that I could dig, but I’m heard such conflicting reviews from respectable sources: some dug it hard, some found it completely culturally insensitive/offensive. Argh. Either way, neither are in the running, so the stakes for reading are lower.

And speaking of books that are no longer in the running, can we pause and shed a tear for M. T. Anderson’s Symphony for the City of the Dead? I haven’t yet read it (despite my better intentions), but I’ve heard that it’s good-good-good-good and I just really can’t imagine that this awards committee came to that decision easily. I HOPE YOU ARE ALL LOSING SLEEP, COMMITTEE.

Juuuust kidding. That was pretty hoe-stile. And I haven’t even read two of the final contenders, so even if I had read Symphony, I would still have a useless opinion. First, we have Steve Sheinkin’s Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War; Mr. Sheinkin’s name is never a surprise to an awards list. He’s simply doing some of the coolest stuff with narrative nonfic right now. Also, I’ve heard him speak before and he seems like… the absolute nicest, nerdiest dude you will ever meet. Next, our MG offering, Ali Benjamin’s The Thing About Jellyfish. And it’s a debut! How exciting! I had heard zero about this book before seeing it on this list (we even missed it for ordering at the old librario), but it does look like the kind of tween-y MG that I would like.

And last, but not least………

Neal Shusterman’s Challenger Deep.

Guys. This book. It certainly has a sentimental corner of my heart, but my own sappy personal BS aside… THIS BOOK. I read it in May. I was reading a book a day at that point – it was the 110th full-length book I’d read in 2015 alone. And just a few chapters in, I was perplexed, I was riveted, my jaw just dropped to the dang floor.

So yeah, this one is my favorite.

(And I’m hitting publish in five, four, three, two, ONE WEEK BEFORE THE WINNER IS ACTUALLY ANNOUNCED somebody please give me a delayed blogger gold star)

seven half-read books

Three months left in 2015, and I have already read 140 books.

So I decided to take it easy last month. And read one book.

One single, solitary book. A statistical anomaly in my years of recorded reading life. Probably hasn’t happened since college, if then. High school? Never? I don’t know.

The book I read was Suzy Becker’s One Good Egg; a lovely memoir about trying to get knocked up (by way of science!) at 39-years-old. It was brief and illustrated and felt a little bit more like reading a magazine than a book, which I mean in a very good way. It was, indeed, the only book I’ve read in awhile that tugged at me from the coffee table whenever I passed it by. I know that all reading can’t and shouldn’t have that effect on me, but isn’t it just delightful when it does?

But yeah, that was it. The lonely only. But as much as I love writing the same books over and over and over again, one single book does not a blog make. So let me tell you about the other books I’ve been reading. The ones that I picked up for a train ride home and never opened again. The ones I’ve been chipping away at over the months. The ones I’m still on the fence about.

Seven Unread

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

A last gasp of Summer Reading List pick, and one I was quite excited to read. Am quite excited to read! I’ve been trying to read a little before bed to tire out my brain, and picked this one up. I’m about 75 pages in, and I have to say that YES this is book is just Up. My. Alley. 100%. I could read about packs of 20-somethings traipsing around their lives for days. And Yanagihara’s prose is just that delightfully smooth narration that makes you forget that nothing is actually happening and then, bam, how have 75 pages gone by already? Love it.

But you know what? The book is really heavy. I have a galley, and even that is about 100 lbs. Trying to hold it up in bed is tiresome. And also, I look at all 736 pages of it and think to myself “are you really going to spend XXX hours reading a superfluous grown-up book when you could be reading XXX pages of kid lit?” and then I start to rethink my entire life and my choices and that is just not something one wants to do before bed. So I might let this one go.

Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness by Jessica Valenti

Do you like reading alarmist or anti-alarmist articles about American domestic decisions? Well I certainly do! I’m sure that is where I heard about this book. I was in the mood for some easy-reading nonfiction one fine afternoon and this one was on shelf, and I read about half of the essays before my attention was dragged elsewhere. I liked them okay, but like a similar read – All Joy and No Fun – I think the book could have been more accurately titled 100 Reasons Why Kids Are Terrible But I’m Trying Really Hard For This Book Not to Be a Downer. So, interesting, but somewhat depressing.

After Alice by Gregory Maguire

Nothing says “FREE READING” like picking out a nice galley from your drawer of shame to read on the train home. I spent a few commutes falling down the rabbit hole behind Alice… and Ada… and then every other character? I don’t know, I didn’t finish it yet, but when I left there were a lot of folks down there in Wonderland. And also, above ground, Alice’s older teenage sister is gallivanting around. And also Charles Darwin.

P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

I read To All the Boys I Loved Before back in August, when I was still finishing books. I freaking loved it. So what better to bust a reading slump than picking up the sequel, which was sitting *conveniently* on my very own bookshelf?

Well, it worked for a few days, but it wasn’t a slump-buster. Perhaps because I read the first installment so recently? For me, this book was all about the warm tone and the enjoyment of spending time with the Song family; maybe some absence would have made my heart grow fonder?

I have no idea. This is turning into a strange concept for a blog post. “Why wasn’t this book the exact right book for me at this moment? Why couldn’t this book overcome my busy schedule and mercurial moods?” I have no idea. I’ll be back for you, Song girls, I will indeed.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Ooooookay. So this one is filed under Epic Library Fine Fiascos. You know that thing where you are trying-trying-trying to actually read the books you’ve checked out, but somehow 5 renewals are just not quite enough to finish a highly illustrated book with plenty of white space on each page? And then you have so many overdues that your Overdrive account gets shut off?

No? I’m the only one?

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese

So I’m not blogging or reading… so what have I been doing lately? Going medieval on my family budget, with an emphasis on not spending so dang much on groceries. Since I haven’t had much time for experimental cooking this past year, I was excited to get back into the kitchen. The intersection of these two desires is Reese’s book, which breaks down which homemade goods are worth the sweat and which ones are just too laborious – and, interestingly, which foods are a pain in the butt to make AND cost more money.

I was expecting a useful text, but I wasn’t expecting to read this straight through. However, Reese weaves little narratives in between recipes; kitchen fails and successes, stories about favorite restaurants and shops, misadventures in chicken-rearing. Very readable.

But it’s also a cookbook, so I’m sure I got to a really interesting looking recipe for ricotta, decided I would become a home cheesemaker, and put the book down and forgot to pick it up again.

Also, forgot to make cheese. But that’s just the kind of life I’m living right now.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Toward the end of the month, I was starting to feel a little unhinged. So many unfinished books! None close enough to being finished! Why did I do this to myself? Whatever happened to my four book rule?

So I decided that what I needed was… to start another book entirely.

Yes, this made sense at the time.


I finished it this weekend!

So yes. The title of this post is a lie. But that is what happens when it takes you more than seven calendar days to post a blog. I’m not giving up just because I just *happened* to undermine my central premise, folks.

Anyway, what did I think? I thought it was cute. It read smoothly, the plot was fairly compelling, and the romance was the good kind of YA romance. And by that I mean the of romance kind I like. Also, a two-boys romance.

Also, also, I officially need to finish more books so I get back to writing normal-person blog posts.

horn book at simmons 2015

HBAS_2015_HeaderFriends, family, and other concerned parties: I am still alive and reading.

Well, assuming you consider picking up a different book every day and reading 10 pages before putting it down to watch an episode of Gilmore Girls to be reading.

At any rate, I am alive, and full intending on returning to this blog space in the near future.

But first, a quick signal boost to an Exciting! Event! on the near horizon, one that may be of interest to those of you Friends of the Children’s Book out there – next weekend is the fabulous, annual, simply not-to-be-missed Horn Book at Simmons one day colloquium! The Simmons College Center for the Study of Children’s Literature and the fine fellows at The Horn Book Magazine are teaming up yet again to provide a premier one-day children’s-book-lovers-palooza. Or something like that.

I’ve attended before, so it goes a little like this. On Friday night, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards are awarded, and acceptance speeches are given. A fancy reception follows, where you may drink some wine, get books signed, and maybe Jack Gantos will walk up to you and start a conversation. Then you go to sleep and wake up early, trek to Simmons, take a seat in the perpetually freezing Paretsky Center, drink some sweet, sweet conference coffee, and watch while esteemed authors, illustrators, editors, and other children’s literature people proceed to blow your mind with brilliance. Then you go home and bask in that happy feeling that there is a whole community of people who value children’s books as much as you do, and probably spend an hour or so talking your partner’s ear off about all of the brilliant ideas you never had until this day (while he makes polite nods and hmms while trying not to check his iPhone unscrupulously).

Yours truly will be participating in the events of the day, so it is possible that your Day of Brilliance may be briefly interrupted by a whimpering, sweaty woman trying desperately to keep her wits about her while speaking to an author of more-than-average celebrity. Ignore her. Keep your eyes on the more brilliant members of the lineup. Susan Cooper! Marla Frazee! Neal Shusterman! Wow! Can you believe it? How lucky are you. It’s not too late to join, if you are a local person. If you’re not a local person, I’m sure there will be lots of fun content on the Horn Book’s various blogs, and you can watch the #hbas15 hashtag on the Twitters.

And speaking of interruptions (brief or not so brief)… I’ve really got to go so I can resume panicking preparing for the big show!

Summer Reading List 2015

I kind of thought it would never show up. That the crazy-busy winter and springtime would never end. That the snow would never melt (oh wait, it didn’t) (update: it just did) That I’d never be released into the freedom that is “Summer Reading.”

I spent the official solstice on an interminable flight – San Antonio to Houston, Houston to Baltimore, Baltimore to Boston. It was still bright out when I got home, completely strung out. I stayed strung out for the rest of the week, then got back on an airplane and began the Great European Adventure of 2015.

Don’t worry, though, Summer was just on point in Europe. The sun didn’t set until 10 p.m, which was kind of delightful for a vacation… except for, oh, the crippling heat. European air conditioning = just as wimpy as European wifi, by the way. In Paris, our hotel brought us a 20 lb bag of ice in a foam cooler – old school AC? – but I still couldn’t sleep because sweat kept dripping down my face.

But now I am home, the land where snow never melts and as soon as I finish reading a stack of review books (eta: July 20th-ish) then my SUMMER READING CAN TRULY BEGIN!

Blargh. What kind of Summer Reading doesn’t start until July 20th? Book People Problems.

Because of my late start and my unusual circumstances, I’ve stripped all auspices of ambition from my Summer Reading list. I didn’t even aim very high when creating said list – I really just picked the first 10 books that I came across that sounded fun. Free. Fun and free reading. You know what that’s like, you unencumbered readers you, and I am jealous.

Also, by 10 books I mean 9. That’s the kind of life I’m leading.





In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

Summer Sisters is my ultimate Summer Read, so you best believe I’m excited about a new adult J. Blume. I bought an ebook copy – I tried to read it while I was gallivanting around Europe, but alas, alack, I made 6 flights in 10 days, so no I was not going to be reading a book about plane crashes. I think I’m grounded for the rest of 2015, though, so now’s the time for some Judy.


To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

My life has been lacking Directly Up My Alley YA lately. That is code for Girly as Shit (but not vapid whatsoever) YA – this series not only fits the bill, but pretty much all of my friends have read it and think it’s great. So I’m going to read it, yes, yes I am.


Symphony for the City of the Dead by M. T. Anderson

You know what else is directly up my alley? A NONFICTION BOOK BY M. T. Anderson. Be still my heart. And I have a galley, so booyah.

This post is getting weird. Apologies. I might need to take a dinner break and come back mature and coherent.


My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

This is one of those books that I actually know very little about but somehow feel is just The Book For Me. It’s the cover, the mystery, the Italian…osity, the popularity spike, the fact that it’s a story about friendship throughout a lifetime. Yeah, those are all things that I like. I bought my mama a copy for Christmas – maybe if I’m lucky she’ll let me borrow it while we’re at the beach next month? [insert endearing eyelash batting here]


Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

The one BEA galley to rule them all. Which has been taunting me from atop a monstrous pile of books on my bedroom floor for OVER A MONTH now. Ugh. It’s just gotta be read, guys. It’s gotta happen. I’m a fangirl.


Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Grown up books! Grown up books! Grown up, grown up, grown up books!

(That dinner break was not effective, I’m afraid…)

Anyway. Yeah. Books for grown ups about grown ups doing grown up things. Like getting married and having families and partaking in other domestic-y everyday dramas. Yes please. This one comes with friend recommendations, and while my current family domestic-y drama clocks in at over 600 pages, Dept. of Speculation is blissfully short. Body of a grown up, attention span of a small child – that’s me. Also, Offill’s previous publications include a sloth picturebook. So this one’s gotta be good, right?


A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara

Speaking of grown up books… here’s a bigger and fatter one that I am pretty geeked about for the following reasons:

  • Yanigahara’s debut: so dang great and so dang creepy.
  • The summary – “…four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way…” – is just 500% Jessica-bait


The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Okay, perhaps I couldn’t entirely avoid the obligatory read. But guys, it’s kind of embarrassing that I haven’t read this one yet, and I really could finish it it in about 2 hours if I put my mind to it. So this doesn’t really count as un-fun reading. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

(Has nothing to do with the tasty galley waiting for me at work. Nothing whatsoever.)


Armada by Ernest Cline

Last but not least, we have the new Ernie Cline. Loved Ready Player One so much, so this should be a no-brainer… but I’ve read mixed reviews for this follow-up. But you know what Fun Reading is about for me? Seeing for myself. Picking up books that don’t have unanimously amazing reviews and finding out if they spark my interest. Taking off my Professional Book Person hat for a minute. Reading an iffy book about video games because why the heck not?

So, that’s my summer. And by summer I mean July 25th-ish until September 21st. Or when snow starts to fall – whatever comes first.

Summer Reading Lists Past


update/up next


Hello, friends!

I think I’ve made reasonably good on my early 2015 predictions. I read some YA nonfiction (yay, Romanovs!) I’ve read madly – 115 books and counting! I’m still keeping a log book, and as of about two weeks ago I am a Fancy! New (ish)! Car! Owner! I’ve even examined my relationship with processed foods – my conclusion so far? “When you have a batshitcrazyGoGoGo! kind of year… you eat a lot of processed foods.”

And the trips! I just got back from four nights in San Antonio with my two best friends from high school (and some of their adorable progeny). In April, the boy and I did a DELIGHTFUL week in Kansas City, Missouri with our All Time Favorite Roommate.

Up next…

three nights in Paris (a la Anna and the French Kiss),

three nights in Amsterdam, (a la Postcards from No Man’s Land).

and two nights in Berlin (a la Going Over)

Because of said batshitcrazyGoGoGo year, I have done zero planning. If you have been to any of these cities or have a hypothetical itinerary that’s been burning a hole in your proverbial travel wallet (what does that even mean) please share. Please please. I have a butt ton of book reviews due before I leave and the boy is fi-na-lly finishing school this week, so I think we are both at about 1% brain function and unable of planning our own Tuesday morning, much less a vacation.

But who am I kidding: all I really plan on doing is drinking coffee, eating carbohydrates, and walking around taking pictures with my phone camera. Like a proper American tourist.

Equally exciting? Returning home in a few weeks and OFFICIALLY RESTORING MY LIFE TO NORMALCY

(with a quick break in August to go to the beach).


reading wishlist: the rest of 2015

So let me get this straight…

there are books published *after* May 31st, 2015?

You don’t say.

Despite my lack of attention to the entire second half of the year (or, you know, the rest of my life and the world at large), here’s a handful of books that *still* managed to catch my attention.


I Crawl Through It by A. S. King

I really wish you guys could have been at SLJ Day of Dialog to hear A. S. King talk about feminism. She’s a gem, and I can’t believe it took me so long to discover her work. I’ve heard that I Crawl Through It is pretty weird, even by A. S. King standards, but I remain fearlessly excited to get my hands on it.

The Trouble in Me by Jack Gantos

Hole in My Life is a great book. If some cruel, sadistic individual asked me for a list of Top Ten Favorite Books Ever, I can’t say that Hole in My Life would be at the top of my memory… but then again, I’ve read it probably five or so times and could easily read it five more. It’s just a great book! What can I say? Apparently nothing critical or even somewhat cogent, but what the heck else is new. The Trouble in Me is a second Gantos memoir, which means I am already 100% sold. Even if it’s about teenage boys lighting things on fire.

Addendum: I just learned that Hole in My Life has been optioned for a film…. by Daniel Radcliffe. I’m sure 90% of film options go nowhere, but really now. Daniel. Radcliffe. Yes x 1million


The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

I kind of can’t believe I’m putting a big fat piece of historical fiction on this list, but there you have it. This one is about a fourteen-year-old girl who leaves her family’s Pennsylvania farm to seek a more adventurous life for herself… as a hired servant for a wealthy family in Baltimore. I get the feeling that Joan will be one of those protagonists who is fun to hang out with, with a great sense of humor and an even better voice. Why do I feel this way? I have no idea. I’m in an airport (in Baltimore!) and I’ve been up since 3:30 a.m. This post is about to get pretty weird.


The Odds of Getting Even by Sheila Turnage

Oh, Mo LoBeau. You are my favorite underage Southern detective, and I am excited to hang out with you again this year.


Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Hello. Huge Rebecca Stead fangirl in the house. I attempted to take home zero galleys while I was at BEA. I ended up with about 12 because sometimes people at BEA just hand you books, but this was the only one I went for voluntarily. I regret nothing. Except for arranging my summer schedule in such a way that I won’t actually be able to read this one until at least July. What a big mistake.


Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

Soooo… at the end of the day at a certain book event that I have been talking about a lot, there was a really promising panel on nonfiction graphic novels. Really juicy author line-up, great topic. Unfortunately… it went on forever and ever and ever. Way, way over time. Maggie Thrash was last to speak, and bless her soul she spoke (eloquently and compellingly!) for about 45 seconds. It was an amazing moment. Thrash’s book is a graphic memoir about forbidden summer camp love has been on my radar. Seriously now – can you imagine a book more up my alley? I have high hopes for this one. And thanks again, Maggie. You’re really the best.


Carry On by Rainbow Rowell


Sooooo… during this long haul between last summer’s Landline, I have become a connoisseur of every public interview or piece of writing that Rainbow Rowell has put out there on the interwebs. More than once I heard Rainbow describe her next project as a fantasy YA with a male protagonist. Never did I put two and two together and guess that a Simon Snow book was on its way to me.

I’ll try to contain my emotions somewhat by leaving this at YYYYYYYEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSS PLEAAAAAAAAAAASE.


What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

Speaking of authors who you probably already read and follow and love, Aaron Hartzler of Rapture Practice fame and glory has a YA fiction book coming out this year. I’m interested! What’s it about? I don’t know and I’m on a plane that has no internet connection. So I’m afraid you’ll have to click on the above link and let Amazon do the talking. That is what you came here for – Amazon links, right? By the way, which one of you bought a Vitamix after visiting my site? THANK YOU MUCHLY, I used my Amazon commish to buy a Vitamin D lamp during The Winter that Wouldn’t End.


This is what you guys were missing for the last six months, right?

BEA 2015

Four days after The Big Selection Day, I hopped a bus down to NYC for a quick trip to BEA. It was probably an ill-advised trip – yeah, strung-out Jessica, why NOT take a solo jaunt down to the city that doesn’t sleep to attend the craziest book conference available? Ahem. Anyway, I tried to make it as quick and painless as possible, spending one day at SLJ’s Day of Dialog and another on the floor at BEA proper.



I started off my trip with a long, briskly paced walk through Central Park with my cousin the 19-year-old super model. I’ve been to NYC bunches of times but never actually made it to Central Park before? ?? Anyway, we caught up and I took pictures like a dirty rotten tourist and we visited Alice, and then I went back to my hotel room and collapsed.

I attended SLJ’s Day of Dialog last year and my previous praise still stands. It’s a fun little event. Brian Selznick started the morning with his keynote address. He posited his last three books – The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Wonderstruck, and the upcoming The Marvels – as a thematic trilogy about the triumph of the story – of triumph over chaos. Is there anything that intrigues and delights me more than a “thematic trilogy?” Possibly not. I promptly began kicking myself for not having read ANY OF THESE THREE BOOKS. Don’t worry – I started reading Hugo two days ago. It’s really good.

The next panel focused on environmental issues in books for children, and featured Paul Fleischman, Louis Sachar, April Pulley Sayre, and Anita Silvey. I want to pause for a moment and try to express how excited my inner 9-year-old was to be in the same room as Louis Sachar. And he even talked about Wayside School and There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom!! WHAT. WHAAAAT. Okay. Anyway. The panelists talked about why they write or illustrate various environmental issues, how they tailor their content to inspire and engage a young audience (rather than scare the crap out of them), and why it’s so dang important. They also talked about how writing about the earth and environment for children is tied intimately to ideas of history and a shared humanity – the “presence of the past,” as a panelist put it so eloquently. Learning about the physical world and how it has changed and will change is also learning about one’s place in the world. It’s not all reduce-reuse-recycle – it’s about community, connectedness, and social responsibility.

The panel on middle school fiction was heavy on the entertainment and the kidlit celeb factor. Lisa Graff! Rebecca Stead! Tim Federle! Luke Reynolds! Rita Garcia-Williams! Embarrassing middle school stories were shared and jokes were had. The more serious discussion, however, reminded me of all of the things I love-love-love about middle school lit – middle school years are about forming identity, saying goodbye to childhood, gaining new levels of awareness, and struggling to understand yourself and to be seen for who you really are. Great middle school books let their protagonists muddle around with these questions, even if the answers are messy and half-formed.

I took fewer notes at the afternoon sessions, as is natural. A. S. King gave this drop-dead astounding luncheon talk about feminism in her life, in her work, and in the world around us. There’s a recap article over on SLJ – still hoping that the full-text or a recording of this one will be made public. Patrick Ness razzled and dazzled all over the YA panel. Publishers pitched their Fall 2015 books, and the last panel of the day went distressingly long. And then, the Big Announcement. I was nervous and so happy. There was some hooting and hollering in the audience, and then wine.


I hit BEA proper the next day, but the results were much less exciting. I popped into the YA editor’s buzz panel (Everything Everything looks like the definitive Big Fall Title, FYI) and a panel on ebooks in library collections. I checked in on the state of Hoopla ebooks. I tried to get publishers to talk to me about this little presidential ebook campaign you may have heard of, but it seems everyone is in just as much limbo as we are. I sat down for a quick minute at an adult fic panel moderated by Jami Attenberg (who I kind of adore), accidentally walked into a VIP networking event (where I proceeded to network with a reference librarian… who works in my building),  and then I hopped on the bus to go home.

My not-so-secret reason for attending: I wanted to take the chance to study the fine art of Panel Moderation. Because I am going to be called to the task this coming October. Gulp. Gag. Panic Panic Panic. I took notes! Because that’s the only strategic operative I have in my arsenal. If you’re going to be in the Boston area in October, you should definitely come to this really great event (*cough* it’sbetterthanDayofDialog *cough*) Even if I’m a panicked heaving mess, it will probably be pretty good.

Heaven help me.

reading for the insane: i did, i didn’t


  • I read first thing in the morning with my coffee, at my favorite bakery before work (with a cup of coffee), and at my favorite Starbucks during my lunch break. Most every work day.
  • Yes, I spent a lot of money on coffee. A lottttttt.
  • I ate the same five or six dinners on repeat. Half of which came directly from Trader Joe’s. Mmm… cabernet pot roast.
  • Actually, I kind of ate the same food every day. Eggs, leftovers, nuts+fruit, dinner, wine+chocolate. Lather rinse repeat.
  • For six weeks, I followed a fairly low-carb meal plan, for mood-control purposes mostly.
  • I gave myself permission to do whatever weird, nerdy thing I wanted to do related to books. Mildly necessary spreadsheets, obsessing over starred reviews (huge shout out to Jennifer Jazwinksi and her constantly updating spreadsheet of starred book wonder. If I could nominate you for sainthood, I would), and a lot of strange things involving index cards
  • Against my better judgement, I signed up for a [fill in the blank with your favorite online conglomerate] Prime account here. I don’t have a car, so I wanted a more time-efficient way to buy things like birthday gifts and watch batteries and more and more and more index cards.
  • I spent a lot of money on index cards.
  • I read on buses, trains, and planes. In airports, backseats, coffee shops, and bars. I read in four different states – Michigan, Missouri, Kansas and Massachusetts. Mostly, though, I read on the couch or in my bed.
  • I brought a bag of picturebooks to a friend’s house to watch an NFL playoff game.
  • I gave myself permission to listen to anything that could hold my attention. Some children’s/teen books, yes, but a LOT of podcasts and also some true crime. I don’t know what that says about me, but there you go.
  • I took some personal time, including a day where I read a book for 20 minutes, took a 5 minute break, then picked up a different book for 20 minutes, took a 5 minute break, and did this for pretty much ten straight hours. That was a weird day.
  • I used a time tracking app to keep myself accountable. It was kind of addictive.
  • I tried to keep a 9 p.m. bedtime.
  • I discovered a few good mantras, including “Pressure is a choice,” “Why aren’t you reading a book?” and “You can worry about that in June.”



  • I did not permit myself any exercise-related ambition. The last thing I needed was an injury or to spend my evenings exhausted and strung out on low blood sugar. 30 minutes on the elliptical, four times a week, book in hand. The end.
  • I did not go out much at all.
  • I did not blog. (Which I’m sure you all figured out. Assuming you are all still here. Knock, knock? Any readers left?)
  • I did not write anything for myself.
  • I wrote book reviews, but I did not permit myself to freak out about them. Because who has time for that? (Present Day Jessica: take note) (Present Day Jessica: stop talking to yourself in parentheses)
  • I tried very hard not to worry about my health, about money, or about anything happening after May 2015.
  • I quit Twitter and Facebook for 3-ish months.
  • I didn’t miss it too much.
  • I didn’t always keep my shit together.
  • I didn’t do much other than….. read.

(and it was pretty fun.)