All posts in: book lists

03 Apr 2016

reading wishlist: top of the request list

The first quarter of 2016 is coming to a close, and I have to say… I’ve been off my reading game.

This isn’t unfamiliar territory; I think my reading slows down once or twice a year. I’m starting to pick up on the signs. The piles of half-read books. The increased podcast to audiobook ratio. The maxed out holds list.

It happens. It’s predictable. A reading slump has yet to send me looking for a new hobby/career/passion, so I’m not frightened.

But it still leaves me feeling somewhat off. A little lazy, a little unfocused, a little adrift. I’ve got five books on the “burner” right now – another sign I’m feeling slumpy – and I’m just itching to finish them all, to clear the freaking deck for something new.

So here’s a list of books from my teetering library holds list that I wish I had the time or the wherewithal to read. If I could clear my schedule and my mind, I’d put these at the top of my reading stack.



Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar

I just hopped over to the Amazon page for this book and saw that it is currently a #1 New Release in the category of Teen and Young Adult Death & Dying Fiction. THAT is what I am in the mood for? Another YA book about Death & Dying? While I’m in a reading slump? Oy vey, what has my life become.

Anywaaaaay, I’m not sure I believe Amazon’s categorization here anyway. When I added this to my to-read pile, I saw it as middle grade, or at least that MG-YA hybrid gray area that I enjoy very much. The beginnings of a coming of age. In this book, our protagonist is twelve-years-old, she’s spending a summer with her family instead of her friends, and there is magical realism.

A Tangle of Gold by Jaclyn Moriarty

This has definitely been a slow burn series for me. The first installment felt a little too long, a little too whimsical-fantasy… but man, when the storylines started to converge, I was not only hooked but suddenly appreciative of everything that came before. (Apparently I wrote up a little review here, if you’d care to flash back to 2014 for a moment.) The second installment I listened to as an audiobook… and it took some muscle to make it through. BUT MAN, AT THE END, WHEN THE STORYLINES STARTED TO CONVERGE! You see the pattern here. I’m hoping that this final installment of Madeleine and Elliot’s adventures in and out of the Kingdom of Cello will be alllll convergence; either way, this is a series I certainly plan to seeing to an end.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Buzz, buzz, buzzity buzz. A holds list 100 miles long. I’m not sure I have room for squeezing in superfluous works of adult nonfiction right now, but if I did? It would be this one. It’s a memoir about life and death and family and medicine, guys. All of my buttons, right there. I’m also hearing comparison’s to Atul Gawande’s 2014 Being Mortal, which is another buzz buzzity buzz book by a favorite author of mine… that I shamefully have not yet read. Maybe I should just read that one instead – surely the holds list is shorter at this point.

First Bite: How We Learn to Eat by Bee Wilson

This is another superfluous work of adult nonfiction… but, since I am having un bebé this year, I am making special dispensations for relevant instructional titles. I caught an interview with Wilson on Fresh Air, and not only did this book seem super fascinating, I also learned that there is critical period for food taste development – a “flavor window” – that occurs between 4 to 7 months; during this time, little babes are most receptive to trying out new foods. If you miss this window, you might end up with a kid that doesn’t eat anything other than grilled cheese sandwiches and goldfish crackers!

What if I missed this crucial piece of information and ended up with a cracker kid?? What other crucial child-rearing information might be hidden inside this book?? Am I heading down a spiraling road of panicked parent book-reading already? Probably??

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

After a year of reading way more middle grade than I ever have in my life, I have to say… it was pretty fun. YA is fun and flashy, and adult probably need to read at least a few adult books every year just to maintain an adult’s vigor and constitution, but MAN there really is a lot of good MG coming out all the time. I believe this is Kate DiCamillo’s first straight-up realistic children’s novel in quite some time, and since she is a multiple Newbery-honored author, I should probably take heed.
Also, I’ve flipped through a galley and the book is a slip of a thing with short chapters. Exactly the kind of book that makes for good slump reading…

I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time by Laura Vanderkam

Here is a book about how to accomplish amazing things with your perpetually squeezed time on this earth. Or at least accomplish a normal amount of things without having to cry about it.

So it’s pretty embarrassing and way too on-the-nose to admit that I really just haven’t found the time to read this one yet. I’ve checked it out! More than once! I’ve started it! More than once! I just… I just…


Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom ed. by Leonard Marcus

In my fantasy, time-stands-still-so-you-can-read world, I’d have plenty of time to do ALL sorts of reading. Required reads, fun reads, re-reads, informational books, classics I never got around to, classics I wasn’t really paying attention to, galleys, etc. Oh, wouldn’t that be a wonderful world. One category that I never-ever-ever seem to have the time for? Children’s lit theory and history. Three years earning a children’s lit MA was enlightening, sure, but it was also that kind of enlightening that made me realize just how little I know.

This is a collection of letters between legendary children’s book editor Ursula Nordstrom and the authors and others that she worked with during her career. Authors like E. B. White, Maurice Sendak, and Shel Silverstein. And since a majority of the correspondence required to put a book together way back in the day had to be conducted via snail mail? These letters have GOT to be good. (I’m sure this book is all kinds of fascinating… but it’s also the size of a large doorstop.)

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

Last but not least… the inspirational creativity read written by one of Jessica’s favorite authors.

Oh, oh, oh.

Oh, but can you imagine me with this book, sitting by the pool under an umbrella with an frosty glass of iced tea? Swimsuits? Sunglasses? Not a care in the world?

Okay, so fine, it’s April and it snowed this morning. I’ve got about 20 weeks of prep to do for a baby who will be here in like… twelve. I accidentally overdrew my checking account by EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARS last week. It’s possible that my fantasy-reading-life is… uh… a sign of some sort of deeper pathology. I’ll tell you more about it later, but for now I need to cook dinner, fold laundry, pack for Denver, wash my hair, and think warm, warm, waaaaarm thoughts.


12 Nov 2015

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)

16 Jul 2015

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


19 Jun 2015

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?

02 Feb 2015

reading rockstar

This morning I woke up to a foot-ish of snow and the cold, hard reality that my employer was expecting me to show up at work. Also, a post-Super Bowl Too Much Food&Drink Not Enough Sleep situation. Read: grumpy as hell.

I did, however, make it into the office in time to watch the webcast of  the ALA Youth Media Awards. And wow, what a crazy set of awards. There were upsets! Some well-deserving sleepers! Some books I really disliked taking home gold medals! An arguably YA graphic novel on the Caldecott list, a graphic novel on the Newbery list, and six (SIX!!) Caldecott honors that still somehow managed to skip some of my 2014 favorites. Definitely a wild ride.

Now, because I am having such a crummy day, I am going to divert your attention from the authors and illustrators who put forth such an amazing crop of children’s and young adult literature this past year and brag SHAMELESSLY about how many of these freaking award books I have read. Seriously. Reader, I killed it.


  • I read the Newbery Medal winner – The Crossover by Kwame Alexander – and both honor books.
  • I read the Coretta Scott King Author Award winner – Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – and one honor.
  • I read the Coretta Scott King Illustrator winner – Firebird by Christopher Myers and Misty Copeland – and one honor.
  • I read the Schneider Family Book Award for middle school readers – Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin.
  • I read the Pura Belpre Illustrator Award – Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales.
  • I did not read the Stonewall Book Award winner – This Day in June by Gayle E. Pittman – but I did read two of the three honor books.
  • I did not read the Geisel Winner – You Are (Not) Small by Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant – but I did read one of the two honor books.
  • I read the William C. Morris award winner – Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – and one other honor book.


The only categories I completely whiffed on were the Pura Belpre Author Award and my beloved Alex List. Brag, braggity brag brag BRAG… but this is likely the only year this will happen, so thank you for indulging my self-indulgence and CHEERS to another great year of books!


24 Dec 2014

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith


#2 Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Here’s a book I really, really, really don’t need to tell you about. It needs no introduction. No signal boost. I have no information that you haven’t already gathered, either from reading the book yourself or just from existing on the BookInternet for more than a few minutes in 2014.

I could tell you that the library copy I read had bright yellow pages – on the edges. When our copies arrived at the library, I spotted them in the sorting bins from all the way across our large tech services area. Quite the dramatic entrance, book.

I could also tell you that I really couldn’t put this one down – Andrew Smith works some serious storytelling magic here. Yes, this is a book about some teen boys who accidentally trigger the apocalypse and sic gigantic, man-eating grasshoppers on their sleepy Iowa hometown. And the narration is fairly audacious – Austin not only chronicles the events that lead to this disaster but also a family history, a local history, and the history of the other citizens of Earling. It’s definitely a weird book that takes some big narrative risks – but if you can stomach giant insects and keep up with the somewhat disjointed narration, the pay-offs are big. This book reads a little like a twisted textbook. Austin is writing a history here, and like any history, the telling belies the narrator’s biases, blind-spots, and priorities. It’s tough, at times, to tell what is more unbelievable and horrific: the events that Austin unleashes in Earling or his worldview. It’s impossible to ignore the fact that history, here, is written by a teenage boy. The stories Austin tells aren’t always nuanced or fair or appealing, but as a whole, the book raised some exceptionally interesting questions about who gets to write history, why they are allowed to take this privilege, and to what consequence. What does it mean when men get to tell the stories of all of civilization? At what point – if any – do the history writers stop being horny teenage boys and become authorities?

But for me, that’s all set dressing. Behind the sci-fi-ishness and the voicey-ness and the ambition is just the juiciest realism I’ve read in quite some time. The scenes between Austin and his girlfriend and is best friend are just bubbling with tension as Austin seems to subconsciously test the limits of each relationship. I’m a realism-loving gal. Even giant grasshoppers can’t scare me away from a good teen love story – especially when it’s the kind of love story that reveals just how huge and scary and delicate teen relationships can be. As the apocalypse grows imminent, Smith masterfully raises the stakes for Austin’s relationships, too – by the conclusion, how Austin reconciles his relationships with Shan and Robbie is just as important as how they can save the world. Maybe those two tasks are intimately connected. Maybe everything is.




22 Dec 2014

Best New (to me) Authors of 2014

It’s always great to discover a fantastic new author whose books you just adoorrreeee. What’s better: discovering a fantastic old author with a hefty backlist that you can work your way through. Here are some (already popular and reasonably prolific) authors I was delighted to “discover” in 2014.


Meg Wolitzer

The Interestings was possibly *the book* of the summer of 2013. Well, for me, Getting Married was *the book* of the summer of 2013, which is to say I was not particularly interested in muscling through a hefty (adult) book by a new author with a really-really long holds list. I got around to reading it this year and I was really taken by Wolitzer’s easy, intellectual language, and the kinds of stories and characters she portrayed. I listened to The Uncoupling and The Ten Year Nap on audio this year, both of which focused more narrowly on women characters and also had a little bit of a magical realism going on that I didn’t quite expect. I also picked up Wolitzer’s entree to YA – Belzhar – which was even more surreal, but just as good.



Jonathan Tropper

So I really wanted to read This is Where I Leave You but I couldn’t get my hands on it. Even when I actively decided to read it this summer, my hold still did not come in on time. This is where logical people would you know, buy the book. And read it. Illogical people (who illogically pursue public service jobs in major cities and live in illogically small apartments) settle for back list. This illogical person was pretty pleased with her choice. I listened to both on audio, first Everything Changes and then The Book of Joe. They both kind of blur together for me, both books about dudes pushing middle age with Daddy issues, which is probably why neither made any of my more traditional best lists this year, but not every book needs to be a Best Book. Some books are just nice easy reading. Or listening. Perhaps I will avenge This is Where I Leave You 2015? (Or maybe just watch the movie? We’ll see how this next year pans out.)



Ann Patchett

I started with This is the Story of a Happy Marriage: a chance read which I listened to while walking around New York City, and one that I liked quite a lot. Patchett references her novels many times throughout Happy Marriage, and listening to someone say “Bel Canto” and “State of Wonder” so many times sent shivers of shame down my spine. I didn’t have time to read much then, and I didn’t want to spoil either of the two books I’d heard so many praise by accidentally listening to a terrible audio recording. Plus they weren’t available on Overdrive. Patchett’s debut novel was. I listened to it. I liked it. I still didn’t want to listen to Bel Canto or State of Wonder. But Truth and Beauty? Sure. And it was just as wonderful as Happy Marriage – it was a really tough call which work of nonfiction would land on my list this year. I’m still going to save those Big Two for a good, old-fashioned ink on paper reading, but mayhaps Patchett has a few other backlist gems I can get my hands on in the meantime?

21 Dec 2014

Best Book Covers of (the books I read in) 2014

Librarian Confession: I judge books by their covers. All the time. And I have to say that in the past few years I’ve seen a clear trend emerging – book covers are just getting better and better, across the board. I looked through the books I’ve read this year and plucked out the best of the best, in no particular order. Most of these ended up being 2014 titles with a few 2013 and 2015 titles in the mix. I also included publisher info so we can see which houses are hiring the coolest cover designers.  Please gaze upon their beauty (while I keep writing, madly madly, racing until Christmas to finish these posts!!)

Best Covers 1


Best covers 2


17 Dec 2014

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour


#8 Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

It’s been a few days since I mentioned this, so I think I will mention it again: this list, these reviews, anything I write on the Internet (anything anyone writes in a list/review/on the Internet) is based solely upon my own whim and whimsy. You, my dear readers, may infer authority based upon my credentials, or past opinions I’ve expressed that you might agree with, but that’s ultimately subjective. I’m not sure why you are reading this blog, actually. I’m guessing its because you like me, or you like to think about the same kinds of things that I like to think about, or that you like your book reccs with a side of everythingelseontheplanet. But if you’re looking for objective, well-reasoned criticism? This is not the right place. This is all just my marginally thought out, occasionally embarrassingly dumb as shit opinion.

This is another one of those set-ups where I try to infer that a book isn’t great before I tell you it’s great. I was a little more abstract about it than usual. I really need to find some new templates for “review” writing, eh? Anyway, that first paragraph is relevant because while reading Nina LaCour’s Everything Leads To You I became more aware than usual of my own reading proclivities and how this affects how I read and form opinions about books. Because I liked it so stinking much that I didn’t even want to figure out if it was a “good book” or not.

This story is about Emi when she’s eighteen years old. It’s the summer before college, and Emi knows what she wants to do with the rest of her life and she has a job doing it. I’d never seen this particular point of view in a Last Summer YA story, and it was refreshing to meet a protagonist who was so clearly… competent. Emi’s growing professional maturity is the crux for many conflicts in this story, actually, since she is still, at the end of the day, a teenager swimming in a sea of adults. She questions her maybe hasty career choices. She makes mistakes and gets reprimanded for it. She’s doing remarkably well for an 18 year old, yes, but she’s still vulnerable.

Oh, did I mention what this job is? It’s production design for movies. Emi lives in Los Angeles, and she spends her days lurking at estate sales to find the perfect couch for her first big scene. It’s the interior design job of my dreams. So many drool-worthy descriptions, which is strange because lengthy description of, well, anything in fiction rarely turns my crank. I make a subconscious exception home decorations, apparently.

Emi is also biracial and dates girls. A chance purchase at an estate sale leads Emi on a bit of a Hollywood mystery that leads her to a girl named Ava, who is beautiful, enchanting, and who needs Emi’s help. It’s a little romantic, it’s a little Hollywood glam, it’s a little mystery.

And I ate it all up. I don’t know what exactly it was about the story that I found so refreshing compared to whatever else I had been reading, but I found it quite refreshing. This is also just a gorgeous thing to hold in your hands – the cover image was downright arresting, and the cover and jacket came in different shades of purple and the fonts! Oh, the fonts!

I was reading a beautiful story about beautiful rooms and holding a beautiful book, and it made me really happy. That’s all I want to tell you about this book.


16 Dec 2014

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer


#9 Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

I have a lot of shameful stories about books I should have read at a time in my life, but for some inane reason I did not. I mean, I guess I have a lot of not-so-shameful stories about not reading books, too. Ask me about the time I didn’t read War and Peace – yeah, I would probably be a better, more literate person if I’d muscled through my assigned reading back in undergrad, but I’m not ashamed about skirting that required reading. In fact, I’m kind of smarmy about it.

Ages ago, when I was still a Little Jessica, my darling, mountain-climbing-book reading mother bought me a copy of Into Thin Air for Christmas. I was probably in high school. I had probably never read a nonfiction book that I could get into. Mostly I didn’t want to read it because it was a…. mass market paperback. Ick.

I didn’t read my first Jon Krakauer until I was in my early twenties. It was Under the Banner of Heaven. I was in love. I think I found it on my mother-in-law’s book shelves while I was in the middle of my Mormon Fascination. I was primed for this book – it was exactly up my alley. But while I read (or, more likely, devoured) this book, I was aware of being taken in not just by the subject matter but by the narrative voice. It’s hard for me to describe Krakauer’s particular, singular narrative skill. He writes with an impartial journalistic eye, but he turns the camera around to examine his own life often enough that you get a feel for him as a character. Then he shifts from journalist to narrator, guiding the reader through information and into new environments with a steady hand. Reading a Krakauer book is like talking to your most fascinating friend – the one who tells the best stories – and she’s launching into a really good one.

Have a fawned over the author enough? Well I suppose I could also tell you a little bit about the book, in case you’ve been encased in carbonite for a few decades and missed this bestseller. Seriously. Sorry, Mom. I really should have read it! Into Thin Air is a story about high-altitude mountain climbing – in particular, it’s about Krakauer’s first attempt to peak Mt. Everest, which became one of the deadliest Everest expeditions in years. I will never climb a mountain. I have never been interested in climbing mountains. I don’t really understand why people would even want to risk their health and safety to climb mountains. But Krakauer writes in a way that pulled me into just those moral questions.  Why do humans – repeatedly and throughout time – take their lives into their own hands in order to pursue the unknown? Or to chase a pleasant moment or memory? What toll does it take on the environment, or indigenous cultures? What – or who – is sacrificed to make mountain climbing possible? Who holds the blame when disaster strikes? The story he tells is brutal and detailed and devastating – you really get to know all of the climbers, and Krakauer paced the book in a way that I’d forgotten just how awful the ending was going to be. This is pretty much everything I want when I open up a nonfiction book. I recommend you not wait ten years from now to pick this one up.