All posts in: book lists

14 Dec 2014

Best Young Adult Reads of 2014


Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Okay. So I’m a librarian, trained in the art of providing library services to children and young adults. One of the biggest tools that Readers Advisors possess is the almighty Readalike. If you liked this, you’ll like this. If you like that and this, then try this. But when you have a deep, personal connection with a certain author’s work – especially when the author is very well-known – then the readalike game can be tricky. Is there really another series that can live up to a diehard Harry Potter fan’s expectations? Well, I feel that way about Sarah Dessen. If a work of contemporary realism for young adults has a first person female narrator and any hint of romance, then it’s probably going to appeal to Sarah Dessen fans. Well, not this one. I actually don’t read books with the SD readalike claims because I know that she’s the best for a reason: if a book were to be as good as a Sarah Dessen book, then you wouldn’t be invoking her name. The book would stand on its own. Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but I feel that many Readalikers (especially those attempting to market new books and authors) mistake content with execution. As a Dessen fan, I don’t crave romantic stories about teen girls in the South – I crave the deft storytelling, appealing characters, and unique slices of teen-girlhood that Dessen so expertly serves up.

I’ve said this before, but I think Morgan Matson might be the only writer I’ve encountered who can stand up to the Dessen comparisons. Since You’ve Been Gone is a summer story about a teen girl – Emily – whose best friend takes off unexpectedly. There’s a gimmick – Emily’s friend left behind a list of daring deeds to accomplish – but it kind of fades behind Emily’s story after a certain point. What’s left is a solid bit of girl-centric YA realism that should keep you satisfied until the next Sarah Dessen comes out. (In May of 2015. Not that I am counting down the days or anything)

A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty

Confession: I have a bit of a problem with Australian YA. I don’t always… get it. And because I don’t get it, I don’t always like it. It’s an affliction. It almost feels ethnocentric or something.  I don’t know why, but most of time when I finish reading an Australian YA book I’m left feeling like I missed a big part of the picture. If you meet me IRL, ask me about the time I ate a publisher’s dinner with the editor of Jellicoe Road. Oof.

So you know how I write “reviews” that start with a paragraph explaining why I thought I wouldn’t like a book and then I segue into how and why I was surprised to like it? Consider this your segue. I like Jaclyn Moriarty! It’s possible that I only have issues with Australian dramas. I find comedies much more agreeable, especially those written the style and wit that drips off of Moriarty’s stories. In this book, homeschooled Madeleine unwittingly discovers a portal to another dimension. Actually, Madeleine has no idea that she’s even made the discovery – the reader knows because her chapters alternate with a boy who’s living in the other dimension. These two stories aren’t necessarily woven together, but they move steadily toward one another.

Besides Moriarty’s talent with the clever phrase, what stood out to me in this book was the playful world building. The Kingdom of Cello is lively, weird, and endangered by… uh… storms of color? I guess you could call it that. Whatever. Many of the fantasy novels I’ve read feature alternate worlds where things are desolate, scary, and somehow broken. The Kingdom of Cello isn’t a Happy-Cheery-Princessland, but the details Moriarty chooses cast Cello into an entirely unique light. I haven’t yet read the sequel, The Cracks in the Kingdom, but I’ve heard that it’s better than the first!


Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Hmmm… did I just step back in time? Is it 2012 again? Have you heard of this book called Code Name Verity? No? Hmm. How strange. Well it’s amazing!

Seriously – I am literally the last person to jump on this bandwagon, and I’m sure that you’ve all read this amazing piece of historical fiction. This is really an impossible book to summarize because so much of the plot twists and turns throughout the story, but I’ll tell you that it’s about a pair of unlikely female friends in Europe during WWII. They are involved with the flying of planes. They are trying to pursue dreams and survive a war. They are brave and daring and smart and their voices soar right off the page. I found this book a bit difficult to get into, but after the halfway mark some truly shocking story developments had me completely rapt. A companion – Rose Under Fire – came out last year. I’ll probably read it sometime in 2017, but I’m guessing I will feel just as dumb for putting it off as I feel now.


Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu

Tab lives in a small town in Vermont where her hip (ish) young parents run a coffee shop, the guy she’s dating is someone else’s boyfriend, and her friends think she’s slutty ever since she grew boobs. Life is not so great. When she finds a mysterious url written inside a used book, Tab discovers an anonymous online community of anonymous devoted to challenging one another to taking bold action in the face of their problems. Sometimes disturbingly bold. Considering the kind of 90’s and 00’s YA that I grew up with, Tab, to me, is a classic YA heroine – she’s smart, self-deprecating, and confused as to why the world has to suck so bad when all she wants is the same thing everyone else wants. And I loved the small town Vermont setting – Haydu creates this appealing little nook of the world; I’d even go as far as to call it a little Stars Hallows-y. And like Stars Hallow, Tab’s world is populated with colorful, well-developed side characters. Sasha Cotton, in particular, deserves her own spin-off book for sure. There’s no flashy plot and the ending was a little over the top for my tastes, but I had to include this book on my end of year list because it reminded me of everything I love about YA – how a story can be quiet without being boring, a heroine can be right and wrong at the same time, and how satisfying it can be simply to sit and watch a fictional life unfold for a few hours. I muscled through this in less than a day, and enjoyed every minute of it.


Reality Boy by A. S. King

Somehow I managed to skate through life for a number of years without reading any A. S. King. You might recall that last year, King earned two (prestigious, highly sought after) spots in my top ten – Ask the Passengers was #10 and Please Ignore Vera Dietz was #8. So now I am an A. S. King fan, and that’s good news because she seems to keep these appealing, slightly off-center books coming with some regularity. I read Reality Boy early in the year, but Gerald’s character has really stuck with me: his voice and perspective is so distinct and individual. The hook is that Gerald is suffering from the aftermath of starring on a reality television show as a child – a Supernanny type show that focused on Gerald’s poor behavior as a child. Now that Gerald is a teenager, he’s no longer the misbehaving kid that earned him the nickname “The Crapper,” but he’s still stuck with the dysfunctional family that landed him on the reality show in the first place. The family dynamic here is incredibly uncomfortable – a situation that borders on abusive without ever crossing the line – but watching Gerald slowly  deal with his anger and find his footing with a job, a new friend, and a sense of control over his life was nerve-wracking and heartwarming and everything else that I find so special about a close first-person coming of age story. If I *had* to rank the King titles I’ve read so far, I think that Ask the Passengers and Please Ignore Vera Dietz would come ahead of dear Gerald… but I would also say that this third book was the one that tipped the scales for me – if Reality Boy is a “third best” book, then I’m officially on the A. S. King train.


The Strange and Beautiful Life of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

I mentioned earlier that I am a fan of the Big Fat Family Drama. I went into Leslye Walton’s debut novel pretty blind – I don’t tend to read flap copy or reviews very often anymore – so the first thing that I noticed about The Strange and Beautiful Life of Ava Lavender was how familiar it felt. This is a Big Fat Family Drama… but not so big, or fat. Also, magical realism. Also, also, it’s a YA book. So basically, the exact book for me.

This book has received a lot of praise this year for rich, evocative language and unique storytelling. But what I most admired about Ava Lavender was how masterfully Walton tethers a multi-generational story together cohesively, and in a way that narrows in on the adolescent experience throughout. The book begins with Ava’s great-grandmother, an immigrant whose siblings suffer bizarre, somewhat magical fates when she is still a teen herself. The story follows the family down the matrilineal line, from Manhattan to Seattle, where Ava is born and emerges as the story’s primary protagonist. Ava is born under the weight of her troubled family heritage – she shares a home with a mother and grandmother who are capable but self-isolated, and a brother with an unexplainable disability – and a budding mystical condition of her own. Ava’s challenge is to come to terms with her family and forge her own way in the world; familiar YA territory, but with the backdrop of this complicated and richly realized family (not to mention the gorgeous, historical Seattle details) this debut really shines.

Up next… THE TOP TEN!

13 Dec 2014

Best Adult Nonfiction Reads


Hyperbole & a Half by Allie Brosh

I am a red-blooded twenty-something human on the Internet, so naturally I am an Allie Brosh fan. Her web series – also titled Hyperbole & a Half – picked up traction while I was in grad school – a time when my friends and I were especially primed for Brosh’s deadpan remarks on the unglamorous bits of adulthood.

This is pretty off topic, but one of my favorite grad school friend moments went a little like this –

Lady Friend: [something I can’t remember]… ALL THE THINGS!

Guy Redditor Friend: That is not how that meme goes!

Lady Friend: It’s from Hyperbole & a Half.

Guy Redditor Friend: I don’t know what that is, but you are wrong. It’s a meme. From the hallowed halls of Reddit.

Lady Friend: I apparently cannot express to you how wrong you are, so I give up.

Anywaaaaaaayyy… I used to be a casual Allie Brosh fan, but after reading her first full-length book I am a full-fledged, raging Allie Brosh fan. Don’t let the deliberately childlike illustrations fool you – Brosh is brimming with the effortless, invisible kind of talent you wish you had. Her narrative voice is distinct, dry, and authoritative. She zeroes in on weird, evocative stories from her childhood that are both informative to the kind of adult Brosh grew up to be and a bit unsettling. Brosh is a storyteller supreme, and I hope she keeps at it for a long time.


Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

Speaking of ladies who may be a voice of of a generation… here’s Lena Dunham; it seems I was quite the fan of millennial lady writers this year. I am, in general, a fan of Dunham’s work. GIRLS is one of the handful of television shows I keep up with, and while I find the characters occasionally infuriating I am still quite interested in how they will manage to pull their lives together at the end of the episode/season/series. Dunham’s book is similar in that way – her stories are rarely neat and tidy, the kind of womanly life advice that celebrity memoirs tend toward. No, these are stories about being a weird kid, having a slightly bizarre (and affluent) upbringing, about bad boyfriends and complicated friendships. As a fan of the show, it was kind of fun to see how Dunham takes strands from her life and weaves them into characters and events on the show, but I don’t think liking GIRLS is a prerequisite for liking this book. What really resonated with me was how Dunham talks about the particular preteen and teen culture of the mid-nineties that I grew up with – I can’t say I’ve ever read a personal essay about what happens when 11-year-olds discover the Internet Chat Room, but I have certainly lived through that strange moment in technological history. I also admired how Dunham portrays herself as a younger person – plainly, with a sense of humor, and without a whiff of nostalgia, as though she’s not looking back on someone that she was but at the person she still is. I’d argue that it’s this perspective that sets Dunham apart from other young artists. I do wish GIRLS plenty more success – if the show were to get cancelled before I find out what in the world happens to Shoshanna Shapiro, I would flip – but I also hope that Dunham keeps writing books as well.


Labor Day: True Birth Stories by Today’s Best Women Writers, ed. by Eleanor Henderson and Anna Solomon

If you thought Lena Dunham was polarizing, well, how about a bunch of birth stories? Is it possible to be neutral about birth stories? I feel like either you like reading them or you would never poke one with a ten foot pole. Well, I like birth stories. A lot. They are personal, filled with all sorts of tension. Reading birth stories makes me feel connected to the rest of woman-culture, all of those ladies alive and gestating now, just like they’ve gestated since the dawn of time. If even looking at the word “gestating” makes you queasy then by all means look elsewhere for a good read. Otherwise, this was a really great collection of contemporary birth stories written by writers who actually know how to write. No offense to all of you birth-bloggers out there – I still love reading your stories as well – but before I picked up Labor Day it never occurred to me that there was such thing as the “literary” birth story. And you guys know how impossibly snooty I am about “literary-ness.” That was a joke. I think. Either way, this book rose to the top for me because not only was it directly up my particular alley, it also introduced me to quite a few new women writers – I’m excited to explore their non-birth-related prose. I mean, I’d read more birth-related prose, too, but you know, there are only so many babies that one group of women can produce. If only the Duggars were talented writers… Okay. Officially ending this review NOW.

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

Boy, did I read a lot of essay collections this year! Of the bunch, this is probably close to being my favorite. I am the only person on the planet who has not yet read and loved Bel Canto, so this was my first introduction to Ann Patchett. I was hooked. So hooked that this embarrassing scene happened: I began listening to the audio version of this book because it was on my TBR list and it was available when I needed a book. I listened to the first few minutes, the introduction, where Patchett gives that mandatory overview of what is to come in the book. She mentioned all of these fascinating articles she’d written, and I was so intrigued that I actually stopped listening and started searching the Interwebs to see if I could find one of these articles to read. I missed the bit where this was an INTRODUCTION and that all of the articles she was teasing would… ah… comprise the rest of the book. Anyway, this was my first exposure to Patchett, and I was completely taken in. The essays range from stories about growing up, stories about being a writer, stories about training to join the police academy, stories about her marriage, her dog. Patchett is the kind of essay writer that would inspire me to read her grocery lists, and I really loved listening to her read her own work on the audio version.

Delancey by Molly Wizenberg

Is it obvious from this list how much I enjoy memoirs? Well. It’s a scientific fact. I do love me a good memoir. I also love Molly Wizenberg – Orangette – an awful lot. I read A Homemade Life waaaaay back in the day, so I was pretty excited for this follow up. I was definitely not disappointed. From what I recall (many, many years and many, many books ago), A Homemade Life was a kind of encompassing, snippets from an entire life kind of memoir that ends around the time she meets the man she wants to marry. Delancey picks up with Molly’s marriage to her husband, Brandon. As a young married lady myself, this is juuuuust the kind of memoir that turns all my cranks. It’s a memoir about getting what you want out of your life, but then what? For Molly and Brandon, the “then what” ends up being a restaurant. The restaurant – Delancey, a pizza restaurant in Seattle – takes over their married life, in good ways and in bad. Wizenberg writes as a chronicler of the fascinating (and occasionally horrifying) work required to get a restaurant up and running, but also a chronicler of the ways this major project affected her relationship. It’s an honest, personal story about a particular couple, but it’s also a story about discovering your passions and pursuing big dreams with another person by your side.

And did I mention the recipes? The recipes. Oh my word. There are only a dozen, but it would be worth the price of the book to have them even if you don’t read it. There’s a sriracha shrimp recipe that was so good that I can’t even explain it. I made it again… and again… and again… and now that you mention it, I might make it again tonight

An Age of License by Lucy Knisley

I was not as blown away by Lucy Knisley’s 2013 graphic memoir – Relish – as was the general public. I enjoyed it – and I do think that her chocolate chip cookie recipe IS, in fact, the best chocolate chip recipe in existence – but it as just a little more nostalgic that I like to see in a memoir (especially those written by under-30s). But an Age of License? Yes, yes please. I was a big fan of Knisley’s first graphic travelogue – French Milk – and this follow-up travelogue really reminded me of how much I enjoy Knisley’s perspective of her own life, and also her lovely drawing style. An Age of License covers Knisley’s first mostly solo trip around Europe, where she attends a comics convention as a presenter, travels about France with her mother, and meets up with a sexy vegan Swede. This is a fun – and gorgeous – account of Knisley’s trip, sprinkled with brief meditations on the transformative nature of travel – and the transformative nature of your late twenties.

Up next… Books for the Young Adults

11 Dec 2014

Best Adult Fiction Reads of 2014


The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

I like to consider myself a reader with broad tastes, but when it comes to choosing my Very Favorites there are a few types of books that always bubble to the top. I like big, fat family dramas. I like stories that follow children or teen characters on into their adulthood. I like stories where young people meet each other in isolated settings, forge quick and complicated social bonds, and then grow up together. I like stories that narrow in on the lives of women younger than 40. The Interestings does all this… AND it’s a summer camp story. Swoon.

But at the end of the day, this is a Big Fat Family Drama – so big and fat and dense that it took me a few check outs to actually read the thing. And it wasn’t a particularly easy task! Jules’s story wasn’t

The Interestings is certainly a Big Fat Book rife with family drama – so big and fat and dense on the page that it took me a few check outs to get around to reading it. And it wasn’t a particularly quick read, either; I didn’t fall into the story as much as slide. I ingratiated myself into the pack of characters Wolitzer introduces, all young men and women who met at an artsy summer camp as children. I didn’t find many of the characters charming or charismatic or anything like friends I would choose for myself, but Wolitzer writes their lives in such a way that I was very… ah… interested in where they would end up. Beyond the pleasure of exploring their idiosyncratic relationships, The Interestings also provides an exploration of what it means to be an artist. I found the whole book quite thought-provoking and engaging, and will likely re-read it someday.


The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Speaking of dense, gigantic books, here is a book so large that I did not even try to bring it onto public transportation! After the Game of Thrones binge that was 2013, I decided to lay off Westeros a bit this year, maybe branch out, try another brand of epic fantasy for a minute. Recommendations led me to Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicle, which I nobly added to my Summer Reading List and read for pretty much the entire month of August. Because I couldn’t take it on the train without fear of breaking my wrists or perhaps accidentally dropping it onto someone’s head. This is a much different kind of story than Game of Thrones – smaller, more magical, and tightly focused on our fairly standard hero, Kvothe – an orphan who works his way off the streets and into a college for skilled magicians. Luckily, I found Kvothe an endearing, sympathetic guy to hang out with for half a bazillion pages, and Rothfuss’s world-building superb. (Did I just describe world-building? At all? Oh, Fantasy-hating Jessica, what has happened to you?)


Last Light by M. Pierce

So, a few months ago, I was kinda reading swamped. I can’t remember the particulars, but it’s book review season so I’m guessing I just had way too many books to read and not enough time within which to read them. Then my copy of Last Light (my October book) showed up in my mailbox. And it was shiny, with a nice soft cover, and then… well… you can see where this is going. This is the second book in at trilogy, and I read Night Owl way-back last year. I probably didn’t mention it here because it’s decidedly NOT a children’s book. In fact, it’s a bit of a dirty book. But I had to give a shout out Last Light this year because A) it seduced me into blowing off all sorts of good intentions B) when was the last time you read a bitofadirtybook and instead of skimming through the plot to get to the good stuff, you find yourself skimming the good stuff so you can get back to the plot? C) when was the last time you read a sequel that exceeded your expectations? So there you have it. Adults, if you like a good contemporary romance but you also like capable writing, surprising characters, and maybe even a little metafictive narrative playfulness, then this is the series for you! Last installment will be released in March!


The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara

Yesterday, while reading this lengthy article about the real-life inspiration behind Nabokov’s Lolita, I thought a bit about Humbert Humbert and his enduring grip on generations of readers. I read Lolita after college – I picked it up because I’d heard it was a classic but was also somewhat salacious. Also, my younger sister had a copy, and I saw it laying about the house from time to time. It was a ubiquitous kind of book, with characters that have stayed with me – especially Humbert Humbert. What a character. And then I thought about The People in the Trees, because I’m not sure there are many other characters in literature that can come closer to a Humbert Humbert than Yanagihara’s Norton Perina. Perina begins as a medical student who tagging along with an anthropologist on a trip to a remote island in Micronesia. His encounters with the natives lead his career back and back again to the island of Ivu’ivu, where some inhabitants may have found the secret to eternal life. Perina is self-obsessed. He’s callous. He’s a little power-hungry. He’s a doctor, devoted to science. He’s a benefactor to the islanders that he studies.

And boy, he’s slimy. Dripping in it. Yanagihara crafts a fascinating story – which, like Lolita, is based in reality – about the gray areas of science and ethics in the mid-twentieth century, and sticks a weird, complex, shifty man right smack in the middle. Not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure, but this book was riveting and horrifying and not one I will soon forget.


Landline by Rainbow Rowell

It wouldn’t be an end of the year list without a Rainbow Rowell title, eh? I debated about including this one. Like Attachments, this is another romance for adults, but this time its a romance about married people. Georgie is a hardworking TV writer. Her husband stays home with their two daughters and runs the household. They suffer under the pressures of modern coupledom (and just regular coupledom). Georgie finds a phone that lets her talk to her husband when they were first dating, which leads her to relive a lot of their early relationship.

This didn’t blow the rest of Rowell’s oeuvre out of the water or anything. I appreciated reading a romance starring married folks – Rowell is quite skilled at finding new angles from which to look at familiar stories – but nothing really stuck out at me as super-exemplary, especially looking back months later.

And then I remembered the ending, so I had to be the 900th person to recommend this book. The ending. Oh. Objectively, it’s probably not that good of an ending. I have no idea. All I know is that Rowell has yet again grabbed bits of my psyche and whipping them into story form. The ending made me realize that I’d just read a book about every biggest relationship problem that I’ve ever had, and that this ending – Georgie’s ending – was always what I’ve deeply dreamed of, in every relationship I’ve ever been in.

How do you do it, Rainbow? How, how, how?

Up next… Real-life books for grown-ups!

10 Dec 2014

Best Middle Grade Reads of 2014


Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

So, it took me about seven years to finally read this book. I had an advanced copy way back in January of 2012, apparently. I tried to read it that summer… and the summer after that. I even took that galley with me to Italy……. where I did not read it. And then when it came time to pack up and head home, I purposely abandoned it at our Airbnb to make room in our suitcase.

Over the years, I’ve had a taste of pretty much everything literary that Jack Gantos has to offer. Some Joey Pigza, some Jack Henry. I read half of the Love Curse of the Rumbaughs and Hole in My Life more than once. Dead End in Norvelt had all of the fearlessness and oddball humor that I’ve come to expect from Gantos, but then there was just this heavy layer of chaaaaarm that just did me in. Jack’s voice was earnest, a titch whiny, prone to emotional outbursts, and completely endearing – pitch perfect middle grade, really. This is a historical comedy that reminded me of Gary D. Schmidt… but to be honest, I find Schmidt-like fiction to be a bit… ah… cloying. The kind of books that adults think kids should like. But Gantos paints Norvelt with an edgy weirdness and populates the town with bizarre side characters – choices that definitely cut the sweetness.

So, I’m sorry that it’s taking me so long to recommend this to y’all – as if you need me to recommend a Newbery Award winner – but here I am, recommending it, at the tail end of 2014.


Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill

So my mother accidentally reads books about mountain climbers and sometimes, I accidentally read a lot of books about Ivory Billed Woodpeckers. And now, I am starting to think I also accidentally read books about Arctic adventures, either fictional or not. Off the top of my head, I’ve recently read The Impossible Rescue, The White Darkness, Where’d You Go Bernadette, The Magicians, No Summit Out of Sight. That’s a lot of ice.

What I am trying to say is, I’ve read a lot of books that talk *about* Mr. Shackleton. I knew that he made some trips down into Antarctica, that he was a pioneer in Dangerous Cold Weather Exploration before the days of Gore-tex and emergency helicopter flights and other modern amenities that, oh, keep humans alive in extreme weather situations. But in Shackleton’s Journey, William Grill shows you exactly (e.x.a.c.t.l.y.) what they did have, in glorious, gorgeous colored pencil drawings. Grill chronicles Shackleton’s journey from beginning to end, illustrating every supply, every useful, adventurous man who boarded Shackleton’s ship – even the sled doggies. I could talk children’s-lit nerdy at you about trim sizes and visual vs textual information and blah-blah-blah, but I will wrap this up by saying this is a gorgeous piece of book that tells a fascinating, true story in a respectful, hopeful way.


Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce

Here’s something sad: part of my introduction to fantasy fiction is an introduction to how dude-centric fantasy fiction can be. Is it that hard to imagine a power structure that isn’t ridiculously patriarchal? Must every fantasy author borrow only the most misogynist bits of history when building their own medieval fantasy world? Tamora Pierce’s Alanna is proof positive that you can – and should! – break some gender norms in fantasy fiction. While dressing as a dude in order to attend knight training, Alanna becomes every bit the medieval fantasy hero that you’d expect. You also get the idea that Alanna would kick just as much ass if she were dressed as a lady – she’s just enduring the extra work of concealing her sex because the world she lives in is tragically backwards. None of these dudes are even any GOOD at fighting. Eye roll. Alanna, I dug you pretty hard this year.


Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

Now, I am certainly not as widely read as I’d like to be, but here are some sweeping, unsubstantiated generalizations about middle grade fiction: according to the Powers that Write/Edit/Publish/Promote kid’s books, there is always room for another

  • fictional Southern small town populated with quirky locals
  • kid who runs a wannabe detective agencies
  • dead mother

Seriously. I invented a lot of imaginative games and entrepreneurial schemes as a child, but detective was never one of them, nor did I encounter any kid detectives in my day to day child-life. Not so much in middle grade fiction-land. Kid detective agencies are just not-so clever ways to tell a decent children’s mystery. Every kid is a detective, every town is friendly and goofy, every mother is dead. Poor moms.

But. But. If the book is Three Times Lucky? And the kid detective is Mo LeBeau?

Then I will gladly ignore every other QuirkySouthernDeadMom book out there. Mo LeBeau has a detective agency, but she would really do anything for a buck. She’s in it for the money, not the intrigue. Tupelo Landing is home to a large number of helpful, accommodating adults with mile-wide personalities, but those adults also face some very modern, un-romantic adult problems in their lives. They have secrets – some a little sinister. And yes, there is YetAnotherDeadMom, but I’ll just leave that one for when you pick up this gem. It might melt your heart, just a l’il bit.


Up next… Fiction books written for adult people to read.

08 Dec 2014

buying books in 2014

I have mentioned this before on this here blargh, but I really don’t buy very many books for my own personal collection. I receive books as gifts.  I acquire galleys (from the office, friends, conferences, and reviewing). I have an Unread Library. I also work for a substantially sized library where I enjoy a reasonable amount of purchasing power – if I want to read a book, I can make it happen. It’s difficult for me to find a compelling reason to buy a book for my own, personal library.

This is all quite dandy. My apartment is so tiny that it would take a proportionally smaller amount of books to reach hoarding status. And by that I mean I have already reached hoarding status. I also like the feeling I get when I *don’t* buy things that I don’t absolutely need (underbuyer in the house). I’m totally fine with my book owning situation.


  • I like not buying books, sure, but I still like *buying* them too. Especially the sublime art of the bookstore browse.
  • I like spending my money on industries and businesses that I support.
  • When my friends or authors I love publish books, I like supporting their quest to obtain Bestseller status by pre-ordering (or trying to convince my local indie bookstore to sell me a copy during the 1st week of publication)

So while I didn’t open the floodgates, I did allow myself the luxury of purchasing one brand new book each month in 2014, in hardback when available. Here is what what my little heart desired this year.


After years of book buying austerity it was kind of a challenge to… ah… get the job done. The non-paying job of buying books that will live FOREVER in your house (or close enough to forever, anyway). You will also notice that I definitely did not buy books every month, probably because I forgot, or once I was actually at a bookstore I couldn’t find anything I wanted to drop cash on. I did an even worse job of *reading* any of the books I bought – I finished 2 out of 8. Regardless, this was a fun little mini-resolution, one I might do again in the future. In the future when I have more than 450 square feet of living space, that is.

01 Dec 2014

10 (audiobooks) under 10 (discs), part 2

It has been over a year since my last 10 under 10 post! Time: it flies. I have listened to many an audiobook since last October. I was going to tally them up just now and tell you just how many, but I am afraid I just can’t bring myself to do it – there are just waaaaay too many. Way too many. I’ve gotten to the point where if I do not have an audiobook rolling at all times, I get a bit twitchy. It’s embarrassing.

Are you still on the fence about audiobooks? I implore you to give them a shot, and if you do, to start small. The shorter the better. You can always transition to longer books later, but even I – Championship Level Audiobook Listener – shy away from anything over ten discs. Here are some of my favorite short listens from the past year, and nearly all are available on Overdrive in mp3 format (read: iPhone friendly). If your local library’s Overdrive catalog does not list a title you see below, click around until you find the “Additional Items to Suggest” button and follow that up with the “Suggest a Title” feature – here’s an actual how-to guide that might be handy. Speaking as a library purchasing insider, we always take patron suggestions very seriously, even for eBooks and eAudio! We live to serve guys. Request away.

Enough library grandstanding for the moment. I’m a busy lady – let’s move this right along. You want to know how busy I am? I am so busy that I cannot even be bothered to fix a really glaring mistake below. A mistake that involves confusing fiction for nonfiction. Be warned, be prepared, employ your best judgment when determining the difference between reality and imagination. Also, forgive me.



1) About Alice by Calvin Trillin – if you want something SO SHORT that it might not even qualify as a book. One disc, guys. Also, if you want to sob.

2) Labor Day: True Birth Stories by Today’s Best Women Writers, ed. by Eleanor Henderson and Anna Solomon – if you like that sort of thing

3) Everything Changes by Jonathan Tropper – if you like your rom-coms from a dude’s POV

4) Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey – IF YOU WANT TO  LISTEN TO THE BEST BOOK OF ALL TIME!

5) Yes Please by Amy Poehler – if you want to be delighted beyond belief

6) The Wild Truth by Corinne McCandless – if you like Into the Wild, or you generally like dysfunctional-family memoirs



6) Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh – if you want to meet (or re-meet) a true heroine of children’s literature

7) When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds – if you wish to explore the pressures of young, urban boyhood (and young, urban boyhood knitters)

8) The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis – if you want to listen to the most ridiculous Aslan that has ever roared

9) Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu – if you want to lose an afternoon in some good, old fashioned girl-centric YA realism

25 Nov 2014

books for the bookish: my christmas wishlist

This will come as news to no man, but I am a bit of a “heavy reader.” Since I moved to Boston, books have slowly encroached upon all available physical and mental space that I will allow them. The Boy entertained a house-guest a few years back who had never visited our shared living situation. He was a well-educated, intellectual-type of a house-guest – a reader himself – and his first words upon entering our apartment? “Wow. So, you have a ton of books.” That was at least three years ago – the reading situation has not yet improved. It’s gotten to the point where my reputation precedes myself: there are plenty of The Boy’s coworkers who I have not yet met, folks who only know me from what information my dear husband decides to share. And they all know that I read. They wish they could read as much as me.

Brag brag brag. I’m a superhuman book demolishing machine. Moving along. I am an obviously superior being, but you know what? It also probably sucks to buy me – or any other heavy readers – a holiday gift. You probably want to buy them a book, but how in the world can you select a book for someone who reads 10 to 20 books a month? You can’t keep up with what they’ve read, they’ve probably become so choosy they will poo-poo your selection, or they are so caught up in their own reading agendas that they will never read the book you’ve so carefully chosen. I suffer so much from this last problem that some of my relatives have given up buying me books at all. This makes me sad, both because I love receiving new books and because I am a horrible, ungrateful gift receiver.


So what do you buy the overly well-read? The library card wielder? The girl with the overstuffed bookshelves?

Well, for me, I have a few specific types of books that I would be happy to see under the tree this year. First off, there are The Long Books – the books that I could never hope to finish before their due date. My tastes are not particular here – mainstream literary fiction with a splash of series fantasy. Anything on a recent Best Fiction of the Year list that is over 500 pages will usually do – Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life and Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell are all on my mind this year.

Then we have The Slow Books – the books that don’t lend themselves to straight-through reading, the meaty books, the reference books. The books I’d rather savor, or mark up with pencil, or generally take my time with. Books I’ll likely never read unless they are sitting in my apartment, reminding me to revisit them. The come in a few breeds. The Essays: Zadie Smith’s Changing My Mind, Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem. The Creative-Life-Stories: Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, Patti Smith’s Just Kids. The Short Stories: Alice Munro’s, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage. The Children’s Lit-ish: Gail D. Nordstrom’s Reading the Art in Caldecott Award Books, or Leonard Marcus’s Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom.

And finally, there are The Collectibles. And by collectible I don’t mean anything precious, anything special or first-edition. I just mean those books that you wonder why on earth you don’t own. Last year, I received a beautiful Song of Ice and Fire box set that still delights me to gaze upon. This year, I’m wondering why on earth I don’t own a single Harry Potter book.

You see how I have cleverly packaged my holiday wishlist into a tasteful blog post? Sneaky. But really, it’s probably best if nobody bought me a book, ever. See those bookshelves up there? Do you see any available space? No. Will I be able to squeeze any of these books into my likewise jam-packed reading schedule? Probably not. Don’t buy me a book. Especially if it’s a mass-market paperback. Ick. I do prefer the trade paperback when possible. Ahem.

10 Nov 2014

reading wishlist: re-reads

This morning, The Boy so kindly informed me that 2015 is almost over. Just what I like to think about before 7 a.m. Sixty-ish days remain in the calendar year – for the Internet-Bookish, this means a lot of talk about book awards, end of the year lists, Nanowrimo, and perhaps the meeting of one’s reading goals before the clock strikes 2015.

We are all trying to answer the same question: how, exactly, do you measure a reading year?

As y’all are probably aware, I dabble in most methods of book monitoring. I keep two Internet lists of books I have read, and more offline tally sheets than I’d prefer to admit to. I run my little Best Reads feature to celebrate the top X% of my reading year. Last year I dabbled with other quantitative measurements in chart form. I like keeping track of what I read – I’ve found the you manage what you measure axiom to hold true in my own life. But at the same time, I’m interested in reading like a professional. I want to avoid falling into ruts, be they spells of not reading, spells of reading only what I like and nothing that stretches my boundaries, or spells of reading without critical engagement.

You manage what you measure, yes, but how you measure your data implies your value system. Measuring your reading life by pages or books read can be fun or useful or harmless, but what does it say about how you value books and your reading time? If pages are constantly whipping by you, if you move straight from one book to the next, then do you have enough time to give that book your full consideration? What’s more important: finishing books or getting something out of them?

I’m still parsing all of this out in my own life. I’ve talked about slowing down my reading, I try to be intentional with the books I choose to give my time, and I always take into consideration the circumstances under which I read a book before I evaluate it. But my daily life and hobbies and side gigs do require a certain amount of speedy-ish reading, so that’s also a circumstance I have to get used to. Training myself to slow down might make me a better reader, but there’s a limit to how slow I can go.

I have been taking a few steps to engage my critical reading facilities. I don’t have the time or mental energy to write full-blown book reviews here with any regularity, but I do force myself to write a few sentences about most of the books I read on Goodreads. I’ve got a new book-notetaking habit that I’ll tell you about soon. I’m still taking my reading lunches, which seem simple and a little silly but have become a very important part of my schedule – the only time I step away from the rest of my life and make intentional time for close reading.

And maybe that is the difference between the kind of reader I am and the kind of reader I’d like to be: it’s not about reading this kind of book or that kind of book, not about making my Goodreads goal or finishing X book before Y happens. It’s about time. Putting in the hours versus the pages.

Carving out time for dedicated reading is one way to make your reading more about time and attention rather than accomplishment. Another, I think is one of my very favorite reading habits: re-reading. Re-reading nearly doubles the time you spend thinking about one single book. You pick up things you might have missed the first time. Since you know all of the plot turns ahead of time, your brain might begin to churn in new ways in order to entertain itself. It’s not the most obvious way to refocus your reading, but I think it’s an easy one and an important one.

And for me, it’s just downright enjoyable. If I had my druthers, I’d kick most of my reading list to the curb in favor of re-reading everything I’ve ever loved. So now that you’ve sat through me blathering on, here is a quick list of some books I’ve been meaning to revisit, either because I feel they might still have something to teach me or just for the pleasure of it. Or both.



24 Oct 2014

what to listen to next – the desperate freak edition

It’s been just over a year since I resumed my semi-romantic dalliance with audiobooks. It’s really been a good year. I like having an audiobook to walk around with, to entertain me during long days of battling online databases and catalogs at work, to help me through my household chores, to put me to sleep at night.

I’m happy. But I’m also obsessed.

A few weeks ago, I finished listening to Dead End in Norvelt (FINALLY) and found myself with nothing on deck. Not a single book. I panicked. It wasn’t pretty. I’m accustomed to book overload. With my bad library habits and my unread books and my stash of galleys and my required reading, I am never without a printed book to read. Not so much with the audiobook. To snag a truly desirable book on Overdrive, one must play the Interminable Holds List game. I’ve found some ways to browse for Currently Available titles, but even once I string my searches properly I end up scrolling through page after page after page of stuff I wouldn’t listen to unless someone strapped headphones to my ears. Browsing online for books is never as pleasurable as… oh… any other way one might decide what to read. When you are a desperate freak hunting for her next fix, it can be downright painful.

Anyway. Somehow I managed to stave off madness and find a few things to listen to. My mental health has settled down, but now I am faced with a familiar reading problem – all my holds came in at once. Cue an entirely different breed of panic.


Luckily, I’m done being Desperate Freak Jessica and have returned to Capable Strategist Jessica. I can conquer this small to-read stack in a timely fashion if I plan and persevere. I think I will first tackle 2 a.m. at the Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino. Of my available choices, this is the book I may not think to seek out again – also, it has the most pressing due date (10/29), and it’s relatively short (6 parts).

Next, I think I must move on to American Gods. I’ve never read it! I’ve been on hold for eons! I feel as though this is the kind of book I will want to read but never find the time to pick up the physical book. I must strike while the opportunity is ripe, or some other conglomeration of metaphors! Caveat: I made all of these lusty decision before noticing that American Gods is TWENTY PARTS. Egads. I cannot recall ever making it through a 20 part audiobook within 14 days… and the more days I spend listening to 2 a.m. at the Cat’s Pajamas, the fewer I have left. Poor planning! Abort! Abort!

Last but not least, the book I actually planned on listening to before my glut of holds arrived – There’s A Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom. It’s four parts, and I just renewed it for another 14 days. I should have plenty of time to spend a little time with Bradley Chalkers. If you don’t believe me, call my mom.

…. or at least that was my last option, until yet another book joined the fray while I was crafting this here blog post. Jonathan Tropper’s Book of Joe is probably a more reasonable choice than American Gods for my next read… but when was the last time you picked a book to read because it was “reasonable?” Oy. I’m not sure any Capable Strategies will help me at this point. Perhaps I should take a personal day? Stay home and sit in a meditative audiobook trance for 8 or 9 hours? Now that’s a reasonable plan if I’ve ever heard one!

08 Oct 2014

library card exhibitionist


Checked Out

On Hold