Favorite Reads of 2011: Fiction

Instead of a “best of 2011” list, I‘m posting my favorites of 2011 because many of the books I’ve read this year were published before 2011. My favorite books are the best books I’ve read this year- books that I have or plan on buying and re-reading. I’ve found it pretty hard to narrow my favorites down to just ten books so I’m sharing my favorite books of various genres. Every day this week there’ll be a favorite list posted and by the end of the week, I’ll share my favorite book of 2011.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. What is there not to love about this story of an American girl sent to a French boarding school? Anna is one of those fabulous female teen characters that readers need more of. She’s smart, funny, and a little unsure of herself. I’m so tired of young girl characters who are so smart but constantly make stupid decisions. Thankfully, Anna isn’t one of those girls.

Please Look after Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin. Translated from Korean by Chi-Young Kim. This is one of the most unexpected and pleasing reads of the year. The story of five selfish adult children and the search for their missing mother broke my heart. I can’t wait for more work by the author to be translated into English.


The Buddha in the Attic
by Julie Otsuka. I loved this book so much that I couldn’t write a review. The Buddha in the Attic follows the lives of several Japanese “mail brides” as they leave Japan to meet their husbands for the first time in Northern California. Otsuka’s writing is precise and beautiful. It’s a book that I plan on re-reading in 2012.

32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter. The story of Davidia “Davie” Jones, who runs away from her small Southern town as a teenager to make it big in Los Angeles, was such an engaging read. Davie is a ugly duckling who doesn’t take some of the pitfalls of life lying down. After reading this, I couldn’t help but want to be more like Davie.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. I can’t believe it took me so long to read this classic about mothers and daughters! Told from the point of view of all four mothers and their daughters, there’s a great gulf between the two generations, not only because of age but also because of origin. The mothers are all Chinese-born while the daughters are first generation Americans. There is much miscommunication between the two groups but their love for each other comes across nicely.

Honorary Mentions: 

Love by Toni Morrison. An amazing tale about love, revenge, and greed.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. One of the few books I read in both audio and print at the same time.

Short stories:

I had to include short stories to this list because I read several that stood out. The majority of the stories can be read online in their entirety on Tor.com, just clicked on the titles.

Ponies by Kij Johnson. Johnson takes the imagery of unicorns and turns it on its head.

Fare Thee Wellby Cathy Clamp. For lovers of Greek mythology.

“The Courtship of the Queen” by Bruce McAllister. It’s the sweet and sad story of a boy’s childhood.

“Foster” by Claire Keegan. Thanks to Claire at Paperback Reader for bringing this story to my attention. “Foster” is the story of a young girl’s year-long stay at the home of distant relatives. I’ve read this story many times over the past year and I’ve yet to find the right words for it.

Glitches by Marissa Meyer. “Glitches” is a prequel to the highly anticipated Cinder by Marissa Meyers.

Favorites of 2011: Poetry

Instead of a “best of 2011” list, I‘m posting my favorites of 2011 because many of the books I’ve read this year were published before 2011. My favorite books are the best books I’ve read this year- books that I have or plan on buying and re-reading. I’ve found it pretty hard to narrow my favorites down to just ten books so I’m sharing my favorite books of various genres. Every day this week there’ll be a favorite list posted and by the end of the week, I’ll share my favorite book of 2011.

I love poetry but I don’t read enough of it. This year was no exception with only thirteen volumes read. Out of that small number, there are six books of poetry that I think shouldn’t be missed. All six are great for long-time readers of poetry and those new to the genre.

Red Bird by Mary Oliver. Before this year, I always read poetry by Mary Oliver in bits and pieces. With Red Bird on my reading list for Project-Fill-in-the-Gaps, this year was the perfect time to read a whole collection. Red Bird is a collection that deals with nature but also human aspects like grief, love, and hope.

Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000 by Lucille Clifton. What can I say about the writing of the late poet Lucille Clifton that will make you drop everything to read her? When I opened up Blessing the Boats to the first poem, “The Times”, I was knocked out by the words: It is hard to remain human on a day / when birds perch weeping / in the trees and the squirrel eyes / do not look away but the dog ones do in pity. . . Clifton writes about various things from society to her dreams, her childhood to Superman. My favorite poem is probably “Report From the Angel of Eden” about an angel observing Adam and Eve. The ending left me with goosebumps.

Here by Wislawa Szymborska. It only took reading the first poem in this volume of poetry to understand why the author was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Whether she’s writing about her teenage self, the power of nature, or the seduction of an idea, these are poems that readers want to read over and over again. Translators Claire Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak did a fantastic job of bringing these poems to life.

Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys and Lemonade: and Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word by Bob Raczka. I decided to describe both books together because whatever I say about one book, can easily apply to the other. As a mom, it’s important to me to introduce poetry to my kids. Raczka makes poetry accessible and even fun for kids. Guyku was made for boys but it’s a volume that even girls will love while Lemonade turns poems into puzzles and back again. You won’t go wrong buying either book.

 

Won-Ton: A Cat Tale told in Haiku by Lee Wardlow. Won Ton is the story of a shelter cat looking for a family. The story follows the cat from the shelter to the arms of a little boy.  I can’t think of a better book to share with any young poetry lover.

Favorites of 2011: Graphic Novels

Instead of a “best of 2011” list, I‘m posting my favorites of 2011 because many of the books I’ve read this year were published before 2011. My favorite books are the best books I’ve read this year- books that I have or plan on buying and re-reading. I’ve found it pretty hard to narrow my favorites down to just ten books so I’m sharing my favorite books of various genres. Every day this week there’ll be a favorite list posted and by the end of the week, I’ll share my favorite book of 2011.

When it comes to graphic novels, I treat them as a format and not a genre. So there’s a few graphic memoirs and biographies that are among the best books I’ve read this year but will be featured on my favorite non-fiction books list.

The Odyssey by Garth Hinds. Garth Hinds does a magnificent job of bringing Homer’s The Odyssey to life. Readers will find themselves wanting to pick up the original after reading this massive graphic novel. Whether you’ve read the original or not, this book is too good to miss.

Lost and Found by Shaun Tan. Lost and Found is a collection of three previously published tales: The Red TreeThe Lost Things, and The Rabbits, written by John Marsden. As usual, the illustrations are breathtaking, weird, and fit perfectly with each story. The Red Tree is a great analogy about depression while The Lost Things is a quirky story about a boy and an object he found. My favorite story is the magnificent and powerful The Rabbits, a dark tale about colonialism.

Chew: The Omnivore Edition by John Layman and Rob Guillory. Chew: The Omnivore Edition combines the first two books of the Chew series: Taster’s Choice and International Flavor. It’s best if you have the new two books ready to read when you start this edition. Tony Chu is a cibopath – something who knows the origin of any food just by eating it. As an agent for the FDA, this has put him in some sticky situations especially since chicken has been banned worldwide because of an avian virus that’s killed millions. What I love about this series: it’s hilarious, has a neurotic but lovable protagonist, and is not for those without a strong stomach.

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch. If you read my review about Hereville earlier this year, you know I love love love the story of Mirka, an Orthodox Jewish girl who wants to battle dragons. Though everyone else around Mirka has a different idea how she could spend her time, this headstrong character doesn’t want to stop her quest though she has no idea where to start. When Mirka finds the house of a witch in her small town, she may have just found a way to slay dragons. Though meant for a middle-grade audience, Hereville is a book that even adults will love.

Fables 14: Witches and Fables 15: Rose Red by Bill Willingham. I love this series. If you haven’t read book one yet, I don’t know what you’re waiting for. After the disappointment of Fables Vol. 13, volumes 14 and 15 redeem Willingham. In Witches, Bufkin the Monkey is trapped in Fabletown’s mayor’s office with Baba Yaga, a new character Mr. Dark is introduced, and readers learn more about Frau Totenkinder.  In Rose Red, the evil Mr. Dark is getting closer to destroying the Fabletown community and it’s time for Rose Red to step up. Will she? Fables readers will find much to love about these two volumes that are among the best of the series.

The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Renier. I’m noticing that some of my favorite graphic novels this year are part of a series: Fables, Zeus, Hereville, Chew, and Scott Pilgrim. I’m finding that fact to be lovely and scary since I can imagine all the time I’m going to spend checking authors’ sites waiting for the publication date of the next book in each series. The Unsinkable Walker Bean is part pirate tale, part coming of age story about nerdy Walker Bean who’s sent on a quest to return a stolen pearl skull to two sea witches in order to lift a curse on his beloved grandfather. What happens next is more than anyone could have dreamt of, including Walker himself.

Bayou Vol. 2 by Jeremy Love. Bayou is a comic that is so rich in Southern folktale and lore. Past and present is featured in this dark tale about a young girl’s mission to rescue her friend in an underworld that reminds readers of a Southern version of Alice in Wonderland. Bayou challenges and gives readers a tale that until now, wasn’t found in this format.

Review: 32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter

32 Candles

Ernessa T. Carter

342 pages

Pub Date: 2012

Publisher: Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins

Source: Publisher

So you’ve probably heard of this thing by now. It’s called life. And it’s hard. Even when it looks easy, it’s hard. That’s pretty much everybody’s situation, and it was mine, too.

On top of the usual business of life, I was ugly.

Up until the age of fifteen, Davidia “Davie” Jones had a pretty hard life. According to everyone (and I mean everyone) in her small Mississippi town she’s ugly. Dark skin, nappy hair that’s rarely comb, and wearing nothing but oversized clothes from the thrift store, Davie couldn’t stand out any more than she already did. So it didn’t help at all that her mother Cora brought home a different man almost every night and lived on a diet of cigarettes, liquor, and sex.  When Davie discovers the Molly Ringwald movie, Sixteen Candles, she decides that she’ll have her own Molly Ringwald ending someday. Until then she takes her life in stride, becoming almost invisible until one day a cruel prank is played on her in high school. The prank makes Davie realize that she can never have her special ending in Mississippi and leaves in the dark of night with just a handful of belongings. After spending years in Los Angeles, the past comes back to haunt Davie and she needs to make her own ending once and for all.

I can’t say enough how much I love this book. I started reading it around 8 p.m. and turned the last page around 2 the next morning. I didn’t even think about sleeping until I knew just how Davie’s life turned out.

Davie is just one of those characters that make readers wish she was real. She’s an outsider looking in on the world around her, sees everyone for who they really are, and accepts them- faults and all.  That doesn’t mean she’s this innocent person – she’s not. And I think that’s a great thing about 32 Candles. Carter shows readers that there’s not one person in this book that doesn’t have bad qualities. From Davie to the secondary characters you see the good and the bad. That’s essentially life. Plus you see how people grow and become better with time, rooting them on.

I wondered if life would always be out of control like this, if I would have to live in fear for the rest of my days, my heart in my throat, my body tensed and braced for what was to come. And most of all, I wondered if I’d always have to force myself to go against instinct and be brave. 

If you’ve ever felt like an outsider, Davie is a character that will leave you feeling like you’re not alone. Highly Recommended.

Nebula Award Nominee: “Ponies” by Kij Johnson

“Ponies”

Kij Johnson

Published by Tor. com

Publication Date: January 2010

The invitation card has a Western theme. Along its margins, cartoon girls in cowboy hats chase a herd of wild Ponies. The Ponies are no taller than the girls, bright as butterflies, fat, with short round-tipped unicorn horns and small fluffy wings. At the bottom of the card, newly caught Ponies mill about in a corral. The girls have lassoed a pink-and-white Pony. Its eyes and mouth are surprised round Os. There is an exclamation mark over its head.

The little girls are cutting off its horn with curved knives. Its wings are already removed, part of a pile beside the corral.

Barbara, a young girl, and her pony Sunny are invited to a “cutting out” party by a group of popular girls from school. The two want more than anything to have friends but what’s involved may be more than they can handle.

I can’t tell you anything else about the story without spoiling it. I can tell you this: even though “Ponies” is only four pages long, it packs a punch. I know that some of you don’t read short stories or fantasy but this is a story you really should read. I first read this story last week and since then, I’ve re-read several times. “Ponies” is easily on my “best of 2011″ list.

The great thing is that the story can be read in its entirety on Tor.com. You can also read the comments that follow the story. Everyone has their own theory about the meaning of the story but I think the story can be applied to the cruelty we experience as children and also as adults and how willing we sometimes are to do anything to fit in.

Have you read any of the stories or books nominated for the 2010 Nebula Awards? If you read “Ponies”, what do you think of it?

Favorite Books of 2010: Part 2

When I started compiling this year’s list of favorite books, I found it pretty easy to choose which books to include. Because twenty books made the list, I’m splitting my post into two parts: children’s books and those for adults.  The list isn’t in any particular order and behind each title is the publication year. By reading my lists, I hope you find a few books that you want to add to your TBR list. Enjoy.

Children’s books

City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems. (2010) The story of a city dog who moves to the country and makes friends with  a frog is short but oh so sweet. The ending almost made me cry.

How Rocket Learned to Read by Tad Hills. (2010) A dog who learns how to read from a bird and falls in love with books.

The Story Blanket by Ferida Wolff. (2008) The storyteller of a small village makes a sacrifice for her neighbors. A great story about giving.

Miss Brooks Like Books (And I Don’t) by Barbara Bottner. (2010) Miss Brooks is a librarian who’s determined to get her young patron to fall in love with books. Can Miss Brooks find the perfect book for her young spunky patron?

Bink and Gollie by Kate DiCamillo. (2010)Two  inseparable and very different friends go on small adventures. The illustrations are part of the magic of this book. This is one of the best books published this year. My kids loved this book and I did too.

Tan to Tamarind: Poems about the Color Brown by Malathi Michelle Iyengar. (2009) NF A collection of poetry about various shades of brown.

Children of the Dust Bowl: The True Story of the School at Weedpatch Camp by Jerry Stanley (1993) NF Reading this book, I learned so much about the children who moved with their families to California during the days of the Dust Bowl, the problems with education the children faced, and how Weedpatch Camp and its school helped so many children.

Middle Grade


Grow: A Novel in Verse by Juanita Havill. (2008) Grow is the story of blooming friendship between Berneetha, a laid-off special ed. teacher, twelve-year-olds Kate and Harlon as the trio turn a rundown corner lot into a beautiful garden. It’s a great book for reluctant readers.

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. (2010)  Set in Oakland, California during the 1970’s, One Crazy Summer is an coming-of-age story about three sisters who spend a summer with the mother who abandoned them. The main character is the oldest sister Delphine, a outspoken and caring young girl.  This is a book that’s great for tweens, teens, and adults.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. (2009) Miranda is a sixth-grader whose best friend no longer wants to be friends. She loves Madeline L’Engle’s  A Wrinkle in Time and carries the book everywhere with her. When she starts receiving mysterious notes that are accurately predicting future events, she doesn’t know what to think. When You Reach Me is the rare sort of book that demands to be re-read the very second you finish it. Whether you read the print version or the audio, readers are in for a treat.

Smile by Raina Telegmeier. (2010) NF For all the readers out there who read The Baby-Sitters Club series by Ann M. Martin, Telegmeier is the illustrator of the BSC graphic novels. So when I read that she had her own memoir being published in graphic format, I ran out to buy it. When Telegmeier was around eleven or twelve, she loses her two front teeth after running and falling. She spends the next few years getting her teeth fixed through various surgeries and procedures in an attempt to look normal. It’s bad enough losing your two front teeth, but doing so during adolescence when you’re really trying to fit in is even worse. I enjoyed this book so much that when I shared it with my younger sisters and daughter, all three girls took turns reading the book at the same time. Three bookmarks in different places so each girl could know where they left off at. No many books can do that.

Young Adult books

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Leviathan and John Green. (2010) If you haven’t read this yet even after all the buzz throughout the blogisphere, you need to place this book at the top of your TBR list. This is the story of two Will Graysons who meet on a winter night in Chicago and how their lives intersect. Their story is funny and really sweet. Excellent read.

Absolutely True “Diary” of a Part-time by Sherman Alexie. (2007) One of the best books I’ve read this year. Charming and authentic, it’s a great read for teens and adults.

I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and J.M. Niimura. (2009) Hands down, this is one of the best graphic novels I’ve read this year. Barbara Johnson isn’t your average middle school student.  She insists that she kill giants and has special amulets to ward off evil. This is a great story about grief with an unforgettable main character.

So that’s part two of my favorite books of 2010 list. Have you read any of the books that I listed?


Favorite Books of 2010: Part 1

When I started compiling this year’s list of favorite books, I found it pretty easy to choose which books to include. Because twenty books made the list, I’m splitting my post into two parts: children’s books and those for adults.  The list isn’t in any particular order and behind each title is the publication year. By reading my lists, I hope you find a few books that you want to add to your TBR list. Enjoy.

Beloved by Toni Morrison. (1982) A magnificent book about the horrors of slavery. This is a book that you want to read with a highlighter or notebook next to you because the prose is just so beautiful.

Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose. (1954) One of the most powerful plays to have ever won the Pulitzer Prize. It’s about class and opportunity.

Fences by August Wilson. (1983) One of my favorite plays ever.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.  (2007)  If you haven’t read this, you need to. It’s about Dominican history, passion, and finding the courage to love no matter what the consequences are.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender. (2010) The story of a girl who discovers she has the power to know the emotions of others through the food they make.

Blankets by Craig Thomspon. (2003) Blankets is unlike any graphic novel I have ever read. The true story of Thompson’s teenage years and his first love is so heartbreaking but beautiful.

Bayou Vol. 1 by Jeremy Love. (2010) A very Alice-in-Wonderland-like world set in 1920s Charon, Mississippi that has one of the best female protagonists ever. Heather from The Capricious Reader calls it’s a “Southern fairytale” and I have to agree.

So that’s part one of my list. I hope you come back tomorrow to read part two. Have you read any of the books on my list?

Sunday Salon: What are your three books?

Good morning! Right now I’m sitting at my desk with a hot cup of coffee and enjoying the start of my day even though it’s still dark outside. My daughter’s birthday is tomorrow so I’m spending the next two days running around getting her tea party and presents ready. But for now I’m relaxing before the chaos starts.

As you all know I’m a college student. Next year I plan on transferring to the college of my dreams (there’s six colleges on my list!).  I’ve been spending time every week researching different colleges, application deadlines, and also the personal essay statements or required critical essay. One essay statement stood out more than the others. It asks for students to look back on their reading for the past few years and pick the three best books. Three.

Though it’s a hard question, I was so excited. A book-related question! I started compiling a huge list of possible titles to write about: Persepolis, Wit by Margaret Edson, the Fable series by Bill Willingham, and more. I started thinking about titles I could write about that might impress the admission committee but I changed my mind. I love discussing books especially those that aren’t well-known. I decided to just be me and discuss the books that I really love.  I still haven’t picked three books but my list is down to four: Bayou by Jeremy Love which is a graphic novel, Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama a few years ago, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. I really think these are the four best books I’ve read in the past few years, books that have stayed with me and that I still think about months after reading them. I’ll probably spend the next few months reading these four over and over again as I write my essay.

My question for you: What are the three best books that you’ve read in the past few years? I know that’s a hard question but I’m curious to see which books you would pick. Can you pare it down to just three books?