Sunday Salon: Books at the Top of My List

I figured since, last week, I did the bottom five, I should probably give you my top five. It’s only fair. To make it easier — since I really do have a hard time choosing what I truly, truly love (is that just me, or does your favorite list change from year to year?) — I think I’m going to pick one book from each year I’ve been blogging. (Yeah, that’ll be six, but I have to narrow down my favorites, somehow.)

America’s Women, Gail Collins (2004-2005): This was actually a book group read for my in-person book group. And I was blown away. Not only by the subject matter — Collins delves into history (or herstory?) in a very in-depth way — but by the fact that this book was so readable. Up to this point, I wasn’t that interested in history books; history was boring, history was dry. But, this showed me that history could be interesting, fun, and memorable.

The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan (2005-2006): One of the things I’m proud of is getting on the Percy Jackson bandwagon before he got really big. I picked this up on a whim — even with the horrid hardback cover — at my library, and couldn’t put it down. It’s not deep, but it is clever and I thought, from the outset, that Riordan’s use of Greek mythology was brilliant. I’m just glad that my girls (well, M and C) love it as much as I do.

Thirteen Reasons Why, Jay Asher (2006-2007): I don’t usually write letters to authors. (Well, unless I want to interview them, anyway.) But I finished this book — I won the ARC in a giveaway — and I was blown away. Literally. It’s one of those books that changed the way I see people, affected me deeply, and I needed to share that with the author. It’s not for everyone, but I do recommend it, and loan my battered ARC out, whenever I feel it’s right. Because it’s an amazing book.

Dracula, Bram Stoker (2007-2008): I avoided Carl’s RIP challenge for years, because horror and mystery are not my “things”. For some reason, though, this year I decided to sign up for it, and I picked Dracula as one of my reads. (Possibly chalk it up to being interested in vampires due to Twilight…) I was amazed. Completely and utterly blown away. I was reminded that I did, once, love horror (I went through a Poe phase), and that it’s not the gore that I love but the mood. That spine-chilling, goose-bump inducing mood. And Dracula has that in spades, which thrilled me to no end.

My Life in France, Julia Child (2008-2009): I love food books, and so I knew going in that I would like this one. I wasn’t prepared, though, for just how awesome Julia Child was. Determined, focused, funny, amazing. I loved her joy, and how that joy — of love, of life, of food, of France — came through in her stories. It did lose a little steam near the end, but by that time I was invested: I am, unabashedly, a Julia Child fan. And I would happily read this book over and over again.

My Most Excellent Year, Steve Kluger (2009-2010): I adored this book. Hands down. As much as I adored The Casson family books by Hilary McKay. (They should be on this list; but the reasons why are similar to the reasons for this book, so I excused them.) I fell in love with the characters, and I want to move in next door to them and be their friend. I want them to take me in, and let me bask in their awesomeness, their quirkiness, their uniqueness. I was charmed the entire time I was reading about them, and I feel that, somehow, my life is better for having visited their world. It’s become a comfort read, something to pick up when I’m feeling down, because I know, without a doubt, that I will be happier when I finish reading.

So, what are some of your all-time favorites?

The Best of My 2009

You do it three times, and it’s a tradition.

(I’m doing this early, though, because — if all goes well — we should be driving back from Texas today. So the numbers aren’t quite exact. But that doesn’t really matter, does it?)

Presenting my best of list for this year.

By the Numbers:
Middle Grade Fiction: 78
YA Fiction: 69
Graphic Novels: 11
Non-Fiction: 20
Fiction: 41
Grand Total: 219 (I made it past 200 this year! Woot!)

Challenges Completed: 9

Gotta do my awards…

Best Adult Fiction: People of the Book or Sweetness in the Belly. I couldn’t decide.

Best YA book: Speak

Best Middle-grade book: Anything But Typical

Best Fantasy:
Lips Touch Three Times and When You Reach Me

Best Sci-Fi/Distopian: The Stand (Hunger Games is a really, really close second.)

Best Graphic Novel: Tales from Outer Suburbia (with Babymouse: Dragonslayer coming in a close second.)

Best Non-Fiction: My Life in France

Best Romance: Poison Study (Valik still makes me swoon.)

Best Mysteries: Perhaps I should say best mystery writer? The Woman in White and The Moonstone.

Best Jacket Flap: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

And in other categories…

Books I should have read AGES ago: Tess of the D’Urbervilles, The Screwtape Letters, The Stand, The Wee Free Men, Fire and Hemlock, Speak, and My Life in France.

Favorite Reviews: Bee Season, The Darcys and the Bingleys, Devilish

Theme(s) that inadvertently manifested themselves:
Women’s bodies (Intuitive Eating; Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters; Artichoke’s Heart; Models Don’t Eat Chocolate Cookies); Baseball (The Brooklyn Nine, All the Broken Pieces, The Girl Who Threw Butterflies); Jane Austin (The Darcys and the Binglys; Pemberley by the Sea, Jane Austen Ruined My Life, Becoming Jane Austen); Darwin (The Adventures of Charley Darwin; The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate; Why Darwin Matters; I didn’t get to Charles and Emma, but I wanted to…).

Writing Style/Genre I Discovered I liked: steampunk (Leviathan), zombie books (The Forest of Hands and Teeth)

Genre I’m getting tired of, finally: Vampires.

The Wink-Wink, Nudge-Nudge book: Pemberley by the Sea

Best Interviewee: Aaron Reynolds and Neil Numberman, followed closely by Shannon Hale.

Favorite Challenge (that wasn’t hosted by Carl):
End of the World II

Best main character: Katsa

Book for in-person book group I liked best: Garden Spells

Book for on-line book group I liked best: Fifth Business

Books I didn’t feel the love for: Atonement, Chocolat, Bee Season, Fragile Eternity

Number of Shakespeare plays I read: 1 – The Tempest (and that was as a Manga Shakespeare; I totally cheated this year!), and I only saw 1 (Romeo and Juliet; the guy playing Romeo did him kind of Emo, and it totally worked.)

Number of Fantasy books I read: 57. Choosing the “best” was REALLY hard this year!

Books that Made me Laugh the most:
The Tiffany Aching series, Order of the Odd-Fish, Whales on Stilts!, Leaving the Bellweathers

Authors everyone else loves that I discovered I liked: Terry Pratchett (fave: A Hat Full of Sky), Sarah Dessen (fave: Lock and Key), Elizabeth Scott (fave: Something, Maybe), Georgette Heyer (fave: The Talisman Ring).

Best Book from an author I previously didn’t care for: The Trouble Begins at 8 (Sid Fleischman and I haven’t gotten along in the past…)

First-time authors I’d love to see more from: Rosanne Parry (Heart of a Shepherd); Kathryn Fitzmore (The Year the Swallows Came Early); Ann Haywood Leal (Also Known as Harper)

Books I read the fastest: Hunger Games and Catching Fire

Favorite book from a series: The Last Olympian (Alas, what will I do without Percy Jackson? At least the movie is out in February!)

Newbery Books I read: The Graveyard Book. Pathetic. I need to get back to reading those again.

Books that made me want to go out and do something:
Operation Yes (cheer!); My Life in France (cook! Visit the Smithsonian!); Sweetness in the Belly (read more about Africa!); Mission Control, This is Apollo (visit NASA in Houston!);

Books I abandoned: I finally became bold in my book abandoning: there too many this year to list! (25, half of which were Cybils reads.)

Here’s to another great year! What were your favorites this year?

My Geeky Best of 2009

This week’s geek is a reprise from last year: help the Weekly Geekers come up with a Top 10 for 2009. The basic guidelines:

This year, when you submit your novels, you must include the genre it is from as well. Last year, when I was trying to categorize everything, I had to guess on a lot of novels and I know there were some people who disagreed with my choice. If there are any contradictions in genres (say if a book was selected for two genres), then the Weekly Geek Staff will vote on where it goes (please?).

We’re trying to gather as many lists as we can, so we can come up with a nice comprehensive list. You’ll have two weeks to come up with your list before I begin compiling the voting booths. Then we’ll put it to a vote. Last year, we ended up with over 1300 individual voters and I know we can make it just as big this year.

I’m sending out a personal plea: let’s get some kidlit on this list, okay?!

So, my top ten that were published in 2009 (in no particular order…) (I also discovered that if it’s not kidlit, then chances are I’m not going to read it new!):

1. When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead (sci/fi/fantasy/middle grade)
2. The Actor and the Housewife, Shannon Hale (ungenreable: chick lit? fiction? fantasy? what?)
3. Lips Touch Three Times, Laini Taylor (fantasy/YA)
4. Fire, Kristin Cashore (fantasy/YA)
5. Anything But Typical, Nora Raleigh Baskin (middle grade)
6. Liar, Justine Larbalistier (fantasy?/YA)
7. The Chosen One, Carol Lynch Williams (YA)
8. Wild Things, Clay Carmichael (middle grade)
9. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Jacqueline Kelly (middle grade/historical fiction)
10. Babymouse: Dragonslayer, Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (graphic novel)

Okay, there’s my list. What’s yours?

I Heart My Bloggy Friends

Happy BBAW, everyone!

We’re supposed to, today, spotlight blogs we absolutely love that didn’t make the shortlist of the BBAW awards. This was actually difficult for me, since many of my friends didn’t make the shortlist!

So, I picked a handful of people that I consider friends, women that if I really need a book recommendation, I turn to them first (sorry, Becky, you made the shortlist, so you’re not here!). I’ve also noticed that we have similar tastes in books, and that we read many of the same books, which makes commenting on their blogs fun (also pretty similar: “OOH! SO glad you loved it, too!”). Anyway, some of my bloggy best friends:

I feel like I really know Corinne at The Book Nest, Dawn at My Thoughts Exactly, and Tricia at Library Queue, even though I’ve never met either one of them, mostly because the four of us are part of an online book group that Corinne started three years ago. They’re all amazing women: smart, talented, inquisitive. Talking books (and other things) with them is part of what makes my blogging and book experiences so much fun.

Can I tell you how stoked I am because Abby from Abby (the) Librarian is going to the Kidlit Conference this year, so I actually get to meet her! Squee! While I don’t always see eye-to-eye with her on books, I completely trust and respect her opinion on them. Besides, how could I not love someone who also unabashedly loves John Green… which also goes for Suey at It’s All About Books. They are women who are made of awesome! (I do like Suey’s book reviews, too!)

I’ve been following Kailana at The Written World and Heather at A High and Hidden Place for quite a while, but it seems like in the last year — possibly because of Twitter? — I’ve been paying more attention to them and their musings (and well as their incredible reading habits!) in the past little while. I’m so glad I did: I’ve found a ton of books through both of them that I’ve either loved, or are desperate to read.

Alysa at Everead is one I discovered — by the benefit of being on the same panel as her — last year during the Cybils. Again, we have similar tastes, and I have gotten a lot of recommendations from her. I admire her passion for books, and her enthusiastic spirit. I just wish she was able to blog more!!!

And, last but not least: Melissa at One Librarian’s Book Reviews. Melissa’s a new friend — she’s a relatively new blogger! — and I think she found me first. But, I’m so glad she did, and she left a comment (or two or three), and that I clicked through to see who the “other” Melissa was. Not only do we share similar tastes, she’s a great writer, who writes interesting, thoughtful posts. And check out her posts from her trip to Europe this summer. Fabulous.

There. Now that you’ve been introduced, you can stop by and say hi to some of my friends!

My Best of — Cybils Middle Grade Panel Edition

We’ve hashed, discussed, chatted, pleaded, and, in the end, came up with a shortlist, which we turned into our panel organizer today. The official lists are scheduled to go up on the first of January, so you’ll have to wait until then to find out what they are. As is to be expected, because of the nature of panels and compromises, not all of my favorites from the 72 books (of the 129 on the original list) I read made the shortlist. But, I think they deserve some recognition, if only because I loved them. 🙂

The ones that got 4.5 to 5 stars (5 stars on my Goodreads page, since they don’t do 1/2 stars)
The Penderwicks on Gardham Street, by Jeanne Birdsall
Shooting the Moon, by Frances O’Roark Dowell
The Girl Who Could Fly, by Victoria Forester
Diamond Willow, by Helen Frost
Moxy Maxwell Does Not Like Writing Thank You Notes, by Peggy Gifford
Every Soul a Star, by Wendy Mass
Forever Rose, Hilary McKay
Island of Mad Scientists, by Howard Whitehouse

And a few others worth mentioning:
Chancey of Maury River, Gigi Amateau
The Trouble with Rules, by Leslie Bulion
A Thousand Never Evers, by Shana Burg
The Walls of Cartagena, by Julia Durango
The Gollywhopper Games, by Jody Feldman
Savvy, by Ingrid Law
Bringing the Boy Home, by N.A. Nelson

Looking at the list, I can see that my old habits are still manifesting themselves: I like books by women authors, mostly about girls. I liked all three of the fantasy-middle grade crossover books. There are three historical fiction, but mostly it was realistic fiction that took the day (not counting the one horse book I found I liked).

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with the other members of my panel; they’re smart, passionate readers and we had a great pile of books to work though. Our two chats, and multiple Yahoo group discussions have been fascinating and enlightening and thought-provoking. It’s one thing to sit here and blather about how much I like a certain book; an entire other one to chat with six other people and have to come up with reasons in favor or against said book. It’s been a marvelous experience, one I’m very glad and grateful to have been a part of.

The Best of My 2008

I had so much fun doing this last year, that I had to repeat myself. 🙂

By the Numbers:
Middle Grade Fiction: 72 (being on the MG panel really shot the numbers through the roof!)
Young Adult Fiction: 53
Graphic Novels: 16
Non-Fiction: 14
Fiction: 42
Grand Total: 197

Challenges Completed: 9

And it wouldn’t be the same without the awards…

Best Adult Fiction: Dracula

Best YA book: The Patron Saint of Butterflies

Best Middle-grade book: Every Soul a Star

Best Fantasy:
A Curse Dark as Gold

Best Sci-Fi/Distopian: 1984 (even if it is depressing)

Best Graphic Novel (new this year!!) : Plain Janes/Janes in Love

Best Non-Fiction: John Adams

Best Romance: Crown Duel

Best (um, only?) Mystery (I still ought to read more…): The Winter Queen

Best Jacket Flap: The Fall of the Kings

Best Worst Jacket Flap: Matilda

And in other categories…

Books I should have read AGES ago: 84 Charing Cross Road, Call of the Wild, Right Ho, Jeeves, The Christmas Carol (well, I did read it before, but it’s been AGES)

Writing Style I Discovered I liked: Novels in verse, especially Diamond Willow and Song of the Sparrow

Favorite Challenge: Jane Austen

Best main character: Marvin from Masterpiece

Book for in-person book group I liked best: Suite Francaise

Book for on-line book group I liked best: The Glass Castle

Books I didn’t feel the love for: The Book Thief, Audrey, Wait!

Number of Shakespeare plays I read: 1 – Othello, but I saw two (Much Ado About Nothing and Pericles)

Number of books read that had something to do with Shakespeare: 4

Favorite use of Shakespeare’s plays: The Juliet Club

Books that Made me Laugh the most: The Year of Living Biblically, Leave it to Psmith, Island of Mad Scientists

Authors everyone else loves that I discovered I liked: John Green (but I think I like his vlog better than his books. Don’t shoot me.) and Maureen Johnson

Best Book from an author I previously didn’t care for: Airman

First-time authors I’d love to see more from: Susan Selfors (Saving Juliet), Daphne Grab (Alive and Well in Prague, New York), J. Scott Savage (Farworld: Water Keep)

Book I read the fastest: anything for the MG Cybils panel…

Favorite book from a series:
Forever Rose (with The Battle of the Labyrinth a close runner-up)

Best Arthurian book: Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy

Newbery Books I read: Good Masters, Sweet Ladies, Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry

Books that made me want to go out and do something:The Omnivore’s Dilemma (change food buying habits), Every Soul a Star (look at stars and see a solar eclipse), Forever Rose (read the rest of the series), Dairy Queen (cheer!), Ten Cents a Dance (watch Swing Kids).

Books I abandoned: The Painted Drum, The Other Boleyn Girl, The Acts of King Arthur, Blue Bloods, Audrey Wait!, and a whole host of MG Cybils books.

Here’s to another great year!

The Best of the Best-ofs

The January Bookworm Carnival is up over at Reading with Becky. She’s got a very impressive list of people’s varied 2007 Best-of lists. It takes some time, but it’s worth your while to go through (at least some of) them.

The 8th Edition of the Bookworms Carnival will be hosted at The Book Ninja. The theme is “The Geography of Make-Believe.” Full details are available at her site. You’ll need to read them. Really. Send an e-mail to thebookninja at gmail dot com with an appropriate subject line like “Bookworms Carnival” or “CARNIVAL OF AWESOMENESS!!!!” or “CARNIVAL EIGHT FOR THE WIN!” (Be creative, but use the words “bookworms” or “carnival” somewhere). The deadline for submission is February 8th.

I’ll have to go through my lists and posts and see what I can send Renay for next month’s carnival. This will take some thought.

The Best Of My 2007

I have to admit that I’ve never really been interested in doing “best of” lists before. I don’t know why; maybe it’s a memory thing, maybe I don’t like to pick a “best” book; I like so many. But, back in September, I looked at my lists and realized that this year I will have read 100 books. The last time I got to 100, it took me a lot longer. So, I figured in honor of that milestone, I’d do a best of post. So, first off, books that I actually finished, by the numbers….

Middle Grade Fiction: 31 (I realize I’m doing this mostly randomly, since I lump them together on my list)
Young Adult Fiction: 25
Non-Fiction: 14
Fiction: 38

That’s 108 this year, folks! (Not as many as others, but that’s a lot for me.)

And, since I actually felt like doing something fun, on to the “Awards”. First, the overall bests:

Best Adult Fiction: Pomegranate Soup (It was very hard to decide; there wasn’t one that just jumped out at me. But in the end, I think I enjoyed it the most, and it would be the one I would most highly recommend to others.)

Best YA book: Thirteen Reasons Why. Very close runner up: Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature

Best Middle-grade book: Tough. I’ll call it a three-way tie, and be grateful that I don’t really have to choose: Elijah from Buxton, The Wednesday Wars or The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Best Fantasy:
Stardust and Faeries of Dreamdark: Blackbringer

Best Sci-Fi/Distopian: Uglies

Best Non-Fiction: The Royal Road to Romance

Best Romance: Outlander

Best (um, only?) Mystery: An Instance of the Fingerpost

In other categories…

Author who could do no wrong: Shannon Hale; I read three of her books this year (River Secrets, Austenland, Book of a Thousand Days) and thoroughly enjoyed them all.

The reason I’m obsessed with vampires: Twilight

Book I’m most embarrassed to admit I read, but that Hubby’s glad I did (wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more): tie… either Outlander or the Gardella Vampire books

Most creative book: Middle School is Worse than Meatloaf

Book for in-person book group I liked least (but everyone else liked): The Inheritance

Book for in-person book group I liked best: The Killer Angels

Book for on-line book group I liked best: The Brothers K

New books that I didn’t agree with “everyone” on: Evil Genius and Eggs

Number of Shakespeare plays I read: 2 — As You Like It and Midsummer Night’s Dream (Number read in previous years: 0)

Book that Made me Laugh the most: Austenland, The Wednesday Wars, Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank

Books I abandoned: Last of the Mohicans, More Letters from Pemberly, Villette

Author everyone else loves that I discovered I liked: Neil Gaiman

First-time authors I’d love to see more from: Linda Urban (A Crooked Kind of Perfect), or Christopher Grey (Leonardo’s Shadow)

Book I read the fastest (also possibly Book during which I cried the most): Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Books I finally read but should have read AGES ago: Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, Jane Eyre, The Killer Angels, The Search for Delicious

Series/trilogies I read: two of the Percy Jackson series (The Sea of Monsters, Titan’s Curse), the Uglies series (Uglies, Pretties, Specials), the Gardella Vampire series (The Rest Falls Away, Rises the Night), Riddle-Master (The Riddle Master of Hed, Heir of Sea and Fire, Harpist in the Wind), and the Temeraire series (His Majesty’s Dragon, Throne of Jade, Black Powder War, Empire of Ivory)

Newbery Books I read: Caddie Woodlawn, Voyages of Dr. Dolittle, Higher Power of Lucky. I meant to read more.

Books that made me want to go out and do something: Climbing the Mango Trees (eat Indian food, which I still haven’t done), Liszt’s Kiss (practice the piano), An Embarrassment of Mangoes (travel), Eat Cake (um, eat cake), Around the World in 80 Days (watch Monty Python)

My 10 Most Favorite Non-Fiction Books

I try to read non-fiction on a fairly regular basis, so I don’t feel like I “escape” too much. My favorite non-fiction books, I call “place” books. They’re not really travel books, but more about the author’s experiences in a certain place or places.

  1. Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi: An interesting reflection by a professor of English Literature at several universities in Tehran, Iran. She finally quit teaching at the universities and formed her own special discussion group: a hand-picked circle of women devoted to literature. The book reflects upon several of the works they read from Lolita to Pride and Prejudice, as well as dealing with the author’s experiences during the revolution in Iran during the 1980s. Fascinating read.
  2. Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand: An excellently written history of the horse Seabiscuit, his owner, trainer and jockey and their experiences in becoming the most popular racing horse in the country during the 1930s. (A good movie, too.) I learned a ton about horse racing, jockey life and about how three men and a good horse can make their dreams come true. Excellent book.
  3. The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness, Joel ben Izzy: I loved this book. I loved the stories he told (I love stories), I loved the way he told his own story, and I loved the journey he took. In a nutshell, it’s about finding happiness where we are at rather than where we want to be. He realizes there is no such thing as “perfect” happiness, and that we need to be happy with whatever life deals us. A wonderful little book.
  4. Garlic and Sapphires, Ruth Reichl: An absolutely delicious, entertaining, interesting look at her time as the restaurant critic at the New York Times. Delightful.
  5. The Price of Motherhood: Why The Most Important Job is Still the Least Valued, Ann Critteneden: This wasn’t a comfortable book to read for me; I often felt like she was challenging – and possibly disagreed with– the decision I, and many other women, made to stay home with the kids. That said, challenging isn’t necessarily bad. I’m putting this here because it spawned a lot of passionate discussion, and discussion is always good.
  6. A Trip to the Beach, Melinda and Robert Blanchard: The story of a couple who move to Anguilla (rhymes with vanilla) in the West Indies and start up a restaurant there. It was a wonderful tale about starting over and life in the Caribbean.
  7. Tales of a Female Nomad, Rita Golden Gelman: Not only an incredibly fascinating and enlightening travel book, it’s an affirmation that anyone really can go out and do whatever she sets her mind to. Excellent.
  8. Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman: I read this on a recommendation from my mom and I’m glad I did. It’s a very scientific book, and therefore sometimes difficult to read, but it’s an excellent book. I learned a lot about relationships and how to handle conflict in a more “emotionally mature” way. Something everyone should read.
  9. America’s Women, Gail Collins: Every so often you read a good historical survey. This was one. It was fascinating, and enlightening and enjoyable all at once. Great read.
  10. Eats, Shoots, & Leaves: A No-Tolerance Guide to Punctuation, Lynne Truss: I have never had so much fun reading about punctuation. An excellent book. Sticklers unite!