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Favorites of 2011

Another year of reading is gone. This was a good year as several of my favorite authors released new books and I discovered a couple new favorite authors as well. I decided this year that I would keep my favorite list at 10. I cheated a little last year by sneaking in two extras. It was a difficult task, but I managed to whittle it down to 10.

Here they are  in no particular order:
Links are to my reviews:
Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt
The Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta
The Inquisitor's Apprenticeby Chris Moriarty
The Coming of the Dragonby Rebecca Barnhouse
The Dragon's Tooth by N.D. Wilson
The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carmen Deedy and Randall Wright
Chime by Franny Billingsley
Arrow by R.J. Anderson
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall

A few weeks ago I wrote about my Favorite Characters of 2011 and there are some more really great books on that list that I loved this year too.

The Inquisitor's Apprentice

The Inquisitor's Apprentice by Chris Moriarty took be by complete surprise. I was expecting to enjoy it and was patiently waiting for my library to order copies. Then on a visit to our local bookstore, I saw it and bought it on impulse. This is a good thing because I didn't enjoy this book, I LOVED it. I recognize it is not a book everyone will like, but it worked for me on every level. As a reader I was engrossed and it kept me thinking. As a mom it is definitely a book I want to have on the shelf for my kids. As a teacher I could see so much potential in it for a great unit study. But it was the reader me who enjoyed it the most. And now I have a new literary crush as well.

Sacha Kessler is a Russian Jewish immigrant living on Hester Street in a magical New York in the late 19th century. Magic practiced by the masses is illegal and the Wall Street Wizards (Morgaunt, Vanderbilk, Astral) use it to stay rich at the expense of the people. Sacha's life is changed forever on th…

Happy Boxing Day!

And Merry Christmas a day late!

I have been busy enjoying our family traditions and the wonder of my kids for the past few days. Also, feeding the 8 people staying in my house right now.  I hope everyone is enjoying themselves as much as I am! Regularly scheduled book type posts will be returning on Wednesday with a review of The Inquisitor's Apprentice by Chris Moriarty, a book which made a last minute entry in my Favorites of 2011. I will be bringing you that list on Friday.

Enjoy any time off you may have and Happy Reading.

Prom and Prejudice

There are many many novels out there that are retellings of or borrow elements from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. I have a love/hate relationship with these novels. For some reason I can't help reading them despite the fact that they usually annoy me. A lot. Elizabeth Eulberg's Prom and Prejudice managed to not do that. I found it to be, like its bubble gum pink cover, light and fun.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

After winter break, the girls at the very prestigious Longbourn Academy become obsessed with the prom. Lizzie Bennet, who attends Longbourn on a scholarship, isn’t interested in designer dresses and expensive shoes, but her best friend, Jane, might be — especially now that Charles Bingley is back from a semester in London. Lizzie is happy about her friend’s burgeoning romance but less than impressed by Charles’s friend, Will Darcy, who’s snobby and pretentious. Darcy doesn’t seem to like Lizzie either, but she assumes it’s because her family doesn’t have…

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes

That title. The cover. If you are in any way a fan of children's fantasy I think it rather impossible to face those two things combined and not want to read this book. Then you read the synopsis and find out the main character is a thief and, if you are me, all thoughts of even attempting to resist this book's allure go out the window. But why would you want to resist? Jonathan Auxier has penned a delightful adventure full of magic, thievery, intrigue and militant ravens. Yes, there is oh so much to like in Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes.
"Now, for those of you who know anything about blind children, you are aware that they make the very best thieves. As you can well imagine, blind children have incredible senses of smell, and they can tell what lies behind a locked door- be it fine cloth, gold, or peanut brittle- at fifty paces. Moreover, their fingers are so small and nimble that they can slip right through keyholes, and their ears so keen that they can hear t…

Books for Christmas Presents

Or What My Kids are Getting for Christmas, 2011 Edition.

 So I did this last year and decided to do it again this year since my kids, not surprisingly, get quite a few books for Christmas each year.

For the Little One (age 3):



You can find my thoughts on Apple Pie ABC and Press Here and also Follow Me and A Pocketful of Posies (from below) at this post.
We are in a Book and Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! are fairly self explanatory. If you are the parent of a young child and don't know Mo Willems (I recently discovered there are such parents) you need to get to know his books and know them well.
Super Dragon is a cute story about a young dragon who wants to compete in a flying contest but needs to learn to fly first.
For Bit (age 7):




Cake Mix Cooking for Kids is a book full of easy recipes that use cake mixes as a base. Great for budding bakers who want to strike out on their own.
You can read my thoughts on Tuesdays at the Castle here and The Cheshire Cheese Cathere.
Bit a…

The Horse and His Boy

Featuring Bit, Age 7

Our last read aloud of 2011 is complete. We just finished The Horse and His Boyby C.S. Lewis. I had read all of the Chronicles of Narnia to Bit when she was four and she enjoyed them then. This time however she not only enjoyed this but was pulled into the story. She was vocal and opinionated about everything and really engaged with the text. It was heartwarming for me as this is my absolute favorite of the seven books.
The Story
In Narnia it is the Golden Age as the High King Peter reigns with his siblings, but to the south of Narnia in the land of Calormen, a boy named Shasta has lived a simple and harsh life with his father in a fishing hut. Everything changes on the night a powerful Tarkhan wants to buy him as a slave and it is revealed that Shasta is not from Calormen at all. With the help of the Tarkhan's war horse, a talking horse captured from Narnia named Bree, Shasta escapes and head for the north and freedom. Along the way he and Bree form an alliance…

Let it Snow

Yes, this is another YA Christmas book post. What can I say? I'm in a holly jolly mood this year. Let it Snow is a collection of three short stories by Maureen Johnson, John Green, and Lauren Myracle. They are interconnected and involve snow, Christmas, and romance. Light, fluffy, fun. It is perfect for reading snuggled under a blanket near your Christmas tree.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Sparkling white snowdrifts, beautiful presents wrapped in ribbons, and multicolored lights glittering in the night through the falling snow. A Christmas Eve snowstorm transforms one small town into a romantic haven, the kind you see only in movies. Well, kinda. After all, a cold and wet hike from a stranded train through the middle of nowhere would not normally end with a delicious kiss from a charming stranger. And no one would think that a trip to the Waffle House through four feet of snow would lead to love with an old friend. Or that the way back to true love begins with a painfully e…

The Great Wall of Lucy Wu

It is rare for me to pick up a book anymore that I have no preconceived notions about. It is hard not to develop some about almost any book when I read so many blogs. I was very excited when I saw The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang on the new arrivals shelf at my library.  I had seen it mentioned in a couple of comments at Heavy Medal but knew nothing else about it. Just the title. It was a lovely experience going into the story not knowing what to expect. I can say that it is one that is well worth reading and adding to any library collection (home, classroom, school).

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Lucy Wu, aspiring basketball star and interior designer, is on the verge of having the best year of her life. She's ready to rule the school as a sixth grader and take over the bedroom she has always shared with her sister. In an instant, though, her plans are shattered when she finds out that Yi Po, her beloved grandmother's sister, is coming to visit for several m…

Princess of Glass

Tackling a retelling/reworking of Cinderella in a post Ella Enchanted (my review) world is a brave thing to do. And if you are going to do it you should really give your story some kind of unique spin. Jessica Day George did just that with Princess of Glass and the end result is an enjoyable and fun read.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Hoping to escape the troubles in her kingdom, Princess Poppy reluctantly agrees to take part in a royal exchange program, whereby young princes and princesses travel to each other's countries in the name of better political alliances--and potential marriages. It's got the makings of a fairy tale--until a hapless servant named Eleanor is tricked by a vengeful fairy godmother into competing with Poppy for the eligible prince. Ballgowns, cinders, and enchanted glass slippers fly in this romantic and action-packed happily-ever-after quest from an author with a flair for embroidering tales in her own delightful way.

There is a lot to like about ho…

The Grand Plan to Fix Everything

Sometimes a book comes along that is a balance of quirky, enjoyable, and well written. When it happens to be a contemporary fiction novel about a culture many young readers are not familiar with, so much the better. If you are looking for such a book then Uma Krishnaswami's The Grand Plan to Fix Everything is one to check out.

Summary (from Goodreads):
Eleven-year old Dini loves movies—watching them, reading about them, trying to write her own—especially Bollywood movies. But when her mother tells her some big news, it does not at all jive with the script of her life she has in mind. Her family is moving to India…and, not even to Bombay, which is the center of the Bollywood universe and home to Dini’s all-time most favorite star, Dolly. No, Dini is moving to a teeny, tiny village she can’t even find on a map. Swapnagiri. It means Dream Mountain and it only looks like a word that’s hard to pronounce. But to that open-minded person who sounds the name out, one letter at a ti…

Characters Who Captured My Heart in 2011

“I was attempting to write the story of my life. It wasn't so much about plot. It was much more about character.”  -from Dash and Lily's Book of Dares
I love this quote because, as I have stated many times, I read for character. If you make me love your characters I will forgive you all kinds of faults in your world building and plot development. As I was thinking about the books that will go on my Best of 2011 list (which I'll post at the end of December) I started thinking about all the amazing characters I fell in love with this year. Not all the books they come from will make that final list (though some will) and I decided to a separate post to cover all the characters who captured my heart this year and  made me fall in love with their stories.
Instead of linking the titles to their Goodreads page like I usually do, I have linked them to my reviews.
Melina Marchetta's Boys: Yes, all of them. I read Saving Francesca, my first experience with Marchetta's work, last …

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares

Wow, was this the perfect example of right book at the right time. I wanted a fun and light Christmas read and decided it was about time I gave Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan a go. I'm so very glad I did. It was exactly what I wanted, fun, light and Chritmasy, but with also smart and witty.

Dash is a cynical jaded teen who has orchestrated a Christmas alone by telling each of his parents he is spending it with the other. During his boring lonely winter break he is perusing the Strand (that mecca of used book stores) when he spots a red journal amongst the books by his favorite author. Intrigued he pulls it off the shelf and finds a series of clues leading him through several sections of the bookstore and to an invitation to begin a correspondence with a girl named Lily. To keep it interesting he continues what she has begun with the notebook scavenger hunt rather than just giving her his email address.

Lily is an optimistic girl full of hope and…

Jefferson's Sons

I first became aware of Jefferson's Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley when Betsy Bird posted this review of it on her blog back in August. The novel chronicles the life at Monticello for the children Thomas Jefferson had with his slave, Sally Hemings. I was intrigued enough to buy a copy, but also hesitant to read it. There is a reason you don't see many reviews of historical fiction on this blog. I don't read a lot of it because when it is done poorly, as it often is, nothing annoys me more. (I was a History minor.) I have completely avoided the discussion on this book at Heavy Medal because I hadn't yet read the it, though I've heard most people there weren't as enamored with it as some earlier reviewers. (I will try to get to looking at it when the Christmas candy making is complete.) I couldn't resist reading Monica Edinger's thoughts when she posted them as they were about using real people as characters in a book, something that has always made me…

Happy Thanksgiving!

To all who celebrate it this weekend.

This is an incredibly busy weekend for me, hence the lack of reviews. We host Thanksgiving at our house for both our sets of parents. This is also the weekend when I make the candy for all the Christmas festivities we attend and gifts we give (chocolate covered cherries, chocolate covered peanut butter balls, fudge). Needless to say I'm a little busy.

I did squeeze in some time to take Bit to see Hugo today and enjoyed it immensely.

I will be back on Monday with a review of Jefferson's Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

Catherynne M. Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is the book that gets my vote for Best Title of the Year. But a clever title does not always make a clever book. In this case though the contents live up to the package. It is a beautifully written and clever story. It is pretty near impossible to discuss this book without bringing Alice into the mix, and I have made it no secret here that I'm not the biggest fan of Wonderland (or  the Victorian fantasy in general). This isn't Victorian fantasy however, it is modern fantasy with Victorian elements. Neil Gaiman stated it perfectly in his blurb for the book (an endorsement enough in itself, no need to read my review): "A glorious balancing act between modernism and the Victorian fairy tale, done with heart and wisdom." That exactly.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mot…

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Featuring Bit, age 7

I am the mean sort of Mom who is not letting my child inhale all the Harry Potter books in one gulp. I'm making her take her time and space them out. It is working well so far. Since we read the first two it has been about nine months. Yes, I've had to listen to lots of begging but she has also reread the first two books on her own several times in the interim so she came into this one really knowing the characters well and there was a definite difference in how invested she was in the story.
The Story
Really I shouldn't have to do this, but as a matter of form:  Harry returns to Hogwarts for his third year after having a rather momentous summer. This year everyone is determined to keep Harry safe within the walls of Hogwarts since escaped Azkaban prisoner Sirius Black has escaped and is, most probably, looking for Harry. Harry doesn't only have escaped convicts to worry about though. He also must contend with his old nemesis, Draco Malf…

Back When You Were Easier to Love

Back When You Were Easier to Love by Emily Wing Smith is a fluffy light read with an interesting concept. Who doesn't like books with potentially awkward road trips in cool cars? The book certainly delivers in terms of that promise. It also delivers in terms of writing. The style works well for the plot and the imagery is very good. I think there are many teen girls out there who will be able to identify with the main character and enjoy going along for the ride. I don't necessarily think that's a good thing.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
What's worse than getting dumped? Not even knowing if you've been dumped. Joy got no goodbye, and certainly no explanation when Zan - the love of her life and the only good thing about stifling, backward Haven, Utah - unceremoniously and unexpectedly left for college a year early. Joy needs closure almost as much as she needs Zan, so she heads for California, and Zan, riding shotgun beside Zan's former-best-friend Noah.

Whe…

And the Winner is...

Inside Out and Back Againby Thanhha Lai was just announced as the winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Young People's Literature. This is a novel written in blank verse that follows its young heroine as she flees Vietnam when Saigon falls, spends time in refugee camps, and learns to adapt to a new life in Alabama. It is a wonderful story and Ha is a sympathetic heroine. It is definitely a book well worth reading. You can read my original thoughts here.

I read four of the five books that were nominated and don't envy the committee the decision they had to make. The four I read were all excellent and worthy books. Congratulations to Thanhha Lai!

The Trouble with May Amelia

I am clearly missing something here. Jennifer Holm has been honored by three different Newbery committees for her novels Our Only May Amelia, Penny from Heaven, and Turtle in Paradise. Despite never getting past the first third of Our Only May Amelia and pretty much detesting every moment I spent reading Turtle in Paradise, I dutifully checked out a copy of her latest novel, The Trouble with May Amelia, as soon as my library received its copies. It is, of course, generating some award buzz this year. Honestly I just don't get it. If you enjoy historical fiction from the point of view of plucky young girls then there is much to enjoy here. I certainly liked it far more than I have the other works I have tried by this author, but there were still a multitude of things that annoyed me about it.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
May Amelia lives in pioneer Washingon State in 1900, and she just can't act the part of a proper young lady. Working a farm on the rainy Nasel River isn't …

Tales of Ancient Egypt

A Review Featuring Bit, Age 7

I can hardly believe we are almost halfway through second grade. Four more weeks and we are done with the term. We are well into our study of ancient cultures that is focusing on Ancient Egypt, and these next four weeks find us immersed in the Middle Kingdom. We have been reading Roger Lancelyn Green's Tales of Ancient Egypt to give Bit some background and understanding of the religious system.
The Story
Tales of Ancient Egypt is a collection of tales and myths from Ancient Egypt. Go figure. The book is divided into three sections: Tales of the Gods, Tales of Magic, and Tales of Adventure.There are 20 tales in all.

Bit's Thoughts
I like Tales of Ancient Egypt because it will help me understand history more. I also like it because I like Egypt. My favorite story was "The Story of the Greek Princess". I like this tale because the people are so clever in it. It is also the story of Troy which I know about from reading The Trojan Horse. This pr…

Nightspell

Nightspellby Leah Cypess is a companion novel to her debut, Mistwood (my review). It can be read as a stand alone novel, the two only share one character and you don't need to know her story from the first novel to enjoy or understand this one.


Synopsis (from Goodreads):
When Darri rides into Ghostland, a country where the living walk with the dead, she has only one goal: to rescue her younger sister Callie, who was sent to Ghostland as a hostage four years ago. But Callie has changed in those four years, and now has secrets of her own. In her quest to save her sister from herself, Darri will be forced to outmaneuver a handsome ghost prince, an ancient sorcerer, and a manipulative tribal warrior (who happens to be her brother). When Darri discovers the source of the spell that has kept the dead in Ghostland chained to this earth, she faces a decision that will force her to reexamine beliefs she has never before questioned - and lead her into the heart of a conspiracy t…

Breadcrumbs

"Once upon a time, a demonlike creature with a forty-seven-syllable name made an enchanted mirror. The mirror shattered in the sky. The splinters took to the wind and scattered for hundreds of miles. When they fell to the earth, things began to change....A boy got a splinter in his eye, and his heart turned cold. Only two people noticed. One was a witch, and she took him for her own. The other was his best friend. And she went after him in ill-considered shoes, brave and completely unprepared." (p153,155)

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu is a retelling of "The Snow Queen" by Hans Christian Anderson, yes, but it might be more fitting to say this is an homage to all of Anderson's tales because there are a great many of them incorporated into this one. The heart of  the story is "The Snow Queen" though, or rather, what it symbolizes. Growing up, changing, leaving old friends behind, and discovering who one is as a person. Hazel and Jack have been best friends for…

Picture Books of 2011

It's Picture Book Month! Did you know? If not, you can read all about it. I don't write about picture books often on this blog, but they are very much a part of my everyday life. In celebration of Picture Book Month, I bring you my favorites of the year. Yesterday the NY Times revealed its 2011 Best Illustrated Children's Books. This post is unrelated to the NY Times list. This post has been scheduled for today for weeks. Great minds think alike and all that. My list is very different from the NY Times one. I don't know what criteria they used. My criteria: I had fun reading/looking at the book and, most importantly, my test subjects approved.
My Test Subjects (ages 7 and 3):

Apple Pie ABC by Alison Murray
Alphabet books are a dime a dozen. This one stands far and above the rest in my opinion. There are words and phrases for every letter, as one expects in an alphabet book. A for apple pie, B for bake it, C for cool it, D for dish it out, and on. All of it is…