Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Year in Review

It has been a wonderful year and I have read some wonderful books.  I love looking through all the books I've read in a year and remembering each of them.  Some of them I liked, some I loved and some were not really my favorite, but in general it was a great book year.  I always have a hard time picking a favorite, but this years clear winner has been The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North.  It was fantastic and I can't wait to reread it.  For months it has been the first book that comes to mind when someone asks for a book recommendation.  If you haven't read it yet, it is time.

What has been your favorite book this year?

  1. The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski
  2. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simison
  3. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  4. What Nora Knew by Linda Yellin
  5. Ungifted by Gordon Korman
  6. The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron
  7. Have No Shame by Melissa Foster
  8. The Year of Learning Dangerously by Quinn Cummings
  9. Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen
  10. My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares
  11. The Homesman by Glendon Swarthout
  12. The Secret Lives of Dresses by Erin McKean
  13. Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen
  14. The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon
  15. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  16. The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Andrews
  17. Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee
  18. The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson
  19. Second Star by Alyssa B. Sheinmel
  20. People I Want to Punch in the Throat by Jen Mann
  21. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
  22. The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness
  23. Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz
  24. Flame by Amy Kathleen Ryan
  25. The House Girl by Tara Conklin
  26. The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
  27. The Maze Runner by James Dashner
  28. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
  29. Free for All by Don Borchert
  30. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
  31. Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins
  32. We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt
  33. The Man in the Window by Jon Cohen
  34. Sweet as Cane, Salty as Tears by Ken Wheaton
  35. Hello from the Gillespies by Monica McInerney
  36. Delirium by Lauren Oliver
  37. Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
  38. Requiem by Lauren Oliver
  39. My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins
  40. Delirium Stories by Lauren Oliver
  41. The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz
  42. Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks
  43. Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers
  44. If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch
  45. Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot

The Buchanans' pull was as natural and strong as the moon on the tides, and when I was with them I was happy in the warmth of their reflected light....Even knowing as I do now, that grace, power, and, yes, love can hide the darkest elements of the human heart, I would do it all again.  Beginning with the night I met her, then him, then the rest.  I would do it all again just to know that for a moment I was one of the Great Buchanans.

So begins Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot.  After reading about this book on several other book blogs, I really wanted to read it myself.  Charlotte is a junior at a private boarding school in New England.  A chance meeting one night with, and then a semi-rescue of, the new student Julia Buchanan changes the trajectory of Charlotte's life.  Julia is the daughter of a wealthy former Congressman whose family suffered a tragedy several years earlier.  Julia and Charlotte (whom Julia immediately dubs Charlie) become fast friends and all of the Buchanans come to love Charlie.  They see her as a lifeline for Julia who has had a difficult past few years.  Everything seems nearly perfect for a while, but that near perfection cannot last...even in paradise.

I really liked this book.  The characters are lovely and allow the reader a peek into the life of high society, beach houses in the Hamptons, and Ivy League colleges.  This is, of course, rather fantastical, but it still makes for fun read.  The characters are not without flaws, but that makes them all the more likable.  While things are going well, Charlie and Julia are happy and quickly become the best of friends and the reader enjoys their friendship.  

Beatitudo nos efficit omnes stultos.  Happiness makes us all fools.

When Julia begins to struggle again, her family depends on Charlie to help bring her back from the brink.  This is a lot of responsibility to put onto an eighteen-year-old girl and as a reader I found this part difficult to believe.

This book didn't exactly end the way I would have liked, but once I turned the last page, I could appreciate the author's choices.  The title of the book alone clues one in that it won't be a happily-ever-after ending, but I liked that Charlie is such a strong female character.  This was a very good book and I think you'll like it.  Pick it up and let me know what you think.

Monday, December 15, 2014

If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

"This is one of those books you devour."  So says Jennifer Brown, author of Hate List about the book I just sped my way through reading.  If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch is a book that captures its readers and doesn't let go.  Carey, 14, and Janessa, 6, live in a broken-down camper in the middle of the woods with their mother.  Well, sometimes their mother is there, when she isn't gone for weeks at a time "replenishing supplies."  Carey and her mother escaped from a Carey's father when she was 5-years-old because he beat them.  Carey has heard the stories so many times and she knows better than to question them.  Carey's mother is bi-polar as well as a drunk and a meth addict.  Janessa came along a few years later and Carey has taken on the responsibility of caring for her.  Janessa doesn't speak, not because she can't, but because she chooses not to speak.  Life is hard for the girls, but it is what they know until a man and woman come into their campsite looking for them.  It is then that Carey must finally question all she has known about her own story and decide who she really is.

Halfway through this book I was all set to add it to Required Reading list, but it took a turn that, while it didn't effect my opinion of the book, might give others pause, especially when considered in the light of YA Fiction.  I love that this book illustrates so well what it would be like for a young girl to enter the modern world after so many years in the wild.  Carey doesn't know anything of pop culture or fashion or even modern conveniences like dishwashers or cell phones.  She was taken away from her life at such a young age that she doesn't remember "living indoors, not tap water or light switches or bubble baths.  Not even Christmas."  What might be a problem for readers is all that Carey endured as a child in the woods.  Reading about sexual abuse is normally something I can't stomach, but Murdoch presents it in such a way that, while horrified and outraged, I didn't feel assaulted by the description as other writers have made me feel.  

When Carey and Janessa leave the woods,  they have to learn to assimilate into their new world.  As Carey begins high school for the first time, she struggles to know who she really is.  Is she the girl from the woods or this new girl with "bedazzled jeans" and a real, store-bought coat?  Where does she belong and how long can she stay when everyone learns her terrible secrets?

"That girl in the woods is amazing.  Don't you ever stop being that girl in the woods, you hear me?  Braids and new clothes can't take away the best parts of you.  You hold on tight to your heritage.  That girl in the woods raised a baby, took care of her sister, kept her fed, warm, safe.  That girl in the woods is special.  Especially out here."

I may not be able to call this Required Reading, but I will label it Highly Recommended.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers

Mortal Heart is the final book in the His Fair Assassins trilogy by Robin LaFevers.  The first two books, Grave Mercy and Dark Triumph, were wonderful and so much fun to read.  I always feel that reviewing the final book in a trilogy is tricky because I worry about spoilers, but Mortal Heart is a little different.  Rather than a typical trilogy, His Fair Assassins follow different main characters in each book.  The series also runs nearly concurrently.  While Isme is busy in Grave Mercy and Sybella has her own mission in Dark Triumph, we meet Annith in Mortal Heart.  Isme and Sybella have been sent out on missions and Annith is feeling left behind and a little jealous back at the convent of St. Mortain.  She has spent her entire life preparing to serve Mortain and is anxious to put her skills to work.  As the abbess sends out yet another girl before her, one that is far younger and less trained than herself, Annith's frustration grows.  When she learns that the abbess intends Annith to be the convent's new Seeress, she is determined to escape before she can be locked behind the convent's walls forever.

I love this series.  It is a combination of fantasy and historical fiction and while marketed as YA fiction, I feel obligated to mention again that I wouldn't really recommend it for young young adults.  This is a dark book, but really wonderful.  It is well-researched, well-written, and well-worth reading.  I really wish I could say more about it, but I would feel terrible if I were to ruin it for you.  The only recommendation I would give is to read them in close succession.  I had to wait for the third book to be released and I had forgotten some of the characters and events from the two previous books.  LaFevers doesn't do that semi-annoying thing in a series where the author repeats herself to remind readers of previous events, but that also left me a little confused in parts.  I will definitely be giving this series a re-read.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

We all know the saying, "You can't judge a book by it's cover", but how many of us have done just that?  I certainly have.  For example, if the cover of a book shows two people in a steamy embrace, partially disrobed, I can be certain it is not a book I will enjoy reading.  Most often my book-cover-judging rears its head in the form of reading a book because of the look of the cover.  I could go on and on about books I've chosen because the cover appealed to me and in most cases my judgement proved correct, but I won't get into all of that now.

One such book that had me at "Hello, pretty cover" was Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks.  This book is written from the perspective of Budo, the imaginary friend of Max Delaney.  Budo is special because he is exceptionally long lived for an imaginary friend and also because he looks so real.  Most of the imaginary friends he knows do not have such well- developed appearances, but Max has imagined him so well that most other imaginary friends mistake him for human.  This is all so because, though it isn't expressly stated in the book, Max appears to be "on the spectrum".  However, just because Budo is imaginary does not mean that he isn't real.

I might need Max's imagination to exist, but I have my own thoughts, my own ideas, and my own life outside of him.  I am tied to Max the same way that an astronaut is tied to his spaceship by hoses and wires.  If the spaceship blows up and the astronaut dies, that doesn't mean that the astronaut was imaginary.  It just means that his life support was cut off.
Same for me and Max.

Budo experiences quite a lot in the few short weeks during which this book is set.  He watches another imaginary friend, one to whom he was very close, disappear.

"I want to spend my last few minutes with her.  Sitting next to my friend.  It's the only thing I'm really sad about."
"That I won't be able to look at her anymore. See her grow up.  I'm going to miss Meghan so much.... I love her so much."

He describes the human people that he has come to know by watching them:  Max's parents, the people who work in and those who visit the 24-hour gas station down the street, the teachers in Max's school.  Matthew Dicks does such a wonderful job of observing and then relating so much about human behavior.  He depicts his characters with such depth that, as a reader, you feel they must be real people.  And he sees things in these must-be-real-people that we don't always see.  He sees the skill Max's therapist holds when rather than asking him why lunch is his favorite part of the school day, she asks him if he knows why lunch is his favorite part of the school day.

If Max can't explain why lunch is his favorite part of school then he can just say no, and he doesn't have to feel dumb for not knowing the answer.  If Dr. Hogan asks a question that makes Max feel dumb, she might never get him to talk.

He sees the love Max's mother has for him and the way she shows it.  She doesn't fight Max on the fact that he cannot wear more than seven pieces of clothing at a time and that this means she will never be able to persuade him to wear gloves, even on the coldest days.  Instead, she sews fur linings into all his coat pockets so he can put his hands in his pockets to keep them warm.

He explains in the most wonderful way the difference between a mediocre teacher and a really good one.

There are two kinds of teachers in the world.  There are teachers who play school and teachers who teach school, and Miss Daggerty and Mrs. Sera and especially Mrs. Gosk are the kind of teachers that teach school.  They talk to kids in their regular voices and say things that they would say in their own living rooms....[K]ids love them because they talk about real things with real voices and they always tell the truth.

And my favorite part, which I won't quote here because I couldn't bear to cut any of it out, is when, through Budo, Dicks explains to his readers the meaning of real bravery.  

This was a extraordinary book and I highly recommend it.  I really think you will love it, too.  

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz

I am not generally a big reader of non-fiction, but occasionally I come across something special like this one: The Sweet Life in Paris by famous pastry chef and cookbook author David Lebovitz.  Lebovitz was named one of the Top Five Pastry Chefs in the Bay Area by the San Francisco Chronicle and has been featured in numerous magazines and news papers.  He has written seven cookbooks and his latest, My Paris Kitchen, was named the best cookbook of the year by Amazon.

The Sweet Life in Paris is more memoir than cookbook as Lebovitz shares with us all he has learned since he followed his dream to pick up and move to Paris.  The writing is both informative and funny.  An American living in Paris has much to learn and he is happy to share his lessons with his readers.  Did you know there is a right way to eat a banana?  And no, it really isn't the way you do it.  Lebovitz describes the painstaking way Parisians eat their bananas with a knife and fork, slice by slice.  Then he says, "I admit that I still eat bananas like my primordial predecessors, but only in the privacy of my home.  Outside of the house, though, I avoid fruit.  It's too stressful."  He tells about the dangerous adventure that can be walking down a Parisian sidewalk.  At first he was very confused by the way it seemed the other people were aiming to run him down.  As he adjusted to life in The City of Lights, he learned that yielding was the problem.  Now he barrels down the street as if he belongs there.

It took Lebovitz a little while to learn the ways of the city, but don't ask him if he's fluent in French.

When people ask, "How long did it take you to become fluent in French?" I respond, "Become fluent?  Even the French aren't fluent in French."  To prove it, there's an annual Dicos d'Or, or a dictation contest where French people compete against each other to see who can best comprehend and write down what's spoken to them- in their own language!

This book is filled with hilarious anecdotes and hard lessons learned.  It is also filled with an amazing number of places one must visit in Paris.  If I ever make it back, I will be headed straight to Patisserie Viennoise for the thick hot chocolate "topped with a completely unreasonable amount of billowy whipped cream".  And then there are the recipes.  There are over fifty recipes for delicious-sounding dishes included in this book and each one is accompanied by a story.  I can't wait to try the Chocolate Macarons and the Cheesecake.

Think of this as a memoir or a cookbook or a travel guide, but any way you think of it, you will enjoy it.  I may never move to Paris, but this book certainly sparked my wanderlust.