Top 10 YA Books I Read in 2015

As soon as I typed that title, I knew I’d leave someone’s book out of my list. If it’s your book, please forgive me. My memory isn’t the best, and I failed to keep a definitive list of what I read this past year!

But even if some amazing novel is missing from my list, I vouch that the following books are worth reading. Here are my favorite YA novels I read in 2015.

1. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard (fantasy). The Reds are commoners, while the elite Silvers have special powers and rule the country. Except when Mare starts working in the palace, she discovers a power of her own — which could throw off the balance, endanger her life, and threaten her family and her heart.

Not only does this book have a fabulous cover, the story within is a compelling tale of fantasy, relationships, romance, and betrayal. It’s a pretty entangled plot, but more than that, I enjoyed the characters who kept me guessing what they would do and how things would turn out.

2. They All Fall Down by Roxanne St. Claire (suspense). Kenzie somehow got voted onto a list of the hottest girls in high school. Every year, that list is the ticket to popularity, parties, and romantic perks. This year, however, if you’re on the list…you have a target on your back. When girls on the list start dying, Kenzie must figure out who’s behind it before someone takes aim and kills her first.

What a concept, right? And St. Claire pulled this off very well. Kenzie is a relatable character, and the plot twists and ticking clock keep you on your toes and cheering for her to figure out who’s behind the killings. There’s also interesting friends, a cute boy, and more. Just a great read.

3. Powerless by Tera Lynn Childs and Tracy Deebs (superheroes). Kenna lives and works in a community of superheroes who oppose a society of villains — yet she is powerless, an ordinary. When she encounters a band of villains seeking to save one of their own, she finds a way to fight against them. But the encounter leaves her questioning her view of heroes and villains and what it means to be good.

When I picked this up, I admit thinking to myself, Seriously? What more can be said about superheroes? Yet Childs and Deebs approached the subject in an original way, infusing the story of superheroes with deeper questions, interesting relationships, and stellar dialogue. Powerless is the first in their Hero Agenda series, and I will be reading the next one.

4. The Murder Complex by Lindsey Cummings (dystopian). In this dystopian society, the murder rate is higher than the birth rate — by design. Meadow has been taught by her father to fight back and survive, but when Zephyr, a government-programmed assassin, puts Meadow in his sights, she’s thrown into an entirely new challenge that requires all her skills, courage, and determination. Not to mention her heart.

I’ll warn you now: The body count in this novel is high. This is a dystopian society on steroids. But I loved this fast-paced novel with fresh characters, plot twists, and high stakes. It’s the first in a two-book series, and I immediately read the follow-up, The Death Code, which I also recommend.

5. Find Me by Romily Bernard (thriller). Wick’s got a promising new foster home, courtesy of her dad being arrested for his felonies. She’s also got amazing hacker skills, a snarky attitude, and a cop in her heels who’s convinced she helped Daddy Dear with his crimes. But when a former friend’s diary ends up in Wick’s hands with the words Find Me, Wick’s hacking skills and criminal contacts might just help her find Tessa’s killer.

Wick is the kind of resilient teen I love to read about. She has a billion ways life has kicked her in the butt, yet she wants a better life for herself and her sister. Bernard weaves a marvelous thriller plot in with deep emotional stakes for Wick and those around her. This was that kind of novel that made me push my bedtime way late into the night to read “just one more chapter” again and again.

6. Winter by Marissa Meyer (sci-fi fantasy). Winter is a sci-fi retelling of Snow White, right along with the super-bad stepmother and a huntsman who isn’t willing to kill the princess. But the whole story is set in a futuristic setting with Earth and the Moon at war and weaves in characters from the three previous retellings of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel.

This is the fourth and final book in the Lunar Chronicles, which began with Cinder. Whether you know anything about the classic fairy tales, these retellings are highly engaging — but the way Meyer weaves details from the fairy tales into her world is nothing short of brilliant. This is the series I have most recommended to friends over the last couple of years.

7. A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin (historical). It’s the age of Napoleon, but Georgiana’s biggest problem is her parents sending her to a severe boarding school after a few of her science experiments went slightly awry. The rumors about Stranje House promise a life of both poise and punishment, but the school holds more far more interesting secrets. And Georgiana might fit in after all.

Great setting, smart heroine, intriguing characters, page-turning plot, and brilliant writing. I can’t wait for book 2 in Baldwin’s Stranje House series!

8. Love and Other Unknown Variables by Shannon Lee Alexander (contemporary). Charlie is a math genius, but definitely not a genius at love. Until he meets an unusual girl in a donut shop who defies all logic and captures his heart. But when the new girl Charlotte turns out to be dealing with a serious illness, Charlie’s world isn’t just lopsided — it turns upside down.

You might think this is The Fault in Our Stars, but it’s not. Yes, there’s a sick girl, a lovesick boy, and a romance. But much of the book is the unfolding of their relationship and intriguing twists about these characters. It sounds totally cliché, but yeah, I laughed, I cried, I loved it.

9. Made You Up by Francesca Zappia (contemporary). Alex is a normal teenager in many ways with concerns about school, family, and love, but everything in her world is also colored by her daily struggle with paranoid schizophrenia. How can she know what’s real and what’s not? And can she somehow find inner peace and romantic love?

Amazingly written, Made You Up also lets you see all these events through the unreliable point of view of someone with paranoid schizophrenia. What The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time did to help readers understand Aspergers, Made You Up will do for this poorly understood mental illness. I felt the challenges Alex faced and couldn’t help but root for her throughout.

10. Finding Paris by Joy Preble (contemporary). Sisters Paris and Leo must rely on each other; they certainly can’t rely on their flaky mother or gambling stepfather. But when Paris goes missing from a Las Vegas diner one night, Leo and a brand-new friend must track her down with clues Paris has left around the city. Why has Paris disappeared? And what family secrets does she hold?

I’m not a re-reader of books. Once I’ve read a novel, it’s rare for me to go back and read it again — even years after. Yet as soon as I finished Finding Paris, I wanted to turn back to page one and read the whole thing again. I resisted the urge at that moment, but I have every intention of re-reading this quirky, intense, wonderful novel in 2016.

That’s it! My top ten.

What did you read in 2015 that you recommend others read in 2016?

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Friday Fiction: What Are Y’all Reading?

I recently combed through our Borders store a second time looking for going-out-of-business bargains and walked away with another stack of books. This time, most of the books were for my family; however, I did add to my To Be Read pile – which currently resembles Jack’s beanstalk to the clouds.

In the queue are several non-fiction books (primarily on writing and language) and fiction selections as well.

For today’s Friday Fiction, I’m sharing what’s coming up on my list and asking what y’all have been reading.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. This book was recommended by mystery writer Jayne Ormerod. I had seen this title several times and it piqued my curiosity, but not enough until Jayne gave it a 5 out of 5 rating.

From the back cover: “January 1946: Writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a stranger, a founding member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. And so begins a remarkable tale of the island of Guernsey during the German Occupation, and of a society as extraordinary as its name.”

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards. Two good friends have recommended this book, and one finally loaned me her copy (which I’ve now had for months!). I’ve probably put off reading it because it sounds like a tearjerker, and this mama isn’t sure she wants to go down that road. But the plot does sound compelling and with the recommendations . . .

From the back cover: “This stunning novel begins on a winter night in 1964, when a blizzard forces Dr. David Henry to deliver his own twins. His son, born first, is perfectly healthy, but the doctor immediately recognizes that his daughter has Down syndrome. For motives he tells himself are good, he makes a split-second decision that will haunt all their lives forever. He asks his nurse, Caroline, to take the baby away to an institution. Instead, she disappears into another city to raise the child as her own.”

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. My mother-in-law passed this one off to me. She has read quite a few historical novels and is good at spotting an excellent one.

From the Amazon.com book description: “In 1937 Shanghai—the Paris of Asia—twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, are having the time of their lives. Both are beautiful, modern, and carefree—until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth. To repay his debts, he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from Los Angeles to find Chinese brides. As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, Pearl and May set out on the journey of a lifetime, from the Chinese countryside to the shores of America. Though inseparable best friends, the sisters also harbor petty jealousies and rivalries. Along the way they make terrible sacrifices, face impossible choices, and confront a devastating, life-changing secret, but through it all the two heroines of this astounding new novel hold fast to who they are—Shanghai girls.”

The Cat, the Lady and the Liar by Leann Sweeney. Mystery author Leann Sweeney lives in my town! But although that’s how I heard about her, I’m not reading her books for that reason. She’s a great storyteller. This one is the third in her Cats in Trouble series. I have also read her Yellow Rose Mysteries, which were a lot of fun. If you like cozy mysteries, pick up one of Leann’s novels and give it a shot.

From the back cover: “When cat quilter Jillian Hart tracks down the owner of a gorgeous stray cat, the trail leads her to none other than fabulously wealthy, undeniably quirky Ritaestelle Longworth. The gossips in town are questioning Ritaestelle’s sanity, and the high-society grande dame isn’t helping matters with her wild accusations that someone is drugging her to keep her away from her beloved cat. Before Jillian can get to the bottom of Ritaestelle’s charges, a body turns up in the lake behind her house – and her cat Chablis discovers Ritaestelle standing nearby. Can Jillian’s three wise cats aid her in solving a mystery with roots that are decades old?”

Rainwater by Sandra Brown. This bestselling author was the keynote speaker at the DFW Writers’ Conference held last spring by the DFW Writers’ Workshop. As part of her presentation, she described her two latest books, and this title sounded fascinating. I have only read one other novel from her– a romance from some years ago. I’m curious to see how her writing has evolved and to simply delve into the story.

From Publishers Weekly: “Bestseller Brown brings Depression-era Texas to vivid life in this poignant short novel. At the recommendation of Dr. Murdy Kincaid, Ella Barron, a hardworking woman whose husband deserted her, accepts David Rainwater, a relative of the doctor’s, as a lodger at the boarding house she runs in the small town of Gilead, Texas. As the local community contends with a government program to shoot livestock and the opposition of racist Conrad Ellis, a greedy meatpacker, to poor families butchering the meat, Ella grows closer to David. Meanwhile, David becomes a special guardian angel to Solly, Ella’s nine-year-old autistic son. Dr. Kincaid has gently suggested Ella put Solly in an institution, but she refuses to do so. Brown skillfully charts the progress of Ella and David’s quiet romance, while a contemporary frame adds a neat twist to this heartwarming but never cloying historical.”

Which of these titles have you read or want to read? So what’s up next on your reading list? Do you have recommendations for must-reads?

Friday Fiction: What Are Your Guilty Pleasures?

Yes, of course, we are all high-brow literature lovers with titles like The Brothers Karamazov and A Tale of Two Cities gracing our bookshelves. We can’t wait to hear the winner of the next Pulitzer Prize and dutifully read New York Times bestsellers. We can discuss for hours the perplexities of plot, the merits of foreshadowing, the symbolism in great novels, and the tragic characters of the classics.

Except when we don’t.

Reading is a bit like your diet. Perhaps we should all be eating healthy meals with plenty of vegetables and scant fat. And much of the time, we can keep our temptation under reasonable control and genuinely enjoy the delicious food on our plate. But now and then, forget the love handles and the bathroom scale, I want a piece of cheesecake! Or a chocolate sundae! Or a Snickers bar! We love our guilty pleasures. 

For some, guilty pleasures include the romance novels bought on impulse in the grocery store line – you know, with the bare-chested muscle man embracing the curvy heroine. Or the horror novels with suspense and gore lining every page and a bloody book cover that makes the average reader recoil. Perhaps it’s the biographies of celebrities who have appeared in every tabloid newspaper with their latest scandalous event. Or an over-the-top political rant book from a hard-core advocate of whatever your political position happens to be.

I recently realized that I haven’t engaged in a guilty pleasure read for a long time. I feel that I should read the classics, expand my knowledge of young adult fiction, learn something new, get inspired, or delve into the kind of novels I want to write. But where is my guilty pleasure? Where is my literary slice of cheesecake?

What’s my adult equivalent of the comic books I read as a kid? I honestly don’t know. But I feel the need to break out of my vitamin-enriched reading diet and dive into a vat of chocolate for a change. Just this once.

So I’m wondering which not-so-good-for-me read I can pick up. Mind you, I’m not a horror or erotica gal (period) and political ranting gets old to me pretty quickly. What I really crave is a good belly laugh.

So what are your guilty pleasures? What suggestions do you have for me? Do you have some kind of books that you don’t readily announce to others that you read?

Friday Fiction: It’s a Classic!

Don’t know what to read?  Pick up a “classic.”

There is a reason that some books survive the weathering of time and become classics.  While we may not enjoy every read in that section of our library or bookstore, plenty of gems await those brave enough to read a work crafted by someone who lived 100 years or more before you spoke your first word.

Yes, the language is sometimes stilted or contains linguistic quirks of the day.  You may also need a little historical information to provide context to the story (e.g., knowing about the Napoleonic Wars helps when reading War and Peace).  It isn’t always as easy as picking up a contemporary work of fiction and breezing through it over a Starbucks’ coffee mug on the weekend.  But a classic is often worth the effort.  Classics, after all, are considered the best of the best. 

Several years ago, Penguin Classics came out with its 100 Classic Books You Must Read Before You Die List.  Several others have compiled lists of recommended reads in the classic literature area.  Library Booklists has a wonderful page linking to several of these.  As for myself, here are a few I think just about everyone should pick up at one time or another:

1984 by George Orwell – Orwell expertly wrote this dystopian novel in which the totalitarian government has eyes and ears in the form of the Brotherhood and one man’s love affair comes at great personal cost.  Because of this novel, I still shiver when I hear the words “Room 101.”

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – This is the sprawling tale (as Tolstoy is wont to write) of Anna Karenina, a woman whose marriage is unsatisfying and whose affair has consequences.  This novel also covers the politics of the day, while keeping readers engaged with the personal life of the protagonist.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky – Certainly one of my favorites of all time, this is a story of murder, love, choices, and consequences. Enough said.

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra – Perhaps the most romantic character in literature, Don Quixote is half-mad and full of charm.  An ardent believer of chivalry, he is in pursuit of adventure and Dulcinea – the object of his affection.  So many quotable lines are in this book; I wish I had highlighted them all.

Dracula by Bram Stoker – The vampire book that started it all!  Stoker’s rendition has a creepiness all its own, and the vampire on these pages is quite different from the Dracula portrayed in films – far more menacing, I think.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – The best of the Brontë sisters is perhaps this novel in which Jane Eyre becomes the governess to Adéle, whose guardian is the enigmatic Mr. Rochester.  Jane and Rochester fall in love, but Rochester has a secret that threatens their happiness.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert – Emma desires more than the boring life she leads with husband Charles Bovary, and she gets it.  Two love affairs and her fluctuating financial status give her life an up-and-down experience that has an impact on the people around her as well.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – It’s a toss-up for which Jane Austen book one should read, but this may be the most beloved.  Austen’s writing is always witty and enlightening, and the story of the Bennett daughters and proud Mr. Darcy is engaging throughout.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne – The scarlet letter is an “A”, and if you don’t know why, you need to find out.  Hester Prynne’s pregnancy brings her shame and punishment in mid-17th century Boston, and the identity of the baby’s father overshadows her and the town.

What would be on your list of must-read classics?  Do you have any goals to read classic literature?  What classics have you not read yet but want to?

Friday Fiction: The Club Picks

Like many of you, I’ve been in a book club for several years now. Our book club meets every other month, reads one or two selections, and discusses the book(s) for a little while and our personal lives for a long while. With six members, we each host once a year, often providing a dinner that connects with the book theme. For instance, a couple of books about Jews during the Holocaust got us to eat a delicious kosher meal at a nearby restaurant and two books set in Africa had us making suya meat on a stick and fried plantains.

From time to time, I am asked what books our club recommends. Well, we often disagree. Reviews can be mixed on various books. For instance, no matter how much anyone else in my book club liked it, I hated Life of Pi by Yann Martel. (See my post on that one.) And not everyone found The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath as compelling as I did. But we have unanimously concurred on a few selections, and I readily recommend the following:

Bel Canto by Ann Padgett – A famous opera singer, a Japanese tycoon, and a group of diplomats gather for a party; soon after, a group of eighteen terrorists invade the home. A hostage crisis ensues in which author Padgett develops characters on both sides of the negotiations and brings together people who would otherwise never bond.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – Told from the point of view of Death (yes, the Grim Reaper), this book chronicles the life of a young girl whose adoptive German parents struggle to put food on the table, to hide a Jewish man, and to keep clear of the Nazis taking over their country. Meanwhile, the young girl learns the value of books to help them through this horrible time in history.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon – This is a murder mystery told from the perspective of an autistic 15 year old. Haddon does a wonderful job of dropping the reader into the mind of an autistic boy and showing the challenges he faces in making sense of his world, his family, and the false accusation that he has killed a neighbor’s dog.

Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man by Fannie Flagg – From the author who brought us Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, this is another tale of an unorthodox young lady in the South – this one being 11-year-old Daisy Fay Harper. Flagg takes us through Daisy Fay’s hilarious journey in the 1950’s toward a pageant title in her home state.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett – This novel takes place in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960’s, where “the help” are African-American women hired to be housekeepers for privileged Caucasian women.  Two women – one black, one white – are challenged to rise above their circumstances and shed light on the racially unbalanced and complicated relationships between society women and their hired help.

Hill Country: A Novel by Janice Woods Windle – Author Windle tells the story of her incredible grandmother, Laura Hoge Woods (1870-1966), who lived in the Hill Country of Texas. A formidable woman in any century, Laura survives an Indian attack, raises seven children, and interacts with prominent political figures of the day.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini – Politically tumultuous Afghanistan is the setting for the story of a wealthy businessman, his son, and his servant’s son. A single tragic event shapes the lives of those involved, as the Taliban is taking over the country. The servant’s son struggles to deal with the fallout of his country’s turmoil and his personal shortcomings.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger – There may not be any women left in America who haven’t read this one, but it’s a love story extraordinaire. Henry and Clare are not star-crossed lovers, but time-crossed lovers. With Henry’s “Chrono Displacement Disorder,” they meet for brief periods of time and try to experience a lifetime of love in their fleeting moments.

Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks – Somehow, reading a book about a 17th century plague doesn’t sound intriguing, but we all liked this one. This historical fiction novel describes an English town in Derbyshire struck by the plague and the choices families make as loved ones become sick and the healthy must decide whether to risk themselves to tend to the dying. Relationships are changed as the calamity unfolds.

Are you in a book club?  If so, what books has your club read that you unanimously enjoyed?  What must-read recommendations would you make to the rest of us?

Friday Fiction: Getting Hooked

If not for Laura Ingalls Wilder and Carolyn Keene, would I have become such an avid reader?  I don’t know.  But my memories of books as a young girl include hours delving into the lives of Laura in the Little House series and Girl Detective in the Nancy Drew series.  It was finding topics I liked and characters I could identify with that opened me up to the worlds that an author’s words create.

Whenever I hear a kid say that he doesn’t like reading, I think, “You just haven’t figured out what you like to read yet!”  Everyone agrees that the key to making a reader out of anybody is finding an author, a topic, or a genre that they enjoy.  If the successes of J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer have proved anything, it’s that kids and teens still enjoy reading if you give them something they like! 

Frankly, this is true with adults as well.  Sometimes, we think a reader is a person who picks up classic literature, current bestsellers, or book club selections. But people who visit bookstores (or download titles onto their ebook reader) might enjoy graphic novels, cookbooks, magazines, online newspapers, self-help books, thrillers, or romances.  The important thing is to get people reading!

We all started somewhere – often with a Dr. Seuss book or an Archie comic in hand.

A few of my own suggestions for getting kids to read these days:

Junie B. Jones by Barbara Park (ages 4-8) – I admit to never having read a single Junie B. Jones book.  But I enjoy this author, and this series comes highly recommended by many of my friends with daughters.

The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne (ages 9-12) – I volunteered in my kids’ school library for two years, and these books were checked out all the time.  They are quick reads, but the author takes children through history in a fun way.

Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker (ages 9-12) – I fell in love with Clementine on page 1.  She’s a spunky elementary girl with excess energy, creative thinking, and a few stories to tell.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney (ages 9-12) – A combination of text and pictures, these books chronicle the life of a wimpy kid whose experiences are easily understood by most children.

The Time Warp Trio series by Jon Scieszka (ages 9-12) – Boys in particular will love the adventures of three time-traveling friends and their humor.  Let’s just say that the first book includes a giant with giant-sized snot.

Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen (ages 9-12) – This is the hilarious tale of a young boy just trying to make a little extra money and finding himself an illustrious entrepreneur.

Piper Reed series by Kimberly Willis Holt (ages 9-12) – Both girls and boys will love this daughter of a Navy officer with two sisters, a dog, and a fresh perspective on childhood.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan (ages 9-12) – Greek mythology can seem dull to most kids, until you read Riordan’s retelling of the Greek myths with teens as demigods. Then hold on for the fantastic ride!

Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (ages 9 & up) – Yes, I would still recommend this series to any child who hasn’t read it.  I love how the author weaves the average challenges that all kids face in school with a wizarding world and the fight of good vs. evil.

 
Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (ages 12 & up) – Tweens, teens, and adults will find these dystopian books to be page-turners. Collins creates an intriguing world and has us rooting for the main characters from the beginning and throughout.

 

 

What books got you reading as a child or an adult?  What books or series would you suggest to non-readers to get them hooked on reading?

Friday Fiction: What to Read Next?

My Next Reads Stack

It’s a toss-up for whether my Netflix queue or my Next Reads stack is larger.  My husband recently said, “I could have three lifetimes, and never get through all the books I want to read.”  I agree:  There simply isn’t enough time to devour all the books I want to read.

Since I can’t get to everything, what causes a book to land in my three-foot tall stack of Next Reads?  For me, here are some criteria:

Book Club Choice.  I’ve been in a book club for years, and if we choose a book, I try VERY hard to read it.  Every now and then, I have been caught at a meeting having no idea why Charlise chose to leave Steve for the plumber and become a missionary in remote Africa, since I don’t even know who Charlise is.  But, for the most part, Book Club books get moved to the top of the stack.  There is, after all, some accountability for whether I’ve read the selection.

Reading with My Kids.  I have participated in programs with my kids for which I needed to read middle grade or young adult books at the same time they did.  This is also accountability because they know if I’ve read the book, and once I read it, I know if they’ve read the book!  I have truly read a lot of fabulous novels this way.

Next in the Series.  If I’ve started a series that I like but haven’t made it through or the author recently published another one (keep writing, Rhys Bowen), the next one goes in the stack.  I definitely read novels sequentially and want to know the whole story of characters I fall in love with.

Recommendation.  If a friend with similar taste highly recommends a book (or loans it to me), I usually get to reading.  This word-of-mouth advertising is what authors rely on!  I’m far more likely to grab a book suggested by a close Facebook friend than a New York Times book review.

Authors I Like.  If I loved your last book, I’ll probably like the next one.  It’s not always true.  For instance, I love Charlaine Harris’s Aurora Teagarden series, but I honestly don’t enjoy the Sookie Stackhouse novels.  Still, it’s as good a bet as any.  And just like we order the same menu item in our favorite restaurant over and over, people like the certainty of reading an author they are almost certain they will like.

Classics.  I admit to feeling internal pressure to read the greatest literature of all time.  I have made it through works by Tolstoy, Austen, Hardy, Dickens, Steinbeck, Brontës 1, 2, and 3, and many more.  However, I still haven’t read Willa Cather, William Faulkner, Victor Hugo, and others.  Somehow, I feel that I must make it through a good number of the classics before I leave this world.

Authors with a Personal Connection.  There is a mystery author in my hometown, and I happily picked up her books (Leann Sweeney, author of Yellow Rose and Cat in Trouble mysteries).  I have also become acquainted through conferences, groups, and social media with other authors who make it far more likely that I will read their tomes (e.g., We Are Not Alone by Kristen Lamb and Making Waves by Tawna Fenske).  I could mention quite a few that fall into this group.  And they keep publishing more!  Which will keep me on my toes.

Catches My Eye.  This is the least likely way to get on my list, but it is often what authors are hoping for.  Sometimes, I do browse bookstores or libraries and find an interesting title, an eye-catching cover, and a book jacket description that makes me want to read the contents.  Once again, I have come upon some wonderful reads this way (e.g., A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson).  However, it is a crap shoot.

So what are your methods for deciding which books to read?  How big is your Next Reads stack?  Do you want your book to make it into my stack?  Let me know the title!

Friday Fiction: Firecracker Duds

So what’s that one book that everyone raved about, that you spent $20 on the hardcover to purchase or twelve weeks on the library waiting list to receive, that you opened with excited anticipation… only to finish and wonder what all of the hullabaloo was about? 

For me, it was Life of Pi.  When I turned the last page and set the book down, I thought, “I want my two hours back.”  Or maybe I expended three or four.  I don’t know.  I’ve tried to block it out like a humiliating high school memory or the knowledge that your parents had sex.

But I do know that I was not interested in the story, and I kept reading because I thought, “Surely it must get better because everyone is talking about how great this novel is!”  To my mind, not only did it not get better, it got worse with one of the lamest endings I’ve ever read.

Let me be clear.  The author writes well.  The book was well-crafted.  But I am among those who need a character in a book that I can relate to or root for.  No such person existed in The Life of Pi for me.

Also, showing that it is my opinion alone, everyone else in my book club liked the book.  That did not, however, stop me from ranting about it at our meeting.  (By the way, thanks for listening, book club friends, or at least pretending to listen while you played with your dessert or made a shopping list in your mind).

I recently picked up another strongly suggested read from an acquaintance and after a hundred pages tossed it back into the library book drop without once wondering what the characters might do next in the 600-page novel.  I guess my taste just differed from my friend’s.  It happens sometimes.

How many “amazing” books were what my kids would term an Epic Fail for you?  What titles were rampantly recommended that turned out to be time-suckers or firecracker-duds?

Or have you recommended a book that you absolutely adored to someone who reported back that they didn’t like it at all?  Why do you think that happened?

Round of Words in 80 Days Update:  wrote 2,632 of 5,000 words this week; edited 81 of 186 pages in my middle-grade novel; trying out a new blogging goal of 3 times a week – Monday Mumblings, Wednesday Words, Friday Fiction (We’ll see how that goes!)