Favorite Middle Read Reads of 2013 – 2014

Over the two years when I was too sick to blog I read 15 middle grade books. I tend to like escapist action-packed stories best, though, I did read one excellent novel in verse. Here are my favorites:

Middle Grade Novels & Memoirs

Image- Brown Girl DreamingBrown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson (August 2014)- Jacqueline Woodson’s memoir in verse is about her first 10 years growing up as an African-American girl in Ohio, South Carolina, and Brooklyn during the 60’s and 70’s. Technically it’s written for elementary school aged kids but it’s one of those crossover novels that can be enjoyed equally by adults. Lovely, interesting, quick read.

 

Image- BeswitchedBeswitched, by Kate Saunders (December 2011) An old-fashioned boarding school tale about a spoiled twelve-year-old girl, Flora, who is sent off to a posh boarding school in present day England, while her family takes care of her recently injured grandmother.  Something weird happens on the train, though, and Flora finds herself at a boarding school in 1935 instead!  I love boarding school books and the period details in Beswitched added to the fun.  The “twist” at the end is pretty obvious, but still satisfying.

 

Image- Capture the FlagCapture the Flag, by Kate Messer (July 2012) – This action-adventure story reads like an Disney movie with more diverse casting.  Three kids search for a missing famous American flag while stranded at the airport.  Messer taught for years before writing and it’s pretty clear she knows how to capture the attention of third-seventh graders.

 

Image- Deadweather and SunriseDeadweather and Sunrise: The Chronicles of Egg 1, by  Geoff Rodkey (May 2012)-  Egg, the youngest son of a fruit farmer, eeks out a dreary life on Deadweather Island, bullied by his older brother and sister while he tries to educate himself with the terrified tutors his father hires.  The day his father takes him for a visit to Sunrise Island is the day his life changes.  This fun action-adventure story— with an especially enjoyable narrator—would make a good bedtime or classroom read aloud.

Image- The Great Greene Heist

 

The Great Greene Heist, by Varian Johnson (May 2014) – An Ocean’s Eleven caper for the middle school set.  Like Capture the Flag, the story hosts a fun, diverse cast and lots of twists and turns.

 

Image- League of SevenLeague of Seven, by Alan Gratz (August 2014) – This steampunk fantasy is set in an alternate- America where Native Americans and Yankees run the country together and electricity is illegal.  Archie—the son of two members of the secret Septemberist Society—must save his kidnapped parents from the Mangleborn monsters who are supposed to be trapped in underground prisons. A Native American girl and a boy apprentice to Edison join forces with Archie in this action-packed story, full of cool gadgets and inventions.

 

Favorite Grown Up Fiction, Memoir, and Non-Fiction Books Read in 2013-2014

While I was too sick to blog I read light, escapist adult novels—lots of chick-lit and action-adventure. Here are my favorite realistic and historical fiction reads over the past two years.

Realistic Fiction/ Historical Fiction for Grown Ups

16071745  Someday, Someday Maybe, by Lauren Graham (April 2013) – It turns out Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls, Parenthood) isn’t just an entertaining actor, she can write too.   Frankie Banks is on the last six months of the three years she gave herself to break into the acting business in New York and is beginning to wonder if she should just pack up and go home to her sweet boyfriend.  I enjoyed this fun, light chick-lit type story.  I could relate to Frankie’s doubts and insecurities about making it in a competitive artistic business and especially liked the behind-the-scene look into acting class, auditions, agents, and commercials.

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Longbourn, by Jo Baker (October 2013) – I enjoyed this spin-off book of Pride and Prejudice that imagines what the lives of the Bennett household servants were like while Lizzy was getting to know Mr. Darcy.  It’s kind of like a novel-version of Downton Abbey but set in the  early 1800’s.  It also has a good audiobook version.

 

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Landline, by Rainbow Rowell (July 2014)- Technically Rainbow Rowell’s third novel has a bit of a sci-fi/fantasy device where a landline phone connects the main character to her husband—but in the past when he was still her boyfriend. The  core of the story, though, is a realistic tale of a young woman trying to figure out what went wrong in her marriage while she and her writing partner finish up scripts for a TV series they’re trying to sell to a network.  I especially liked the behind-the-scenes look at writing for a TV series.

 

Memoirs

image- Yes, PleaseYes, Please! by Amy Poehler –  I love Parks and Recreation so it’s not a surprise that I enjoyed Amy Poehler’s memoir/self-help book. The book is a mixture of stories about her childhood, stories about improv, life advice, fun lists, and comedy riffs. She’s open and funny but manages to keep her private life private—for instance the only real details she’ll say about her divorce to Will Arnett is that it’s “too personal and too sad” to talk about.

At the same time she’s pretty blunt—in an amusing way—about how hard divorce can be.  I loved her summary of books she could now write about divorce, with such titles as, “I Want a Divorce! See You Tomorrow!” (a book about divorcing while raising small children together) and “Get Over It! (But Not Too Fast!)”.

I think her discussion at the beginning of the book about how hard writing is, was my favorite part though.  To quote Amy, “The truth is, writing is this: hard and boring and occasionally great but usually not. Even I have lied about writing. I have told people that writing this book has been like brushing away dirt from a fossil. What a load of shit.  It has been like hacking away at a freezer with a screwdriver.”  Hee!  So true.

Image- Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson ( 2014)- Jacqueline Woodson’s memoir in verse is about her first 10 years growing up as an African-American girl in Ohio, South Carolina, and Brooklyn during the 60’s and 70’s. Technically it’s written for elementary school aged kids but it’s one of those crossover novels that can be enjoyed equally by adults. Lovely, interesting, quick read.

 

Non-Fiction

Image- 7 Secrets of the ProlificThe 7 Secrets of the Prolific, by Hillary Rettig – I read this book for a class taught by the teacher.  It’s a good resource for dealing with writer’s block or just a general lack of confidence about your writing.  Rettig’s emphasis is on perfectionism and how it hurts writing output.  She explains exactly what perfectionism is and how to combat it.  I found her methods and thoughts quite helpful when I was trying to get back into writing after being sick for months with my thyroid issues.

Favorite Grown Up Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books Read in 2013 – 2014 (Catch Up Post 2)

While I was too sick to blog I read light, escapist adult novels—lots of chick-lit and action-adventure. Here are my favorite grown up sci-fi/fantasy reads over the past two years.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy Fiction for Grown Ups

Image- Ready Player OneReady Player One, by Ernest Cline (August 2011) – is a computer-aged version of Charlie searching for the golden ticket to the chocolate factory.  Like Charlie, Wade Watts lives in a grim world where most people are poor.  The only good thing about his life is The Oasis —a free virtual world with decent online schools, games, ways to earn a living, and more.  Wade attends school and spends all of his free time searching the Oasis for the three keys its creator, James Halliday, hid before he died.  Whoever finds the keys first becomes the new owner of the Oasis. A competing corporation has sent out hundreds of its own employees to find the keys so they can turn the Oasis into a money maker. Hundreds of independent “gunters”, like Wade, are trying to find the keys first, to preserve the one good thing about their world. Halliday came of age in the 1980’s and so the hunt is full of 80’s games, movies, and TV references— an era Wade has become an expert in.  It’s a tightly structured, engaging adventure, chock-full of fun 80’s details.  The enjoyable audiobook version is read by Wil Wheaton, which is amusing since Wheaton is one of the cultural references mentioned in the story.

Image- FledglingFledging, by Octavia Butler (January 2007) – I’ve read a number of Octavia Butler’s short stories but Fledging is the first novel of hers I’ve read.  She puts a neat twist on the whole vampire concept in this Jane Doe-type courtroom drama.

 

 

 

Image- Agent of HelAgent of Hel: Dark Currents (October 2012) and  Agent of Hel: Autumn Bones (October 2013) by Jacqueline Carey- I ended up reading the first two novels in this paranormal detective series because they were the picks for Felicia Day’s Goodreads book club (see more information below).  The series reminded me a lot of urban fantasy version of Janet Evanovich’s chick-lit-esque Stephanie Plum series, except instead of having a young woman investigating crimes in Trenton, New Jersey, Daisy Johanssen investigates crimes in Pemkowet, Michigan—a town with a open-secret connection to the supernatural and underworld. They’re fun, light novels—with a touch of emotional darkness—and a good dash of sex and romance.

Image- Wicked as They ComeWicked As They Come, by Delilah Dawson (March 2012) is another fun read from the Vangial Fantasy Book Club list.  Tish Everett— a home healthcare nurse getting over a difficult breakup—is strangely attracted to a necklace she finds at an estate sale.  When she wears the necklace to bed she’s transported into the world of Sang.  In Sang vampire-type people called Bluds are a marginalized minority and most of the worlds animals are bloodsuckers.  Tish meets handsome blud carnival owner,Criminy Stain, who insists the necklace she’s wearing was like an otherworld classified ad for his truelove, and the fact that she’s attracted to the necklace means she’s meant to be with him.  This is a enjoyable escapist fantasy romance set in a fun over-the-top world.

You Tube Book Clubs

Image- Vaginal FantasyVaginal Fantasy Book Club (on Goodreads and YouTube) – For a long while I’d been looking for a source for romance novels that were more feminist, preferably with sci-fi/ fantasy or historical elements.  I finally found the perfect source in Vaginal Fantasy Book Club.  The book club is run by actor/producer Felicia Day ( Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along BlogThe Guild, Supernatural). Every month she and her three friends pick two novels to read—one main pick and one alternative read.  

On the last Tuesday of the month the group gets together on Goggle Hang Outs/ You Tube to discuss the main book. The video discussions are available on You Tube, go on for about an hour, and are like eavesdropping on an especially fun, cool book club.   One member of the group also makes a short video to discuss the alternative book. There is also a forum on Goodreads and a Twitter feed that the group uses for discussing the book. 

Favorite YA Reads for 2013-2014 (2013-2014 Catch Up Post 1)

I read a total of 49 young adult novels over 2013-2014,  27 in 2013, and 22 in 2014. Here are my 13 favorites:

Favorite YA Sci-Fi/Fantasy Novels I Read in 2013 -2014

Image- ScarletScarlett and Cress, by Marissa Meyer (published Feb 2013 & Feb 2014) – These are the second and third novels in, The Lunar Chronicles series, that start with the first novel—Cinder—a tale of cyborg-Cinderella. (Cyborgs in this universe are humans with bionic implants). Scarlett is a futuristic cyborg-version of the Little Red Riding Hood story and Cress’s story is a futuristic-space age Rapunzel tale. Each character is added to Cinder’s team to help her in her quest to save Prince Kai against Queen Levana and the Lunar Nation. This fun, Image- Cressswashbuckling sci-fi series that reads like a YA Saturday morning cartoon with several teen girl heroes. It’s my favorite current series. I can’t wait until the new volume—Fairest—is out at the end of next month. The audiobook narrator is excellent, too.

 

 

Image- Daughter of Smoke and BoneThe Daughter of Smoke and Bone Series, by Laini Taylor (2011, 2012, 2014) – I listened to this 3-book YA fantasy series on Audible. It takes place partly in Prague and partly in a parallel universe of angels and demons. (Technically the demons are half-human/half animal chimera). The world building is especially well done and the language is beautiful. It tells the story of Karou—a blue-haired teen Art school student – who doesn’t know who her parents are or how she came to live with Brimstone, her chimera father figure. When Karou investigates why Brimstone sends her all over the world to gather teeth, she finds out some shocking revelations about her father figure and herself.

Image- Fair CoinFair Coin and Quantum Coin, by E.C. Meyers (2012 for both) – An enjoyable two-book series about a teen named ­­­Ephraim who tries to improve his dysfunctional life with a magical coin and ends up changing more than he wanted. This is another series with strong world building and a cool concept, this time from a teen boy’s point-of-view.

 

Favorite YA Realistic Fiction Read in 2013 -2014

Image- The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars (January 2012) – I think by now everyone’s read John Green’s charming romance about two teens with cancer—or they’ve seen the excellent movie version. If you’re one of the few people who haven’t, I highly recommend it. Yes, it’s sad at the end, but it’s also funny, insightful, and utterly charming all the way through. The regular audiobook version is excellent. There’s also a version where John Green reads the book that I haven’t heard.

Image- Eleanor & ParkEleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell (February 2013)- Rainbow Rowell has quickly become one of my new favorite authors. Eleanor and Park are two misfit teens living in the suburbs of Omaha, Nebraska and are first thrown together on the school bus when Eleanor has no place to sit and Park leaves the tiniest bit of room on his seat so she isn’t forced to stand. Eleanor and Park are quiet, sensitive characters and their slow-brewing romance is enjoyable and heart wrenching.  Another book with an excellent audio version.

Wildlife Awards CVR SI.inddWildlife, by Fiona Wood (September 2014)- This funny Australian novel is told from the point of view of two different teen girls—Sibylla and Lou—during the course of their school’s special semester in outdoor education. Wildlife portrays friendships with difficult people, sex and romance, and dealing with loss in an accurate, nuanced way. I also enjoyed reading about the Australian wilderness, noticing all the little details that make it different from the US.

Technically Wildlife is the second novel in a loose series. The first novel is not available in the US but I was able to understand the story without noticing it was a second in the series. I also listened to this on audible and loved the Australian accents of the two narrators.

Image- My True Love Gave to MeMy True Love Gave to Me (October 2014)- I read this YA holiday romance short story collection over winter break. It features stories from Stephanie Perkins, Rainbow Rowell, and a host of other bestselling YA authors. There’s really not a bad story in the bunch—though I certainly liked some of the stories more than others. Overall, it’s a charming collection of holiday cheer and romance.

 

Image- FangirlFan Girl, by Rainbow Rowell (September 2013)- When Cath’s twin sister, Wren, decides the two of them should start college in separate dorms, with separate lives, Cath is suddenly on her own for her freshman year.  Cath is not confident that she can build a life for herself outside her twin sister and her fan fiction writing. This is Rowell’s second novel and it’s clear that she’s  good at writing about awkward, introverted characters who are kind of intense, but each unique in their own way.   I especially enjoyed a whole novel that centered around finding one’s identity through writing and fan fiction and liked the unique Nebraska setting— a state I know very little about.

Image- Isla and the Happily Ever AfterIsla and The Happily Ever After (August 2014) –This is the third and last book in the loose series by Stephanie Perkins that starts off with Anna and the French Kiss. Like the other two books before, Perkins is able to write likable characters with very specific interests and have them ooze with longing. Setting is also a big part of her stories and this time the focus in on three places: Paris, Barcelona, and New York. The main couple consists of minor characters from Anna and the French Kiss—Isla and Josh. Anna is probably the best of the series, but Perkins is so good at writing charming teen romance that even her lesser stories are worth the time reading.

* I put the date the book was published in parentheses.