Favorite Movies Watched in 2013-2014

Romantic Comedies

Obvious ChildObvious Child –  In this funny, feminist rom-com movie, Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) is a New York City stand-up comic dealing with the break up with her long-term boyfriend and with an unwanted pregnancy after an amusing one-night stand. The movie deals with abortion in a funny, sweet, no-nonsense way as Donna figures out how to deal with the earnest guy from her one night stand. Jenny Slate, who played the hilariously obnoxious Mona-Lisa in Parks and Recreation, is both appealing and humorous as Donna.  I also loved the interactions between Donna and her parents—overall an enjoyable movie. (Available on Netflix DVD and Amazon Prime, also on iTunes for purchase.)

Dramas

PersepolisPersepolis– This movie had been on my to-see list forever and I’m glad I finally broke down and watched it.  It’s based on the graphic novel of the same title and follows a young girl’s experience growing up in Iran during the Iranian revolution.  Her family has some connection with France too, because she and her family speech French—so the whole movie is in French with English subtitles. I remember watching the Iranian revolution as an American teen but only knew the details from an outsider perspective.  This movie shows how the revolution personally affected its own citizens, especially young intelligent women.  (Available on Netflix Instant and for purchase on iTunes or Amazon online.)

Frances HaFrances Ha– One of those slice of life movies about some lost young creative person living in New York. I tend to like these kinds of movies.  In this one, Frances is a dancer who is coming to terms with the fact that she’s probably not going to make it professionally in dancing. It’s a more likable Girls or Woody Allen movie. (Available on Netflix Instant, Netflix DVD, and available for rent or purchase on iTunes.)

 

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars- (Available on Netflix DVD, also available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon Online.) I think by now everyone’s heard about John Green’s charming romance about two teens with cancer.  While I slightly prefer the book, the movie does an excellent job.  If you’re one of the few people who haven’t read or seen it, I highly recommend it. Yes, it’s sad at the end, but it’s also funny, insightful, and utterly charming all the way through.

 

Animated

Princess MononokePrincess Mononoke– (Available on Netflix DVD) – My son watched this movie with me when I was super sick with thyroid issues.  I can see why it’s one of his favorite movies.  It’s unique to western animation films in that there really is no “good guy” and no “bad guy”.  Instead there are two groups with opposing ideas that they are equally passionate about.

 

 

Favorite TV From 2013-2014

Foreign Political Dramas

BorgenBorgen – In this excellent Danish political drama, moderate Birgitte Nyborg becomes the prime minister of Denmark after a contentious election between two other front runners. This is a fascinating look at Danish politics with all the coalitions and deals that go into winning a vote with a multiple-party system. It makes me wish the US had more than two parties.   (All 3 seasons are available on Netflix DVD. Also check out  Link TV to see if they are streaming any episodes online. )

Comedies

Image- Parks and RecParks and Recreation–  Unlike the Office, which was funny but cynical, Parks and Rec is equally funny but sweetly optimistic.  Each of the characters is an amusing stereotype, that actually grows and changes as the series progresses. The abbreviated first season is pretty rocky, but the show found its center in season two and has been a fun look at the crazy details of local government ever since. (Seasons 1-6 available on Nexflix Instant and Netflix DVD, seasons 1-5 available on Amazon Prime, and season 1-7 available on iTunes.)

Jane the VirginJane the Virgin –  When I heard this show’s concept—a 23-year-old virgin who becomes pregnant after she’s accidentally artificially inseminated— I immediately wrote it off as being to stupid to even try.  Then I started reading Internet comments about how fresh and funny it was.  Finally a friend recommended it on Facebook and I decided to check it out.  Turns out it’s surprisingly good.

The show plays up the Telenovela concept to wink at the audience about how over the top the plots are, but at it’s core the story works because it’s about likable, fully developed characters who actually care about each other. It’s also hilarious. (Some episodes available on Hulu Plus, also all previous and current episodes are available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon Online).

The Crazy Ones

The Crazy Ones – This is one of the last projects Robin Williams acted in before his death.  Williams plays the president of an ad agency that he runs with his daughter, Sarah Michelle Gellar.  I was sad this show didn’t get picked up beyond its first season. Williams and Gellar had a real father-daughter like chemistry on the show, and by the end of the season the cast really gelled together.  The outtakes at the end of each episode showing Williams improv-ing lines are as much fun as watching the episode. (Highlight clips available on CBS website, whole season available on Netflix DVD, and available for purchase on Amazon online and iTunes.)

 

Science Fiction/Fantasy

Image- Orphan BlackOrphan Black – a fun, cliffhanger-y sci-fi action-adventure show about a young British woman, Sarah Manning, who sees a woman who looks just like her, right before the woman throws herself in front of a train. Tatiana Maslany is so good at playing multiple characters that I often forget they’re not played by different actors. Beware though, each episode ends with a cliffhanger making it dangerous binge watching material. Season 3 starts on April 18th on BBC America. (Seasons 1-2 available on Netflix DVD, season 1 also available on Amazon Prime, season 2 is available for purchase on Amazon online, and seasons 1-2 are available for purchase on iTunes. The show website also includes a thorough list of where to watch previous seasons.)

The Legend of KorraLegend of Korra– This Nickelodeon cartoon went from a being a good kids cartoon that adults could also enjoy to a good all-ages cartoon that kids can also enjoy. Seasons three and four are especially good and downright feminist. By the series finale there are numerous female heroes, with a wide range of ages.  (If you have a cable subscription to Nickelodeon’s channel, you can watch all the episodes online at their website, seasons 1-2 are also available on Amazon Prime and seasons 3-4 are available for purchase on Amazon online, seasons 1-3 are available on Netflix DVD, and seasons 1-4 are also available for purchase on iTunes.)

Favorite You Tube Channels Watched in 2013-2014

Community Channel–  Australian Natalie Tran’s weekly first world problem skits are my favorite videos to watch on You Tube. Tran plays all the parts in her skits as she muses about how she wishes she could save her “good hair days” for a day she’ll spend with her friends—instead of the day she’s just going to read and do yoga—or the horror of realizing her lost phone is on silent mode.  At the end of each video she has a porno music/comment time where she responds to comments from her fans with her deprecating sense of humor.

Vlogbrothers– Brothers John and Hank Green have chatted to each other and their audience of Nerdfighters by vlog since 2007.  For anyone who hasn’t heard of them, John is the author of several bestselling young adult novels, including, The Fault in Our Stars. Hank is an entrepreneur who produced numerous You Tube video series, including, The Lizzie Bennett Diaries, as well as the creator of the indie record label, DFTBA (Don’t Forget to Be Awesome).

These entertaining videos tend to be between 3-6 minutes long and focus on the brothers’ lives, how to make the world suck less, and basically any topic that interests them.  I like watching vlogbrother videos because they manage to be both idealistic about trying to improve the world and realistic about how hard that is, but still keep doing productive things to help out—with a sense of fun, too.

Feminist Frequency – Anita Sarkeesian’s channel is full of wonderful videos that look at how women and girls are portrayed in TV shows, books, movies, and games.

Vaginal 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 science fiction, 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 Blog, The Guild, Geek & Sundry, Supernatural). Every month she and her three friends pick a main selection, plus an alternative read.  On the last Tuesday of the month they get together on Goggle Hang Outs/ You Tube to discuss the book.The discussions go on for about an hour and are like eavesdropping on an especially fun, cool book club.  They also have a forum on Goodreads and a Twitter feed that they use for discussing the book.

Crash Course

A cool warehouse of educational videos produced by John and Hank Green on over a dozen topics. Each video is 10-15 minutes long and there are 25-50 videos per topic.  John teaches in the history and literature videos and Hank teaches in the science videos.  The videos use a combination of cartoons and lectures and tend to be both entertaining and informative.

 

Favorite Short Story Collections Read From 2013-2014

Science Fiction / Fantasy Short Story Collections 

Image of Blood ChildBlood Child and Other Stories, by Octavia E. Butler (July 2003) – This is an excellent collection of five short stories and two essays from Ocativa Butler—including her “male pregnancy” story. Her writing is deceptively simple, and her stories contain clever ideas in worlds that are so well-developed, in just a few pages, that I wished most of them had been developed into novels. I also liked her reassuring essays about writing.  Reading this collection makes me even sadder that Butler died in 2006, when she was only 58 from a fall/stroke.

Image- Near and FarNear + Far, by Cat Rambo (September 2012) – The paper version of this short story collection is two books in one.  On one side is a collection of “near” future short stories, flip the book over and it’s a collection of “far” future stories. Cat Rambo is probably one of my favorite current speculative fiction short story writers.  Her stories tend to be clever, imaginative, and often feminist, with literary touches.

 

Young Adult Short Story Collections 

Image- KaleidoscopeKaleidoscope Story Collection: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories (August 2014) –  A good collection of YA science fiction and fantasy stories with an emphasis on diversity.   The first story about a disabled super hero is probably my favorite. It’s just so cheerful and charming. There are a number of other good stories though, including one about an Olympic ice skater using future technology, and a story about a young woman befriending alien students at her school.  There is a heavy emphasis on young women as protagonists, which I liked, but I thought the collection might have been more well-rounded if there were also one or two more stories featuring diverse young men as protagonists as well.

Image- My True Love Gave to MeMy True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories (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 that I highly recommend.

Favorite Short Stories Read in 2013 – 2014

In the summer of 2013 I was too sick to focus on writing a novel and decided writing short stories might be more manageable.  I started reading online science-fiction/fantasy magazines, took several classes on short story writing, and read several short story collections.  Like most of my reading, I tend to like science-fiction/fantasy or chick-lit romance stories best.

Favorite Stories Read Online

There are lots of stories to read online for free—including many science-fiction/fantasy stories.  I try to read a new story every day. Most of the stories I read are just okay, but about once a week, I read a story I really like —a ratio of 80% decent stories to 20% wonderful stories.  Considering I choose my stories pretty randomly that seems like a good ratio, about the same ratio I have with books.   Here’s a sampling of my favorite stories:

On the Big-Fisted Circuit, by Cat Rambo ( Daily Science Fiction.com, July 12, 2013) – I enjoyed this flash fiction piece about futuristic robotic cage fighting. This was my first Cat Rambo story, and since reading it, I’ve read dozens more by her.  Her stories tend to be clever, imaginative, and feminist, often with literary touches.  She also teaches awesome online short story classes, and writes an interesting blog and twitter feed.

One, by Sinead O’Hart (Daily Science Fiction.com, October 21, 2013) – In just 1,000 words this flashfic piece tells an entire sci-fi story with a twist.  This is the kind of story I aspire to write one day.

The Wrong Foot, by Stephanie Burgis (Daily Science Fiction.com, November 1, 2013) – A charmingly cheeky spin on Cinderella.

Stitched Wings, by Beth Cato (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, December 26, 2013) – A lovely heart-wrenching story about a child who catches fairies.

Tortoiseshell Cats Are Not Refundable, by Cat Rambo (Clarkeworld Magazine, February 2014)- What if you could clone your beloved dead pet or even your dead spouse?

Cattail Heart, by Kate Heartfield  (Daily Science Fiction. com, August 29, 2014) – A thoughtful story that starts off with a Native American woman being forced into a colonial boarding school and ends with a science fiction twist.

Whose Face This Is I Do Not Know, by Cat Rambo (Clarkesworld Magazine, May 2011) – Another good Cat Rambo story about a unique young woman whose looks can change.

Favorite Online Magazines and Podcasts

Daily Science Fiction.com– This is my favorite short story site.  The stories are mostly flash fiction—so they’re quite short, which I like—but they also tend to be interesting and entertaining as well. There’s a nice range from the very light to the more thoughtful, and a good mix of science fiction and fantasy. The site will deliver a daily story (Monday-Friday) to your email box. You can also read the stories on the website—though each story is posted to the site a week after its email delivery.

Clarkesworld– This is a literary magazine for science fiction and fantasy stories, that also has a podcast—available on the site and on iTunes. You can also subscribe to the magazine on Kindle or Nook, or can purchase a paper copy, too.  I find I either really like the stories in this magazine or totally don’t get them, with little in-between.  There are enough I like that I keep coming back to read though.

Lightspeed Magazine– This magazine has a wide range of science fiction/fantasy stories and I usually end up liking most of what I read here.  They recently had a successful Kickstarter campaign to produce a special issue called, “Women Destroy Science Fiction”, full of stories by and about women.  The campaign was so successful they were able to make fantasy and horror issues as well. Lightspeed also has a podcast with one new story  a week on the site and on iTunes. You can also subscribe to the magazine on Kindle or Nook or can purchase a paper copy, too.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies– I’ve only read a few stories in this fantasy magazine but liked what I read.  They also have a podcast on the site and on iTunes, and you can also subscribe to an ebook form of the magazine or get it on Kindle.  I didn’t see a Nook subscription, though you can buy individual copies of the magazine for Nook.

Escape Pod,  Podcastle, and Pseudopod– 3 podcasts available on iTunes with weekly short stories.  Escape Pod is for science fiction stories, Podcastle has fantasy stories, and Pseudopod is the horror story podcast.

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 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.

2012 Favorites (Part 2: Books)

Favorite Books – Middle Grade Fiction (Total Read -10)
The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale, by Carmen Agra Deedy & Randall Wright (2011) – The charming tale of a friendship between a cat with a secret and a mouse who lives in a pub  famous for its Cheshire cheese.  This is one of those animal tales that can be enjoyed by both kids and adults.  There are some amusing bits about Charles Dickens frequenting the pub that will appeal to adults and lots of mystery and action that will appeal to kids.  The audiobook version is excellent and would entertain everyone on family car trip.

The False Prince: Book 1 of the Ascendance Trilogy, by Jennifer A. Nielsen (2012) – An engaging first book in a upcoming series about 3 orphaned boys who compete in a contest to see who could impersonate the long-lost prince best. The audiobook version is also quite good and would appeal to the whole family.

Aliens on Vacation (Intergalactic Bed and Breakfast), by Clete Smith (2011) – A boy goes to spend the summer with his grandmother at her space-themed bed and breakfast and finds out it’s there’s more to his grandmother and her inn than meets the eye. I liked this story because it’s very assessable to elementary school students.  It’s sort of like a Disney movie but in book form.

Favorite Books – Young Adult Fiction (Total Read – 8)
Cinders (Lunar Chronicles), by Marissa Meyer (2012)– A sci-fi version of Cinderella in a dystopian New China. Cinders is the best mechanic in the land and she’s also a cyborg—part human and part machine.  I loved the voice in this story, it’s refreshingly different from a lot of the other YA dystopian out there.  I guessed the twist early on but that just made it’s inevitable reveal more satisfying for me.

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein (2012) – The less you know, the less you’ll be spoiled for this excellent, devastating but satisfying tale about young female spies and pilots in World War II. The audio version is especially good.

The Disenchantments, by Nina LaCour (2012) – Recent high school graduate, Colby, has been planning on going on a year long trip to Europe with his best friend Bev for years. First, the two of them going on a music tour on the west coast with Bev’s all-girl band.  Colby is their roadie and transportation. Right now he and Bev are just friends by he’s sure by Europe they’ll be more than friends. Then she drops the news on him: she applied to college and got in (all without telling him) and she’s not going to Europe and she can’t even tell him why she waited until now to reveal her plans. Now Colby has one week to deal with his betrayal and figure out what to do with his life, all while he drives the girl that broke his heart up the coast for her tour.

Each of the characters is unique and the details of the band’s tour are fun and realistic.   The middle is a bit moody, but the story ends positively with Colby making insightful decisions about who he wants to be.

Favorite Book- Adult Non-Fiction (Total Read – 12)
Surpassing Shanghai (2011) – This thoughtful book describes education in five countries where the students receive the highest scores on international tests, including outscoring students in the US. The book describes education in China, Finland, Japan, Singapore, and Canada.  The first chapter on China is the weakest.  It’s hard to understand and focuses more on what Shanghai is planning to do rather than what it does now.  The other chapters are excellent though.

Each of the four other countries get top results from their students by doing the opposite of what the United States does.  Teaching programs are highly selective and recruit the best and the brightest. Teachers are supported, respected, and given a lot of leeway in teaching.  Also, testing is not done every year in these countries.  Students are only tested between schooling gaps, such as from elementary school to middle school, and the results count as much for the students and parents as they do for the teachers.

Middle Grade Fiction – For around 9-14 years or 4th-8th grades
Young Adult Fiction – For around 12 years and up or  7th grade and up

Bitterblue

Today I finished Bitterblue, by Kristin Cashore –the third novel in the YA GracelingFire series. Since the plot revolves around a country coming to terms with the damage of their previous leader's totalitarian rein, it's a more serious, slower moving story than the first two.  Overall I enjoyed it though and felt like I'd been reunited with old friends when Katsa, Po, Raffin, Bann, and Giddon were in the story.

PS – I like the way Kristin Cashore treats issues like gay relationships, birth control, and sex in such a wholesome, sweet, regular way. None of these issues is a huge part of the story– in fact the sex is all off-scene– but instead each is just one small part of the many quiet regular pieces of life.