This is the time of year when everyone is posting lists of books they’ve read. But what about all the books we WANT to read? And more importantly, what about all the books we WISH we could read, but we can’t because they haven’t been written yet?
I’m a big fan of cool musical mashups. Give me Glee, give me Pitch Perfect, give me more more more of that awesome dance scene in A Knight’s Tale. TV crossovers are fun too. I get a kick out of seeing the ER doctors guest star on Friends, and that episode of The Simpsons with Mulder and Scully from The X-Files is still one of my all-time favorite pieces of television. So… why not apply this cross-contamination amazing plot blending to our favorite books? I mean, come on, who WOULDN’T want to read these future best-sellers?
10 Literary Mashups That Need to Be Written ASAP:
* On THE ROAD
A beatnik narrates his carefree travels through an apocalyptic landscape.
* Something WICKED This Way Comes
One Halloween night, a carnival comes to Green Town, Illinois, bringing with it a misunderstood little girl named Elphaba and a cast of talking animals who sometimes break into song.
* Emma Eyre
When witty, precocious young Emma becomes governess at Thornfield Hall, she tries to play matchmaker for grumpy old Edward Rochester by reuniting him with his wife, Bertha, but things do not go as planned.
* We Have Always Lived in the House of Leaves
Constance and her sister Merricat live in a house that’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside with their insane uncle who continually writes his memoirs over and over again, sometimes backwards, sometimes upside down, sometimes with only one word per page.
* Anne of Green Eggs and Ham
Desperate not to be sent back to the orphanage, an orphan girl attempts to endear herself to her new family, school, and town by offering everyone she meets a unique home-cooked meal.
* The Martian Chronicles of Narnia
Four children discover a magical wardrobe that leads to the harsh landscapes of Mars. Will the children succeed in colonizing the red planet? Or will they succumb to the Great Loneliness and perish?
* The Lord of the RING
A Hobbit named Frodo receives a mysterious videotape that warns him he will die if he doesn’t journey across Middle-earth to cast it into the Cracks of Doom.
* Life of Pie
When Alice’s Aunt Polly dies and leaves her famous pie recipe to Lardo the cat, Alice goes on a quest to learn the delicious secret, which takes her on a 227-day journey in a rowboat with Lardo.
* Knuffle Bunnicula
Trixie adores her beloved stuffed toy, but when plush vegetables turn up with their stuffing removed, her parents begin to wonder. Could Knuffle Bunny be… a vampire?
* Gone with the Wind in the Willows
An epic Civil War drama about the lives, tragedies, and tangled love affairs of a mole, a badger, and a toad.
Ok, people, let’s make this happen. Get to writing.
I’m thrilled to welcome 2017 into our lives. Overall, 2016 was EXHAUSTING, but I did read some good books.
My goal this year was to read at least 50 books and no more than 75. (Read this post to find out why my reading goal had a cap.) I achieved my goal, reading a total of 66 books. (Goodreads claims I only read 53, but that’s because a couple of the books I read aren’t on Goodreads, and because I don’t re-rate the ones I re-read, but I do re-count them in my official book journal.)
Here are some of my favorites:
The Best Books I Read in 2016
Best New Book in a Series: The Creeping Shadow (Lockwood & Co. #4) by Jonathan Stroud
I can’t say enough good things about the Lockwood & Co. series. I LOVE these books. They made my best books list last year too. I love the setting. I love the plot twists. I love the humor and the horror. I love the characters so much that I miss them terribly the moment the book ends. I also love-hate the cliffhanger endings. The Creeping Shadow left off with a BIG reveal and now I’m pining for book 5.
Best Middle Grade Novel (and Strangest Idea for a Story Ever): The Nest by Kenneth Oppel
Steve’s baby brother is sick. Very sick. And wasps, one of the many things Steve is afraid of, have taken up residence in a nest outside his house. But the wasp queen comes to Steve in his dreams and says they can fix the baby. They can make everything better. They’re there to help. But are they really? What is the price of their help? And why has no one ever seen this type of wasp before? And who is the odd man who sells knives from his van?
This is one of the strangest books I’ve ever read (or listened to, on audio book). It kept me intrigued until the very end and genuinely scared me at times. Great horror novel for young readers.
Best YA Novel: Tie between The Walls Around Us and Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma
I just saw that Nova Ren Suma has a new book coming out in 2017. It is currently untitled and there are zero details about it on Goodreads, but I marked it as “to read” because if it’s anything like The Walls Around Us or Imaginary Girls, it will be amazing. Read about why I love her work here.
Best YA Novel with LGBTQ Characters: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Funny. Touching. Sexy. Heart-wrenching. Adorable. Real. You don’t have to identify as LGBTQ to relate to Simon’s story. Anyone who’s ever fallen in love in high school will see themselves in this book.
Best Middle Grade Novel with LGBTQ Characters: George by Alex Gino
George is a fourth grade girl in a boy’s body, but no one knows her secret. When her class reads Charlotte’s Web, George falls in love with the beautiful spider and wants to play her in the school’s performance of the book. She knows she’s the best person for the part. There’s only one problem– boys can’t try out for the role of Charlotte, and everyone thinks George is a boy. With the help of a trusted friend, George finds a way to show the world who she really is.
This is a sweet story, and an important one.
Best Graphic Novel: Ms. Marvel: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson
Ok, the whole truth? This is the only graphic novel I read this year. But this charming origin story of a Muslim girl in New Jersey who becomes a superhero was so good that it made me want to read more.
Funniest Book: Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
Last June, Jenny Lawson was the keynote speaker at the Writers’ League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference, and I got to meet her when she signed my copy of this book of hilarious essays. It was so amazing to hear her speak and to get a hug from her. I can’t explain why I waited six months to read her book. Maybe I was worried it could never live up to her first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. Or maybe it’s because I knew how much I would love it and wanted to savor it. Who knows. All I know is that I’m glad I waited because this book was just as funny and relatable as her first one, and it was the best book to read during the wonderful/stressful/joyous/exhausting weeks of theholidays. I laughed out loud (literally– I cackled) so much while reading this book, but I also learned a lot about what it’s like to struggle with mental illness. If you are a fan of irreverent humor and/or want to read multiple stories involving Jenny Lawson’s “lady garden,” go get this book today.
Saddest Book: Out of Darknessby Ashley Hope Perez
This is a good book, but it is a dark book, and you should know that going in. Ashley Hope Perez is a brilliant writer and an incredible teacher. I took a workshop with her at The Writing Barn last January, and I left full of energy and inspiration. Her powerful story of love and loss and racism and abuse set in east Texas in 1937 received a Printz Honor in 2016. If you read it, you’ll understand why.
Best Poetry Collection: Language of Crossing by Liza Wolff-Francis
It’s hard for me to choose favorites among books of poetry. They’re all so unique and personal. My tastes change from day to day, sometimes from moment to moment, depending on my mood. But Liza Wolff-Francis’s chapbook about the US/Mexico border spoke to me on a deep level. She puts into words the struggles of the Mexican immigrants and gives voice to the horrors they face. This is a small, but powerful collection of poems.
Best Re-Read: Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
This year, I finally decided to re-read the Harry Potter series. I listened to all seven books, back to back, and I’m so glad I did. I thoroughly enjoyed reliving this series that meant so much to me, my family, and my students. Here are my thoughts about tagging along on Harry’s adventures a second time.
Story That Stayed With Me the Longest: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
This year, I finally read We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and I loved it. Shirley Jackson is a masterful storyteller. It’s hard to talk about this novel without giving anything, so I’m just going to say, go read it. It’s short and surprising and unique and will linger in your thoughts for weeks after reading it.
Most Surprising Book to Make This List: Captain Underpants and the Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies from Outer Space and the Subsequent Assault of the Equally Evil Lunchroom Zombie Nerds by Dav Pilkey
There was a consistently empty shelf in the elementary school library where I used to work labeled “Captain Underpants.” It was empty because the books were always checked out. The kids loved them, coveted them, sometimes fought over them. I knew nothing about them except that they looked silly and most adults I knew rolled their eyes when they mentioned them. I’d never read one. Then, over Thanksgiving, my family celebrated my niece’s sixth birthday and she squealed with glee when she opened a box full of Captain Underpants books. Later, after turkey and pie and more pie and birthday cake, when I had taken up permanent residence on the couch, I picked up one of the books and read it. And now I get why kids like these books so much. It was funny! More than once I laughed out loud at the clever puns and silly scenarios. It’s fast-moving and action-packed, and there are cartoons and drawings scattered throughout. I was quite pleasantly surprised. It’s not like I’m going to go out and read the whole series, but I definitely understand why the books are hits with kids and won’t be rolling my eyes about them anymore.
* * *
This year, I’m not setting a reading goal. I don’t need to. I love to read, and I love letting books pile up. I love making lists of novels I *must* read and then finding new stories that catch my eye before I can finish the old ones. I look forward to whatever books 2017 has in store for me. Let a new year of reading begin. 🙂
I know, I know. You’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover. But it’s really hard not to when the cover artists do such an amazing job. Here are ten middle grade & young adult novels that keep catching my eye at the bookstore. I can’t wait to find out if they’re as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside.
[ Quick Note: It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be to find the artists and illustrators behind some of these gorgeous books. Often their names don’t appear on the copyright page, which I find odd. Instead they’re on the back flap of the jacket. But that’s not something you can usually find online, so I had to make a couple of trips back to the bookstore (okay, twist my arm) to get all the info I needed for this post. These artists deserve to be known. They’re work is outstanding. So don’t just look at the book covers. Take time to check out their websites too. ]
Title: The Night Parade Author: Kathryn Tanquary Cover Illustration: Alexander Jansson
I love everything about this cover: the gorgeous pink-purple tree, the swirly blues and greens, the adorably creepy creatures, the lanterns… everything. I could look at this picture all day.
Another tree and more swirly purples and greens! What can I say? I’m a tree-loving, swirly color kind of girl. I love the birds and moon and stars in this picture too. Julie McLaughlin also illustrated The Girl in the Well is Me, which is a great book inside and out.
Title: The Firefly Code Author: Megan Frazer Blakemore Jacket Illustrations: Manuel Sumberac
Ok, so obviously I’m into silhouettes, in addition to the colors purple and green. I love this cover because it’s so alive, full of adventure. Plus, the kids on bikes bring to mind the kids in Stranger Things, and anything that reminds me of that show is a good thing.
I like the contrasts in this cover — the far away houses and close-up frog, the whimsical quality mixed with something just a little bit ominous, as we see below the surface of the water and notice the broken leg of the character in the background. There’s a lot to take in here. And of course, some greens and purples.
Title: Fish in a Tree Author: Lynda Mullaly Hunt Cover Design & Lettering: Kristin Logsdon
Sometimes the simplest covers are the ones that catch my eye. The brightly-colored, boxy letters and very literal image (a fish, in a tree) on this book have made me pick it up multiple times.
And… we’re back to silhouettes and trees. 🙂 Admittedly, I didn’t realize how many things these middle grade covers had in common until I started describing them. Still, I would never say they look the same. Each is unique. I love the rich golden glow of this one and the way the tree trunks are made up of words.
Title: The Last Leaves Falling Author: Sarah Benwell Cover Artist: Yuko Shimizu
I guess on this cover, we’re in the tree. I love the perspective of this illustration. The birds, the leaves, the transparency of the orange box around the title, the character looking up at us, and his shadow… it’s all so evocative. And a little bit heartbreaking.
Title: All the Bright Places Author: Jennifer Nivan Hand-Lettering & Illustrations: Sarah Watts
This one mainly appeals to me because I love sticky notes. 🙂 But there’s more to it than that. I like how it has depth (I totally want to reach out and smooth down that one yellow corner) and I love how friendly and whimsical the lettering is. (Yes, lettering can be friendly.) The colors and style of this cover just relay a sense of peace and serenity. It’s caught my eye on multiple occasions.
Title: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe Author: Benjamin Alire Sáenz Cover Illustration of Landscape and Sky: Mark Brabant Hand-lettering and Illustrations in Sky: Sarah J. Coleman
I love the lettering and the symbols and the teal color of the sky, and of course the old red truck in the corner. Just perfect. This book has actually been on my reading list for a while now. It was the cover that first grabbed me, but hearing Benjamin Alire Sáenz give the keynote speech at this year’s Writers’ League of Texas conference definitely made me want to hear more of what he has to say. Plus, when you can’t see the whole cover for all the awards the book has won… that’s a pretty good sign.
Title: Shutter Author: Courtney Alameda Cover Art: Khita Knight
Did you really think this list would be complete without at least one horror novel? Come on. I love this creepy cover. The eyes of the shadow/smoke monster bore into my soul in the best way.