Carie’s Lists

Carie’s Lists: The Best Books I Read in 2016

Happy New Year!

I’m thrilled to welcome 2017 into our lives. Overall, 2016 was EXHAUSTING, but I did read some good books.

exhausted

Gabby & Uno exhausted from 2016

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:

2016bookcollage

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 the holidays. 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.

13516495_626677937491001_6623011030571645481_n

Me & Jenny at #WLT2016. It’s blurry because we’re both a bit tipsy. (That’s how that works.)

Saddest Book: Out of Darkness by 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. :)

What was the best book YOU read in 2016?

10 MG & YA Books I Haven’t Read But Love to Look At

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. ]

#1:

IMG_20160721_154831 (1)

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.

#2:

IMG_20160721_160434 (1)

Title: Wishing Day
Author: Lauren Myracle
Jacket Art: Julie McLaughlin

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.

#3:

IMG_20160721_155108 (1)

Title: The Firefly Code
Author: Megan Frazer Blakemore
Jacket IllustrationsManuel 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.

#4:

IMG_20160721_155143 (1)

Title: A Clatter of Jars
Author: Lisa Graff
Jacket Art: Fernando Juarez

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.

#5:

IMG_20160721_155202 (1)

Title: Fish in a Tree
Author: Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Cover Design & LetteringKristin 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.

#6:

IMG_20160721_154857 (1)

Title: Wolf Hollow
Author: Lauren Wolk
Hand LetteringSarah J. Coleman
Silhouette & Watercolor: Tony Sahara

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.

#7:

IMG_20160721_160350 (1)

Title: The Last Leaves Falling
Author: Sarah Benwell
Cover ArtistYuko 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.

#8:

IMG_20160721_160755 (1)

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.

#9:

IMG_20160723_193819

Title: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author: Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Cover Illustration of Landscape and SkyMark 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.

#10:

IMG_20160721_160142 (1)

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.

* * *

Which book covers catch YOUR eye?

6 Tricks Pet Owners Will Love

I’m not talking about sit, stay, and roll over. These tricks will save you time, money, and sanity.

PetCollage

Our Story:

In 2010, my husband and I got married. We formed a blended family. He came to the relationship with two cats, and so did I. Our cats were pretty old.* We loved them all.** But we knew, realistically, that they wouldn’t be with us for much longer.***

* We only THOUGHT our cats were old. It turns out, they were just middle-aged.
** I loved them all. My husband loved two and a half of them.
*** We were wrong. So wrong.

For our one year anniversary, we got a puppy.

Six years have passed. We’re still married. We still have our dog and all four of our cats. The oldest cat is 17 and a half. The youngest is 14. The dog is 5.

In case you’re not keeping up with the math, that’s 2 cats + 2 cats = 4 cats + 1 dog = 5 pets = 5 pet mouths (requiring feeding, often prone to vomiting), 5 pet butts (doing what pet butts do best), 10 pet ears (for ignoring our verbal commands), 20 pet legs (perfect for tracking mud, clawing furniture, and being sat upon by unwary humans), and 1,000,000,000,000 pet hairs (to be spread in every space, container, nook, cranny, appliance, and orifice, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year for 6 years****).

**** and counting.

How to Stay Married in a House Full of Pets

We live in a house with four indoor cats and one mostly-indoor, sixty-pound dog. It’s like a zoo but with fewer cages and more chaos. The lolling tongues and wagging tails and cute cat naps and furry snuggles definitely help, but cleaning up after these adorable creatures is exhausting, and maintaining a living space that’s suitable for both the animals and their human companions can be a challenge.

Here are a few things that have helped us preserve a moderate level of sanity.

Level 1: BASIC

Trick #1: The marinade is the key.

Problem: Cat toys are expensive and the allure wears off too quickly.
Solution: Marinate in catnip.

CatnipCollage

There’s no need to buy new cat toys when all the good smells wear off the old ones. Just buy a bag of catnip and marinate the old toys in it. The longer they’re in there, the better, so I keep one or two toys in the catnip at all times and periodically switch them out.

Catnip toys keep cats happy. Happy cats are less likely to knock random objects off your desk.*****

***** not actually proven

Trick #2: This weapon will be called… the FURMINATOR.

Problem: HAIR and lots of it
Solution: The FURMINATOR

terminator-furminator

These grooming tools are not cheap, but they actually work. Five minutes of brushing your cat or dog with this brush and you’ll remove so much hair and undercoat you won’t believe it. It truly does reduce shedding and hairballs.

We have this one for the dog and this one for the cats.

The only catch is, you actually have to USE it, which I sometimes forget to do.

Level 2: ADVANCED

Trick #3: A Litter Box Fit for a King

Problem: Litter everywhere and/or outside-of-box peeing
Solution: Large plastic storage bins

Version 2

No, I don’t know why my cat sometimes puts his stuffed toy in the litter box. That’s an issue for another blog post.

Some of our cats won’t use the enclosed litter boxes with the lids, and those can be a pain to clean anyway. But if we remove the lid, the cats kick litter EVERYWHERE or do that annoying thing where they hang their butt over the edge to pee. So we bought tall plastic storage bins and cut “doors” in them instead. These are our litter boxes.

They’re not the prettiest things in the world, but… it’s not like we show them off to people anyway. (Until now.) The high sides keep the litter in, but they’re still easy to clean because of the open top. Plus, they’re cheaper than most litter boxes and easy to replace.

Trick #4: What Lies Beneath

Problem: Hair, drool, and that all-encompassing DOG STINK on your furniture
Solution: Treat your dog like a baby.

PetBedCollage

We let our dog get on the furniture, in moderation, meaning we gave him one section of the couch (the largest section, for some reason) and some space on the bed in my office. When he was a puppy, simply putting down a towel or blanket for him to lay on was sufficient to keep the cushions and bedding underneath clean. But now that he’s a full-grown, sixty-pound, hairy, smelly DOG (who we love) one thin layer between him and the furniture isn’t enough. His stink seeps in, especially when he licks himself or chews on his toys or drools because we’re eating pizza and won’t give him any.

I got tired of washing the quilt and the couch cushion covers over and over, so I looked for a better solution, and I found one: crib pads.

For just $10-$20 you can buy a thin, washable, waterproof pad to go between your dog blanket and your couch or bed. It works SO WELL. Now Uno can shed and drool and chew all he wants, and the moisture and odor won’t reach the furniture. To make the space suitable for human use, I just have to remove the blanket and pad. Er… and the dog.

Note: Our cat has also thrown up on the dog’s couch cushion, and the blanket/crib pad combo kept that from reaching the upholstery too.

Level 3: EXTREME MEASURES

Trick #5: Location, Location, Location

Problem: One cat terrorizes the rest of the household.
Solution: Move cat to his own apartment.

Gink, in a sink.

Gink, in a sink.

I have a 17-and-a-half-year-old black cat named Gink who I got when he was just a baby. I love him very, very much. He’s very, very special.

He’s also a recovering holy terror.

Gink has mellowed out a lot in his senior years. If you met him today, you might not believe that he used to terrorize friends, family members, vets, pet sitters, and dogs. But he did, and he was quite good at it.

When we formed our family of 7 (cat, cat, cat, cat, dog, human, human) in 2011, things were a bit rocky, and most of the blame was aimed at Gink. He terrorized one of the other cats, he showed aggression toward the dog, and he peed everywhere. Things were rough.

I could list all the (many) things we tried that failed to remedy the situation, but instead I’ll skip to the end. Eventually, through trial and error, research, and a well-timed episode of My Cat From Hell (Season 4, Episode 3: “Penny Hates Puck”), we figured out the truth: Gink doesn’t want roommates. He doesn’t want other cats hanging around, flaunting their catness in his face. He doesn’t want a dog following him around. (Seriously. Gink used to get mad just because Uno was walking behind him.) And he really, REALLY doesn’t want to share a litter box.

The solution was unavoidable. Gink needed to move to his own place.

So we got him an apartment. In our house. Gink now lives in our master bedroom & bathroom suite. The rest of the pets live in the rest of the house. We, the humans, inhabit both sides. We keep the door between the two areas closed at all times. Gink has his own litter box, his own food and water bowls, his own toys, his own bed.

If this seems like an extreme measure, it is. But it works. EVERYONE is happier. It’s amazing how much more relaxed our other pets are now that Gink isn’t around to traumatize them, and I don’t have to constantly clean up cat pee. Plus, Gink is happier too. He loves having his own space. He lives like a king.

That’s not to say he doesn’t sometimes try to get out. Once in a while, he scoots past me into the rest of the house. When that happens, the other cats freeze, and I tiptoe after my escaped panther until I can safely scoop him up and return him to his abode, usually with much hissing. Then I close the door and everyone breathes a sigh of relief once more.

I will say it again. Gink is special.

Trick #6: Deny everything.

Problem: Guests.
Solution: Lie.

20140611_071936

Zora, cleaning her feet where I normally eat breakfast.

Despite all your preparations, there will still come a time when you have guests over and one of your pets decides to:

A) Steal a slice of cheese off the kitchen counter
B) Take a bath on the dining room table
C) Hack up a hairball on the living room rug
D) Eat a corner of the curtain
E) Sharpen their claws on a leather purse
F) All of the above

When that happens, your best line of defense is denial. Look your beloved pet in the eye and say, “What the heck do you think you’re doing? You’ve never done anything like this before! Stop it! Stop it right now!” Ignore the fact that your pet is gazing back at you, confused and bewildered, wondering why something which was perfectly fine yesterday is causing you such stress today. Later, when the guests leave, you can give your pet a treat and apologize and tell him he’s a very good boy.

* * *

If you have any pet tricks you’d like to share… Oops—gotta go. I hear the song of the hairball.