Posted in Reading

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2015

This year I read 78 books. You can see the full list on my Goodreads page. There’s a lot of good stuff in that list—poetry, nonfiction, young adult, middle grade, horror, modern, classic—it was a good year for my book-loving soul. But a few books stood out above the rest. They’ve stuck with me, lingering in my thoughts as I write, live, and read other books. I keep coming back to them again and again, and that’s how I know they’re special.

These are the 10 best books I read in 2015. Consider adding one of them to your reading list.

1. The Shining by Stephen KingShining

I don’t know why it took me so long to read this classic of horror, but it was worth the wait. Stephen King’s ability to merge human horror with the otherworldly is inspiring. The Shining produces a creeping, clinging type of fear that makes you slunk down into the covers while reading and hangs around even after a good night’s sleep. I knew before I even finished it that it was going on my list of favorite books. If you don’t think you need to read the novel because you’ve seen the movie, you’re wrong. The book is very different, but it didn’t make me love the movie any less. They’re both masterpieces.

2. Greenglass House by Kate MilfordGGH

Greenglass House is also about being snowed in at a strange hotel in the middle of winter, but it’s nothing like The Shining. This middle grade novel about an boy named Milo and his family’s inn and a group of mysterious strangers captured my heart. To read my full, gushing review of it, click here.

Lockwood

3. Lockwood & Co. by Jonathan Stroud

Ok, I’m cheating here because I’m counting this whole series as one book. If I didn’t, I’d have to include all three books– The Screaming StaircaseThe Whispering Skull, and The Hollow Boy— in this list. I’m picky about ghost stories. I want the ghosts in books to behave in a way that’s both spooky and believable, sometimes touching and sometimes funny. In my opinion, Jonathan Stroud nails it. The world he has created– a world in which ghosts have become much more prevalent than they used to be, a world in which the agencies hired to contain them are made up of children because adults aren’t ghost-sensitive enough to deal with them– is so detailed and so perfect. And the main characters are so entertaining that I could read a whole chapter just about them drinking tea and I’d still be happy. Hurry up with the fourth book, Jonathan! I’m ready.

4. Okay For Now by Gary D. SchmidtOKay

I listened to this touching middle grade novel on audiobook and loved it so much I had to go out and buy the paperback. The way Schmidt weaves art and friendship and the horrors of the Vietnam War into this story about a boy and his struggling family during the 70’s is flawless. I recommend it for children and adults alike.

5. Gabi: A Girl in Pieces by Isabel QuinteroGabi

Best impulse buy ever! I bought this book at the Texas Book Festival this year and proceeded to almost fall off a curb a few minutes later due to reading while walking. Gabi: A Girl in Pieces is the story, in diary format, of a high school girl named Gabi Hernandez. Her best friend is pregnant, her other best friend is gay, her dad is a drug addict, and her mom is worried that Gabi is trying to “be white.” But all Gabi is really trying to do is survive high school and find herself, which she does partly through poetry. Despite having little in common with Gabi’s actual life, I felt instantly connected to her voice through her journal, which reminded me of my own. This is a great book for teenagers.

Sky6. The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

This is another audiobook I had to go out and buy. Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker’s sister has just died unexpectedly. Lennie is grieving. But she’s also living and falling in love and making giant mistakes and trying to fix them. Intertwining music and poetry and deeply original characters, The Sky is Everywhere is a beautiful novel of loss and love.

7. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse AndersonWintergirls

This gut-wrenching story of a high school girl battling anorexia was more terrifying to me than many of the horror novels I read. Although Anderson reveals the ugly truths about eating disorders in this book, she also writes about Lia’s struggle in a poetic, almost magical way. This is an important novel, one that should be in every high school library.

TTW8. Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

I don’t read many graphic novels, but I’m glad I picked up Through the Woods. This book of short, weird tales with intensely creepy illustrations was awesome. My favorite part was the last two pages. I don’t want to give anything away, but Carroll’s method of turning a beloved children’s classic into a nightmare is pure genius.

9. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline WoodsonBGD

Woodson’s memoir in verse deserves all the awards and accolades it has received. She brings her childhood to life in snapshots of poetry, painting a vivid picture of her family’s love and loyalty and her own struggles to fit into both the worlds she lived in– New York and South Carolina– during the Civil Rights movement. Beautiful and inspirational.

NightFilm10. Night Film by Marisha Pessl

This was the first book I read in 2015, and a year later it’s still on my mind. The first few pages grabbed me like few books have, there were some truly haunting scenes in the middle, and the end was equally satisfying and mysterious. All in all a great book. Note: This is not one to listen to. There are images and diagrams and articles in the novel that need to be viewed. I also recommend downloading the app for added content when you finish.

Happy New Year! And Happy Reading in 2016!

*** Don’t forget! TODAY (December 31, 2015) is the LAST DAY to enter my book giveaway! Comment on my blog or Facebook page by midnight (central time) and you could win a free book! ***

Posted in Lists, Reading

Carie’s Lists: 10 YA & MG Books That Deserve More Readers

I love reading books for kids and I love talking about books for kids. Most of the titles I mention to fellow kidlit readers get nods of recognition or at least the comment, “I’ve heard of that. Is it good?” But lately I’ve seen more and more blank looks when I mention certain titles, so I decided to do some investigating. The following ten books have been rated by fewer than 900 people on Goodreads, and for many the number is much lower. However, I’ve given them all at least three stars, sometimes four or five.

I think these books, which have been passed over for some reason, deserve another look. There’s good stuff here– memorable characters, touching stories, and a lot of diversity. Take a moment to scan the list and see if there’s not at least one book you or your child might be interested in reading.

[Note: All summary information is from Goodreads unless otherwise noted.]

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1. The Little Leftover Witch by Florence Laughlin – 1960

A little lost witch undergoes a magical transformation when she’s loved by a human family in this heartwarming story. When Felina, a little witch, breaks her broom on Halloween and can’t fly home, she is stuck with the Doon family and their black cat, Itchabody, for an entire year. Although she’s homesick and unhappy, the Doon parents and their daughter, Lucinda, do their best to make Felina feel welcome. (And she has no trouble with Itchabody at all!) As time passes, the mischievous Felina learns what it means to be part of a family—and how, with love, she will always belong.

My Rating – 5 stars

My Comments – This is such a beautiful little story. It’s not at all what I thought it was going to be, but I absolutely loved it. To see my full review, click here.

2. How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found by Sara Nickerson – 2003

Margaret’s father died in a mysterious drowning accident when she was eight years old. Four years later, her mother still won’t talk about it — in fact, she doesn’t talk about much of anything. But when Margaret’s mother takes her and her little sister, Sophie, to a strange abandoned mansion and puts a FOR SALE BY OWNER sign in the front yard, Margaret is determined to solve the puzzle of her family, once and for all.

Armed with three strange clues — a swimming medal, a key, and a handwritten comic book — Margaret returns to the mansion alone. With the help of Boyd, the lonely, comic-book-obsessed boy next door, she discovers that truth can be stranger than fiction — depending on who’s telling the story.

My Rating – 4 stars

My Comments – This book was a favorite in my classroom library, partly due to the graphic component. Part of the story is told through comic book format.

3. Sees Behind Trees by  Michael Dorris – 1999

Visually impaired Walnut cannot earn his adult name the same way other boys do, by hitting a target with a bow and arrow. With his highly developed other senses, however, he earns a new name: Sees Behind Trees. “Dorris takes on some meaty existential issues here; he does so with grace, bighearted empathy, and always with crystal-clear vision”. —School Library Journal

My Rating – 4 stars

My Comments – This is a tiny book– only 100 pages– but it makes a big impact.

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4. The Color of My Words by Lynn Joseph  – 2000

Twelve-year-old Ana Rosa is a blossoming writer growing up in the Dominican Republic, a country where words are feared. Yet there is so much inspiration all around her — watching her brother search for a future, learning to dance and to love, and finding out what it means to be part of a community — that Ana Rosa must write it all down. As she struggles to find her own voice and a way to make it heard, Ana Rosa realizes the power of her words to transform the world around her — and to transcend the most unthinkable of tragedies.

My Rating – 3 stars

My Comments – This is a sad story, but one with hope through words.

5. Trouble Don’t Last by Shelley Pearsall – 2003

Eleven-year-old Samuel was born as Master Hackler’s slave, and working the Kentucky farm is the only life he’s ever known—until one dark night in 1859, that is. With no warning, cranky old Harrison, a fellow slave, pulls Samuel from his bed and, together, they run.

The journey north seems much more frightening than Master Hackler ever was, and Samuel’s not sure what freedom means aside from running, hiding, and starving. But as they move from one refuge to the next on the Underground Railroad, Samuel uncovers the secret of his own past—and future. And old Harrison begins to see past a whole lifetime of hurt to the promise of a new life—and a poignant reunion—in Canada.

In a heartbreaking and hopeful first novel, Shelley Pearsall tells a suspenseful, emotionally charged story of freedom and family.

My Rating – 3 stars

My Comments – Samuel’s endearing voice is what I remember most about this gripping historical fiction novel.

6. On the Devil’s Court by Carl Deuker – 1991

Summary from Amazon:

What would you give to be your school’s superstar? After reading Dr. Faustus, Joe considers the merits of selling his soul to the devil. Suddenly, he finds himself changing from a lousy basketball player and a C student to the star athlete he always dreamed he could be. Even though he isn’t sure if he actually made a deal with the devil, he can’t help but enjoy the benefits that come with his newfound abilities. But is achieving his dreams worth what he may have given up?

In this coming of age sports novel, Joe learns the power of belief and that the only goals worth attaining are the ones that you earn — on your own.

My Rating – 3 stars

My Comments – I’m not a big fan of sports novels, but the angle that this one took really kept my attention. Fans of Mike Lupica’s books would enjoy this one.

7. My Thirteenth Winter by Samantha Abeel – 2005

In this beautiful and chilling memoir, twenty-five-year-old Samantha Abeel describes her struggles with a math-related learning disability, and how it forced her to find inner strength and courage.

Samantha Abeel couldn’t tell time, remember her locker combination, or count out change at a checkout counter — and she was in seventh grade. For a straight-A student like Samantha, problems like these made no sense. She dreaded school, and began having anxiety attacks. In her thirteenth winter, she found the courage to confront her problems — and was diagnosed with a learning disability. Slowly, Samantha’s life began to change again. She discovered that she was stronger than she’d ever thought possible — and that sometimes, when things look bleakest, hope is closer than you think.

My Rating – 4 stars

My Comments – This is such an important book. Abeel’s descriptions of what her life was like with an undiagnosed learning disability haunted me for weeks after I read it, and her joy at finally getting the help she needed brought tears to my eyes. In my opinion, it is a must read for educators. Also, this summary doesn’t mention the fact that, while Abeel struggled in some areas, she was always a talented writer and poet. After you read My Thirteenth Winter, check out her poetry in Reach for the Moon.

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8. Leslie’s Journal by Allan Stratton – 2000

A gripping story about the dark side of a first love.

Leslie can’t seem to avoid trouble, whether it’s at school or at home. Just as life seems at its lowest, Jason McCready, the exceedingly cool new guy at school, enters her life.

Now Leslie is the envy of all the girls. But Jason’s appearance is deceiving — he is determined to control every aspect of Leslie’s life, and he begins terrorizing her in unimaginable ways.

When a substitute teacher reads the private English-class journal in which Leslie reveals Jason’s abuse, Leslie is suddenly forced into hard choices and terrifying action to take back her life.

Updated to reflect the contemporary world of the Internet, cell phones and text messaging, Leslie’s Journal is a suspenseful, fast-paced story about love, friendship and what it means to stand up for yourself

My Rating – 3 stars

My Comments – Apparently this book has been updated, but I’m pretty certain I read the original version. This story deals with some heavy issues, so it’s for more mature readers.

9. After the Death of Anna Gonzales by Terri Fields – 2002

“I can feel
The whispering of the hallway walls
Growing louder as the groups gather.
Each clique adding to its morning input.

“Did you hear?”
“Who told you?”
“Do you think it’s really true?”

New at this school,
I stand alone.
Watching . . .”

Brutally honest and authentic in tone, this collection of voices centers on the suicide of high school freshman Anna Gonzales. Each piece, read alone, portrays a classmate’s or teacher’s personal reaction to the loss, taken hard by some, by others barely noticed. Read together, the poems create a richly textured and moving testimony to the rippling effects of one girl’s devastating choice. Terri Fields has written a thought-provoking, important work that resonates with both pain and hope. This is a book that will stay with readers long after they put it down.

My Rating – 4 stars

My Comments – There were waiting lists for this book in my classroom library. I couldn’t keep it on my shelves. Students read it until it was falling apart and then eventually it disappeared completely. Teen suicide is a horrible thing, but kids like to read about the hard stuff, and this book deals with it in an honest way. Fans of Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why would be a good fit for this book and it is a very quick read.

10. All Hallows’ Eve: 13 Stories by Vivian Vande Velde – 2006

A boy is trapped in a possessed car that has stalled in the path of an oncoming train. A girl is dragged into a crypt during a field trip to an eighteenth-century cemetery. A group of friends meet their fate after an unsettling visit with a backwoods psychic. And that’s just the beginning. Celebrated author Vivian Vande Velde is at her spine-tingling best in this collection of thirteen scary stories, all of which take place on Halloween night. With tales that range from the disturbing to the downright gruesome, this is one collection that teens will want to read with the lights on . . . and the doors locked.

My Rating – 4 stars

My Comments – I love scary stories and there are some scary stories in this book. Too many horror stories for kids have the Scooby-Doo ending. Oh! It was just Farmer Bob in a mask! Not these. I enjoyed almost all of the 13 stories, but it was the third one– “Morgan Roehmar’s Boys”– that made me sit up and take notice. It reminded me of when I first picked up The Hunger Games back in 2009 and thought, Is she REALLY going to have kids killing kids? Oh, yep. She is. Vivian Vande Velde’s book hit me the same way. Is this real horror or kid horror? Oh, real horror. Got it. Now to check behind me before I keep reading. The stories are both scary and clever, and Velde will keep you on your toes with all the twists. Seriously, go read this book.

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See? Do you see what I’m talking about now?

These are good books, and they deserve more attention.

Go read one of them today!