Monday, December 31, 2012

My favorite books of 2012

Since I learned how to crochet in October, I've spent much less time reading and more time with my yarn creations!  Of the 93 books I read in 2012, these were my favorites.

1.  The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman - as normal, my favorite book of the year was historical fiction.  Two thousand years ago, nine hundred Jews were trapped on the mountain of Masada by Roman forces and ultimately, massacred.  This book tells the story of four, strong Jewish women who came to Masada for different reasons and meet as dovekeepers on the mountain.  Fabulous characters and a spell-binding story makes this a must-read.

2.  The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker - This is now a Target book club selection (and I have yet to find one of their books I didn't enjoy), but I bought it on sale for my Kindle early in the year (one of only 2 books I bought this year - I love our library!).  I was immediately fascinated by the story of a young woman searching for her missing father in his native Burma and with her father's story.  Amazing writing! 

3.  The Faith Club by Rany Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner - The subtitle says it all - A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew - Three Women Search for Understanding.  I not only gained knowledge about the Muslim and Jewish faiths through the exploration of these three women, I also gained a much better understanding of my own Christian faith.

4.  Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver.  The Poisonwood Bible is one of my favorite books.  Kingsolver's new book reminded me of the reasons I loved Poisonwood - beautiful prose, fascinating characters.  Young wife and mother Dellarobia Turnbow is on her way up the mountain behind her home in Tennessee to have an affair in the woods when she discovers what she believes to be a massive fire.  The fire was actually millions of monarch butterflies wintering in Tennessee rather than their normal winter grounds in Mexico.  What has caused this change and will the butterflies survive?

5.  The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.  I read this book on the beach during our vacation to the Virgin Islands - I'm missing the beautiful blue water right now!  Vanessa Diffenbaugh is a foster and adoptive parent who wrote the most accurate portrayal of the fears, desires, and challenges faced by a child who ages out of foster care.  While fictional, this could be the story of any number of children I have worked with over the years. 

6.  Frontier Manhattan by Kevin Olson.  This book should be required reading for anyone living in the Little Apple!  I learned so much about the founding of our town and the players whose names still dominate the landscape of Manhattan.  I am proud to live in a town founded by abolitionists to help ensure Kansas became a free state.

7.  The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty.  Another book on my list with a Kanas connection and another work of historical fiction.  It's 1922 and Louise Brooks, future silent movie star, leaves Wichita at age 15 to attend a prestigious New York dance school.  She is accompanied by 36-year-old empty-nester Cora Carlisle, who is to serve as Louise's chaperone.  Cora has her own reasons for wanting to go to New York City. 

8. When She Woke by Hillary Jordan.  Set in an unknown future date, the American criminal justice system has become so overburdened that criminals are chromed with viruses to denote their crime by the color of their skin and released into society.  The laws passed by the far Right have made abortion a crime worthy of chroming, as Hannah discovers when she wakes to find her skin red. 

9.  The Racketeer by John Grisham.  While I always enjoy Grisham's books, this one had a twist that pushed it onto my top 10 list for the year! 

10. Criminal by Karin Slaughter.  I have never read anything by Slaughter, who has been writing books with the same protagonist (medical examiner Sara Linton) for many years.  This book focuses on Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Will Trent with Linton playing a supporting role.  I read Slaughter's first three books featuring Linton, but definitely liked Criminal the best.

From the acknowledgements in Criminal, I discovered another crime writer - NYC Assistant District Attorney in charge of the Sex Crimes unit, Linda Fairstein.  Fairstein's first book, Final Jeopardy, was published in 1997 and features a protagonist based on Fairstein's own professional life.  I've read four of her books now, starting at the beginning of the series, and would recommend them to anyone who likes crime fiction!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lily's Favorite Books - ages 2 to 3

Since we read MANY more books between 2 and 3 than in previous years, I'll just do a list here with a few comments!
1) Sandra Boynton continued to be a favorite, with new additions of Let's Dance, Little Pookie; Night, Night Little Pookie; and Snuggle Puppy. 
2) Lucy Cousins' Maisy books - particularly Maisy Takes a Bath, Maisy Goes Camping, Dr. Maisy, Maisy's Snowy Christmas Eve, and Maisy's Pool.

3) Dog's Colorful Day by Emma Dodd

4) Lily's Twinkly Bedtime (a Sweetheart Fairies book) which she loved because Lily the fairy had red hair.

5) Too Purpley by Jean Reidy - this book has great illustrations!

6) Some books from my childhood - Lucille by Arnold Lobel, Wacky Wednesday by Theo LeSieg (aka Dr. Seuss), The Fire Cat by Esther Averill, Corduroy by Don Freeman, Are You My Mother by PD Eastman, and George and Martha by James Marshall.

7) The Eric Carle books - The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Very Lonely Firefly, and The Very Quiet Cricket

8) All of Laura Numeroff's books (which we still enjoy quite a bit at almost 4), but particularly If You Give a Pig a Pancake, If You Give a Moose a Muffin, and If You Take a Mouse to the Movies.

9) More of the Eileen Christelow Five Little Monkey books - particularly Five Little Monkeys Wash the Car and Five Little Monkeys Bake a Cake.

10) Anna Dewdney's Llama Llama books (another series we still love).

11) Red is Best by Kathy Stinton (another baby shower present, this one from Kathy Swenson) that is just perfect for my strong-headed little redhead!

12) Jane Donovan's Small, Medium, and Large - a Christmas present from Dick and Vicki Holdman. 

13) Way Down Deep in the Deep Blue Sea by Jan Peck, which we discovered at storytime at the library.

14) Another favorite that we're still reading at almost 4 are the Melissa Long pirate books (How I Became a Pirate and Pirates Don't Change Diapers).

15) Ladybug Girl at the Beach by David Soman - we're read more of this series as she's gotten older and enjoyed them all. 

16) We LOVED John Himmelmann's books Chickens to the Rescue and Pigs to the Rescue.  We've heard there's another one on the way.

17) Hickory Dickory Dock by Keith Baker - a great book about counting and telling time!

18) Dr. Seuss!  Our favorites were (and continue to be) The Lorax and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  But we love them all!

19) And finally, the original Berenstain Bears books, written with Dr. Seuss as the editor for his Beginner Books series.  The Big Honey Hunt, The Bears' Vacation, and The Bike Lesson
Happy Reading!!

Lily's Favorite Books - ages 1 to 2

From ages 1-2, Lily continued to love Sandra Boynton books (and we still do!).  Her favorites were Oh My, Oh My, Oh Dinosaurs, Pajama Time, and The Going to Bed Book.  Boynton uses the same rhythm and rhyming structure as Dr. Seuss, and her illustrations are just fun!

The Usborne Touch and Feel books were also very popular between 1 and 3.  Lily's favorites were That's Not My Puppy, That's Not My Train, and That's Not My Snowman.

The Hinkler Books' Lift-the-Flap books also lasted us between 1 and 3.  Lily loved Words and Animals, but Farm was her favorite.

Lily received David McKee's Elmer as a baby shower present, and we continue to love this book and the rest of the series.  Elmer is a patchwork elephant who doesn't like being different from the other elephants but learns to love who he is.  Great for any age!

Other books we read for the first time between 1 and 2 and still read today at almost 4 are Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See by Bill Martin and Eric Carle and Eileen Christelow's Five Little Monkey's Jumping on the Bed (and the rest of this series).

Sunday, January 1, 2012

My favorite books from 2011

This was my second year to track the books I read, and again, I found it interesting to look back on those I really enjoyed during the year.  Of the 106 books I read this year, here are my top 10:

1. My favorite of the year was Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland.  Based on the life of Clara Driscoll, a glass cutter and later designer at Tiffany, I found the story fascinating and the characters engaging.  Plus, I love historical fiction!

2. I read a number of non-fiction books in 2011, but my favorite was Ted Gup's Secret Gift.    Gup discovered that during the depression, his grandfather placed an ad in the newspaper under the name of a fictitious benefactor, offering $5 to families in need.  The response was overwhelming and the letters sent by families in true form the basis of the book.  Gup was able to follow up with the descendants of many who wrote and determine how his grandfather's small gift made a difference in the lives of the families he touched.

3.  I discovered Kate Morton this year, starting with The Forgotten Garden, and then read her other two books (The Distant Hours and The House at Riverton), both of which I also enjoyed.  She's a writer I'll be adding to my list of favorites!  At age 5, Nell is discovered alone on a ship that just arrived in Australia.  Adopted by the harbor master and his wife, Nell lives a full life in Australia.  Upon her death, her granddaughter goes on a quest to discover her grandmother's roots and how she ended up abandoned.  All three of Morton's books feature a mystery in a family's past.

4.  I read about Kathleen Grissom's The Kitchen House in an email from the library.  I put in on my list of books to read when I had time and discovered it at the end of the year.  At age 7, Lavinia traveled from Ireland to America with her family.  By the time the ship landed, Lavinia was alone and was brought to work in the kitchen house of a Southern plantation under the guidance of a slave named Belle.  Straddling the two worlds that co-existed on the plantation, Lavinia's struggle to find her place creates trouble for all.

5.  Chosen at the book to be read by all incoming KSU freshmen this year, Zeitoun is the story of Hurricane Katrina and prejudices faced by US citizens of Middle East descent.  This non-fictional account of a contractor who decides to stay behind during the hurricane to protect his assets was a fascinating account of the hurricane and its aftermath.

6.  Yet another non-fiction winner this year was Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives by journalist Thomas French.  Tracing the history of the animals at the Tampa Zoo, French spent 6 years researching this book.  As an animal lover, I have always struggled with zoos.  I understand the need for species protection as well as genetic diversification, but reading these stories again brought home the true lives of these animals on display for our entertainment.  I am very thankful that our Sunset Zoo focuses on education and conservation.

7.  Lisa See is another author I discovered this year.  I read three of her books (Shanghai Girls, Dreams of Joy, and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan) and found all fascinating.  While Snow Flower was my favorite of the three, I would strongly recommend Shanghai Girls as well.  Set in the China of the 1800s when foot binding was the norm, Snow Flower tells the story of a friendship between two girls, Lily and Snow Flower, that is arranged much like an arranged marriage.  At age 7, Lily and Snow Flower become "old sames," signing a contract that will bind them together in friendship for life.  Lily narrates the book, telling the story of her life as well as that of Snow Flower and their communication through a secret language written on a fan. 

8.  I previously wrote about this Target Club Picks selection, One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus.  Trading a life in an insane asylum in Chicago for a life as the bride of a Cheyenne Chief, May Dodd is part of a program established by the US Government to trade 1,000 white women as brides for 1,000 horses.  The Cheyenne believe that children belong to the tribe of their mother, and in having children with the "white tribe" believed they could bring peace to the future.  While this was fiction, it was true that a Cheyenne Chief proposed this trade to President Grant. 

9.  Shilip Somaya Gowda's Secret Daughter tells the story of Asha.  Adopted at birth from an orphanage in Mumbai by an American doctor and her Indian husband, Asha leads a life on privilege in the United States.  Now in college, Asha travels back to India to discover her roots and the true meaning of family. Another Target Club Picks selection that I truly enjoyed!

10.  I feel somewhat guilty about including a Stephanie Plum book on my top ten, but no one makes me laugh like Janet Evanovich!  This was her best effort since book eleven (which I read on an airplane and was laughing so hard I was crying, causing my seat mate to ask me what I was reading!).  Will Stephanie settle down with her long-time boyfriend Joe Morelli (my pick for her beau!) or will she chose Ranger?  If you haven't read the Stephanie Plum books, I suggest you skip the first one and start with Two for the Dough.  I can always fill you in on the history! 

11.  Okay, I know I said top 10, but I had to add this one at the end.  Another Target Club Pick (can you tell I generally like their selections?), Wildflower Hill by Kimberely Freeman tells the story of Emma, a prima ballerina, and her grandmother Beattie who owned a very successful clothing business started at her Australian sheep ranch.  Definitely worth reading!

12.  Finally, some of my favorite authors had new books this year that were some of their best in years.  I truly enjoyed Stephen King's 11/22/63, Michael Connelly's The Drop, and John Grisham's The Litigators.