Wednesday, December 28, 2016

My favorite reads in 2016

Each year, I look back on the books I've read and share my top 10 (or sometimes a few more!).  This year, I'm grouping my favorite books by category.  As you will see below, I struggled to limit the list to 10 this year, so here's my top 15!

Most books I read in this category pertained to poverty in America, since that's the focus of one of my jobs.  The three best books I read this year all fall in this area, and I can't recommend them highly enough.  I think each of them provides a new perspective on life in America, particularly in light of the Presidential election this year. 

JD Vance, graduate of Yale Law School, grew up in a steel town in southern Ohio.  His grandparents, the one constant in his tumultuous life, were recruited by the steel company to move with many others from their hometown in Kentucky, thus maintaining their "hillbilly" culture.  In addition to addressing the reasons why a candidate like Donald Trump appealed to many blue-collar workers struggling to make it financially, Vance addresses the impact of childhood trauma and the Adverse Childhood Experiences study.  PLEASE READ THIS BOOK!

As a living wage job becomes less attainable for those without a college degree, how do families survive financially?  What impact did welfare reform enacted under Bill Clinton have on the fiscal landscape of those at the bottom of the earning pool?  Could you live on just $2 a day per person in your family?  

Sociologist Matthew Desmond moved into two extremely low income housing areas in Milwaukee to understand how families on the edge struggle to maintain housing.  Without an address, how do you get a job?  What would you do to put a roof over your family's head?  All three of these books are heartbreaking, but also demonstrate the problem solving skills and resourcefulness of those living in poverty in America.

As you may know, I'm obsessed with Hamilton - both the musical and the man.  Although I don't think I would have liked him very much because of what is described as a very abrasive personality, I have huge admiration for all he accomplished to make our country what it is today.  Before the musical and my subsequent reading of this book, I could have told you Hamilton was on the $10 bill, he was the first Treasury Secretary, and he died in a duel with Vice-President Aaron Burr (which I knew from the Got Milk commercial!).  I think this may be the level of knowledge most people have about Hamilton's life.  This man set the stage for our economic vitality as a country and his greatest project, the Federal Reserve system, is still going strong.  One of my favorite lines from the musical sums it up for me, "America, you great unfinished symphony, you sent for me.  You let me make a difference, a place where even orphan immigrants can leave their fingerprints and rise up."

Young Adult Fiction
I love a good young adult book!  Many of these were recommended to me by my friend, and elementary school librarian, Audra Reed.   Please don't discount them just because they were written for a younger audience.  Two of these books, Fish in a Tree and Because of Mr. Terupt, address how an outstanding teacher can change the course of their students' lives.  

“Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.”  How do students suffering from learning disabilities like dyslexia manage to fool their teachers so they aren't considered "stupid?"  Ally has hidden her inability to read for years.  It takes a very special teacher to help her see how special she truly is.  Last year, I read One for the Murphys by this author, and I would highly recommend that book as well.

Seven 5th graders share the story of a year that changes them forever and the teacher who makes it happen. The first in a series.

I discovered Jennifer Holm this year with the publication of her latest young adult book based on her family history, Full of Beans.  All of her books are enjoyable, but my favorite was Turtle in Paradise about a young girl sent to live with family on Key West during the Great Depression.  

Do you love libraries?  Love to read?  Can you solve the literary clues to escape from Mr. Lemoncello's library?  Truly wonderful - this is one I will read again!


There are books published at just the right time, and this is one of them.  Incredibly relevant to the discussion of race in America, Picoult once again delivers a story to make you explore your own beliefs.  As she asks in the book, would you know if your neighbor were a white supremacist?  Do we  ever know how another person truly thinks and feels?  

I always love a good sweeping historically based novel, and Gyasi's Homegoing did not disappoint!  Two half-sisters born in Ghana in the 1700s experience very different lives, and set the course for the lives of their families to come.  One sister is sold into slavery while the other is married to a British slave trader.  What is the legacy of slavery in these families?

I discovered this series this year and read them all!  What great mysteries set in England in the 19th century following the newly created Scotland Yard Murder Squad.  

Maybe I liked The Yard so much because it reminded me of one of my absolute favorite series, Laurie King's Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes books.  The Murder of Mary Russell is the 14th book in this series and the best I've read in a long time.  If you haven't read these books yet, you really need to start with the first, The Beekeeper's Apprentice.  

In the final book of the Mr. Mercedes trilogy, Stephen King is at his storytelling finest.  All three books are worth reading, but the third was my favorite.

Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs have appeared in numerous books by Jeffery Deaver, but this was the most engrossing I've read of this series in years.  A true page-turner!

My Favorite Book of the Year

This 2016 Newbery Honor book tops my list this year.  I know the author from some simple chapter books Lily loved about Tony Baloney the macaroni penguin, and while those books were fun, I wasn't sure what to expect from Echo.  A single harmonica makes its way across the world to change the course of three young lives.  

Saturday, January 2, 2016

My favorite books from 2015

For the first time this year, I used GoodReads to track my books.  It told me I read 91 books and almost 35,000 pages in 2015!

Here are my 10 favorite books I read in 2015:

1. Historical fiction seems to always top my list, and this year is no exception.  The Nightingale tells the story of two sisters participating in their own ways in the resistance movement in France during WWII.  Beautifully written and a fascinating story.  

2. Edward Stanton, a thirty-nine-year-old man with Asperger's Syndrome, leads a quite and extremely structured life.  When new neighbors move in, Edward's world is turned upside down as he begins a friendship with 9-year-old Kyle and his mother.  Heartwarming, quirky, and quietly funny, I was heartbroken to reach the end of the book.  Wonderful characters make this book well worth reading.

3. Another common theme in my yearly book list is young adult fiction.  Micah lives with his Grandpa Ephraim, but his life is turned upside down when Ephraim becomes ill.  Grandpa Ephraim has always entertained Micah with fantastic stories of the magical Circus Mirandus, but on his deathbed, Grandpa reveals the Circus Mirandus is real and Micah must find it to save his grandfather.  

4. I've enjoyed Brandon Stanton's Humans of New York blog for some time, and this book is a fascinating compilation of beautiful pictures and stories.  My favorite story from the book:

"We're eye doctors."  "What's something about the eye that most people don't realize?"  "The eye doesn't see.  The brain sees.  The eye just transmits.  So what we see isn't only determined by what comes through the eyes.  What we see is affected by our memories, our feelings, and by what we've seen before."

5.  Historical young adult fiction?  How could I not love it!  Telling the story of the school desegregation in 1958 Little Rock, the story focuses on the friendship between two girls, one white and one "passing" for white and the dangers of their friendship during a time when Jim Crow prevailed.

6. Monsieur Perdu, a literary apothecary, operates his bookstore from a barge on the Seine and prescribes books to cure his readers' ills.  Years ago, his great love disappeared leaving him with a letter, which he refused to open.  When he finally reads the letter, he pulls up anchor and sails his book barge on a quest to find his lost love.  Simply charming.

7.  I love a good mystery with a twist!  The book jacket calls it at a modern retelling of Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train where two strangers meet and hatch murder plots.  One of those books I just couldn't put down!

8.  Another excellent mystery.  I love Kate Morton's historical mysteries, and The Lake House didn't disappoint.  In 1933, 11-month-old Theo disappears from his family's lake house during a summer solstice party, never to be found.  What happened to Theo?  More than 70 years later, police detective Sadie Sparrow stumbles across the abandoned lake house and the mystery of Theo's disappearance and sets out to solve this cold case.  

9.  Everyone should read this book about the end of life.  Written by a surgeon facing his own father's death Gawande begins to question the decisions made by medical professionals trained to fix our bodies at any cost.  When is quality of life compromised?  When is it time to let go?

10.  The Red Tent by Anita Diamant is one of my favorite books of all time, so I would read anything she published.  85-year-old Addie Baum tells the story of her childhood and young adulthood to her granddaughter as she attempts to answer the question, "How did you become the woman you are today?"  LOVED this book!

Okay, I can never have just 10 books I loved in a year - in fact, I had 20 this year that I ranked with five stars, so here are some others I would recommend reading:
My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman
Wonder by RJ Palacio
Trail of Broken Wings by Sejal Badani
The Forgotten Daughter by Renita D'Silva
The Bone Tree by Greg Iles
The Dead Key by DM Pulley
The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine by Alexander McCall Smith
The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech
The Sisterhood by Helen Bryan
The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Golbraith (nom de plume of JK Rowling)
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

Happy reading!