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.  

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