reading 2016: books 10-17

I'm still reading, and can't tell you how nice it is to have a library card in hand! I never used the library very much before we went to Europe, but now I'm not sure how I lived without it. The first thing we did after getting our driver's licenses was to go to the library and sign up for a card. I'm looking forward to the summer months and picking up the pace with reading, especially since we have a pool I can sit by!

Here are some super quick summaries--maybe you'll find something new to read.

PS: 75% of my reading here fits into the Middle Grades or Young Adult category as I'm reading for a MG & YA Writing Class. If you've never read much current MG or YA titles, you might want to try something new and give these a try!

#10: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I remember my parents having this movie (directed by Alfred Hitchcock) at home when I was younger, and in my mind I always mixed this title up with Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (?!). (Just a Fun Fact, because I'm pretty sure those two books couldn't be any more different!) This Gothic romance takes place on an idyllic English estate and will take you completely by surprise, as everything turns out to be very different than you'd think.

#11: The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver. I'm slowly but surely reading through all of Kingsolver's novels. This one was very different from the others that I've read by her, and though it wasn't my favorite (The Bean Trees takes the cake), it is clearly a masterpiece. A historical fiction novel, she follows Harrison Shepherd from Mexico to the U.S. as he fights against the rising tide of anti-communist sentiment, weaving in historical characters such as Lev Trotsky, Frida Kahlo, and Diego Rivera along the way.

#12: Hush by Jacqueline Woodson. In this Middle Grades novel, a young girl and her family must leave their town and their identities behind when her dad witnesses the murder of a young black boy by white police officers. Woodson's writing is memorable.

#13: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. Another Middle Grades novel, this memoir written in free verse is so beautiful. Woodson writes about growing up as a black girl in the South, and then moving to Brooklyn where life was very, very different. I especially loved that she was writing about Greenville, SC, where she spent many years of her childhood. If you want something new and different to read and haven't read anything by Jacqueline Woodson, go pick this one up!

#14: Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin. This Middle Grades novel is written from the perspective of Rose Howard, a young girl with autism who lives with her emotionally distant father. I really loved this book, and am finding that I especially like reading books from the perspectives of people who have some sort of syndrome or disability--they help me see from their point of view, and that's invaluable. Rose's void is candid and warm, and sometimes humorous: she is obsessed with homonyms and can't understand why everyone else isn't equally interested in them, too.

#15: Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff. Another (!) Middle Grades novel, Absolutely Almost is told from the perspective of Albie, an elementary-school-aged boy who has learning disabilities. It seems like with everything in Albie's life, he's almost (but not quite) good enough. Only when Calista, his afternoon caretaker and friend, sees the best in him does he begin to believe the best about himself.

#16: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. Eleanor is awkward, overweight, has bright red hair, and wears the worst clothes. Park is cool, half-Asian, wears all black, and likes comics. She stands out, he fits in. But when their worlds collide on the bus, and after a rocky start, Park becomes Eleanor's first friend at her new school. Life is awful at home, but she has Park at school. This is a quirky, funky YA novel set in the '80s (I'm sure kids reading it today are wondering what Walkmans are...)--beware, though, lots of language.

#17: The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. This Middle Grades book follows Ada and Jaimie from the slums of London to the countryside of Kent, England, during WWII, when many children were evacuated due to the fear of bombing in the cities. For the first time in their lives they experience love, compassion, and friendship...but is it real? Or is it too good to be true?

reading 2016: books 7-9

Here's a quick reading update for those of you looking for recommendations or who just love books. I wish I could say that I was further along in my 2016 book goal, but traveling (I know, tough life, right?!), classes, and general "life-in-Germany" things have been keeping me occupied at present. Our imminent move date and soon possession of library cards has me pretty excited, though! I'm looking forward to lounging by the pool and digging into some books this summer.

#7: My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp. I'm currently taking a class called Writing for Children I with Sarah Tomp at the University of California San Diego Extension, part of my Children's Book Writing Certificate. I'm loving my classes, and Professor Tomp is so kind, warm, and encouraging. It's so nice to take a class from a writer, someone who's been published and who has experience in that world. This book is a true Young Adult (YA) novel, full of first (true) loves, summer romance, and some risky behavior involving moonshine.

#8: Crooked Little Heart by Anne Lamott. I've read some essays on writing by Lamott before, but I'd never read any fiction by her. Her writing is lovely, poignant, and raw. She doesn't shy away from life, and there's something both shocking and refreshing about that. This novel is a coming of age book, about two friends (Rosie and Simone) who are developing at different rates and experiencing life very differently as they hit puberty, all while playing tennis as doubles partners. Side note: this book made me want to play tennis.

#9: A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler. I picked this one up at random in a Waterstone's bookstore in Edinburgh. And honestly, I picked it up only because the title and cover were both beautiful. This book is short but packs a punch; it tells of one man's life living in the mountains of Germany and the beauty, loss, tragedy, and joy he finds in his extremely simple but whole life. Memorable.

Currently reading: I've been logging some children's books for my class (mainly picture books, like I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen and Never Tickle a Tiger by Pamela Butchart and Marc Boutavant--both so good!), and am diving into Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier and Grace Upon Grace by John W. Kleinig.

Until next time, happy reading!

Reading in 2016: Books 1-6

Reading has been off to a slower start this year, probably because I'm working on four classes at the moment that have been consuming a lot of my time (mostly in the best way possible). But it's off to a start nonetheless and I'm counting down the days until a public library is at my disposal (48 to be exact). In the meantime, I'm working hard to stay out of English bookstores and read what I have, especially on my Kindle. Because I'm taking a class called Writing for Children, I get to read lots of children's books (everything from picture books to chapter books and middle grade and young adult novels), which is a ton of fun! I will list some of these as books read in 2016, but don't worry, I won't list all the picture books. :)

#1: East of Eden by John Steinbeck. This is one of my all-time favorite books. It's about family and longing for love but not feeling "good enough," and the deep-rooted struggle between good and evil. The way that Steinbeck personifies evil in one of the characters is so, so powerful. "We have only one story. All novels, all poetry, are built on the never-ending contest in ourselves of good and evil. And it occurs to me that evil must constantly respawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal. Vice has always a fresh young face, while virtue is venerable as nothing else in the world is." 

#2: Cress by Marissa Meyer. Young adult reading at its finest. I started the Lunar Chronicles series last summer, and Cress is the third installment. Winter, the final novel in the series, just came out in November and I'm looking forward to reading it soon. If you like cyborgs, the inter-galactic/-planetary fight between good vs. evil, and wolf-men controlled by the Lunar queen, well--this book is for YOU. (This is totally not my normal genre and there are some wonderfully cheesy lines which probably would have captivated my middle school heart, but hey--it's fun and I occasionally get a great laugh!)

#3: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. A nearly life-long butler goes on a solo trip and reflects back on his years of service in one of the greatest houses in England. As he does so, he questions what it means to be great, and if this life of service was really worthwhile. I didn't find this to be a particularly enthralling read, but at the same time I really enjoyed it because I find the "upstairs, downstairs" life of servants and lords and ladies fascinating. It brought to mind Downton Abbey, and what it means to be a person who is on the other side of a life of luxury.

#4: For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards by Jen Hatmaker. My first question: Can Jen and I be best friends? I love her voice throughout this book, a refreshing and sometimes hilarious read about how to infuse more of the grace of Jesus into our own lives and our relationships with others. It's got light, funny parts about Spanx and getting older perfectly mixed with practical applied-theology chapters that make you think. All you girls/ladies/women out there reading this: buy this and read it. You can thank me later.

#5: Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan. This book is an upper middle grades novel about an adopted girl who is very special: she counts by 7s, knows everything about her backyard garden, can easily diagnose medical problems, and prefers learning Vietnamese over making friends at school. After tragedy strikes her family, she learns how to make friends, rely on other people, and find love in unexpected places among unexpected people. This is a really special read and I can whole-heartedly recommend this book to middle grades kids and their parents.

#6: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. This is an easy read, but it reminds me why "children's literature" is not just for children. Had I read this (or any books for that matter...I was a book hater!) as a child, I know I would have instantly loved it. This story is heartbreaking and beautiful and told through the eyes of a silverback gorilla. There's so much about art and the lives of animals that could make for cross-curricular teaching and learning. This is now one of my very favorites!

Currently reading: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp.

Happy weekend and happy reading!