Best Books of 2016

best-books-2016

Anyone reading this blog probably agrees that 2016 was a totally sucky year. Thank goodness I found so many wonderful books. The best year of reading possibly ever! It has been difficult to choose this list. I’ve included books from a number of genres, for a variety of audiences, and I’ve left off some very good books to keep the list from getting too long. (Code in descriptions: MG= middle grade books, for children ages 9-12 or thereabouts; YA=young adult books, for teenagers.) The order is the order I read them this year.

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (YA)

A planet is attacked and a few of its inhabitants manage to flee before the planet is mostly destroyed. Two ships make their way across space, but something mysterious happens on one of the ships. Have the passengers been hit by a deadly virus, or is the ship’s computer taking over? The protagonists are a teen girl and a teen boy on different ships, and the story is presented as a file of information: emails, notes, audio recordings, etc. A fast-paced, sci-fi thriller with sequels coming.

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee (MG)

A modern day version of Andersen’s fairy tale The Snow Queen, this story within a story will keep you guessing. The Marvelous Boy has been kept a prisoner for centuries. Only Ophelia can rescue him, but her dedication to science makes her skeptical of magic and the quest she is destined to complete. Great fun.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Widower A.J. Firky is a grumpy young-old man who owns a bookstore. When suicidal mother leaves her baby in his store before killing herself, A.J.’s life is turned upside down. Firky adopts the child, opening his life to love and much more. This is a funny, smart story with lots of literary references. Loved it!

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby (YA)

When the beautiful Rosa disappears, nobody in Bone Gap is surprised because people often disappear from their rural community. Finn knows Ruby was kidnapped, but nobody believes him, not even his brother Sean who was in love with Ruby. This magical, folk-lore tale is exciting, scary, poignant and wonderful.

The Game of Thrones, whole series (well as much as has been published….) by George R. R. Martin

This past summer, I joined the world-wide, Game of Thrones-obsessed fan club. If I look back on my year of reading, this is the gravitational pull. My life after reading these books is different. I think about the characters and the events constantly. If you’ve watched and loved the television series, you should read the books. The first season and the first book are almost identical, but by season three, the stories have diverged. The books are better. By far. Like everyone else, I’m waiting for that next book.

Chalice by Robin McKinley (YA)

In this subtle and beautiful world, human communities are linked to the land, and both are kept whole and happy by a Master and a Chalice. One community is almost destroyed when its selfish Master and weak Chalice fail to perform their duties. The new Chalice must learn her job quickly, with little training, and is aided by a new Master who is barely human. The prose and plot are as beautiful and breath-taking as the world. Lovely, lovely story.

Playing the Part by Jen Turano

This light romantic comedy novel made me laugh when I needed to laugh. I wrote a review at the Historical Novels Review.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

The entwined stories of an orphan German boy and a blind French girl trying to survive during World War II. Beautiful. Brilliant. Smart. What I like most about this book is how it is more than one thing. If you take the story at face value, it is a good story. Suspenseful. Engaging. Characters you care about. But if you study the story, you see that everything is more than what you first see. I read this twice last year and may read it again. Highly recommended.

Break the Spell by A.M. Bostwick (YA)

Allison has a terrible secret about her health that she hasn’t shared with anyone. Ethan is on the run from the police. The weekend after the last day of school, Ethan holds Allison hostage to keep her quiet about his whereabouts and both get more than they planned for. This is a delightful teen romance that handles real problems with grace. Read it!

Mathilda Savitch by Victor Lodato

I had no idea what to expect when I started this book, which was left in my little free library. The voice and character of Mathilda are well written. She is a twelve-ish year old, grieving girl, dealing with the death of her sister and the disintegration of the family she once had. She is, in turns, nasty, sweet, cynical, innocent, comical and tragic. At first I wasn’t sure I liked her, but she grew on me. The way the author handles the idea of “story” is remarkable. This may not be a book for everyone. I think writers will enjoy it, as well as readers who like smart books that make you think. I loved it

Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer

I read all of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romance novels a few years ago in a whirlwind of giddiness. This was my favorite, but I couldn’t remember its name! I came upon it again this year. I love Heyer’s clever plot tangles and funny characters. This is one of the best. Light and enjoyable.

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (MG)

This is the story of three girls who become friends while taking baton twirling lessons one summer. Each has a difficult family life. The book was medium-good until the end, when all elements of the story converged in such a surprising and satisfying way, that it became one of my favorite books of the year. Another great book by DiCamillo.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (YA)

Cath is starting her freshman year of college, but her twin sister Wren wants them to strike out on their own. Cath is afraid of her roommate, the dorm cafeteria, and for her father, who isn’t coping well with being without his girls. Cath’s place of refuge is her fan fiction world, where she is a highly-acclaimed writer. I read this at exactly the right time: when I, too, wanted to hide from the world. Rowell’s story was a great place to hide. Cath’s character is wonderfully drawn. The story is well paced, with romance, family drama, fun fanfic, and more. I wonder, is anyone writing fangirl fanfiction? Something to look into….

Pax by Sara Pennypacker (MG)

This is the story of a fox and his boy. It is a story of war and forgiveness. It is about survival in the wilderness and about self-sacrifice. It is about creating art. It is so beautiful, on so many levels. It is has a great shot at this year’s Newbery Award.

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown (MG)

This book hit all the right “cute” buttons in me. A solar-powered robot, programmed to take care of itself and learn from its environment, gets washed up on an island inhabited only by animals. The way the robot makes friends and improves the lives of those he meets is a well-hidden message for everyone. The illustrations are precious.

The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz (MG)

What I love most about this book is that it is like The Canterbury Tales for children. A group gathers in an inn in the middle ages to wait for the king who they believe will soon pass by. The king is about to arrest and condemn to death three children and a dog. The visitors to the inn take turns narrating the story, telling what they know about each child, the “holy dog” and the miracles they have performed. Gidwitz understands his middle-grade audience. The story is exciting, funny, and brings to life, for children, the middle ages.

Syncopation: a Memoir of Adele Hugo by Elizabeth Caulfield Felt

Is it tacky to put my own book here? I love it like a mother loves her child. If you haven’t read it yet, I’ll hope you consider doing so. Information about buying Syncopation (print and e-book) is over here.

Welcome to 2017. I wish you a happy year of reading and #resistance. As tempting as it is, we can’t hide in books all the time.

 

Writers’ Conferences

Writers’ Conferences are a great way to meet others in the industry, talk books, discuss craft, participate in workshops, buy books, sell books and have a good time.

A few weekends ago, I went to the Lakefly Writers Conference in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. It is a well-organized, inexpensive and fun conference. I was able to pitch to two editors, learn about a “Books & Beer” book club, get details on creating a “30-Day Promotional Plan” and meet and re-meet some wonderful authors.

Of course, I can’t go to a writers’ conference and not buy books! Here are the books that came home with me: K.W. Penndorf’s Freya and the Dragon Egg (middle grade time-slip fantasy!), REUTS press novels: Melinda Michaels’s Golden (a loose re-telling of Sleeping Beauty) and Valentina Cano’s The Rose Master (a re-working of Beauty and the Beast and Jane Eyre!) I’m so excited to read these books!

lakefly books

The three other books in the picture came to me via a door prize gift basket that included a bottle of wine, chocolate pretzels, and a deck of cards. Lucky me!

My next conference will be the SCBWI-Wisconsin fall conference in Green Lake, Wisconsin. Next summer, I hope to attend the Historical Novels Society Conference in Portland, Oregon.

Fun times to come!

Fairy Tale Discussion Group

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I’ve started a Facebook Discussion group called Fairy Tales: Reading, Re-Writing and Scholarship. If you are on Facebook and would like to join, type “fairy tales: reading” into the search box at the top of Facebook. This group should appear.

This is a venue for people to share information about fairy tales: new scholarship, research, favorite new versions, thoughts on re-writing these stories, etc. Promotion is allowed as long as it is relevant to the group.

I belong to some wonderful book discussion groups on Facebook, and I’m excited to get this one going. If fairy tales interest you, I hope you will join. Let me know if you have any questions.

The above illustration is one of a series of sketches by Hermann Vogel depicting The Little Red Riding Hood story.