Brilliant Books I Read This Year (2012)

As the end of the year approaches, I’ve noticed many of us like to make lists of our favorites of the year. However, I never feel qualified to claim I have an opinion on “the best books of  (insert year)”. Mostly, because I never have a chance to read most of the books that came out in any given year! (I seem to always be a year or so behind). Instead, I’ve decided to share six brilliant books that I personally read this year. The following six were knockouts!

And, with holiday gift-giving in full swing, these might inspire you to pick something a little different for someone you love. Or just treat yourself!

Six Brilliant Books I Read This Year:

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini TaylorDaughter of smoke and bone

I was tempted to throw in the writing towel after reading this book – it was that good! On the surface it may seem like another story about an orphan girl, raised by magical creatures, in search of her past. Add a dash of adventure, a heaping spoonful of romance, and stir. But this book is so much more than that, and it proves that execution is vital to any novel! The writing is delicious, the world building astounding, the characters emotionally involving, and the plot well…I couldn’t put the book down!

The Scorpio Races by Maggie StiefvaterThe-Scorpio-Races

If a book about carnivorous horses turns you off, this one isn’t for you. But if you’re spidy senses just did a double take (yes, I said carnivorous), then you’re in for a treat. A printz honor book, this novel has duly earned its shiny sticker. Told in dual point of view, the book follows a 16-year-old island girl who’s joining the scorpio races for the first time, and the 19 year-old boy who’s won them year after year. The novel is riveting, original, and absolutely engrossing. Did I mention they race on those carnivorous horses? Well they do!

My book of LifeMy Book of Life by Angel by Martine Leavitt

Novels in verse are not everyone’s cup of tea, and the subject matter of this book may not be either – it’s about child prostitution. But this is the kind of book that will both break your heart and fill you with hope. Sixteen-year-old Angel gets dragged into the gritty reality of drugs and prostitution, only to find her “boyfriend” bringing home an even younger girl to learn the ropes. She risks her life to find a way for both of them to get out. This honest novel, told through lyrical poetry, is unforgettable.

Nothing by Janne TellerNothing

The more philosophical reader is going to love this book! Written by Dutch author Janne Teller, the novel’s set in a contemporary European town where one boy’s existential revelation that nothing matters causes him to climb up a tree. That may not seem like a big deal – but as the rest of his classmates set out to prove him wrong, the search for meaning causes each of them to sacrifice something important, and well…things get a little out of hand. It’s a powerful book that will give you a lot to think about.

Harvey: How I Became Invisible by Herve BouchardHarvey

This is a moody and beautiful graphic novel about a young boy coming to grips with the death of his father. Only this isn’t like any other grief novel you’ve read. This book comes entirely from a child’s perspective. The images are evocative, the structure and storytelling is out-of-the box, and the ending with haunt or infuriate you. This book won’t do any of the things you expect it to, and that’s one of its strengths. If you sit down and spend some time with it, it will unveil beautiful layers of emotion and truth.

7813996Phineus Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science by John Fleishman

I don’t read much non-fiction, because yes, I think it’s boring. Or maybe I’ve been reading the wrong books. Phineus Gage is anything but boring. It tells the true story of a railroad man who gets a 13 pound rod-iron shot through his brain and walks away! Yes, there’s a gaping hole in his head, and he survives! (The title said it was gruesome). But this book does a lot more than tell a sensational story. It explores the science behind what happened and why. It compares what they knew at the time of Phineus’s accident (in 1848) to what we know today. Unraveling  like a mystery it makes reading about science absolutely compelling!

Happy reading everyone.

Got Gifts? My 2011 Picture Book Suggestions!

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed your turkey comas and tended to your Black Friday bruises and are ready for the big buying marathon of the weeks to come! Since I will be making quite a few holiday suggestions in the bookstore this season I thought I might share a few of my favorites with all of you as well! So here are my 2011, ready to be wrapped, picture book suggestions:

 

I Want My Hat Back

by Jon Klassen

A hilarious yet simple book about a bear who can’t seem to find his hat. It packs a final punch unlike any picture book I’ve seen before, and adults will love this book as much as kids (possibly more)! It has lovely illustrations and is fun to read out loud.

 

Grandpa Green by Lane Smith

A gorgeously illustrated book about the life and legacy of a grandfather as captured through the sculptures of his garden. A lovely book for grandparents to share with their grand-kids. This one will charm and tug on your heart strings at the same time.

Itsy Mitsy Runs Away by Elanna Allen

You will fall in love with the adorable illustrations and determined attitude of Itsy Mitsy, an idy-biddy-sized girl who decides she wants to run away. While she’s at it she realizes there might be a thing or two she needs to bring with her like her dinosaur, and her dog…and maybe even dad too. The whimsical and breezy illustrations sold me on this book, but the humor and charm of the storytelling makes the whole package a winner!

Pirate vs. Pirate

by Mary Quattlebaum and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger

Ahhhhrg Matey! Who be the greatest pirate in the world? In this fantastically fun read-aloud adventure Big Bad Bart and Mean Mad Mo battle to see who is brave enough to swim with sharks, juggle cannon balls, and hornswaggle their way up the tallest mast on this side of the Pacific! You won’t want to miss this swashbuckling adventure else it be you who’s left empty handed and walkin’ the plank!

 

Stars

by Mary Lyn Ryan and illustrated by Marla Frazee

A beautiful book about everything star. A lovely look at how stars are all around us: looking over us in the sky,  held in our pockets for good luck, found in forests, or given away for good deeds well done. This elegant book is both warm and musing and philosophical, and instant classic for your picture book treasury.

Time to Get Crafty: Five Craft Books Not to Miss!

As a writer I’m always pushing myself to improve my craft. After all, as a writer in the big fancy publishing machine, it’s the only power I actually have: be the best writer I can be! It’s empowering to know this is the one place where effort and results are self-made. So in the spirit of inspiring you all to become the best writer you can be, I thought I’d share a few craft books that have really made an impact on my writing journey in the last few months.

1) The Art of Fiction by John Gardner

A classic for any aspiring or working writer, The Art of Fiction covers the gamut of writing techniques from the fictive dream, the importance of character, and point-of-view, to structure, plot, and profluence (and I’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg). Some dislike Gardner’s “God-like” and cocky attitude, but if you’re willing to ignore his gravitas and listen to the finer points there is really a lot to learn from this book. I find myself constantly referring back to it for advice and instruction, not to mention the great exercises outlined in the back of the book.

2) From Where You Dream by Robert Olen Butler

Robert Olen Butler approaches writing from the state of unconscious creation, and boldly states that if you are thinking about your writing then you are not really tapping into the heart of your work. From Where You Dream is a compelling book on how the craft of writing is an act of creation done in the subconscious, a world of sensuality and deeply felt emotion. Each chapter is a near-transcription of his writing lectures (including discussion of student work) and pushes the boundaries of how one could (or should) work. Some people will really connect to these ideas, and others will find it difficult. Those who like to write from intuition will really enjoy this book.

3) Alone With All That Could Happen by David Jauss

For those who have a strong foundation in writing craft and are looking to push themselves into new territory David Jauss’ book Alone With All That Could Happen is the craft book for you. A series of essays on writing craft, Jauss challenges common craft concepts  and pushes the reader (and writer) to really dig deeper. He claims that first person point of view can be omniscient, or that epiphanies in books are over rated to the point that they ruin perfectly good stories. He takes the common craft wisdom andputs it to the test with insight and examples. A must-read for anyone interested in taking the next step with their work.

4) Steering the Craft by Ursula Le Guin

If you are new to writing (or want a nice brush-up) Le Guin’s Steering the Craft is just the ticket. This interactive book is full of exercises and discussion. Each chapter focuses on a specific craft technique (word-choice, point-of-view, flow, tense, character, etc.) and provides the reader with a strong overview as well as an exercise to put the concepts to the test. If you’re a hands-on reader this can be a workshop in and of itself!

5) What’s Your Story by Marion Dane Bauer

Initially What’s Your Story was written for young writers to help develop their craft, but I think it’s contents are just as applicable to adult writers as well. In contrast to Robert Olen Butler’s “dream your way into the story” attitude, Bauer is the thinking-writer’s guru. If you like to plan and plot this is the book for you. Bauer doesn’t begin a book until she knows how the story ends, thus offering advice on figuring out the heart of your story with a plan, story, and theme in mind. Covering the basics of story craft she shows one the essentials needed before you write your first word.

Time to get to your library and start reading!