What I’ve Been Reading Lately (I’m Back!)

Hello everyone!

So, that was quite the long, unofficial hiatus. My senior year of high school is getting closer and closer to being done (I finished a year-long project and I swear, I can’t remember the last time I felt so relieved), and while there is still work to do (AP exams, deciding on a college, etc.), I’ve really been enjoying the little extra bits of free time that have been cropping up.

One of the things I’ve been having a lot of fun getting back into is, of course, reading. Reading books separate from school is something I never get to do as much as I’d like, but it’s been pretty wonderful to have been working through some here and there. So, as a little back-to-blogging update, here are a few of the books I’ve been diving into lately:

1. Our Spoons Came from Woolworths by Barbara Comyns

I got this as a Christmas present and was immediately interested by that lovely, old-fashioned cover. Why does the woman look so sad? What about the man through the window?

The woman, as I quickly found out, is naïve Sophia Fairclough, recently married to young painter Charles, to the immense chagrin of everyone in his family. Unfortunately, Sophia’s marriage dreams are soon compromised by poverty, unexpected babies, and a husband who is horrified at the thought of getting a job. She eventually becomes the mistress of an art critic named Peregrine, but finds that that only leads to more problems.

While Sophia is indeed naïve and doesn’t always make the best decisions, I found her unguarded, candid narrative easy to fall into, and I couldn’t help but feel for her as she tried to make a life in a world that seems especially tailored to make it difficult. I seethed at the harsh nature of some of the other characters, and felt relieved whenever something went right for once. All in all, Our Spoons Came from Woolworths is a book that held my attention from start to finish, and often left me holding my breath in the hope that maybe, just maybe, things would look up.

2. In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse, and the Birth of Modernist Art by Sue Roe

It took quite a long time for me to work my way through this one, but oh, was it worth it. I began taking an AP Art History course this year because I was so interested in the stories behind some of the pieces in museums, and reading Roe’s account of the group of artists and Bohemians that gave rise to cubism and other new artistic techniques only cemented my interest. The book begins with Pablo Picasso’s first visit to Paris in 1900, and ends after the emergence of new, dramatic forms of expression that had already changed the art world in ways few would have expected. It is obvious that everything was meticulously researched, and anecdotes about some of the key figures of the time (Picasso, Matisse, Gertrude Stein, etc.) made me laugh multiple times. While some of the more philosophical ideas regarding art took some time to absorb at first, I have always loved reading about the lives of the people behind the masterpieces, and In Montmartre definitely delivered. I think I’d like to the dive into The Private Lives of the Impressionists next.

3. the princess saves herself in this one by Amanda Lovelacethe princess saves herself in this one

This one feels a little bit like cheating since I actually read it at the end of last year, but it was so good that it’s showing up on this list nonetheless. I read this captivating poetry collection in one night and was instantly sucked in. Amanda Lovelace’s poems are fantastic and cutting–they’re about abuse, fat-shaming, love, and learning to value yourself. I loved the blend of feminism and allusions to fairytales, evident even in the four parts that make up the whole book: The princess, the damsel, the queen, and you. By turns angry, hurt, comforting, and full of joy, the princess saves herself in this one is one of those books that I finished quickly and immediately wanted to read all over again.

4. Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen

Continuing with the feminism theme, I was overjoyed when my copy of Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World was delivered early back in January (even before the official release date!). Here We Are is an utterly amazing anthology on feminism and all its forms, covering everything from mental illness, to body image, to intersectionality. There are over fifty pieces in all, and they are all just as diverse and wonderful as the contributors themselves. I was constantly struck by just how much is covered by the book, and how many different stories and issues are contained within. They made me angry, they made me rage, they made me feel ready to dismantle the patriarchy piece by piece. They also made me think about my own privilege as a white, straight, cisgender girl, and how my experience varies so much from those of other girls. However, one of the feelings I hadn’t expected to feel as much before I opened the pages was the feeling of being comforted. There is a sheer respect and love for all women and girls, especially young ones, that radiates from every page, and it is hard to describe just how much of a strong connection that creates between the book and the reader. If I ever have a daughter, I cannot wait to give her a copy of Here We Are for her birthday. It is without a doubt one of the best books of the year.

5. The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson

I actually just started reading The Star Side of Bird Hill a few days ago, so I haven’t gotten very far, but I am already enjoying it. It focuses on two sisters, sixteen-year-old Dionne and ten-year-old Phaedra, who are spending the summer in Barbados with their grandmother since their mother can no longer care for them back in Brooklyn. Jackson’s writing is lovely, and I am truly loving getting to know each of the characters. Dionne and Phaedra are both different but complex, as is their mother, Agnes, and the ways in which Jackson gives the reader a look into the minds of each of them is wonderful. I can’t wait to finish it, and I hope I have enough time within the next couple of weeks to do just that.

One the things that has been best about finally getting back into reading things outside of school is remembering just how comforting falling into a good book can be, especially when every New York Times alert that pops up on my phone fills me with an unpleasant mix of weariness and dread. Staying informed is so important, now more than ever, but being kind to yourself is important too. I’ve been trying to work on finding that balance, and I’m not always good at it, but reading helps ❤

Take care of yourselves, and hopefully I’ll be back soon (or at least within a reasonable amount of time).

Nora

P.S. If you’re wondering how you can help people in Syria, especially after the chemical attack and military strike this week, here is an article that gives several ways to help out–whether it’s donating money or helping out refugees in your own area. There are also many, many other options if you just google “how to help Syria.”

Posted in anthology, chapter book, contemporary fiction, gift, non-review, nonfiction, poetry | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another Brooklyn

  • Hello everyone! Senior year of high school is officially well underway (oh my goodness), and with it has come homework, thermos after thermos of tea, and lots of college talk (so much college talk). However, I am still trying to find time to read when I can, and one of my favorite recent reads by far has been Another Brooklyn, National Book Award-winner Jacqueline Woodson’s first adult novel in 20 years.

Another Brooklyn is told from the point of view of August, a young anthropologist who is swept into memories of her childhood in 1970s Brooklyn after an encounter with an old friend on the subway following her father’s funeral. However, it is not only the story of August’s childhood but also those of Sylvia, Angela, and Gigi, the girls she becomes so close with that they are almost like sisters, holding hands and linking arms as they confront the heartbreak and pain in each of their private lives. And it is all told in Woodson’s beautiful, twining prose, heartbreaking in its own evocative way.

One of the things that most caught my attention about the book is the way in which Woodson tells her characters’ stories–they are not straightforward, but winding, taking leaps from memory to memory with new details coming into the picture at any given time. She does not so much tell the story as reveal it, filling in the gaps of the girls’ lives little by little, making the plot turn and twist in a way that is not only extremely well done, but incredibly engrossing at the same time. It is one of the many things that made me want to never put the book down.

However, one of the other things that makes the book easy to get lost in is the characters. Woodson paints each of the girls with a vibrant, talented brush, making each one unique and flawed in her own right. They may be sisters, but each is also her own person, with her own life and troubles outside of August’s sphere. Woodson vividly brings to life the challenges and confusion that come with growing up in a world that seems increasingly complicated and dangerous, and the heartbreak that it so often brings.

But finally, my favorite thing about Another Brooklyn, and the reason I fell so deeply in love with it, was the writing. Woodson’s prose flows so smoothly and seamlessly, without ever being flowery or decorative, that it feels as if it isn’t prose at all, but poetry. It paints the lives of August and her girls in sharp clarity, putting things in such a way that it is beautiful to read but also true. Each word feels carefully chosen, never wasted, and they are put together in a way that makes each page and line bear its own emotional weight. It made me want to go on reading the book forever, if only for the sake of reading more of that fantastic writing.

Throughout the book, August’s most common refrain is “This is memory,” speaking to the lives and the childhoods whose stories Woodson tells. She captures days, months, and years in these pages, touching on pain, love, friendship, and the ways in which these can change over time. Another Brooklyn is captivating and heartbreaking, but arguably the most notable thing about it is the humanity it captures in just 170 pages. And that is one of the most wonderful things a book can do.

Hope you all have a great rest of the weekend, and that you get to read some amazing books like this one 🙂 I’m off to work on a little more homework and then to indulge in a brownie.

–Nora

Quote of the Day: “Because even though Sylvia, Angela, Gigi, and I came together like a jazz improv–half notes tentatively moving toward one another until the ensemble found its footing and the music felt like it had always been playing–we didn’t have jazz to know this was who we were. We had the Top 40 music of the 1970s trying to tell our story. It never quite figured us out.” —Another Brooklyn, by Jacqueline Woodson

Posted in chapter book, faves, gift, realistic fiction, serious stuff | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Four Favorite Comfort Reads

Hi everyone! So, I think it’s almost universally acknowledged that Summer 2016 hasn’t been the best it could be. I’ve almost given up even looking at news that isn’t books- or Nationals-related, and I’m seriously considering living under a rock until at least the end of November. 2016 hasn’t been very kind to the world so far.

It’s time like these when I often just want something fun to read–still good, still incredibly well-written, but the kind of book I can just fall into and hopefully come out of feeling a little better. Books for when the real world just doesn’t seem so inviting (although they still pack quite the emotional punch). And so, without further ado, here are four of my favorite comfort reads, the ones I want to turn to again and again.

1. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a book that I loved so much the first go-round that I had to resist the urge to just reread it right away as soon as I was done. Lara Jean’s world of love letters, romance, and cookie-baking drew me in right away, and watching her banter with her sort-of-boyfriend-sort-of-not Peter K only makes it more fun. It features sisterly love in a way that I couldn’t get enough of, and the sequel, P.S. I Still Love You, is just as good. It’s a wonderful read to just fall into and enjoy, especially when the front page of the New York Times seems like a bit too much. But be warned: There’s a strong chance it could inspire you to bake to excess, so handle with caution.

2. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Many of the books (and shows, and movies) I most like to dive into when I need to take my mind off of things are mysteries. I love the challenge and plot-twists of figuring out who did what, especially when it draws me into a whole new world. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and its sequels have an added advantage in that they also feature Flavia de Luce, arguably my favorite protagonist of any mystery ever. She’s eleven, an extremely skilled chemist with a strong interest in poisons, and precocious as all get-out to boot. I absolutely adore her, and watching her track down the story behind the dead man she finds in the garden of her English estate completely captivated me. It’s a great series to just get swept up in, poisons, murders, and all.

3. Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce

However, as much as I love mysteries, there’s always going to be a special place in my heart reserved solely for fantasies (or just Tamora Pierce, to be honest). Many of my first favorite books were fantasies, and one of my first loves of that genre was  Alanna: The First Adventure, the first book in the Song of the Lioness series. Tamora Pierce spins magic and mayhem out of words, and while the books certainly have their fair share of loss and sadness, reading them, to me, always feels a little like coming home. It comes complete with plot twists and sword fights and romance, not to mention all the magic! (And the completely unabashed feminism, hallelujah.) I’m not sure that I could actually think of a fantasy I’d recommend more, although Ella Enchanted is certainly in the running. In any case, if I ever need to distract myself from the rest of the world for awhile, Alanna is one of the first things that pops into my head.

4. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

It took me ages to finally get around to reading Anna and the French Kiss, but I fell in love with it in a way that makes me want to return to it whenever I need to forget about stuff and just spend some quality time with a really good book. Anna’s story of transferring to a high school all the way across the Atlantic, becoming best friends with history-obsessed Étienne St. Clair, and trying to navigate the murky waters of friendship and love totally sucked me in, and then refused to let go. I fell in love with hilarious, film-loving Anna, and all of the other characters felt just as real and genuine. And the setting only makes diving into Anna’s world more fun–I could have happily read about her adventures in Paris for days.

I love books like these because they have the power to pull you into another world completely, spinning you away into these fun, exciting stories when the real world is just a bit too much. They are full of excellent plots, well-written characters, and magic both figurative and literal, and I loved falling into each and every one of them. The world kinda sucks sometimes, but at least there are books like these to help us along. Also chocolate 🙂

Hope you all have a great rest of the weekend, and take care!

–Nora

Quote of the Day: “Keep reading. It’s one of the most marvelous adventures that anyone can have.” –Lloyd Alexander

Posted in chapter book, fantasy, faves, mystery, non-review, realistic fiction, romance, series, Uncategorized, young adult | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Skim

Hey everyone! Hope you all have had a lovely weekend, full of tea and sunshine and binge-watching clips of The Late Show (or is that just me?). Today’s book is Skim, by the amazing due of Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, and a wonderful graphic novel at that.

“Skim” is actually Kimberly Keiko Cameron, a young high schooler who goes to an all-girls school in Canada and is a lover of Wicca, tarot cards, and astrology. Skim’s school is all of a sudden thrown into turmoil as news spreads of the suicide of Katie Matthews’s ex-boyfriend, leading to the creation of a “Girls Celebrate Life” club, as Skim herself is falling into a deep depression as she contemplates questions of friendship, love, and sexuality.

As readers, we’re sort of dropped into the middle of Skim’s life–we get to watch as she grows and changes and begins to delve into deeper questions about herself, until the book ends and we step out of that little glimpse. But that glimpse itself is extremely well done–Mariko Tamaki writes from the point of view of Skim writing in her diary, allowing us to see many of her private thoughts, but also leaving many things unsaid. Skim’s voice sounds authentic, and, while not always stating things directly, still conveys what she’s feeling very well, especially as she deals with trying to figure out what love is and how to know when you’re in it. It’s amazing how we can still feel the turmoil and pain going on inside her mind, both the confusion of love and the deepness of depression, and it’s one of the things I most enjoyed while reading.

The other characters–Skim’s friends, her classmates, and even her parents–are portrayed with similar clarity. While we of course don’t get as close a look at their inner thoughts as we do at Skim’s, we still get a sense of how they’re feeling about what’s going on around them, especially through their expressions and body language. It makes them feel more real and human, and only makes it harder to put the book down and leave their world.

Which brings me to one of the things that I most loved about this book–the seamless way in which the words and illustrations work together to tell this small part of Skim’s story. Jillian Tamaki’s drawings are beautiful and striking, black and white and intricately detailed in a way that I kept marveling at as I read. There were so many moments when I just wanted to sit back and look at the pictures, because they’re so well done and they flow with the words in a way that’s almost magical. The placement of the prose and the way the words sit on the page often gives them added weight, pausing at all the right places to give the reader a chance to consider what Skim is saying. It only brought me deeper into Skim’s life, and made me feel as if I could really see her surroundings and what her world was like. It’s one of the things that most made me never want to put the book back down.

Skim only provides us with a small look into one girl’s life, but it’s one that I so enjoyed falling into. Skim, her school, and her world feel so authentic and real that I closed the pages feeling as though they must actually exist, and that somewhere out there Skim was continuing to go about her day, figuring out who she is and reading book after book about Wicca. It’s a great read, and perfect for a rainy afternoon to boot 🙂

Hope you all have a lovely Monday, and stay cool!

–Nora

Quote of the Day: “I feel like I have wings but my bones are bricks. Because…because…because…” —Skim, by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

Posted in faves, graphic novel, realistic fiction, serious stuff, young adult | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Monsters of Templeton

Hello everyone! Hope you all are having wonderful summers, full of ice cream and beaches and movies (and hopefully not summer colds). And, of course, lots and lots of reading. Summer is awesome in large part because of all the time it frees up for new books, and one of the reads I’ve most enjoyed falling into this summer has been The Monsters of Templeton, by Lauren Groff.

The Monsters of Templeton transports the reader to a small town called–you guessed it–Templeton, New York, home to a baseball museum, a glimmering lake, and a monster that lurks beneath its waters. But Templeton is home to many other things, as well, including one Wilhelmina Sunshine Upton, a graduate student studying archaeology who returns to her childhood home in the middle of summer, unexpectedly and in disgrace. However, while there, Willie also begins to explore the history of the town, especially as it pertains to her own ancestors, going as far back as Templeton’s founder himself. And what she discovers are things wholly unexpected and very, very interesting.

One of the reasons I fell so completely in love with this book is the plot itself–Groff takes the reader along on Willie’s journey as she delves into her family tree, switching points of view from relative to relative to relative, while also including information on a number of Templeton’s other residents. She encompasses not only a breadth of information about Willie herself, but also Willie’s mother, her grandparents, her great-great-grandparents, etc., and all with considerable talent and balance. One could imagine the novel’s plot as consisting of innumerable little balls, but Groff juggles them so capably that it looks effortless, all with a healthy helping of mystery that makes it even harder to put the book down.

Groff also writes each character in a way that presents them to the reader as wholly human–full of flaws, but also completely engrossing and endlessly interesting. Willie herself is nowhere near perfect, having, like many of us, made a number of poor decisions in the past (and in the present). But she is also brilliant, and loves very fiercely, a fact that comes through in the book a number of times. I adored her best friend, Clarissa, and couldn’t get enough of reading about many of her ancestors. The characters, and the plot they are entangled in, make it very easy to fall into The Monsters of Templeton and never quite get out.

And, finally, the writing. While the characters are written very well, Groff’s writing itself is so engrossing, so lyrical and descriptive without ever being flowery, that it almost seems separate from the characters’ narration, more like it has a mind of its own. It is concise but also full, completely bringing the reader into Willie’s world, in a way that totally grabbed me. The writing, arguably, is the component of Monsters that most makes me want to read all of Groff’s other books, something I am very much looking forward too. It only makes the novel even more fun to lose yourself in.

The Monsters of Templeton is a book both addicting and incredibly interesting, and it left me wanting to know more even after I had closed the pages. The plot twists and turns like a sort of archaeological maze, and even though I was dying to know how it would end, I also found myself fervently wishing that it could have gone on longer. It’s a great book to dive into, and I’m so glad I picked it up. Definitely a recommended read 🙂

And now I am off to help myself to some butter pecan ice cream and some Steven Universe. Have a great week everybody!

–Nora

Quote of the Day: “Templeton was to me like a less-important limb, something inherently mine, something I took for granted. My own tiny, lovely village with great old mansions and a glorious lake, my own grand little hamlet where everyone knows your name, but with elaborate little frills that made it unlike anywhere else: the baseball museum, the Opera, the hospital that had vast arms extending into the rest of upstate, an odd mix of Podunk and cosmopolitan. I came back when I had to, to feel safe, to recharge; I just hadn’t had to in so long.” —The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

Posted in chapter book, fantasy, faves, gift, historical fiction, mystery | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Get in Trouble

Oh my goodness gracious, it’s a blog post! After quite the unofficial hiatus! But now that Get in TroubleAP exams are done, sleep is more than just a figment of my imagination, and I am somehow a rising senior in high school (how did that happen again??), it’s high time that hiatus came to an end. And what better way to start than with Get in Trouble, Kelly Link’s amazing latest short story collection?

The onslaught of work and exams and the subsequent retreat into a cave of sleep and general vegetation meant that it took me far longer than it should have to finish this book–but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it immensely. Picked up while browsing a bookstore and flipped open to a random story, I eventually found myself crouched next to a bookshelf, already starting to wonder how I was going to pull myself out of it. But, alas, it was too late.

(Please note: This is most definitely a very adult book, and does include instances of self-harm and attempted suicide.)

Link’s stories are incredibly hard to sum up neatly, largely because each of them is different, encompassing everything from superheroes to ghosts to abandoned theme parks based on The Wizard of Oz. There’s “I Can See Right Through You,” about an aging movie star and Ouija boards, or “The New Boyfriend,” about teenage friendship with possibly-possessed boyfriend dolls thrown in. There are tales of parallel universes, pocket universes, strange and inexplicable happenings that send shivers up your spine while also keeping you helplessly engrossed. The weirdness abounds, and the result is utterly fantastic.

This weirdness is exactly one of the reasons that I adored this collection so much. I’m loathe to tell anyone too much about the specific stories, not only because I’m not at all sure that I could do them justice, but also because figuring out what on earth is going on is a good part of the fun. I found myself constantly marveling at Link’s ability to take the mundane and everyday and make them anything but, incorporating the magical and supernatural in a way that felt not only incredibly enticing but also seamless. The stories blend the normal and the abnormal wonderfully, creating a sort of magical realism that doesn’t feel real at all. Rather, it feels like a bit of a dream world, almost there but not quite, a fantasy but also not. And almost every story left me wanting more, wanting to know what happened next, or just to see more of the worlds Link created. And the magic makes it seem not too unbelievable that the book may be literally calling your name.

However, despite all these differences, a constant throughout each and every story was Link’s writing, which only made it harder to put the book down. Her words have a certain cadence and voice that lasts throughout the collection, not giving away too much at a time, but rather drawing the reader in through a gradual reveal of the worlds she’s created. She paints her characters, not necessarily concretely, but in a way that gives the reader insight into their inner thoughts and only makes them want to know more. Her characters are just as complex and varied as the stories themselves, and watching them interact with each other, love and hate and friendship and all, only made the book more enjoyable.

Another thing that completely captivated me while reading was the atmosphere Link created for her stories, especially through the settings. The way she describes the worlds of her characters, whether they be in the Keys or a New York City hotel or a wild countryside in the summer, only make the stories more real, painting their surroundings in vivid color. I especially loved the descriptions in “The Summer People,” which made the gardens of roses and beds of laurel of the characters’ home feel so real it was almost as if I could touch them.

Much of the book feels like a heady mixture of the strange and fantastic and eerie, a rabbit hole to fall into right from the first page. Link makes the normal abnormal and vice versa, and her writing perfectly conveys the otherworldly-ness of the stories, drawing the reader in until they can’t escape. While some of the stories did take things to a darker or more disturbing level than I expected, it is nevertheless the kind of book that makes you want to stay up late reading under the covers for hours, until the very last page is turned. Down into the rabbit hole we go.

And on that note, I shall take my leave. >bows< I hope to return soon though! Hope you all have had a great May, and have a great Memorial Day weekend!

–Nora

Bookish Quote of the Day: “They’re making each other realer the longer they look at each other, and isn’t that what love should be? Isn’t that what love should do?” —Get In Trouble by Kelly Link

Posted in fantasy, faves, serious stuff, short stories | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

My Favorite Books of 2015

Oh my god, it’s winter break. So much sleep. So much reading. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Now that the year is drawing to a close, it seems only right to tally up some of the best books I read this year and decide which ones were my absolute favorites, and oh my goodness were there some really amazing ones. To make it a little bit easier, I’ve split them up by genre this time around.

Fantasy

I really gravitated towards contemporaries this year, meaning that I also really stepped back from fantasy for awhile, which is a little strange considering fantasy books are a large part of what made me fall in love with reading and start this blog in the first place. (Hence the first review being about The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale.) But that does not at all mean that I don’t still adore great fantasy books, and oh my god were there some fantastic ones.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa TahirAn Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes was the first fantasy I read after a looong stretch of mostly reading contemporaries, and it was the best re-introduction into the genre I could have asked for. This story of two very different characters living under the rule of the brutal Martial Empire–Laia, a slave girl, and Elias, an extremely accomplished soldier–is absolutely captivating, filled with complex characters and a plot that makes you feel like you’re constantly holding your breath as you turn the pages. There’s magic, an amazing setting, and some of the highest stakes I’ve ever read about, and it is fantastic. This is the kind of book I want to throw into people’s faces just so they’ll read it and can freak out about it with me. Especially Helene, because oh my god Helene. (I also went to a book event featuring Ms. Tahir at Politics and Prose in D.C., and she is absolutely lovely, not to mention hilarious.) (Full review here.)

The Wrath and the DawnThe Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh

The Wrath and the Dawn is another fantasy that grabbed me, pulled me in, and refused to let go. Renée Ahdieh’s retelling of One Thousand and One Nights is so full of talent and skill that it still makes my head spin, and its story of Shahrzad and Khalid swept me up and made it near-impossible to put the book down for even a second. Shahrzad and Khalid are both so amazing and complex, not to mention all the other characters, and I fell in love with them so completely that I think I’m still recovering. Ahdieh’s writing is downright gorgeous, and she paints the world of Khorasan so masterfully that it only absorbed me even more. I loved so many things about this book–the plot, the characters, and especially the friendship between Shahrzad and her handmaiden Despina, because yes to awesome female friendship in books. Not to mention the romance, which made me fall in love so completely that it’s arguably the best ship I read about all year. This book made me forget lunch, guys. It’s so good. (Full review here.)

White is for Witching by Helen OyeyemiWhite is for Witching 2

White is for Witching is the most recent fantasy I read, and it’s also one of the most interesting things I picked up all year, nightmares and fairy tales mixed with the very real dangers of the world into a captivating cocktail. Helen Oyeyemi’s tale about Miranda Silver, and the lives of the Silver women who came before her, is something like labyrinth, weaving together what is real and what is not, what is light and what is dark, and and what the reader can and cannot trust. She writes in a way that draws the reader in and then doesn’t let them go, and uses the magic and darkness of her story to also touch on the very real issues of our world. Miranda and the other characters are drawn in a way that makes them feel real and human, despite the supernatural voices that haunt their lives, and the narration is done in such an interesting way that I was caught almost from the beginning. It’s the kind of story that you just can’t look away from, and I loved being swept up in it. (Full review here.)

Contemporary

This year led to me realizing that contemporary is one of my favorite genres in pretty much ever–I love reading about characters in high school, going to work, carrying out their lives in the very same times we live in. While there likely isn’t going to be any pixie dust or dragons, contemporaries can have some amazing stories, and falling headlong into some of them this year led to a lot of great discoveries.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao 2The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

If I had to name one book I read this year that was closest to my favorite, it would be The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz. I’d been meaning to read this book for ages, and when I received it as a present at the start of the summer, it wasn’t long before I finally tried it. Junot Díaz writes in a way that I fell in love with, and I adored learning about Oscar’s life and those of the people around him, especially the unnamed narrator that we finally meet more than halfway through the book. He narrates in a voice that draws the reader in and makes it incredibly hard to escape, and the characters are all so human and flawed that by the end I felt as if I really knew them. The plot covers generations of Oscar’s family, taking the reader from his home in New Jersey to the Dominican Republic and back again, and it’s filled with conflict, romance, and tons and tons of stories. I loved it so much that I bought the short story collections Drown and This Is How You Lose Her right afterward, which were just as amazing, and my only regret is that I sped through them so quickly that now I don’t have anything else new from Díaz to read. Let the rereading commence.

Purple Hibiscus 2Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Purple Hibiscus is another contemporary I read this year that I became completely absorbed in and absolutely loved. I’d never read anything by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie before, and her first novel was more than enough to convince me to read anything else by her that I can get my hands on. Purple Hibiscus focuses on the lives of Kambili and Jaja, two children living in the household of their fanatically religious father, and Adichie tells the story of their growth and education (particularly while visiting their aunt’s family in Nsukka) in a way that makes it all seem so real and vibrant that I was totally drawn in. She paints the picture of Kambili’s family’s lives in a way that makes the reader feel as if they actually know them, and each of the characters is incredibly real, with their own complex emotions and desires. I loved getting to read about all their conflicts, both internal and external, and part of me wishes that the book had gone on much longer just so I could have read more.

To All the Boys I've Loved BeforeTo All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is one of the many great books of 2014 that I missed out on, but I absolutely adored falling into it this past spring. The story of Lara Jean Song and her hidden (and then not-so-hidden) love letters totally drew me in, full of cookie-baking, fake dating, and sisterly love. I loved getting to know these characters, especially Lara Jean and Peter K, and it was so much fun to see the way they bounced off each other and interacted. Han’s writing and Lara Jean’s narration was as addicting as the cookies Lara Jean bakes, and I loved reading about her family’s interactions and her friendship with her sisters. This is the kind of book that I started reading and just couldn’t stop, and when everything was mixed together–the characters, the details, the romance–it made my little reader heart so very happy 🙂 Not to mention more than a little hungry.

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih AlameddineAn Unnecssary Woman

An Unnecessary Woman follows a plot that is just about as far away from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before as possible, but that doesn’t stop me from loving it just as much. Rabih Alameddine’s story of a 72-year-old woman working as a translator in her book-filled apartment in modern Beirut was incredibly hard to put down, especially because of the amazing narration of Aaliya, the main character. Aaliya’s voice is one that I fell completely in love with, telling her own stories and those of other characters in a way that made her almost irresistible. She has the best way of putting things, full of wry and cutting remarks, and describes them in a way that made my weakness for amazing descriptions all the more apparent. She paints a picture of Beirut that made it seem so real I could almost reach out and touch it, a city wracked by the Lebanese Civil War and home to everything she loves. I loved seeing everything through Aaliya’s eyes, and the other characters were just as much fun to read about, sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, and always interesting. What made it even better was Aaliya’s deep and abiding love of books, written in a way that made it seem as if it was almost a living thing, radiating from the pages. It’s yet another one of my weaknesses, and for that I adored the book all the more.

Historical Fiction

When I came to this category, I realized that I read very little historical fiction this year, which is a definite lamentable fact. Historical fiction can be so extremely well done (see: Ann Rinaldi), and I’m not entirely sure how I ended up reading so little of it these past 12 months. Hopefully I’ll get to some really amazing reads in 2016, but for now, there is one book that totally bowled me over in a way that only the best books can.

The Valley of AmazementThe Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

I finished The Valley of Amazement about two days ago, and I think a part of me is still reeling. It’s the first Amy Tan book I’ve ever read (I know I’m disappointed too), and after finishing it late at night it took me forever to finally fall asleep, because oh my god feelings everywhere. Tan tells the story of Violet Minturn, a young girl growing up in her mother’s courtesan house in Shanghai during the early 20th century. But when a web of lies ends with Violet being forced to become a virgin courtesan, it sends her on an entirely different track in life, one that Tan captures with so much mastery it left me wondering what to do with myself after I was finished. Tan’s writing is amazing, and the story of Violet’s life, interspersed with those of the myriad of other characters, made it near-impossible to put the book down. Each of the characters is original and flawed, and by the end I felt as if they had actually existed, wondering what happened to them after the pages were closed. The writing itself only drew me in more, capturing the expansiveness of the story and switching capably between different points of view. It tackles feelings of love, hate, and abandonment, and I loved it so much that my only problem now is moving on from it and picking which of Tan’s books to read next.

Nonfiction

Like historical fiction, nonfiction is not a genre that I focused on very much this year, despite my newfound love of historical musicals about Alexander Hamilton (seriously, don’t get me started because I could ramble on about Hamilton for literally hours without pausing) (>resists the urge to start singing<). But of course, there is one book that stands out as one of my favorite nonfiction books of the year, and also ever.

March: Book Two by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate March--Book TwoPowell

I adored the first book in Congressman John Lewis’s March series for many reasons–the illustrations, how vibrantly it tells the story of his childhood, the look it gives into the Civil Rights Movement. And I was just as captivated by March: Book Two, if not more so. It’s true that it’s very different from the first book–it’s more violent, more mature, and it gives a much deeper look into the people of the movement and the challenges they faced. Lewis writes unapologetically about these challenges, describing in detail the vicious brutality with which the protests were met, as well as the conflict within the movement itself. Powell’s illustrations only make the book more absorbing and striking, stark black-and-white images accompanying each of Lewis’s words. It brings the racism and brutal history of our country–one built on the genocide and exploitation of black people–to terrifying life, in a way that made me more furious than any other book this year. It’s the kind of book that I want everyone to read, especially in times when the racism of the United States is still alive and well and affecting people in a million ways. It tells a story that’s wholly human and that needs to be told, and if there’s one book people read from this list, I hope it’s this one. (Full review here.)

And that’s about it for my favorite books of 2015. I’m hoping I’ll find myself reading many more in the next year, and hopefully (>crosses fingers<) writing about them as much as I can. It’s true that I didn’t read as much as I would have liked to this year, but many of the books I did get to were absolutely fantastic, and I can’t recommend them enough. And now I’m going to go make Christmas cookies, because it doesn’t need to be the actual holiday to use copious amounts of decorative sugar.

Hope you all are having a wonderful holiday season, and Happy New Year!

–Nora

P.S. I feel like it says something that the little blurbs I write for books are now just about as long as the first reviews on the blog. A master of brevity I am not.

Posted in chapter book, everyone, fantasy, faves, gift, graphic memoir, grown-ups, historical fiction, memoir, non-review, nonfiction, realistic fiction, romance, serious stuff, young adult | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment