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.

March: Book Two

Hi everybody! As you can probably see, the book of the day is March: Book Two, written by Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, with art by Nathan Powell. And I’m already sure it’s one of the best books of the year.

As I’m typing this, Congressman John Lewis is in Selma, Alabama, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday civil rights march, in which protestors marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge were assaulted by Alabama State troopers and police. The protestors were attacked with tear gas and night sticks, many injured and seventeen sent to the hospital. Congressman Lewis, one of the leaders of the march, was sent to the hospital with a head wound.

But Bloody Sunday isn’t the only march Lewis participated in, not in the least. Lewis got his start in the Civil Rights Movement by participating in sit-ins to desegregate lunch counters in Nashville, and also served as the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). March, a graphic memoir told in three parts, tells the story of those experiences.

While Book One is closer to the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement and focuses partly on Lewis’s childhood, Book Two is both longer and more violent, getting to the heart of the protests and the brutality they were met with. It focuses largely on the Freedom Rides of 1961, the protests against segregation in Birmingham, Alabama, and the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. And Lewis and his peers are in the thick of it all.

Part of me felt like I couldn’t look away from this book. Lewis and Aydin’s writing is straightforward and eloquent, and it almost feels like Lewis is sitting in front of you, telling the story of his life. Powell’s illustrations make it even harder to put the book down–they’re striking and hard to forget, complementing the writing in a way that makes the book even better.

March also offers a look at history that you just can’t get anywhere else–from a textbook, a classroom, or Wikipedia. Lewis shows the behind-the-scenes work of the movement, from arguments over methods of protest to the orchestration of the March on Washington. He introduces the reader to other leaders and protestors, such as A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, showing the work that had to be done in order for these protests to go on. It’s absolutely fascinating to see the conflicts and discussions that went into the fight, and I already can’t wait to read more about it.

One of the main things I remember about reading this book is being angry. So, incredibly angry. It still makes me angry to think about some of the things that are described–mobs of people screaming the n-word, police setting dogs on unarmed protestors, fire hoses being turned on children. People looking at these protestors and automatically thinking of them as “less than,” and then not even understanding why that’s wrong. I’m furious that our country didn’t stop it, that these people were brutally attacked, that this racial inequality was allowed to happen in the first place. That it still happens today.

March is one of those books that you cannot forget about easily, nor do you want to. It’s hard, and brutal, and tough. It stays with the reader almost from the first page, forcing us to acknowledge the awful things that our country has done. And while reading it left me crying and furious and upset, it’s not a story about hopelessness. It’s not a story about giving up.

It’s a story about the men, women and children who fought for human dignity and the right to be treated as equals. It’s a story about marches, bus rides, and speeches given to scores of people gathered at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It’s a story about facing injustice and fighting for what is right, even when those efforts are met with cruelty. It’s about history, courage, and determination. It’s about love.

But most of all, March is human. And that’s all anyone could ask for.

Bookish Quote of the Day:

“We will march through the South, through the streets of Jackson, through the streets of Danville, through the streets of Cambridge, through the streets of Birmingham. But we will march with the spirit of love and with the spirit of dignity that we have shown here today.

By the force of our demands, our determination and our numbers, we shall splinter the segregated South into a thousand pieces and put them back together in the image of God and democracy.

We must say, ‘Wake up, America. Wake up!!!’ For we cannot stop, and we will not be patient.” –John Lewis’s speech to the March on Washington, March: Book Two, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

P.S. You can also watch Lewis speak about the events of Bloody Sunday here.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and March by John Lewis

Hi everybody!

As most of you probably know, today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. And while I think in past years today has largely been a day to simply remember the civil rights leader and what he did, this year it’s a day of both protest and tribute–especially in the wake of the murders of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and many other African Americans by police.

Just as it’s important to understand things like the Revolutionary War or World War II, it’s also important to understand the struggles people of color have faced throughout U.S. history, especially when many of these struggles still exist today. It’s not just African American history–it’s American history, something everyone should know about. And probably one of the best books I’ve read that helps in this understanding is March: Book One.

One of the most noteworthy things about March is that it’s written by someone who not only lived through the Civil Rights Movement, but was a prominent leader of it as well. Congressman John Lewis served as Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, participated in the Freedom Rides of 1961, and spoke at the 1963 March on Washington. March is a graphic memoir, and the first of three books focusing on Lewis’s experiences in the movement. And it is amazing.

Written by Lewis with the help of his employee Andrew Aydin, and accompanied by the illustrations of Nate Powell, March begins with Lewis’s childhood and moves forward from there. He gives the reader a unique and detailed look at what his life was like, in a way that is both eye-opening and interesting. He encompasses everything from his love of the Bible, to his dedication to school, to the way he would preach to the chicken coop at night and run for the school bus in the morning. He also takes the reader through his adolescence and into college, during which he was introduced to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And then Lewis describes his growing involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, and the way he became immersed in the ways of nonviolence.

March is one of those books that I can’t help but want everyone to read. Lewis is a wonderful writer, and presents the movement in a unique way that you just can’t get from a textbook. He shows so many different facets of it–from the racism he saw all around him as a child, to the nonviolent workshops he participated in, to the brutal violence and backlash the protesters faced. So many parts of the book stand out in my mind, especially the trip Lewis took as a boy to the North with his uncle, and the shock he felt at seeing that there were white people living next to black people–on both sides. And Nate Powell’s illustrations only enhance the story, providing striking pictures that suit Lewis’s words perfectly.

I don’t think I could ever do March justice simply by describing it in a single post. But during a time when African Americans and other minorities are still faced with a system that continuously gives preference to white people, when racism is still alive and well in America, March is important. It’s important to know about what happened during the Civil Rights Movement and what progress was made, especially when there is still so much to be done. And that’s why it’s heartening to see the protests taking place today–because that shows that things can change. And I think Dr. King would be pretty proud of that.

Bookish Quote of the Day: “Then, one Sunday morning in early 1955, I was listening to WRMA out of Montgomery when I heard a sermon by someone unknown to me–a young preacher from Atlanta. I didn’t catch his name until the very end.” —March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

P.S. And if you like March, there’s terrific news–the sequel is officially out January 20th, 2015. Which happens to be tomorrow! 🙂

My Favorite Books of 2014

Well, it’s that time of year again (and has been for quite some time, but I’m late as always). Cookies have been baked, trees have been decorated, menorahs have been lit, and that means that the end of the year is nigh. However, as of right now it is still December 30th, 2014, and that means I still have time to post my favorite books of the year. And oh gosh, they were so good. So before I get distracted. . .

This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl by Esther Earl, with Lori and Wayne Earl

There are some books that I feel like everyone should read at some point, and This Star Won’t Go Out is one of them. Esther Grace Earl may be best known for helping to inspire John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, but she was also a remarkable young lady all on her own. TSWGO is a collection of her artwork, diary entries, and writing, allowing the reader to get an up-close look at Esther and her life. Esther’s voice is so distinctive that I could still hear it in my head even when I wasn’t reading, and the amount of love she had for her family and friends is apparent throughout. TSWGO isn’t just about Esther the Harry Potter Fan, or Esther the Cancer Patient, or Esther the Catitude Member. It’s about Esther in all her entirety, and it’s without a doubt one of my favorite books of the year, and one of the ones I loved the most. (Review here.)

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

If I were to compile a list of the books that blew my mind in 2014, We Were Liars would be at the top of it. It tells the story of Cadence, the oldest grandchild of the elegant and wealthy Sinclair family. Every summer the family gathers on Beechwood, their private island not too far from Martha’s Vineyard. But when an accident on Beechwood changes almost everything about Cady’s life, she’s left with no memory of what happened, and no one seems to want to enlighten her. Even the Liars, a group comprised of two of her cousins and their friend Gat, are being secretive. E. Lockhart paints the picture of her story in a way that’s hard to forget, slipping between prose, poetry, and clever retellings of fairy tales in a way I’ve never seen before. Even the writing itself is shocking, and as for what actually happened. . .well. You’ll have to find that out for yourself. (Review here.)

Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

The fact that I immediately thought of rereading this as soon as I typed the title should give you an idea of how much I absolutely loved this book. It tells the story of a teenage girl living as part of Hitler’s inner circle in Munich in the 1930s, and how drastically her life changes in the time leading up to Hitler’s election as chancellor of Germany. Blankman’s plot and characters are incredibly well done, and she handles the heavy subject matter in a way that is both mind-blowing and so, so good to read. Definitely one of my favorite historical fictions ever, let alone from just this year. (Review here.)

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Set in 1959 Virginia, Lies We Tell Ourselves is about what happens when two very different girls (with two very different worldviews) are forced to interact. Sarah Dunbar is one of the African American students integrating all-white Jefferson High School, while Linda Hairston is the white daughter of the one of the town’s most vocal segregationists. When the girls have to work on a school project together, they find themselves each developing feelings for the other, in ways they never wanted to. Robin Talley writes her characters in a way that sucks the reader in, and I kept wanting to know what happened next, even after the pages were closed. Part of me sincerely hopes for a sequel, but in the meantime, definitely give Lies We Tell Ourselves a look. I’m looking forward to whatever Talley has coming out next.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

>mind blown all over again<

If Prisoner of Night and Fog was one of the best historical novels of the year, I’ll Give You the Sun is one of the best contemporaries. Jandy Nelson portrays the messy, complicated, art-infused relationship between twins Noah and Jude with considerable talent, hopping between two different time periods of their lives and pulling it off very well. The characters are one of the shining stars of the novel, and the writing is fantastic. I couldn’t put it down, and when I finally did, I kept reeling over how good it is. (Review here.)

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

All the books listed before this have been fiction, but Brown Girl Dreaming (by the talented Jacqueline Woodson) is far from it. This is Woodson’s memoir in verse, taking the reader through her childhood, from Ohio to South Carolina to New York. She makes even the most everyday activities become lyrical and beautiful, and she touches on everything from her love of writing to the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Panthers. Brown Girl Dreaming is the story of how Jackie Woodson became Jackie Woodson, yes, but it’s also a story with many important points to make, and a beautiful book of poetry to boot. It’s definitely one of the best books of the year, as well as a National Book Award winner! (Review here.)

Well, that’s about it (although I could very well think of more after I post this). I didn’t get as much reading done this year as I would have liked to, but 2014 brought some seriously amazing reads to the shelves, and introduced me to several authors I can’t wait to read more of. I hope you all have had a wonderful holiday season so far, and an absolutely marvelous 2015. 🙂 Happy New Year!

Bookish Quote of the Day: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” –Dr. Seuss

P.S. And thank you so much for visiting the blog this year. For liking, commenting, subscribing, putting up with my crazy rants and my lack of caps lock self-control. Thank you just for taking the time to read. It means a lot and I’m grateful for it all 🙂 Have a great holiday, and read some good books! (And eat candy!)

Brown Girl Dreaming (AKA a National Book Award Winner!)

Hi everyone!

So apparently, because I live in a cave and am not good at keeping up with current events, and also because I am just generally not a super up-to-date person, I missed all the stories about the National Book Awards. Namely, that JACQUELINE WOODSON WON.

Yes, good job me. >pats self on back<

Anyway, considering I’ve been planning on reviewing said award-winning book for ages, I figured now is as good a time as any. So let’s begin, shall we?

I’ve previously only read one book by Jacqueline Woodson, her excellent novel After Tupac and D Foster. However, Brown Girl Dreaming is something a little different–it’s an autobiography in verse, taking the reader through the author’s childhood.

The book takes in a lot of young Jacqueline’s life, from her birth in Columbus, Ohio, to her mother’s childhood home of Greenville, to New York City. Woodson encompasses her family’s history, her awareness of the Civil Rights Movement, her discovery of writing, and it all adds up to an intimate portrait of her childhood and what she thought and felt at the time.

One of my favorite parts of the book was the one covering the period of time when Woodson lived in Greenville, South Carolina, with her grandparents, mother, and sister and brother. This was one of the sections that I could most strongly see in my head, from the red dirt of her grandfather’s garden to the way her grandmother would do the girls’ hair on Saturday nights. I love it when an author paints a vivid picture of his or her story, and Woodson delivers in a way that is both entertaining and oh-so-fun to read. She depicts everything from her childhood activities to the civil rights protests taking place downtown, writing:

“Even my mother joins the fight.

When she thinks our grandmother

isn’t watching she sneaks out

to join the cousins downtown, but just as she’s stepping through the door,

her good dress and gloves on, my grandmother says,

Now don’t go getting arrested.

And Mama sounds like a little girl when she says,

I won’t.”

I love the way Jacqueline Woodson writes. I love her prose, but this book proves that she can write amazing poetry as well. Her words flow wonderfully, and she brings so much to life for the reader–the setting, her family, the everyday rituals that fill up our lives. She invites the reader in and makes seemingly mundane subjects bloom into lyrical images of her life, all pieced together in an endeavor to show how Jacqueline Woodson became Jacqueline Woodson. But she also touches on the bigger changes that were taking place in the U.S. as well, writing about Martin Luther King, Jr., the Black Panthers, and more. Brown Girl Dreaming isn’t just a wonderfully written look into the author’s childhood; it’s also an important look at the issues that were relevant then, many of which are still relevant today.

All in all, Brown Girl Dreaming is honestly a joy to read, and it deserves the National Book Award so very much. So I’m a little late with this, but: Congrats Jacqueline Woodson!!! The book deserves all of this and more. It’s definitely one of the best books of the year.

And now, because it is a Friday night and I am exhausted, I shall leave you to roam the Internet. And maybe eat a cupcake. Hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Bookish Quote of the Day: “I believe in one day and someday and this perfect moment called Now.” –Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Favorite Books of Summer

Hi everyone!

So, as Google so helpfully informed me, a couple days ago marked the first day of fall. Leaves are falling! I can wear sweaters! It’ll be Halloween soon! There’s also homework but never mind that.

Of course, while I’m happy to see the trees changing color, there is one thing I miss about summer (other than that whole no-homework thing): Free time to read. While I didn’t exactly get to everything on my summer reading list (HA like I ever thought I would), I did read some stuff that was truly awesome. So here, without further ado, are my favorite books that I read this summer:

1. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

And today on What Book Completely Broke Nora’s Brain, we have We Were Liars, the story of Cadence Sinclair Eastman and her rich, beautiful, brain-breaking family. Oh no, I didn’t need my heart E. Lockhart, just take it and STOMP ON IT THAT’S TOTALLY COOL. (Seriously though, this book is really freaking good–review here.)

2. Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

I managed to snag an ARC of this at Book Expo America earlier this year, and it definitely met my expectations. It’s the story of two very, very different girls living in 1959 Virginia: Sarah Dunbar, one of several black students integrating all-white Jefferson High School, and Linda Hairston, the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal segregationists. Robin Talley makes this book so hard to put down, and the girls’ stories draw the reader in easily. I’m hoping to have a more detailed review up soon.

3. The Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-Antoinette by Carolyn Meyer

If you read my post about the books I wanted to read this summer, you might have noticed The Bad Queen left me slightly emotional. Carolyn Meyer writes incredibly good historical novels, largely focused on royalty, from the Tudors (if you want crazy) to Marie-Antoinette (if you want equally crazy). Each book brings the characters’ worlds to vivid life, and they’ve been some of my favorites for years. The Bad Queen is just as good as the ones I’ve read before, and I definitely recommend it.

Prisoner of Night and Fog4. Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

Good lord, if you haven’t gotten this book already, what are you doing? Prisoner of Night and Fog was without a doubt one of the best books I read this summer, and one that still makes my head reel whenever I think about it. The book focuses on Gretchen Müller, the daughter of a Nazi martyr living in Munich in the early 1930s. Gretchen has found her place as part of Adolf Hitler’s inner circle, and all she wants to do is go to medical school and get out from under the all-too-watchful eye of her older brother, Reinhard. But everything changes when she meets Daniel, a Jewish reporter who has new information regarding Gretchen’s father’s death. Blankman has woven a wonderful story of historical fiction, and I’m very much looking forward to whatever comes next.

5. The Distance Between Us by Kasie West

If you need something a little lighter after reading The Prisoner of Night and Fog, The Distance Between Us could very well be a perfect fit. It’s an awesome and smart contemporary romance featuring Caymen Meyers, who’s been taught that rich people are trouble pretty much all her life. And then Xander Spence walks into Caymen’s mother’s doll shop one day, and Caymen’s life all of a sudden gets much more exciting. The characters in this book are so well-written and hilarious, not to mention Caymen’s narration is FANTASTIC. Just keep in mind that your productivity will take a hit.

6. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

. . .and now we’re back to the regularly scheduled programming of Painful Books and All Their Virtues. It’s not hard to see why O Pioneers! is a classic–Willa Cather’s story of Alexandra Bergson and her life on the Nebraska prairie is excellent (really, really excellent). It made me want to see the prairie as it was back then, even though we all know I wouldn’t survive six months out there. I got drawn in by the characters and the setting, and while Alexandra’s journey isn’t always a happy one, it’s definitely one that’s enjoyable to read about (despite the VERY VERY painful parts). And yes, I do happen to have A Lost Lady sitting on my bedside table, thank you for asking.

7. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

I’d been meaning to read this for ages, so when it showed up on my school’s summer reading list I really had no excuse. And god, no wonder it won so many awards. Angela’s Ashes is definitely one of the best books I’ve ever read, let alone one of the best memoirs. Frank McCourt takes “the miserable Irish Catholic childhood,” and turns it into something that ranges from heartbreaking to eye-opening to downright hilarious. His voice makes it incredibly hard to put down, and I wanted to read more even after I had finished. I definitely plan on reading more of his work in the future.

8. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

I finished I’ll Give You the Sun just a couple of weeks ago, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. It’s the story of twins Noah and Jude, who used to know almost everything about each other, despite the huge differences between them. At 13, Noah spends a good part of his time in the forest near their house, drawing like a maniac and falling in love with the new boy next door. Meanwhile, Jude is a daredevil, surfing with the best of them and jumping off cliffs into the ocean below. But three years later, things have changed. The twins barely talk to each other, and a myriad of misunderstandings has wrecked their relationship in numerous ways. Jandy Nelson has created a complex, amazing novel, bursting with color and imagination. (Hopefully I’ll have a full review up soon.)

I very well may come up with more books as soon as I publish this post, but I think that’s plenty for now. Hope everyone has a good day, and happy fall!

Bookish Quote of the Day:

“My sorrow, when she’s here with me,

Thinks these dark days of autumn rain

As beautiful as days can be;

She loves the bare, the withered trees;

She walks the sodden pasture lane.”

My November Guest by Robert Frost

P.S. While looking for quotes about autumn, I found an awesome poem by Emily Dickinson, so I’m just gonna leave it here.

P.P.S. Oh, the wonders of YouTube: Epic Reads has posted a video entitled “Book Hangover.” If you’ve ever read a book that just completely wrecked you, you probably know what they’re talking about.

Happy Esther Day!

Hi everybody! Happy Esther Day!

Esther Day Banner(I already said that in the title of the post, but I’m saying it again anyway. Also, I completely forgot I’d already scheduled a blog post to publish today, so that’s why there are two in one day. Oops.)

For those of you who don’t know, Esther Grace Earl was a Nerdfighter and a huge Harry Potter fan. She also became good friends with bestselling young adult author John Green, who dedicated his book The Fault in Our Stars to her. Esther greatly inspired the book, and while it is not her story, she is now a published author herself. She died of thyroid cancer on August 25, 2010, at the age of 16, but one of the many legacies she left behind is Esther Day.

Esther was a big fan of the Vlogbrothers, the YouTube duo of John Green and his brother, Hank. Before she died, John told Esther he and Hank wanted to celebrate her birthday (August 3rd) through Vlogbrothers videos as long as they were able. The videos on that day could be about whatever she wanted. Esther finally decided that she wanted those videos to celebrate love for family and friends–a Valentine’s Day for everything besides romantic love, when telling someone you love them might not be as easy.

So, in honor of Esther Day, here is a compilation of 7 books/series that feature strong love between family and friends, all of which were thoroughly enjoyable. 🙂

1. This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl by Esther Earl, with Lori and Wayne Earl

Well. I suppose this was kind of obvious.

This Star Won’t Go Out was published just last year, and consists of excerpts from Esther’s journals, stories, and artwork. It also includes essays from her family and friends, and throughout the book, the love between Esther and those surrounding her is strikingly evident. It’s a testament to the power of love and family and friendship, and I strongly, strongly recommend you read it. Esther’s voice is intelligent and kind and completely her own, and it’s not something you want to miss out on. (Review here.)

2. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Okay, so this one might be ever so slightly obvious as well. Love is without a doubt one of the biggest parts of Harry Potter’s story, from the night Voldemort gave him that scar to the end of it all. Over the years, readers get to watch as he forges bonds with his friends, his teachers, and so many other people in his life. I think the Golden Trio has one of the most enduring friendships in literature, to be honest, and it’s certainly fun to read about.

3. Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace

Betsy and Tacy met when Tacy’s family moved onto Hill Street, and they’ve been nearly inseparable ever since. The book follows the pair as they embark on childhood adventures, including climbing the big hill by their houses and enduring the first day of school. I really enjoyed reading this when I was little, and I think I may have attempted to make some Betsy-and-Tacy-inspired paper dolls at some point. . .maybe. Either way, it’s a great story about friendship for younger readers, and maybe some older ones, too.

4. The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick

This series is so fun and addictive to read. Emma, Jess, Cassidy, and Megan are all very different, very unique girls. They would never all be in the same social circle at school. But then they all get roped into joining a mother-daughter book club, and stuff gets ever so slightly crazy. The girls’ friendship grows as the series moves forward, and I remember enjoying these so much when I first read them. A lot of the books focus on the girls’ bonds with each other and with their families, and they’re a definite recommendation. (Review here.)

5. The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley

This was one of my favorite book series when I was younger, and it still is. When Sabrina and Daphne Grimm’s parents are mysteriously kidnapped, they have to go live with their grandmother, a grandmother they had believed to be dead. And while they’re still reeling from this stunning change of circumstances, another bomb is dropped–they’re descended from the Brothers Grimm, whose fairytales are actually, um, true. They’re basically living in a town full of fairytale characters. A lot of the series focuses on the bond between the sisters as they deal with their new lives and attempt to find out what happened to their mother and father, leaning on each other and their new friends for support. There’s a lot of sisterly/familial love, and the series can really suck you in. And then there’s the witches. (Review here.)

6. The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine

The two princesses of Bamarre couldn’t be more different–Princess Addie is shy and afraid, while her sister Meryl is brave and harbors dreams of being the country’s heroine. But when illness strikes Meryl and endangers her life, Addie’s the one who has to embark on a quest to try and save her sister, before it’s too late. The book revolves around Addie and Meryl’s love for each other, and Gail Carson Levine could very well be one of the best fantasy writers around. It’s original and well-written, and I definitely recommend it. (Review here.)

7. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity is about a lot of things, but I think the most integral part of the book is the friendship between two young girls helping in the WWII effort. One of them has been captured by Nazis in France, and the book is partially told through her confessions to them. She tells them of how she met her best friend, Maddie, working her way through the story of their friendship to explain how she ended up where she is. “It’s like falling in love, discovering your best friend,” the narrator writes. It’s probably one of the most striking stories of friendship I’ve read in a while.

When Valentine’s Day rolls around every year, a lot of people say “I love you” to their spouses, their fiances/fiancees, and their girlfriends or boyfriends. But sometimes (or a lot of the time), saying it to your friends, or your family, isn’t nearly as easy. I think it’s become something that just isn’t done a lot of the time, for fear of awkwardness, or just because something’s holding people back. Esther Day is meant to counteract that–to encourage people to say “I love you” to the people who matter in their lives. Esther Earl lived her life with a lot of love and caring for those close to her, and I think Esther Day is a very fitting way to celebrate her, not to mention love itself.

So, happy Esther day! Thanks so much for reading and supporting this blog, and I hope you all have a lovely Sunday. 🙂 Don’t forget to be awesome!

TSWGO BannerBookish Quote of the Day: “Saying you love someone is a good thing.” –Esther Earl

P.S. If you’re curious, both banners were made with the website Pic Monkey, which is a pretty cool tool for editing photos, making designs, etc. I don’t think I managed to get the exact shade of Esther Green, but oh well.