Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Year of Books

I was surprised when told me I read 90 books in 2014. I decided to keep track of my 2015 books here!

While half the books I read were Children's or Young Adult, I am happy that I met my New Year's Resolution of a Non-Fiction book each month. My "best of" from each category is highlighted in red.

New Year's Resolution: to read one Non-fiction a month!
1. The Ultimate book of Impostors, Ian Graham
This book contained over 100 stories of fakes and frauds, but I think I would have preferred fewer stories that were more in depth. My favorites were William and Ellen Craft who escaped from slavery by Ellen pretending to be a white slave owner, were at risk of being sent back from the North, escaped to England and came back after the Civil War.

2. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, Michael Pollan. Wow, so much info in this book! The history of corn and processed food. The evolution of big farming. Organics. Hunting & gathering. Lots of information to digest!

3. Nancy Drew and her Sister Sleuths
ecret Lives of the Tsars: Three Centuries of Autocracy, Debauchery, Betrayal, Murder, and Madness from Romanov Russia, Michael Farquhar. This books sounds much more interesting than it was. It took me over a month to read and was basically violence and sex. 

5. Kid President's Guide to Being Awesome, Robby Novak. This book was so much fun to read! Lots of inspirational ideas of how we can treat ourselves and others better.

6. Alan Turing: The Enigma, Andrew Hodges. For everyone who saw The Imitation Game and thought you'd like to read the book behind the movie, let me save you the time. This book was heavy. It was long and filled with mathematical and computing theory. The human elements were few and far between. I slogged my way through for 3 months and only got 5/6 of the way through. But when the book had to go back to the library, I wasn't going to renew!

7. Orange Is the New Black, Piper Kerman. "Prison is quite literally a ghetto in the most classic sense of the world, a place where the US government now puts not only the dangerous but also the inconvenient - people who are mentally ill, people who are addicts, people who are poor and uneducated and unskilled." Great memoir of Piper's year in federal prison. Compelling because she could be you. And not as "sensational" as the tv series.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
8. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed. I have not seen the movie - but I really liked the book! Cheryl is a few years older than me, but I loved hearing how her life diverged from mine as she set out to hike sections of the Pacific Crest Trail following tumultuous personal experiences. This story wasn't just her hiking journey, but told of her life journey and how all her experiences shaped her. This was the hardest to pick because Call the Midwife and Unbroken could both tie for first place also! But, this book is still resonating with me.

9. Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir By One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII, Chester Nez, Judith Schiess Avila. Imagine fighting for a country that doesn't give you the right to vote and not being able to tell anyone the contributions you made toward winning WWII. While Chester Nez downplays the discrimination he received in his life and in the Marines, he up plays up the honor and integrity of his fellow Navajo's who developed the only unbroken code in modern warfare. From Chester's childhood herding sheep on a reservation, to boarding school that was designed to get rid on their Indian-ness, to being a Marine in WWII and the Korean War, to families and raising kids, Chester's experiences are fascinating.

10. Call the Midwife: A True Story of the East End in the 1950s, Jennifer Worth. What I liked about this novel was how Worth combined medical stories with social statistics and human elements. The lives of her patients were juxtaposed against a still war-ravaged England of the 1950s. Worth proves herself a fascinating storyteller as she recounts tales of women and their families who stayed on her mind long after she left midwifing in the London slums.

11. Maus, II: And Here My Troubles Began, Art Spiegelman. The gripping continuation of Spiegelman's relationship with his father and his father's concentration camp experiences.

12. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, Laura Hillenbrand. What an amazing story of survival, perseverance, resilience, tragedy and triumph. I was glued to this book from Louie's running days leading up to the Olympics, the start of WWII and how a downed airplane led to over 40 days of floating in the Pacific, POW camps and torture, the war ending - but the after-effects making it impossible for the soldiers to get back their previous lives. And yet, Louie was able to redeem his life and become whole again while inspiring and helping others. Many times this book was hard to read, and yet I laughed and cried during the triumphs.

Book Club Books
1. The Handmaid's Tale, Margret Atwood.
I did not really like this pick with it's disturbing view of the future and the sublimation of women.

2. The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing, Melissa Bank. This book chronicled the dating life of Jane and while it was a quick read, it did not leave me with any lasting impressions.

3. Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, Therese Anne Fowler. An interesting account of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald and their wild lifestyle in the 1920s & 30s.

4. The Astronaut Wives Club, Lily Koppel. I felt this book started off a little slow, but as it zoomed through the 60's I was fascinated by this account of Astronauts, their wives and the culture surrounding them as America created the space age.

5. A Knight in Shining Armor, Jude Deveraux. I was a little leery about a book that involved time travel and I wasn't sure about the heroine when she first appeared as a self-centered husband hunter, but I warmed to the story as the characters learned more about each other, their eras and how circumstances can change us and help us grow.

6. The Bridges of Madison County, Robert James Waller. I found this book to be the unbelievable account of a highly exalted affair.

7. The Moment Between, Nicole Baart. My pick, I had read this a few years ago and wanted to discuss with a group. 3 timelines: the present, the recent past and the childhood. The story of two sisters. One who has committed suicide after a life of chaotic mental states and the other sister who is left trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together in a way that makes sense. The sister's quest leads her to a vineyard in Canada where she is left with more questions than answers but finds hints toward a spiritual life that she is drawn to.

8. Maus, I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History, Art Spiegelman. I was completely skeptical when a "comic book" was assigned for book club. I put off reading it as long as I could - until I was a captive audience on an airline flight. And then I couldn't put it down! This book was so fascinating. A son tells his father's holocaust story through his artwork. The tone of the book is comparable to a kitchen table conversation. And yet, it's impact is incredible. Spiegelman's father retells of his life in hiding as Jew in occupied Poland. The hiding, scheming, always trying to stay at least one step ahead of the Nazis. The horrors of murder, separation, starvation and exposure. And then the effect this also had on the generation born after the War's conclusion. My only complaint is that I only had book one, and when it left off I was desperate to see the continuation. I picked this because I am still so surprised that a graphic novel could be so engrossing and also based on true events.

1. Catching Moondrops, Jennifer Erin Valent. This was an ending book in a trilogy I listened to on CD about race relations in a small town before civil rights.

2. All Fall Down, Jennifer Weiner. I listened to this book on CD and this was one I couldn't wait to turn on when I got in the car. It was so engrossing. A fictional tale of a professional mother's addiction to prescription drugs and her journey to salvage her life. 

3. The Job, Janet Evanovich & Lee Goldberg. Light read about an FBI agent and a felony who combine forces to bring down an evil villain.

4. The Language of Bees, Laurie R. King. Mary Russel and her husband Sherlock Holmes investigate a mysterious new religion that has framed his son for murder. An interesting look at London in the 20's and the rising bohemian society.

5. Grift, Jason Mosberg. The author sent me this book to read for free in exchange for a review! So, here goes: This was a fast-paced read that kept me flipping the pages to see what would happen next!
Piper and her family of teenaged con-artists are living a luxury life in Las Vegas: Custom penthouse, parties, concerts - the best in entertainment and food. But all this comes crashing down when Piper's actual younger sister is kidnapped. They all band together for the ransom. But what happens when the con-artists find they have been conned? 

6. The God of the Hive, Laurie R.King. This book built off the previous in the series and kept me wondering what would happen next.

7. The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver. This book was amazing: a fictional account of a man's life ranging from post-WWI in Washington DC, to employment by Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Lev Trotsky in Mexico, and back to post-WWII America and the Communist scare. History really came alive and personal as Harrison navigates his way between two cultures and the many ideologies of the 1920's through the 1940's. I am still thinking about this book! And I love historical tie-ins!

8. Small Blessings, Martha Woodroof. This book had a lot of twists and turns in it. College small town, the drama of college faculty and their families. What makes a family?

9. Funny Girl,

Big Girl Panties, Stephanie Evanovich. A love story between an overweight widow and her trainer. Funny and cute, although the details of the best friend's sex life is a little weird.

11. Mr. Kiss and Tell, Rob Thomas. I wanted the mystery to be solved without the book ending! This book read exactly like an episode of Veronica Mars with all the wit and repartee you'd expect. Veronica's investigation into a rape & beating lead her to old characters while the race is on for the sheriff's election which has Keith running into his past.

12. Where'd You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple. Funny, smart and lots of twists & turns - this book kept me guessing and kept me coming back to find out what happens next!

13. Shopaholic to the Stars, Sophie Kinsella Becky Brandon once again kept me laughing with her adventures, however this book ends on a "to be continued!"

14. A Good Year for the Roses: A Novel, Gil McNeil. This novel about a newly single mom of 3 boys had me cracking up with her parenting insights as they move to the country to run a B&B.

15. The Next Best Thing, Jennifer Weiner. This book was slow until the end when Ruthie finally stops compromising and produces her tv show creation her own way.

16. The Geometry of Sisters, Luanne Rice. This book explored the complexities of relationships, especially within families. I was always wondering what direction the storyline would turn next. While all the characters grew throughout the novel, often the younger generation was leading the older. And I loved the Michigan connections with parts being set at Mackinaw Island.

17. The One & Only, Emily Giffin. Ugh, did not like this book. It was about football and falling in love with your best friend's father.

18. Younger, Pamela Redmond Satran. Would you pretend to be 15 years younger if you could get away with it? Reeling after a divorce, Alice finds herself without a job and no marketable skills after being a stay at home mom who's daughter is now grown. When she gets a make-over and people thinks she's younger, she doesn't correct them and relives her youth with the wisdom of experience. I love the tv show and thought I'd check out the book behind it. I was not disappointed.

19. Pirate King, Laurie R. King. I love this series with Mary Russel and Sherlock Holmes. This book is about a movie about making a movie about a play. With pirates and kidnapping, it does not disappoint for adventure!

20. Winter Garden, Kristin Hannah. This book was intricate, spanning communist Russia to present day America and shows how our past affects our present. Two daughters who thought their mother never loved them are surprised and shocked to hear of their mother's past and with the telling they begin to examine their own lives and choices.

Kid's books

1. Who Was Ulysses S. Grant? Megan Stine. I was surprised at how excited my 8 year old was to open up this book at Christmas! We read it together and learned more about the man who became the 18th president of the United States.

2. Who Was Henry Ford? Michael Burgan. Living in Metro-Detroit and very close to Henry Ford Museum, we already knew much of what was in this book. But it was a great summarization of this man's life.

3. Al Capone Shines My Shoes, Ginnifer Choldeko. We had read this book years ago, but just discovered the third in the series was out, so we wanted to refresh before moving on. This series follows Moose Flannigan, a 12 year old who lives on Alcatraz because his father works at the prison.

4. Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer, John Grisham. This was an interesting book about a boy whose parents are both lawyers and has grown up around courtrooms and the law. He helps out friends and acquaintances whenever he can. The only thing we didn't like was that things didn't wrap up neatly at the end - but that is because there are more books!

5. Summer According to Humphrey, Betty G. Birney. My kid's love this series about a hamster and his view of the kids in his classroom. In this installment Humphrey goes to summer camp and meets some new friends.

6. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again, Frank Cottrell Boyce. We loved the first book, but I was a little hesitant to read a book that was not by the original author. No fear - this author was not only adventurous, but created a hilarious family for Chitty's adventure.

7. Al Capone Does My Homework, Gennifer Choldenko. A great 3rd installment of the capers on kids and convicts on Alcatraz Island. Moose learns some lessons in human nature and strenthens his own integrity.

8. Mysteries According to Humphrey,  Betty G. Birney. Humphrey is back and this time with mysteries to solve. Where did the teacher go? Why does the substitute entertain instead of teach? We all enjoyed learning the answers with this classroom hamster!

9. The Abduction, John Grisham. The second book in this series has Theodore Boone hot on the trail of his friend April's disappearance.

10. Millions, Frank Cottrell Boyce. With England shortly converting to Euros, two brothers happen upon a bag of money and must spend it without raising suspicion before it becomes worthless.

12. I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You, Ally Carter. My kids liked this book that is about a girl's spy high school and what happens when they try to become "normal" teens.

11. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Over the Moon, Frank Cottrell Boyce. My kids didn't want to see this series end, but this book did a wonderful job of combining all the previous plots so the story-lines wrapped up.

12. Winter According to Humphrey, Betty G. Birney. Our favorite hamster is back and he learns about winter holidays, concerts and more lessons on how to be a friend.

13. Theodore Boone: The Accused, John Grisham. This book wasn't quite as believable as the first two when Theo is on the opposite side of the law and is framed for breaking and entering a store to steal electronics and is also the target of scare tactics.

14. The Island of Dr. Libris, Chris Grabenstein. We enjoyed Grabenstein's last book, Escape from Mr Lemoncello's Library, so much I couldn't wait to read this book. And it did not disappoint! Billy is stuck at a cabin with his mom for the summer, but finds that book characters come alive on Dr Libris' Island. I love how the author weaves classic tales and characters into his books that either remind you of great reads - or make you want to discover the books you haven't read yet! The plot had both my kids wanting to know what would happen next.

15. Secrets According to Humphrey, Betty G. Birney. The class is learning about ancient Eygpt and Humphrey learns that secrets that exclude others can be hurtful.
16. Imagination According to Humphrey, Betty G. Birney. Mrs Brisbane's class learns how to use their imaginations to write stories.

17. Who Is Steven Spielberg? Stephanie Spinner. This was our first "who is" book about someone still alive! This book is filled with lots of information about Steven Speilberg's life and the movies he has made.

18. Who Was Walt Disney? Whitney Stewart. Lots of facts in this biography of a man who's legacy has affected so many people.

19. Who Was Dr. Seuss? 

20. Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh. Harriet must navigate the tricky line between being honest and being kind.

21. Theodore Boone: The Activist, John Grisham. This book wasn't quite as good as the previous. It seemed to have a few legal loopholes and Theodore has to grapple with ethical issues as he tries to stop the development of a new highway through his town.

22. Who Was Neil Armstrong? Roberta Edwards. Interesting read about the first man to walk on the moon.

23. Who Is Stan Lee? Geoff Edgers. There was so much information about this man who has spent his life in comics and superheros!

24. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie. This book is like "Wonder" for the high school crowd, with cultural overtones. Alexie delivers a convincing account of a 15 year old Indian who breaks away from tribal tradition to attend school in a white town. Best Young Adult, my husband and kids laughed, I loved the socio-economic view.

25. Book Scavenger, Jennifer Chambliss Bertman This book uses scavenger hunts to solve clues revolving around a missing person.

26. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Found this book in my quest to read more non-white authors. Aristotle and Dante start an unlikely friendship and then navigate being gay teens in the 1990s.

27. The Case of the Deadly Desperados, Caroline Lawrence. A wild west mystery for kids!

28. Who Is George Lucas? Pamela D. Pollack, Meg Belviso. A great biography on a man who's movies have touched many lives.

29. A Long Way from Chicago, Richard Peck. My entire family loved this book - from ages 9-42! When Joey and Mary Alice are forced to spend the summers with their Grandmother in the country they can't even begin to imagine the tall tale type adventures they are in for! Stories that are funny, engaging and clean cut like this don't come along often! Best Children's. Stumbled upon this book that was wholesome, adventurous and hilarious!

30. A Year Down Yonder, Richard Peck. Again my whole family loved this sequel to A Long Way from Chicago. We roared with laughter at the situations Grandma dragged Mary Ellen into, and yet, Grandma shows herself to be an astute reader of human nature and teaches her granddaughter life lessons that stay with her.

31. The Worst Class Trip Ever, Dave Barry. My kids, grades 4th & 7th, LOVED this action packed (fart jokes included) book. When Wyatt and his 8th grade classmates embark on a class trip to Washington DC they encounter spies, terrorists and a presidential assassination plot. Taking matters into their own hands they hilariously foil evil-doers.

32. Crenshaw, Katherine Applegate. This book was a heartfelt tale of a young boy who used an imaginary friend - a giant cat - to deal with his family being homeless, "car camping," when he was younger. After his family has enjoyed some stability, it looks like they may be sliding into the predicament again and Crenshaw the cat comes back. This book is perfect for older elementary and explores truth, trust and imagination.

33. Scavengers in Space, Alan E. Nourse. The Hunter brothers search for their father's killer in the asteroid belt.

34. Who Were the Wright Brothers? James Buckley Jr. The story of two inventor brothers who advanced modern aircrafts.

35. Mary Poppins Comes Back, P.L. Travers. The prim and proper Mary Poppins is back bringing a host of new adventures for the Banks children.

36. The Best Halloween Ever, Barbara Robinson. This book was cute, but did not have the emotional revelation that the previous two did. That being said, it's a fun Halloween read!

37. Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth, E.L. Konigsburg. I liked this book because it was a bit different than books written recently. The two main characters, young girls, had an elaborate game of playing that they were witches and making up potions and spells. It was refreshing to see children playing make believe rather than caught up in drama.

38. The One and Only Ivan, Katherine Applegate. This book was a moving tale of wild animals in captivity and how they worked for better circumstances.

39. Who Is Jane Goodall? Roberta Edwards. It is always inspiring to read about amazing people who are still alive! From Jane Goodall's start, without a college degree, to her discoveries about chimpanzees, this book kept our interest.

40. Who Was Amelia Earhart? Kate Boehm Jerome. Another inspiring story of a women who worked to break down gender barriers as well as break flying records.

41. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson. Love, love, love rereading this book at Christmas with my kids. It ALWAYS makes me reflect on the Christmas story differently, like how Mary & Joseph were refugees, dirty and tired and probably not like the squeaky clean version we tend to think of. And what if the wise men had gone back to Herod? And all these are brought about by a group of kids who were the unlikely suspects for telling the Christmas story.

42. Undertow, Michael Buckley. I'm a little conflicted by this book. I really liked the storyline, but I did not like the main character. I just didn't feel she was believable. She was rebellious, but obedient. She was independent and dependent. I was disappointed that an author that had written strong, diverse female characters in The Sisters Grimm and written such stereotypes here. All the women and young women we either in a relationship or striving to be in one. They all looked to men/young men for direction. The best friend character was much more interesting than Lyric, the main character.

43. A Season of Gifts, Richard Peck. Mrs Dowdel is back and she is as full of hijinks and life lessons, as usual, when a new family moves in next door.

44. Twenty and Ten, Claire Huchet Bishop. Great short read on 20 evacuated French school children who hide 10 Jewish children during the Nazi occupation of France.