Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A Year of Books: 2016

My New Year's Resolution this year was to read more books by diverse authors. I realized last summer my then 8 year old and I were reading a lot of biographies of white men, I thought, "We can do better." Not only can we read about more diverse people, but we can enlarge our view of the world by learning from authors who write from a different background than ours. 

All books in red are written by diverse authors. A star is next to the best in category.

Diverse Authors

1. Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah. Insight as to life as a Muslim teen in Australia. Amal has the usual teen drama in her life with friends, boys, school work and a grouchy neighbor. When she decides to wear the hijab full-time, some things in her life change, but she also realizes that there are issues that anyone can struggle with regardless of religion.

2. Mexican White Boy by Matt de la Pena. When I first started this book I thought it was just another teenage angst book, but then so many layers unfolded. Danny feels like he doesn't belong at his white private school or with his Mexican relatives. There are family secrets, truths, self-doubt, self-cutting, self-realization, strength, missing parents, broken parents, reforming parents and unlikely friendships. I was left rooting for every single character and cheering as Danny discovers what it is to be himself.

3. Flight by Sherman Alexie. This book was very violent and yet it explored the themes of violence, killing, murder, betrayal, anger, revenge, and oppression. I did like that it recognized that anger doesn't add, it multiplies and revenge is a circle within a circle withing a circle, unending. And yet, there can be people who come along and show goodness and mercy to break the cycle.

4. Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez. Insightful book as the author imagines how her life would have been if her family had stayed for the Dominican revolution instead of leaving just before it happened in the 1960s.

5. War Dances by Sherman Alexie. Interesting collection of short stories and poems, many with a Native American focus. Bonus: the CD is read by the author!

6. The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yōko Ogawa. Poignant story of a housekeeper who finds herself employed to former Math professor who only has an 80 minute memory as the result of an accident. Not only do the housekeeper and her son find joy in learning, but they find that family isn't always biological.

7. Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama. Fascinating insight into Obama's young life through his community organizing days and ending at his acceptance to law school. From childhood in Hawaii to his mother's new marriage and home in Indonesia to college in California and community organizing in Chicago and finally a trip to Kenya to meet his father's family after his death. Bonus: Book on CD is read by the author!

8. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz. This book was so bad I only listened to 1/3 of it and decided I had better things to do. It revolves around a Dominican family and works back through their family history, starting in New Jersey in the 1980's and when I ended in the Dominican Republic in the 1950's. I found this book slow, crude and depressing.

9. The Great Call of China by Cynthea Liu. A quick read about a student discovering her past, adventure and taking chances.

*10. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds, Brendan Kiely. What a powerful book. What would you do if you were the victim of police brutality? What if you witnessed it? This book raises so many questions - but adds more like the layers of an onion. Shown through the eyes of two young men, both struggle to make sense of the society that surrounds them.

11. NW by Zadie Smith. I did not enjoy this book. Too much drugs and sex, I couldn't relate. I did like the parts of the book that related to culture and the influence that had on the characters lives.

12. When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds. The story of three boys turns into a story of how boy reacts to his brother having Tourette syndrome and how their neighborhood friend views their relationship.

13. The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds. The story of a boy who deals with his mother's death by working in a funeral home.

14. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. This reminded me a lot of The Lovely Bones. This story is told through flashbacks as to how a family deals with the death of a 16 year old daughter and sister and how being a half Chinese family affects their experiences.

Book Club Books

1. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. I didn't really enjoy this book. A violent crime that ends in the death of a young girl who continues to watch her family and friends from her version of heaven.

2. Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik. Excellent biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I was enthralled to see how her life played out - from losing her mom just before high school graduation, working extra hard in college to prove as a woman she could handle it, early marriage, law school with a toddler and a husband facing cancer, her early career and how she became a judge and ultimately sits on the Supreme Court. Even her current 22 year span on the Court is fascinating. I'm glad that her life is continuing beyond the book and I look forward to following her life!

3. The Fifth Vial by Michael Palmer. Fast paced medical thriller that was fun to read.

4. The Princess Bride by William Goldman. Why wasn't this quote in the movie? "Enough about my beauty," Buttercup said. "Everyone always talks about how beautiful I am. I've got a mind, Westley. Talk about that." Otherwise the movie closely followed the book which made for an adventurous read.

5. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck. This book really boils down to thinking positively and viewing "failure" as an opportunity to learn.

*6. Kindred by Octavia E. Butler. I am still processing this book, even after finishing last night. It was so visceral. Dana travels back in time to a plantation where her ancestors are slaves. She experiences first hand what slavery was like. Her white husband also travels back during on of her trips and has different experiences. Throughout the whole book Dana strives to understand why she has traveled back in time.

7. The Bridal Chair by Gloria Goldreich. I liked the history contained in this book - Chagall's family escaped the Russian Revolution, settled in France but then became a target of Hitler because they were Jewish. But, I couldn't relate to the family relationships.

8. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. I thought this book was only mediocre. It was a little patronizing that the male main character, of course, knew what was best for the female main character and helped her to find her true self - with his money. I felt the characters could have been a bit ore developed, there was a rich field of euthanasia, but none of the characters go very deeply into their thoughts and feelings regarding this.

Fiction & Non-fiction

1. Tricky Twenty-Two by Janet Evanovich. As usual, this book had my whole family laughing at the antics of Stephanie, Lula and Grandma. Grandma is catfishing with Stephanie's photo on dating websites, a fraternity is missing two of it's members after a run-in with the college administration and a wacky professor has a plan to spread bubonic plague. Mystery, murder and laughs abound.

2. Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan. Three generations of women reflect on their lives, the impact family has made, and their futures.

3. A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear. Maisie Dobbs is back, but she's not quite the same. Personal tragedy leaves her contemplating her life while she stumbles upon a murder and begins to put her life back together as she unravels the mystery.

4. Mrs. Engels by Gavin McCrea. This book had a good premise: the lover of Frederick Engels, sponsor of Karl Marx in England. But the book was so slow and boring I had trouble keeping interest.

*5. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I thoroughly enjoyed this book! In 2044 teenager Wade sets out to win a Virtual Reality contest that tests his knowledge of 1980's culture, video games and role playing games. Along the way he makes friends as well as enemies and has to discover life through actual reality.

6. This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral — plus plenty of valet parking! — in America’s Gilded Capital by Mark Leibovich. Washington politics from 2008-2012.

7. Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World by Linda Hirshman. I really enjoyed this book and reading the histories of these two great women who had many similarities, but also many differences. How they influenced modern histories, but also how they were influenced by the world around them. As a woman who grew up after the 1970's I take for granted so many things that these women endured, persevered and changed so that not only women but all Americans could benefit.

8. Armada by Ernest Cline. Another great read from Cline. Zack's father died when he was a baby, but he is obsessed with the things his dad liked: 80's music and video games. His video game prowess has him recruited by the Earth Defense Alliance to defend the world from an alien enemy. So many things are not what they seem in this book. The nostalgia will attract older readers, but there is enough action to engage younger readers too.

9. Disconnected by Jennifer Weiner. This was a very weird read. It was hard to figure out what was going on and the drug use lifestyle was something I am not used to.

10. Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner. The story of a mother and her adult daughters as they navigate circumstances leading them into new experiences and changing their lives. Silvie deals with her husbands infidelity after building her entire life around him. Lizzie wants this exit from rehab to stick. Diana has always been in control of her high achieving life until she finds someone she can't say no to. All three find that they must change because nothing stays the same.

11. Silver Girl by Elin Hilderbrand. The story of two friends trying to put their friendship and their lives back together after the death of a husband the the imprisonment of the other husband.

*12. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. I didn't want this book to end - and yet I wanted to see everything resolved! On the surface this book seems to be about the intricacies of parental relationships between kindergarten parents and yet below the surface lurks the lies of bullying, infidelity, and violence. There is a colorful cast of characters, mystery and intrigue, I kept wanting to read more!

13. Looking for Alaska by John Green. When Miles goes away to school he is looking for the "Great Perhaps." Alaska opens up new views for him, but her sudden death has him questioning what he knows about her.

14. Turbo Twenty-Three by Janet Evanovich. Stephanie Plum is back at it with tons of crazy new characters as she investigates deaths at an ice cream factory.

Children & Young Adult

1. Fair Weather by Richard Peck. Three farm children and their grandfather visit Chicago for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition which inspires not only them, but a influences a generation.

2. Old School by Jeff Kinney. Hilarious as always, Greg manages to get himself into funny situations that lead to a camping trip with school.

3. The Fugitive (Theodore Boone #5) by John Grisham. We've enjoyed reading this series by Grisham about a "kid lawyer." Since both of Theodore's parents are lawyers, he knows the law well for a 12 year old. In this book he finds a sees a fugitive and when he reports it, he helps reel the fugitive in and observes his trial for the murder of his wife.

4. The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #1), by Rick Riordan. Another good book by Riordan on mythology, this one focusing on the Norse myths.

5. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. I re-read this book with my kids. So much to mull over after reading: social classes, death, family, responsibility, friends.

6. Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein. This sequel was every bit as engrossing and exciting as the first book! Both my kids and I loved trying to solve the puzzles and anticipating what would happen next. I personally loved that the focus of this book based challenge was banned books.

7. Unfriended by Rachel Vail. Good book on Jr High drama and the way different kids deal with it. Truly always wanted to be popular, but when she gets what she wants, she finds out things aren't always what they seem. The morals of the book are being yourself and how to be a good friend.

8. The Teacher's Funeral : A Comedy in Three Parts by Richard Peck. What happens when your older sister becomes your teacher? If the writer is Richard Peck, lots of hilarious situations like a burning outhouse, snakes in desk drawers, and lots of other pranks.

9. Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck. I really enjoyed this book about female auto mechanics and race car drivers in the early 1900's! Add in four Butler University library science majors and this small Indiana town is in for lots of changes! Richard Peck's writing style always has you seeing the characters in vivid detail and of course has hilarious plot details.

10. If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth. This book tells the story of Lewis & George during their 7th & 8th grade years in the 1970's. Music brings them together and the bonds they forge help them navigate such life issues as: extreme poverty, physical bullying, racial perceptions and military family life. In the end, those parts of you that you strive to keep hidden from others are the parts that reveal the most about yourself.
11. Raging Sea (Undertow #2) by Michael Buckley. My kids, ages 9 & 13, loved this sequel. I did not. The premise was creating an army of 6-18 year olds who were hybrids that would fight the Alpha and other sea creatures. I just couldn't stomach a whole book focused on war by such young kids.

12. Bucking the Sarge by Christopher Paul Curtis. What happens when you find out your own Mother's business ethics are not always clean cut? Luther learns about himself, life, and what kind of person he wants to be in this book that takes place in Flint, MI.

13. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. This book was really dark. Children with peculiar talents hiding out in a time frozen day always under threat of attack. My kids and I decided we did not want to continue the series.

14. Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt. I love how Schmidt can say so much by saying so little. This book gave me a lot to ponder: child abuse, delinquency, teen pregnancy, foster care - and yet there is always hope, starting with those who truly take the time to care about others, especially the "others" that start off as hard to care for.

15. The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis. There was so much to this book: The Great Depression, how minorities fared, learning what it meant to have things stacked against you from how you looked, perseverance, hope, kindness, family. We listened to this on CD in the car and my kids kept begging to turn it back on as soon as we got in again since they wanted to see what happened next.

16. The Scandal (Theodore Boone #6) by John Grisham. Another Theodore Boone book! My kids like the adventures of this 13 year old who titles himself as a "kid lawyer."

17. The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson. We did not enjoy this book. It was dark, morose, and flat out creepy. Octavian doesn't know that he's been born into a social experiment in pre-Revolutionary America. His captors educate him in science, philosophy and music, all the while making judgments on how skin color affects intellect.

18. Who Was Betsy Ross? by James Buckley Jr. Interesting facts about Betsy Ross.

19. The Boy Who Owned the School by Gary Paulsen. A funny book about a boy who thinks he's not good at anything, but discovers he does have a lot to offer.

20. Fins of Fury by Mo O'Hara. My 10 year old picked this book. It was a little silly, the adventures of a zombie goldfish, but contained evil scientists, best friends, camping and mysteries.

21. Spy School by Stuart Gibbs. Read with my 10 & 13 year olds who really enjoyed it. I was a little dismayed at the use of ass and damn, but otherwise the mystery and suspense were good.

22. Pax by Sara Pennypacker. Moving read on loyalty, connection, duty, war, regret and family.

*23. Revolution by Deborah Wiles. Excellent book. This book takes place in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1964 - Freedom Summer. History intertwines with the lives of 3 youth who are figuring out their town, their families, themselves, and their future. The incident that stands out to me the most is when the front porches in town are peppered with fliers from the KKK, because this also happened in my town this summer. While listening to this book with my children I could see how closely the past and the present are woven together. The present doesn't exist without the past and how we view the present has been shaped by the past. Also poignant is the voter registration drive, when blacks are risking their jobs and sometimes their lives to register to vote. As we embark on a presidential election season the candidates are just as important as the voters. Even without the lens of current events, the story line of this novel brings the past to life while illustrating social events of the 1960s such as The Beatles, integration, the Vietnam War, and divorce through relatable characters.

24. As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds. This book starts off with two brothers spending a month with their grandparents. While most of the book is light-hearted fun, family secrets including mental illness and suicide are uncovered.
25 Spy Camp by Stuart Gibbs. Ben is back and he, along with his friends from Spy School, start of at camp, but end up stopping evil villans from taking over the US.

26.The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman. Jemmy and Prince Brat form an unlikely friendship.