Best Books of 2015

  This past year was a great year for books.  And this year I read more books than I had read in a long time.  It was one of my goals for the year – and the only one I really kept.  I’m not sure if in 2016 I’ll have any new goals or resolutions, but the goal of reading more is one I hope I can keep up.  I read some really great books – and some that were quite disappointing.  Of all of the new releases I read this year, these are my favorites.

A Spool of Blue Thread – Anne Tyler I just finished this book a couple of weeks ago and I really loved it.  The family was dysfunctional, but very close and deeply loving.  It’s the kind of family I think most could relate to.  The story is multi-generational, and focuses on a beautiful home in Baltimore.  After reading the book, I wanted to be in that family – to be a part of their lives, and to live in those old craftsman home.

Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates I was completely blown away by this book.  I had heard many good things about this book, and had even heard Coates interviewed.  I was still stunned by this book’s message.  It was real, raw, and heartfelt.  I was deeply touched, and after reading it I wanted to make everyone I know read it.  Unfortunately those who need to hear this message won’t be reading the book.  It’s an important one nonetheless.

Shotgun Lovesongs – Nicholas Butler  Of all of the books on this list, this one is my favorite.  About a group of friends, friends who had grown up together in a small town.  They remained close, even though their lives took them in different directions.  I loved the characters, and their story seemed so familiar. They are Midweaterners, my people.  

Noggin – John Coren Whaley. This was a fun YA read.  When I picked it up from the library, my daughter cracked up about the picture on the cover.  It seems somewhat futuristic, dealing with the future possibilities of medicine and transplant surgeries.  In this story a teenage boy gets a head transplant.  Meaning after a losing bout with cancer, his head survived and he received a body from a donor who had been declared brain dead.  Once you get your head around that (pun intended!), the story of his return to high school life is funny and sweet, and somehow still relatable.  

We Are Called to Rise – Laura McBride  I really loved this book – it was sad, and sweet, and so touching.  It was such a great reminder that there is always a silver lining.  Although the main characters have all experienced tragedies, there is so much hope for all of them.  Read this one with a box of tissues!

How to be a Grown Up – Emma McLaughlin, Nicola Kraus  This story was written by the same duo that wrote the Nanny Diaries.  Here the main character seems so similar to some of their other characters, just all grown up.  This story is every mom’s nightmare.  After years of marriage, Rory’s husband leaves her.  He’s an actor and has to “take a break” from the family to focus on a role.  It was empowering to me when she rises to the occasion, and finds out she’s a lot stronger than she ever imagined. 

I’m looking forward to many more great books next year.  Early mornings with a cup of coffee and a good book.  Late nights with a cup of tea and a good book.  Right now I’m working on Vanessa and Her Sister, which is really good so far.  Next I will tackle all of the books I got for Christmas!

Happy New Year and happy reading!!

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Best Kids Books of 2015

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I usually read way more kids books than I do my own books.  I’m actually ok with that, and there are some books that I love just as much as my daughter.  We have a few favorite authors – and always look forward to one of their new releases.  Our library has a special place in its kids section just for new releases.  We’re thankful for that – we can’t wait to get our hands on new material!  These are some of our favorite new releases from this past year:

I Will Take a Nap – Mo Willems  He is my favorite children’s author.  We have read every one of his books – and this has become one of our favorites.  It’s so funny and I laughed so hard when Gerald has a hard time sleeping because Piggie was snoring too loud.

Dear Mr. Washington – Lynn Cullen, Nancy Carpenter  About the artist who painted the famous painting of George Washington,  Gilbert Stuart.  Stuart’s three small children continue to interrupt their father and distract Mr. Washington, even though they’re trying to be on their best behavior.  Even though my daughter has no idea who Mr Washington is, we still cracked up about these kids doing their best to be on their best behavior.  

Edmund Unravels – Andrew Kolb  About an adventurous little boy who just happens to be a ball of yarn.  This story is just too adorable – and reminds me as a parent when to hold on tight and when it’s ok to let go.  

Glamorous Garbage – Barbara Johansen Newman  What a fun way to redecorate!  I love this story, and the way these girls express their creativity.  Two young cousins want to play together, one’s bedroom is always too messy.  Her mother issues an ultimatum and what results is a makeover using some great yard sale finds.

The Day the Crayons Came Back – Drew Daywalt This is the hilarious sequel to The Day the Crayons Quit.  We love both books – this latest book was under our Christmas tree last week.  I anticipate reading this one over and over until I have it memorized.  Because I love this one so much, I won’t mind at all!!

Marilyn’s Monster – Michelle Knudsen, Matt Phelan  Not quite an inaginary friend, but Marilyn’s Monster is just as special.  In this story each kid has their own special monster, who has chosen each one of them specially.  Marilyn is seemingly the last one of her friends and classmates to get hers.  But when her monster finally comes, she realizes it was well worth the wait!

Looking forward to 2016, and all that the new year will bring.  My baby girl is definitely not a baby anymore and will turn 6 next year. She will start kindergarten soon, and I am so not ready for that.  She is well on her way to reading on her own.  With books like these, I hope she’ll still want to curl up together with a book book.

Happy New Year!!

Christmas Cookies

unnamed-2One of my favorite things to do during the holidays is bake.  Last month I did quite a bit of baking, for Thanksgiving, and in honor of Bake It Forward.  So far, in preparation for Christmas, we’ve baked cookies, fudge, pies, pumpkin bread, and just last night I put the finishing touches on some delicious gingerbread.  I think I unnamedactually ate just as much frosting as I put on the bread!  Tis the season, right??

Last week I hosted a cookie exchange for some friends (and for the cookies).  I have hosted one other cookie exchange, and I really want to make this an annual tradition.  I have a friend who has hosted one every year for the past 10 years – and I don’t think I’ve missed one!  It really is just so much fun.

unnamed-3One cookie I always bring is a chocolate chip snowball.  It’s a cookie my grandma made every year when I was growing up.  Now it’s my turn to make it – and I have been making them every year since since my husband and I first met.  He loves them just as much as I do.  This year my daughter was able to help, which was super fun, and I love passing these traditions down to her.  The recipe I use for these cookies is slightly different than the one I know my grandma used.  I’ve had this cookie recipe book for years, unnamed-1and dust it off each time I make these cookies (though I have half of the recipe memorized at this point).

We had such a good time, and it’s such a fun tradition.  It’s a great way to get together during the holidays.  Our party was last week, and we’re already out of cookies.  I guess it’s time to make some more!!  Hope you have a wonderful holiday, and eat as many cookies as your heart desires!

Off the Page

IMG_0523I gave up on Jodi Picoult a long time ago. I’ve read a few of her books, and after a while I grew tired of riding an emotional roller coaster every time I read one of her books. I’m not afraid of emotions – and I love good books that make feel and emote.  After reading maybe 3 or 4 of her books, I was kind of over the drama.  I just noticed one of her latest books, Off the Page, at the library.  It’s co-written with her daughter, Samantha Van Leer, who is a student at Vassar College. I wasn’t exactly penning bestsellers while I was in college, but when your Mom has sold millions of books, I guess the bar is pretty high!

9780553535563_p0_v6_s192x300Off the Page is part fairy tale, part teen romance, and all parts fun.  Before picking the book up at the library, I had no idea that it had a “companion” novel, Between the Lines.  I didn’t read it before this book, and I don’t know if I need or want to. This may be the beginning of a series, though, and I’d like to see what happens to these characters.  Delilah is the main character, and is a teenage bookworm (sounds too familiar), and has a favorite book that she reads over and over.   loving the scenery and characters – one character in particular, the handsome young Prince Oliver. One day she discovers that she can actually talk him, he world changes.

Now that she knows that, her goal becomes trying to get him out of the book. I suppose those details were discussed in Between the Lines, but I think I’ll skip that one. Since I read it out of order, I think I already know how that book ends.  They work together and find a loophole, which will allow him to leave the book, but only if they can find a replacement. If they can find someone to switch places with him, the book will allow him to leave. Enter Edgar, who they find after researching the book’s author. He is the author’s son, the exact same age as Oliver, and oddly looks just like him.  Convincing him to switch places with Oliver is not so easy.  As a huge video game fan, they convince Edgar, it’ll be just like living in a video game.

Having never lived in the real world, it’s interesting to see him adjust to life as a regular teenager. It’s a cute story about their life together, and what happens when other characters in the book are swapped for people (even the dogs) in Delilah’s life. Other than this book, I don’t think I’ll start reading any of her other books, but might read another in this series (if it actually becomes a series).

Gift Ideas for the Reader on Your List

Only 8 more shopping days left until Christmas!  I am complete freaked out now.  I still have more shopping to do, and even though each year I attempt to get my shopping done early, it somehow never happens.  I still have a few things left to buy for my husband and daughter, and stockings that need to be stuffed.  If you’re like me, and you still have some shopping to do, these are some great gift ideas for the readers on your shopping list.  Some of these I’ve already bought, and some are on my own Christmas list!

9781454709138_p0_v2_s192x300I have two close friends on my list this year – they’re both getting coloring books.  These books have become so popular – they’re basically everywhere.  These “adult coloring books” are on my Christmas too.  I’m always happy to be coloring something that doesn’t have a pony or a princess!9780316206853_p0_v5_s192x300

For my Mom this year, I bought The Cuckoo’s Calling, which is the first in J.K. Rowling’s mystery series about private detective Comoran Strike.  It’s written under a penn name, Robert Galbraith, and is quite a departure from her other work.  I’ve raved about the series before, and now I’m sharing the love.  The third book in this series just came out, and it’s at the top of my Christmas list.  This may be for the older Harry Potter fan 9780312642983_p0_v3_s192x300on your list, or for someone who has already read the first two books, the third one was recently released.

For the teen on your list (or anyone else who has read these two series), there are two new releases in these two popular series: Winter is book 4 in the Lunar Chronicle series, which I’ve heard really good things about.  The third book in the Miss Peregrine’s series is also now out, which I can’t wait to read.  Library of Souls is on my TBR list, and I hope it’s waiting for me under our Christmas tree!

9781594747588_p0_v4_s192x300I’m not a big fan of giving gift cards at Christmas, and I personally would rather have an actual gift over a gift card.  However, one of my favorite gift cards to get are those for iTunes.  Instead of just music or apps, there are also digital downloads available for ebooks and audiobooks.  I am also a fan of Audible.com, and this is great for a last minute gift, as there are gift cards available online.  I love audiobooks, and I love this website because downloads are quick and easy, but mostly because of the audiobooks.  They frequently feature popular or classic titles read by popular actors and actresses.  One book Disney-Frozen-CD-Boombox-with--pTRU1-19457032dtthat’s available now is Slaughterhouse Five narrated by James Franco.  There is also a new audio version of Dracula with Tim Curry and Alan Cumming that I can’t wait to download!

For my daughter, who is 5 this Christmas, my husband and I picked out a small CD player (Frozen-themed!).  She has become obsessed with audio books and demands to listen to them every time we are in the car.  Along with the CD player, we picked out a bunch of short books that came with CDs.  I think she’s going to love it, and I think I’m going to love listening to music in the car again, and not the audio version of Frozen for the thousandth time.

These are great gifts for the reads of all ages on your list.  They are also perfect gifts for me!  I hope after all the shopping and craziness that the holidays bring, you’re finding time to read!  As soon as I get my final grades posted this week, I’ll be able to finish my shopping, and hopefully finish the book I’ve been trying to read for about 2 weeks.

 

My Christmas List

I hope there are some good books for me under the Christmas tree this year.  I’ve been a very good girl this year!  I’ve bought of new books for my daughter, Santa knows how much she loves getting new books.  I love getting new books – these ones are all on my Christmas list this year, along with a few others.  I also have some down time during the holidays, and this is the perfect way to spend my Christmas break!

9780062225245_p0_v4_s192x300The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime – I can’t wait to try out some of these new recipes!  She hosts my favorite show on the Food Network, and I love all of her recipe books.  Her recipes are delicious, and are kind of my go-to.

9780385354288_p0_v5_s192x300The Girl in the Spider’s Web – So this wasn’t written by Steig Larson, but it continues the story of Lizbeth Salander.  The original trilogy was great – each book was impossible to put down. I can’t wait to see where the series goes, even without Larson.  This is book #4 in the series, and apparently there are more planned after this.

9780316349932_p0_v4_s192x300Career of Evil – This is the 3rd book in the Comoran Strike, the mystery series written under J.K. Rowling’s penn name, Robert Galbraith.  I was shocked by how great the first two books were – although I really shouldn’t have been.  I’m thinking now that Ms. Rowling can do no wrong.  This book is #1 on my Christmas list – I can’t wait to read it!!  I actually bought the first book in the series for my Mom for Christmas and I know she’ll love it!

9780804138147_p0_v6_s192x300Why Not Me?  – I love Mindy Kaling, and I loved her first book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?  I have a feeling this one is just as good, and I can’t wait to read it!

Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates – As a history teacher, one of my favorite historical figures to read about is Thomas Jefferson.  There has been so much written about him already, and there continuously seem to be 9781591848066_p0_v2_s192x300more and more about him.  This topic of the Tripoli Pirates is something I don’t know much about – yet sounds so interesting.  This is also about the lead-up to the War of 1812, something most of my students know nothing about at the beginning of every semester.

What’s on your Christmas list this year?  Any good books on your list?  Also on my list are some new coloring books.  I live with a 5 year old, so of course we have coloring books.  I’d like my own though, I’d like to color something that doesn’t have a pony or a princess!

 

New Fiction Friday: A Spool of Blue Thread

9781101874271_p0_v4_s192x300A Spool of Blue Thread had been on my bookshelf for a while, and I finally picked it up and read it. It’s the story of a family, an extended family, a blended family, generations of one family. It’s also the story of a house. A beautiful old house, in the city of Baltimore, at once coveted, once loved, and once empty. Red and Abby Whitshank shared the home with their children, it was a home that Red’s father had bought when he was a child when the house was still relatively new. Red and Abby met in 1959, eventually married, and took over the house that once been his father’s. They stayed there until their own children were grown, children who don’t seem as connected to the house in a way that their parents and grandparents were.

I loved the story of the house, and have always dreamed of buying and fixing and filling one up just like it.  There are bedrooms filled with the children of Red’s parents, his brothers and sisters. He eventually fills those bedrooms with his own children. The story of Red’s father is one of the most interesting parts of the book, including how he bought this incredible house. After finally buying the home of his dreams, he intends to keept it. What’s interesting is that, with Baltimore as the setting, the city and neighborhood is unchanged despite the time that passes between these generations.

Abby was a social worker, and was very nurturing, and sometimes seemed a little too nurturing.  She always seemed part Mom, part therapist, and was always doting, always worrying.  Of her four children, Denny is the most troublesome.  He is that one family member that everyone seems to worry about – throughout his life he is wayward.  He was a problem child, never staying with someone or something for very long.  As an adult he is flighty, hard to keep in touch with.  There is someone like this in my life, and it is so hard to maintain a relationship.  And I think, how selfish, that this person only shows up in my life when they feel like it, a relationship that is completely one-sided.  And that’s Denny.

As Abby and Red age, more truths about the family are revealed.  Denny and his two sisters have a younger brother.  There’s a shocking reveal about their brother near the end of the book.  It’s a surprise to the reader, but something the knew their whole lives.  It’s near the end of the book that this becomes a pivotal point, almost pitting Denny and his brother against each other.

I really loved this story, and even though I wanted to hate Denny for all that he put his parents through, I liked the character.  The title comes from something he discovered his mother’s sewing box.  He felt like it was a sign from her, something she left there for him.  It’s such a poignant, heartfelt moment for him, and almost redeems him for all that he put them all through.  I loved it!