Dec. 31st, 2014

olmue: (me sketch)
I used to do a post listing every book I read all year. Now I think I have too many--not *quite* as many as last year (which, with moving, was a rather stressful year, and the books helped me keep it together), but still, a lot. So I'm just going to list some standouts, by genre. Since everyone has different kinds of books that appeal to them, it makes sense to reveal my biases up front. :) I lean towards books with magic, though I like all kinds of genres. I prefer books with likable characters whose feelings are rooted in reality. I require books to have an actual story where Stuff Happens, and I like an underlying layer of truth in them. I read for hope. Books I have a hard time connecting with include those that depend too much on worldbuilding and not enough on real characters (ie super! quirky!--but shallow--characters!), or books about "life is terrible and then you go on" (as a child I was sometimes forced to read this kind of book in school--adults often like them but the kids they're supposedly for don't relate as well). I like adult nonfiction, but confess that something about the storytelling structure and/or general outlook on life in adult fiction escapes me. And I strongly dislike books of any kind that feel pretentious, porporting to convey Great Wisdom when they are, to quote Shakespeare, "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

That said, here are some standouts from this year that I liked in a variety of genres.

Chapter Books

1-4. Kung Pow Chicken, by Cyndi Marko. This is a fun little series that my 6YO adores. It's about a chicken who is a kid, but has an alter ego that's a superhero. He and his little brother (sidekick name: Egg Drop) go around town, solving superhero crimes. Great fun for your emerging reader!

Adult Fiction

Peace Like a River, Leif Enger. Admittedly, I read this first years ago. But since I now live on the ND/MN border where this book takes place, I figured I should reread it. I liked it because the writing was lovely and because, despite the subject material (boy's older brother shoots and kills someone who was harassing the family, and the family tries to shield him from the law), it was full of hope and miracles.

Words of Radiance, Brandon Sanderson. If you love Big Fat Fantasy, this book is for you! First you have to read The Way of Kings, though. There were some extremely awesome payoff moments for Kaladin in this book. One thing Sanderson is so good at is setting up good payoff moments, and this was really excellent.


I read a number of interesting ones this year; this category is surprisingly large.

Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure, by Samira Kawash. About the history of candy in the US. From people feeling it was poison (late 1800s-early 1900s) to thinking it was actual food,a nd good for you (1910s/1920s--an ad in a 1928 Saturday Evening Post reads, "Do you eat enough candy? See what the modern authorities say about candy in the diet--why and how you should eat it. How candy fills important bodily needs. A hint to women (and men, too) who want to be thinner. How to use candy as a food.") To the 1930s, when people realized candy made you fat, to the candification of all kinds of foods (fruit snacks, sugary cereal, granola bars, etc.) There was even a bit in there on how candy is fed to cows in feed lots. The author's opinion is that candy at least says what it is. There isn't much difference between candy and other processed foods, so if you eat candy along with that, you're just eating more of the same. But if you eat real food and some candy now and then, the world won't end.

Year of No Sugar, by Eve Schaub. Schaub saw a video by Robert Lustig on TV (author of Fat Chance), and decided to lead her family on a year's fast from sugar. She blogged about it, then wrote this book. I think she had a slighly easier time doing this because of relative easy access to nutty fruity organic food (some areas just don't have that as a trend), but it was still really haaaaard. A fun and funny read, and interesting to watch someone (else) put this into action. It was hard to give up desserts, but the most difficult thing was rooting out added sugar from foods that should be savory. Which should perhaps be a wakeup call to America. Maybe we wouldn't have to worry so much about dessert if it wasn't already such a part of the everyday meal.

Last Ape Standing: The Seven Million Year Story of How and Why We Survived, by Chip Walter. Interesting book about all the different kinds of humans (we have found 27, including us), our origins and wanderings and interactions. Did you know we have as many neurons in our brains as there are stars in the Milky Way? Also, 40-85% of the standing metabolism of small children is taken up in brain development. Also, we know that our ancestors met up with other hominids because they gave us head lice, and the evidence is still around. Neanderthals may have split from us, but we got back together, because many of us have Neanderthal DNA. The ending chapters seemed speculative and sketchy, and I'm inclined to not take them seriously, but the rest of the book is fascinating.

Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians but Were Afraid to Ask, by Anton Treuer. He has family ties to the Red Lake tribe in Minnesota. I didn't even know there were that many questions to ask. It was quite fascinating. I learned that Indian politics are extremely complicated! The book made me more knowledgeable about my neighbors, but also a little nervous of making a misstep. Still, things like this should be required reading in school.

Harry Potter Page to Screen, the Complete Filmmaking Journey, by Bob McCabe. Wow. What a cool book! It goes through the entire process of making all the movies--from the directors requiring essays about their characters from the actors, to casting and location choices, to making all the different creatures. (Most of the special effects were real, not just CGI.) I love reading about different forms of storytelling, so I'm always interested in how books get turned into film. You can learn a lot from looking at stories in different ways. I think the designers had a lot of fun--all that creativity, with no price limit! Beautiful artistic creation--it must have felt wonderful to pull that off.

Framed Ink: Drawing and Composition for Visual Storytellers, by Marcos Mateu-Mestre and Jeffrey Katzenberg. By an animator who is a master in the field, this book talks about how to compose frames and sequences for animation and graphic novels. I found it very good, dealing with multiple-sequence visual storytelling. You could use it even in single frame photography for ideas on how to convey a sense of movement.

My Father's Keeper: Children of Nazi Leaders--An Intimate History of Damage and Denial, by Stephan and Norbert Lebert. Horrifying and piteous all at once--about the incredible damage inflicted on the children of high ranking Nazi officials as they dealt with the heritage they were given. Interviews from 1959, followed up in 2000 by the son of the original interviewer. Might be interesting to follow up with the autobiography of Martin Bormann, Living against the Shadow (Leben gegen den Schatten)--he became a priest and seems to have dealt with things better than the others.

Graphic Novels/Art

Sisters and also Smile, by Rain Tegelmeier. Funny and autobiographical. Smile is about falling on the concrete and wiping out her two front teeth, just as she entered adolescence, and the six years it took to put it all back together. Makes me scared of dentists! But it was a good read.

Noah's Ark, by Rien Poortvliet. He's a Dutch artist I discovered when I was a teenager. He is my very favorite animal artist, and I found this book browsing in the library. It's a treasury of animal art, framing the story of Noah's Ark. Such a lovely, intimate look at what it might have been like to be on the ark, plus a sense of wonder and appreciation for animals in general.

Gaijin: American Prisoner of War, by Matt Faulkner. About some Japanese-Americans who were taken into a Japanese internment camp in WWII, and the difficulties they faced. Told from the kids' POV. Great art!
olmue: (me sketch)
I lean more towards YA than MG, but this year, the MG books I encountered at my library just had a lot more variety in story, voice, character, and general feel than the YA did. Buying trends? Publishing trends? I don't know. In any case, I read a LOT of them.

Egg and Spoon, by Gregory Maguire. MG, no matter what the publisher and library say. About Russia. And global warming. And Baba Yaga. And want. And magic. Two girls, a peasant and a noble, accidentally get switched when the train they’re on starts moving and the wrong one falls off. Both converge at the party for the Tsar’s godson, one bearing a Faberge egg and one the egg of the Firebird. Things go wrong, and they run to the north to find out why magic is failing and how to get the Firebird to hatch and how to stop winter from ending too early. Baba Yaga is rather funny in this.

The Princess in the Opal Mask, by Jenny Lundquist. Almost a prince and the pauper tale, of twin princesses where, thanks to a historical event involving one princess ancestress revolting against the other, the twins were separated at birth. Then they're reunited when war threatens their country.  Many loose ends, but my daughter got the sequel for Christmas, so...

The Princess Curse, by Merrie Haskell. Sort of a mix of the 12 Dancing Princesses and Beauty and the Beast. Could use a sequel. Takes place in Romania.

Read more... )
olmue: (me sketch)
And now to the category I read most of. Trends I noticed: lots more interstellar sci fi, lots more contemporary books that aren't so much about plot as about rooooomance, some parallel world books, and a number of books with the identical plot of wanting to fill a dead friend's bucket list. A lot of books that I read in YA this year, it turns out, aren't published (so I didn't include them-but someday, hopefully I can!) I was somewhat limited to the flavors my library buys, which are not anywhere as varied as the MG they stock, for some reason. So if there is a YA book you loved that you don't see here, let me know about it!

Nomad, by RJ Anderson. I just needed a book where I could depend on the author to tell a good story, and she did. This is the sequel to Swift, and Ivy the piskey is the main character. She’s been exiled from the Delve by her aunt (who is the Joan, or the leader) who doesn’t believe that there is poison down in the old mine they live in. I have no idea how to talk about this book without spoilers for the series, but suffice it to say that Stuff Happens, and Rebecca is good at getting across great emotion through restrained characters.

Belle Epoque, by Elizabeth Ross. About Maud, a plain girl who leaves home to escape having to marry the 40YO butcher across the street, and heads to Paris. But the only job she can do is at this agency where plain and/or ugly girls are hired to play the foil to more lovely society ladies. Generally people hire their own foils, but in Maud’s case, it’s the girl’s mother who hires Maud without her knowledge. But Isabelle, the girl, doesn’t want to get married—she wants to go to the university. And Maud is caught between her employer and her actual friend.

Read more... )


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