Category: Round up

Reading Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes Series (Books 1-5)
By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I love a good mystery. I had some stacking up here, so I decided to make February my mysteries month. Most of my TBR for the month was mystery and thriller. Books I had been meaning to read for ages, most of them. And I love to curl up with a good mystery on a cold night. The more bodies, the better!

I’ve got a beautiful box set of Sherlock Holmes books (it was part of my #RockMyTBR list). I think I got it at a thrift store, because I know that I didn’t pay much for it. And I didn’t take the books out of the box for years. When I finally did, they were pristine – the spines had never even been cracked.

The books are lovely little hardcovers, small enough to fit in your hand, with gilt lettering and gold fore edges (the part of the page you see when it’s closed). The finish is an interesting wood grain, but it’s black, so hard to photograph. I love pretty books. I just can’t tell you how nice it is to sit down with a book that is lovely to hold and lovely to look at, and of course, the story has to be good, too.

Now, I knew these were good stories. But I had never actually read them. So I added them to the stack. The stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were a bit different than what I expected, though. Not so many dead bodies as misunderstandings, jilted lovers, and just plain con men. But that was okay. The writing held up, and I wanted to get past the shows I had watched (both the BBC production and the CBS show Elementary) to the real deal.

Here are the five books I read.

A Study in Scarlet/ The Sign of the Four (#1 & #2)

The first book was two stories in one. I had heard the titles before, but not the stories. I am so glad I started at the beginning, though. Here we get the complete timeline of how Watson and Sherlock met, how Watson comes to understand him and his methods, and how they grow to be close friends. We also get Watson meeting Mary! The first story is not all that memorable itself, but worth reading just for these character-building reasons. The only thing I didn’t like about it was that it included a large bit of backstory set in the American West, which took away from the mood I typically go to Sherlock for. The second story is interesting, a bit more exotic, and complex enough to hold your attention. I didn’t agree whole-heartedly with the way it was presented, as it was less than of a whodunit than a how-dunit, but that’s okay. It had lots of color, shall we say? Convicts and con men and double-crosses – much of it set in colonial India, with all that entails.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (#3)

This is an eclectic collection of stories in which many of those featured don’t actually involve crimes. I dearly love the different voices of Watson and Holmes, as they are clearly delineated. And finally by this point I was able to get away from picturing Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch in my head! This was a struggle in the first volume, let me tell you. These are all very quick and somewhat slight, but with good detail and lots of that murky London fog. There are 12 stories in all. Some of them were very curious, and I especially liked A Scandal in Bohemia (in which we meet Irene Adler!), The Red-Headed League, and the Blue Carbuncle. Just about every kind of crime you can imagine is included in here.

The Memories of Sherlock Holmes (#4)

I found these a bit better than the last volume, because they were more involved. So many of the stories had quotes that I had heard elsewhere – “the curious incident of the dog in the night time,” and the reference to the code word Norbury. I love seeing how these things were treated in the BBC production, and how they originally appeared. That is really why I wanted to read the books in the first place. Again, though, a lot of these stories were nebulous as to their actual endings. They were cons, or jilted love, or some such things. I liked The Musgrave Ritual (which harkens a bit towards The Hound of the Bakervilles) and The Naval Treaty best, I think. But they were all very good, and included such varied settings and issues, that it really kept me reading.

The Hound of the Baskervilles (#5)

This is a full-length story, and I really do like it when he hunkers down and make a novel out of it. I loved the setting of this – the atmospheric spookiness of the moors. It is done so well, it made me want to pick up Wuthering Heights just to keep being spooked! It’s almost like the setting is another character in this novel. It has much more to do with setting than the short stories all set in London. And the story was intriguing, full of foreboding. There are all kinds of threats, hair-raising adventures on the moor, Neolithic ruins (about which I greatly enjoyed Watson’s ruminations!), and all sorts of folks pretending to be something they are not. It keeps you hopping. I saw this as a stage play when I was really young, and while it was a professional children’s theater production, I don’t remember much of the story. I just knew there was this black baying hound off stage. It suffers some from being produced, I think. You just need to get your head on to the moors.

I’ll continue on with the series, though I don’t have any more of the volumes until The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, which is apparently the final book. I wouldn’t want to skip ahead, though. I think the character-building is one of the best things about this series. There has to be a reason why these characters have had the staying power they have – Conan Doyle takes great pains to make it just right, to make their relationships ring true, and to give each person a distinct voice.

If you like mysteries or like reading classics, you should definitely get your hands on these. There are a multitude of editions, as they are in the public domain. But it’s worth picking up a nice volume. You’ll want to keep them.

Dumbledore’s Army Diverse #DAReadathon Wrap-Up

I finished the #DAReadathon!

I had a great time reading these books. Oh my gosh. They were SO good. I didn’t complete my whole TBR but I made a sizable dent and I am very happy with that. You can see my original post here.

I started with The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, which I had always heard was very beautifully written. Well, I’m here to tell you that it is not only beautifully written, but it is an utterly beautiful story. This book is gorgeous in every way. I gave it five stars on GoodReads (and I never give star ratings!). I had received this book back when it was released in May. I actually won it from a GoodReads giveaway – so thanks GoodReads and Griffin Teen!

I found this story to be breath-taking. I don’t want to say too much because Spoilers but just trust me. It envisioned a world bigger than imagination. This book takes place in a Persian-inspired world, and it is full of cultural references. I loved that, and I loved the world and the characters. There are themes of love, and life, and death and what it all means. The writing is LUSH. I am very glad that I finally read this one! This also Rocks My TBR because I’ve had it since May. This was for the Impedimenta prompt. Here’s a taste:

“Neither the secret whirring song of the stars nor the sonorous canticles of the earth knew the language that sprang up in the space between us. It was a dialect of heartbeats, strung together with the lilt of long suffering and the incandescent hope of an infinite future.”  p332

Then it was on to Labyrinth Lost, by Zoraida Cordova, which I had won in a chat on Twitter in early November. This fit perfectly into the Protego prompt – #ownvoices. I really had to be restrained waiting this long to read it. It takes place in Brooklyn, but the MC is a bruja, which is a sort of melded cultural group that has aspects of Santeria and pagan ideals coupled with the Mexican Day of the Dead rituals. I loved Alex, and I loved the way this story wove itself around a completely new world and claimed it as its own. It felt rich and satisfying.

I then picked up The Upside of Unrequited, which was fantastic. This is outside my typical oeuvre, because I rarely read YA contemporary, but I’m glad I read it. This was for the Reducto prompt. I had been talking with someone on Twitter – or some such thing – and Becky Albertalli chimed in and I liked her so much I moved this right up my TBR (I received my copy at the Heartland Fall Forum). It was funny and bittersweet, saved from being saccharin by amazing insights and deadpan humor. I found myself laughing out loud quite a bit! The young love aspect is enriched by the non-traditional family and Molly’s issues with her own body image and questions about life. I loved this book so much that I offered to trade it to another blogger so it could get more love, and in return I get a copy of History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera! I am so excited to read that, thanks to Kendice, who blogs with Emily at EmilyReadsEverything.

The books I didn’t get to were The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig (Expecto Patronum prompt) and The Forbidden Wish (which was my blogger rec under the Lumos prompt). And The Sun Is Also a Star, for the Stupefy prompt, which was buried in my Christmas booktree. I also didn’t get a book for the Expelliarmus prompt. I really should have thought more about this. I’d like to do it again!

I did a little bit of score-keeping, and here is what I came up with for House Points. Go Ravenclaw!

  • I read 913 pages so at 1 point per each 10 pages, that gives me 91.3 House Points. (I was on page 235 of Unrequited when the challenge ended.) 336 +342 +235
  • I completed two books so I get 5 points for each, which is 10 House Points.
  • I reviewed two books on GoodReads. I don’t know if that counts. But if it does, that gives me 10 House Points. If it only counts for blog reviews, then I did not get any of those posted yet, but look for my upcoming reviews!
  • I posted an image of my #DAReadathon ID on Twitter for 1 House Point.
  • I tweeted using the hashtag at least five times. That’s how I got the blogger rec (two different people recommended the same book!). I posted a picture of my TBR on Instagram for an additional point (with 70 Likes, tyvm). So that makes 6 House Points for social media (which is unbelievably low of the 20 points possible).

This gives me a Grand Total of 27 + 91.3 = 118.3

All in all, I’m pretty happy that I stuck to my TBR and got to read some really good, culturally rich books. I think this was a fantastic challenge from beginning to end. I loved the Harry Potter element and being a member of Dumbledore’s Army, as well as the spell prompts. I also loved that you had a specific prompt to get recommendations, and that it really made you think about what you were reading. Very fun, and I would do this again in a heartbeat!

This weekend I’m nibbling at the #24in28 Readathon, but I am really not doing a good job at that. I was all set to get in a good hunker-down reading day yesterday, but somehow it didn’t happen. Next up I’ve almost got my #RockMyTBR Challenge list. More reading today!

Best Books of 2016, Part II

Here is part two of my Best Books post, in which I wax rhapsodic about another YA fantasy, some mysteries, some middle grade and a few children’s picture books! I hope you have a chance to check some of these out! And if you missed it, check out part one of my post of Best Books of 2016!

Now, if you know me, you know how much I love YA. And if you know how much I love YA, you know how much I love Leigh Bardugo. I didn’t miss the sequel to Six of Crows, and I didn’t leave it off my list! Here we go, making the world right:

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Yes, this is one of my favorite reads. I am, however, still in a bit of huff because the series is over. This book is the second one in the Six of Crows series. I reviewed Six of Crows here. Have I told you lately how much I love these characters? I love them so much, it hurts to say goodbye. In fact, I had a really hard time getting into this book. I had to enact the buddy-read method to get me to keep moving forward – and so that I would have someone to cry with when it was over. Okay, I didn’t cry (much). But it was still very sad. Nevertheless, pain is a part of life, and I suggest you get your hands on all the Leigh Bardugo books you can carry, and just sit down and read them all straight through. You’ll have a helluva hangover, but it will be so worth it. This setting, the writing, the story, the characters – you will be in love. (Bonus: I did preorder this, and I did get the most coolest preorder swag ever! More on that later.)

Mystery

In the Moors, Unraveled Visions, Beneath the Tor (Shaman Mystery series)
by Nina Milton

I’ve recently discovered a series published by a Minnesota publisher, Flux, which has a mystery imprint called Midnight Ink. I was looking for books about shamans, and stumbled across the Shaman Mysteries series by Nina Milton, about a modern shamanic practitioner named Sabbie Dare. Not only is it fascinating to hear about how she plies her trade, but the mysteries are good too. They are set on the Somerset moors, which only adds to the overall appeal. There are three in the series and I read them out of order, which does not seem to matter too awful much. Each one of them pulled me in and kept me going late into the night. I love Sabbie and I am totally rooting for her, even if she does have a habit of sticking her nose in where it doesn’t belong. Bonus: this counts as research for my work in progress!

Middle Grade

Sticks and Stones by Abby Cooper

What a lovely, refreshing, too-true bit of magical realism! I met Abby while we were both working on a project last spring, and I was so happy to find that her debut novel is every bit as effervescent as she is. It is a story about bullying, but also about self-confidence, about being true to yourself, and about the rigors of junior high. The main character may have a made-up condition, but the challenges she faces are as real as anything you will ever read. I loved Elyse, and her chirpy voice is spot-on and feels like someone I know. I am looking forward to more from this author!

The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee by Erin Petti

This is delightful. That is the first word that comes to mind. This was one of my top Halloween Reads this year (check the link for the full review). It is a bit creepy, yes, and in the way of children’s literature, involves giving the children a great deal of license to do as they wish. But it is a lovely story, a bit of a mystery, a love story and a ghost story all rolled into one. The construct of the main character being very curious and loving scientific method means that this is very literally used in the story, which is one way of slipping in exposure to that. But Thelma is so delightful, and her need is so dire, that we cannot help but root for her. There is even an online component. I received this at the Heartland Fall Forum book show.

Children’s Picture Books

I just got my first issue of Horn Book, which had a very cool subscription deal that I couldn’t pass up. And it reminded me again how much I love a really beautiful children’s book. I will highlight a couple here that came to me over the past year.

One North Star: A Counting Book
by Phyllis Root
Illustrations by
Beckie Prange and Betsy Bowen

This is flat-out gorgeous. I love the combined woodcut and watercolor illustrations, the deep colors, and the depiction of the natural world. It is a counting book, too, which is absolutely fun. It takes the reader deep into caves, under water, and into a bear’s den. The pages are lush and rich with detail, while at the same time being very simple. I also like that there is information in the back on the different habitats depicted. If you have not yet discovered Phyllis Root, also check out her Plant a Pocket of Prairie book, also illustrated by Betsy Bowen, or any of her other many titles. This is my top children’s book of 2016! I received a copy of this book from the publisher, University of MN Press.

 

Tinyville Town Gets to Work! By Brian Biggs

This book reminds me of the old Richard Scarry books I had when I was a kid (which, yes, I still have), with its busy bright pages full of people doing all kinds of things. This is the first in the Tinyville Town series by Biggs. I got to meet the author at the Heartland Fall Forum in the Moveable Feast, where he told us about this book. It describes a very big process (building a bridge) in a very simple way, and celebrates the idea of how people working together can make great things happen. I look forward to more in this series!

Wake Up, Island by Mary Casanova
Woodcuts by Nick Wroblewski

This details a similar landscape as One North Star but contrasts with its very delicate, lovely illustrations that also include woodcuts but with a softer palette. This book shows the whole world waking up – not just a sleepy bear scratching his back, but pine trees that stretch, and lichen that warms a rock. This is full of fun sounds – mallard wings “wuff-wuffing,” a chickadee calls, a red squirrel chatters and munches. Children will get a feel for the whole world that is contained in this tiny spot of the north woods. I received this book from the Minnesota publishers reception at the Heartland Fall Forum.

There are so many good books out there. This is a much longer list than I typically give. I keep thinking of more books I want to add. But hopefully, one of these will appeal to you, and you will find the book that you need at the time that you need it. Because books really do change lives, and they really do matter. I hope you have many great books come your way in 2017!

Best Books of 2016, Part 1

I love my stats. I am still not sure if I’ll make my reading challenge goal for this year – I had hiked it up to 80 books, even though last year I had not made my goal of 75. Call it a fit of optimism. But the year before last I read 100. Now my challenge shows me that I have 1 day and 10 hours to make my goal. This year, they have a feature called My Year in Books, which is like catnip to me. My longest book was Crooked Kingdom at 536 pages (every moment of it worthwhile); my average page count per book was 296 pages. These 72 books I’ve read so far this year amount to 20,439 pages. I like that. It’s a nice round number. I only wish I had more reading stats.

What I do have is a list of the books I liked the most. The ones that stuck with me. Here I’ll highlight my favorite reads of the year, covering many genres. My top three (no surprise) are all YA fantasy.

I want to say that YA fantasy has really stepped it up in recent years, but maybe it is just that I have only begun paying closer attention since I started blogging. I have gotten to know many bloggers on Twitter and Instagram who focus on YA, so that might be leading me more towards that genre as a whole. I am not a huge fan of contemporary (though I love Rainbow Rowell and I am looking forward to Adam Silvera’s new one), but I can’t get enough of the fantasy.

Without further ado, here are my top reads of 2016!

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

This one has stuck itself deep into my heart, deep into my psyche and my imagination. It is one of the most highly imaginative, well-executed books that I think I have ever read. It feels cut out of whole cloth. It is magical, awe-inspiring – the superlatives do not do it justice. What Kristoff has done here is imagined a whole new world – one with three suns, then created a lexicon that uses that specific element – days are not days, they are “turns” and so these characters do not say ‘some day,’ but “some turn.” He has then populated that landscape with an incredible cityscape, and other continents that share their own incredible histories, and then peopled that world with characters that make you cringe and make you cry, that you will root for and fear all at once. The writing, the very magic of the words and sentences, is sublime. There is even – wait for it – a vast, cavernous library that has its own surprise, and is prowled by actual bookworms, which will eat you whole.

This is deep and dark and full of foreboding. People die. Many die in gruesome, startling ways. Our heroine, Mia, is befriended by shadows, and you will soon wish you had your own Mister Kindly. Her story is heartbreaking, but she rises above it in ways that will astonish you. You may not agree with everything she does, but you will want her to succeed at doing it. Let’s just say it earns the hashtag for this title, which is #stabstabstab.

I cannot say enough good things about this book, except holy hell, why was it not on every best list, and why is it not being sung from the mountaintops? And just that you should go get it. Read the synopsis on your chosen book site, and then know that is not nearly enough. It is so much more. For some reason I haven’t published my review yet. And my library doesn’t have a copy. I had to get mine from another system (thank the goddess for Interlibrary loans!). But it is worth hiking over hills and mountains to get this in your hands.

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

It was hard to choose, if I had to, between this and Nevernight. The clincher, I think, was the overall feel of the book. This is a fantastic story, told by two teens, who are very different from each other. I don’t know if you will like Katie, but that’s okay. You may be repulsed by August, or utterly charmed by him. You will certainly feel for them as they are drawn into this world they inhabit, which they are trying very hard to resist. I loved the story here, I loved the characters, and I loved the utterly forlorn nature of the situation. This is not sugar-coated. It is dark and it is nasty. But there is music, though it does not bring beauty, and at the end, there is hope. This was the second book I had read by Schwab, and I found it even more wonderful than her Darker Shade of Magic series. No romance here, thank you very much. And I can’t wait for the second in this duology, Dark Duet. You can see my full review here.

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

I’ve been championing this book ever since I first read it. I loved it. It is a fast-paced, rousing rebel-with-a-cause adventure, and I want to get back to the desert and see what could possibly happen next. I loved Amani and I loved the setting. I could taste both the dust in my mouth and her own desperation to get out of her sleepy little one-horse town. But along with the adventure, this was also a book about stories. There are legends, and myths, and everyone has their own secrets, and the stories might be true, or might not. There is magic, there is a lovely spot-on bit of blushing romance, and I can’t wait for the next book. I don’t own a copy of this one, but I am torn now, because they changed the beautiful cover for the next book. Why oh why did they do that? They just don’t understand – series must match! And that gorgeous cover is something I would have loved to see carried through. Ah well. I know well enough by now that publishers have reasons why they do things.

Nonfiction

Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction by Benjamin Percy

I read this bit by bit, trying to savor it but still rushing to the next chapter. I loved the way it was laid out. Each chapter focused on a different element of writing. You might want to skip ahead to whatever is eating you at the moment, but I urge you to read it all the way through. It’s like a little masterclass between covers. See how many flags are in my copy? I am excited to put all this great advice to use. A Minnesota author by a Minnesota publisher! I got this copy at the Minnesota reception at Heartland Fall Forum, where I finally got to meet Ben in person.

The Song Poet by Kao Kalia Yang

If you have not read The Late Homecomer, you may not be familiar with Yang. She is a Minnesotan, but her writing will take you far away from here. In her latest book, she tells the story of her father. It’s interesting to hear a daughter focus on her father, but clearly they have a special relationship, and his gift made an impression on her. This is a riveting account of his life, from the mountaintop jungles to the refugee camp to life in America. It is clear that should Yang choose to, she would be an astounding poet. If you ever – I mean EVER – get a chance to hear her speak, run, don’t walk. She can make an entire room cry just answering a question. Her thoughtful, clear-headed story will leave its mark on you. Bonus: if you are not familiar with the Hmong people, you are in for a helluva story. I am so glad that she wrote this book. This one should be filed under “miraculous.” (I received a copy of this book from the publisher at the spring bookseller meeting of MiBA.

Grief Is the Things with Feathers by Max Porter

Never mind that Porter stole the title of the poem that was my mantra while my best friend was fighting cancer. I was irked by that at first, wishing I’d thought to title my poetry collection with this, but that would be too close to the source, wouldn’t it? At any rate, I did not have huge high hopes for this novel. I thought it was at best an affectation, at worst an over-hyped golden boy. But, ahem, I stand corrected, even if only to myself. This spare, lyrical novel will give you pause. It may seem crazy, but just read every word and take the journey. The journey is always different but the ending is magnificent. Keep going.

Fiction

The Dark Lady’s Mask by Mary Sharratt

Carry yourself away, 400 years in the past and across the ocean, to Italy, to England. Mary Sharratt brings it all to life. In what is fast becoming her trademark of authenticity, she has recreated the world in which, perhaps, William Shakespeare made the acquaintance of England’s first published lady poet, Aemelia Bassano. He may or may not have traveled to Italy with her, and then, returning to England, he wrote those sonnets – to her? It is all conjecture at this point, but oh, highly suspect! And somehow, it just feels right. We get glimpses of the court life, glimpses of the precarious nature of society then, the predicament of women, and the words, all the words. This is a lush, fully-imagined story, great for anyone who enjoys diving into historical fiction. Disclaimer: I worked with Mary on a social media campaign for the release of this book. Look for #OpheliaReads on Twitter and Facebook for some fun pics!

Wintering by Peter Geye

And now for something completely different. Peter Geye fully brings to life the landscape of northern Minnesota like no one else. In fact, you could say that the landscape is another character in his books. If you have not read his earlier work, The Lighthouse Road, you could pick that up first, and then binge both of these. They are each told covering two time periods, and contain multiple perspectives, sharing some characters. It is complex writing, and beautiful. Geye returns to his North Shore town of Gunflint, and tells the story of a trip a father and son took into the wild years before. It is an adventure story, tense yet full of the peace of nature. You do not need to have read Lighthouse Road in order to enjoy Wintering, however. Just find yourself some Peter Geye, and settle in for a great winter read.

 

And with that, I got carried away. Check back tomorrow for the second half of my Best of 2016 reads, with more YA, mystery, middle grade and children’s picture books!

Halloween Reads 2013 Redux

The third installment in my repost of my previous years’ Halloween Reads! Hope you enjoy this tidbit from the vault…

At the beginning of October, I was stumped for Halloween reading. Then I realized I had both of Will Alexander’s books, and they were rather breath-taking. Then I picked up a copy of The Graveyard Book that I had bought a couple of months ago, and was pulled right in. And then another book I was waiting for came in at the library, and I found a copy of The Phantom of the Opera in the spare room.

All that to say, there’s plenty to be had for spooky reading, folks. I’ve previously done up lists that included children’s books and a classic. I came up with a classic, but no children’ s book this year – if only because I found too many recent YA and adult titles that I wanted to read.

phantomoftheoperaThe Classic
Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
I saw the stage show here years ago, and of course the music is haunting. But I’d never read the book. I’m glad I did. While yes, this is a dated novel, and yes, it is undeniably a romance underneath it all, it is still spell-binding and suspenseful. Even having seen the stage show, I couldn’t remember all the plot elements that give this story its power. It has all the trappings of a good story: a glamorous setting at the Paris Opera (plus, it’s Paris!), and the mysterious below-decks world under the Opera, plus opera singers, counts and exotic foreign characters. And a mysterious dark man.

It’s all delivered in that typical turn-of the century style, addressing the reader directly (as is done in Dracula and Frankenstein). Which can detract from the modern enjoyment of the story. But it’s a classic story, and the dramatic style of the narrator can be overlooked, or might even add to it for you.

In addition, there’s that peculiar gaslight element, which is described so well – a hundred black butterflies flying just out of the corner of your eye. I think that the gaslight era was what gave us some of these great horror stories. It was certainly a factor in Dracula. Because the world looked different by gaslight. There were more shadows, more unknown things. Even the state of the Phantom is part of that. What really is his condition? Why must he wear the mask? How did he get that way? He is in the shadows, he is only half revealed ever – as anyone with any deformity was in those times. That is another element of the story that would have scared people back then – without so much of an understanding or a tolerance for the Other as perhaps we have today.

But it is still a good ghost story. (Note: if you have not read this original, you may want to pick it up and give it a go before you dive into the retelling by A.G. Howard, Roseblood!)

Two by William Alexander

Goblin Secrets (Zombay #1) and Ghoulish Song (Zombay #2)
Goblin Secrets, Alexander’s first novel, won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. That’s a tough act to follow. But in Ghoulish Song, he has done this delicious thing. He has used some of the same characters, and shown the scene from a different perspective, and then enlarged it so that we are seeing the whole day from someone else’s point of view. This serves to remind us that the world belongs to everyone, and our bit is only a small part of it.

In Goblin Secrets, there is Rownie, a sad orphaned boy who wants only to be reunited with his brother. This boy has the gift for wearing masks, which his brother had also. Sadly, that is illegal in Zombay. The gear-work guards will come cart you away if you so much as put on a fake nose. The boy is taken in by some goblins, and he hopes that they will not Change him. This boy, he has a lot to worry about.

ghoulishsongIn Ghoulish Song, we see the same days, most of them, from the point of view of a girl, who has somehow lost her shadow. And the different ways that a ghoul is dealt with are interesting – in some areas, they are burned. In others, they are dismembered and buried in separate pieces. And if you’ve lost your shadow, you’re a ghoul. This book has a lot to do with music, which tames real ghouls, and may just help her get her shadow back. In the meantime, she ends up stranded on a beach, trapped in a museum and facing a ghoul in a burned out house. This girl, she too has a lot to worry about.

I loved the duality of the same things meaning beginnings and endings: waving good bye and hello; the Name Day song and the funeral song; what holds it together can also tear it apart. True of so many things. Firmly grounded in worldwide folklore, both of these books are worlds built that you will somehow recognize but that are so original and surprising that you will just want more.

And the one thing these books are full of, other than imagination and a love of language, obviously, is truth.

graveyardbookTwo by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Sort of like a macabre version of Mary Poppins, which is to take nothing away from its originality. Except our young boy has run-ins with ghouls and witches and Hounds of God, among sundry other beings. But in the same way, he is shown an alternate, a parallel world, and this is where the original bits come in. Not only do we get that delicious British turn of phrase every so often, but the plight of the poor boy, whose family is murdered prior to the first pages, is bittersweet, and at once heart-breaking and heart-warming. His name is Nobody, Bod for short, and he is being raised in a cemetery by an assortment of ghosts and other-worldly creatures that give him quite a unique take on the world – and life. The illustrations are beautiful, spare and dare I say, haunting. This book just goes to show that not everything that looks scary is bad, not everything stupid is harmless, and not every monster is evil. This is one book that I wanted to revisit almost immediately, the kind that makes you sad that no, you can’t go back again and read it for the first time.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Okay, sue me, two Neil Gaimans. But I read this first, and it was scary! It is honestly no children’s story. There are beings in here that we cannot even fathom – and that can’t be explained. It is frightening, it is mind-blowing, and highly, highly magical, lovely and original. In this latest outing, Gaiman explores memory, childhood wonder and sacrifice, among other issues. I read this months ago, and the confrontation in the field still makes me shrink back. I loved our little hero, and I loved his darling friend, and we should all be so lucky as to have an ocean at the end of our lane.

Help for the Haunted by John Searles
I was probably more affected by what I expected from this book than from what actually happened in it. The ‘Don’t go down in the basement’ vibe will definitely feed you some chills, as will the inexplicable always-burning light bulb and for sure the creepy doll Penny. Searles is a bit too vague as to what actually goes on sometimes, though, in terms of the spooky stuff. It’s all a matter of being afraid of what you don’t know. The real story here is a murder mystery compounded by a young girl whose parents had a rather unusual occupation, and who left her dealing with the aftermath of it. The scariest part involves a very real psycho, but I will leave it to you to discover just who that is. It’s a sad story that is highly charged with all the right particles to make a believable masquerade as a ghost story.

Recommended but Not Read

This House is Haunted by John Boyne
I did not get a chance to read this one, but it goes on my list due to a wonderful review by a mystery writer that I respect very much, as well as other good buzz. It’s a good old-fashioned Gothic ghost story, complete with isolated manor, intrepid governess and things that go bump in the night (in Victorian England, of course). I do wish that I had read it for this year’s column, but it will have to wait for next year, along with House of Leaves, Mrs. Poe and some others.

To find out more about what I’m reading, look for me on GoodReads. Sometimes my reviews there are lengthy, and sometimes they are really my notes for writing reviews elsewhere. But my To-Be-Read shelf overfloweth. You can also find me on Tumblr as Imagining Things, where I post pictures of cemeteries, among other things.

 

This article first appeared on Examiner.com in October 2013. All copyright retained by author.

Halloween Reads 2012 Redux

Another one from the vault! Here is my post from Halloween 2012!

Every year about this time, I pull together a list of the most spine-tingling books I’ve come across in the preceding year. I confess that they may not be the year’s current crop, but they are the ones I’ve read that I felt were good enough to make the Halloween list. I try to include a classic, a children’s selection, and a current title in each year’s selection. This year, I have only three titles on my Halloween reading list, but they are good ones!

fallofhouseofusherThe Classic
Edgar Allan Poe

Every year I review a classic piece of literature that I feel qualifies as creepy enough for Halloween. I have done Frankenstein and Dracula, and this year, I was at a loss, until I was reading about Baltimore and remembered Poe. My favorite Poe story is “The Cask of Amontillado,” but perhaps his best known story is “The Tell-Tale Heart,” or perhaps the poem “The Raven.” I find all his works spooky and creepy enough to qualify for Halloween reading. Through his “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and other whodunits, Poe is considered the father of the mystery or detective fiction genre, and as such, The Mystery Writers of America named their highest honor after him.

If you are not familiar with Edgar Allan Poe, this is the perfect time to pick up a collection of his stories, and while away a delicious evening being thoroughly amazed at the sheer inventiveness of his victims’ demises. There are many collections of his works; my copy is called The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Tales, which contains most of his major works. There is also Forgotten Tales and many other iterations.

Can You Survive? Bram Stoker’s Dracula (chapter book)
A Choose Your Path Book, adapted by Ryan Jacobson
Lake7Creative, $8.95
Last year, I read Dracula by Bram Stoker as one of my Halloween reads. I saw this adaptation at the Heartland Fall Forum and just could not resist picking it up. This book will keep kids (both boys and girls) occupied for hours. It is meant for tweens – ages 8-12. How Jacobson fit in the actual text from the classic Dracula into a 172-page book for kids, I will never know (I’m sure that there is a lot of descriptive material cut out). But the kernel of the story is there in all its Gothic glory (age-appropriate, of course).

Every few pages, there is a choice, and one choice leads you through the story, while the other choice – well, you get eaten by wolves or some such fatal ending. It was compelling enough that it had me flipping through both endings and yet I didn’t feel that I lost the thread of the story. Kids who like RL Stine and who are gearing up for Twilight might really enjoy this. Jacobson lives in Mora, MN and has adapted a whole series of classic tales for young readers in this way.

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian
This book was under my Recommended But Not Read section last year. Well, this year, I’m here to tell you that this is the perfect freaky creepy Halloween read. A couple moves to a small village to escape a horrific tragedy – the husband is a pilot, and his plane went down, and let’s just say he didn’t pull a Scully. Turns out the village is full of witches, ghosts, and people curiously ending up dead. Oh, and there’s that door in the basement which is bolted shut with 39 bolts – the exact number of people who died on the plane. This one is full of “Get out!” and “Don’t go in the basement!” moments – and really pulls one on you at the end. I enjoyed it as a ghost story, although I did feel the ending was a bit pat, and rather confusing (fast forward from major climatic event to ten years later and everybody’s happy?). So if you are just willing to go in and have no moralistic objections, this is a good spooky story that will leave you wishing you had not stayed up alone so late.

Last year I included some kids’ stories. There is no such froth this year. It’s simply read or die! You know what you have to do…

 

This article first appeared on Examiner.com in October 2012. All copyright retained by author.

Halloween Reads 2011 Redux

halloween2012No, that’s not a typo. This is my very first Halloween Reads round-up from 2011, from my Examiner column when I was the Minneapolis Books Examiner. I have recently discovered that the site is no longer active, and my old links don’t work, so I couldn’t link up to my previous Halloween Reads in my latest post. I wanted to make these available again, so here is where it all started!

Going down the garden path this time of year should lead to chills and thrills, with an ominous wind blowing and some kind of black animal flitting across your path. But if you just want to stay inside and get your chills by curling up with a good book, here are several that will give you goosebumps or at least make you lock the door. There’s still time to grab one of these and give yourself a nice night by the fire.

A Classic and a Phenom

Dracula by Bram Stoker
Last year I read Frankenstein, and this year decided to go with the Count. I can see why Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a classic, though it’s a little slow-paced for modern tastes. Maybe the problem is that we all know what’s going to happen already. But I can just imagine reading this by gaslight and not knowing about the blood-thirsty evil villain.

I also read the first Stephenie Meyer book, Twilight, and I actually liked it. I’m on to New Moon next. So whichever way you go, vampires make for a good spine-tingling read, if you don’t mind a bit of romance.

A Mysterykillingkate

Killing Kate by Julie Kramer
This mystery is the fourth in Kramer’s Riley Spartz series, about an intrepid TV reporter who seems to attract trouble like a magnet. In this one, she tracks a serial killer who leaves chalk outlines of angel wings around his victims. Unbeknownst to Spartz, he is inspired (or commanded) by a large black statue of an angel located in Iowa, just south of the Minnesota border. But Spartz has more than this creep to worry about. Nothing like a good showdown in a cemetery.

A Bit of Fantasy

Among Others by Jo Walton
This is a coming of age story written in the form of a girl’s diary. Now, don’t groan. Our girl is highly intelligent and seriously unusual. We learn her story in bits and pieces until finally we’ve got it all. She dabbles in magic and fears her mother, aka the evil witch. Along the way, we get schooled in an unbelievable book list, helped along by the book club she joins at boarding school. This book is about what happens when magic goes bad, but books are there to help you.

elsewhere_shadowsA Middle Grade

The Shadows by Jacqueline West (The Books of Elsewhere #1)
This is a story about Olive, an erstwhile loner who has moved into a rather creepy old house. In her attempt to make friends, she goes just a little bit too far, and ends up in a place that she had never dreamed existed. Loved Olive. This may just be creepy enough to keep the kids up past their bedtime.

Children’s Picture Books

Zen Ghosts by Jon J Muth
If you haven’t seen Zen Shorts, or even if you have, pick up this thoughtful, beautiful book by this Caldecott-winning author. As you might guess from the word ‘Zen,’ the story is much deeper than it appears. This is based on a legend first written down in 12th century China. It’s a bit creepy, but a little bit sad, and a kind of love story. In the book, the story is being told to children on Halloween, who always accompany the panda Stillwater. There are costumes, and there are costumes. It’s very fitting for Halloween.

The Haunted Hamburger and Other Ghostly Stories by David LaRochellelarochelle2011
Don’t let the cheesy title fool you (sorry, couldn’t help myself). LaRochelle is a storyteller of the first rate, and here he has imagined what might frighten ghost children. A haunted hamburger, a terribly affectionate Granny and a bad ending (so to speak) for a naughty little ghost boy make up these stories. It’s a lovely book, perfect for little ones who want something imaginative but not too scary. Note: that’s David there on the right! He is also well-known for his astounding carved pumpkins, which he distributes at this time of year. This one was presented to Redbery Books in Cable, WI.

Recommendations

I’ve not read these but they have come highly recommended by readers… nay, book lovers whom I trust.

The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan
Recommended by Bethanne Patrick on Beyond the Margins
Obsessive violence is the danger in this take on a preoccupied couple who meet a man with a disturbing story to tell.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
Recommended by Beth Beaty – this has apparently become a cult favorite, and I was told that anyone with a love for print would find this unbeatable. Of course, I was also told, “I was afraid of the sound of my furnace for months.” Be warned. A tricky house is more than it first appears to be, and finally becomes dangerous.

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian
Comes recommended from many sources as a highly spooky ghost story. A door locked with 39 bolts in a basement baffles a family when they move into a Victorian house in a village in New England. The couple are both carrying their own demons, and this story promises a look at characters we will care about deeply, even if some of them are dead. (Note: I’ve since read this and oh my gosh yes!)

 

This article first appeared on Examiner.com in October 2011. All copyright retained by author.

Halloween Reads 2016

halloweenI love a good, creepy story, and just when I think that I have run out of good ones to talk about, I find another gold mine in an author or series that I had not heard of yet, or something that I thought everyone knew about. This is my sixth annual Halloween Reads round-up, continuing over from my old book column on Examiner. Last year, they went defunct, so sadly, those articles are gone. But you can read my 2015 recs over on my other blog, Publishing Bones (because this blog was not up yet).

Photo credit: Mark Cassell

This year, I am heavy on the YA, but that’s okay. Each year, I try to cover a few different areas: a book or two for children, a Middle Grade (MG), a Young Adult (YA) and a classic. I sometimes throw in a mystery or a contemporary, depending on what catches my eye. This year, I feel like I’ve been steeped in YA, which is perfectly fine by me. I don’t have any particular children’s books recs this year, though I know there is a 20th anniversary edition of A Nightmare Before Christmas that came out in 2013, which is the poem Tim Burton originally wrote and upon which the movie was based. I also saw lots of good titles on the Candlewick Twitter feed. As for what I’ve been able to read, I’m going to start off with a wonderful MG, then a terrific YA!

 

The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee by Erin Petti

I loved this book! Everything about it – from the way the chapters were organized by scientific method, to the way that Thelma was determined to consider things from an intellectual perspective rather than let her emotions take over. She is a lovely protagonist and I loved how close she was to her family and her friends. I loved her note taking, how she reached for her notebook as an automatic reflex. We’ve got all the good ingredients here for a really scary story, too. Thelma’s dad runs an antique shop, and let’s just say there is one purchase he should have passed on! The box and the man and the creepy lady with the bun and the woods and the creepy little house! There were a few times when I was totally on the edge of my seat. When things go haywire, Thelma enlists the help of her friends who are in a paranormal society. I love the idea of a paranormal society, and how that all just fits in with what Thelma needs to discover. I am a big fan of stories that cover large time spans, and this one does it very well. We get to go back in history, and it affects everything in the present. And I love the fact that even though Thelma feels closer to her dad, she becomes closer to her mom in ways she had never anticipated. I got to meet the author at a book convention in October. She told us about the website affiliated with the book, where kids can conduct their own paranormal investigations. Pretty cool stuff! This is a delightful MG story, and I hope that we see more of Thelma Bee.

How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Matherhowtohangawitch

Many stories have been set in Salem and this has to be one of the best I’ve read. This is an excellent intense paranormal thriller – honestly, I don’t know how to classify it but it is solid. The MC’s family history parallels the author’s own family history, and maybe that is why it feels so authentic. If you have a penchant for witches and ghosts, you will love this. It is not only creepy, but follows our heroine on a voyage of self-discovery, which of course is the best kind of trip. Her life is turned upside down when she is forced to move from NYC to this small town, where her family name is suddenly suspect. She is supremely tested and really has to spin her head around to determine who she can trust. She doesn’t always choose correctly. I loved all the details about spells, and the specific details about Salem itself. And I have it on good authority that Samantha will be back in future adventures! She’s only 15 so we should have a ways to go. I loved her voice as a character – her snark, her sarcasm and her tenacity. I am so glad I picked this up this past week. I blazed through it in two nights. It was intense and thrilling and ultimately satisfying.

 

I have a couple of modern classic recommendations, thanks to Alison at Little Bookworm blog! She posted this beautiful pic and I just had to have it. There were descriptions of these on her account and I have paraphrased them here (all credit to Alison).

Susan Hill – three novellas

susanhillalisonThe Woman in Black – in which a a solicitor sent to clear up legal matters spies a mysterious woman at the funeral for the owner of Eel Marsh house. This poor solicitor has to stay on to sort things out in the lonely house, when the mist begins to creep up, cutting the house off from the rest of the world. (Psst that’s an Eel Marsh House candle! By William Joseph Candles.)

The Small Hand – Poor Adam Snow stumbles across the derelict old White House late one evening and decides to enter, only to be repelled when he feels a small hand creeping into his own. This is just the beginning of a series of odd experiences.

Printer’s Devil Court – A mysterious manuscript, terrifying medical experiments and secrets secrets secrets. This one sounds like just my cup of tea – Dickensonian with a touch of Shelley.

Alison posted this pic on her Instagram account (Go! Look for @littlebookwormig). They are beautiful books! She says they are special Susan Hill Collector’s Editions. There are more in the set.

 

Also thanks to Alison, I have been reminded of Stephen King. This pic of hers gives me the willies. If you haven’t read any Stephen King, I recommend starting with Salem’s Lot:

Salem’s Lot by Stephen Kingstephenkingalison

I read this when I was like 12. It was super creepy. It’s all about vampires who take over a town – I mean, the town turns into vampires. King excels at building up characters so that you really care about them, and then putting them in terrifying situations, and in some cases, making them terrifying. So that you are doubly traumatized, see? The most haunting image, after all these years, is the family in the trailer. Just. Oh. I have to say, after reading this and The Amityville Horror (see below), I am pretty much done with horror books. My head just creates scenes that are too scary. I have watched a few of the movies from King’s work, like Carrie and The Shining, and yep, I gotta stop there. But that’s just me. You, you go ahead and read them all!

 

You can find more recommendations in the Fortnight of Fright feature over at The Book Addicts Guide, because I am sad I didn’t come up with the idea first! Two whole weeks of round-ups – whew! I’m too much of a chicken to read *actual* horror books, so if you like those, go on over to check out things like The Haunting of Hill House, etc. I can’t read them any more after reading The Amityville Horror when I was like 13. Saw red eyes everywhere for weeks! See, there’s two recs right there…

 

There are some books that just stay with you. I am dying (haha, dying, get it?) to return to the completely creepy aesthetic of Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger – and I have been searching diligently for it. Another book that has stayed with me was The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian – just when you think you know how things are going to end… Also, the YA series The Hollow by Jessica Verday was very overlooked. I loved the vibe of that.

So if you are looking for a fantastically creepy read this Halloween, I hope that I have helped you out. I’m sad that I couldn’t link to my previous posts. They have gone on into the ether. So I may repost them here, if I can find the time this week. Stay tuned! If you have any suggestions for others, or comments on the above, please leave a comment!

My BEA Preview Round-up and a Giveaway!

As you may know, the biggest book show of the year is right around the corner. BookExpoAmerica (BEA) the trade show for the American Bookseller Association, runs May 11-13 in Chicago. Sadly, I will not be attending BEA this year. It has been a long time since I have gone, and since it’s in my own backyard this year, I am especially miffed that I can’t make it. I would love to meet some of the bloggers I have come to know in the past year, who helped me and encouraged me to start this blog! Hopefully that will happen soon.

What I got to do, though, was write some pieces for the PW Show Daily for the second year in a row. I had been doing reviews for Publishers Weekly for a few years, and last year got connected with the editor in charge of the Show Daily, a kind of newsletter that tells what’s going on at the show. These are exciting interview opportunities, but boy is the turn-around time short! It is worth it, though, to get to talk to these authors about their upcoming books.

This year, I got to talk to five authors. Yes, five books, five authors, five interviews in two weeks. It was a pretty hectic time! They were all wonderful, and all the books were fantastic – very different in every way but all good. Here are the five books that my interviews focused on. If you go to BEA, be sure to look for the Show Daily – a new one each day, for very day of the show. The Show Daily also includes schedules of all the author events for each day in there, so be sure to pick yours up!

MischlingMischling: A Novel by Affinity Konar
This is a haunting, lyrical story of a set of twins held in Auschwitz under the “care” of Dr. Josef Mengele, the infamous Dr. Death. They are experimented on, as was his wont, and ultimately become separated. The first half of the book shows the depth of their coping and will to survive. The second half of the book concerns their journey after the liberation of the camp, while they are searching for each other. While this is not an easy story to read, it is told so beautifully and carefully, it will be worth the effort. Konar was a sweet person to talk to, and I felt like she bared her soul to me. Look for the interview in the Show Daily if you go; I think it was the best of the lot. A tiny drop of the sparseness and poetic prose in this book: “Sensitive to my disappointment, he gave me a weak smile, and clasped at my hand, which was rather uncomfortable because my heart was busy falling into the blackest depths of me, a locale unknown even to Uncle, and in that place it shed its skin, grew thorns, rolled in bile, and assumed a new shell. Thus armored, the resourceful organ climbed the ladder of my ribs back into place.” Just, oh. Takes your breath away.

Fates and Traitors by Jennifer Chiaverini
This is a riveting account of a time in history that most of us think we know very well. It is told compellingly from the point of view of the four women who knew John Wilkes Booth best: his mother, his sister, his sweetheart and his friend’s mother. The idea of taking a reviled villain and making him appear sympathetic (because we get to know these women and feel sympathy for them, as they loved him dearly) is a tall order (think Wicked), but here it has been accomplished. It is an engaging and dramatic story, full of all kinds of detail of the life in those times, including the social codes and the way actors were regarded. In our phone call, Jennifer suggested, “Think how the country would respond today if George Clooney shot the President.” We had a riveting conversation about feminism, loyalty and public opinion. [Note: GoodReads lists the hardcover edition under A Memoir of the Assassin John Wilkes Booth As Told by Four Ladies, but the ebook is under the final title.]

The Virginity of Famous Men by Christine Sneed
This is a collection of short stories, a few of which are based in the same world as Sneed’s novel Little Known Facts. The other stories vary widely, from a teen driven by her mom to do the right thing and learning to care about something outside of herself, to a woman working in a call center who can’t relate to her co-workers. The short story is a fine art form, and Sneed executes it well. She was also a delight to talk to, just like having coffee with an old friend. We talked a lot about writing and how she balances her work.

DarktownDarktown by Thomas Mullen
This is a thriller noir type book – most of it takes place at night. It is set in the deep south in 1948, and centers around the first black police officers in Atlanta. Of course, they are trying to solve a murder, but they are also dealing with all kinds of threats, issues and problems associated with their positions and racism. It is fast and tense at times, but the characters are built of whole cloth, so it also feels literary. Mullen also has an incredible lexicon for describing heat. The issues that it brings to light still resonate today. This is more of a police procedural but I like mysteries in general so I found it a good read.

Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
This book is nonfiction –it is memoir-ish, in that she talks about some things in her life, reflects on her children and shares snippets. But mostly it is an interactive book. This was perhaps my favorite interview and my favorite book to read. I read it in one evening. The textbook part of the book is that it is split up into subject areas, like junior high: Language Arts, Science, Music. The basis of the interactive part is that there are 18 different texting prompts that fit in with the book. You are invited to do all kinds of fun and interesting things: send in a picture of a rainbow, listen to an audio segment, send Amy an idea for a matching tattoo you could get. You can even be matched up with another reader. This is all facilitated via the texting and through the book’s website, where you can see galleries of the rainbows and self-portraits, or even win a pie or a visit from Amy. I would pay to have lunch with this woman! We had a great conversation and I can’t wait to see the reaction to this book. Her previous book, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, was voted one of Amazon’s Top 10 Best Memoirs of the Decade. Be sure to check out the website for fun stuff.

Giveaway!!

If you happen to find any of my stories in the Show Daily (watch for byline Linda White), snap a pic and post it on Twitter with the hashtag #LindaShowDaily. You must be following me to win, @LindaWonder. I will choose random winners for these and other ARCs, five winners total! Let’s see your pics!! Deadline for hashtag use is May 31; winners will be notified by June 6. This is my first blog giveaway, and May is my six month bloggiversary, so come celebrate with me!

Minnesota Nice: Best of 2015

The year of 2015 was a slow reading year for me. I typically would have little trouble meeting my goal of 100 books. This year, I have yet to reach my goal of 75 books. I have 36 hours and 13 books to go (with seven books on my Currently Reading shelf). Do you think I can make it?

Of the books I read this year, several were standouts. I read widely, so this will include some fantasy, some historical, some nonfiction and even a gorgeous book that you might think was written for children. These are not reviews, per se, but my recommendations. You can find a synopsis of any of these titles on GoodReads or Amazon.

First up, the two books that I want to highlight the most. These are the books that I recommend without fail, that I cannot stop thrusting into the hands of unwary passersby. I even handsold a copy of one of these to a friend at a bookstore – and I don’t even work there! Without further ado, here are my favorite reads from 2015.

LibraryMountCharTHE LIBRARY AT MOUNT CHAR
by Scott Hawkins

What do you do when you find that your god needs to be replaced? This is the one I handsold. This is the book that when I finished it, I wanted to turn right around and start reading it again. This book enlarged my world and blew my mind. It is gory in places, but the story swept me along so that I didn’t even mind how many different ways people were being killed. The mythology, the magic, the languages – THE LIBRARY! Oh, I’m a sucker for a lovely library, with floors of jade and a ceiling that reaches the sky. But there’s much more to it, and Hawkins delivers on all fronts. Doesn’t hurt that he is a super accessible on GoodReads and his blog and he gifts his readers with insight, as well as an extra short story now and then. I hardly ever read anything with the word ‘contemporary’ in it, but this contemporary fantasy does everything right. He’s been compared to Neil Gaiman, and earns every bit of it.

THE WATCHMAKER OF FILIGREE STREET by Natasha PulleyWatchmakerFiligree

For a swift journey back to Victorian London, you can’t go wrong here. This story takes all that is magical about London, and with a funky clockwork steampunk vibe, makes it about all the universal things that we are so concerned with: belonging, choices, finding your way in life, possibilities, and chance. The concerns feel modern, yet we are completely present in Victorian London. The characters build until you are rooting for them, whether they are good or bad. Exploring the idea of knowing what might happen, and how that affects things, and what change a chance encounter can exhibit. There was just enough tension, but not too much, and the intriguing magical realism lent an other-worldly air to that seemed exotic, along with the Japanese flourishes. What would you do if you could sense what was going to happen? How would it affect your life if you saw sounds as colors? I enjoyed this book so much, I’m leading the discussion on it in book club in two months. Think Aimee Bender meets Cassandra Clare.

SERIES

ShadowBoneThe Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

I read these straight through, and boy howdy, am I glad I did. There is nothing quite like completely inhabiting a world, and Bardugo takes you there and sticks you in it. As Alina’s fortunes rise and fall, your heart will too. You will fall in love repeatedly, you will root for and then banish bad guys, you will despair and then be uplifted. Just start with Shadow and Bone and cozy up with all three. Surrender to the Russianesque flourishes, the empirical splendor, the daring and the imagination. It’s a truly fun ride. Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, Ruin and Rising.

My treat to myself for New Year’s Eve will be reading SIX OF CROWS, also by Leigh Bardugo, which is set in the same world but is a different storyline. I’ve been looking forward to this for months. I have no doubt that it will deliver everything the hype has promised.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I likewise read these all straight through, once the final volume came out. These kept me up way past my bedtime, as I wondered how on earth the children were going to get out of yet another seemingly deadly situation (SPOILER: they do). But even as they survive each grim encounter, you wonder how their kind will survive overall, and that is what kept me turning pages. Top that with the strange and curious photos that accompany each chapter, which really help you to picture the characters and bring the story to life. I loved the erstwhile love story background to it all, I loved the imagination of how this society lived and thrived and then merely survived, and what will happen to them next. Spellbinding. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Hollow City, Library of Souls.

Contemporary Fiction

KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST by J. Ryan Stradal

I am still, months later, in love with Eva. I want more of Eva. This is, in the same vein as Stonich’s VACATIONLAND, a collection of stories, really, all connected by their relationship to one woman. Each chapter features a different food (with recipes!!). I love the pure sensory detail of it, but the characters shine through, even with as large a cast as this. Life, love, food. What else is there? This one brings it home, and particularly so if you have an attachment to the Midwest. True Minnesota flavor.

FishingRayanneFISHING WITH RAYANNE by Ava Finch

Call it chick lit if you like, but this lovely story, with its feisty heroine, made me sit up and take notice. I loved Rayanne, I loved her grit and determination but also her insecurity and vulnerability. I like how she knows the right thing to do but can’t always quite manage it. I like how she loves Dot, but somehow manages her mother and father too. I love how she found herself in fishing, and in so doing, made a name for herself, a life for herself, in a field with few women, but I wouldn’t call her a feminist. I can’t wait for the next one in this trilogy. Also, that whole Minnesota thing, done so well.

Honorable mention in novels:

ILLUMINAE by Amie Kaufman

Such a cool presentation, a story told in real time excerpts via email, reports and instant messages. I loved the story, I loved the experience. Even if you have never read a piece of science fiction, you will enjoy this space story/romance.

FIRST CIRCLE CLUB by Alex SiegelFirstCircle

I love a good mystery, but am less enamored with thrillers. However, this supernatural thriller picked me up and carried me along and then gently set me down at the end, and I can’t wait for the next one. Heaven and hell band together to fight an unknown foe – what could possibly go wrong?

Children’s Book

THE SLEEPER AND THE SPINDLE by Neil Gaiman

This gorgeous book, with its breathtaking and detailed pen and ink drawings, vellum jacket and beautiful prose, will carry you along just fine… until suddenly, in true Gaimanesque fashion, it veers wildly off to the left and you are careening down a road that you never dreamed existed. Recommended for strong-willed girls, unless you want to truly tame them. Boys will enjoy it too, don’t get me wrong. I simply loved this original retelling of the Sleeping Beauty tale. Just stunning. I’ve recommended it to a slew of friends already.

Nonfiction

Because I review books about literature for Library Journal, I invariably come across gems so delicious that I just must share them. This year was no exception. Here are a few that grabbed me.

100DemonsONE HUNDRED DEMONS
by Lynda Barry

You might flip through this quickly, but it will surely leave you with food for thought. I loved how she took something that at face value might seem innocuous, and then turned it into a profound statement on life. I also loved the way it was presented. A truly talented artist, Barry seems to also be something of a philosopher.

RARE BOOKS UNCOVERED: True Stories of Fantastic Finds in Unlikely Places by Rebecca Rego Barry

This book made me cry. At the end of the story about the manuscript discovered in the attic, how that house had seen so much history, I don’t know why, but I was just overcome. It also served to awaken in me a latent tendency for collecting. I’ve dabbled in book collecting over the years, but this book is such a handy primer to the passion, it is like a how-to. And who am I to resist? I gave it a starred review for Library Journal. This book will give you hope for that pearl in the oyster.

Honorable Mention in nonfiction: These titles were so valuable to me over the past year, I would be remiss in not mentioning them.

THE EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES: A Biography of Cancer
by Siddhartha Mukherjee

A completely accessible and clear-cut exploration of the treatment of cancer. Anyone who has been touched by this monstrous disease and who has wondered why will find some answers here.

THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING UP by Marie Kondo

I have read this through at least twice, and will likely read it again before too long. Kondo’s method will work for you, but it won’t be quick. Her idea of sorting by category rather than location in attempts to declutter is a game-changer.

In my years of writing for Examiner, I always enjoyed round-up posts. You can find my year-end Best of posts there, as well as an annual Halloween Reading post. The last one of these was done on my writing blog, because I no longer wanted to post on Examiner but hadn’t yet gotten this blog up. Included in that post was The Library at Mount Char and the Miss Peregrine’s series. They are just that creepy!

There are many more books on my list, many more books in stacks and piles around my house, and many more that I hope to review on this blog over the coming year. The reviews won’t all be this long. 🙂 I hope you will join me!

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