A Year End Review: Books

I will get caught up. I will get caught up. I will get caught up.

That has been my mantra this year. I never seemed to get caught up, however. In my last post (in October! gasp!), I mentioned some of the busyness and teaching difficulties I was dealing with. Just when things seemed to be settling down at the beginning of November, I was asked to take over an ENG 102 class when the instructor had to take a leave of absence. With only six weeks left, I had to teach a crash course in research writing to a group of tired and overwhelmed students. We all survived (and some really good things came out of the class), but my blogging, reading, and writing came to a halt. Now that I can breathe a little, I decided a good place to start back would be with a year end review of my favorite books this year.

Before I begin, I need to provide a few caveats.

  • I have a love/hate relationship with end-of-the-year lists. I love to read them, to see what books other readers enjoyed, to affirm my own loves of the year, and to add to my ever-growing TBR. But, I also hate when books are overlooked, and I find it so difficult to come up with a list.
  • I don’t read books that I don’t enjoy. If I don’t like it, I stop reading (there will be a post about this in 2017). The result is that my list of books at the end of the year is a list of books I loved–or at least liked–which makes narrowing the list really difficult.
  • I challenged myself this year to read more diversely. I wanted to expand the genres I read, the authors I read, the places, experiences,  and cultures represented in the books I read. In some areas, I succeeded. I read more creative nonfiction and debut novels (categories severely lacking in my previous reading lists). In others, I still need more work.
  • Although I still don’t feel like it’s enough, I read more this year than I have the last three years. I’ve enjoyed something about every book that I read. The books that follow, though, are ones that have stuck with me the most.

Continue reading

Advertisements

The Long, Long Life of Trees: A Review

I’ve always had a thing for trees. I spent much of my childhood in the country, and many of my favorite memories involve the trees that watched as I grew. I climbed trees. I hid in natural forts made from closely-growing trees whose bowing canopy I imagined to be a cave designed just for me. I sat on a swing tied to a branch of a large pecan tree and spent hours reading or making up stories.

When I was a teenager, I took a trip to New Mexico with a group from my church. Others in the group were awed by the canyons, the desert, and the expansive sky. I enjoyed seeing these things, but I missed trees. As we drove back across the country and drew nearer to home, the number of trees lining the roads increased.  I squealed with delight to see the varying shades of green and brown, earthy colors that made me feel connected again to the world around me. Continue reading

The Wolf Road: A Review

“A good knife is hard to come by, about as hard as finding a good person in this damned country. When your life is your only currency and you got debts to pay, a good knife can make all the difference.”

One of my reading goals this year was to read more debut novels, and I’ve read several. The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis was one such novel that I had added to my TBR almost a year before it was released in July. But, where The Wolf Road differs from the other debuts I’ve read is that this novel doesn’t read like a debut. This is a stunning novel written by a skillful writer and storyteller.  Continue reading

Snow White: A Review

I received my first copy of Grimm’s fairy tales before I was old enough to read. Almost every day I  leafed through the gilt-edged pages looking only  at the beautiful, painted illustrations and telling stories to myself. That book began my love affair with fairy tales in all of their forms.

Because my first encounter with fairy tales was through images, it seems quite fitting that my most recent experience would be similar.

Matt Phelan’s graphic novel, Snow White, will be published by Penguin Random House on September 13, 2016.  Matt Phelan is an illustrator and writer who has been nominated for two Eisner Awards and who has won the prestigious Newberry Medal and Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction.

snow whiteA beautiful retelling of a classic fairy tale, Matt Phelan’s Snow White is set in depression-era NYC. He remains faithful to the classic, literary versions of the tale (namely that of the Grimm Brothers) while adapting the story in a way that is moving and unique in 1920s New York.  Continue reading

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife: A Review

Meg Elison’s The Book of the Unnamed Midwife received the Philp K. Dick Award in 2015, and it’s not hard to see why. Philip K. Dick once said,

“Today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups… So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.”

midwifeGood science fiction allows us to imagine an alternate reality and, in many cases, to challenge those systems of power that structure our world. The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, examines and challenges social structures like gender, sexuality, injustice, morality, religion, and ultimately power.  Continue reading

Review: You Will Know Me

Megan Abbott is referred to as the “Queen Bee”by her fans, and for good reason. She has written several novels, many which fall into noir or mystery categories, and has received numerous awards, including Best Hardcover Novel of the Year from International Thriller Writers for The Fever (2015).  Abbott’s novels often focus on themes related to the social dynamics of young adulthood, of girlhood, sexuality, community hysteria, and the lines between child and adult.

you will know meIn her recent novel, You Will Know Me, Abbott continues to explore these themes, but departs from her usual convention of telling the story from the teenage girl’s perspective. Instead, the novel centers on the adults whose lives revolve around their daughters in the competitive world of gymnastics.  Continue reading

Best Books of Summer 2016

Yesterday, I noticed that leaves are starting to fall from the trees, and  pecans are on the ground. And on our evening walks, the cicadas loudly announce the dog days of summer. The fall semester  begins on Wednesday, so even though it is still unbearably hot and humid, I know that summer has officially come to an end. Fall–my favorite time of year–is around the corner. In the south, we have to wait longer for cooler weather, but our autumn is a much-deserved reward for enduring the summer. In the fall, the air is crisp, leaves crunch underfoot, the sun often shines, and the world is full of color.

The fall season also means a busy semester and not quite as much time to read. Rather, I catch up on reading in the summer and over winter breaks. So, I thought the best way to wrap up my season and prepare to move into another is to recap my favorite books of the summer. Continue reading