Best Books I read in 2016

I am so glad 2016 is over! Though I didn’t read as many books as 2015 (mostly because a lot of what I read was fan-fiction, which I love, but doesn’t count towards my reading goals for the year), I still read a decent amount of good books (232 total). I read a ton of mangas (71 – impressive when you think they’re about 2oo pgs each) and there were a lot of really good ones there. This is the first year I’ve had a separate category for mangas on my end of the year list. The theme for this year appears to have been romances, though not intentionally, mostly just because of issues in my personal life reflecting into what I chose to read. 

Picture Books

jack-frost

  • Jack Frost (Guardians of Childhood #3) by William Joyce – I love William Joyce’s books and this one was a visual masterpiece. I love the Guardians of Childhood series and this is graphically amazing younger children’s version before he brings out the full-on book for the chapter book series. A new interpretation of the Jack Frost myth, and it is this book whose story was featured on The Rise of the Guardians movie that came out in 2013. 
  • I Love You Already by Jory John – brought to you by the same guy that did Goodnight Already!, which I adored. Hilarious sequel about Bear and his neighbor Duck, who annoys the crap out of him but who he still likes. Reminds me of parents and kids. 
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  • Mother Bruce written/illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins – funniest book I read this year, hands down. Goose baby-wearing by a grumpy bear, enough said. 
  • It Came in the Mail written/illustrated by Ben Clanton – Picked it up after discovering his other adorable comic, Narwhal and Jelly (described below). An adorable book and very imaginative. A little boy, aptly named Liam (like my son), wants desperately to get something in the mail. So he writes a nice little note to the mailbox begging for something and gets a surprise, a dragon in the mail. So he asks for more and chaos ensues, but he comes up with a clever solution.

Children

brown-girl-dreaming

  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – I read this for our tween book club and really enjoyed it, but it is a 337 page verse novel, which can kind of be scary for some kids. It is an autobiographic poem essentially about the author. 
  • The Creeping Shadow (Lockwood & Co. #4) by Jonathan Stroud – I love pretty much anything this man writes, but this one was a great continuation of the Lockwood & Co series. I have described this as “Ghost epidemic in the UK with kids as ghost hunters but the ghosts can actually kill you, and only kids can see them”. Glad Lucy finally got back with Lockwood, George and Holly. 
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  • Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh – tells the story of one of the most famous Mexican illustrators who created a lot of the images we know today about Dia de los Muertos (one of my favorite holidays, along with Halloween)
  • The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock – a wonderfully creative biography of abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky, whom I discovered last year, who could hear colors and see sounds
  • Narwal: Unicorn of the Sea (Narwhal and Jelly #1)  written and illustrated by Ben Clanton – a recent discovery that was too cute for words. How can you not love a Narwhal and Jellyfish who love waffles, imagination, reading, and creating their own unique pod full of friends?
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  • The Marvels by Brian Selznick – this one had been on my to-read list for ages and finally got read it. It is a masterpiece like pretty much all of his work, which he writes and illustrates. Everyone should read this. The book, which starts in 1766 and ends in 2007, is about the Marvel and Nightingale families and their connection to each other. But it is also a story about love in all its forms, acceptance, understanding, and the complicated relationships within families (which really hit home for me this year). 
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  • A New Hope – The Princess, The Scoundrel and the Farm Boy by Alexandra Bracken – picked this one up as a way to get my son who loves Star Wars more into audiobooks. I loved it, more than him. It had all the cool sound effects, a lot of the movie dialogue, and a whole backstory on Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Luke Skywalker. Am definitely listening to the other two adaptations. Highly recommended as an audiobook, though more suited to 9-14 yr olds than 5 yr olds.

Young Adult

  • The Lunar Chronicles (Cinder, Scarlett, Cress, and Winterby Marisa Meyers – probably the best series I’ve read in a while. I love fairy-tale retellings and this one is an awesome sci-fi version with cyborgs, genetically-engineered wolfmen, space pilots, and psychotic Lunars (as the name suggests, people from the Moon). Plus the romances are fantastic and varied. 
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  • Fangirl and Carry On by Rainbow Rowell – definitely two of the absolute best books I read this year. I adore all the stuff I’ve read so far from this author, and look forward to reading more in the future. You should read Fangirl first and then Carry On, though they can both stand on their own, as Carry On is literally a big part of the first book. I was totally Cather Avery and wished I could find someone like Levi. Sigh…

Manga see this post for reviews for most of them

  • Kamisama Kiss Vol 20 – 22 by Julieta Suzuki – I love this series, so anymore books I get to read are awesome. See my initial reviews of the series here. 
  • A Silent Voice Vol 1-7 by Yoshitoki Oima – I have never read a manga about bullying, esp as it was about a deaf girl, and that is what drew me to this book. It really was unlike anything I’d ever read and was a very unconventional romance. 
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  • Wolf Children: Ame and Yuki by Mamoru Hosoda – another unconventional fantasy romance (seems to be the year for them) about a half wolf/half man who meets the love of his life and their children. Great anime as well. 
  • Library Wars Vol 14
  • Library Wars Vol. 14- by Kiiro Yumi – I love the craziness of this manga. I love the ideas of a militarized librarians protecting censorship. 
  • Ouran High School Host Club, Vol 1-11 by Bisco Hatori – loved the anime so decided to read the books to see if there was any extra awesome and there is. 
  • Kimi Ni Todoke (From Me to You), Vol 1-25  by Karuho Shiina – This is one of the sweetest mangas, heck romances, I’ve read in awhile. I can identify
  • Demon Love Spell, Vol 1-6 by Mayu Shinjo – the most ridiculous idea and worst name ever for a manga, but it made me LOL and keep reading till I finished the series. 
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  • Horimiya Vol 1-5 by Hero – another great manga romance series on an unconventional topic; Two high school students, who are not all they seem, fall in love and start a relationship. They are seriously the cutest, most awkward couple ever, which makes it so fun to watch the story unfold. 

Adult

  • The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick – an ARC (Advanced Readers Copy) I picked up because it reminded me a bit of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson (another awesome aging adult book). It was a bit of a romance, journey to lead you to new discoveries – i.e. your self after a traumatic event, in this case the death of Arthur’s beloved wife. 
  • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – read this one for my bookclub and just loved the story of two very different sisters in the French Resistance during WWII
  • Dragon Age: MageKiller (Magekiller #1-6) – An ARC I was lucky enough to review this year, I want to read the whole series now. 
  • The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende – I’ve loved her books for years and so gladly picked this for my bookclub and enjoyed it as well
  • Poison or Protect: Delightfully Deadly #1 and Imprudence (Custard Protocols #2) by Gail Carriger – 1st one is a novella about one of her characters from the Finishing School series, which was a fun little romp. 2nd one is all about her dad going crazy, a bit of sex education, and the crap really hitting the fan in regards to the G0d-breaker Plague (a continuation of events that happened in her first series, my favorite The Parasol Protectorate).
  • The Last Kingdom and The Pale Horseman (The Saxon Stories #1-2) by Bernard Cornwell – fabulous series, that they also turned into a miniseries, about life in King Alfred the Great’s court. It is set in the 9th century and told from the viewpoint of a young boy raised by the Vikings who is actually a Saxon lord. Very much looking forward to reading more books in this series

Snow White: A Graphic Novel

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Snow White: A Graphic Novel written and illustrated by Matt Phelan

Published: Sept 13, 2016

Using watercolor in the Art Deco and film noir style, Matt Phelan introduces us to a fresh take on the Snow White and the Seven Dwarves story. After Samantha White’s (aka Snow) mother dies of tuberculosis in the 1920s in NYC, Snow and her father are heartbroken. Ten years, her father, “The King of Wall Street” is lonely and discovers that the “Queen of the Ziegfeld Follies” is performing on Broadway. He is captivated with her elegant style and bobbed hair and promptly marries her. The Queen is not pleased that Snow is around and promptly sends her to boarding school in the country. She soon gets rid of her husband, but he still gets the last laugh, which she discovers during the reading of the will. Her husband has gone behind her back and left Snow three-quarters of the estate. The Queen is furious and vows revenge by getting rid of Snow, but the Huntsman spares her. She is rescued by the Seven, a group of street children that adopt her and try to protect her, though she still falls to the Queen’s poisoned apple. The Seven put her in a glass cage. Will she be rescued by her Prince Charming and live happily ever after? To find out, read this charming version of Snow White. Recommended for ages 10+, 4 stars. 

I was honestly not a fan of the artwork until I learned more about it from the author, via this interview. I liked that he not only loved the Disney Snow White version (one of my personal favorites), but also enjoyed film noir movies such as Citizen Kane and the Thin Man movies (which I also enjoy) and these influenced how he created the graphic novel. I really loved the story line and the twist on the classic tale. The Ziegfeld Follies were always cool to see on movies from the 1920s and 1930s, and they must have been spectacular in real life, so yeah I can see how the King would be dazzled after seeing the Queen of the Follies dancing so glamorous and looking like a real stunner on stage. I liked that the Seven were a group of abandoned street kids because in a way, they are kind of like Snow, forced to fend for themselves even though they’ve definitely gotten a more rotten deal. I also liked that they made the Prince a working detective instead of a superficial pretty boy. 

Favorite Books Read in 2015

I’ve done pretty good this year with reading, as I ended up trying to read 285 and have read 290 (that’s over 42,000 pages!). I know it’s been awhile since I’ve done a proper non-review post as life and work especially has been crazy. I’m getting ready for 4 library programs that I’m presenting in the New Year and so have been busy working on those and making sure everything is put together. I’m doing an Art History/Craft program called Art Explorers (which is basically what I was doing before with Kids Cafe but no longer have time for), Discoverytime (Storytime + STEM for 2-5 yrs olds), a Tween Book Club called Page Turners, and I’m assisting with another program called Crafty Science. And that’s not counting my duties with Kids Cafe as Site Supervisor (mostly organization and paperwork) and occasionally presenting an easy craft on a Wednesday session. Anyways, on to the books in no particular order. The links are to my reviews of the books, might have to scroll a bit as the monthly reviews can be long. Liam’s choices are books my four year old son particularly liked and I read to him multiple times.

Favorite Picture Books

Emilys Blue Period 

Emily’s Blue Period   – a cute book about self-expression and dealing with parent’s divorce

Hi Koo

Hi, Koo! – a great way to introduce kids to haikus, plus adorable illustrations as always. I love Jon J. Muth’s books!

How to Cheer Up Dad

How to Cheer Up Dad  – This book made me laugh out loud b/c it is exactly what it is like to have to deal with a toddler, and the author/illustrator should know as he was inspired by his own son. Great illustrations.

Snoozefest

Snoozefest – loved the idea of this book and the illustrations, plus cutest name ever in a picture book (Snuggleford Cuddlebuns)

If You Plant a Seed

If You Plant a Seed  – Kadir Nelson, what can I say? I love the man and his work keeps getting better and better every time he comes out with a book. I loved the moral message of this book and even my son got it.

The Big Princess

The Big Princess – I love Taro Miura’s storytelling and bold simple graphics in this book and The Tiny King!

Beautiful Birds

Beautiful Birds – Another gorgeously decorated illustrations for an ABC book

I Will Take a Nap

I Will Take a Nap – I love naps so a book advocating them is always a bonus in my book. Plus this one is extra silly, and I love Mo Willems books.

Liam’s Choices

What to do if an Elephant Stands on Your Foot

What to Do if an Elephant Stands on Your Foot – a funny book that my son adored and had me read over and over again, including to his Preschool classmates

Mustache Baby  Mustache Baby Meets His Match

The Mustache Baby series – Hilarious books with adorable illustrations, trust me, kids and parents will love these! Both me and my son loved these!

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Wolfie the Bunny – I loved it for the fabulous illustrations and got the humor of the “Wolf in Rabbit’s clothing”; My son just loved the story of the misunderstood Wolfie

Bee Makes Tea

Bea Makes Tea – A Rhyming/Phonics book that my son just fell in love with and we both knew most of the lines by heart (in separate voices) after we finally returned it.

Rutabaga the Adventure Chef - Book 1

Rutabaga: The Adventure Chef – really cute graphic novel featuring your classic knights and dragons tale but with an “adventure chef” kid for a hero and his kid companions. Looking forward to more from this author/artist; My son also really enjoyed this one as well.

Favorite Children’s Books 

Alvin Ho
Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters 
– I haven’t read an Alvin Ho book in a over a year and forgot how funny it is, esp because of his Shakespeare cursing father.

I am Albert Einstein

I am Albert Einstein – A great simple introductory biography to the world famous physicist

Widenss and Wonder

Wideness and Wonder: The Life and Art of Georgia O’Keeffe – after using O’Keeffe for one of my Kids Cafe Art Lectures, I was ready to learn more about her and this biography was very-well researched for a kids book and a great introduction to this fabulous artist

Telegmeir-Smile    Drama

Smile and Drama – Cannot express enough how much I love these two graphic novels!

The Hollow Boy

The Hollow Boy (Lockwood & Co. #3) – love this series (adore the author’s work in general) and this is the latest one which literally keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time. Can’t wait for the next book in the series, but hate when they end on a cliffhanger!

Favorite YA Books

Kamisama Kiss

The Kamisama Kiss series by Julietta Suzuki- both the anime and manga (I’ve read through #19, though review is for #1-5) are a lot of fun to read, even though they are a bit silly and over the top

Prudence

Prudence (The Custard Protocol #1) – a continuation of the Parasol Protectorate series by the same author but from the viewpoint of Alexia Tarabotti’s daughter Prudence many years later and all sorts of supernatural steampunk fun ensues

Manners and Mutiny

Manners & Mutiny (Finishing School #4) – Adored this series by Gail Carriger! Really her stuff just keeps getting better and better!

An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes – Hard to believe this is her first book as her world-building is so awesome in this pseudo-Roman world! Probably one of the best books I read this year, definitely one of the best ARCs (Advanced Reader’s Copies).

Wolf by Wolf

Wolf by Wolf – Another of the most original stories I’ve read this year, this alternative history (what if Nazis and Japan won WWII) with a shape-changing Holocaust survivor

Templar

Templar – Fantastic illustrations and a great story (very well-researched), very Indiana Jones meets Ocean’s Eleven in terms of an impossible task being pulled off

Library Wars 12

Library Wars #12 & 13 – Futuristic militant librarians battle censorship with a bit of romance thrown in, what’s not to love?  I have had #14 on hold forever waiting for it to come out

Favorite Adult Books

Outlander

Outlander series – introduced to this series by watching Season 1 Vol 1 of the new Starz show; have now read through book 5 and loved all except 2nd book (which was okay but not as good as first one); Jaime is seriously one of my favorite book characters ever

Lord John and the Private Matter

Lord John Grey series – Usually spin-off series aren’t this good, but she puts just as much work and research into this series as she does with Outlander and I really like Lord John’s character (have read/listened to 10 out of 13 stories)

Major Pettigrews Last Stand

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand – This book club selection was a fabulous first book by the author, despite being about 60 yrs old romance and racism; looking forward to her new book coming out in March 2016 called The Summer Before the War.

Transatlantic

Transatlantic – another book club selection, I really enjoyed this book even though I was a bit lost for awhile as to what the connection between the stories was

Fool  The Serpent of Venice

Fool and its sequel The Serpent of Venice – hilarious comedies based off the tragedies King Lear (Fool) and The Merchant of Venice/Othello/Cask of the Amontillado (The Serpent of Venice). Two of my favorite Christopher Moore books.

Did She Kill Him

Did She Kill Him? – a fascinating look at Victorian True Crime and sexuality/gender

Children and Young Adult Book Review Nov 2015

Hi everyone! Long time no see (my fault I know). These aren’t all the children’s and YA books I’ve read in the past couple of months, but a selection of ones I liked, as they tend to be the ones I read most often. It’s not been good for the last couple of months for reading in general. I’ve been in a bit of a slump in regards to personal life/health and reading, but those things are starting to get sorted out so I should be more on track in the future. Hopefully everything will be better in the New Year. I’m looking forward to reading more ARCs (Advanced Readers Copies). There’s a bunch of good ones coming out in February and March, so should be fun in January and February. I’m currently listening to the end of Insurgent by Veronica Roth, and although I enjoy it, Tris’s character is really pissing me off because despite how strong she was in the first book, she’s so whiny and pathetic in this one. I love love love Tobias though!! Everytime I try to start a new book, I keep getting distracted by the entire Kamisama Kiss manga series, which I started reading in October. I’m nearly finished with it, just have 5 more volumes to go. I just started a new ARC called Georgia by Dawn Tripp, a historical fiction about Georgia O’Keeffe as she has been a bit of an obsession of mine as well ever since I really learned about her and her art in the summer.

Children

Keats’s Neighborhood: An Ezra Jack Keats Treasury

Ezra Jack Keats characters

I have been in love with Ezra Jack Keats’s work ever since I saw an exhibit about him at University of Southern Mississippi about eight years ago. So when I got the chance to check out this collection of ten stories, I jumped. His stories are a little bit dated, but I just love the characters and stories, they are so relatable and fun. The introduction was written by Anita Silvey and there are stories from famous children’s book author/illustrators like Eric Carle, Reynold Ruffins, Jerry Pinkney and Simms Taback documenting their experiences with the Keats himself. There is also Keats’s booklist and a biography of the author/illustrator in the back of the book . The first book is the Caldecott-winning book A Snowy Day (1962), which I just love and have reviewed before. Next is Whistle for Willie (1964) about Peter (the African-American child from A Snowy Day) who wished he could whistle and tried so hard to do so and practiced so much, that by the end of the book, he can! His parents and Willie the daschund are so proud of him. A Letter to Amy (1968) is the 3rd book and is again about Peter. This time he decides to write a letter to his friend Amy to invite her to his birthday party, and plans on mailing it, but it blows out of his hand during a rainstorm and he ends up chasing it all over the place. In the process he kind of upsets her because he runs in to her, but won’t let her see the letter because he wants it to be a surprise. He thinks she will not come, but she does and makes his birthday party special because of her presence. The fourth and fifth stories are Peter’s Chair (1967) and Goggles! (1969), both of which I have reviewed before. The sixth story is a new one to me, called Jennie’s Hat (1966). It is about a young girl named Jennie who is waiting for a hat from her aunt, but when it arrives, she is disappointed because it is such a plain hat. She imagines the kinds of things she could have on a hat, and then goes outside to feet the birds. She was still thinking about hats the next morning when she observed the women with colorful flowered hats outside her window and at church. As soon as she gets outside wearing her plain hat, all the birds bring “red and violet flowers, and leaves, colored eggs, and a paper fan” as well as “pictures of swans and pink valentine” and decorate her hat. She is delighted with her new hat now! Hi, Cat! (1970) is the next book, and it is kind of a weird one. It is about Archie, one of Peter’s friends, gets into a giant paper bag puppet named Mister Big Face. He is attacked by a cat who bursts through once side and Archie goes through the other. Then they try to do a “tall dog show” but the cat interrupts again. This was probably my least favorite story. Apt. 3 (1971) is the next story and it is about Sam and his little brother Ben who live in an apartment building in the city and hear someone playing a sad harmonica song but can’t figure out who it is, so they wander around the building trying to figure out who it is. Eventually they discover that is is the blind man in Apt 3 who was playing and he plays some more “purple and grays and rain and smoke and the sounds of night” (great way to describe the colors of the sound of music). The ninth story is with Louie, the kid with the bag on his head, and is called Louie’s Search (1980). It was another of the really weird stories. Louie goes searching through his neighborhood and sees a truck with furniture on it. A music box falls out of the back of the truck and the owner (a man named Barney) jumps out and accuses Louie of taking it. He eventually apologizes, and lets Louie keep the box. Barney takes a shine to Peg, Louie’s mom, and keeps coming back to visit her. Eventually he marries her. The last story was Pet Show! (1972) and involves Peter and his friends Archie and Roberto. They see a sign for a pet show and go to collect their pets. Everyone stands in a line and gets “a prize for something.” Archie comes up with an original pet and also gets a blue ribbon. Recommended for ages 3-7, 3-1/2 stars.

Lego Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (DK Readers L2) by Emma Grange

This book is a very basic introduction the the movie “The Empire Strikes Back,” but is great for parents who have just introduced Star Wars to their kids. The kids will love it because it has Legos and Star Wars. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

Gluey: A Snail Tail by Vivian Walsh and J. Otto Siebold

Gluey is a carpenter snail who lives on top of a charming little house, which he owns and takes care of. One day, a lonely rabbit named Celerina discovers the house and moves right in. She breaks one of her favorite vases and is amazed to discover it fixed the next day. Gluey starts fixing all her broken things, but she thinks it is magic and no one believes her when she tells them. So she decides to invite all her friends to a party at the house. Gluey finally manages to introduce himself to Celerina and she thinks he is a pest and hurls him into the meadow. He cracks his shell and discovers the Wee people, who not only help him repair his shell but reveal the truth about his house. Celerina’s party gets out of hand and the house and all her things end up getting broken, but with a little magic, they live happily ever after. Honestly, I would probably give this book 2 stars for the story but I rather liked the quirky illustrations, so it gets an extra one. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters (Alvin Ho #2) written by Lenore Look, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Alvin Ho

I absolutely love Alvin Ho! He is so hilarious. He is still scared of everything, and now he is scared of the dark, forests, and peeing in the dark as well, which is definitely not going to be to his advantage when his dad decides to take him camping with his sister Anibelly. His brother and sister try to prepare him by using dad’s emergency credit card to buy some high-tech camping gear. Alvin tries to make lists and ask “What Would Henry Thoreau Do?” in this situation. We get to see more of his alter ego, Firecracker Man who is not scared of anything, deal with being outside in the dark, as well as how he can escape things (like bears – which he is also scared of) like Harry Houdini. Alvin gains a new friend, who also has an alter ego, and Alvin survives camping with his help. My favorite part of this book was definitely his dad when he got super frustrated at his kids for accidentally getting him stuck in a tree and finding out about their unauthorized purchases and starts cursing Shakespearean style (something I had forgotten from the previous book). Highly recommended for ages 5-8, 5 stars.

The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza (Joey Pigza #5) by Jack Gantos

The last book in the Joey Pigza series, in this volume, we see an older and mature Joey. He’s kind of had to be, since his father abandoned them again at the end of the last book after getting a face lift, and his mother was left alone to take care of Joey and Carter Jr., his baby brother by herself. Both him and his mother adore Carter Jr and believe he is the redeeming Pigza because he is not “messed up” like the rest of his family. Joey’s mom loses Joey’s medication, has a breakdown while suffering from postpartum depression and leaves Joey and his brother alone in the house and forbids them to open the door to their father. Joey has to stop going to school to take care of his brother, and make sure no one finds out that him mom has left them alone. The only person he has to get through things with is his on-again off-again blind girlfriend Olive, who is one of the few people who doesn’t lie to him. Will he be able to cope? Can he find some of his medicine? When will his family go back to being a normal family? To find out, read this exciting conclusion to the series. Recommended for ages 9-12, 4 stars.

Children and Young Adult

God Got a Dog written by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Marlee Frazee

page from God Got a Dog

I knew when I picked up this book of poetry that it was pretty much guaranteed to piss people off, which is of course why I had to show it my mother (an Episcopal priest) to get her view on it. She thought it was very fairly blasphemous, but could understand the humor and cleverness as well. The book is a series of sixteen poems, taken from an earlier work by Rylant, describing God doing a variety of normal things, like owning a nail salon, getting a dog, and getting arrested. I liked it because it didn’t show God as your typical omnipotent old man with a long beard, as most Christians like to see him, but he was a female nail salon owner, he was a small child, and got things like a nasty head cold. God was more human, had faults, and doubted him/herself which is a lot easier for me to identify with than the other version we commonly see. The author took only a day to write the book, which is crazy because some of the poems are really good. As someone who occasionally writes poetry and frequently goes back and changes things around days afterward, writing something perfect in one day is really miraculous. The book is geared towards ages 9-12, but I think it could be great for any age. 4 stars.

Smile written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeir

Telegmeir-Smile

I picked this one up mostly because I wanted to read Drama as it was a banned book, but figured I should read this one first as I figured it was her first book. Smile is the story of the author/illustrator in middle school. At the very beginning, she accidentally loses her two front teeth and has to have them re-attached but they come in shorter, so she has to get braces and head gear to correct the problem. She has a harder time than usual dealing with everything and the book follows her through middle school and into high school, where she ends up with a different group of friends than she started with, has a long-standing unrequited crush, survives an earthquake and falls in love (unexpectantly) with the Disney movie The Little Mermaid. Recommended for ages 10-14, 5 stars.

As someone who had both braces and headgear in middle school and with the book set during my childhood, I completely adored this book and could totally identify it. She’s a little bit older than me, but growing up in the 1990s is about the same whether it was at the beginning or end of the decade. I can’t wait to read Drama next!

Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeir

Drama

Callie is a middle school girl who loves theater, but can’t sing or dance, so she loves working on the sets behind the scenes and dealing with props. Her school is putting on a musical “Moon Over Missisippi” and she wants to make the sets worthy of Broadway. Her personal life is crazy too. She embarrasses herself in front of her crush at the beginning of the book, but then meets two brothers who also like theater and want to be friends with her. What’s a girl to do? Check out this creative and realistic look into middle school life. Recommended for ages 10-14, 5 stars.

It was worth the wait. I could identify with the female lead character so I just loved this book. I was a theater nerd wannabe in high school because our drama teacher was very biased to only pick certain people and even though I kept trying out and could sing and dance, I never got a part. So I painted sets at community theater musicals instead, and those guys turned out to be even cooler. The graphic novel was hilarious and a bit goofy, but full of interesting twists and turns and a surprise ending.

The Hollow Boy (Lockwood & Co. #3) by Jonathan Stroud, narrated by Emily Bevan

The book, narrated by Lucy Carlisle, starts out with Lockwood & Co investigating a string of murders at a local boarding house and their ghostly connections. The reader finally learns the truth about Lockwood’s sister Jessica and get more of a glimpse into Lockwood’s past and personality. Because of their success described in the previous book, The Whispering Skull, Lucy, Lockwood and George have been taking way too many cases and getting burned out. Lockwood decides it is time to hire a part-time assistant, and promptly hires the super-efficient and perky Holly Munroe. Lucy takes an immediate dislike to her. One important case that falls in their lap are bloody footprints found in a townhouse, and the solving of this case leads to them being involved in the main part of the book, a giant ghost outbreak that has been taking place in Chelsea for the past two months. Will the team be able to overcome their differences and work together to solve the Chelsea outbreak? Will Lucy ever tell Lockwood how she really feels? Recommended for ages 10+, 5 stars.

OMG I freaking loved this book! I found out about it by accident as I subscribe to Jonathan Stroud’s author thing on Goodreads and he mentioned that was coming out soon. I thought it was a totally unrelated book to this series, and was shocked that I hadn’t heard anything about it before (as I really have been loving this series). Emily Bevan did a great job with the narration, really capturing Lucy’s character (which was brilliantly described by the author) and her angst about the whole situation with Lockwood. The build-up during the main parts of the story was incredible and really kept me hooked on the story all the way through. The Whispering Skull was one of my favorite parts, as it was always snarky comments about Holly Munroe with Lucy. The only thing I didn’t love was the cliffhanger ending and making me wait for another year before I find out what happens to everyone.

Young Adult

Kamisama Kiss Vol 1-5 written and illustrated by Julieta Suzuki

Kamisama Kiss

From top left: Mizuki, Tomoe, Nanami, Kurama, and Kotesu and Onikiri (the Onibi-warashi)

I picked up this manga series because I enjoyed the hell out of the anime show, but was frustrated when it ended because it was right in the middle of the story. Plus I was curious if the story was more developed  in the manga (it was a little – Tomoe definitely liked her sooner). I have this crazy attraction to anime shows with fox or fox-like demons (i.e. Inuyasha) and this show is no exception. I’ve not read mangas for awhile, with the exception of Library Wars, and I’m enjoying this manga series a lot. Hence why I have read so many volumes back to back. It gives you slightly different glimpses into the characters that you don’t get with the show, plus the show only lasted two seasons, so I’m hoping I’ll get more back story to better understand it. The main storyline is so crazy and gets more unbelievable as it goes on, but I think I love the silliness of it. They are fun easy-to-read quick stories. Each volume has a glossary in the back to explain the different Japanese terms used in the volume and the honorifics, suffixes added to the end of a word to explain the relationship of each character. It is a little difficult to explain things especially in the beginning, but bear with me and it should make sense. Warning: this will be a really long review. In fact it is so long, I’m gonna have to break it into four sections spread out over a couple monthly book reviews posts.

In Volume One, we are introduced to the main character. Nanami Momozono is a totally normal 16 year old girl who has a dad with a serious gambling problem. Because of his addiction, she is evicted from their apartment and is now homeless. She is resting in a park when she sees a man being attacked by a dog and rescues him. The man, who she later finds out is Mikage, thanks her and gives her a kiss on the forehead. He tells her she can stay at his house, as he is no longer there. She thinks this is odd, but goes to find it anyways as she has no place else to go. Once at the house, which is actually a shrine, she meets Tomoe, a fox demon (a yokai) acting as shinshi (a servant/familiar) to Mikage, the land god (tochigami or kami), who has been missing for 20 years. He refuses to work for her and leaves to go to the underworld. At first, she refuses to be the kami, but later relents. Nanami quickly realizes, however, that she will need help and has to go find Tomoe with the two Onibi-Warashi  (spirits that help out at the shrine). She essentially tricks him into becoming her shinshi and they seal the contract, literally with a kiss. The next day she wakes up to find things changed at the shrine, and Tomoe is incredibly angry at her for having to serve a human girl instead of a real kami. But he is determined to make her worthy and starts trying to train her in her duties as tochigami. A retainer of Mikage’s, a Catfish yokai named Himeko of Tatara Swamp wants to come and pay her respects to the new tochigami, but Tomoe doesn’t want Nanami there because he thinks Himeko will try to become the new land god in her place. At first Nanami relents, but later decides to join the conversation after she thinks Tomoe is in danger. Himeko wants Nanami’s help in wooing a young human man named Kotaro, but doesn’t want to appear as a yokai. Nanami agrees to help and Tomoe makes Himeko look like a human girl, so she can meet Kotaro for the first time in ten years. They end up hitting it off and Nanami is pleased. Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars.

Volume Two: Nanami is thinking about school when she finds out that Kurama, a superstar idol is going to attend her school, so she decides to go back to school. Tomoe embarrasses her by making her wear a silly hat to cover the mark of the tochigama on her forehead, so yokai don’t try to kill her and take her job. She gets rather upset after Kurama and Tomoe are bullying her, and Kurama can’t figure out why she is not fawning all over him like everyone else has been doing. Tomoe is watching over Nanami from outside the school when he discovers that Kurama is actually a Tengu, a proud yokai with wings. My favorite part is probably when Tomoe turns Kurama into a ostrich and he goes running through the school. The goddess of thunder, Narukami-hime decides she will take Tomoe for her shinshi and become the new land god. So she goes to Nanami’s school to intercept her and when Tomoe comes to her school, she uses a magical hammer (named “the mallet of good luck”) and turns him into a child. He is even cuter than he normally is, if that is actually possible, and he can’t use his powers. Narukami-hime takes Nanami’s mark and becomes the land god. She can’t take Tomoe to a human doctor, so she takes him to Kurama’s house and tries to nurse him back to health, but he goes back to the shrine and Narukami-hime. Nanami goes to rescue him and tricks Narukami-hime into making her the land god again and turns Tomoe back into his normal self. Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars.

Volume Three: This volume is where we first meet Mizuki, the white snake shinshi. She saves him from being tortured by some of her classmates, and he puts a red mark on her arm, essentially announcing his intention to marry her. Tomoe is, of course, outraged when he finds out what she has done and decides to come to school to protect her. Nanami is kidnapped by the white snake and brought to his shrine, which is in a hidden dimension (which makes it difficult for Tomoe to find her later). Nanami tries to escape, but is trapped there. She quickly discovers that Mizuki’s water goddess Yonomori has left since she is no longer needed by the local people and he has been alone for many years, waiting for her return. Tomoe finally finds the water shrine and rescues Nanami. She feels sorry for Mizuki and promises to watch the plum blossoms bloom with him when he gets lonely. Nanami gets sick and Tomoe must transform himself into her likeness to take her place at school. The funniest thing in this one was Kurama hitting on Tomoe because his version of Nanami is more “girly”. Tomoe fights a monster that is attacking girls in the locker-room. While Tomoe is at school posing as Nanami, she is at home being visited by Mizuki, who is trying to convince her that Tomoe is not all he appears to be. He takes her soul back in time to see the real Tomoe, as he was 500 years prior. Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars.

Volume Four: Kurama talks to Tomoe on the roof of the school about being careful with Nanami in case she falls in love with him. Tomoe doesn’t believe this to be true. Kei, a friend of Nanami tell her that she should act cute around Tomoe to show she likes him. So on the way home, she and Tomoe go to the aquarium and then go to the top of the a tower to see the view of the city. She confesses that she is falling in love with him, but he rejects her and she starts crying and falls off the building nearly killing herself before she allows him to touch her so he can save her. He vows not to touch her again after that. To cheer her up, her friends Ami and Kei, invite her to the beach. Tomoe and Mizuki aren’t invited, but come anyways, and Tomoe says he can’t go in the water. Ami is pulled into the water and starts drowning, so Nanami begs Tomoe to save her, which he does begrudgingly. A man named Ryuu-ou, who calls himself the Dragon King (god of the ocean), steps out of the water and captures Tomoe, saying that 500 odd years ago Tomoe stole his right eye (which grants immortality). Nanami begs Ryuu-ou to free Tomoe, but he says he won’t unless she can get him his eye back in two days. She goes to Mizuki and asks to use the time-bending incense burner to go back in time and get the eye. While in the past, Nanami sees the real reason for his stealing the eye was because he was in love with a human woman who was ill. She can’t steal it from a dying woman, and so goes back to the present to see the yokai Isohime to get her to take from inside her own body (she discovers this a little before she saw the human woman). Isohime tries to kill her but Nanami is saved by Mizuki, who becomes her familiar. Nanami was obviously shocked at the turn of events, but went with him to rescue Tomoe at the Dragon King’s palace. According to the Kamasama Hajimamashita (the Japanese title of the show) wikia, “Nanami spoke to him [Tomoe] about going back to the past and that it was okay even if he doesn’t accept her. Nanami hugged Tomoe while saying she won’t ask for anything in return anymore. After letting go of the hug, she told him that even if he doesn’t face her, that won’t change the fact that she loves him and that is enough for her, then finally asking for them to go home together”. Tomoe is, of course, pissed off that Mizuki is joining them as another shinshi. Recommended for ages 14+, 5 stars.

Volume Five: This one is mostly about Tomoe still being pissed off that Mizuki has joined the household and being really vocal about it. The best part is when they are at the Summer Festival and Nanami uses her god voice talent (basically because she is a god, she can command them to do things for her) to force the two of them to hold hands until they can be nice to each other. Mizuki is just happy that he is not alone anymore. Nanami decides to hold a festival at their shrine to let local people know that it is not haunted and scary as everyone thinks it is. She is determined to dance the Kagura, the lion dance, a very complicated sacred dance done by shrine maidens (priestesses of Shinto shrines). But learning it turns out to be a total challenge because Nanami is completely uncoordinated but determined to prove everyone wrong and make Tomoe proud of her. Otohinko, the wind god and a friend of Mikage,  shows up and turns things on their head for awhile. He decides that Nanami must be graded as the new kami and proceeds to screw with her by creating a fake Tomoe to trick her. Despite this, Nanami ends up dancing the Kagura perfectly and butterflies (Mikage’s symbol) dance all around her. Recommended for ages 14+, 5 stars.

June 2015 Book Reviews

I’ve been reading a lot of really long books lately, and so haven’t read as much as I usually do. In fact, according to Goodreads, I’m constantly about 9 books behind schedule for the year. I apologize in advance for all the book titles in bold, I’m having a bit of a formatting issue on this post and this was the only way to really make them show up. I am currently reading Drums of Autumn (Outlander #4) by Diana Gabaldon, which was a little slow in the beginning but is finally starting to pick up a bit. I have really been enjoying that particular author’s books, but the first one was the shortest at over 550 pages and I think this one is 1000.  I started going to a book club last month which a work colleague originally started a few months before and enjoyed it, so I look forward to reading more books for it. I am listening to Albert Camus’s The Stranger on audiobook, which is really odd so far.

I also have restarted my Nobel Prize Challenge, which I started back in Sept 2014. Basically it just means that I have to choose one book/poem/play written by a Nobel Prize for Literature winner, read it and write a review of it. I had previously read only 5 books from  111 winners, plus 1 poem from another winner, so I have a lot to read. I decided to do it as I didn’t know most of the winners and I thought it would be fascinating. This will take me a long time, but I’m okay with that. This month I have managed to get through two more, and working on a third.

On to the book reviews. I rate books from 1-5 stars, 1 being the lowest. I will include illustrations from the children’s books I enjoyed.

Children

Freddie & Gingersnap Find a Cloud to Keep written and illustrated by Vincent X. Hirsch

Freddie and Gingersnap Find a Cloud to Keep

This was a bit of an unusual book but I enjoyed it and so did my son. Freddie is a dinosaur and Gingersnap is a dragon, and they are both flying looking for a cloud for Freddie. Gingersnap keeps explaining that it is impossible. They happen upon two children, a boy and girl in a hot air zepplin who are singing about home. They’ve never seen a dragon and a dinosaur before and so have a billion questions. The kids decide to show them a little magic and suddenly they are all in a lightning storm. They sing until the storm disappears and they find their way back to their homes. Freddie sings their song after they go. The words/lyrics/music are written by the author and included in the back of the book. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

Today I Will Fly! written and illustrated by Mo Willems

Piggie is determined to fly, even though Gerald doesn’t believe she can do it. She starts by getting a dog to chase her, but only succeeds in jumping really high (as pointed out by Gerald of course). But it was a very high jump. After Gerald leaves, Piggie decides she needs help and enlists a bird (I’m guessing a pelican) to help her. Soon floating underneath the bird, tied to a string and Gerald is convinced she is flying. Now he wants to try it himself. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

Watch Me Throw the Ball! written and illustrated by Mo Willems

Watch Me Throw the Ball

Gerald is way too serious about learning to throw the ball, whereas Piggie is just there to have fun. She throws the ball and it ends up going behind her and she thinks she is the greatest thrower ever and keeps making up all these things like calling herself “Super Pig” and making up little chants. It is up to Gerald to break the news to her gently.But she doesn’t care, she had a lot of fun doing it. Gerald me think of adults and how we tend to take things too seriously. Then of course, Gerald wants to have a little fun himself. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

Big Plans written by Bob Shea, illustrated by Lane Smith

I discovered this book on a website while trying to come up with some new books to check out in the children’s area. Honestly most of the appeal for me where the Lane Smith illustrations. I thought it was pretty cute, but it does go on for way too long. It’s all about this little boy who is always getting in trouble. While in his latest punishment in the classroom, he declares that he “has plans, big plans I say!” and that continues to be his mantra for the rest of the book. He means business, and puts on his dad’s shiniest tie and pointiest shoes for emphasis. He recruits a mynah bird to join him in his endeavors. He takes over a corporate board meeting and all the big-wigs listen to him because he speaks with such authority. He takes their helicopter, driven by the mynah bird, and heads over to the local football game to help the team beat the out-of-towners. Then he flies to the moon and puts his mantra there for the whole world to see when he flies back. Recommended for ages 5-8, 3 stars.

Chu’s Day at the Beach written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Adam Rex Chus-Day-at-the-Beach-internal-shot-2

I love the Chu books, although this one didn’t have as much pizzazz as the other two books in the series. However, the illustrations by Adam Rex were still awesome, cute and hilarious. Chu and his parents are going to the beach, and everything is going alright until the inevitable happens and he sneezes. He does it so hard that he literally breaks the ocean, parting it in two and the fish and other marine life (including merpandas!) are trapped on both sides unable to get through. The beach goers need to make him sneeze again so that everything can be put right, but for the first time ever, Chu can’t seem to sneeze. It’s not until Tiny the snail suggests that the bright sunlight might help him, and Chu takes off his sunglasses and immediately sneezes. Everything is relatively back to normal, or as normal as it can be with the hurricane force sneeze that flips everything around (my favorite is his parents who have actually switched bathing suits). Chu still has the best day ever. My son loved this book. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

Rules of Summer written and illustrated by Shaun Tan

I had seen this book on the Guardian’s children books readers had read for April or May 2015, and hoped that we had a copy at our library. We did, so I grabbed it for me to read to my son. I love Shaun Tan’s work usually, but this one just didn’t grab me the way he others have in the past. The book gave rules that two boys learned during one summer, and shows an event and the the effect of that event. For example, they boys go to catch some shooting stars and one of the boys drops his jar, and the text says “Never drop your jar”. The pictures got darker the further the story went. I think my son enjoyed it more than me. Recommended for ages 5-8, 3 stars

I Am Albert Einstein (Ordinary People Change the World) written by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos I Am Albert Einstein

I also found this book while browsing children’s review websites. I fell in love with the illustrations before I even read it, but they were even more adorable once you got into the story especially as they showed Einstein as a baby with white hair and a mustache. I loved that the first major thing he says is “My hair is awesome!” and other people mention it throughout the book. It was a basic biography of the scientist, but a nice introduction for children who may have not heard of him and what he did to change the world. Einstein thought in pictures instead of words (which made him take a very long time to speak his mind) and his fascination with a compass his father gave him plus music kept his curiosity alive throughout his life and wanting to keep asking questions. I loved the Einstein quote at the end of the book. Recommended for ages 6-10, 5 stars.

Children and Young Adult

Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

Young Adult

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Adult

The Bones of You by Debbie Howells

The Book of Speculation written and illustrated by Erika Swyler

Yes Please! by Amy Poehler

This book was the first book I read for the new all-female book club I recently joined with a colleague from work. It wasn’t so much of a memoir as a stream-of-consciousness glimpse into Ms. Poehler’s life and career as a comedienne. Plus a lot of name-dropping. I honestly knew next to nothing about her other than she was on SNL and also that show Parks and Recreation, which I didn’t find all that funny. The only things I could latch onto with this book was a quote she made early in the book on page 20, about being a plain girl and learning to accept that, and her sentiments regarding her kids and being a mom. 2 stars.

The Exile: An Outlander Graphic Novel (Outlander #1.5) written by Diana Gabaldon, illustrated by Hoang Nguyen DG_exile_spread

This was supposed to be Outlander from Jamie’s perspective instead of Claire’s, but it ended up basically just being that book in graphic novel form. That in and of itself is interesting, but I privately call it the “big boobs” graphic novel as that is pretty much all you get out of Claire (you can see what I mean in the pic above). It was touted as 1.5 in the series, in-between Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber, and that would’ve actually been more intriguing as book 2 was rather long and way too slow until the end. 2-1/2 stars.

Voyager (Outlander #3) by Diana Gabaldon

Voyager takes place twenty years after Claire went through the stones, pregnant with Jamie’s daughter Brianna. She gives birth to her back in the 1940s and stays married to Frank, who doesn’t believe her story, but wants to take care of Brianna. So they live together for twenty years until he dies and she goes to Scotland with her daughter to try to tell her the truth about her real father. While there, she enlists the help of Roger Wakefield, Reverend Wakefield’s adopted son (who was a small boy in Outlander) and is now a full-grown Oxford historian taking care of the Reverend’s personal effects after his death. He falls hard for Brianna and agrees to help them. They find out that Jamie survived and decides to go through the stones to find him in Edinburgh, where he has set himself up as a printer/smuggler. After a smuggling operation goes bad and his nephew Ian is abducted by pirates, Jamie and Claire set off in one of his cousin Jared’s boats from France to the West Indies to find Ian. Will they be able to live together after so long a separation? Will they be able to find Ian? To find out, read this amazing third book in the series.

Ok yeah, I was pretty pissed off when I thought the author killed off Jamie at the end of the second book, and she was vindicated when it turns out that he survived after Culloden. I actually liked this book slightly better than Outlander because Claire was less whiny (despite the crazy situations her and Jamie always seem to get into, and there are a lot) and a bit less sure of herself as it has been so long since they’ve seen each other. But they fell right back into trouble and had no problem with the long separation. For some reason, older Jamie seems so much more appealing than younger Jamie. I’m sure he’s hotter, although I’m not sure how that’s possible. Geillis Duncan made a very surprising appearance at the end of the book and I’m still not 100% sure if she is actually dead, although I’m sure she’ll pop up in the story again at some point. I found the meeting between Lord John Grey and Claire fascinating, and I’m sure he’ll pop up in the next book as his feelings for Jamie were definitely evident in books 2 and 3. I adored the pledge that Jamie makes at the end of the book to always be with Claire, le sigh. The only thing I did think was a little weird was that she was able to bring back items from the future into the past, other than her clothes, i.e. photos and medicine.