2014 Reading List

Another incredible year of reading. Since writing about reading a few years back and formalizing some addictive reading habits (i.e., I’m a big nerd), my reading numbers just keep going up.

I hit 203 this year, which is just ridiculous. Though the number really isn’t important. You could easily accuse me of padding my numbers with middle grade and graphic novels (and that’s just too bad since reading is about enjoying what you read and not following some weird rules).

This year I read pretty widely. I’m still formulating my top reading lists (UPDATE: Here they are—fiction and nonfiction), but looking back it seems like 2013 had bigger hits. This year instead of coming up with a list of amazing reads—though I did find a few of those—I found a bunch of authors I really enjoy.

I took the rise of We Need Diverse Books to heart this year and found more diverse reads and authors. It’s not all multicultural either. I read a number of books about homelessness, foster care and disability.

Lots of fun reading this year. Let’s get to it.

You can also check out my previous reading lists: 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002 and 2001.

  1. Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair by Anne Lamott – I started last year with Anne Lamott and I figured I can’t go wrong by starting another year with her latest book. This is another short, quick book like Help, Thanks, Wow, but I didn’t find it as engaging. She’s talking about overcoming the pain and suffering of life, but it took a while to get into. She didn’t seem quite as neurotic and lost, which has always been her charm. Or maybe I’m just getting used to it and want crazier and crazier glimpses of her neuroses, which is just asking too much.
  2. The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo – A fun and magical little story. That seems to be DiCamillo’s specialty.
  3. The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder – With the coldest temperatures coming to Minnesota in 16 years, it seemed like the right time to read this one. It’s incredible reading about their 7-month winter with snow drifts higher than houses.
  4. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – I thought maybe I had read this as a kid, but I didn’t remember it. I listened to it while running and it just felt terribly slow. Took forever to get home and even introduce Colin. The whole story boils down to pain in the butt children learning to stop being such pains, which seemed kind of tiresome.
  5. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – A husband comes home to find his wife missing, but nothing is quite as it should be. This mystery is a captivating page-turner that in the end was just plain terrifying, not from any horror but from the sheer craziness of what a person is capable of. 5 stars for being an incredible read. 4 stars because it gives me the willies.
  6. Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith – An intriguing story of a black young woman who “passes” as white in order to join the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) of World War II. It’s another incredible reminder of how backward our view on race was, fighting Nazis abroad but supporting segregation at home.
  7. My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok – The story of a young man struggling with the tension between his religious faith and his artistic yearnings. The topic alone makes it intriguing, but the style is slow and plodding. Not much happens in the first 150 pages. It gets better after that, but I only stuck with it because it’s the first book for a new book club I’ve joined.
  8. The Bomb by Theodore Taylor – The story of the native people of the Bikini atoll who were displaced by the U.S. government for testing of the nuclear bomb after World War II. It was a fictional account, but written by a man who served in the navy at Bikini. I want to read up on what actually happened, but it doesn’t sound like an encouraging story.
  9. Makeda by Randall Robinson – A rambling family narrative about a grandmother who remembers past lives and her grandson who is struggling to find his place in civil rights era America. I listened to this book while running and I didn’t mind the meandering so much—the great voices helped—but I probably would have been annoyed reading it. The narrator intentionally avoids subjects by wandering off on rabbit holes and it can get a little frustrating. But the beauty and history he discovers about his African heritage is incredible.
  10. Monsters by Ilsa J. Bick – The conclusion to the Ashes trilogy where teenagers inexplicably turn into people-eating monsters and thank goodness it’s finally over. I loved the opening of this trilogy, Ashes. It was intense, full of post-apocalyptic action and had a trio of great main characters you cared about. Then the characters got sidetracked in this weird town and it didn’t end. The second book, Shadows, just delved into more weird stuff and introduced these odd factions. The series still had great moments, so I kept reading. Monsters finally came out and I mainly picked it up to see how things ended. Ug. It still had some good moments and some intense action, but so much junk. The plot for this series just derails through the countryside, getting hung up on these other group of characters and old histories for no good reason. It distracts from the three main characters in the original. Nevermind the weird military guy who’s doing unexplained testing and trying to control the monsters. It just doesn’t hold together. The absolute worst part is how many times the book kept saying ‘if this were a movie or a book…’ as if we weren’t reading a book. The author used it to justify not explaining anything, used it to justify certain action scenes, used it to justify a lack of a love triangle, and on and on. Once is cheesy enough, but multiple times? Like so many other teen trilogies, this one should have ended with the first one. It would have been brilliant. Instead it falls to pieces and relies on weak and desperate justifications.
  11. Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi – John Scalzi’s debut novel, written just to see if he could do it, is a delight. It’s funny, breezy and seemingly effortless. The premise is hilarious—aliens introducing themselves to humanity through Hollywood—and the follow through works. I just wish there was more Scalzi to read.
  12. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White – Read this one to Lexi. Simpler and not as grand as I remember it, but still a classic story.
  13. Stotan! by Chris Crutcher – This story of a high school swim team going through major life issues while pushing themselves to the brink and beyond of their athletic endurance was inspiring for doing my half marathon.
  14. This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer – The third in this middling post-apocalyptic series, and it’s more meh. I like seeing how people survive when everything falls apart, which is why I keep reading, but the story is told in diary format by an angst-filled teen, and, well, that’s what you get.
  15. The Social Church: A Theology of Digital Communication by Justin Wise – It’s not about the how of social media but the why. A very solid overview, though it felt a little scattered. See my full review on Church Marketing Sucks.
  16. My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George – It’s not so much a story as a catalog of how this kid lived in the woods for a year. Interesting stuff, but I felt like even the Little House on the Prairie series had more of a plot.
  17. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick – I want to read the John Scalzi re-write, so I went back to the original. It offers some interesting insight into Bladerunner (which I now need to re-watch), but overall I was unimpressed. The whole Mercer idea was kind of weird and felt like it wasn’t fully explained or explored.
  18. The Android’s Dream by John Scalzi – So I really didn’t need to read Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep before reading Scalzi’s work. Unlike Fuzzy Nation or to a lesser extent Old Man’s War, this one had very little to do with the sci-fi classic of a similar title. But it was quite a ride. It struck me as a little grander and more disjointed than Scalzi’s usual work. It reminded me of Neal Stephenson the way it was intricate and jumped around between multiple characters. It’s at least 50 pages before we meet the real main character of the story. That took some getting used to and it’s not what I expect from Scalzi. But it’s still quite a fun caper.
  19. Reality Boy by A.S. King – A quirky, funny and disturbingly dark story of a messed up kid who appeared on one of those nanny reality shows as a boy and struggles to come to terms with his demons as a teenager. It’s incredibly well-written and ultimately hopeful, but there’s just a depth of despair in the characters and situations that’s hard to take.
  20. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen – I seem to be in the survival tales lately and this one is pretty great. It has a little more story than My Side of the Mountain and feels more realistic as Brian actually struggles to figure out how to survive.
  21. The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness by Brianna Karp – Not sure what to make of this story at all. It’s a memoir about a life full of pain and drama that goes quickly off the rails. It offers insight into homelessness, but it’s really a story about a romance that falls apart. She drags quite a lot of people through the mud (some who probably deserved it) and in the end I’m left with this horrible feeling, completely unsure of whether to believe any of it. The fact that her blog, which launched the book, is no longer online and how the author’s name and “liar” are among suggested results for Google really makes you wonder. It’s the kind of story I’m not sure I wanted to know, though I will say that believable or not, good choices or not, she does present the reality of how quickly things can fall apart and anyone can find themselves with nowhere to live.
  22. Molly Fyde and the Land of Light by Hugh Howey – This is part two in Hugh Howey’s Molly Fyde series, following a teenage space pilot as she searches for her long lost parents. My biggest complaint with this series is that it just keeps barreling forward and rarely takes a second to catch its breath. There’s a point when that breakneck speed is so fast that important plot elements start to slip past and the reader loses a sense of what’s important. That’s how this one started to feel. It’s also disappointing that it’s now entered the realm of a true series where it doesn’t end. The first one definitely ended on a cliffhanger, but it had more of a sense of closure. This one not so much.
  23. Molly Fyde and the Blood of Billions by Hugh Howey – This series is starting to lose its luster. The breakneck pace continues, only this time around the main characters on their own. Mind-blowing mysteries keep spilling out, though nothing is entirely explained and you’re left scratching your head. I was also disturbed by the amount of blood and gore in this one. I’m normally not squeamish about gore (I’ve read plenty of Stephen King), but it felt out of context and overly graphic for this series. I’d like to see how this series ends, but I’m definitely losing my excitement for it.
  24. Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber – A heavily tattooed Lutheran pastor drops f-bombs while talking about the grace of Jesus. She’s tough and gritty, but she’s also honest and real in a way that’s so refreshing. She’s a reminder of what the church needs to be, and I love that so many of her stories are self-deprecating, not in a look-at-me, I’ll tell you how I’m not perfect which really means I’m perfect kind of way. Instead she’s full of real brokenness, real mistakes, real screw ups. That’s what faith is. That’s why we come together in communion, to receive grace and healing. There’s a lot more I could say about this book, and will say as I dive into it for both book club and Church Marketing Sucks, but I think it’s enough to say I’ll be reading it again.
  25. Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver – Somehow I managed to own this book for at least a decade and not actually read it. It’s Kingsolver’s debut and it’s pretty good. I found myself getting a little frustrated at the main character, but it’s full of Kingsolver’s tree-hugging and wonder with words.
  26. Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor – I don’t read classics very often and this is probably why. It just meandered all over and didn’t make a lot of sense and seemed like it was playing at symbolism too intellectual for me to get my head around. I know O’Connor writes weird, dark short stories, and some of those I’ve enjoyed, but it’s not something you can sustain over the length of a novel.
  27. Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor – A quasi-post-apocalytpic story about a sorceress working to set right the injustices of genocide, rape, child soldiers and female circumcision—all stemming from some sort of tribalism—that continue to plague central Africa. It was all a little too much fantasy for my taste.
  28. The Returned by Jason Mott – A very Stephen King like story of people who had died coming back to life and returning to their loved ones. Nobody is sure why it’s happening or if they’re really people (questions that are never answered) but they have to figure out how to deal with all these formerly deceased people. It’s pretty engaging and has a nice pacing to it.
  29. Article 5 by Kristen Simmons – I’m not pessimistic enough to enjoy dystopian novels—the tragedy is too rooted in human evil, whereas post-apocalyptic novels are a bit more distanced. At any rate, the over-the-top “Moral Militia” vibe at the beginning nearly did me in, but I was glad I stuck around as it picked up pace and became addictive.
  30. Darius & Twig by Walter Dean Myers – A quick story about two friends, a high school writer and a runner, both from the hood, striving to find their place and rise above what society expects of them.
  31. The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen L. Carter – An alternative history where Lincoln survives the assassination attempt, only to face impeachment from a hostile Congress. A black, female law clerk working on his case begins to unravel layers of conspiracy in the post-War aftermath. Part mystery and part legal thriller, I was much more drawn to the thriller elements, wanting to know what happened next. The mystery and all the conspiracies were dizzying and in the end I couldn’t keep up with who was doing what. But it was a fun ride, it humanized Lincoln and gave glimpse of an interesting time.
  32. Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan – A riches-to-rags story of a Mexican family falling on hard times and immigrating to America during the Great Depression to find work in the fields of California. It touches on deep topics of prejudice and despair, but has undercurrent of hope.
  33. Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon – A great little book of encouragement and advice for the creative. Quick read and full of inspiration.
  34. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick – This is the story of the day teenager Leonard Peacock plans to go out in a murder-suicide. So it’s pretty dark. But there’s an undercurrent of hope and a little humor. It powerfully addresses a serious issue and doesn’t wrap everything up nicely. Plus, there’s an odd little ‘letters from the future’ bit that includes some post-apocalypse, so bonus.
  35. Level Up by Gene Luen Yang & Thien Pham – I usually can’t handle graphic novels, but this one was pretty accessible. It’s the story of a video gamer driven to medical school by his father’s death, struggling between destiny and his own  happiness.
  36. Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger – A summer of tragedy in a small Minnesota town in 1961, as told through the eyes of a 13-year-old boy. It has an edge of mystery to it, but it’s mostly about this boy and his family, their relationships and ultimately a coming of age story. It deals with faith and tragedy honestly and realistically and is just saturated with perfectly honed writing. I was especially impressed by the clarity of the characters.
  37. Boxers by Gene Luen Yang – Boxers and Saints are two graphic novels telling the story of the Boxer Rebellion in China from different points of view. Boxers takes on the story of a peasant leading an uprising against the “foreign devils.” We see the lies and arrogance of Christian missionaries and foreign diplomats, and watch as the peasants harness supernatural power and rise up to reclaim their land. It really presents the history in an engaging and educational manner, while also opening a lot of issues for consideration, from faith and nationalism to gender roles.
  38. Saints by Gene Luen Yang – Boxers and Saints are two graphic novels telling the story of the Boxer Rebellion in China from different points of view. Saints takes on the story of a rejected peasant girl who finds a tortured solace in the faith of Christianity. While significantly shorter than Boxers, Saints is probably more complicated and really dives into more of conflicting issues at the heart of the conflict. Together these books are a powerful commentary on war and faith.
  39. Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan – This critically acclaimed collection of five short stories shows different tragedies and conflicts from across Africa through the eyes of children. The back cover copy talks about the “resilience” of children, but I don’t know if we see much of that. It’s dark and depressing. I don’t see a lot of hope in the collection, and ending with a story from the Rwandan genocide probably didn’t help.
  40. Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson – A hacker in an unnamed Middle Eastern security state stumbles into a supernatural world that bridges faith and fantasy. It’s like the work of Cory Doctorow meets C.S. Lewis. The Muslim elements are approachable for a non-Muslim as are the techie bits for the non-techie (though it’s not as in-depth as Doctorow’s stuff). It’s a unique and engaging story, though at times I felt like it was reaching to tie things together.
  41. Split by Swati Avasthi – Two brothers separately escape from their abusive father and find each other, only to struggle as they battle their shared past and try to move forward. It’s an honest and unflinching look at domestic violence.
  42. Stuart Little by E.B. White – Read this book with the kids and I don’t remember it being so scattered and plotless. Lexi was annoyed at the lack of an ending and I had to agree. When it finally gets to a conflict, it’s never resolved.
  43. Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America by Jeff Chu – An eye-opening look at all sides of the church debate over LGBT issues. It’s both a personal journey for the author, but also tells dozens of stories from across the theological spectrum. A helpful step forward in this ongoing conversation that the church needs to have.
  44. Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins – A Burmese teenager is conscripted as a child soldier  and forced to hunt down Karenni rebels. He later encounters a Karenni teenager who yearns to fight for the rebels and they both must learn what’s worth fighting for. It’s a powerful look at the conflict raging in Burma, which has resulted in 150,000 refugees from various minority cultures in Burma, living in camps on the Thailand border and 50,000 refugees that have been relocated to the U.S. (My church has a large population of Karen refugees, another cultural group that’s closely related to the Karenni and would have had similar experiences to the Karenni in this story. Made the story much closer to home.)
  45. Foreign Gods, Inc. by Okey Ndibe – A Nigerian immigrant in American discovers an art dealer who trades in gods and decides to return to Nigeria, steal the god of his homeland and solve his money woes. It had an intriguing set up, but the whole thing just felt depressing and morose. I couldn’t get into it.
  46. Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger – The first of the Cork O’Connor mysteries, this doesn’t have the same depth and beauty as Ordinary Grace, but it’s still riveting. I usually don’t read a lot of mysteries, but I’ll definitely be reading more from Krueger.
  47. The Good Lord Bird by James McBride – A fictional account of the real life abolitionist John Brown, told through a black boy who is inadvertently freed by Brown but poses as a girl. It’s an engaging and honest perspective that lets us see Brown’s near madness. It starts with the Bleeding Kansas raids and ends with the ill-fated raid on Harpers Ferry, presenting Brown’s final plan as misguided and insane, but with a real possibility of escaping into the mountains and arming escaped slaves.
  48. One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia – The story of three sisters who travel to Oakland, Calif., to spend a month with the mother who abandoned them. They come to terms with this broken relationship, the Black Panthers and more. This was a little difficult to read because the mother was so unsympathetic, but as it continued it really blossomed into a nice little story.
  49. Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis – An orphaned boy in Depression-era Michigan goes on a search for his long-lost father. I really appreciated the small details and how this story seemed to be very focused in moving Bud along in his search and planting and revealing only what was needed.
  50. The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis – A Depression-era black family struggles through hard times that keep getting worse. It’s a powerful insight into the intense poverty and racism of the time. It felt a little scattered and disjointed, but I thought Deza and her brother Jimmy were incredibly warm, loving characters.
  51. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate – A short and lovely tale told from the perspective of a captive gorilla in a carnival-like mall. Not only is it a great little story, but the voice of Ivan is spectacular. I might be a bit biased since I listened to the audiobook and the voice work was very good, but the tone and voice of Ivan was just unique and so well done. I could listen to Ivan pontificate all day long.
  52. A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master” by Rachel Held Evans – I was initially reluctant to read this book. I’ve enjoyed Rachel’s work, but this felt like a rehash of the A.J. Jacobs book and, frankly, I felt like I didn’t need a primer on biblical womanhood. But I’m glad I finally read it. While I’m still not a fan of the “Year Of…” approach, she offers an approachable path to an otherwise overwhelming topic. She tackles poor biblical interpretation and male patriarchy with humor, grace and a little righteous indignation.
  53. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne – This is a difficult book. It’s also pretty divisive—just read the plethora of one-star reviews (yet it still has a 4.04 out of 5 rating and a total of 146,428 ratings). It’s about a young German boy during World War II who is oblivious to the Nazi holocaust. Forced to move outside a concentration camp when  his commandant father is reassigned, the boy comes in contact with a Jewish boy. Much of the anger over the book is questioning how the boy could possibly be so naive. It’s a bit heavy-handed, yes, but as the author argued, this is what happened. People didn’t know what was going on, and some who did were somehow able to ignore it. Initially I was a little put off by the boy’s snottiness and the upper-crust British tone of the book, but I eventually settled in and just felt floored. People find it hard to believe that such a thing could happen, yet these kind of atrocities happen again and again in our world. In that vein, it’s a cry to speak out, to throw off our blinders of innocence or indifference and let the vow of “never again” be something we can actually live up to.
  54. Olivia Kidney by Ellen Potter – I read this book to this kids and it took about 75 pages before the story started to make any sense. The beginning is just too random and disconnected. It all starts to come together in the end, but you have to put up with a lot of randomness until then. That kind of put a damper on the story.
  55. Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel by Nikki Grimes – This is a quick (74 pages) early chapter book for early readers that I read to the kids. It’s fast and fun and Dyamonde is quite the pistol of a kid.
  56. Chasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi – This is the fascinating story of two teens dealing with death, the resulting depression and differing perspectives on the afterlife. It brings in a lot of interesting concepts, including some comic book narration. I had a hard time getting into it (actually gave up and put it aside for a while) and I think it took a while for the rhythm to click. But I’m glad it did.
  57. Akata Witch by Nnedi Okoroafor – A novel of mystic teenagers in Nigeria discovering a wider spiritual world (somewhat like the wizarding world in Harry Potter, though not nearly as British) where they can work magic and fight evil powers. The pacing felt a little off (rushed ending), but it was utterly unique in the fantasy realm.
  58. Fledgling by Octavia Butler – Why do we read any other vampire novels? This one is it. Incredible. It starts with a young vampire awaking in a cave, disoriented and injured, suffering from amnesia and remembering nothing of what happened to her. As she pieces together the mystery it’s revealed that her dark skin is a genetic modification that allows her to stay awake during the day and survive the sun, but she’s hated by what amounts to vampire white supremacists. The action shifts from shadowy attacks to a court room like showdown and the intensity just ratchets up.
  59. The Road to Paris by Nikki Grimes – The story of a biracial girl surviving the foster care system. It’s a short and somewhat simplistic story, but I think that’s part of the magic. It shows what foster care is actually like and some of the fears and worries of children involved. There’s an intriguing faith element and it’s encouraging that everyone is not what they seem (there are no good people or bad people). The time of the setting is never given, though I’d guess it’s the 1970s-1980s based on the lack of technology and the seemingly ignorance of social workers and foster families. Part of that might be wishful thinking on my part and hoping it’s history and not reality. It just felt overly harsh and not as sensitive as I’d expect social workers to be (separating siblings with no explanation, sending a child on a train by herself for a visit with birth mother, etc.). All in all it offers great insight into the world of foster care.
  60. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang – An incredible cross-cultural story. I’m not even sure how to describe it and I feel like I could have a college-level discussion about it to really unpack it, but just so many intriguing ways of exploring complex issues. The way it approaches and flips the Asian American experience makes it a must-read. I’m not entirely sure I understand how to apply it, but I think any time we have one of those ‘is this Asian stereotype racist’ debates, we should pause to read this book again.
  61. 8th Grade Super Zero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich – The history of this writer alone had me hooked: Nigerian father, Jamaican mother, married to a man of Croatian descent, she studied writing with Paula Danziger and Madeleine L’Engle. The book was good too, not blowing me away, but offering a solid story of a struggling teen that felt very real and didn’t shy away from real issues. Reggie, the main character, is dealing with his father’s unemployment, his church youth group is a major influence on his life and he starts going to a homeless shelter as a one-time project and it becomes something so much more. Reggie is this dorky, outcast kid who isn’t always perfect but finds a way to struggle through and make the right choices.
  62. Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins – This short children’s novella gives a glimpse into the life of a girl in Bangladesh, struggling against poverty and gender stereotypes. Naima wants to help her family earn more money, but her ideas don’t always work out and she laments, “If only I had been born a boy.” It’s a glimpse into a different culture and illustrates the power of micro loans as empowerment over poverty.
  63. Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith – This is the greatest novel you’ll ever read about six-foot-tall praying mantis soldiers devouring a small town in Iowa. It might also be the best book you read all year. It’s funny, weird, rambling, and full of the profanity and sex you’d expect from a 16-year-old narrator. It starts off as another story of an outcast teenager, struggling with life and his attraction to his girlfriend and gay best friend. But it turns into apocalypse by experimental mutant insects. It gets there (and holds together) thanks to the wonderful narration of 16-year-old Austin, a wannabe historian who lays it all out and explores the weird connections and fascinating underbelly of an economically depressed community in rural Iowa. It’s as if my two favorite genres—funny yet painfully honest teen novel and post-apocalyptic sci-fi got together to create a genetically modified hybrid super-genre that kicked every other book’s ass.
  64. Cardboard by Doug TenNapel – The creator of Earthworm Jim gives us a graphic novel about cardboard creations that come to life. It’s full of heart and offbeat quips.
  65. The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary – A mouse driving a toy motorcycle by making the right noise is pretty great. Read this one aloud to the kids. Lexi begged for a sequel when it was done and was overjoyed when I pointed her to the bookshelf and pulled down the next one. Reading it as an adult it feels like it does drag in a few places and I’m surprised there’s not more motorcycle riding. But the aspirin rescue scene is pretty great.
  66. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward – This book was brutal: teen sex that might not be rape but isn’t exactly consensual; dog fights; teen pregnancy; a mom dying in childbirth, an overwhelmed, distant and alcoholic single father; rampant poverty; and then Katrina comes down and blows everything to hell. The novel had its bright moments: the language was poetic, the 14-year-old pregnant narrator loved the Greek myth of Jason and Madea, and when the action did pick up it had a great pace and feel. But getting through it all was tough. The well-done audio book is probably the main reason I was able to make it through.
  67. The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan – This is the poetic and beautifully illustrated story of the poet Pablo Neruda’s childhood. He was an absent-minded dreamer struggling with an authoritarian father. It’s full of wonder, but it really feels like a mere introduction. I wanted more. And I should confess I’m not into poetry. I preferred the details on Neruda’s life than the excerpts of his poetry.
  68. Rich: A Dyamonde Daniel Book by Nikki Grimes – This is the second in the Dyamonde Daniel series, a collection of short and quick chapter books (I read it to Lexi in one sitting) about an in-charge girl. In this edition she makes a new friend who lives in a shelter and explores poetry (Dyamonde’s friends explore poetry, she’d rather do math). I wasn’t expecting another book exploring homelessness, but this one does it with dignity and grace.
  69. Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Pena – A gritty, real story about a mixed-race teenager trying to come to terms with his identity. His mom is blond and blue eyed, his dad is Mexican. He feels out of place at his white private school and in the poor neighborhood his dad grew up in. But Danny loves baseball. Unexpected friendship and the love of the game find a way through.
  70. Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park – When Julia and her friend Patrick team up on a state fair project, Julia is disappointed that the silkworm project is too Korean. She wants to do something more American. It’s a simple story that touches on race and identity, but doesn’t drown in them. What’s weird about the book is the between-chapter dialogues between Julia and the author. It’s a fun concept, but I’m not sure if it works.
  71. All the Right Stuff by Walter Dean Myers – It’s a Socratic dialogue about the social contract, the unwritten rules that determine our behavior, wrapped around the barest of plots. I’m not a big fan of philosophy and I love a good plot, so this one didn’t do it for me. In some ways it reminds me of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, with the philosophic conversation broken up by manual labor (in this case, preparing soup). But I want a story that actually tells a story.
  72. Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick – A sparse and somber account of the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia in the late 1970s from the eyes of a teenage boy, Arn Chorn-Pond. It’s an immediate and straight-forward account told in his broken English, sometimes detailed and sometimes bare, like you’d expect from a child. Citizens are rounded up and killed or forced into camps and Arn is forced into music and realizes it’s a way to survive. He’s eventually forced into service as a child soldier and later escapes to a refugee camp in Thailand. It’s brutal and seems non-sensical, which is about all I can make out after reading about the aims of the Khmer Rouge.
  73. Coaltown Jesus by Ron Koertge – A teen struggling with his older brother’s death prays for God’s help and Jesus shows up. While it has the potential to be incredibly hokey, the offbeat, poetic style works. It’s funny and light, while still probing deep, painful questions. It’s also short and sweet, something you can read in one sitting.
  74. Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson – The cover looks like something my mom would read, but it’s more like Little House on the Prairie with a plot and girl power. 16-year-old Hattie is an orphan who inherits her uncle’s homestead in 1917 Montana and works to prove the claim on her own. The time frame puts the story in the middle of World War I and anti-German sentiment is brewing on the prairie. It’s a simple story that weaves together several complex threads to make a satisfying whole that focuses on faith, country and the power of what you can do when you have the strength of friendship.
  75. Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay – An exploration of the Vel’ d’Hiv’ tragedy during World War II when French Jews were rounded up and ultimately sent to the death camps. It was by order of the German occupation, but carried out by French authorities. The story is told from the perspective of a young girl among those rounded up and also a middle age woman in 2003 researching the story as a journalist when she uncovers a personal family connection. It’s a compelling story and engaging as the mystery unfolds, but I wasn’t completely engaged or rooting for the characters. Part of it is the intense nature of the Holocaust, but something about the disconnected French characters and the way the girl’s story eventually fell out of the narrative left me wanting something more.
  76. Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow by Nathan Bransford – A boy-friendly space adventure story with plenty of wacky capers. I thought it strayed a bit and didn’t have a ton of direction, but I read it aloud to Milo and he loved it.
  77. Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins – The book jacket description doesn’t really tell you anything. There’s a reason for that. This book isn’t about anything. “She wished something would happen,” it says on the cover, and that’s about right. The story follows several teenage characters with intersecting lives and it just hums along through ordinary days. It’s well-written and engaging, so I stuck with it, but there’s really no rising or falling plot.
  78. How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O’Connor – Georgina finds herself homeless when her father runs out, their family gets evicted and Georgina, her mom and her brother end up living in their car. But she sees a lost dog poster on a telephone pole and gets an idea—she’ll steal a dog and then claim the reward. An extreme situation prompts extreme action and Georgina makes some hard choices. It’s a quick and powerful story, realistically portraying the reality of homelessness.
  79. Mother Teresa: Angel of the Slums by Lewis Helfand – A graphic novel biography of the life of Mother Teresa. It shows important moments in her life like little snapshots, capturing her mercy and grace in the face of our seeming indifference. Again and again we see her simply doing her work and people respond by meeting her needs because they’re so taken aback by what she’s doing.
  80. The Last Wild by Piers Torday – In a post-apocalyptic world where most animals have been killed by a virus, a boy who stopped talking starts talking to animals. These talking animals break him out of a home for troubled children and an adventure begins to cure the virus and save the last remaining animals. It’s very British. Kind of a post-apocalyptic Narnian adventure, lots of imagination—though I felt like the pacing was off. The adventure-journey story has a difficult task to keep things rising and falling at the right pace and I never felt like this settled in to the right mix of hope and despair. Plus, it’s the setup for a series, so we don’t get complete closure on everything.
  81. The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson – An American woman moves to Cairo, converts to Islam and marries an Egyptian. She finds beauty in a culture and religion so misunderstood in the United States and struggles to find her place between and among cultures. It’s a wonderful point of view to subvert your expectations about Islam and the Arab world.
  82. When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park – A story set in occupied Korea during World War II that follows a brother and sister as the Japanese inflict more and more hardships. The story itself didn’t blow me away, but the history was a perspective I knew nothing about. I don’t know much about Korean history, so it was fascinating to get this glimpse.
  83. Bunnicula by James Howe – I read this one to Milo and he seemed to enjoy it, but I’m not sure how well he was able to follow along. I seem to remember more suspense reading it as a kid, but maybe I’m remembering one of the later books in the series. This one seemed kind of ho-hum.
  84. Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome by John Scalzi – A novella in the vein of World War Z that introduces us to the world of Scalzi’s coming novel, Locked In. It’s a fascinating history of a disease that reshapes the 21st century, culminating in people being trapped in their bodies. The best part is how he explores a new idea and then takes it where it would naturally go, pushing the idea farther that you thought it would ever go. It also manages a consistency that World War Z never had. Can’t wait for the full novel.
  85. My Name Is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson – This is the loose story of a group of young teens who are white, Indian and Eskimo gathered at a Catholic boarding school in remote Alaska in the 1960s. It speaks to the hardships and injustices inflicted on the native people, but also follows them as they come of age, deal with tragedy and struggle to find their own voice. It’s an interesting historical perspective and study of these characters, but the plot lacks direction and focus. It’s more a snapshot of life than a driving story.
  86. Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson – Isabel is a slave girl during the American Revolution, desperately searching for the freedom the rebels are fighting for. But neither the Americans nor the British are willing to grant freedom to a black slave. It’s a eye-opening perspective on the complications of our Independence.
  87. Cairo by G. Willow Wilson – This graphic novel brings together a group of characters that cross paths in the city of Cairo and shape each other’s destinies. It draws on Middle Eastern mythology and recasts it for a modern age. It’s full of gritty realism and fantastic moments, peppered with comic book wit.
  88. More Than This by Patrick Ness – Desperate and depressed, Seth commits suicide and wakes up in an abandoned world. He finds himself inexplicably in his childhood home in England, across the world from where he drowned, and the world is dusty, overgrown and empty. Is he in some kind of hell? This one is weird and deep, but really good as you start diving down the rabbit hole.
  89. Ask the Passengers by A.S. King – Astrid Jones has never felt safe since moving to a small town. Her mom is image-obsessed, her dad is checked out, her sister is a people pleaser, her best friend lives a double life and, oh yeah, Astrid has a girl friend and hasn’t told anyone she’s gay. Not even herself. Since she can’t confide in anyone, she spends a lot of her time lying on picnic tables, sending her love to random passengers soaring past at 20,000 feet. In many ways it’s your typical teen finding out who they are story, but it’s so well-written and funny and fresh that there’s nothing typical about it.
  90. The Eternal Smile by Gene Luen Yang – A graphic novel that tells three stories where reality is never quite what it seems. It’s an interesting conglomeration of styles, each one very different. I think I liked the story of cubicle dweller Janet and her run-in with a Nigerian Prince over email the best.
  91. When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds – It has the gritty, urban feel of Walter Dean Myers, but feels a little more intentional and unique. I love the character Needles who turns to knitting to control his Tourette syndrome. It’s a powerful story of family and loyalty that doesn’t descend into the worst of hood living.
  92. Adaptation by Malinda Lo – Terrorism turns to government conspiracy and much, much worse in this quick-paced teenie-bopper thrill ride. It explored some interesting concepts, but in the end the giant conspiracy saga was completely overshadowed by the teen romance. I wanted more of the drama and found myself less interested in the conspiracies I was supposed to be focused on.
  93. A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott – A teenage black girl inadvertently travels from modern day to Civil War-era Brooklyn. It’s reminiscent of Octavia Butler’s Kindred, though it’s much slower paced. It’s more character driven, taking time to thoroughly introduce us to modern urban poverty and focusing on the racial differences between 1863 and the modern day.
  94. Heaven by Angela Johnson – Marley has a simple life in a town called Heaven, hanging out with friends and getting letters from her traveling Uncle Jack. Until she learns that her parents aren’t really her parents and she’s set adrift. It’s really a simple, quiet story, despite the head-spinning topic. It’s slow building and has a subtle grace.
  95. Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac – When I carried this book around people kept asking me what I was reading and struggled to summarize it: “Um, post-apocalyptic YA thriller starring a Native American female warrior?” And in a way, that’s the best way to describe it. It features genetically modified monsters and weird bits of telepathy, but it’s otherwise realistic, fast-paced and quite the page-turner.
  96. The First Part Last by Angela Johnson – The second story in the Heaven trilogy, this one tells the story of Bobby and Feather and how this father-daughter duo from the first installment came to be together. It’s just as quiet and simple, told in a then/now format that slowly builds to the climax. As a teenage father, Bobby is the hero we seldom see. We need more characters like Bobby.
  97. Sideways Stories From Wayside School by Louis Sachar – This was one of my favorite books growing up. I read it to the kids and it wasn’t as magical and hilarious as I remember. It’s still fun and definitely quirky, but it’s also disjointed and sometimes just weird (dead rats?).
  98. The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson – In a futuristic, post-apocalypse city state the political system is ruled by women and a summer king is elected every five years—only to be killed when the winter ends. But this year’s summer king is pushing the rules and he inspires teenage artist June as she struggles to figure out her place. This one is bizarre and intriguing. It’s been considered among the best, but I’m not so convinced.
  99. The Living by Matt De La Pena – Conspiracy and cover up in the midst of apocalyptic mayhem on a cruise ship—with a scary disease thrown in for good measure. The hits just keep coming. The story centers on Shy, a hard-working kid stuck in the middle of it all. In many ways this story can’t quite decide what it is, and you get some of everything from class-based cruise ship hijinks to suicide mystery to Titanic sinking to lost in a life boat. And it’s the first in a series, so there’s not a lot of closure (though it’s better than most). The relentless pace was fun, but it felt awfully jumbled.
  100. Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective: The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit by Octavia Spencer – A quick mystery featuring a kid detective and her friends. I’m not a big mystery fan, so I need to be really impressed. The characters were good, but the mystery felt a little too simplistic and revealed all at the end.
  101. Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis – I haven’t read a good straight up post-apocalyptic story in a while, and this one fit the bill. Focused on water scarcity (something I haven’t seen a lot of in the genre, but will surely become more common), we get a strong teen character in Lynn who knows the dangers of the outside world but has to learn to recognize the potential joys.
  102. Kid vs. Squid by Greg van Eekhout – Wacky summer adventure with lots of ocean-themed mayhem. It’s fast-paced and has moments of good humor, but it was also a little hard to follow, and perhaps the most unforgivable, false advertising: no squid until page 169.
  103. Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills – An eye-opening look into the life of a trans-gendered person. As a senior in high school, Liz decides she’s now Gabe. She’s never felt like a she, but getting everyone to accept her as a he is no easy task (even the personal pronouns are difficult). Simple things like which bathroom to use and filling out W2 forms are stress-enducing, but we really get a feel for what Gabe’s struggle is like. Plus he’s learning to become a DJ and the whole musical angle just makes it real and lovely.
  104. Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkins – This is basically a magical spirit story in a post-apocalyptic setting. It’s full of Caribbean voodoo-like spirits that empower a local drug kingpin. The story itself is OK, though a little meandering. But I’m not a big fan of fantasy and this kind of spirit possession magic isn’t my cup of tea.
  105. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – Reread this book again with my intern so we could pull out some lessons for editors. It’s such a good book for writers though. Really felt challenged this time around to write just 300 words a day.
  106. Everything You Need to Survive the Apocalypse by Lucas Klauss – No, it’s not an apocalypse story. The dorky teen character Phillip is interested in the apocalypse, but that’s about it. Really it’s about Phillip getting involved with a girl who’s committed to her church and Phillip falling for both the girl and God. The exploration of Christian youth culture is eerily accurate, though ultimately it feels like it shortchanges the faith element.
  107. Iron West by Doug TenNapel – A fun graphic novel about a robot uprising in the wild west.
  108. When We Wake by Karen Healey – A teenage girl wakes up and discovers she’s died and been brought back to life 100 years later. She’s the center of a controversial military-medical experiment and trying to readjust to a century of shifting social norms. Interesting takes on environmental and societal changes in the near future.
  109. Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper – A 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy who can’t walk or talk tells her story of finding her place in school, joining the quiz team and overcoming adversity. It’s incredible seeing the world from her perspective, knowing everything that’s going on in her head but her incredible difficulty in expressing herself.
  110. Devil’s Wake by Steven Barnes & Tananarive Due – Another zombie outbreak novel, this one following teens on the west coast. It’s fast paced and full of action. My two complaints: It sets up an on-going series so there’s not much of a conclusion and then the last chapter suddenly brings up this weird dream thing, like they’re setting up for number two in the series when they hardly touched on that the entire rest of the story.
  111. The Boy at the End of the World by Greg van Eekhout – A post-apocalyptic far-future where a boy wakes up in a broken ark to find himself the last human in the world. He has to adjust to a new world with a robot for a companion. It’s a great little kid’s story. I read it out loud to the kids and we all loved it.
  112. Holes by Louis Sachar – Listened to the audiobook (again) and really enjoyed going back to this story. I forgot how quick it is.
  113. Odessa Again by Dana Reinhardt – A fourth grader discovers a way to travel back in time and starts reliving parts of her life. At first she’s selfish, but over time she begins to use this power for a greater purpose.
  114. Orleans by Sherri Smith – A post-apocalyptic future where New Orleans is practically washed away and cut off from the United States with a big wall to keep out a new fever. We follow Fen as she cares for an abandoned newborn and outsider Daniel who has a potential cure but is in way over his head. It’s a quick adventure story that has lots of depth and intrigue. The dialogue is in a thick dialect and is eventually adequately explained, but it takes some getting used to.
  115. The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey – Joss Whedon gave a quote for the cover, which is in itself a great reason to read this book. It’s the story of zombie children who are able to retain some of their former selves. The British military is experimenting on them trying to find a cure when all hell breaks loose (as you’d expect in a zombie tale). It’s not the typical scare the crap out of you zombie story, and it takes the genre in a new direction, which is fun.
  116. I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai – Incredible autobiography of a young girl in Pakistan fighting for her right to education in the face of the rising Taliban. It’s quite a history lesson and a needed new perspective. It takes a little while to get through the history and background, but then it dives into the guts of the story and moves pretty quickly.
  117. Bucking the Sarge by Christopher Paul Curtis – Luther T. Farrell is worked to the bone by his over-bearing, slumlord mother (who goes by Sarge) and is starting to see that keeping his head down and going with the flow isn’t an option. The story has great characters and a unique voice, it flows quickly and is probably my favorite Christopher Paul Curtis story yet.
  118. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson – Malinda starts high school by calling the cops on a major party. She’s lost all her friends and everyone hates her, but the worst part is she tried calling the cops because she was raped at that party and never told anyone. Her freshman year continues to get worse as she tries to cope (or not cope) with what happened to her. Despite what feels like a cliche story (though I’m not sure I can name many teen girl is raped stories) it has a great voice and realistically moves through the aftermath of a traumatic event.
  119. Tommysaurus Rex by Doug TenNapel – Fun little story of a boy who loses his dog but finds a dinosaur.
  120. The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne – Weird parallel stories of a girl crossing Africa and a woman escaping India on this wave generator walkway thing. I really like the sci-fi topics and the interesting characters and locales, but it was full of questionable narrator and just weird trippy stuff where you were never sure exactly what was happening.
  121. Legend by Marie Lu – Dystopian future where two prodigies—one criminal and one government agent—cross paths. Fast-paced and intriguing.
  122. Fake ID by Lamar Giles – Nick Pearson is a teenager in the witness protection program and while he thinks he’s lying low, he runs into trouble right from the start. There’s a conspiracy bubbling up in his new hometown and he’s in the midst of it. This fast-paced mystery/thriller was pretty great, though I wanted more closure.
  123. EllRay Jakes the Dragon Slayer by Sally Warner – An early middle grade series I read to the kids. It’s for pretty young kids, so it’s not the most thrilling, but EllRay is a pretty good narrator and kept things interesting.
  124. The One Safe Place by Tania Unsworth – A post-apocalyptic turned dystopian tale about children being preyed on by the rich.  It’s a middle-grade story, so even though it’s dark, it’s on the somewhat lighter side.
  125. The Good Braider by Terry Farish – A story of a refugee girl fleeing the civil war in Sudan and trying to make a life in America. There’s a lot of loss and pain along the way, so it’s not an easy book. But written in a free verse style, it flows nicely and gives a powerful picture of the Sudanese culture, both in Sudan and the United States.
  126. The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer – A longview story of a clone raised to prolong the life of a glorified drug lord who rules Opium, a drug fiefdom straddling Mexico and the United States. The story was compelling enough, but it felt like it just dragged on. Not boring really, but just so broad in scope I never felt like I knew where it was going. Even when I thought it should end, it went in a whole new direction (which sets it up for a series). It wasn’t bad at all, I liked it, but it didn’t captivate me liked I hoped it would (a 4.11 average rating from 41,000 people made me think it would have been better).
  127. Domino Falls by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due – The second novel in the Devil’s Wake zombie series, this one focuses on a surviving town with a dark secret. Generally I feel like zombie stories need to go somewhere deeper, but it always frustrates me when that somewhere deeper is some kind of super zombie. As if zombies weren’t enough. This installment didn’t have as much energy as the first one, probably because it takes place in a refuge so the danger isn’t quite as heightened.
  128. Winger by Andrew Smith – A prep school pipsqueak tries to navigate his horndog desires, rugby fights, his relationship with a girl he wants to be more than friends with and just generally surviving high school, especially when he’s two years younger than all his peers. Narrator Ryan Dean gets a little over-the-top at times, but he’s mostly sincere and eventually does the right thing.
  129. Lucy the Giant by Sherri Smith – An awkward teen runs away from her deadbeat dad and joins a crabbing crew on the Bering Sea. It’s quick, but heartfelt and sad.
  130. The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake – A middle school girl who’s always on the outside learns a lesson from the new teacher who’s definitely on the outside. At times I wanted to strangle Maleeka for not standing up for herself, but she eventually, finally, finds the strength to do what she always knew was right. In some ways it felt a little too easy, but she had so much to overcome it just took that little bit. I think that’s why it was so frustrating. She was so close to the right thing, she knew the right thing but her giant obstacles were keeping her from it. And don’t get me started on Charleese.
  131. Half Way Home by Hugh Howey – Incredible classic sci-fi setup: Planetary colonies are sent out across the universe and governed by an AI that decides the viability of the colony and aborts when they’re not fully viable. One colony is halfway aborted, maybe 15% survive, having been interrupted in their gestation and only half grown and educated (meaning they’re teenagers instead of adults). As the surviving confused colonists stumble out of the vats, they’re in for a strange new world where their AI tried to abort them but then changed its mind, and rather than give answers insists they work to build a rocketship that has nothing to do with survival. The only downside is that it’s supposed to be a YA novel but even knowing that I couldn’t read it that way. I read a lot of YA and these characters felt more like adults than teenagers. But that didn’t lessen my enjoyment at all.
  132. The Earthsea Wizard by Ursala K. LeGuin – It’s the coming of age story of a wizard, but unlike Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, there are no wars and the main enemy is primarily internal. It also has the distinction of being a fantasy novel published in 1968 where nearly all the characters are people of color. Unfortunately the publisher refused to reflect that in the cover art. While all that is fascinating, I didn’t think the story was. I’m not a big fan of fantasy, and this story felt distant and slow.
  133. The Books of Elsewhere: The Shadows by Jacqueline West – A young girl moves into an ancient old house and discovers some incredible mysteries, including talking cats and the ability to walk into the paintings. I read this one to the kids and they loved it (“Awesome!”), while I wasn’t as impressed. Felt like it took a while to get going and get around to explaining what was going on.
  134. Sand by Hugh Howey – A post-apocalyptic future world where everything is drowning in sand dunes and divers plunge under the sand to discover treasure. It’s another wonderful world created by Howey along with an engaging story and captivating characters. It’s not as good as Wool, but it’s a pretty fun ride.
  135. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell – This is the story of humanity’s first contact with extraterrestrial life, told in the pre- and post-contact story of the sole surviving member of the Jesuit expedition, Emilio Sandoz. The second expedition to the alien planet found Sandoz in a brutalized and scandalous condition, and returned him to Earth for someone else to sort out. The story alternates between the Jesuits trying to pull the story out of Sandoz and the historical timeline of the actual trip from Sandoz’ perspective (which started some 40 years earlier, due to the incredible length of space flight). While the story had a number of fascinating ideas at its core—primarily the parallel of a missionaries traveling to the New World, I found the back and forth narrative a little frustrating. It was kind of a tease. In excruciating detail.
  136. Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson – A free verse story from an orphaned black boy growing up in foster care and separated from his sister. He’s essentially learning poetry and the book is his collected attempts. It offers a powerful insight into a young black mind.
  137. Landline by Rainbow Rowell – A workaholic mother sends her family off for Christmas vacation without her and as her marriage is on the brink she discovers a magic phone that connects her with her husband from 15 years earlier in the midst of another relational crisis. Complicated? Yes. It’s probably not as coherent as it could be, but it’s full of humor, warmth, random asides and near time travel. That’s always fun.
  138. Forty Acres by Dwayne Alexander Smith – Martin is invited to join an elite group of black businessmen, but he discovers they’re part of a secret society that wants to repay the evils of slavery by enslaving whites. It’s a fast-paced thriller wrapped around a thought-provoking idea. It’s terrifying, which is both as it should be and a little disturbing for what it says about myself.
  139. Peace, Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson – In the sequel to Locomotion, the author turns away from free verse and to letters as a way to communicate what the main character Locomotion is going through. It follows his continued absence from his sister while he lives in foster care, but also his foster brother coming home from war, injured and likely suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s a quick read, but engaging and thought-provoking.
  140. Like No Other by Una LaMarche – A lovely Romeo and Juliet story between a Hasidic girl and a black teen in modern day New York.
  141. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster – I really loved this book the first time around. It was so unexpected. I read it out loud to the kids, and I wasn’t as enthralled. It’s still a wildly original story, but it’s also just plain weird. I’m surprised the kids enjoyed it as much as they said. I think Milo just liked that the main character was named Milo, but I’m not sure he was following everything that was happening. Lexi seemed to get more of it.
  142. Knockout Games by G. Neri – This is a tough one. It’s based on the real life story of middle schoolers in St. Louis playing a “game” where they try to knockout random strangers with a single punch. The story follows Erica, a girl who starts out documenting the knockouts with her camera and ends up a part of it. It’s a tough story because you just want to scream at the kids for doing something so brutal and stupid.
  143. Outside In by Sarah Ellis – Lynn thought dealing with her free-spirited mother was out there, but then she meets Blossom and her family who live outside of society’s rules. They find and make what they need, live in forgotten spaces and enjoy living on the margins. The story is about friendship and an outsider way of life, but it’s a little too rushed to have a lot of depth.
  144. The Cruisers by Walter Dean Myers – I was excited to see a middle grade series from Myers, but it’s clear why I hadn’t heard of it. It’s so-so. The characters are interesting, but the plot about middle school kids debating the Civil War fell flat. It was an interesting approach that really pulled in some interesting historical details, but it just didn’t feel like a real conflict.
  145. Clubhouse Mysteries: The Buried Bones Mystery by Sharon Draper – It’s hard to find a middle grade series with people of color, though this older series from Sharon Draper has been repackaged and republished. It’s short and quick, and the series has a lot of promise.
  146. Feather by Jacqueline Woodson – Woodson seems to excel at these stories that are more character study than plot. In this case we’re watching a white child adopted by black parents try to fit in with the black community. The child goes by “Jesus Boy” and it’s poetic slice of life from a 1970s black community.
  147. Hush by Jacqueline Woodson – Just when I thought Woodson was limited to character vignettes, this story offers a lot more plot. A black police officer witnesses two white officers kill an unarmed black boy who had his hands raised in surrender (yes, it’s eerily familiar to the current events in Ferguson, Mo.). The black officer chooses to testify against his fellow officers, and his family has to go into witness protection.
  148. The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson – A fun caper story full of nerdy references. It moves quickly and introduces a fun cast of characters. I hope we get to see Jackson Greene in action again.
  149. I Am the Beggar of the World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan by Eliza Griswold & Seamus Murphy – Landays are a two-line poetic form used by mostly illiterate Pashtun women in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s a format that allows repressed women a chance to express their anger, frustration, love and even sexuality. It’s an eye-opening collection of these poems paired with stunning photography.
  150. Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff – A quirky and poignant love story between nearly opposite teenagers. There’s a whole bit about gender that I don’t think is explored very well, but the absolutely realistic Midway St. Paul setting is right on.
  151. No. 1 Car Spotter by Atinuke – A short middle grade book featuring several stories from a modern African village about a boy named No. 1 Car Spotter. It’s written in that broken English style and while the stories were quirky and interesting, it wasn’t very captivating. My kids tend to like whatever I read out loud to them and they never got into this one.
  152. Long Division by Kiese Laymon – With a YouTube celebrity, time travel and racial injustice in Mississippi, there’s a lot of potential in Long Division. But it never came together for me. There was too much weirdness going on and when the plot finally picked up there wasn’t enough explanation to understand what was going on. I really wanted to like it, but I felt like I was just missing out on something.
  153. Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices – Edited by Mitali Perkins – A collection of multicultural stories that help communicate in often fun and playful ways what it’s like to navigate multiple cultures.
  154. Adventures in Churchland: Finding Jesus in the Mess of Organized Religion by Dan Kimball – A somewhat simplistic recounting of the author’s faith journey and subsequent misadventures in the church. The narration got a little boring at times, but the foundational ideas and reinterpretation of the church is solid.
  155. Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold – A military space romance? Not sure I’ve read many of those. And I wasn’t sure what to do with this one: The action was great when it happened, but in between it slowed to plodding politics and strategy, so the story moved forward in fits and starts.
  156. Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bijold – The story continues where Shards of Honor left off and I was reluctant to keep going as it seemed doomed to veer deeper into the politics that nearly sunk the previous installment. At least for the first 100 pages. After that lengthy interlude, the story kicks into gear and it gets really engaging. Cordelia is a strong character and fierce mother, something we don’t often see in sci-fi (especially in the 1980s).
  157. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander – This book blew my mind. (I have a lot more to say about it, but right now I have no words. Just read it.)
  158. My Real Children by Jo Walton – A fascinating story of an old woman with dementia remembering her life as two stories, split by a single decision. It’s one of these stories that spans an entire life, but still manages to be captivating and engaging.
  159. The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Wood – Violet is a brown-eyed, brown-haired girl in a family of blondes. She’s biracial. But her black father died before she was born, leaving her disconnected from her black heritage. This is the story of her rediscovering her roots. The biracial approach is unique and interesting, but otherwise the story feels a little flat.
  160. Nexus by Ramez Naam – In the world of 2040 the drug war has turned to software upgrades to the brain that threaten to create an entirely new species of humanity. A government agency fights that threat, struggling to protect what is human, while others want to explore the potential benefits. Despite the heady technology, this is an accessible, gripping, fast-paced thriller.
  161. Hooray for Anna Hibiscus! by Atinuke – A collection of quick stories about a young girl growing up in generic Africa. These are written in a regular English style (not the broken English of Atinuke’s No. 1 Car Spotter) and represent middle to upper class life. The most compelling stories in this collection were about Anna trying to avoid the weekly family braiding and then Anna visiting the poor side of town.
  162. Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson – Another gritty teen story in the same world as Speak, this one features an MIT-bound teen discovering that life is more than she expects. Not as gripping as Speak, but it has its moments.
  163. Robogenesis by Daniel WIlson – A sequel to the genius Robopocalypse, this one picks up after the war against the ultimate AI. Apparently it didn’t die, and another, more dangerous AI is rising up to wipe out the humans, freeborn robots and the new hybrids. It took longer to get into this one, possibly because it’s been a few years since I read Robopocalypse, but initially it felt a little disjointed. Once it got going, it was a thrill ride that ended too soon (but that’s OK, since apparently there’s more coming).
  164. Crux by Ramez Naam – The second volume in the continuing Nexus series about software upgrades to the human brain. This installment weaves a more complex web of conspiracy, but it loses a lot of the fast-paced action that made the first book so good.
  165. Maximilian & the Mystery of the Guardian Angel by Xavier Garza – A fun little bilingual story of a boy and his lucha libre wrestling great uncle.
  166. Lock In by John Scalzi – John Scalzi sets up an interesting near future world where a devastating disease has left the bodies of millions of people in a coma-like state, but their minds are still awake and alert. They’re effectively “locked in” to their bodies. Technological advancements allow them to communicate through online worlds and robots that enable them to interact with the physical world while  their immobilized body rests somewhere. It’s weird, but fascinating (and explained in detail in the novel Unlocked, which really helps set up the background). It’s in that world that Scalzi sets up a mystery/thriller. It’s an engaging story, but at times it feels a bit too complicated. I think the set up really outshines the actual story.
  167. Boundary Waters by Walter Kent Krueger – The second Cork O’Connor series mystery has our hero traipsing through the Boundary Waters looking for a celebrity being hunted by mysterious foes. It was a fun little whodunit.
  168. The Scavengers by Michael Perry – A middle grade take on the post-apocalyptic story, which is decidedly tame. It’s slow to get going, but eventually gives us an interesting dystopian mystery. (These days all the post-apocalytpic tales are really dystopias. I blame Hunger Games.)
  169. The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones – Read this one to the kids and found it pretty accessible and engaging. The illustrations are great (no European Jesus here) and the super-paraphrase approach tries to build connections and help kids understand faith from Genesis to Revelation.
  170. Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld – Two intertwined stories, one about a terrorist attack survivor who slips back and forth between life and the “afterworld” and the 18-year-old debut writer who pens that story. It’s an interesting premise, but it’s effectively two books and gets pretty long. The YA writer story was pretty fun, but the paranormal romance side got pretty old.
  171. Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh – A killer for hire hunts down a televangelist’s wayward daughter only to turn protector in a post dirty bomb New York. It’s one of these no quote marks, nearly stream of consciousness works that I find slightly pretentious. I only endured it because of the post-apocalypse setting, but it’s kind of a let down.
  172. Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King – I’ve really like A.S King’s other work for its gritty teen realism. It’s YA, but it’s not soft and fluffy. This one fits the bill, but it’s also weird. Lots of weird dreams and pseudo-reality. It’s not a complete turn off, but it makes for a weird read.
  173. Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson – High school story about low income kids losing their prom and banding together to make it happen. It wasn’t as spot on as other books of Anderson’s I’ve read, though it could have been all the New Jersey accents in the audio book that were annoying me.
  174. 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith – A little weird and full of randomness and teenage boy inappropriateness (most uses of the word ‘boner’ in any book I’ve read this year). Not enough to ruin it, but it didn’t have the same spark as some of Smith’s other books.
  175. Tyrell by Coe Booth – This is a ghetto story of a washed up family in a shelter and 15-year-old Tyrell trying to work his way out. It’s written in an ebonics style and pretty raw. I almost gave up due to the language and sex, but I stuck it out. It’s a pretty honest portrayal of life in the projects (or worse).
  176. Cinder by Marissa Meyer – A futuristic retelling of the Cinderella story where Cinderella is a cyborg. At times the story moves a bit slowly and it feels like you’re being set up for a massive series (yep) instead of a stand alone story. But the strong female lead and refreshing change of culture are a nice shift from the norm.
  177. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull – Often these nonfiction bio type books start out interesting and then get dull. But not this one. Full of creative insight and inspiring examples from Pixar’s history, I couldn’t put this one down. Makes me wish I worked at a company like Pixar.
  178. In a Handful of Dust by Mindy McGinnis – Follow up story that took a bit to get back into (why don’t these sequels have better reintroductions?), bringing polio into the water-starved post-apocalyptic future. It ultimately turned into a journey story like The Road, at times terrifying, at times too easy.
  179. Winter Song by Colin Harvey – Intergalactic spaceman is stranded on a forgotten, frozen colony world that harkens back to the Norse people. It pulls together a lot of interesting ideas (genocide, artificial intelligence, survival) and includes a dark-skinned hero (hardly central to the story, but I mention it because it’s so rare). Stumbles in a few places, but it’s a fun ride.
  180. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou – Re-read this one in a day for book club. There’s so much raw, racial angst. I mean, obviously. But I don’t remember it as strongly from the first time I read it.
  181. Your Face in Mine by Jess Row – Fascinating premise about the possibility for racial reassignment surgery (like a sex change, only for race) and how such a thing could be rolled out to the public. But it’s also meandering and random and full of sidebar blind alleys and isn’t entirely clear (and why do writers these days always want to drop the quotation marks?). The premise is fascinating, especially since I finished it on the day the Ferguson indictment (or lack thereof) came out, but the story was ultimately a let down.
  182. Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson –  A bio-terror love story. Gets dragged down in complicated details and is ultimately a better love story than an apocalyptic story.
  183. Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King – Kind of a weird premise—ingesting mummified bat and seeing visions of the future—that takes a while to kick-in, but once it does it’s strangely fascinating.
  184. Wolf Mark by Joseph Bruchac – A teen werewolf story (with vampires!) that’s a lot more unique and engaging than Twilight. Part supernatural thriller, part spy novel, Wolf Mark is good fun.
  185. Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt – A down and out coming of age story of a boy in New York in the 1960s. I think it’s brilliant for its portrayal of learning how to draw. The rest of the story is pretty great too. What the older brother has to go through after losing his legs in Vietnam is a minor thread, but it’s powerful. I’ve never realized how vital the Americans With Disabilities Act is (nor did I realize it wasn’t passed until 1990).
  186. When the Black Girl Sings by Bil Wright – Lahni is the only black student in her prep school and only black person in her adoptive white family. Her sense of self starts to crumble when her parents separate and she finds herself through song and her mother’s return to church. It’s really a simple story, but it resonated with me, perhaps because of where my family is at. (My only complaint was the fact that the book opens with 8th grade girls in the locker room showering and discussion of how some of the girls like to stand around naked for much longer than they need to. I felt like the creepy old man reading that section.)
  187. Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe by Nathan Bransford – Milo kept wanting more Wonderbar, so I read this one to the kids. It felt like it rambled a lot without any coherent direction. Meh.
  188. Bad Boy by Walter Dean Myers – I guess it’s appropriate that a memoir from a YA and children’s author only covers his life until age 17. It’s interesting and engaging, but I was itching for more. He joined the army as a 17-year-old in 1954, months after the Brown vs. Board of Education. I can only imagine the 1960s civil rights era was formative. His childhood was fascinating, but I’d love to hear more about his transition into writing.
  189. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – The language in the Muppets’ Christmas Carol inspired me to read the original. I’ve actually never read Dickens before. He can be really wordy at times, but he also has a really interesting style that’s both playful and formal.
  190. The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson – Such a great and powerful story of a Gilly, the foster kid bouncing to a new home and starting over yet again. The defensiveness and fight or flight mentality is so spot on. She’s the world weary teen, wearing her guts and her prejudice on her sleeve, so eager to out-smart everyone and prove herself. It’s a quick read and the end comes too fast—you’ll be fighting the tears.
  191. The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich – A sort of Little House on the Prairie focused on the Ojibwa people, only with more plot. And I don’t mean that derisively. What makes Little House so enjoyable is the simple way you see what life is like and how they did things back then. You get the same glimpse into Ojibwa life, but Erdrich also offers more of a plot and a glimpse at the larger context (white settlers moving in, bringing disease, etc.). Definitely need to check out the rest of this series.
  192. The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney – A novel written in verse exploring the 2004 Sudanese genocide in Darfur. It shows a lot of what life was like before the strife and then in the camps. The attacks and running is brief, probably so it’s not as traumatic for kids. While it’s hard to be hopeful about this topic, that’s my biggest complaint—the story seems short on hope.
  193. Ninth Ward by Jewel Parker Rhodes – A 12-year-old girl who can see ghosts survives Hurricane Katrina. It’s kind of a slow, rambling story that wasn’t as engaging as I’d hoped it would be.
  194. Lion’s Blood by Steven Barnes – An alternate history where Europeans are enslaved by Africans. We see an Irish village sacked by Vikings, the people sold off in slavery, and forced to endure the passage across the Atlantic to an Islamic colony in North America at uneasy truce with the Aztec nation. It flips our racial expectations in a jarring way that’s hard to get used to (so used to the typical slave narrative, I realized halfway through that I was imagining the enslaved whites as blacks). Not only is it a jarring situation, but it’s a powerful story of master and slave.
  195. Crossover by Kwame Alexander – Bringing some poetry back to basketball. It’s a quick story of twin basketball phenoms and their retired player father who is ignoring health problems. The language is pretty fun, especially hearing it in the audio book.
  196. Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo – A beautiful, sparse, partially illustrated and wonderfully wacky story about a girl and a squirrel-turned-superhero. While it touches on over-the-top comic book superhero themes and ideas, it’s more down to earth with family issues and interested in deeper ideas like poetry. Yes, squirrels writing poetry! I read it out loud to my kids and it was an absolute joy to read. The voice and the flow of the language was very unique and just fun. I mean, c’mon, “malfeasance” is just fun to say.
  197. No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller – Fascinating history of Michaux, who started a bookstore focusing on black books to help blacks in the mid-20th Century. “I’ve got 5 books, a building and a hundred bucks. I’m starting my business tomorrow.”
  198. The Islands at the End of the World by Austin Aslan – A Hawaii-centered apocalypse story. It’s kind of wild though–(spoiler alert) giant alien sea turtles muck with all electronics, essentially like an EMP, pushing the world into chaos. But it’s OK, because they also suck up radiation from all the melting down reactors. Not sure it would go down like that, but regardless, it’s a quick story of a father and an epileptic daughter trying to hop islands and get home.
  199. Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai – The story of a Vietnamese family fleeing the victorious North Vietnamese government in the 1970s and being relocated to Alabama as refugees. Written in free verse, it’s a quick and poignant read about loss, war and being the outsider.
  200. Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern – A sort of love story between a teenager with cerebral palsy and another with undiagnosed OCD. It’s a great story about the faults we all have and the disabilities that hold each of us back. It’s the second book I’ve read this year that gives a real glimpse into the life of someone with a disability such as cerebral palsy.
  201. At Her Majesty’s Request: An African Princess in Victorian England by Walter Dean Myers – A biography pieced together from letters about an African princess who was saved from being sacrificed and came under the protection of Queen Victoria. It’s interesting, especially the connections to the Queen, but it’s nothing earth-shattering or especially engaging.
  202. Imagination Illustrated: The Jim Henson Journal by Karen Falk – A detailed creative overview of the work of Jim Henson, drawn from his note-style journal and full of pictures, drawings and more from Henson’s incredible creative output.
  203. The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew –  A comic book origin story for the 1940s Green Turtle superhero. It’s got some great comic moments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *