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I’ve been planning a year-end favorite books list, and that happens to be YA Highway’s Road Trip Wednesday topic this week. I’m separating my list into two sections, because I haven’t read and loved that many books that were published in 2011. I’m including favorite non-2011 books I’ve read this year too. These are in no particular order, they’re not just young adult, and I’ve probably forgotten a ton. Anyway, here we go:

Published in 2011:

Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Laini Taylor. This was a Forever Young Adult book club selection, and man am I glad they chose it! This book had exotic locales, intricate world-building, a badass heroine, and a new book boyfriend for me. I am eagerly awaiting the sequel, because she ended the book with a huge cliffhanger.

Divergent – Veronica Roth. I was so impressed by this debut novel. Most of the things I said about Daughter of Smoke and Bone apply here as well. Great characters and world-building, fast-paced, plot-driven, and just all-around fantastic.

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What Happened to Goodbye – Sarah Dessen. I love Sarah Dessen’s writing, and this book did not disappoint. Her characters are always so real, and that’s refreshing in a genre full of dystopias, impossibly rich girls, supernatural beings, etc.


The Name of the Star – Maureen Johnson. Speaking of supernatural beings, Maureen Johnson’s latest is a thriller set in a present-day London gripped by copycat Jack the Ripper murders. Maureen Johnson’s books always start a little slow for me, but I’m totally hooked by the end.

New to me:

Will Grayson, Will Grayson – John Green and David Levithan. Good Lord. This book made me laugh and cry and insist that everyone I know read it. It made me go on a John Green-reading spree. It eventually made me a nerdfighter. Read. This. Book!

Jellicoe Road – Melina Marchetta. This book is super confusing at first, and as the mystery unravels, you find yourself never wanting it to end. I gobbled up a bunch of Melina Marchetta’s books after I read this. It’s a shame she isn’t more widely-known here in the US.

Little Bee – Chris Cleave. This came highly recommended by several of my friends. Chris Cleave writes in two distinct female voices here, and his prose is beautiful. A fantastic novel with numerous plot twists, this book really stuck with me long after I finished it.

Anna and the French Kiss – Stephanie Perkins. I read this while in Paris over Thanksgiving (how fitting!). I was struggling through writing my NaNo novel for adults, and this delightful book reminded me why I love the YA genre so much.

This is Where I Leave You – Jonathan Topper. Hilarious and heartbreaking. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys funny, contemporary family drama. Also, one of the best covers I’ve seen this year (which is the reason I picked this up in the first place).

The Likeness – Tana French. I enjoyed In the Woods, but this sequel seemed much stronger to me. It has been compared to another of my favorites, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, and like that novel, I wanted to inhabit French’s book.

Flowers from the Storm – Laura Kinsale. So, my mother suggested I read this, and as an equal-opportunity reader, I did. This is one of the most unconventional romance novels I’ve ever read. A couple of my friends have also read and loved it. Give it a chance… you will be surprised.

What did you love reading this year?

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(but not much more)

One of my favorite Smiths quotes and so appropriate for this week’s Road Trip Wednesday! From YA Highway:

Where do you buy most of your books? No one is judging!

This issue has been weighing on me lately for several reasons. I want indie bookstores to survive. I want authors to get paid when I buy their books. And most of all, I want people to have access to books so that they can read.

Anyway, here’s my list, in order of most frequent purchases (I think, anyway).

1. Amazon. It’s easy, it’s fairly cheap, and I have a Kindle. It makes me feel kind of dirty shopping there, because I’d much rather buy from a brick-and-mortar shop, but as is well-documented, I am lazy.

2. Half Price Books. The flagship HPB on Northwest Highway is kind of a mothership to me. I probably buy the majority of my real (as opposed to ebooks) books here. This also makes me feel a little dirty, because I’m pretty sure authors don’t get paid when I buy their books used. However, HPB is based in Dallas, so at least I’m supporting the local economy (and my friend that works in their headquarters). They also have a vibrant community presence and do a lot of good for charity. And the more I think about it, the more I wonder if HPB might actually beat out Amazon for my number one spot. Moving on…

3. New and used book stores in cities I visit. I travel a lot, and I visit bookshops whenever possible. I always leave space in my carry-on for a heap of books. Some favorites include Powell’s in Portland, Oregon; Dickson Street Books in Fayetteville, Arkansas; Burke’s Books in Memphis; Brattle Book Shop in Boston, and Crescent City Books in New Orleans. Over Thanksgiving, I discovered Shakespeare and Company in Paris, which was a book-lover’s dream. And I will always have a warm spot in my heart for The Winding Stair in Dublin.

4. Various other secondhand places. Like thrift stores, garage sales, library sales, etc. In Dallas, I sometimes buy a Paperbacks Plus, especially when I used to live around the corner from them.

5. Other. Like Barnes and Noble and big box stores. I much preferred Borders to B&N, and I was very sad when it closed.

So, that’s the list. One day, my friend Diana and I will open our own bookstore/cafe/small performance space, and we will merrily go into bankruptcy.

Unless there’s a miracle and bookstores begin to thrive again.

I hope there is a miracle.

So… Bookstore recommendations, anyone?

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During the holidays, I go a little overboard. I listen to a lot of Christmas music, watch silly made-for-TV holiday movies on ABC Family, sit through multiple viewings of holiday favorites like Love Actually and Elf, and work on Christmas cards and holiday mixtapes. This year, I went a bit crazy decorating our new house (Lights! Tree! Stockings on the mantle! Two evergreen arrangements! Handmade wreath! Candles!).

These things all help me cope with the fact that I’m a terrible Christmas shopper. Not that I give bad gifts (well, occasionally maybe I do)… but that I wait until the last minute to shop and then want to impale myself upon a candy cane. Why can I just not get it together?

It is December 14th. Yikes.

To add insult to injury, the universe is conspiring against me with some sort of faux popularity: since Sunday, I’ve hosted one Christmas party and attended three others (technically tonight’s party was book club, but still…). I’m hosting my in-laws for Christmas this weekend and attending yet another party on Saturday. I think I need liposuction and a new liver at this point.

So, like I mentioned, I have escapism to help me procrastinate. But there’s no holiday escapism tradition quite as dear to me as The Reading of the Holiday Romance Novels.

There.

I said it.

I don’t know what it is about reading charming Happily-Ever-Afters at Christmastime, but I do it every single year. It started when I was in high school and read a lot of Regency romances. I picked up a compilation of Recency Christmas stories at some point, probably at the grocery store or Walmart, and I never looked back. I’ve delved into contemporary Christmas compilations and stand-alone novels. This year, I started off by reading Let It Snow, a rollicking YA Christmas compilation from John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle.

I’ve read ’em all. Snow-bound strangers forced to share a cabin and blankets and body heat? Check. Old friends reuniting for the holidays and feeling that old spark return? Check. Stories set around Christmas pageants or novelty Christmas calendar shoots? Check. Collections of short but intertwined stories set in exotic locales? Check check check!

But I keep coming back to the Regencies. There’s something about kissing boughs, gentlemen in tight breeches and cravats, chopping down the yule log, snowball fights while wearing empire-waist gowns, giant country house parties, and bluestockings who land the ton’s most eligible reformed rake that just bring on the holiday cheer for me. I cannot stop myself. Right now I’m plowing through a bunch of Mary Balogh Christmas paperbacks that I got at a local charity shop (it happens to support East Lake Pet Orphange, where I got my dog, so yay for that!). I know that when I go home for Christmas I’ll break into the stash stored under my childhood bed to read a few battered compilations and my all-time favorite Christmas Regency, Barbara Metzger’s Christmas Wishes.

Seriously, look at his gleaming hair! The cover has a giant bow and holly. A pet pig plays a significant role in the plot. What's not to love?

You guys, I’m supposed to be cool. I watch foreign films and go to edgy plays and listen to obscure music and have nerdy conversations and live in a hip neighborhood and travel to far-off places… how, exactly, does reading sickeningly sweet Christmas romances fit in with that?

Oh, who cares? They make me happy. Sue me.

Dear reader, what is your favorite Christmastime book?

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It’s been a while, hasn’t it?  What have I been up to lately that has kept me from blogging?

Decorating and Cleaning

Our house is a flurry of activity these days.  Last week, a handyman came fix a few things, and today there were electricians and painters galore.  We’re having all of the wood on the outside of our house sanded, primed, and painted, so that it will be fresh and cheery for potential buyers!  We also had some work done on the outdoor electricity, making sure all of our floodlights and landscape features were working properly.

This weekend is Landscaping Part II.  We already cleared out the flowerbeds in the front of the house, and now it’s time to tackle the back.  I’m pleased that some of our perennials are popping up already, and I’m planning to buy some sweet potato vines, pansies, and other pretty things to beautify the yard.

We’ve also started the Giant Culling of 2010.  I weeded through my closet and found a mountain of clothes and shoes to donate.  We’ve got a few things of mine and a ton of Victor’s to take to consignment shops.  I pulled some books out of my library to either sell or donate, whichever works.  We went through our junk drawer, which was – surprise! – full of junk.  We’ve earmarked a TV + entertainment console for craigslist, and we bought a bunch of bins to store unnecessary clutter until we move.

I rearranged the library and found that we have an American Foreign Policy section.  Who knew?  And that brings us to…

Reading

So, I read Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan, and it was freaking amazing.  Since then, two other friends have read it and another has started it.  I’m on a quest to get everyone to read this book (right after they read The Book Thief, of course). 

Flying Changes by Sara Gruen was just as good as the first book in that series, Riding Lessons. Her books always feel so homey, and I never want them to end.  Civil and Strange by Cláir Ní Aonghusa took a long time to read, but eventually it felt homey too, and it strengthened my resolve to retire to the Irish countryside.

I also read This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper, and I loved it so much that Victor read it (he doesn’t read many novels).  He loved it too.  Incidentally, Victor would like to retire to the coast of Mexico, so I wonder how we’re going to juggle two homes on two continents…

For the Back to the Classics Challenge (which has been extended until December!), I’m chugging along.  My results so far:

  1. A Banned Book
  2. A Book with a Wartime Setting (can be any war)  Currently reading Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  3. A Pulitzer Prize (Fiction) Winner or Runner Up
  4. A Children’s/Young Adult Classic  I read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  5. 19th Century Classic
  6. 20th Century Classic
  7. A Book you think should be considered a 21st Century Classic  I read Little Bee by Chris Cleave
  8. Re-Read a book from your High School/College Classes

(By the way, I mentioned reading Little Bee for this challenge on Twitter, and Chris Cleave tweeted at me!  I’m famous!  Kristen helped out a little with that, so she’s famous now too!)

So, reading’s been going pretty well, especially considering how little free time I’ve had lately.  Which brings us to…

Writing

Oops.

I have not been doing well on the writing front.  I keep having great ideas, but somehow they refuse to leave my brain and enter the computer.  I have done some research on agents and query letters and while that’s great, you can’t send out an unfinished manuscript and waaah!  Flail!

I am just not in the right place to be creative right now, I think.  It will come eventually.  In the meantime, I’ll just keep jotting down my ideas and notes in Scrivener, and I’ll get there somehow.  Anyone who wants to send some writing mojo my way, please feel free.

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Pretty, pretty

Thanks to everyone who weighed in on my previous post about the Back to the Classics challenge and other books to read in 2011.  I have just finished The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  In the comments to my previous post, Bunny mentioned that the characters would stick with you, and boy, was she right!  It took me a little while to get used to the storytelling mechanism (the story is told entirely through letters), but then I didn’t want the book to end.  Even though I’m not sure if I will count it for the challenge or not, I do know that I’m totally moving to Guernsey.

As for swisslet‘s warning about Emma… I’m afraid I may find it rough going as well, but dammit, I’ve downloaded a free copy to my Kindle, so I feel compelled to read it.  Plus, I love Clueless, and I enjoyed the Gwyneth Paltrow movie, so maybe it won’t be so bad after all.  Finally, I think I am a bad reader (especially if I call myself a lover of classics) if the only Austen I’ve read is Pride and Prejudice.

Kelly mentioned her love for The Secret Garden, and I am so excited to finally read it.  I love the musical (I have actually never seen it, but my CD of the soundtrack is worn thin, and I own the sheet music, and I want to be in it, etc.), and I know I saw a movie adaptation when I was little.  I picked up a really nice hardcover of The Secret Garden a while back, and I’m going to read that next.  In fact, I wanted to share a few pictures of this pretty, pretty book.

Book cover

The cover is beautiful, even if there is a little bleaching

Inside cover

This is the title page. Awww.

Inner pictures

There are also illustrations in color and black & white within the text.

I’ll start reading it tonight.  I can’t wait to get immersed into the world of Mary, Dickon, and Colin.  Oh, and in a shout-out to Tori, who never seems to blog anymore… “She has her eyes/She has my Lily’s hazel eyes!”

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girl on fire

MockingjayIf you’ve got a friend who is into young adult literature, then they’re probably reading this book right now.  Or they’ve already finished it.  I bought it on Tuesday, the day it was released, and I’m about halfway through.

It’s kind of killing me not to read it all in one sitting, but since it’s the last of the Hunger Games series, I’m trying to go slow and savor it.  Suzanne Collins is one of my writing heroes.  The books in this trilogy well-written, have a captivating heroine (who is such a fighter, a survivor, and she messes up all the time, like good heroines should), and there’s enough romance and humor sprinkled amongst the tension, heartbreak, and violence that this dystopia isn’t completely without hope.

Since I’m reading so slowly (for me, anyway), I’m having to skip posts from one of my favorite blogs, Forever Young Adult, because they’re doing a read-along discussion, and I think they’re probably reading faster than I am.

On a side note, my friend Kristen is blogging now, and she’s just recently started the Hunger Games books.  And if you haven’t read them yet, stop reading this post and go get them.  Seriously.

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