Top Ten Picks-Best Young Adult Fiction

Friday, April 30, 2010

It's time for another installment of Jillian's weekly meme (go to Random Ramblings to join in).  This week's list is Top Ten Young Adult Fiction.  Surprisingly, even though I am a teacher I don't read as much young adult fiction as you might think, so this list will be a combination of things I read when I was younger and books I've stumbled upon since.

1.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn-Betty Smith
This one has been on my list before, for "books you should read at least once".  Lovely story of a young girl coming of age in turn of the century New York.  Well, turn of the last century New York...

2.  The Giver-Lois Lowry
I've had this one on a list as well.  Great story about the pressures to conform to society, even when the society does things which are immoral.

3.  The Hunger Games-Suzanne Collins
I loved this book, and am waiting with bated breath for Mockingjay to come out this summer.  You can read my review by clicking here.

4.  Annie on My Mind-Nancy Garden
This novel focuses on the love between two girls growing up in New York City, Annie and Liza.  It is a sweet story of discovery, exploration, and self-acceptance.  Written in 1982, the lesbian theme in a young adult novel was considered controversial.  Today, there are many more titles for gay and lesbian youth that reflect their experiences.

5.  Among the Hidden-Margaret Peterson Haddix
Really I liked this whole series.  I thought that the story, if just taken on the surface, was enough to grab a younger reader's attention, but there is enough subtext about society for more mature readers to have something to chew on.

6.  Are You There God, It's Me Margaret?-Judy Blume
I've often wondered how an author who writes adolescents and children as well as Blume does can write such awful adult fiction.  I love this book, though, and all of her children's and YA literature.  I remember wishing I had a Jewish grandmother when I read this book-she seemed so much more interesting than the Catholic one!

7.  Jacob Have I Loved-Katherine Paterson
This one was one of my all-time favorites growing up.  I also adored Bridge to Terebithia by the same author.  This one was a little more relevant to my actual life than Terebithia, though.  I don't have a twin, but I did often feel overshadowed by the louder, more outgoing children when I was in those dreaded middle years grades.  The setting of this one also intrigued me.  I've always wanted to live on an island!

8. The Harry Potter series-J.K. Rowling
I've avoided putting these books on a list 'til now, because they have quickly become such an obvious read for, well, anyone!  But considering that these books started out their not-so-humble lives designed for children this seems like the right list to put them on.  I love that these books showed us a fantastical world with real life problems-both the adolescent ones like dating and making friends, and societal ones like racism, discrimination, government corruption, and the horrors of war. 

9.  The Dark is Rising sequence-Susan Cooper
I loved everything about this fantasy series.  I read it as a fifth or sixth grader, not long after The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe got me addicted to all things fantasy.  The setting is Cornwall in England, which seemed very exotic to me as an 11 year-old American girl.  And this book series may have been the first one to introduce me to Arthurian legend, which I have loved ever since.  I love fantasy books that combine true history with magical elements, and this series does it perfectly.  Just writing this makes me want to re-read all of them right now!

10.  The Outsiders-S.E.Hinton
When it was published in 1967, this novel was considered unusual in it's compassionate portrayal of Ponyboy, a young man just trying to find his place in the world, being thwarted at every turn by forces mostly outside his control.  In a country where the myth of individualism and "boot-strapping" is the prevailing philosophy on living life, Hinton found a way to show that sometimes the circumstances we come from ensure that we can pull on our own bootstraps as much as we want, but unless we get a boost from somewhere we're going nowhere.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Monday, April 26, 2010

This weekly meme is hosted by Sheila at One Person's Journey Through Books.  Here's what I've been reading-

  • The Weschler Individual Achievement Test (over and over to the eight students I have to re-evaluate this year)
  • Individual Educational Plans (as I update the progress of all of my students before my annual reviews)
  • The Ebsco Database (looking for articles about how character education affects school climate and discipline)

Here's what I will be reading this week-
  • The Weschler Individual Achievement Test (over and over to the eight students I have to re-evaluate this year)
  • Individual Educational Plans (as I update the progress of all of my students before my annual reviews)
  • The Ebsco Database (looking for articles about how character education affects school climate and discipline)
I sincerely hope that everyone has a better reading week than me...seriously, everyone, read something fun so I can know that it is happening somewhere in the universe!

Top Ten Picks-Worst Books You've Ever Read

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

This weekly meme is hosted by Jillian at Random Ramblings.  This week's theme is the "worst books you've ever read".  Now clearly this topic could incite a lot of discussion, since reading preferences are rather personal.  I'm going to go with books that I read but did not like, which may or may not be poorly written.

1.  Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man-James Joyce
     Really, you could probably put any title of stream-of-consciousness fiction in this place and it would still be one of the worst books I ever read.  This one I had to read for a class, and I was mad about it all the way through!

2.  Flowers in the Attic-V.C.Andrews
     This is actually an example of a truly terribly written book that I loved-because I read it when I was 14.  All that salaciousness felt truly exciting .  Now, of course, I recognize the ridiculousness of the whole thing.

3.  Anything by Danielle Steele
     I have never understood why people love her books so much.  I'm not huge into romance anyway, but I have read some good ones.   Hers are all the same-beautiful woman, with some kind of messed up family situation, looking for love in all the wrong places, being taken advantage of by someone, until saved by the love of one good man.  Really you could just read one of her books and say you've read all of them.

4. On Strike for Christmas-Sheila Roberts
     ...and any other women's fiction book that takes a "playful" look at the "battle between the sexes" but really just reinforces and perpetuates every sexist stereotype out there.  You can read my rather scathing review of this one here.

5.  State of Fear-Michael Crichton
     I usually like Crichton, but this book frankly pissed me off. He purported to be giving some scientific argument about the "myth" of global warming, but despite all of the charts, tables, and appendices, what science is in the book is disputed by every major climatologist.  All he did was muddy the waters and give some global warming deniers some flawed ammunition.

6.  The Witching Hour-Anne Rice
     I will admit to not really liking most of Anne Rice's books.  I think that she is too wordy (and considering how wordy I am that is saying something!).  I liked Interview with a Vampire, and The Vampire Lestat was OK.  What I really enjoyed was her historical fiction, but I seem to be in the minority (did you even know she wrote historical fiction?)  This particular book is especially egregious in both its verbosity, and its shameless ending designed to make you buy the next book.

7.  Hannibal-Thomas Harris
    Seriously, Clarice falls in love with Hannibal Lechter and runs away with him?  I don't think so!

8.  Little Altars Everywhere-Rebecca Wells
     I made the mistake of reading Ya Ya Sisterhood first, and expected that the charming older southern women I met in that book would be the same in the first book.  Apparently I thought wrong.  I couldn't even finish Little Altars.  I could not find one of those women to like!

9.  The Mammoth Hunters and Plains of Passage-Jean Auel
     I read these as a teen, and even then I recognized that the first two books were interesting pseudo-history, and the last two were really just an excuse to put the main characters into interesting places to have lots and lots of sex.

10.  Out of Africa-Isak Dineson
     I saw the movie first, and I thought that it was a beautiful love story.  Then I tried to read the book, and it was dry and emotionless...what a disappointment!

It's Monday, What Are You Reading

Monday, April 19, 2010

OK people-I got nothin'!  I did not finish one book this week-I didn't even get halfway through one book this week.  I've decided I am going through a reading slump!  I'm STILL reading The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver.  I'm loving it-I didn't realize it was set in Diego Rivera/Frida Kahlo's Mexico.  I love both if them as artists, and Frida Kahlo was such an interesting woman, it's been really enjoyable.  I'm going to finish it, darn it...If only I didn't have so much schoolwork to do, and my fellow bloggers weren't so interesting!

Anyone else out there going through or ever been through a reading slump?  Did it resolve on it's own, or did you have to rededicate yourself to your TBR pile?  I fee like I should issue an apology to every book on my shelf right now!

Book Blogger Hop!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Fridays is the day for the weekly Book Blogger Hop, hosted by Crazy for Books.  It's a way for book bloggers to network and support each other.  Take a minute to visit Crazy for Books, and if you're a blogger sign up!  I've found some of my favorite bloggers that way.

Blog Awards

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bookquoter at A Thousand Books With Quotes was nice enough to give me my first blog award!  Thanks for that, oh great Quoter of Books! Part of this award is to write 10 things about myself, and then forward it to 10 other bloggers.  So, here are 10 random facts about me:

1.  I've been teaching special education for 17 years.
2.  Other than reading, I love to crosstitch.
3.  I've recently become addicted to playing RPG video games (but nothing too violent).
4.  Sushi is my current favorite food.
5.  I spend my Sunday mornings as a youth advisor (not to mention two full weekends a year)
6.  I have a love for all things British.
7.  If I could have any other job than my current one, I would be a Unitarian Universalist minister.
8.  I am passionate about social justice, and wish I had more time to devote to this work.
9.  If I could travel anywhere in the world, I would visit England, Japan, and China-in that order.
10.  Nothing makes me more angry that intolerance.

And here are the bloggers I choose to give this award to next:

A Few More Pages
Random Ramblings
The Neverending Shelf
The Introverted Reader
My Book Retreat
Sharon's Garden of Book Reviews
Crazy for Books
Bags, Books, and Bon Jovi
Bookworming in the 21st Century
The Eclectic Reader

This Week's Top Ten

Jillian over at Random Ramblings has chosen Books That Made You Cry as the topic of this week's Top Ten.  Anyone who knows me that I cry if the wind blows the wrong way, so this list should be pretty easy for me to create.  I'm going to try and stay with books that are legitimate tear jerkers, because I occasionally cry at things that no one else finds touching (like when Darth Vadar died in Return of the Jedi-yep, I'm that bad, though I was only 13 or something when it came out)

1.  The Time Traveller's Wife-Audrey Niffenegger
I think that this is one of the most touching love stories I have ever read.  Even though I knew in my heart what was going to happen, I just kept hoping I was wrong.  I actually cried harder at the end, when Clare was old.  It just seemed so much sadder to me.

2.  The Kite Runner-Khaled Hosseini
There are so many tragic things that happened in this book.  I can't even imagine the shame that the main character must have felt, or the pain and confusion that Hassan felt first because of the brutal attack, and then because of the betrayal by his friend.

3.  Bridge to Terebithia-Katherine Patterson
This book was one of my favorite as a kid.  I've read it aloud to several of my classes, and I still cry every time I read the part where Leslie dies.  I think that reading this book was the first time I realized that children could die.

4.  The Notebook-Nicholas Sparks
This was the first Nicholas Sparks book that I read, and I expected all of them to be this touching.  Sadly, I haven't liked any of his other books.  They seem a little too sappy to me.  I was surprised, because this love story is so poignant, given the setting and structure of the novel.

5.  My Sister's Keeper-Jodi Picoult
This was the first book I read by Jodi Picoult, and it was the first book my teachers' book club read when we got started a few years ago.  I had no idea what I was letting myself in for.  This book made me angry and sad and frustrated, but mostly sad.

6.The Yearling-Marjorie Kinnan Rowlings
 Believe it or not, I read this book for the first time in college for a children's literature class.  I had heard of Ol' Yeller, of course, and had I known that this was a similar story I might have been prepared for what happened.  I was so angry at the boy's father-I say let that deer eat whatever he wants!

7.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-JK Rowling
Fred Weasly, that's all I'm sayin'

8.  Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe-Fannie Flagg
While the movie really downplays the love affair between Ruth and Idgie, the book makes it clear that Idgie is not just losing her best friend, but her lover-the love of her life.  Couple that with the sub-plot of Big George and Smokey Lonesome, and the mood is set for tearjerkiness.

9. The Joy Luck Club-Amy Tan
The matter of fact way that the tragedy of what happened in China to this family added to the horror that I felt.  Human beings should never be put in the position to have to make the kinds of decisions that this family had to make.

10.  The Secret Life of Bees-Sue Monk Kidd
Oh, Miss May...carrying the weight of the world, writing them and placing them in the chinks of the wall.  Just that image tears me up, never mind what happens later.

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

This week was not nearly as productive as I would have liked, given that I was on spring break.  I blame it on switching from Direct TV to Comcast-we had to watch all of the backed up shows on our DVR before the big switch happened.

I finished Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel.  Check out my review here.  I also completed Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, by Jeanette Winterson.  The review for that one is here.

I just, and I mean just, started The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver.  I love her books, so I am really looking forward to this one.  After that I think I am going to make a stack of the shortest books in my TBR pile and read them-I am way behind on my goal to read 100 this year.  Though if the goal starts to feel like homework, I may as well call myself done-that's not what reading for pleasure is supposed to be, after all.  Ironically, I'd probably get more reading done if I wasn't blogging!  My fellow bloggers are such interesting people with such good reviews I get sucked in every time!

Have a great reading week!

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson

Saturday, April 10, 2010

I only recently discovered GoodReads (I know, it's like I've been living under a rock!), and I've been reading lots of their lists.  It occurred to me that perhaps as a good lesbian I should try reading more gay fiction.  I've read some, of course (including Stone Butch Blues, which I shared a little bit about in my last Top Ten Post)  But really,  if I don't want to have to give back my toaster oven I should have a passing knowledge of important works in the GLBT genre.

With that in mind I ordered Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, by Jeanette Winterson.  It is really a roman a clef of the author's early years in Northern England.  The main character, Jeanette, is the adopted daughter of a fundamentalist Christian couple. Her mother adopted her in order to raise her up to give to the Lord as a missionary for His cause.  From early days, however, Jeanette shows that she is her own person and will not be forced into someone else's ideas about what she should be.  As she grows up, she becomes  more and more rebellious-and she falls in love.  With a GIRL!  Let's just say that her relationship with her mother really starts to go downhill after the failed exorcism...that's right, they tried to exorcise the gay right out of her!

Winterson has a dry, witty sense of humor that makes what could be a tragic story of betrayal and loss into something altogether more powerful.  At not one point in the story did Jeanette doubt that God meant her to be the way she was.  The people in her church loved her, thought she had a calling to preaching and missionary work-until they found out she was gay.  Suddenly, the leadership decided that maybe women were getting above their true place in the church, and should no longer be allowed to preach.  Apparently Jeanette's love for Katy convinced them that she was trying to be a man.  But not once did Jeanette waver in her belief that what she was and how she felt was as natural as loving the Lord, which she did with fervor.  Usually reading about religious fundamentalists makes me a little twitchy, but Winterson handled them in such a way that while I completely disagree with almost everything about the way they view life and God, I couldn't help but accept and respect their humanity.  Jeanette says, at one point in the book, that she loved the Lord-it was some of his followers that she had problems with. She eventually finds her way out of the insular world she was raised in, first through her prodigious imagination, and finally by physically moving to the big city.  But she can't completely leave behind her mother and her religious fervor.  The book concludes with Jeanette going home for Christmas to find her mother perched by the ham radio, networking with other born-again Christians for prayer, support, and most of all the conversion of the rest of us Godless souls.  Despite the new life Jeanette has found for herself, it is almost like she is comforted somehow by the idea that while she is off in the world, her mother stays behind, fighting other people's demons one prayer request at a time.  I guess this is probably true of all of us.  No matter how much we may try to separate ourselves from where we come from, the fact remains that we carry those people and experiences around with us into every new town, new job, or new relationship that we have.

WWW Wednesday

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Hosted by Should Be Reading, this meme asks you to do something very easy...just answer these three questions:

What am I reading now?  I just started Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, by Jeanette Winterson.  I have heard about this book from many of my friends, and it is on a list of the best in lesbian fiction on GoodReads.  Seems like it is something that I should know.  I also just found out about another book from her-thank you fellow book bloggers!  My to-read list just keeps growing and growing.

What is something I read recently?  I just finished Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel.  You can find my review here.

What do I think I might read next?  I am going to read The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver, I think.  I always say I am going to read one thing, and then something else comes up and I end up picking something else, but it's on my list.  Prodigal Summer, one of her other books, is on my list of books everyone should read, so I have high hopes for this one.

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel

So I'm working my way through the long list for the Orange Prize for Fiction, and my latest endeavor was Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel.  The story traces the rise of Thomas Cromwell through the auspices of Cardinal Wolsey in Henry VIII's England.  I will admit to being a bit of an anglophile...I love all things British.  As a result I had high hopes for this book, and I was not disappointed.

History lesson for today...Henry VIII of England (father to Elizabeth I) was the reigning monarch in the mid-1500s.  The story begins with Thomas in the employ of Cardinal Wolsey, Henry's chief councilor.  He is a man from a low background, son of a drunken, abusive blacksmith.  He left England as a teen, traveling through France and Italy, first as a soldier, later as a wool merchant.  Coming back to England, he was taken into the employ of Cardinal Wolsey, where he learned statecraft.  After Wolsey's fall, he became one of the king's most trusted advisors, helping Henry break with the church in Rome, divorce his first queen, Katherine, and marry his mistress Anne Boleyn.  Over the time that he was working in government, he was a member of parliament, held various positions regarding the oversight of the church in England, and eventually was elevated to earl.  He also amassed a large personal fortune, allowing him to provide for his family and the many retainers that he came to have.

In every context I have ever read about Cromwell he has been portrayed as conniving, ruthless, intolerant.  Mantel's portrayal, however, is of a man who is incredibly intelligent, loyal, and practical.  Mantel's Cromwell is the very definition of an iron fist in a kid glove.  He knew exactly the right thing to say, the right gifts to give, the right threats to imply to get people way above his station to do what the king (or he) wanted.  In helping to usher Queen Katherine out and Queen Anne is, he helped set in motion the Reformation in England.

Once thing that is not entirely clear is how the title of this book came to be Wolf Hall.  You need to know a little bit more about the history of Henry VIII to understand that Wolf Hall was the home of Henry's next wife, Jane Seymour.   However, at the end of the book Henry is still married to Anne (though not happily).  Jane is mentioned often, but there is no real sense of what the future holds for her.  The text is dense...there is not one page that is not full of the machinations of kings, queens, cardinals, bishops, earls, dukes, ladies in waiting, and merchants.  I was left with a lot more knowledge about the historical figures in this mid-millenial drama, and I wanted to know what came next for Thomas and for Henry.

Well, I knew what came next for Henry-four more marriages and no legitimate male heirs.  Thomas' story ends long before the last wife, however.  After convincing the king to marry Anne of Cleves, his most failed of many failed marriages, the king turns on Cromwell, and he is executed in 1540.  Regardless of how he is perceived today, Cromwell's influence on one of the greatest changes in western culture are clear, and Mantel does a great job humanizing one of history's most interesting figures.

Top Ten Picks-Books You Have To Read At Least Once

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Thanks to Jillian at Random Ramblings for hosting this meme.  This week's topic-books you should read at least once.  I'm going to stick with late 20th-21st century titles-while I appreciate the genius of authors like Austen, Hemingway, and Lewis I'm itching to update the list a little.  I'm noticing a lot of feminist and/or social justice literature on here.  I guess you really can judge a person at least a little by their reading material!

1.  The Handmaid's Tale-Margaret Atwood

    This book is incredibly intellectual while still being accessible.  Atwood takes the idea of women as chattel to its not entirely unbelievable extreme.   A great way for new readers of feminist fiction to get into the genre.  Love everything Atwood ever wrote, but this one inspired me the most.

2.  Stone Butch Blues-Leslie Feinberg
      I know that most people have probably never heard of this book or this author,  Leslie Feinberg, but ze is one of the most influential writers in the world of GLBT literature, specifically around issues of gender identity.  The "ze" label is deliberate-Feinberg rejects traditional definitions of gender in favor of a more global perspective on what it means to be human, regardless of the genitalia you happen to have been born with.  In this, per first novel, ze tells the story (mostly autobiographical) of coming up as a young butch lesbian in the 60s, pre-Stonewall.  Great, touching, moving read!

3.  Paradise-Toni Morrison

     I firmly believe that this is her best book, despite the number of people who seem to think that Beloved takes that prize.  I love the way that time is fluid and non-linear in so many of her books, and the juxtaposition of the nuns and the village in this one makes fr fascinating reading.

4.  Stranger in a Strange Land-Robert Heinlein

     This book takes every idea about love and sex and culture and turns it on its head.  Even if you are not a fan of science fiction this one is sure to give you something to think about.

5.  A Thousand Splendid Suns-Khaled Hosseini

     Anyone wanting to understand Afghanistan, and why it shouldn't have taken 9-11 for the US to do something about the Taliban, should read this book.  Heartbreakingly written, intimate and tragic, this book is one of the best I have read-ever.

6.  Savage Inequalities-Jonathan Kozol

     I'm not usually a huge fan of non-fiction, but Jonathan Kozol's work is powerful.  This book is about the inequalities that exist in America's schools, and he examines the racial and socioeconomic politics that leads them to be the way they are.  He makes a strong argument that until we address these inequities we will continue to have generational poverty, racism, and class warfare in our country.

7.  The Time Traveller's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger

     This is one of the most moving love stories I have ever read, and one of the best written books I have seen in a long time.  The plot is so complex and ingeniously's not often that an author can completely surprise me with something new, but Niffenegger did it.

8.  Possessing the Secret of Joy-Alice Walker

     Walker takes a minor character from The Color Purple (arguably another book everyone should read), and creates a story around her that examines what it means to break taboos.  While the main topic of this novel, female genital mutilation, is clearly not the most uplifting subject, the way that the book examines the practice and the main character's decision to undergo the process is powerful and moving.

9.  The Giver-Lois Lowry
This may be a young adult novel, but the there is enough here for the most intellectual adult reader to chew on. Science fiction that doesn't feel like science fiction, with an ending that leaves you wondering (at least, until you read the sequel) 

10.  Prodigal Summer-Barbara Kingsolver

     Beautifully written, this novel explores the idea that humans, rather than being above nature, are in fact undeniably a part of the rhythms and cycles of the world, driven as much by biological forces as rational.  Kingsolver's explorations of the place of body and heart in our lives is full of stunning descriptions of the natural world and tons of emotion.  The book is unashamedly a treatise on treating the natural world with respect and reverence, but the environmentalism never becomes preachy or cliche.