Monday, December 31, 2012

Best Books I Read in 2012

I read so many good books this year! Mostly it was because grad school forced me to focus my reading, and the faculty and my classmates are so tuned in to the industry and my needs as a reader that they gave me some fantastic recommendations. And now for the hard part—my favorite books from my 2012 reading list.


This book also gets my favorite audiobook of the year. It's a fast-paced adventure, has fascinating characters and the story is totally timeless.

An honorable mention goes to A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, well, really all of Patrick Ness' books.

Historical Fiction

Shakespeare, baseball and modern American history. What more could a girl possibly want?

An honorable mention goes to A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly and her fascination with etymology.

Novel In Verse

This book broke my heart and then pieced it back together again. Porter truly understands the storytelling power of the poetic form and utilizes every line of it.

An honorable mention goes to Thomas and Beulah by Rita Dove, though it's actually a collection of poetry and not a NIV.


I'm still processing my feeling about this book though it's been six months since I read it. Any book that makes me take copious notes that I go back to again rates pretty high in my bibliography.

An honorable mention goes to "The Apology" by Plato, which was a re-read for me.


I have never been so sad to see a series end. I don't read a lot of high fantasy anymore (although it was my regular fare in my late teens), so to find a series this engaging was totally unexpected for me. I can't wait to see what Cinda comes up with next.

An honorable mention goes to The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd, but only because she hasn't finished writing the series yet.

Reading List Analytics
Out of the 85 books I read this year, there were 31 picture books, 25 novels, 21 audiobooks, 8 nonfiction. I gave 21 books five stars, 38 books four stars, 17 three stars and 9 books two stars.

Best Books of 2011
Best Books of 2010

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Putting Off the Apocalypse

Tomorrow is 12/21/12, and there's no way the world can end. I have big plans for 2013, and after the rather harrowing year I've had, I'm looking forward to many good things in the year to come. It's become a bit of a tradition for me to look at the past year while setting some goals for the next. So here's a look back as well as a peek at what's to come.

PAST: My year started with a trip to the ER followed by emergency surgery. While it took my mom a couple of days to come take care of me (I'm always glad to have my mom visit), there was an amazing community of people right here in Northern Virginia who stepped in when family couldn't. Friends brought me to the hospital, picked me up, made meals for me, changed my bandages, picked my mom up from the train station, and kept me company while I recovered. I will always be grateful for the family I've discovered in my own back yard.

FUTURE: I look forward to the many opportunities I'll have to show my love and appreciation for my friends. I look forward to attending kid's soccer games, going out for celebratory dinners and finding the perfect gifts for baby showers and bridal showers and graduations and birthdays. While I might not look forward to it, I'll happily help friends move, grieve with them when they lose a loved one and take them to a movie when they need a little break.

PAST: Working with writers' groups have not only made me a better writer, but they have also made me some wonderful friends. Together we've explored new worlds and learned about the past, laughed at silly boys and gone on great adventures. These men and women encourage me and teach me and love me, and in the past year, I've never needed them more. I would also be remiss if I didn't mention what an honor it is to be a member of SCBWI and work with my local chapter. Becoming a member of that organization four years ago was the best decision I ever made.

FUTURE: There are so many amazing books I'm looking forward to reading next year. I'm fortunate to have a lot of really good friends with upcoming publications, so bare with me as I do some name dropping. Sara Zarr, Mike Martin, Megan Shepherd, Lisa Papademetriou and Anne Marie Pace already have books slated for release, and I'm sure I'll read a dozen more.

PAST: Starting grad school was terrifying and thrilling all at once. I never realized it was possible to be stressed out and totally at peace at the same time. I had an amazing adviser who taught my to write broadly until you find your story and encouraged the poet within me to be brave. I quickly made some of the best friends I could ever imagine in my fellow VCFA classmates. School also allowed me to discover Vermont summers and cross the boarder into Canada where I actually used my rusty French in real conversations.

FUTURE: Right after the New Year I get to see what White Christmas was really all about when I go to Vermont for my second residency. I'll bring my new ice skates and winter coat to play in the snow as well as a fresh notebook and plenty of hot cocoa to get me through lectures. For summer residency I'll go up a few days early, and (hopefully with my brother in tow) visit Cooperstown and hike in the Adirondack Mountains.

PAST: I discovered my Natitude this baseball season. Excuse me while I get a little misty-eyed just thinking about it. I have loved baseball all my life and the White Sox will always be my first love, but I've watched the Nationals grow from their very first season into a championship team. I was in agony when Jayson Werth snapped his wrist, heartbroken when Rick Ankiel didn't make the cut, excited when Bryce Harper and Tyler Moore were called up, and astonished when Teddy finally won the race. I was at Game 4 to cheer on their first post-season run, and it will be an experience I'll never forget.

FUTURE: What more could a life-long baseball fan ever wish for? Oh, yeah, to see their team play in the Wold Series. I can't wait for April.

PAST: With my project for grad school, I've learned a lot about my family this year. I've spent a lot of time combing through documents and listening to family members tell stories. In doing this, I've also learned a great deal about myself. Mainly I learned that I come from a long line of kick-ass women (my mother, grandmothers, aunts and sister among them) whom I can only hope to be like.

FUTURE: My little brother comes home from Hawaii next summer, and I'm excited to be a lot closer to him once again. I'm sure my sister and parents will be down for visits, and I know I'll see a few aunts, uncles and cousins throughout the year. I love my family, and more than anything, I hope the New Year brings them happiness and success.

I know the past year has been very difficult for many people. People I know and love continue to struggle financially, and words cannot describe the horrible loss that happened last week. The world is full of war and hunger and unhappiness. But there is also goodness, kindness and hope in the world. I hope in the coming weeks we can all remember the things that are worth living for. From this natural-born pessimist to you, may 12/21/12 be just another day in this holiday season and may it bring you a little closer to family, friends and joy.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Fifth Grad School Reading List

My semester is officially over. After five months of reading writing, researching and driving myself crazy, I'm not sure how to fill all of this down time. You know, to edit those two manuscripts I've been promising to get done, catching up on work and sleep and friends, reading texts for next residency... Okay, so maybe there's not a lot of down time after all.

Getting back to the point, here's my final reading list for my first semester of grad school. It's pretty much all history/historical fiction and novels in verse. (If you haven't picked up on this over the past five months, I'm working on a historical fiction novel in verse.)

Writing Great Books for Young Readers by Regina Brooks: I’ve wanted to read this book for a while now and was excited to read some contemporary advice on writing for young adults. This is a fantastic book for brand-new YA writers, but it didn’t have the depth I was looking for. Though there are some really good reminders, especially in the chapter on dialogue.

My Mom's Having a Baby! by Dori H. Butler, illustrated by Carol Thompson: The plan was to read this book for Banned Book Week in October. That didn’t happen, but I still read it looking specifically at what makes age-appropriate content. While I found a one-page spread that I felt talked about sex a little too graphically for the audience, I can understand why many parents would be comfortable sharing it with their own children. For a book that tries to give a scientific look at birth in an accessible way, I respect Butler for making the hard decision to be as frank as she was.

Columbus by Demi: I’ve been a fan of Demi for a lot of years now. She chooses the most fascinating subjects to explore and her illustrations reflect the historical traditions she tells. With very little judgment and great respect, Demi manages to balance the hero we celebrate with the fallible man whom he really was. As for the illustrations, the seascapes are especially impressive, but the Portuguese court scenes also deserve special mention for their attention to detail and beautiful overlays. Unfortunately, I felt like I was reading the captions on paintings in a museum rather than a historical adventure.

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly: While I didn’t love this book anywhere near as much as I loved Donnelly’s Revolution, she’s still a wonderful storyteller who knows how to create a well-rounded narrator and somehow make history seem so freaking contemporary. Her skill makes me jealous.

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse: This was a reread for me, but I haven’t read it since it first came out while I was in high school, so I might as well have been reading it for the first time. And rereading it reminded me of why it won so many awards. Hesse is a master of the novel in verse and weaves an amazing story steeped in history and compassion and hope.

My Book of Life by Angel by Martine Leavitt: There are so many things to love about this novel in verse. There’s emotion and mystery and a true poetic structure, though I could have used more breathing room from the sadness. While the poetry was more abstract than I write, I loved the way I could get into Angel’s head and really understand her situation in life that is totally foreign to my own. I’m finding that there are kind of two schools to novels in verse: those influenced by modern free-verse poetry and those influenced by traditional epic poetry. And I was fascinated that this book of contemporary verse uses and epic poem (Paradise Lost) as a backdrop.

Winnie’s War by Jenny Moss: I think this book came at the perfect moment for me as it deals with the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918. While the beginning was a little rough, the ending got better and better until I almost regretted coming to the end. It had me laughing then crying and finally ending with a smile.

The Wright Brothers by Lola M. Schaefer: This was a history written without much excitement. If there’s one thing I’ve learned this semester, it’s that through research and solid facts don’t always translate to a good book, but without them, you can’t have a good book either.

Amazing Sharks! by Sarah L. Thomson: Granted, this book was sponsored by the Wildlife Conservation Society, but it was a little too preachy without enough informative content. I actually agree with the principles in this book, but instead of telling me that we need to save the sharks, I would have liked to see more about what make them interesting creatures, critical to their ecosystem and what is causing their demise. Why not teach me more about sharks and let me draw my own conclusions as to why we need to save them.

Young Fredle by Cynthia Voigt: I’ve only ever read Voigt’s realistic fiction for older readers, so it was interesting to see how she handles an animal fantasy for younger readers. You could totally see the influence of E.B. White in this adventure novel that gives you a new perspective on family and growing up.