It’s that time of year again! Below are the highlights of my 2015 reading year. The idea to include covers comes from Head Full of Books. Several of my selection questions originate from The Story Siren. Please note each book includes a link to my review and the teaser I originally wrote for it.
- Most liked novel I read?
Christy by Catherine Marshall: In 1967, the year I was born, Catherine Marshall wrote the novel Christy based on the life of her mother. Since first being introduced to the book by my dad, I have appreciated the fictionalized biography of Leonora Whitaker for its perfect blend of both doubt and faith. This summer, as part of my devotional time, I picked Christy up for a reread. Immediately, I fell back in love with it again, as only one can with the best spiritual classics.
- Least liked novel I read?
Camp Utopia by Jenny Ruden: The older I get, the more likely I am to stop reading a book with little appeal. Camp Utopia by Jenny Ruden fits that description for me. Despite its compassionate portrayal of an overweight teen trying to lose weight, other aspects of the book failed to work for me. The plot has contrivances, the characters don’t act nice, and the book is overly long.
- Best picture book?
Imani’s Moon by Janay Brown-Wood: Imani’s Moon by Janay Brown-Wood is an inspiring, sweet, and fantastical tale of a Masai girl who is determined to reach the moon. The watercolor and graphite illustrations in this picture book are equally moving, vibrant, and delightful to behold.
- Best intermediate book?
Candymakers by Wendy Mass: Candy. Friendship. Betrayal. It’s taken me a year to finally read The Candymakers by Wendy Mass, but it was well worth the wait. I love the oodles of descriptions about candy, the tantalizing foreshadowing about all the twists that will happen, and the complexity of the four main characters.
- Best young adult book?
Anne Frank Diary of a Young Girl: Throughout the ages, countless diaries have been written and some have even been published. Why is The Diary of Anne Frank so special? An obvious reason is the historical events it recounts. Biographers also tend to refer to Anne’s extraordinary writing ability and to her indefatigable spirit through even the most horrific of circumstances. On a more personal level, I appreciate how candid Anne is about her adolescent experiences. I have also used her diary as a learning tool with my students.
- Best nonfiction book?
Quiet Power by Susan Cain: After I started seeing graphics online like the below, I began to think about how I had years ago tried to turn myself into an extrovert. As I matured, I began to realize that there are certain parts of one’s personality which are almost impossible to change. The graphics even made me wonder if I should have simply been embracing my introversion. Hence, my interest in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.
- Best Advanced Reader Copy?
Mom Made Us Write This Journal in the Summer by Ali Maier: Part of the fun of reviewing Advanced Reader Copies is having the opportunity to read books by authors whom I may not have otherwise discovered. Such is the case withMom Made Us Write This in the Summer by Ali Maier. This he-said, she-said journal-style book by 10-year-old twins appeals both in the writing and in the design.
- Best award-winner?
London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd: A young boy with Aspergers. A mystery. An English author. These descriptors all might seem as I’m talking about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. Instead I’ve just finished reading The London Eye Mystery, a book that Siobhan Dowd delayed publishing due to Haddon’s book bursting on the scene. Her book is as well-written and thought-provoking as the rest of her titles, as well as simply being a fun romp.
- Best classic that I read this year?
Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: Set in the future when books outlawed and even thinking is discouraged, Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is the story of a fireman who is troubled because is job is not to put out fires but to start them. The winner of many literary awards,Farenheit 451 is an established dystopian classic. In this post, rather than present a literary analysis, I’ll focus on how Bradbury came to write this short masterpiece and two main themes it covers.
- Best popular book?
We Were Liars by Susan Lockhart: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart has one of the most unusual plots in recent teen fiction. It is full of twists that will keep you guessing until the final revelation. The characters aren’t exactly the most typical either. The Sinclairs are not ever needy or ever wrong, but some of them are liars. The question is whether the story about a wealthy family and their hidden past works.
- Best cultural book?
Shannen and the Dream for a School by Janet Wilson: “I would tell the children not to be afraid, to follow their dreams. I would tell them to never give up hope. Get up, pick up your books, and go to school (just not in portables).” These passionate words were spoken by Shannen Koostachin, a fourteen-year-old activist from the Attawapiskat First Nation in Ontario. Janet Wilson so compellingly recounts Shannen’s story in Shannen and the Dream for a School that not only do I develop a tremendous appreciation for Shannen, but I also become a believer in her dream for safe and comfortable schools for all First Nations young people.
- Best regional book?
All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriott: James Herriot is a master storyteller. Today I’m reviewing the 20th anniversary edition of his book All Creatures Great and Small, which is subtitled “the warm and joyful memoirs of an animal doctor”. In this first memoir of several, Herriot shares how he became a veterinarian assistant and all the adventures this occupation entails. His stories are funny, gritty, riveting, eye-opening, and a host of other positive adjectives. I’ve enjoyed reading Herriot’s memoir this week, as much I did when I first discovered it as a young person.
- Best special interests book?
Rain Reign by Ann Martin: Rain Reign by Ann Martin is one of my favorite reads this year. I love the plot, the character, the style, and everything about it. It well deserves critical acclaim.
- Best animal book?
Man Who Talked to Dogs by Melinda Roth: The Man Who Talks to Dogs by Melinda Roth will make you mad—in a good way. It’ll stir you to compassion and hopefully action, as you read the story of Randy Grim and his fight to save America’s abandoned dogs. Roth’s book also shows fine journalism. It is well-researched, well-written, and contains a lot of information not just about Grim but about a national problem.
- Best series you read?
Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Mayer: This past summer, my sister shared with me the latest book she had read:Cinder by Marissa Meyer. When handing her library copy to me, she told me, “It’s not a romance.” She went on to explain that Cinder is based on the fairy tale of Cinderella, except it’s set in the future when Cinderella is a cyborg.
- Best book that was outside of your comfort zone?
Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris: In the religious world, I’ve often felt like a misfit. Sometimes that has bothered me less than others. Whenever I do start to feel angst, I search for books written by other Christians who have also wrestled with their faith. This past year, when questions started once again to plague me, I checked the religious shelves of our local bookstores and libraries. Among them, I discovered Amazing Grace A Vocabulary of Faith by Kathleen Norris.
- Book which most surprised me?
Shelter Dogs by Peg Kehret: As part of my preparation for a writing club I’ll soon teach about rescue animals, I’ve been reading some of the pet books I’ve collected over the years, and am delighted to have foundShelter Dogs by Peg Kehret. This brief book of just over one hundred pages contains eight true stories mostly about dogs that came from The Humane Society in Washington State where Kehret has long volunteered. Shelter Dogs was an inspiring and educational read that I felt sorry to have end.
- Book which most disappointed me?
Wonder O The Wind by Phillip Keller: Author of one of my favorite devotionals, Phillip Keller was a bestselling Christian author. As part of a desire to know more about him, this week I read his two memoirs: Wonder O the Wind and Thank You Father. Although I learned a lot about him, I was also largely disappointed. For this reason, my review is a little longer than normal.
- Book I can’t believe I waited to read?
Jenny and the Cat Club by Esther Averill: A cat acquaintance of mine recommended Jenny and the Cat Club by Esther Averill to me. She and her children find it their favorite book about cats. After realizing that Averill was the author of the I Can Read picture book The Fire Cat, I bought a copy of Jenny and the Cat Club for myself and another cat friend. Since then, I have come to adore this series of stories about a cute black kitty and hope you will too.
- Best book I reread?
Everything I Need to Know About Being a Girl…. by Jennifer O’Connell: Everything I Needed to Know About Being A Girl I Learned from Judy Blume by Jennifer O’Connell brought back a lot of memories for me. First, because it referenced books by one of my all-time favorite authors. Second, because I related to many of the contributing authors’ experiences.
- Best new author? Andrew Clements
As in previous years, there are many wonderful I read books which I didn’t include on this list. I encourage you to check over my reviews from the past year to find other books which you might equally enjoy. There are also books featured which could have fit into several categories, not just the one where I put it.
What surprised me most as I tried picking my selections is how few young adult books and best-selling books I have read this year. It’s been an interesting reading year, one wherein I have read a lot of older and well-established books.
Your Turn! What books for young people were your favorite reads from 2015?