Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘year in review

  1. Favorite book of the year? Best Friends: The True Story of the World’s Most Beloved Sanctuary
    Glen takes readers all the way to the 1980s to before Best Friends Animal Society existed, to when a handful of friends were rescuing animals the way many of us do by taking them home. Thankfully for animal welfare, when these friends dreamed, they liked to dream big. And I mean BIG. In 1982, Francis Battista made a call to his friends telling them that he had found an oasis in the desert that would be perfect for an animal sanctuary. And from then to today, it was five steps forward and at times ten steps back. The group faced opposition from residents, bankruptcy, and the death of their first veterinarian. At a pivotal moment, they also had to decide whether to stay small or to reach out to animal welfare groups across the country…. Best Friends is an inspiring tale of passion put into action!
  2. Picture book I most liked? Hannah is My Name / My Name is Yoon
    Hannah is My Name by Belle Yang is about a Chinese family who emigrate to the United States and try to assimilate while waiting for the arrival of their green cards. The family wants to become Americans more than anything in the world. Why? Because in America one is free. Yet becoming American isn’t easy if one is born elsewhere.
    In My Name is Yoon, a Korean girl starts school for the first time in America. To prepare Yoon, her father teaches her how to write her name in English. But Yoon prefers how her name is written in Korean. Her name looks happy in Korean. The letters seem to dance. She doesn’t want to learn the new way. She wants to go back to Korea. My Name is Yoon tells how a young girl finds her place in a new country in her own time and on her own terms. I laughed and smile … but also understood Yoon’s sadness and frustration, which eventually turns into joy and acceptance. The author, Helen Recorvits, grew up in America. Her grandparents were immigrants from Poland, Russia, and the Ukraine.
  3. Intermediate book I most liked? The Cat Who Came in from the Roof
    Tibbles is so timid that he spends his time reporting about cats and nature, instead of about people. He’s at risk of losing his reporter job, when he meets a lady who can talk to cats because was once had been one. She tells him all the gossip around town, including some secret news, and he writes it all up for the paper. Suddenly he is a star. And she has a home. Except nothing can ever stay perfect. There is a bad guy, a quirky neighbor, a pregnant cat, and…. Next thing you know Tibbles has not only lost his job but also been evicted. Author Annie Schmidt is considered the Queen of Dutch Literature. She’s won several awards, including the Hans Christian Anderson, and is included in the canon of Dutch history taught to all school children.
  4. Middle School book I most liked? Clementine
    Readers of the classic Ramona books need look no further than Clementine by Sara Pennypacker for another lovably-rambunctious character. Clementine’s week hasn’t been going so well. She’s been sent to the principal’s office for cutting off her friend’s hair. Margaret’s mom has refused to allow the two girls to be alone together. The disastrous week is made worse partly because of the effort Clementine puts into making everything right again, including trying to glue Margaret’s hair back on and offering to sacrifice her own hair. Like Ramona, nothing Clementine does comes from a mean heart, but rather from a creative mind. Clementine is quirky, hilarious, and unforgettable.
  5. Young adult book I most liked? Extraordinary
    Extra Ordinary is a delightful debut novel about friendship. The main character of Pansy, who is quiet and fearful but also exuberant and determined, won my affection. I also admire the author, Miriam Spitzer Franklin, for creating a sweet but realistic story about disabilities. Just as what lies at the end of Pansy’s year isn’t exactly what she had expected, so I too was surprised at plot twists in Extra Ordinary, and both are good things.
  6. Adult book I most liked? The Cat Who / Therein Lies a Tail
    In The Cat Who Smelled a Rat, the 24th book, the residents of the small town of Pickax located in Moose County “400 miles north of everywhere” have two concerns. The first concern is how late the arrival of the Big One is; residents are becoming increasingly anxious about wildfires, which the first snow storm of the season would help obliterate. The second concern naturally involves murder. I enjoyed Braun’s fast-paced style, her focus on one main character through whom I meet residents and hear community gossip, her creation of a town which bubbles with personality and of course the cats. Although the cats are often in the background, they’re still prevalent in the story. They air their opinions of James’ redecorating efforts, predict changes in weather and newsworthy occurrences and, just as important, provide clues to James as to the murderer’s identity.
    The Chet and Bernie mysteries by Spencer Quinn have the most unusual quality of being narrated by a dog. To date, the series contains eight regular novels and four behind-the-scenes books. In Thereby Hangs a Tail, the second book in the series, Chet and Bernie are hired to investigate threats against the unlikely target of a pampered show dog named Princess. Although the series reads more like a thriller than a cozy mystery, I’ve become a fan due to the style, characters, and the location.
  7. Advanced Reader Copy I most liked? Gabby Duran
    Gabby Duran is a name you’ll remember. She’s the world-renowned babysitter in a hilarious science fiction series by Elise Allen and Daryle Conners for middle schoolers. What makes Gabby so famous? The fact that she’s sought by leaders and celebrities all over the world for the most impossible babysitting jobs. What classifies the books as science fiction? The fact that the Association Linking Intergalactics and Earthlings as Neighbors hires Gabby as babysitter of aliens. To date, the series has three titles. All are fast-paced, action-packed, and will have high appeal to reluctant and avid reader alike.
  8. Nonfiction book I most liked? Rescuing Penny Jane
    Sutherland talks to shelter directors, researchers, trainers, adoption counselors, and caretakers across the United States to build her understanding of animal rescue.  Through Rescuing Penny Jane, I learned that today some shelters exist more as consultants than warehouses so that owners might stay united with their pets…. Sutherland also draws on her own experiences with rescue dogs to fill out her narrative. I appreciated how honest she is about her failings. She openly calls her first dog “canine training wheels” and refers to his fear linoleum and ceiling fans. I also enjoyed her ability to balance the serious with the humorous. Soon after Sutherland began volunteering at a local shelter, she found herself tackling the mammoth issue of how to find enough homes for all the dogs, but she also quickly realized that an equally important question was the issue of how to pull a halter onto a stir-crazy German Shepherd in the tight confines of a kennel. Rescuing Penny Janeis one of those books that was so good I couldn’t put it down, but for that reason I was also disappointed when it ended.
  9. Educational book I most liked? Gifts of Imperfection
    The Gifts of Imperfection is a guide to a wholehearted life. The first five chapters provide the research and philosophy behind the book, while the remaining ten chapters provide ten guideposts to the wholehearted life. What’s a wholehearted life? It’s about being real in the very truest sense, the way that the Velveteen Rabbit was. It’s about putting oneself out there, being vulnerable and honest, while also finding belonging and love.
  10. Animal book I most liked? One at a Time
    The stories presented are based on the experience of the authors during one week in a typical animal shelter in California. When the authors arrived at the shelter, kennels were almost full, with 238 animals being cared for. By the end of the week, another 125 had arrived. For the book, the authors choose a random selection of animals, and then took the time to get to know them. They learned the circumstances that had caused the animals to be at the shelter, and then followed their stories throughout the week without knowing what the end would be.
  11. Special interest book I most liked? 50 Women Every Christian Should Know
    Everyone wants and needs role models. One handy reference guide is 50 Women Every Christian Should Know by Michelle DeRusha. Published in 2014, the selections begin with the early 1100’s and end with the mid-1900s, and they include figures lesser known to me such as Dorothy Day along with those more familiar to me such as Madeleine L’Engle. What I most appreciated is that DeRusha dedicates an average of six to eight pages to each heroine. This allows her to weave a story, while at the same time provide enough detail to encourage further reading, which one can do by looking up her sources that our listed in the back pages.
  12. Book I can’t believe I waited to read? Catification
    What do you get when a cat behaviorist and a cat-friendly environment designer team up to write a book? You get a colorful and informative guide to designing a happy and stylish home for your cat. Catification is written by Jackson Galaxy, the host of My Cat from Hell, and Kate Benjamin, the founder of the cat design website Hauspanther. Together they walk readers through a step-by-step process of designing an attractive home that is also an optimal environment for cats.
  13. Best book I reread? Hiding Place / Gates of Splendor
    Though Gates of Splendor recounts the story of five young missionaries who were killed while trying to establish communication with the Auca Indians of Ecuador. The story is written by Elisabeth Elliot, the wife of Jim Elliott, one of the young men who was killed.
    The Hiding Place is the autobiography of Corrie ten Boom who lived in the Netherlands during the Nazi invasion in World War II. She and her family were imprisoned in Nazi concentration camp for hiding Jews. One can only hope to show similar courage, if in the same situation.

This past year has been full of life changes: a new job, a new house, my citizenship, and a visit from my family for the first time since my wedding. As such, last January when I discovered Brene Brown feels like such a long time ago. As does last April when I read immigration books in light of political unrest and last June when I read animal welfare books as part of a plea for unity among those in the field. By the time that December came around, I needed some light-reading, which I found in animal cozy mysteries. How did your year go? What books were your favorite reads from 2017?

On Friday, I’ll return a tribute to young adult authors whom we lost in 2017. And then? I plan to try something new at Allison’s Book Bag. At the end of each month I’ll report on my reading activities and pick my favorite books to review in the following month. As I’ve been doing for the past few years, I’ll also share highlights of my writing publications and other activities. Join me for another year of reading and blogging fun!


  1. Picture book I most liked? Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick
    Years ago, I heard the tale of how Winnie-the-Pooh was based on a true bear. Now Lindsay Mattick has written a picture book that details an amazing story of the world’s most famous bear and even includes a photo album. A #1 New York Times Bestseller and winner of the 2016 Caldecott Medal, Finding Winnie is on my list of books to buy.
  2. Intermediate book I most liked? Captain of the City Streets by Esther Averill
    Captains of the Streets is about how three rough-and-tumble street cats became part of The Cat Club. Born and raised in New York, Sinbad and The Duke took off for the south side of then city but soon found themselves hungry and desperate … This tale from 1972 feels real to how street cats might live, while also providing readers with the satisfaction of a happy end. The story has a lot of heart and is one of my favorite Cat Club books.
  3. Middle School book I most liked? Canned and Crushed by Bibi Belford
    By the time you finish Canned and Crushed, a middle-grade novel, the main character and the manic style will have won you over. Because finding a novel with a Hispanic protagonist had proved difficult during her teaching days, Belford drew on her experiences with children of migrant workers and with bilingual students to create a story about Sandro, whose father is an undocumented engineer working odd jobs while waiting for paperwork and whose mother is absent because she has taken his little sister to Mexico for medical treatment. Belford’s book covers a lot of issues, including unemployment, bullying, and prejudice, but contain so much charm and laughs that I enjoyed the ride.
  4. Young adult book I most liked? We Should Hang Out Sometime by Josh Sundquist
    We Should Hang Out Sometime by Josh Sundquist reads like a hilarious teen novel about the confusing world of dating and falling in love. In addition, this over three-hundred page has positive diverse elements. Best of all, We Should Hang Out Sometime is actually a memoir and so the events in it are true, making it a highly sympathetic portrayal of one of life’s most important experiences.
  5. Adult book I most liked? Atonement by Ian McEwan
    A national best seller. Winner of many awards. A major motion picture. Atonement is a literary novel by Ian McEwan, set in the 1930’s in England. It is about a young adolescent girl’s imagination and her older sister’s moment of flirtation with the son of a servant. My husband and I both read this book. The features which stood out the most to us were McEwan’s style and his portrayal of characters.
  6. Advanced Reader Copy I most liked? Chronicles of Zee & Zoey by Deborah Barnes
    In the prologue, Barnes explains the subtitle of A Journey Into the Extraordinarily Ordinary. Most of us like to imagine our lives better than they are. For one lovable male Maine Coon cat named Zee and one wild female leopard inspired Bengal named Zoey, however, Barnes believes that the ordinary is itself a gateway to unlimited adventure. This is true partly because of how cats are, but also because of the way Barnes choose to view her life with them….
  7. Nonfiction book I most liked? The Trainable Cat by Sarah Ellis
    In the book The Trainable Cat, authors John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis discuss not only how cats should be trained but why cats need to be trained. The Trainable Cat was the first selection of the online Companion Animal Psychology Book Club, newly-formed this fall by Zazie Todd. Besides discussing the book, members had the privilege of asking questions of author Sarah Ellis. I’m taking a different approach to my usual reviews, by sharing highlights of the discussion by some of the three-hundred members.
  8. Educational book I most liked? Nobody’s Cats by Valerie Ingram
    If you are creative and care about the welfare of animals, what can you do? If you’re Valerie Ingram and Alistair Schroff, you write children’s picture books. Both Nobody’s Cats and Out of the Cold are based on true stories from northwest British Columbia and profits from the sale of the book go towards the care of animals in that region.
  9. Animal book I most liked? Purr Prints of the Heart by Deborah Barnes
    In Purr Prints of the Heart, Jazz takes center stage as the narrator of his own tale from start to finish. Jazz shares his dismay of being labeled sick by his original owner. After all, his mom had raised him to believe that he was the most handsome kitten alive and somebody would want him one day because he was special. And when Deb Barnes walked into Jazz’s life, this turned out to be true….
  10. Special interest book I most liked? A Fragile Stone by Michael Card
    Who is your favorite Biblical character? One of mine has long been Peter because, despite of how close he was to Jesus, he made many mistakes and committed many sins. From Michael Card comes The Fragile Stone, subtitled The Emotional Life of Simon Peter. It covers every encounter that Peter had with Jesus, as well as Peter’s life as a preacher, healer, prisoner, reconciler, and writer. I continue to enjoy each new book I read by Card.
  11. Book I can’t believe I waited to read? Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
    I can’t believe I’ve waited so long to read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie! The character of Junior is endearing and real. Alexie perfectly illuminates the elements that shape the lives of Native Americans living on reservations. To top all the novel’s other merits, the theme of acceptance is perfect for all audiences.
  12. Best book I reread? World of Farley Mowat
    Published in 1980, there are nine sections to The World of Farley Mowat, each of which contains excerpts from one of more of Mowat’s published writings. Selections are grouped in chronological order. As such, given how much of Mowat’s writings were based on his own life, The World of Farley Mowat not only provides readers exposure to a variety of his writings but also a glimpse into his personal life.

This past year has been a year of transition in many ways, including that of my reading endeavors. In the fall of 2014 I switched from working on a young adult novel to writing animal articles, and this led to a natural change in type of books which interested me. You’ll notice half of my favorite books feature an animal. In 2015 I surpassed my reading challenge of 104 books, but then this year missed my reading challenge of 78 books. There was just too much else going on in my life for me to enjoy books. How did your year go? What books were your favorite reads from 2015?

Tomorrow I’ll return a tribute to young adult authors whom we lost in 2015. Then it’ll be back to my routine of memes and reviews. Hopefully, 2017 will see me far exceed my more modest goal of 52 books. Join me for another year of reading fun!

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.


  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. Best picture book?
    Imani’s Moon by Janay Brown-WoodImani’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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. Best popular book?
    We Were Liars by Susan LockhartWe 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. Best special interests book?
    Rain Reign by Ann MartinRain 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.
  1. Best animal book?
    Man Who Talked to Dogs by Melinda RothThe 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. Book I can’t believe I waited to read?
    Jenny and the Cat Club by Esther Averillcat 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.
  1. Best book I reread?
    Everything I Need to Know About Being a Girl…. by Jennifer O’ConnellEverything 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.
  1. 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?

It’s that time of year again! Below are the highlights of my 2014 reading year. The idea to include covers comes from Head Full of Books. Several of my selection questions originate from The Story Siren. This year, I’ve also tweaked my format. Each book now includes a link to my review and the teaser I originally wrote for it.


  1. Most liked novel I read?
    Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr: When The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr became available at our local library, it became my top pick to read during National Novel Writing Month. Since that time, I have purchased my own copy and it has become my turn-to book whenever I’m in the midst of an intense writing project.
  1. Least liked novel I read?
    Since You Asked by Maureen Goo: Confession time. I’m forty-something, which means that what I like may not coincide with what teens like. Since You Asked by Maureen Goo had high potential because it’s about a teen writer and books about writers generally resonate me. However, the clichés and stereotypes, the snarky attitude, and the abundance of slang and cursing ultimately turned me off. Adolescent girls will however probably enjoy the rebellious Holly and the romantic twists that develop throughout her last year in high school.
  1. Best picture book?
    As Fast as Words Could Fly by Maureen Tuck: Tales which are written as tributes to a family member or a friend are always special, whether or not they are of excellent quality. As Fast As Words Could Fly by Pamela Tuck is based on the memories of her father. What’s more, it has a strong plot, positive characters, and an inspiring message. That makes it a top-notch picture book.
  1. Best intermediate book?
    Lassie Come Home by Eric Knight: This past year I rediscovered Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight. In doing so, I realized it held even more depth to it than my childhood reading of it had revealed. For example, this beloved classic dog story is set in a different time and place than those with whom I am familiar. Even the main character of Lassie is a more complex dog than I remembered, in that she at times like humans wavers between fear and love.
  1. Best young adult book?
    Solace of the Road by Siobhan DowdSolace of the Road is the second novel I’ve read by Irish author, Siobhan Dowd. In telling the story of a foster kid, Dowd in many way ways treads on familiar ground. At the same time, Dowd has incorporated enough twists to make this a memorable story. She has also created an original character, for whom we deeply feel.
  1. Best nonfiction book?
    Grieving the Death of a Pet by Betty Carmack: Years ago, I bought Grieving the Death of a Pet by Betty Carmack because the topic interested me. When I recently lost my cat of eight years, I picked it up again to once again find comfort in it. The first few weeks after Lucy’s death, the personal stories of owners who had also suffered loss filled me with such uncontrollable grief that I had to put the book back on my shelf. Only several months after death have I finally been able to read Grieving the Death of a Pet in its entirety.
  1. Best Advanced Reader Copy?
    Seeing Red by Kathryn ErskineSeeing Red by Kathryn Erskine is deserving of multiple literary awards. It’s that good. There are books that I add to my wish list. There are others that I eagerly recommend to others. This is the first book since I began my book review blog, over two years ago, that makes me think AWARD. For that reason, I’m not going to tell you what I liked and disliked about it. I’m just going to tell you what Seeing Red is about, so I can entice you to read it.
  1. Best award-winner?
    Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip HooseMoonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip Hoose is not just your ordinary nonfiction book. It’s not even your average book about birds or endangered animals. Rather it’s on multiple lists of the best books of 2012, which is where I first encountered it. Moonbird is also the recipient of The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal Honor, which is why I first decided to read it. It has even won several awards for best science book.
  1. Best classic?
    Ozma of Oz by Frank Baum: After reading Ozma of Oz by Frank Baum years ago in fifth grade, I knew that I wanted all of the Oz books. What appealed to me about that particular title? To be honest, I don’t know if I have an answer. Sometimes a novel simply captures one’s imagination in such a way that a story becomes memorable and unforgettable. For me, Ozma of Oz happens to be one of those books.
  1. Best popular book?
    Paper Towns by John Green: Hilarious, sad, and deep. The first half of Paper Towns by John Green is so funny that I didn’t care if there was more to the story than two twelfth-grade students invoking revenge on their peers. The second half, wherein Quentin spends more his waking hours searching for a missing classmate, still amazingly caused me to chuckle but also led me to reflect. You see, Margo may or may not be who everyone thought she was, which is one reason it’s so difficult for Quentin and his friends to find her. And the more they clues they unearth, the more they start to also realize truths about themselves and how they look at the world.
  1. Best cultural book?
    Gaby Lost and Found by Angela Cervantes: Cute! Fun! Sweet! Inspiring! All these adjectives describe Gaby, Lost and Found, by Angela Cervantes, about a girl who wants to rescue animals but soon finds herself in need of a permanent home. Gaby, her friends, and even the adult guardians in her life make for a realistic and endearing cast. Through the suspenseful plot, readers will learn about shelters and immigration, besides being entertained.
  1. Best regional book?
    Have You Seen Mary?/The Tale of Jacob Swift: From Jeff Kurrus comes two glorious photo-fiction books for animal lovers of all ages. Have You Seen Mary? is about one sandhill crane’s faithful search for his mate. The Tale of Jacob Swift is about the struggles of a fox family to raise their sons in the harsh but beautiful grasslands. Younger readers will enjoy both the adventurous plots and the spectacular images, while older readers will treasure the coffee-style format and the universal themes.
  1. Best special interests book?
    Mine for Keeps by Jean LittleMine for Keeps by Jean Little is a long-time favorite book of mine. Little so perfectly captures the emotions of her characters that all readers will relate to them, whether they’re the intended audience of elementary-school children or forty-something-year-old adults like me. Mine for Keeps, along with Little’s other stories about young people with disabilities, remains among the best fiction out there on the topic. As an additional perk, Little’s books are set in Canada.
  1. Best animal book?
    Mutts Shelter Stories by Patrick McDonnell: Late December of last year I walked into Barnes & Noble with no intention of buying any books and walked out with Mutts Shelter Stories by Patrick McDonnell. I’m a sucker for stories about animals, especially those found at shelters. Granted, this is a straightforward story about animals in needing a home, but it’s also a highly-visual mix of comic strips and photos. And, in the end, it’s an emotive tearjerker that works.
  1. Best series?
    Legend by Marie Lu: Reading the last word of the last book of a great series wrenches at the heart of every book lover. Today I sadly turned the last page of the Legend trilogy by Marie Lu.
  1. Best book that was outside of your comfort zone?
    Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall: An expression that comes to mind about Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall is that “the whole is greater than the sum of all its parts”. The main storylines to this verse novel are the immigration of a Mexican family to America and the death of a parent. Thematically, the story is also about family, friendship, and identity. All of these parts interconnect to make an emotional experience that will have long-lasting impact.
  1. Book which most surprised me?
    The Pye Books by Eleonor Estes: Eleanor Estes is well-recognized for writing memorable family stories, among them the Pye stories. With Ginger Pye and Pinky Pye, Estes adds pets and mysteries to the mix. Although her unhurried style may not appeal to all, I’ve come to treasure these innocent stories of a close-knit family in a small town.
  1. Book which most disappointed me?
    Snub Club by Diane Christiansen: When her son was diagnosed with autism, Diane Mayer Christiansen drew upon her own childhood experiences with dyslexia to become his best advocate. Finding that there are too few children’s books that feature main characters with special needs, she decided that it was up to her to help fill that void. Christiansen’s heart is certainly in the right place with The SNUB Club and I wish I could recommend it. Sadly, it has too many flaws.
  1. Book I can’t believe I waited to read?
    Eleanor and Park by Rainbow RowellEleanor and Park has become one of my favorite teen romances. It breaks stereotypes, depicts realistic situations and characters, and doesn’t shy away from the darker sides of life. In other words, this is neither a fluffy romance nor an overwrought tragedy. It’s as real as they come. Eleanor and Park is a poignant love story.
  1. Best book you reread?
    Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret: When I decided in December to review favorite books, I tried to choose ones that were lesser known. And yet I’ve picked the book that launched Judy Blume’s career: Are You There God? It’s Margaret. You see, among all of her books, it’s the book one that had the greatest impact on me.
  1. Best new author to me? John Green/Siobhan Dowd

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.

Your Turn! What books for young people were your favorite reads from 2014?

It’s that time of year again! Here’s my year in review, with most of my selection questions originating from The Story Siren. It’s been a good reading year for me and I felt tempted to add runner-ups, due to all the books I enjoyed and fondly remembered as I compiled this list.

1. Best novel you read?

 The Lucy Variations by Sarah Zarr
By one of my favorite authors, I read this young adult novel as a treat to myself with no intention to review, but liked it so much I posted about it as a Current Read. Most of us struggle with what it means to have a gift and how to enjoy it instead of being stifled by it. The Lucy Variations is an elegant exploration of this universal theme.

2. Worst novel you read?

 Nobody Knows by Shelley Tanaka
Set in Japan, the book is based on a movie of a real incident. The movie is better, in that it made me feel empathy for the abandoned children and also admiration for how much they endured. The book just made me feel sick.

3. Best nonfiction book you read?

Outcasts United by Warren St. John
Sports stories aren’t my normal reading fare, but I loved this book. Author Warren St. John superbly draws on his journalistic skills to create unbiased portrayal of one season in the life of a team of refugee children. Moreover, St. John  didn’t just interview the participants in this story but became part of their lives. He then used his intimate knowledge of this close-knit group to write a fast-pace story full of soccer action, town drama, and quiet moments.

4. Best picture book?

Because Amelia Smiled by David Ezra Stein
I liked its circular style, positive message, and tribute to cultures around the world.Through the actions of multiple characters, Stein teaches that if you smile, you might have a ripple effect across your neighborhood, town, or maybe even the world. By taking readers on a whimsical trip around the world, Stein also created a captivating impression of our global community. Fans will grow up wanting to meet people from different cultures and travel to diverse areas such as Mexico, England, and Israel. All because Amelia smiled!

5. Best intermediate book?

Crystal City Lights by Holly Moulder
A fictional story about a German-American family who were placed in an internment camp during World World II, some situations are on the lighter side and might bear you think of Nancy Drew or Hardy Boy adventures. Others are more serious, such as the animosity of the different groups which have been interned together or from some German fraction who hate the United States for its unjust act of imprisoning them. Crystal City Lights impressed me with how historically-based it was, while also being an entertaining tale.

6. Best young adult book?

Freeze Frame by Heidi Ayarbe
It’s disturbing that this young adult novel is about a tragedy caused by the main character. Furthermore, for the bulk of the book we don’t even know if the death was deliberate. Yet we come to care for Kyle, because we’re constantly in his head. That Ayarbe is able to pull off such a story is impressive.

7. Best book that was outside of your comfort zone?

Scorpions by Walter Dean Myers
I recommend any books by Walter Dean Myers. He writes about kids in trouble. His format is often experimental. Author of over fifty books for young people and winner of the Coretta Scott King Award for African-American authors five times, every reader of books for young people should make themselves acquainted with his works. In January 2012, Myers replaced Katherine Paterson as the Library of Congress’s National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, a two-year position created to raise national awareness of the importance of lifelong literacy and education.

8. Best classic that you reread this year?

The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Pippi does whatever she desires, whenever she wants, which is a reason her character caused controversy when first introduced and to this day appears on lists of female anti-heroes. Yet there’s no reason to worry she’ll corrupt anyone, for Pippi’s heart is always in the right place.

9. Best cultural or regional book?

 The Glass Collector by Anna Perera
The Glass Collector will pull you into a new world, leave you wanting to know more about the actual Zabbeleen, and give you plenty to think about. For example, under what situations would you steal? And should you escape to a safer and wealthier place, if it means leaving home, family, and community? While The Glass Collector is far from being a flawless book, it IS an absorbing book–which is plenty for me to recommend it.

10. Best special interests book?

The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
A realistic portrayal of a foster kid, inspired by Paterson’s own experience of being a foster mom, The Great Gilly Hopkins strikes all the right emotional chords. Underneath all the bravado and attitude, there’s a girl who wants to be liked, but no family has kept Gilly long enough for Gilly to consider it worth her time to unpack her suitcase at each new place. Unfortunately, just because Gilly has a heart that doesn’t mean Gilly is easy to like. Quite the opposite! Gilly is a porcupine with her quills always bared. In this anti-hero tale, Gilly is the brat whom we grow to love.

11. Best series you read?

Skinjacker Trilogy by Neal Shusterman
The Chocolate Ogre, Allie the Outcast, Mary Hightower, and The McGill. These are some of the unusual characters that populate Neal Shusterman’s famed Skinjacker Trilogy. I discovered the series just in time to have them signed by Shusterman at the Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival 2013The trilogy is an exploration of life, death, and what might lie in between.

12. Most surprising book you read?

 Fangbone by Michael Rex
After two years of trying out graphic novels and other non-traditional formats, one of them has made my Best Of…. List! The Birthday Party of Dread by Michael Rex has a basic premise that is outrageously weird, which is that the barbarians who defeated the wicked wizard Venomous Drool have cut him into pieces. Ever since, the wizard’s followers have been collecting those parts with the hopes that they can restore him to power. At the point of our story, they’re missing only one piece: the wizard’s big toe. The toe is under the protection of our barbarian hero, Fangbone…. The Birthday Party of Dread is as funny, wacky, and creative as that plot idea.

13. Most disappointing book you read?

Fighting for Dontae by Mike Castan
Author Mike Castan’s heart is in the right place with Fighting for Dontae, which he dedicates from “one-at-risk student to another”. Unfortunately, I can’t recommend it because of its stereotypes. There is better Latino literature out there for young people, as well as more complex books about gang life and about special education students. At least, I hope there is.

14. Book I can’t believe I waited to read?

 Little Fish by Ramsey Beyer
The publisher Zest specializes in books for young adults, my favorites of which are their true stories. Even so, I had my copy of Little Fish for months before a virtual tour pushed me into reading it. Told through real-life journals, collages, lists, and drawings, this coming-of-age story illustrates the transformation of an 18-year-old girl from a small-town teenager into an independent city-dwelling college student. It inspired me on so many levels, one way of which I described in A Letter to My College-Bound Sister.

15. Book that didn’t get enough press?

The Windfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson
Picked up on a whim while attending a concert, Windfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson is a fun epic tale with lots of adventures, quirky characters, and a unique setting. On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness was nominated for and North or Be Eaten went on to win the Christy award, thus recognizing Peterson as a Christian writer of literary excellence. My hope, however, is that this rip-roaring fantasy series will also find an audience in the general market.

 16. New favorite author of the year?

Matthew Quick of Silver Linings Playbook fame has also written three books for young people. Two of them I have read already and the third is on my wish list to read:

  • Boy 21
  • Sort of Like a Rock Star
  • Forgive Me Leonard Peacock

All the work Quick has published and all the work that he is contracted to publish is about mental health in one way or another. And that’s intentional. For which I admire him.

Your Turn!

  • Which of the categories should I keep?
  • Which should I delete?
  • Which choices do you agree with?
  • What would you have picked in 2013?

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Allison’s Book Bag will no longer be updated. Thank you for eight years!

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