Friday, December 30, 2011

My 10 Favorite YA Books of 2011

This is not - NOT - a list of the "best" YA books of 2011, because there are so many I did not read! There are a whole bunch I really wanted to get to and just didn't manage: Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Anna Dressed in Blood, Shine, many more. I'm a book behind on both of Cassie Clare's series. Beautiful Chaos has been on my nightstand since the day it was released but I haven't managed to open it. I think I'm two or three books behind on Sarah Dessen. I have a whole list of books I didn't manage to read. Maybe I'll do a midyear update of my favorite 2011 books I read in the first half of 2012, or something. And I've compensated for this issue in past years below the main list, with lists of pre-2011 books I read and loved this year.

And a disclaimer - I know almost all these authors to some extent. I work for one, obviously. I've worked with others at conferences. I've chatted with some on Twitter. I think the only one on the main list with whom I've had no contact is Deb Caletti (probably because she isn't on Twitter). I won't pretend that I managed to keep my feelings about the books completely isolated from my impressions of the authors, but none of them asked for good reviews or anything, and I would NEVER tell you I liked a book I didn't like.

So! Here we go! Instead of trying to write whole reviews of each book, because then I'd never finish, I will instead just give you a short list of elements that made me particularly like it.

1. The Demon's Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan - Amazing sibling relationships, a hot lying older brother, urban fantasy, humor, the Goblin Market, a bookish boy, girls who are strong in different ways and both awesome and don't hate each other, and one of my favorite fictional couples EVER.

2. Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins - A geeky love interest, GLBT characters whose sexuality isn't An Issue, boy next door love interest, basically PERFECT romance.

3. Where She Went by Gayle Forman - Classical music, a hot but angsty rock star, a perfect mix of heartbreak and tragedy and romance and hope.

4. The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson - London, boarding school, humor, a really hot ghost, lots of murder.

5. Red Glove by Holly Black - A hot lying older brother (yes it's a theme), fascinating magical politics, organized crime, family drama, and a wonderfully conflicted, complex hero.

6. Stay by Deb Caletti - The ocean, sailor boys, a well-drawn father/daughter relationship, family secrets, and the best portrayal I've read of loving someone with mental illness.

7. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin - Mystery, a ridiculously hot love interest, and so much total insanity (in a good way) that I can't say more without ruining it.

8. The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson - Traveling around Europe, a mysterious hot guy, a nicely drawn portrayal of grief, non-hokey personal growth.

9. The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab - Enchanting language, fairy tales, sibling love, a mysterious stranger, subtle social messages.

10. Past Perfect by Leila Sales - Historical reenactment villages, forbidden romance, imperfect but loving family relationships, lots of ice cream.

My Favorite 2010 YA Books I Read in 2011:
1. The Demon's Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan
2. Jane by April Lindner
3. Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn
4. White Cat by Holly Black
5. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
6. Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

Earlier YA Books I Read for the First Time & Loved in 2011:
1. The Changeover by Margaret Mahy
2. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
3. The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
4. Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Fortnightly Book Recommendations: Holiday Stories

Hello! Christmas is only a week away, so I thought you might need some ideas for books and stories to get you in the mood. Here are some of my all-time favorites!

Let It Snow by Maureen Johnson, John Green, and Lauren Myracle: Well, I had to start with this one, and obviously I'm biased, but I read and loved this well before I ever talked to Maureen (or John). These interconnected novellas detail what happens when one small town is hit with a Christmas snowstorm and a stuck train. It's the perfect read for when things in your life aren't going according to plan but you want a warm and fuzzy Christmas feeling anyway.

Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan: I just read this for the first time this year, and it's another good one for when your Christmas feelings are a little mixed - especially because of the way the point of view alternates between the two characters. Lily's always been pretty into Christmas, Dash hasn't, and this year they're both at loose ends. There's some bonus awesome bookstore stuff, a lot of humor, and a nice dash - hah, I crack myself up - of romance.

This Year It Will Be Different by Maeve Binchy: Binchy is often a bit treacly for my taste, but this collection of short stories is shockingly un-treacly. Everyone's lives are messed up, and Christmas doesn't magically fix everything, but people get by and life goes on. It's sort of refreshing, really.

Once Upon a Winter's Eve by Tessa Dare: This Regency Christmas romance novella has spies and spinsters and a practical heroine and people who learn languages for the fun of it. It's a good time.

Christmas with Anne by L.M. Montgomery: If you grew up with Anne of Green Gables, you'll love this collection of Christmas stories (plus Christmas chapters from the Anne books) by the same author. Some were originally written for Sunday school magazines, so lay on the moral a bit thick, but they're sweet, old-fashioned stories that I, for one, find really delightful.

"The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Christmas and Sherlock Holmes: Two great tastes that taste great together! It's in the public domain, so you can read the whole thing right here, and it's a pretty good entry point to the original stories.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens: The obvious choice, yes, and you've probably seen a million adaptations and may be a little sick of the whole thing, but if you haven't actually read it, do yourself a favor and give it a try. This should go without saying, I guess, but what sometimes gets lost in the innumerable adaptations and variations and homages and spoofs is the actual writing, and Dickens is really freaking good. You can download the free ebook here.

Merry Christmas and happy reading!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Holiday Cards Spreading Cheer

Hello! I've been trying to think of a way to send holiday cards to some of you, because, unfortunately, I do not have the time or money to send cards to everyone. So! I decided to send cards to people who are embracing the spirit of the season and spreading CHEER by doing something awesome for someone else. So if you'd like a card, you should tell me about something you have done for others this holiday season. And to make things interesting, I'd like photographic proof! Here are the details:

First, your something awesome can be either:
1) A monetary donation to a worthy charity. It can be whatever you like, but if you need ideas, I suggest ShelterBox or Reach Out and Read. (Mother Disco works with them. They're great.)
2) A donation of your time and energy to something that helps others. It can either be an official volunteer thing - like working at a soup kitchen or animal shelter - or something you just DO to help someone in your life, like free babysitting for a busy mom or shoveling for an elderly neighbor. It could even be HOLIDAY-SPECIFIC, like saving your mom a bunch of work by wrapping all your siblings' gifts. I'm not going to say it has to have taken a certain amount of time, but it should be a substantial thing. We're talking about some degree of sacrifice and selflessness here.

TO GET YOUR CARD, email me the following:
1) Your name and mailing address
2) A short description of what you did or where you donated
3) A photo to go along with this - if it's not something that obviously lends itself to being photographed, feel free to get creative!
4) Whether I can use your photo in a Collage of Awesomeness
5) Your card preference: Christmas, Hanukkah, non-specific winter cheer

Does that make sense? Does it seem FAIR? Any questions?

Go do something awesome!

Love and cheer,