Monday, January 5, 2015

Back to the real me. This is a book blog.

Hello readers,

At the risk of sounding like a total cliche, I have decided to kick off this new year by refocusing this blog on what it is supposed to be.  This is, from its inception, a book blog.  Yes, I still love Scandal and Downton Abbey and pretty much everything on PBS and BBC America.  However, what I am passionate about is books.  Reading them, critiquing them, recommending them, and currently, writing them.  Anyone who knows me well knows that I love, love, love books.  Set me loose in a library, book bazaar, book sale, book store or thrift shop and I am in heaven.  So, in the spirit of working in my gifts and to answer the questions I get every day ("What are you reading?  Can you recommend a book for me?"), I have decided to be a full-on book blogger.

What does this mean?, you may be wondering. Well it means that I will spend my time here focusing on reading, literacy, books and other book-related "stuff."  I am curious to see what will grow out of my desire to connect everyone with the "just-right" book, and share the joy of reading a configuration of words that makes your heart sing.

You can expect that I will post roughly twice a week.  If you follow this page on Facebook, you'll see a status update.  Please follow me if you don't.  You're really missing out!

I will let you know that I read a lot and I read widely.  I am not extra cerebral with my reading, so if you are reading this to see what my opinion of Beowulf or Finnegan's Wake is, well, you will be sorely disappointed.  I read what most 40-something people read who enjoy words and want to be challenged and entertained, and sometimes moved by a book.  I want this blog to be a discussion, so I WELCOME YOUR COMMENTS! If asked nicely, I'll also give you recommendations.

So, in this first post, I will give another cliche.  My top books of 2014.   Some of these books are not new.  Some of them are books that I've read before, but re-read this year. These are books that made me laugh, cry, and just stayed with me, long after I returned them or gave them away.  Yes, I give most fiction books away.  I'm kind of like book Lothario.  Once I've read them, I don't want them anymore and will freely pass them on for the next reader to enjoy.

Anyway, the list.  And in no particular order.

1.  We Need To Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver
As an educator, I hope I never, ever, ever run into Kevin Khatchadourian.  He makes me glad I never had my own kids.  I ran into a couple of him while I was practicing law. I had actually read this book a couple of years ago.  The second time was even more gripping.    This book is disturbing, but I could not put it down.  The characters were so real to me.  Kevin commits a stunning act of violence and it changes his whole family.  The book is written in letters from Kevin's mother to his father, who are not together at the time of the writing.  They have been separated because of Kevin's crime.  What we see as readers is the romance of two mismatched people who followed the script of the particular cultural time in which they came of age.  Then they had a baby.  And oh, boy!  My book club read this and we were arguing about Kevin and Eva like our grandmothers used to do with the soap operas.  The writing was superb and it was stunning in its beauty and its horror.  I wish I could write like Lionel Shriver. Kevin stayed with me for a long time.

2.  Big Little Lies - Liane Moriarty

I've been reading Liane Moriarty since What Alice Forgot, and each book just gets better and better.  She's a master storyteller. On the surface, it's a story about a group of Australian mums and the politics of their children's private school.  But it is so much deeper than that.  I am always surprised by her endings and the writing is the kind that keeps me up at night to finish.  The characters are richly drawn, the suspense is subtle, yet masterful and you will literally yell, "Aha!" when you see how it all ends.  She is a budding Maeve Binchy.

3.  Out To Lunch - Stacey Ballis

I'm not a big romance book reader and the formulaic, unrealistic escapism is not my general style.  I like my love stories to be real and for the characters to be well developed.  This is a love story on many levels - romantic love, platonic love, love between best friends, love of animals and love of life.  Apparently,  Ms. Ballis has a number of books with the food theme.  I'll be reading them on a beach or some reasonable facsimile of one this summer.  A great book with a great and unexpected ending.

4.  Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? - Roz Chast

I read this book for the same reason I read a lot of books -- I heard about it on NPR.  A graphic novel that is, well, graphic in depicting a relationship that we will all face if we are lucky.  Roz Chast chronicles the last few years of her elderly parents' lives and how, as an only child born late in her parents' childbearing lives, she has to deal with caring for them while retaining their dignity, bank account and her sanity.  I meant to just go into Barnes and Noble and read the first chapter to see if it was something that I wanted to buy.  And hour and a half later, I was sitting on the floor in the magazine section laughing and crying as I finished it. (Sorry, B&N.  I'm one of "those people.").  If you've ever looked over at a parent and realized that they are not in their 40's any longer, you will enjoy this book.  This is probably the best book that I read all year, if we're concerned about that type of thing here.

5. The Boy Who Cried Fabulous!- Lesléa Newman, Illustrated by Peter Ferguson

Okay, so as an elementary school librarian, I read a ton of children's books.  Story time is one of my greatest joys and bar none my favorite part of the job.  This book is so great.  It teaches use of adjectives, celebrating differences, being true to yourself and tolerance.  It is Shrek-like in the message that goes to kids' brains and the message the adults totally get.  Roger loves describing the world around him with his very favorite word, "Fabulous!'.  When that word is taken from him, Roger reacts in a way in which we both laugh at and cheer on.  I absolutely loved this book and my kids loved it too. Fabulous!

6.  Chestnut Street - Maeve Binchy

Reading this book was bittersweet and sad for me.  I have loved Maeve Binchy since first reading her in college and was stunned to learn of her death in the summer of 2012.  This is her last book, a collection of stories about people in a related neighborhood.  This is a hallmark style of Binchy and one that I love.  She takes the mundane and makes the best story.  See, I'm talking about her like she's still with us!  Anyway, her husband published this book through her estate, and I've heard rumors that she was like Prince, in that she had several unpublished stories and manuscripts completed at the time of her death.  So, hopefully, this isn't the last we'll hear from the great Ms. Binchy.  In this book, we learn the truth about a faraway aunt, how a mum really supports herself financially and emotionally, and how various Irish blokes and lasses handle the beds they've made to lie in.  Storytelling at its best.

7.  The Divorce Papers - Susan Rieger

The way this books is written, you will either instantly love it or hate it.  It is a novel written through emails, letters, text messages and other written communication.  In inept hands, this is a disaster.  However, Susan Rieger gives us a brilliant novel about divorce, family, love and floating along this journey of life.  A young lawyer at a white-shoe firm is tasked with handling the divorce of a long-time client.  The only problem - she's a criminal lawyer who's never done a divorce.  Hilarity ensues.

8.  Eleanor and Park - Rainbow Rowell

I was shamed into reading this book by one of my professors in library school and starting reading it with the worst attitude. I know that it's the 'cool' thing for adults to read tons of YA.  I'm not one of those adults.  I do not pine for my teenage years, which were mostly awkward.  Except for my first love.   But by page 2, I was searching for my Walkman and some old mixtapes.  In this amazing, crazy, beautiful book, it's 1986 and Asian-American Park meets new, and kind of weird, redheaded, thriftshop-outfitted Eleanor on the school bus.  We hear from both Eleanor and Park in this book, and for those of us who came of age in the 80's, the backdrop is super cool.  But it's the voices, the words, the images of those two.  If you ever had your first great love as a teenager, this book will break your heart.  It will play with your emotions.  You'll go dig up some Spandau Ballet. You'll never be the same.  I promise.

9.  Pete The Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons - by Eric Litwin, art by James Dean

Before I started working as a school librarian, I was talking to a children's public librarian about some great books for the littles.  With reverence I save for talking about God or, say, Prince, she told me with a straight face that Pete the Cat was her personal hero.  I backed away slowly, thought to myself, 'What a whackadoodle!' and politely walked away.  Then I read this book.  Pete is truly the coolest cat in the whole world.  He knows for sure, and convinces us, that buttons come and buttons go, but we need to just keep it moving.  Also, if you want instant street cred with the PreK-2 crowd, read a Pete story.  They will come delightfully unhinged!

10.  Golden Boy - Abigail Tarttelin

I can't say too much about this little gem of a book I found while browsing the shelves.  I liked the cover.  But I LOVED the book.  I can't say too much because I might give it away.  So, I'll say this: Boy, Sex, Identity, Love, Intersex, Brotherhood, Unintended Consequences.

Okay, so this was fun to write.  Later this week, I'll post about the books I'm most excited about for 2015.


  1. Shannan, your enthusiasm is palpable and I eagerly await your next post. Thanks for the recommendations!

    1. Thank you so much! I really appreciate it.

  2. Love the list! Will share with my new book club! ~Shannon

    1. Thanks! I look forward to hearing your thoughts.