Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Books of Christmas (Just) Past

Technically, it's only the seventh day of Christmas, so it's okay to still be posting about it.

Fa la la la la.

Books I gave this Christmas

The latest illustrated Harry Potter, to my daughter, to read together.

The latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid, to my son.

A signed copy of Thick as Thieves, to my sister.

Want by Cindy Pon and Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson to my TBTB Secret Santa.


I helped my daughter pick out Death by Toilet Paper and another book that I have temporarily forgotten to give to her cousin.

Born a Crime, to a good friend who has a December birthday.

Bookish Gifts I Received

Unbored Games, for my family from my sister's family. It looks quite good.

A 1946 edition of a Latvian poetry book for exiles, gifted, according to the inscription, to a fifth grade student, from another sister's family.

#NotYourPrincess and Dear Martin, from my TBTB Secret Santa.


A book of essays about knitting (including one by Sue Grafton, whom I am truly sad about losing) from my colleague.

This pair of socks, from an old friend. Where do I wear them? Not to school, sadly.

And--grand finale!--the promise of my very own painting of the Oregon bookshelf of my dreams, done by my talented and creative husband. 

Very excited about this. Which reminds me, I need to finish knitting him his socks.

Bonus Section: Late December Favorites

Since I wrote up my best-of lists for 2017 I came across two more 5 star gems. 

The Language of Thorns
I have loved two of the author's books and been too bored by another to continue that particular series, so I had no idea if I'd love or hate her book of fairy tales told within her fantasy world.

LOVED IT. I really need to make another attempt at the Grisha trilogy, because I've been so blown away by everything else Bardugo has written. These tales are beyond fractured or twisted; she takes familiar stories in entirely new directions, unveiling secrets and hidden truths I never would have imagined. I also loved the illustrations, which grow mysteriously along with the tales.

The Watsons Go To Birmingham--1963
Somehow I always thought this book looked like one of those awkwardly earnest "race" books of my childhood. I also thought, fairly enough, that it would be mostly about the trip to Birmingham, when actually the first 2/3 of the book is a mostly hilarious, sometimes poignant, look at family life in Flint. All of which only highlights the horror of the events in Birmingham. I wonder how much is autobiographical. The brutal older brother seems too intense for a light-hearted fictional family.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

It's Like the End of a Horror Movie

...because you may have thought I was dead and gone, but...surprise! I'm still here!

Also, there is no major tragic reason why I've been offline for nearly a month. I just was, okay? There are some complicated family things going on, and it was the holidays, and I was trying to get a pair of socks knitted by Christmas, and I had a bunch of reading to do, and then it just got away from me.


You know what the sweetest part is though? Nicole of Feed Your Fiction Addiction actually contacted me to see if I was okay.


I spent most of the day today putting together a list of titles for the Popsugar Reading Challenge, which is hilarious, because I'm notoriously bad at doing challenges where you have to read specific things. Still, it was fun, and it made me excited to read (which is also hilarious because hello? I kind of read a lot already?)

I've also come to the sad realization that I will NOT be making it to my Mt. TBR goal, which was 75 books.  17 books in 28 hours is a bit much even for the dedicated and speedy reader I pride myself in being. However, 54 books, the amount of books I read from my classroom library, is nearly 1/4 of all the books I read this year, and THAT is a good thing, right?

I'm tossing around some ideas about New Years and 2018. Not quite resolutions or goals, but just...things to consider trying.  Like controlling what I buy for my classroom better, not to mention controlling my shopping overall. Like maybe experimenting with a return to the process of checking out a bunch of books from the library and then READING OR RETURNING those books before I check out more.

The last couple of months I have started soooo many books that I never finished. Some at home, some at school. Audiobooks in the car. Read alouds with each kid, as well as with each class. Books I started too late and had to return. Books I forgot I was reading and so I started reading other books. This might be part of why I basically stopped writing, or it might be another symptom of whatever malaise was keeping me from blogging. A complete lack of focus will do that to you. I know I do best with routines in place, but then I get resentful of having all these restrictions placed on me. Because, apparently, I'm 13. (Direct quote from my kid: "Stop telling me what to do. You know it makes me want to do the opposite.")

Here are a few posts you can expect hope to see from me in the next week.

  • The five star books that snuck in after I'd written up all my five stars of 2017
  • Books I gave as gifts this Christmas
  • Mt. TBR formal wrap-up post
  • New Years Tag bastardized from AJ's tag on Read All the Things
  • photos of those socks AS SOON AS I FINISH KNITTING THEM
  • lists of books I've been asked to provide lately 
  • thoughts about what challenges I will or will not be involved in this year

*high fives self for finally getting a blog post up*


Sunday, December 10, 2017

My Ideal Oregon Bookshelf

Have you spent any time drooling over browsing the Ideal Bookshelf website?

The artist who runs it paints bookshelves.  Not like this:

but like, a painting of a bookshelf. With your favorite books on it.  Like this:

I can't even begin to explain how grabby-hands this idea makes me.  When I first discovered the site, I kept scrolling though, hoping against hope that one of their already-designed options would be Just Right. But no, each shelf I found, no matter how delightful in general, was either missing something vital or added something I couldn't consider ideal. (The above image is pretty darn close, I must say, but I'd want to add more contemporary work as well, not just wallow in nostalgia.)

Much like daydreaming about what you'd do if you won the lottery, I sometimes waste an afternoon designing an Ideal Bookshelf painting. My favorite concept is the Oregon authors shelf.  I don't actually have images of the book spines, but if I ever have a couple of hundred bucks to spend on a self-indulgent piece of art, I'd choose:

Oregon Geographic Names by Lewis A. McArthur
The River Why by David James Duncan
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
Winterkill by Craig Lesley
This Side of Home by Renée Watson
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
A Girl from Yamhill and Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary
Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver
Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff
The Jump-off Creek by Molly Gloss
Girl, Stolen by April Henry
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
Stubborn Twig by Lauren Kessler
The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel
Stories that Could Be True by William Stafford
Don't Worry; He Won't Get Far on Foot by John Callahan
Arctic Dreams by Barry López
Gentle Ben by Walt Morey
The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters
Bargain Bride by Evelyn Sibley Lampman
Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol
Lowriders to the Center of the Earth by Cathy Camper
Fire at Eden's Gate by Brent Walth
The Program by Suzanne Young

What a beautiful shelf that would be, and how proud I am of these authors. It would also be a really full and expensive shelf, which is why it's arranged very generally from Most Ideal to Ideal But Maybe Not Required.  

Mmm. Now I want to do a "childhood favorites" shelf, and maybe also a "21st Century YA" shelf.  Yes? 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

All The Stars: My Most Favorite Books of 2017

This is Mt. Hood at sunrise. I pulled over on my commute the other day to take this picture.

Mt. Hood is my place. It's a lot of people's place, of course, but that doesn't make it any less mine. It is, as you can see, somewhat near where I live, but it's not like I live THERE.

I'm trying to shoehorn this photo into this blog post by saying that most reading is like this view. Wonderful. But not all the way there. Good enough. Yet not as perfect as it could be.

This is Mt. Hood from the side of the mountain. (That's me and my sister a good 40 years ago.) This picture was taken on the north side of Mt. Hood, at about 6,000 ft. elevation, at a place that is very special to my family. We scattered my parents' ashes right here. My love for this place is what causes my heart to lift every time I see the peak on the skyline from town.

The Beyond-Five-Star books are like that. I can't live there, but I've been there a lot. Really good books are glimpses and reminders of what it's like to read one of those books that cracks my heart right open. In a good way.  Out of the over 200 books I've read this year, these are six that just bowled me right over. When I finished these books, I hugged them.

Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart.
I picked this up at the library on my way home from seeing Penny Kittle, writer of Book Love and founder of the BookLove Foundation, speak. She booktalked several books, including this one, and I got all of the ones that were available at the library to read that weekend. This one stood out in so many ways. It's middle grade at its best, which is to say just as full of heart and struggle and growth and loss as any other great work of literature. 

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah.
I listened to this on audiobook, and it was definitely the way to go. Trevor Noah's voice and accent, his humor and storytelling abilities, make it feel like he's really just talking to you. This is not like any sort of celebrity biography I've ever read, in large part because it ends well before he becomes famous. There's no name-dropping or awkward sex stories. Instead it is exactly what is says: stories about growing up in a time and place when kids like him were not supposed to exist. It's also a very moving tribute to his mom--yes, even the story that starts with her throwing him from a moving vehicle. I actually bought a copy of this book for myself, which is something I pretty much never do.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
This was a re-read, part of the summer Book Love Facebook book club. It's a book that holds up well to re-reading, as it allows you to move beyond plot and the gorgeous pyrotechnics of Alexander's wordplay. This is a beautiful coming-of-age novel, with a young man who faces many losses beyond the obvious one. He also starts to forge his own path, figuring out who he is and how to live comfortably within his own skin while still maintaining relationships with those who love him, but might still see him as the child he once was, not the young man he's becoming.

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy
I know that Dumplin' is still her famous book, but I love Ramona even more than I love Dumplin'. She's seriously poor and seriously smart and seriously trying to keep it all together. Her entire life continues to be affected by the destruction of Hurricane Katrina early in her childhood. Her comfort with herself as a lesbian is being challenged by her attraction to a boy. There is a LOT going on in this book, and Murphy handles it all deftly and with tender respect. The setting is vivid and memorable without being gimmicky, and oh, Ramona swims. What's not to love?

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertali.
Wait, what, another YA contemporary with a bright and fierce teen girl at its center? And they both were the best of the best?  Well, yes. I was rooting for Ramona with all my heart, but I freaking AM Molly. I mean, I didn't grow up in a complete rainbow household and have to choose between two boys, but her entire approach to romance (treat any crushes like a shameful secret) is exactly the one I employed for the first, oh, thirty years of my life. I could just relate SO HARD to her. Her insecurities, her defensive strategies, her love of crafting and baking...I feel like she's the sister of my soul.  

Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White by Melissa Sweet.
I love E. B. White. I had a boxed set of his children's books that I read over and over as a kid, and when I got older I tracked down old New Yorker essays. I read Elements of Style for his contributions alone, I started reading James Thurber because he was White's colleague, and I've read a biography or two along the way. This book is an engaging and fascinating look at his life. It's also a work of art and practically bristles with creativity and life. I would love it even if it were about someone I'd never heard of. I would love it even if it were presented in traditional nonfiction form. The combination of subject matter and innovative narrative make it absolutely stunning.

What books spoke to you this year?

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Falconer's Five-Star Favorites of 2017

Earlier in the week, I shared books I read this year that I originally rated 4.5 stars, but in retrospect, think should probably get all five stars.

Today I'm moving on to share my actual five star books. I could have divided these up any number of ways, but I went with fairly straight forward genre divisions.

Starred books were published in 2017. All books were read by me in 2017.  (All THESE books. I do read a lot, but I didn't read All Books.)  This is roughly 12% of what I read. Also, if I read any amazing books between now and Dec. 31, I'm just going to come on here and edit this.

I. Love. These. Books.


*The War I Finally Won
If I Ever Get Out of Here
The Smell of Other People's Houses


*One Dark Throne
Digger: The Complete Omnibus
Tales from Outer Suburbia
The Inquisitor's Tale
Three Dark Crowns
*A Conjuring of Light


*Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
A Prayer for Owen Meany


*Long Way Down
The Female of the Species
*The Inexplicable Logic of My Life
A List of Cages
The Sun is Also a Star
Flying Lessons and Other Stories
Goodbye Days


*You Don't Have To Say You Love Me: A Memoir
Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War
The Complete Maus
Blood Brothers: Jonathan Daniels and his Sacrifice for Civil Rights


Coming up next: the beyond five star books I fell in love with in the past year.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Rounding Up: When a 4.5 Star Book Makes a Bigger Impression than a 5 Star Book

See, my title is a fiendishly clever pun, because I'm "rounding up" the best books I've read (so far) this year, and I'm looking at all the 4.5 star books that have stuck with me so much that I'm tempted to just round up my rating to a 5. (Okay, "fiendishly" may be pushing it.)

But still. If you were to ask me, off the top of my head, to name some of the best books I've read this year, I KNOW I would mention Strange the Dreamer. Yet I rated other books higher. That means that either:

  • Time has dulled my memory of the slight quibbles I had with the book, but I rated it fairly at that point when it was all fresh in my mind

  • Despite whatever minor faults I found, the book was powerful enough that the good has outweighed the bad in my mind, so I should admit my mistake and rate it a 5.
On to my list of books that almost got 5 stars from me originally, and that probably would get five stars if I rated them based on my memory of them.

4.5 star reads of 2017 that have really stuck with me and probably just deserve all 5 stars:

Every Falling Star: The True Story of how I Survived and Escaped North Korea
Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America
My Life in Dog Years

Speculative Fiction
One Dark Throne
Not a Drop to Drink
Strange the Dreamer

Historical Fiction (also, is 9/11 historical? Yikes, I'm old.)
Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story
Burn Baby, Burn
The War that Saved My Life

All American Boys
I Hunt Killers

This is about 5% of what I read this past year, if my math is correct (and that's a pretty big if). So I don't feel too bad about promoting those few books to my elite status.

Coming soon: various categories of five star books, and the handful of books that made me shout, "ALL the stars!"

Sunday, December 3, 2017

November In Review

My Reading

# of books read: 20

Best(s): best novel in verse: Long Way Down; best graphic novel: Anne of Green Gables; best sequel: The War I Finally Won; best #ownvoices novel: If I Ever Get Out Of Here

Mt. TBR progress: None. In my defense, I went to NCTE and was surrounded by NEW BOOKS.

Bookish Events and Happenings

I got to go to NCTE and meet a ton of amazing YA and MG authors and teacher leaders. That was pretty much the highlight of the year. I took pictures of authors and made a author calendar for my classroom. I have endured a fair amount of teasing about the number of pictures I posted, the way I'm grinning like a maniac in all of them, and how various friends and colleagues have no idea who these people are I was so excited to meet. My brother-in-law was super jealous of the Jason Reynolds selfie though, so there is that.  

My daughter and I wrapped a bunch of the books I brought home so my students can unwrap them day by day between now and winter break. I'm hoping this will build excitement without overwhelming them. 

On the Blog

Between traveling, reading, and starting to prep for the holidays, I haven't written very much. I had that one good month where I thought I was getting back on track, but November only saw me hit publish seven times.  I'm thinking ten times a month would be a good goal--it would mean I'm posting at least twice a week. 


Yeah, once I finish talking about NCTE, I don't have a lot else to say about November. There's weird political crap going on at work. There's awful political crap going on in the world. My kids keep making cake. Thanksgiving was fine. 

My monthly summaries are always linked to the Monthly Wrap-Up Round-Up on Feed Your Fiction Addiction, along with many other terrific blogs' monthly reflections.  Nicole usually puts together a fun scavenger hunt giveaway too, so go check it out!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Photos Of Books At Bookstores

I find out about a lot of books from blogs. I know what all the "buzz" books are in my areas of interest. But what about all the great books that for whatever reason don't get the buzz?

This is why I still go to bookstores and take pictures of covers. I can't buy all of them, of course, but I can put them on my Goodreads to-read list, I can see if the library has them in, I can learn more about them, I can run them by my students to gauge their interest level.

That's the theory, anyway. Sometimes all it means is that about 75% of the photos on my phone at any given moment are of books. (The remaining 25% is from when my daughter demands I take a picture of her doing something silly.)

But now I've thought of something else I can do with those pictures--I can share them with you! Who better to share book love and cover lust with, right?

This one is so obscure, the Goodreads account has no cover picture and only 2 ratings. 

This is a weird title presentation. The "laughing at me" is smaller, and I have no idea why there's an ellipses. Also, when I checked Goodreads, the vast majority of the first 20 reviews are in Arabic. What's up with that? 

This one is a memoir of being a child slave. Unlike other books on the topic I've read, this includes being smuggled into California to continue serving the family that had bought her. 

Another memoir of a horrible childhood. My students tend to like this kind of stuff.

Sci fi with Native American protagonist. Mixed reviews. I heard Bruchac speak at NCTE (have I mentioned this cool conference I went to yet? Oh, a dozen times?  Whoops!) and was not as impressed as I was with most of the author/speakers. Still, interesting concept.

A graphic novel about a writer ghostwriting the memoirs of a cat. Yep.

I suspect that one's gut response to the title will predict how much one enjoys the book.

This Schneider Family award winning book is about two girls aging out of their school's special ed program and becoming roommates. Again, wildly divisive reviews. This is one reason why i don't read reviews until after I finish a book.

Dragons in modern day, who feed of carbon emissions. Football players who slay dragons. 

I actually have about three photos of this on my phone, because apparently it keeps catching my eye. Might be time to get it soon.

 So, what do you think? Is this interesting or no? Because I could put together another 3-4 posts like this, easily, with what is currently on my phone. It was kind of fun to look each of them up and remind myself what it was that made me grab a photo in the first place.

 And, just to wind this up, here's a picture of how my daughter styled my hair this morning. Please excuse the mess. But it's kind of like one of those Highlights hidden pictures things--how many books can you spot?