20-ish Top Reads of 2018

“Clear the decks!” crows Mom. “It’s Best Books time!”

She may be a bit confused. Ever since my puppy days it’s been “deck the halls” this time of year. Well. You know how moms are. Especially when someone asks, “Which kid is your favorite?”

Okay, okay. So no one put it quite like that. But plenty have asked which books are her favorite. “It’s almost the same thing,” sniffs Mom.

Hah, bumhug! says I.

Arf you may know, Mom met her 2018 reading challenge last week: 365 books in one year. People keep asking which “kids” are her favorite from that long, long list. (For background, see: When They Tell You It’s “Impossible.” Also see: How I Read 100+ books in 90 days.)

I’m kinda curious myself. I gave her the puppy eyes look.

Works every time.

So ‘clear the decks’ for Mom’s Top Reads of 2018.

Warning: “That ‘top 20’ thing’s just not gonna happen,” says Mom.

Indeed, competition for a spot on Mom’s ‘totally subjective, 100% unscientific’ list was fierce. So bow-wow-ish, in fact, that Mom divided the list into four basic categories:

  1. Best Fiction
  2. Best Non-Fiction
  3. Best Series
  4. Favorite Authors.

Also Honorable Mentions.

Each book earned its respective spot based on quality of writing, creativity and poignancy, superior characterizations, outstanding, unique plots and overall excellence. And Just Plain Fun. (Note: No book that brainlessly, repeatedly deploys gratuitous profanity ever makes Mom’s “best” list. She calls that “sloppy-writing-lazy.” Hah, bumhug again.)

365 books in one year. And then some! November 27, 2018.

Anyway, Mom’s Top Books Read in 2018 are,in no particular order:

Best Fiction

  1. Hattie Big Sky – Kirby Larson
  2. Time for Andrew – Mary Downing Hahn
  3. A Dog Called Homeless – Sarah Lean
  4. Run Far, Run Fast – Walt Morey
  5. The Incredible Journey – Sheila Burnford
  6. There Come a Soldier Peggy Mercer
  7. Wolf by Wolf – Ryan Graudin
  8. Anchor in the Storm – Sarah Sundin
  9. The Wood – Chelsea Bobulski
  10. Man O’War – Walter Farley
  11. The Journey Back – Priscilla Cummings
  12. Sarah Bishop, Thunder Rolling in the Mountains – Scott O’Dell
  13. The Adoration of Jenna Fox – Mary Pearson
  14. Ever the Hunted– Erin Summerill
  15. Hoot – Carl Hiassen
  16. Dividing Eden – Joelle Charbonneau
  17. The Velveteen Rabbit – Margery Williams
  18. Unwind – Neal Shusterman

Re-reading a seasonal favorite, “The Christmas Box,” by Richard Paul Evans.

Best Nonfiction

  1. A Prisoner and Yet – Corrie ten Boom
  2. The Kite Runner (historical fiction) – Khaled Hosseini
  3. The Black Dogs Project – Fred Levy
  4. Before Amen – Max Lucado
  5. My Family for the War (historical novel) – Anne Voorhoeve
  6. Great Lodges of the National Parks – Christine Barnes
  7. Hidden Child – Isaac Millman

Best Series

  1. The Misty of Chincoteague series – Marguerite Henry
  2. The Silver Brumby series – Elyne Mitchell
  3. Billy and Blaze books– C.W. Anderson
  4. The Jimmy Vega mystery series – Suzanne Chazin
  5. Black Stallion series– Walter Farley
  6. The Survivors series – Erin Hunter
  7. Fire and Thorns trilogy – Rae Carson

Favorite Authors

Honorable Mentions

Well, woof the deck! Or something. All this reading and book-ing makes me hungry. About that leftover pot roast… You gonna eat that?

 

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5 Cool Authors for Cold Weather and Turkey Leftovers

I was just a young pup last Thanksgiving. Chewing on slippers. Dish towels. Wayward fingers. Learning Come. Down. Jump. Sit and Stay. Also how to jitterbug. That just kinda happened. I mean, who can listen to In the Mood sitting still?

Anyway. I’m coming up on two and a half years now. So I’m leaving all that baby stuff behind. Well, some of it. But I’ve gotten pretty good at chasing fallen leaves. Wearing that stupid “doggie jacket” Mom insists on when the temperature drops below forty degrees. Swiping turkey leftovers when no one’s lookin’.

Even though it’s cold and crisp outside, it’s not all bad. A neighbor’s cat, Sir Puddleglum, is staying indoors most of the time. (That’s not the orange tabby’s real name. I just call him that because it gets his goat. Or his cat nip. Whatever.)

Anyway again. Apple cider. Crunching leaves. Snoozing by the fireplace. Mom says fall is a great time to re-read some favorite authors. She showed me her list. I’m passing it on to you at no extra charge. (Don’t tell anyone.)

5 Cool Authors for Cold Weather (in no particular order):

1. Earl Hamner, Jr.

Hamner is best known as the creator, executive producer, and warm narrative voice of The Waltons. He wrote several books, including the autobiographical Spencer’s Mountain and The Homecoming. The latter inspired the movie of the same name. It became the pilot that launched The Waltons. You can almost hear the snow fall… G’night John Boy…

2. Jill Hucklesby

Never heard of her? Me neither. Until Mom swooped into the library and yanked Samphire Song off a shelf. The librarian said it was on the “weeding” (death) list. She felt sorry for it. Read it. Loved it. Said it’s brisk. Engaging. Beautifully written, with memorable characters. The story revolves around a young girl, Jodie, and her half-wild stallion, Samphire. Both are damaged. They inch their ways toward healing together.

3. John Eldredge

A multi-published author of best sellers like Wild at Heart, John is a Mom perennial favorite. He has a warm, cogent, and down-to-earth writing style. Bonus points: I hear John’s a Dog Guy.

4. Richard Paul Evans

Mom says this guy is a prolific, award-winning author perhaps best known for The Christmas Box. Richard publishes a book every year, usually when temperatures start dropping. Says Mom: Richard’s gentle, uplifting stories are a great choice for curl-up-near-the-fireplace reading!

5. Gary Paulsen

Looking for larger-than-life outdoor adventure told with a keen eye for detail and a gritty, spunky writing style? Gary Paulsen’s your guy, according to Mom. His many books include The Hatchet series, Dogsong, Harris and Me, Woodsong, and Winterdance.

Even Sir Puddleglum can’t complain about that.

Hey. You gonna to finish that turkey sandwich? Askin’ for a friend.

8 Fabulous Fiction Reads for Fall!

“Fall is in the air!” Mom announced the other day. I’m not sure what that means, exactly. But Mom is skipping merrily around the house, chirping about “fall colors,” “sweater weather” and “hot chocolate.” I’d be just as happy with a nice, thick New York steak. Whatever.

I figure it’s only a matter of time until Mom breaks out that stupid red and white polka-dot thingy she hauls me into whenever we go out in cold weather. Pay off: Coming home to cozy spot in front of a nice, warm fireplace.

Anyway, Mom says fall is a great time to grab a hot cuppa whatever and curl up next to a roaring fire with a good book! She’s got a list. Checked it twice. (I helped. The first list didn’t smell right.)

Here are some of Mom’s top fiction picks for the season. Mostly YA. In no particular order:

The Lost Letter – Jillian Cantor

Based on the work of the Austrian resistance to Nazi invaders via postage stamps (stamps!), this historical novel bridges two continents and 50 years. It spans 1938/39 Austria and 1989+ Southern California and Wales in two distinct, overlapping storylines.

The 1939 story follows a bittersweet romance between young Kristoff, an apprentice engraver, and master engraver Frederick Faber’s beautiful, audacious daughter, Elena.

Fast forward 50 years to a “nearly divorced” reporter “Kate the Great,” her philatelist (stamp collector) father, Ted, and a mysterious letter with a secret in its stamp. Unopened and unmailed, the letter is addressed to a woman in an Austrian town that no longer exists. Why?

This bittersweet story chronicles the indomitability of the human spirit, enduring hope, and ageless love. Riveting!

Legend – Marie Lu

Taut and engaging, with well-rounded characters and plenty “didn’t see that comin'” surprises.

The plot grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go until the final Sydney Carton-ish pages. You may want to buckle up tight for this roller coaster ride. (And yes, Chian, Commander Jameson and a certain Republic captain are pond scum. Some orphans, Sitz fighters and brothers are not.)

Out of the Dust – Karen Hesse

Powerful and poignant, this award-winning story is set in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl of the Great Depression. The author’s masterful use of spare free verse propels this story right off the pages. You can almost taste the dust and hear Billie Jo’s piano.

The Secret Sky: A Novel of Forbidden Love in Afghanistan –  Atia Abawi

Cruelty. Kindness. Despair. Hope.  Menacing evil. Compassion and courage. Ancient rivalries and new wounds. This story them all. And when a Hazara girl, Fatima, and a Pashtun boy, Samiullah, fall in love in war-time Afghanistan, there’s hell to pay. Especially from self-righteous Rashid, Sami’s cousin.

A heart-breaking, haunting story of forbidden love, loyalty, betrayal and hope.

A Torch Against the Night – Sabaa Tahir

An escaped slave girl and a ruthless warrior of the Empire form an unlikely alliance as they run for their lives. Together, Laia and Elias hatch a daring rescue of Laia’s brother, an artist with an eye for detail. Led by Elias’s former best friend and newly minted Blood Shrike, Hellene, the Black Guard is hot on their heels. So is Elias’s mother, the ruthless, bloodthirsty Blackcliff Commandant. (She makes Lord Voldemort look like a piker.)

The second installment in the “Ember” series is a high octane read with plenty of room for a sequel. Brisk and compelling, the prose is as colorful as Mama Rila’s painted wagons, the plot twists as clever as a red-haired ally who may not be an ally after all. (Spoiler: the “torch” isn’t a What, but a Who. Don’t tell anyone.)

A gripping read from start to finish. You may want to stock up on bandaids. And tea with honey.

An Eagle in the Snow – Michael Morpugo

In a mountain tunnel outside London (1940),  a train waits out an attack from a German Messerschmidt 109. One car is occupied by a young boy, Barney, his Ma, and a mysterious “stranger” with matches. The boy and his Ma are fleeing the night’s bombing of Coventry which destroyed their home and killed Barney’s father.

To keep the frightened young boy’s mind off the suffocating darkness, the stranger unravels a tale about a fellow orphan, Billy Byron, and his experiences during the first world war. They include Byron’s merciful choice to allow a German corporal with a mustache to walk away from the end of the Battle of Marcoing as the WWI concludes. Byron is horrified when the corporal resurfaces years later as Der Fuhrer.

A classic What If? story.

Library of Lost Souls – Ransom Riggs

Library of Souls” serves up a fantastical smorgasborg of plucky heroes and heroines like Jacob and Emma, stubborn ymbrenes like Miss Peregrine, dastardly, double-crossing siblings (Caul and Bentham), and incredible  adventures amid a riveting plot peppered with alternate realities. It packs a wallop from start to finish. The prose is also top-notch, with enough dry humor and rapier wit to thaw the chilliest Yeth-faru or wake the worst ambro addict.

This may be the best book in the entire “Peculiar” series.

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia – Candace Fleming

Almost Shakespeare-eque in its scope, depth, and sense of tragedy, this is a history that reads like a novel. Meticulously researched and thoroughly documented, this intriguing look at Russia’s last tsar and his family may be the definitive work on the subject.

Candace Fleming pierces the veil of mystery and secrecy surrounding the final, tragic fate of the Romanovs with primary source material, a generous amount of photos, and great dignity. If you want to better understand what happened to Russia’s last family dynasty and why, this book is for you.

What would you add?

***

Now if I can just remember where Mom stashed that steak. Hmmm.