Thursday, December 31, 2015

Must Read in 2015 - Final Update

HUGE HUGE thanks to Carrie for organizing this.  It's one of my favorite readery things I do all year (even though I'm never very good at completing it!)  Check out There's a Book for That for the roundups.

Here is my original list of #MustReadin2015 titles (I added The Carnival at Bray later)

I picked 56 books (Way too many) and here are the ones I've already mentioned in previous updates:

Update #1 (I read 9) 

Update #2 (I read 2!) 

Update #3 (I read 9 again) 

First I wanted to show off a little bit of how I kept track of my #MR titles all year:

I printed out 2 sheets of all the covers on my list and put a sticker with an "R" stamped on it when I read each title, so I could see at a glance how I was doing.

I also printed out a list with all the titles, arranged in ascending order of page number (I am always most apt to read short books first!)  I also designated where I could get each book, whether my library had the audio or an ebook, etc.  Then I tried to keep a list going of what order I wanted to read my next few, but that usually ended up being disregarded.

This is always the hardest time of year for me to read older books, because all the best books of the year lists come out, my library FINALLY has most of the big books of the year available, and I always want to read the books people are discussing for awards.

I did, however, manage to finish 6 more #MR titles:

Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages ****
It was a three star book until I read the end which I thought was one of the most quietly powerful endings I've ever read in a children's book. Dewey is a great character, sciency, shy, and smart (although it did take me a little while to warm up to her) and Suze's mom is one of my new favorite characters in all children's literature, supportive, intelligent, and good; but not typical and certainly not wholesome (so much smoking, drinking, and swearing!). Suze was a brat at first, she improved as the story went along, but I never warmed up to her after her extreme selfishness at the beginning of the story. Klages did a good job of making the friendship between the two girls make sense and arise organically, though. All around, the relationships were well done. The setting is superb and I thought most of the history was incorporated quite well, especially the moral debates about everything happening on The Hill.
I wish some of the other characters had a bit more scenes, especially the boys and men, and it struck me as odd that every female I remember besides the main three were pretty horrible. My main problem with the book though, is hard to explain. The reason I didn't care for Dewey at first was she seemed such a sad sack kid. It was like I was supposed to immediately feel sorry for her because she had such a bad life, and then her life just kept getting worse and worse til I finally just became numb to all her problems. I don't think so much personal tragedy for one character was needed, especially with so much historic tragedy going on all around. The writing switched tenses a few times, all the sudden going from past to present and back again, which pulled me out of the story each time it happened. It is a very small complaint, but worth mentioning.
Oh! and I LOVE the title. It's immensely relevant yet mysterious unless you've read the whole story

Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox ****
I found the setting/world difficult to grasp and had a lot of questions about How Things Work but the writing is lovely and the story unique and engaging. Laura and Rose are fabulous protagonists and the sand man concept especially fascinates.

Railsea by China Miéville *****
This book is amazing. I'm not sure I loved reading it, or would ever call it one of my favorites, but it's such an awe-inspiring accomplishment of writing I can't not give it 5 stars. It starts out as a sort of YA dystopian version of Moby Dick (with trains) and ends up a sort of YA fantasy version of Mad Max (with trains) and the places it goes in between are frightening and brilliant. Just the basic usage of words and construction of sentences are sights to behold. Phenomenal.

Requiem by Lauren Oliver **
Of all the trilogies I've started, I'm not sure why this is the one I decided to come back to and finish after several years - it was one of the more unfortunate reading decisions I've made. The Hana portions were the best, I thought, and adding her perspective made the story much more interesting, but I felt like no one in the Lena portions had any character development at all. Mostly, though, the premise here (love being considered an illegal disease), has SO MUCH potential for provocative questions, but that potential is blatantly squandered. Relationships are uncomfortably shallow; barely examined and then dropped only to come back inexplicably changed 50 pages later. There are so many important moral conundrums here that aren't acknowledged at all in favor of a mediocre action story. The plot is all manipulation and coincidence, and there's an appalling lack of romance for a book about love. So disappointing.

How to Lead a Life of Crime by Kirsten Miller ****
Wasn't convinced til about 60% in when a seemingly supporting character comes back with a vengeance and completely turns the whole story upside down. I love how Miller plays around with her protagonist - Flick is decent and talented and smart - but also kind of the embodiment of entitled white male ego. Although he has all the trappings and inclinations of a hero, the plot ends up going in an unexpected but refreshingly clever way. Total willing suspension of disbelief is necessary, and it really bothered me that in a book this violent they felt the need to dash out all the swear words, but, still, inventive and fun and horrifying and very very cunning.

Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes **
I feel like I would have liked this better had I read it back in 2009 when it was first published.  Now I've read so many books with similar voices (angsty - yet secretly "decent" - white teen boy from a small town and a problem family Copes With Life) that deal with the same themes but in more nuanced, understanding, and revealing ways - there's a lot of homophobic slurs and misogynistic attitudes that are just sort-of-not-really refuted.  I had a lot of little problems with it (does EVERY character have to have the Worst Family Ever, and could there really not be one adult woman who didn't act like a toddler, and sure, ok, their therapy group is useless but isn't it damaging to imply that the only thing these really messed up kids need to get by are equally messed up friends, and were the animal violence parts really necessary AT ALL?)  Also, it's really REALLY long and yet I don't feel like I actually know any of the characters besides Karl and his mother (who are admittedly, very well drawn).  It's certainly readable, and has some vivid details, and I know readers who thought Karl's voice completely funny and charming, but this just wasn't for me.

So I ended up reading 26 out of 56 which is not good, but much better than last year when I read 3.  Yay improvement!

I gave 5 stars to 9 books
4 stars to 7
3 stars to 5
and 2 stars to 5
(rounding half stars up)

I read a lot I didn't like, and a lot I did, but these were my very favorites:

Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner
Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedwick

I read
8 books published in 2014
8 in 2013
2 in 2012
1 in 2009
1 in 2008
1 in 2007
2 in 2006
1 in 2004
1 in 2001
 and 1 in 1997

I'd like to try to read some more older classics in 2016, although I do think #MR is a great opportunity to catch up on some titles I missed the previous year.


  1. I have Tales of the Madman Underground on my shelf right now. I was a little freaked out by the length when I picked it up from the library. Your review doesn't inspire me either. But, I have been reading all of the Printz award & honor books and it's one of only two I have left, so I will trudge through. :)

    1. Of definitely read it! Especially if you're that close to all the Printz books (that's why I read it as well). And several people I know did really enjoy it.

  2. Wow did I love reading about your organization! Impressive! Maggot Moon was also an incredible read for me. Hard, but incredible. Thanks for participating this year and I look forward to your list in 2016!

  3. I love the way you printed out the covers. It seems as if it would be really inspiring. There are several titles I'll put on my list now because of your recommendations. Happy Reading in 2016.

  4. I loved your chart for keeping track of the books you read!

  5. I'm personally quite impressed at the 26 books you DID read! I also must say that I laughed out loud reading your description of Railsea. You speak of it being so well-written, but YOU have a lot of voice in YOUR writing as well! :) The Green Glass Sea is a book I've felt I "ought" to read for a long time, but I have yet to do it.... Maybe I'll add it to my 2016 list. Like you, I get pretty excited about the new books from everyone's "Best of..." lists, and have a hard time not filling my MR list with those titles. Thanks for sharing! Oh! And thanks for sharing your system! Do you hang that in your classroom? (Notice how I assumed you are a teacher...???) It would be a great way to model your reading habit for your kids. I'm thinking of copying you (whether you are a teacher or not)!


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