Eleven for 2011

2011 was a big year for me and the blog–lots of changes and lots of new milestones. I started posting author interviews, I was quoted on a real live book, the blog turned four. I even started tagging my posts! Since I really enjoyed sharing my top books from 2010 (and since it seemed like a fitting way to close out the year on the blog) I give you my eleven favorite books from 2011:

  1. The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta: This was one of my most anticipated books for 2011. Aside from being by Melina Marchetta–it’s a companion to one of my all-time favorite books Saving Francesca. Given its spot on this list, you can probably guess that it lived up to my high expectations.
  2. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater: Maggie Stiefvater is one of the most personable authors I’ve ever encountered at a signing. When I got a copy of this book at BEA all I really knew was that everyone was excited about it and there were horses. But it’s so much more that than. A truly charming fantasy that fans of Diana Wynne Jones would do well to pick up.
  3. Strings Attached by Judy Blundell: Judy Blundell’s books are magic with their blend of noir, historical detail and New York City atmosphere. In addition to having one of my favorite covers, it also has my favorite last line of 2011.
  4. Goliath by Scott Westerfeld: If you read this blog regularly, you probably know my love for steampunk already. I loved Westerfeld’s books before this series but this wonderful conclusion to the Leviathan trilogy clinched it’s spot as my favorite of his series. Definitely my most-loved sequel this year.
  5. Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter: After The Piper’s Son, this book might have been my most anticipated 2011 release. It also played a huge role in getting me and Nicole over to Book Expo America for the first time. Sleek and smart, this book reminded me why Carter’s Heist Society books are my favorite ongoing series.
  6. The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson: (I didn’t want to put one author on this list twice but I should say that The Last Little Blue Envelope also garnered an honorable mention for being a sequel I loved more than the original book.) Eerie, suspenseful, funny and witty this book really showed Maureen Johnson at the top of her game. Also, it had Stephen–best character EVER.
  7. Always a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough: This book was a big part of my year as I was quoted on the galley copies (very exciting!). I love all of MacCullough’s books but this one combined a lot of most beloved elements with magic, time travel, history and New York City all in one slim volume full of fun.
  8. All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin: A clever take on fantasy in a dystopian setting complete with illegal chocolate. The whole book felt so real and evocative with characters that stay with you–I can’t wait to read the next book in this series.
  9. Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel: Zombies, steampunk, action, and romance! What more do you need for a fun, clever read?
  10. So Much Closer by Susane Colasanti: I feel like my summer was closely tied to this book as Nicole and I kept running into Ms. Colasanti at numerous signings and events promoting this book. Set in my own neighborhood, this romantic story was as much fun to read for the settings as it was for the characters and the story.
  11. Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg: Who doesn’t love Pride and Prejudice? This delightful retelling stays true to the original while adding fun twists to make it modern and unique. In addition to being my first Eulberg book, seeing Ms. Eulberg read from this one confirmed that I really, really want Elizabeth Eulberg to be my BFF.

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Demon’s Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan: Somehow it wouldn’t feel right to publish this post without mentioning this book as it was another highly anticipated book. (Not to mention that I finally got to see SRB at a signing!)
  • Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare: This will probably be the last book I read in 2011 and is part of my other favorite steampunk series (besides Leviathan). I haven’t reviewed it yet but it’s awesome so far!

I limited myself to books I read in 2011 that were published in 2011–but there were a lot of other great ones. There were actually a lot just from 2011 but I committed to eleven books so eleven books is all you get, dear readers.

Here’s to another year of great things for all of us and, of course, great books too in 2012!

Strings Attached: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Strings Attached by Judy BlundellKit Corrigan has a lot of hopes and dreams when she gets to New York City in the autumn of 1950. What she doesn’t have is a steady job, a room of her own, or any surety that she has what it takes to make it. Back in Providence, Rhode Island Kit left behind her family. She hasn’t heard from her boyfriend Billy, or her brother, since they enlisted.

It seemed like such a good idea to drop out of high school and move to New York and make her way in the theater. But maybe she wasn’t ready. Maybe she can’t do it all on her own.

Help comes from an unlikely source.

Nate Benedict has a way of fixing things. He is a lawyer and he makes problems go away for his clients and sometimes for his son, Billy, and Billy’s friends. He’s willing to help Kit and fix her relationship with Billy. For a price.

All he wants is a small favor in exchange for an apartment and a second chance. Nothing big.

Kit makes the easy choice. But before she knows it one small favor turns into another. And another. Until Kit is in so deep she isn’t sure if she can get out in Strings Attached (2011) by Judy Blundell.

Strings Attached is Blundell’s follow up to her National Book Award winning novel What I Saw and How I Lied. It is also just as much of a powerhouse.

This book has a complex structure interspersing Kit’s present in New York with chapters detailing key points in her past that led her to a point where accepting a favor from someone as notorious as Nate Benedict makes sense. The story, past and present, comes together seamlessly as Blundell unfolds a story filled with as much suspense and intrigue as any noir plot.

Strings Attached is an evocative look at an era and a place (both Providence and New York). Kit is a charming narrator who is both unashamed and candid. Filled with mystery and romance Strings Attached is an atmospheric novel that defies expectations and will draw readers in from the first line to the very last.*

*I don’t want to spoil anything but I have to say Strings Attached probably has my most favorite last paragraph . . . ever.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Paper Towns by John Green, Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson, New York City: A Short History by George J. Lankevich, Vixen by Jillian Larkin, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Mad Apple by Christina Meldrum, The Wessex Papers by Daniel Parker, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman, Double Indemnity (movie)

Exclusive Bonus Content: The book design, by Elizabeth B. Parisis, is also just as beautiful as What I Saw and How I Lied and features jacket photography by Michael Frost.

Ticket to Ride: A Book List

Do you dream of travel? Do you just want to go on a crazy trip now and then? These books will take you around town, cross country, and maybe even around the world without ever leaving your chair.

  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher: Clay Jensen always pined for Hannah Baker, but it’s only after it’s too late that he really understands her as he listens to thirteen tapes she left him mapping out their town as she experienced it and all of the events that led to her suicide.
  • What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell: The year is 1947 and everyone is eager to put the hardships of the War to End All Wars behind them. When Evie takes a trip with her mother and stepfather to Florida, she finds first love, secrets, and lies in this noirish read.
  • Heist Society by Ally Carter: Katarina Bishop knows all the angles and more than her fair share of cons. She even knows how to steal a legitimate education. But when her father is blamed for high profile theft, Kat will have to travel across Europe and put together her own heist society to clear his name and right some wrongs.
  • Bloomability by Sharon Creech: In her first life Dinnie lived with her family first in Kentucky, then Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana,Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, California and New Mexico. In her second life, Dinnie is whisked away to an eccentric international boarding school in Switzerland by her Aunt and Uncle.
  • A Room With a View by E. M. Forster: Lucy Honeychurch comes to Italy to see the art, broaden her cultural background, and admire the views. Instead what starts as a fight for a room with a view leads Lucy to witness a murder in the street and find an unexpected, and completely improper, romance.
  • An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (see also: Paper Towns): Colin Singleton is a former childhood prodigy and the former boyfriend of 18 girls. All named Katherine. Colin and his best friend Hassan set off on a road trip to help Colin forget his problems. Along the way he might even forget he only dates girls named Katherine.
  • North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley: From behind, Terra looks perfect. But looks can be deceiving. A chance encounter takes Terra and her mother out of their restrictive lives and on a once-in-a-lifetime journey through China where Terra might find real love and, even more importantly, herself.
  • Kitty Kitty by Michele Jaffe (see also: Bad Kitty): Jasmine is in Venice, the most romantic city in the world, and in a beautiful hotel to be home-schooled (not from her actual home) while she takes intensive Italian lessons and her father writes his definitive book on the history of . . . soap. Oh and there’s also the matter of a murder that needs to be solved.
  • 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson (see also: Girl at Sea): Ginny is good at following rules–even really weird ones delivered in 13 little blue envelopes by her infinitely more interesting Aunt Peg directing her to travel to London and across Europe.
  • Stealing Henry by Carolyn MacCullough: The night Savannah brains her stepfather Jack with the frying pan is the night she decides to leave home for good. She takes her little brother and they begin a road trip that will change their lives almost as much as when their mother, Alice, made the same trip in reverse eighteen years ago. (
  • Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta: Taylor Markham is prepared for war with the Townies and the Cadets. What she isn’t prepared for is finding out her greatest enemies could be her greatest friends and that her past isn’t the closed book she expected.
  • The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson: Thanks to the sudden appearance of a car, Destiny and three of her classmates start a road trip searching for one fair day–a day where the good guy wins and everything adds up to something just right.
  • The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan: As if finding out he was the son of a god wasn’t weird enough, Percy also has to travel across the country to complete a quest and prevent the next world war.
  • A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell: Cora’s life fell apart abruptly. Now all she can think about are the maps she draws constantly and escaping her suffocating life. But the freedom Cora yearns for is closer than she thinks.
  • Jungle Crossing by Sydney Salter: Kat has dozens of reasons to skip her family’s vacation to Mexico from dangerous bandits to heatstroke. Could it be that, instead of being the worst vacation ever, going to Mexico will turn into one of Kat’s greatest adventures?
  • Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer: The year is 1817. Kate is in London enjoying a proper Season while Cecelia, much to her consternation, is left to languish in the country with her brother Oliver for company (at least until he’s turned into a tree). Will the girls be able to unravel a mystery (and fix Oliver) while they’re miles apart?
  • Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee: Maybelline Mary Katherine Mary Ann Chestnut (“Maybe” for short) is sick of living above her mother’s charm school. And of her mother. So Maybe recruits her best friends Ted and Hollywood to go with her to Los Angeles to find Maybe’s father.

What I Saw and How I Lied: A (noir) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy BlundellEvery good book should start with a good story. In the case of What I Saw and How I Lied (2008) by Judy Blundell, it actually starts with two. This is Blundell’s debut novel although, under pen names, she has written many other titles. In a School Library Journal article, Blundell said that this was the first book that felt like it was hers. How wonderful then to also have it win the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and receive accolades from all over. (Plus, the book was edited by David Levithan, himself a YA author/editor extraordinaire).

But that’s just the backstory. What I Saw and How I Lied also has an excellent actual story.

The year is 1947, the place Queens, New York. For fifteen-year-old Evie Spooner, it feels like life has gone back to normal. Her step-father Joe is back from the War, Evie’s blonde bombshell mother Barb is back to playing housewife, and Joe’s mother is annoying everyone. All everyday, mundane things.

That changes when Joe announces suddenly that the family is going to take a trip to Florida. When Peter Coleridge, a dashing ex-GI who served with Joe, finds the family, Evie knows that things will never be mundane again. The close Evie gets to Peter, the more secrets she finds–not only Peter’s but also secrets surrounding her own family.

As the events of the novel come to a head Evie has to face these secrets and the lies told to keep them. The more she learns about the truth, and the lies, the more Evie wonders if truth has anything to do with loyalty.

The first thing that drew me to this book was the cover with its heroine steeped in shadows. It is the epitome of film noir (hardboiled fiction when in written form), a fitting choice since this novel is nothing if not noir.

The writing here is taut, fraught with tension and even a bit of suspense right from the beginning. Every word here matters. If ever I met someone who suggested that writing was not an art, this book would be part of my argument to the contrary.

Sometimes novels told in retrospect, which is basically the case here, can be boring because the narrator keeps complaining about the things they didn’t know. Evie is made of stronger stuff. Instead of bemoaning the things she missed the first time around, she simply lays out the events as they happened. This makes Evie’s perspective on things look a bit naive. At the same time it also gives the book a certain honesty because, like Evie, we learn that everything is not as it seems as the story progresses.

Blundell also uses a lot of foreshadowing in her novel. In the wrong hands foreshadow is another writing technique that can go horribly wrong. In What I Saw and How I Lied it only adds to the suspense and complexity of the writing–writing that is both poignant and beautiful (while evoking the atmosphere and mood of 1947 in both New York and Florida).

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Paper Towns by John Green, Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson, New York City: A Short History by George J. Lankevich, Vixen by Jillian Larkin, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Mad Apple by Christina Meldrum, The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy, Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud, The Wessex Papers by Daniel Parker, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams, Double Indemnity (movie)