Allison’s Favorite 2011 Reads (Part Two)

It’s time for part two, highlighting five of my favorite reads of 2011.

The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Adult Scientific Nonfiction.

I am really fascinated by medical/scientific nonfiction books for some reason.  This book is a history or ‘biography’ of cancer. It is a fascinating history! I really loved that the author tied the history in with his own stories and experiences working as an oncologist to make it more readable.  Mukherjee has a wonderful way of making even the most technical details easy for the average reader to understand. I am so glad I read this book and I came away with a much greater awe for science and also for the mysterious and scary thing that is cancer.

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt. Ages 9-12. (I listened to the audiobook read by Lincoln Hoppe).

I really hope this book wins a Newbery! I think it totally deserves it. This book tells the story of 14-year-old  Doug Swieteck. He recently moved with his parents and brother to Marysville, New York. And he doesn’t like it. But with the help of a new friend, Lil Spicer and a book of Audubon prints Doug comes to love this new town as well as learn how to grow into the type of person he wants to be. There is a ton going on in this book but Gary Schmidt weaves it all together into a story that will have you crying and laughing and in the end, cheering.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. Ages 10 and up.

This is a book that stays with you. This is a book that left me speechless. Conor is a young boy dealing with the fact that his mother has cancer. Dealing with the fact that his mother is dying. But it is also a book about hope, and about the power of stories in our lives. There is a monster who comes to visit Conor. The monster will tell Conor three stories, and then it will be Conor’s turn to tell his own story. The writing in this book is amazing, and so are the darkly beautiful illustrations. I will never forget this book.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thannha Lai. Ages 9-12.

A story told in verse. A 10-year-old Vietnamese girl immigrating to the United States with her family after the Vietnam War. Ha relates her travels her new home and her difficulty adjusting to the new life and surroundings. I was so impressed with how well Lai is able to say with so few words through the voice of Ha and her poems. This is a moving book and one that is filled with hope.

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok. Adult Fiction. (I listened to the audiobook read by Grayce Wey).

This is another immigrant story, though a very different one. Kimberly Chang immigrates to the United States with her mother as a young girl from Hong Kong. They live in heartbreaking poverty as Kimberly’s mother works in a Chinatown clothing factory and Kimberly becomes a star pupil at school with her bright intelligence. They must work hard for everything they have, but Kimberly is determined to make a better life for herself and for her mother.

Also, I must add two more books: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray and Delirium by Lauren Oliver. They both receive honorable mention.

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Allison’s Favorite 2011 Reads (Part One)

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. Young Adult Paranormal Fantasy. I loved this book way more than I thought I would. When I heard the book was about angels and demons (chimera) I didn’t think it was really my thing. But so many people were raving about it so I decided to give it a try. I’m so glad I did! Karou is a young woman with bright blue hair studying at an art school in Prague. She also has a secret life – she was raised by chimera and these demon-like creatures are the only family she has ever known. She doesn’t know who or what she is, but when an angel named Akiva shows up and tries to kill her, she is on her way to finding out. The thing that really sold me on this book is how vivid and imaginative Karou’s world is. It was like nothing I had ever read, but it also felt so real and so alive. I recommend this book to anyone with an imagination who likes to think there might be a little bit more to life.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Adult Literary Fantasy. (I listened to this on audiobook read by Mark Bramhall). I am almost done listening to the second book in the series now (The Magician King) and I have to say I may like it even better than the first. But we’ll have to wait and see how it ends. So, The Magicians is about Quentin Coldwater, a highly intelligent young man who feels restless and unsatisfied with his life. Then he discovers that magic is real and is admitted into Brakebills, a college for magicians. And then he also discovers that Fillory is real, the land he loved and read about as a child (think Narnia) and gets to go there, but it isn’t quite as fun and rosy as it was in the books. This book is so perfect for anyone who loves Harry Potter and Narnia and Middle Earth and all things fantasy/nerdy. A beautiful, if sometimes dark and gritty, homage to the great fantasy stories I love.

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick. Ages 9 and up Illustrated Historical Fiction. This is a new book by the author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret. You’ve probably heard of the movie Hugo, out just this year. I haven’t actually read the book yet (I know, it’s on my list!) but I can tell you that Wonderstruck was amazing. The book interweaves the stories of two characters, Rose and Ben. Rose’s story is told only through full-page illustrations. You have to see these to believe them. They are so realistic and Selznick’s ability to tell a story without any words is amazing. Rose and Ben live in two different eras and their stories tell of two different quests but the ways they are connected will just leave you in awe.

Hereville: How Mirka Got her Sword by Barry Deutsch. Ages 9 and up Fantasy Graphic Novel. The subtitle of this book is seriously: “Yet another troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl.” I love it! Mirka doesn’t want to knit, she doesn’t want to spend all her time learning to become a good Orthodox Jewish wife. She just wants to be a dragon slayer! This lovely humorous graphic novel tells Mirka’s story. This book is cool for so many reasons. The illustrations and layout of the book were just really cool. I loved the strong-willed female protagonist. And it was a really cool glimpse into Orthodox Jewish life, which I really don’t know a lot about. Even though the story is clearly fiction with a lot of fantastical elements, I think it is great to see this culture represented in children’s literature. This book is great for anyone who craves a little more adventure.

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen. Ages 4-8 Picture Book. I gave a review of this book previously on this blog, Lost in the Pages. Check it out. On here, let me just say, I’m so glad this book is getting a lot of love this year because it totally deserves it! If you like your picture books with a little bit of cheeky humor that appeals to both young children and adults, this is the perfect book. Even if you don’t have any children in your life you should read this book. It’s that good. Honestly. My favorite picture book of the year.