Sunday, 29 December 2019

Last post for the year...

It’s the last Sunday of 2019 and I’m enjoying a steaming cup of chai and a delicious date bar as I think about the books I read last week and review the past year in books.
I read two books that I purchased for my school library.  Both were Ontario Library Association Forest of Reading nominees.  The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane by Julia Nobel is the first in the “Order of Black Hollow Lane” series and is nominated for the Silver Birch Award (grades 3-6).   This novel begins with Emmy being torn away from her Connecticut home and shipped off to Wellesworth, a boarding school in England, so that her child psychologist mother can step up her career from author to television series host.  Emmy’s father disappeared on her third birthday and she knows nothing about him, but still, nine years later, she can’t help wondering who he was and why he left. Never one for making close friends, Emmy is surprised when she arrives at her new school to find herself taken in by Jack and Lola, who offer to help her navigate the strange world of English boarding schools.  Before leaving her home, Emmy received a strange letter that may be a clue about her father, and it led to the discovery of a box of medallions hidden in the wall of the attic, which she takes with her to her new home. There she struggles to meet the rigorous academic challenges of Wellesworth while also searching for additional information about her missing father.  What she and her friends discover is a secret society that dates back to before the school was opened, and Emmy must decide if she is willing to risk her own safety and the safety of her new friends to uncover the truth about this society and find out whether her father is somehow connected to it. This was a quick read, a mystery that revealed clues about the secret society while also focusing on the themes of friendship and the struggles of fitting in to a new environment.  It was a good read, and I just discovered that there is a second book in this series due out in March. I will have to put that one on order for my library, too. I think kids will really enjoy this fast-paced mystery.
And I also read The Unteachables by Gordon Korman, nominated for the Red Maple Award (grades 6-8).  This, too, was a quick read, and tells the story of Mr Zachary Kermit, once an outstanding teacher who, at 55, is counting down the days until the end of June, when he qualifies for early retirement from Greenwich Middle School.  When he gets to school on that first day in September, he is told by his principal that, due to a staffing change, he is being assigned to teach SCS-8, or “Self-Contained Special Eighth Grade class”, aka “the Unteachables”. Made up of a group of misfits and losers, this class is a dumping ground for students who don’t fit into the regular classes, those who are just tolerated until they graduate and become the high school’s problem.  This class is made up of seven students: Aldo (anger management issues), Elaine (rhymes with pain), farm boy Parker (dyslexic), Rahim (sleep-deprived artist), Barnstorm (injured jock) and Mateo (sees the world through fictional fantasy worlds). The seventh is Kiana, a “short-timer”, transplanted from LA for a couple of months to live with her father and "stepmonster" while her mother is away on a film shoot, and is not even officially registered with the school.  She ended up in this class accidentally, and never makes a move to leave, figuring she’d be gone before anyone notices that she’s not actually a student at Greenwich. Kermit, a once-rising star in the education system, had his career ruined years earlier by a scandal for which, more than two decades later, his superintendent has not forgiven him. After several weeks of not looking up from his crossword puzzle, an incident sparks Kermit to stand up for one of his students, even if it is only to get the student out of the class for the rest of the day.  This serves to rekindle the love of teaching he once had, and he goes on to become an inspiration to his students, who, it turns out, are not unteachable at all. This heartwarming novel, told from various points of view, is pure Korman, and while not entirely original, follows the formula he has perfected in previous books to produce a funny, inspiring read that is sure to appeal to many middle-school students.  
And now to review my year in books…  If I don’t finish the book I’m reading right now before January 1st, I will have read 55 books this past year and listened to 26 audiobooks.  That is less than last year, but I did go on two trips and host a large family bbq this summer, and I was sick for three weeks just recently, which could account for the lower number for both formats.  Here are my “Best of” lists (in chronological reading order):
Best Adult Books:
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelildes
Her One Mistake by Heidi Perks
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (made the list because I liked it so much better than To Kill a Mockingbird)
The Au Pair by Emma Rous
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan
HhHh by Laurent Binet
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
*Home Fires by Kamila Shamsie (on last year’s list)
*The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D by Nichole Bernier (on a previous list of best audiobooks)
Best Children’s Books:
One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus (YA)
The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (YA)
Refugee by Alan Gratz (YA)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (YA)
To Look a Nazi in the Eye by Kathy Kacer (YA)
Who Killed Christopher Goodman? by Allan Wolff (YA)
Keep This to Yourself by Tom Ryan (YA)
Escape by Linwood Barclay (juv)
Sit by Deborah Ellis (juv)
The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch (juv)
Best Audiobooks:
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (YA)
Lethal White by Robert Galbraith
Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh
Give Me the Child by Melanie McGrath
Odd Child Out by Gilly Macmillan
Blackhouse by Peter May
See… last week I promised a longer, more comprehensive post, and I think I delivered this morning!  That’s all for today. Wishing everyone a Happy New Year, one that is filled with good friends, good experiences, and many good books!
Bye for now…
Julie

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