2008 Favorites

Well, the year is almost over.  That means it is time for wrap-up lists, one of my favorite parts of the year!  What are your favorite books of the year?  

Below are my favorite titles published this year:


  • Tennyson by Lesley M.M. Blume- I read this way back in the beginning of the year and it still stays with me. An amazing, haunting gothic tale of the fall of the south, through a young girl’s eyes. I loved it and so did my students.  In my review I said, “This is a novel that intelligent readers will love, because Blume does not condescend or speak down to her readers. In many ways, Tennyson reminded me of Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting. “


  • Diamond Willow by Helen Frost- A more recent read, this verse novel is gorgeous. The theme of the diamond willow branch flows smoothly throughout the story and is accessible to readers of all ages. Helen Frost is a master storyteller and I can’t wait to share this with my students.


  •  Every Soul A Star by Wendy Mass- I love Wendy Mass and I think this is one of her best.  It is a beautiful story with a ton of kid appeal.  Plus, it made me go out and look up more information on solar eclipses.  Plus, I haven’t seen it since I put it in my class library.  My kids absolutely love it, too!


  • Six Inningsby James Preller- I don’t even like baseball and I loved this book!  A great book to hand to boys and girls alike, it goes much deeper than just baseball and deals with life. The characters are realistic and easy to relate to. It’s just a great book all around!


  • The 39 Clues (The Maze of Bones, Book 1) by Rick Riordan- Admittedly, I wasn’t a big fan of this series when the news first broke. Trading cards? Online games? It sounded like a lame ploy to get kids to read. But when I gave in and read the first book, at the insistence of my class, I was hooked! This is a great mystery series full of Rick Riordan’s trademark humor and realistic characters who have unrealistic lives. Needless to say, it is a huge hit in my classroom and we are all desperately awaiting the release of the third book in the series!


  • Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson- Our current read-aloud, my class and I love Chains! Isabelle is a complex, multi-faceted character and her conflict with the American Revolution has made us all stop and think of our fight for independence in new ways.  See my review here.


  • My Father’s Son by Terri Fields- I am a bonafide crime addict. Well, reading about crime, at least. And watching many, many episodes of “Law and Order”. So when I had the opportunity to read and review Terri Fields’ My Father’s Son, I was very excited. And the book did not disappoint! Terri has crafted a fascinating story about a boy whose father is arrested and accused of being a serial killer. I couldn’t put it down.


  • The Underneath by Kathi Appelt- From my review: “The Underneath is all at once tragic, consuming, passionate, full of love, hopeful, and alternately beautiful and ugly. Appelt does the almost-impossible, by threading 3 separate stories into one amazing climax that will renew your faith in goodness and love. It is an adventure, full of magic, myth, and mysticism, of sorrow, of family – of life. Woven together like an elaborate tapestry, the result is gorgeous and awe-inspiring. Our first read-aloud of the year, both of my classes absolutely loved this story.”



  • the dead and the gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer- Susan Beth Pfeffer is single-handedly responsible for many of the voracious readers in my class. I am telling you- hand any reluctant reader a copy of the dead and the gone and they will be begging for more. The companion novel to her Life As We Knew It, takes place in NYC after a meteor has knocked the moon out of orbit. It’s absolutely terrifying, in a fantastic way!


  • What I Saw And How I Lied by Judy Blundell- This sat on my TBR pile until it was nominated for the National Book Award (which it eventually won). The nomination moved it up on the pile, as I finally learned what it was about. (The ARC had no blurb or summary!). Judy Blundell has woven an intricate story, full of dark twists and turns down paths you can’t even imagine. There is murder, intrigue, a fascinating backdrop of World War II, racism, classism, and a classic (but dark) coming-of-age story. This is a gorgeous book and one I would love to see used in classrooms over the next few years!


I read about 150 books this year, as of December 26th.  These are just a few of my favorites.  Ask me again tomorrow, and you will probably get a different list!  But I would to know what your favorite novels were this year.

What I Saw and How I Lied by by Judy Blundell

A few weeks ago I opened a package from Scholastic that included a review copy of What I Saw And How I Lied by Judy Blundell.  I glanced it over and quickly put it on my “To Be Read” shelf.  (Sidenote:  Yes, shelf.  My pile has grown to an entire bookshelf).  While the cover was gorgeous, there was no blurb on the back.  It looked like a typical YA title so I figured I would read it when I had a chance, not thinking it was anything special.  Then, the National Book Award nominees were announced, and What I Saw And How I Lied was on the list.  I figured I would read it quickly over the weekend, as I had already read and loved 3 of the other 5 nominees. 

Why did I wait so long to read this?!  And why have I not heard any buzz about Blundell’s stunning book yet?

Evie and her mom have always been a team.  Her dad left them long ago, and they’ve been each other’s best friend ever since.  Shortly before World War II, Evie’s mother met Joe, a man who took care of them both.  Before he was shipped out, they were married and Evie got the father she had always imagined.  Times were tough during the war, and they were even tougher because Evie and her mom were forced to live with Joe’s mom, cranky Grandma Glad (a misnomer if Evie has ever heard one).  But when Joe Spooner returns from the war, it seems like everything has gone back to normal.  Sure, Joe doesn’t talk about the war.  But Evie and her mother do everything they can to be a great family for him.  And Joe is able to open up a chain of appliance stores in New York City, making more money than they ever imagined possible.

Life seems perfect, until Joe starts receiving phone calls from a supposed war buddy.  When Joe begins acting strange and uncomfortable, he suggests the family take a vacation to Florida.  Even though school starts in only a few weeks, Evie is eager for some adventure.  What 15 year old isn’t?  So Evie, her mother, and Joe pack the car and head to Palm Beach.  Of course, no one has told them that Palm Beach is empty in the summer and won’t be full of life again until December!  But they manage to find an open hotel and book an open-ended stay.

It’s the dream of a lifetime for Evie.  Sun, swimming, shopping, and no school!  The Spooners befriend another couple in the hotel, the Graysons, who take a special interest in Evie.  Mrs. Grayson takes a liking to Evie and enjoys dressing her up and convincing her parents to treat her as less of a child and more of an adult.  Evie begins to grow into herself, experimenting with her burgeoning womanhood.  Dresses, perfume, and her mother’s heels are suddenly more appealing than before.  

Then Peter shows up at the hotel.  An old army buddy of Joe’s, he happens to be in Palm Beach taking care of some business deals for his father.  He’s young, handsome, worldly, and Evie falls in love immediately.  Very reluctantly, Joe allows Evie and her mother to spend time with Peter.  Falling deeper and deeper in love, Evie begins to learn that adulthood isn’t all sunshine and butterflies.  When Peter begins to share his experiences in the war with her, she learns that Joe isn’t the man she thought he was.  Suddenly, she questions her life and her family.  Does war excuse atrocious acts?  If her father made it home, is that good enough?  

One night, during a terrible hurricane, everything takes a turn for the darker side.  Suddenly, Evie is surrounded by a murder, murder(s), and lies.  Who can she trust?  Is her mother 

I hate to summarize the book, because Judy Blundell has woven an intricate story, full of dark twists and turns down paths you can’t even imagine.  There is murder, intrigue, a fascinating backdrop of World War II, racism, classism, and a classic (but dark) coming-of-age story.  To summarize more would give away too much of the plot and I would hate to ruin it for anyone.  

Once I began reading, it immediately became clear why this is a National Book Award nominee.  It’s almost impossible to put this book down.  And along with a fascinating story, Judy Blundell has included accurate and fascinating historical details.  Yes, this is historical fiction that teens will want to read!  In fact, it’s the best kind of historical fiction- teens won’t even realize that it’s historical!  The setting is a vital part of the story, rather than an extraneous backdrop only good for history lessons.  

Evie is a complicated teen that contemporary readers will identify with.  Her mother babies her and doesn’t want to see her grow up.  She just wants to be treated like an adult.  When she falls in love with a slightly older man, she finally feels like she has become the adult no one will let her be.  But is adulthood all it is cracked up to be?  And are the ties of a first love more binding than those of family?  And how do you choose?

If you haven’t read this yet, get your hands on it right now!  You will not be able to put it down.  


Nota Bene- When I googled Judy Blundell, I was shocked to find out she has published hundreds of books under pseudonyms.  She is Jude Watson of the Premonition books, a favorite of my students!  And even better, she will be writing the 4th book in The 39 Clues series!