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I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen.  The first of these came as a terrible shock, and like anything that changes you forever, split my life into halves: Before and After.

-Jacob Portman (Ransom Riggs)

Reeling from the mysterious events surrounding his grandfather’s tragic death, 16-year-old Jacob Portman sets off to learn more about of his grandfather’s  life, the strange photographs he kept, and the fanciful stories he told about them. Jacob’s journey takes him to an abandoned orphanage on a remote island where a secret world hides beneath the ruins of the bombed-out wreckage.

We cling to our fairy tales until the price for believing them becomes too high.

–Jacob Portman

As soon as I turned the last page of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children on Sunday afternoon, I ran to the bookstore to buy the next book in the series. This is Ransom Riggs’s first novel and it is  riveting. Riggs has woven a story around the strange and creepy vintage photographs he collected from flea markets over the years, some of which are published in the book as characters and scenes. The pictures alone are worth the book’s cover price.

Though categorized as “young-adult fiction,” consider yourself forewarned, there is a significant amount of dark and violent topics touched on in the pages, including the Holocaust, bomb raids, murder, animal slaughter, animation of the dead, and slightly less scary non-human monsters of the sharp teeth and tentacled sort. In fact, there was a certain point, about mid-way through, when it began giving me nightmares, so maybe it’s not the best bedtime story. But it is a story worth reading.


The links I’ve included in the titles refer back to previous blog entries on the books or topics.


1. The Storyteller, Jodi Picoult

There are at least three stories embedded in The Storyteller: The individual and interwoven stories of Sage, a baker, and her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor. There’s also an intriguing fairytale interlaid between the two.  On the whole, it’s masterfully written — an intricate work that is simultaneously beautiful and horrific. It’s hard to leave a Picoult novel without feeling jarred.

2. Plain Truth, Jodi Picoult

A newborn baby is found dead in a barn in an Amish community. Jarring already, and that’s just the beginning. A secret teen-age pregnancy, lawyers, cops, and…ghosts? …and ghost hunters?  Somehow it all seems plausible.

I did not like the ending. I saw it coming and I did not want to go there, but we went anyway.  Oh well.  I still loved the Amish world.  I could live there, sans the murder, drama, and ghosts.

3. The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins

Dawkins describes at length all the irrationality inherent in the belief in God and warns of the danger of such beliefs. I enjoyed reading the science in this book, not so much the theology.  The haughty “voice” he writes in is a bit distracting, especially when he’s unnecessarily churlish, which he so often is. He could dial it down a notch and still get his points across.


4. Push Comes to Shove, Twyla Tharp

A life devoted to dance —  I got to live vicariously through Twyla’s autobiography.  It was an engaging and fun read.

5. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert

Big Magic was fluffy and sweet like cotton candy. It was the complete antithesis to Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art.  I prefer Gilbert’s metaphors to describe her relationship with  creativity  better than Pressfield’s. I’ll take the fairies and magic version any day over the bleeding and tortured artist-warrior.


6. Busy: How to Thrive in a World of Too Much, Tony Crabbe

I’ve had a lot of busy in the last year, so I definitely needed the tips and reminders on how to deal with it. Specifically, the shift to managing attention instead of time was good advice. Also, I needed the reminder to “practice the pause.”


7. The Art of Doing Nothing: Simple Ways to Make Time for Yourself,  Veronique Vienne

This book was a gift from El-D.  He knows me so well. 🙂 Again, another good reminder.


8. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain

Gee, notice a theme in the last three books?  Yeah, I read this one at the least quiet time in my entire life. Cain taught me why introversion is my superpower and why I need to appreciate that gift and protect it. Lesson learned.


9. Gabriel’s Inferno, Sylvia Reynard

I didn’t particularly like this book. I am not a fan of the romance genre. Both the heroine and the hero annoyed me. The professor-student love affair was creepy. However, there was a superficial smattering of Dante stuff embedded in the story that interested me and kept me reading.


10. The Inferno, Dante Alighieri

I figured I’d just go to the source himself – Dante – to see what the fuss was about.  This read was research for a choreography composed earlier this year.

11. Whatever After: Bad Hair Day, Sarah Mylnowki

This the fifth book in a series, but the first one that I’ve read. Each book centers on a different fairytale that gets thoroughly messed up after a brother and sister enter the fairytale world through a magic mirror. This particular book was Rapunzel’s story.

I read it over the summer with a couple young friends. Cute, safe kid-lit.


12. Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Benjamin Alire Saenz

This is a young adult novel that features a coming-of-age love story with homosexual themes. It has received a lot of awards, which is baffling and which probably has more to do with the zeitgeist than the story’s merit.  It wasn’t terrible. But it also wasn’t great, especially considering the next book I read…

13. everyday, David Levithan

Everyday was also intended for the young adult audience. It handled gender and identity issues in a very intelligent and creative way. I loved the story and finished it nearly in one marathon sitting. I would have given the awards to this one personally.


14. Naked, David Sedaris

David Sedaris, hysterical as always.

15. Furiously Happy: A Funny Book about Horrible Things, Jenny Lawson

Another memoir from the author of Let’s Pretend this Never Happened. This one focuses on dealing with mental illness.  It was a quick read.

16. The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin

The Happiness Project is a memoir chronicling a year’s worth of resolutions that Rubin made to create more happiness into her life. It was aggravating and inspiring in equal measure.  After reading it I finally got around to setting up my 2015 resolutions/goals (in July). I’ve been tracking progress on these goals on a daily basis and summarizing the results monthly. OCD, I know. Earlier this week I read that people who write down their goals are nine times more likely to accomplish them than people who do not.  I can attest that writing out my goals down has helped, but a system of tracking them has been even more beneficial.  So, in the final analysis, this was probably one of the more life-changing books I read this year.


17. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell uses stories, examples, and data to uncover the strengths hidden inside what appear to be disadvantages. Chapter 5 alone is worth the price of the book.  It details the life and work of Emil “Jay” Freireich, a physician who helped develop a successful treatment for  Leukemia.

18. Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage it Takes to Create a  Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit, Parker Palmer

It’s become my habit to read at least one Parker Palmer book a year to renew my faith in myself and in humanity. He never disappoints.

19. Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, Piper Kerman

Another memoir. Aside from the backstory, it’s quite different from the Orange TV series. Piper is front and center in the book.  The other women steal the show on TV. Both good in their own way.


20. The Circle, Dave Eggers

The Circle is a story about the unimaginable evil lurking in dark corners of the world’s most powerful Internet company. It was so very different from Dave Eggers’ memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.  The writing style was very dry and on the surface the story seemed shallow, but underneath it was scary as hell. I highly recommend this one.


21. The Midnight Witch, Paula Brackston

I rang in October with some witchy reading.  All three of Brackston’s books were perfect for the month. The Midnight Witch is about a secret coven of necromancers who mingle in high society of Edwardian England. The young Head Witch, Lilith, who governs the coven creates all sorts of drama when she falls in love with a mere mortal.

22. The Winter Witch, Paula Brackston

Morgana is our witch in this story. She doesn’t speak, which makes her all the more endearing. She is married off to a man she just met and is whisked away to live at his home. There’s a powerful old  witch there who has her own agenda for Morgana’s husband and his land.

23. The Witch’s Daughter, Paula Brackston

The story of the hedge witch Elizabeth spans nearly 400 years.  A mean old warlock has been stalking her for centuries. I won’t tell you why.

24. Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life, Judith Hanson Lasater

This year’s reading list was heavy with dark themes and I really needed to end the year on a positive note. This was a good book for that. Each chapter was devoted to practical application of yogic philosophy, with topics like Compassion, Truth, Love, Patience, Relaxation, and Courage. Lots to work on here.


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