Best Books of 2013

Goat Farm books, candlestick

I am hardly the best person to put together a Best Books of 2013 List. Since beginning my MFA program a year ago, the number of books I’ve read for pleasure has plummeted.

But some of you have started your holiday shopping, a few of you have asked me what books might make good gifts for the holidays, and I did read a few outstanding books that were published in either late 2012 or 2013– which means, hopefully, that the person you’re looking for a gift for, hasn’t read it already. (If you need even more suggestions, have a look at the Best Beach reads I put together this summer for ArtsATL.)

There are many books I’m sure I would have included in this list if I had time to read them before publishing this blog post: The Five Destinies of Carlos Moreno, And the Mountains Echoed, The Lowland, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, A Place at the Table, The Valley of Amazement,  In Her Keeping, On Sal Mal Lane, among many others. Alas, I am only human, and only have one set of eyes.

So here it is without further ado…

Best Books of 2013

1.) Moshin Hamid’s How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia. Not just my favorite book for 2013, one of my favorite books from the last several years. Find an excerpt, here.

2.) John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars. This book rendered me incoherent after I finished reading it. And then when I finally did speak an intelligible sentence, everything I said seemed incredibly frivolous. This review is pretty spot on.

3.) Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park. This young adult couple at the heart of this novel puts Romeo and Juliet to shame. An intense, riveting love story. Get this for your 16 & up teens (some of the themes are very dark) and any adult in your life. Read this review for more insight.

4.) Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, The Graphic Novel (editor Margaret Ferguson). Caveat: I didn’t read this, but both my 9 year-old and almost 12 year-old did and loved it (they’d both already read the novel, first). I think this was one of my kids’ most re-read books of 2013. Here’s an interview with Ferguson, on how she adapted the classic to graphic form.

5.) Catherine Lewis’ Thrice Told Tales: Three Mice Full of Writing Advice. I picked up this book in the young adult non-fiction section of the library. It’s a book about literary devices/terms (metaphor, symbolism, etc.), which uses examples from the nursery tale Three Blind Mice to illustrate examples. My older kids devoured this, and when they put it down I read it myself. It’s entertaining, inventive, and I highly recommend it for students ages 9 and up who might need or want help with their writing. Here’s a review.

6.) Janet Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple’s Bad Girls. If you’re a long time Janet Yolen fan (How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?, Owl Moon), when you come across this book on a  bookshelf, you say to yourself, “Is there anything Janet Yolen can’t do?” In Bad Girls, Yolen features profiles of strong, rebellious, and yes, evil women in history that make Voldemort look like a sissy. Written in graphic novel form, it’s an empowering book for preteens and teens.

7.) National Geographic Kids’ Treasury of Egyptian Mythology: Classic Stories of Gods, Goddesses, Monsters & Mortals. First off, this is simply a gorgeous book to look at, with illustrations that are to die for. There’s a relatively concise chapter for each god/goddess/monster/mortal with a story of who they are (and often who they ruled over/killed).

8.) Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of the Writing Life. My two favorite books about writing are Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and Stephen King’s On Writing. This book, with a soothing, sweet, nurturing voice, is reminiscent of Lamott’s, and is one of my new favorites. More about it, here.

9.) Jesmyn Ward’s The Men We Reaped. This is a very hard book to read, so hard, in fact, that I haven’t quite finished it. But it’s spectacularly written and narrates a story that rings true for far too many black families who senselessly lose people they love. Read a review, here.

10). Lizi Boyd’s Inside Out. This die-cut, wordless picture book explores the dichotomy of what happens while inside and outside. Our whole family loved it. It’s among a few books reviewed here.

11.) Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. It’s hard to describe this book. It’s part mystery, part suspense, part literary, with an incredibly inventive plot that kept me guessing until the end. If we’re friends on Facebook, you probably heard me raving about it when I read it late last year. This review is spot on.

12.) Sonali Deraniyagala’s Wave. In an unspeakable tragedy, Deraniyagala loses her parents, husband, best friend, and two young boys in the tsunami that hit Sri Lanka. Here, her memoir delves into how she holds on to her family, while learning to let them go.

13.) John Lewis’ March Book One. An outstanding graphic novel about the civil rights movement. Appropriate for ages eight and up.

14.) Aimee Bender’s The Color Master Stories. Many people loved her novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. I did not. But with this short story collection, I appreciate her genius.

15.) Charles de Lint’s The Cats of Tanglewood Forest. I didn’t read this book, but my nine year-old declared it one of the best books she’s read this year. And this book has gorgeous illustrations– perfect for a child that gets bored with looking at only text.

16.) Jacqueline Woodson’s This Is the Rope. One of my favorite nonfiction books, ever, is Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns. This is the stunning picture book version of the Great Migration.

17.) John Lechner’s The Clever Stick. If you are a big fan of Harold and the Purple Crayon, you will certainly love this one.

Hope you’ve found this guide helpful! If you like it, please consider sharing the post on Facebook, Twitter, or Google +.


First World Book Problems


1.) I have books checked out at multiple libraries, and sometimes I return the wrong book to the wrong library.

2.) I’m seriously considering a second charger for my Kindle Paperwhite, so I can keep a charger on each floor of the house.

3.) I use the term “life-changing” to describe so many books, now when I tell people a book is life-changing, they ignore me.

4.) I’ve already started collecting books for grandchildren, even though one of my kids is still in Kindergarten.

5.) Despite the wretched economy, the evolution of e-books, and the proliferation of uber-short form writing, I still fantasize about owning a brick and mortar bookstore. Take that, Logic.

Falling Back

All over Facebook, writers are charging into NaNoWriMo. I wish I could join them, because my novel-writing is floundering in the worst way. I ignore it for weeks, anticipate an upcoming school deadline, push out a less than stellar chapter, then receive feedback from my pod that the chapter is less than stellar. (It’s no surprise.) With respect to my novel, my writing has become muddied, uninspired, and directionless.

But writing is my release. When I’m stuck, the best prescription for me is more writing.

And that’s what I’ve been doing. But instead of writing fiction, I’ve turned to other genres. I’ve just published my first essay in a very long time for an exciting, new literary journal called Full Grown People. Jennifer Niesslein is doing some wonderful work over there. I highly recommend you check it out. And I have two poems, my first published poetry, forthcoming in Minerva Rising Literary Journal. Sometimes, the cure for a streak of bad writing, is writing something else.

Hope you are having a wonderful fall thus far, and are looking forward to an extra hour of sleep tonight. Here’s some more autumn porn for you, taken on my walk this morning.

Fall leaves 3

Fall ShackFall Shack Keep OutFall Shakerag Park dockFall Red Tree:Sky




Dishing Up a Creative Halloween Craft

A certain mother I know  has just not been up to the task of Halloween this year. She has not purchased her pumpkins or put out decorations or bought the candy for trick-or-treaters.

Thankfully, her kids have been picking up the slack.

Below is their latest creation. Take one paper plate, and carve your design in it. Color it. Tape it to the flipped side of another paper plate of equal side. If I’d seen them doing this, I probably would have suggested that they tape yellow construction paper on the inside so it would look more like a glow of a candle. But their carved design casts a pretty cool shadow without it. (If you look closely, you can see the shadow of the crescent moon in the second photo.)

Voila! Instand Halloween, without the guilt.

Finished product.

Finished product.


If you look closely, you can see the shadow of the crescent moon inside.





From the side, taped together with scotch tape.

From the side, taped together with scotch tape.

They've even made a logo on the back.

They’ve even made a logo on the back.