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Posts Tagged ‘Penderwicks’

I know, I know – the Best Books of the Year lists are supposed to wait until December, exploding all over the Internet in the last weeks of the Christmas-shopping frenzy. Of course, that’s months away now. But as y’all know, I read a lot. And I’ve discovered some gems this year.

Not all these books were published in 2011 (though some were), but they’re all books I’ve read since January. Here they are:

Alice Bliss, Laura Harrington
Possibly the best book I’ve read this year. Harrington writes so beautifully and sensitively – I fell in love with Alice and my heart broke for her as she and her family learned to adjust to her dad’s deployment in Iraq. And the supporting cast of characters, including Henry, the boy next door, is wonderful.

The Penderwicks and sequels, Jeanne Birdsall
I’ve gushed about the Penderwicks before – and yes, I know they’re young adult books – but I love young adult books. And what’s not to love about four sisters who are always cooking up new mischief? They’re clever, funny and kind, and they love each other fiercely. Bonus: The stories are set in Massachusetts.

The Weird Sisters, Eleanor Brown
Sisterhood, Shakespeare and quirky family dynamics. Again, what’s not to love? Brown’s writing is gorgeous, and the unique struggles of each sister as they all come to grips with adulthood – pitch-perfect.

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
This is a Holocaust story, it’s true – but it’s also the story of a young girl simply trying to live through a fraught and confusing time, without her parents or anyone she knows. I avoided picking it up for a while because I thought it would be grisly (it’s narrated by Death), but instead it’s simply powerful. And heartbreaking. And so, so good. Read it if you haven’t already.

The entire Maisie Dobbs series, Jacqueline Winspear
Technically I discovered Maisie in December – but I spent the first four months of 2011 reading the eight installments (so far) of Maisie’s adventures. I can’t get enough of this quick-witted, kind, poised but vulnerable lady detective and her experiences in 1920s and 1930s London. I’ve learned so much about World War I and its aftereffects in England, and spent time with some fascinating characters.

What’s the best book – or books – you’ve read so far this year?

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The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, Jeanne Birdsall
I’m a sucker for a fun, well-written children’s story – and I loved The Penderwicks, which begins the chronicle of Rosalind, Skye, Jane and Batty. So I picked up the sequel, and loved it too. From spying on the new neighbors to writing plays about Aztecs to setting their father up on dates, the girls are always thinking up new adventures. The Penderwicks simply don’t believe in dull moments – and there aren’t any.

Seeds, Richard Horan
A fun idea for book and nature lovers – a scavenger hunt for the seeds of trees beloved by famous American authors, or located near their homes. I admire Horan’s passion and tenacity, though I got fed up with his verbose, self-consciously clever writing style.

Picnic, Lightning, Billy Collins
Collins is probably my favorite poet – so this was pure pleasure reading. The best of these poems are also collected in Sailing Alone Around the Room, but it was fun to revisit them. (I also love his collection The Trouble with Poetry.)

The Little Women Letters, Gabrielle Donnelly
I’m a longtime Little Women fan, so I’m a bit protective of Jo March and her sisters. Anyone attempting to piggyback off their story – much less write in Jo’s voice – had better do it right. And Donnelly does – the letters from Jo sound awfully like her. And I loved her modern-day characters – sisters Lulu, Sophie and Emma, who are supposedly Jo March’s great-great-granddaughters. Such a fun, heartwarming, spunky read. Loved it.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Aimee Bender
I had high hopes for this one – and the writing is beautiful. But I found it hopeless and empty, much like the lemon cake of the title. When it comes to food and magical realism, I think Joanne Harris (Chocolat, Blackberry Wine, etc.) does it better.

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, Jeanne Birdsall
This third Penderwick story is another fun ride – this time to Maine, for an eventful summer vacation. I missed Rosalind, the oldest sister, but loved watching Skye, usually second in command, rise to the occasion as the OAP (Oldest Available Penderwick). Lots of fun beach adventures and a sweet subplot involving a long-lost father and son.

Winona’s Pony Cart, Maud Hart Lovelace
This was the only Deep Valley book I hadn’t yet read – it was a pleasant way to spend my morning commute. I like spunky, sassy Winona (though she is a bit spoiled), and this was a fun trip to a fictional town I love. (Also: it’s always interesting to see Betsy Ray from her friends’ perspective.)

A Vintage Affair, Isabel Wolff
Lush descriptions of vintage clothes, a little romance (with the wrong guy and then with the right one), and a long-buried World War II secret both heartbreaking and lovely. I quite enjoyed this feel-good story. (And – as always – I love me some British spellings and expressions. Happy sigh.)

The Saturdays, Elizabeth Enright
I hadn’t read this in years…until a blog reader reminded me of how much I’d loved it (thanks, Allison!). The story of Mona, Rush, Randy and Oliver Melendy, and their Saturday adventures in New York City, is so fun and utterly charming.

The Four-Story Mistake, Elizabeth Enright
This sequel to The Saturdays is equally charming…the Melendys move to the country, into a large, rambling house with a cupola, a cellar and a hidden room (!). And they have more adventures, beautifully written and lovingly detailed.

Then There Were Five, Elizabeth Enright
The Melendys continue their adventures, which include meeting a lonely orphan boy named Mark and taking him to their hearts, literally and figuratively. So fun to see each child pursuing his/her interests, from Mona’s radio show to Rush’s piano compositions to Randy’s dances and drawings to Oliver’s fascination with bugs and moths. They are growing up, but not yet too grown up, thank goodness.

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