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The Duchess War
by Courtney Milan
I read thousands of category romances in my teens and early twenties, then spent about 15 years uninterested by anything titled "romance" because it felt too formulaic and sexist to me. I really did not want to keep reading about near-rape sexual encounters, nor was I interested in stereotypical male and female checklists. Then a smart friend recommended Courtney Milan. I read a free ebook rather cautiously. And then started devouring everything she had ever written. Milan uses a historical backdrop like Victorian or Regency, but she invents entirely different characters. And yet she never seems to make it feel like the characters are modern people thrown back in time. These are steamy books, so maybe not for everyone, but superb romance and social commentary.
The Humans
by Matt Haig
This was an unusual science fiction book, perfect for people who don't like to much jargon. An alien comes to earth and takes over a human's body because he has made a discovery that will allow humans to threaten the aliens. Now the alien has to find out who knows too much and kill them. Only he starts to fall in love, with the human's wife and son, with friends, with humanity itself. This book made me think about what it is to be human and how to value it more and enjoy it more. Also, peanut butter!

The Duke and I
by Julia Quinn
Yeah, so Julia Quinn was another recommendation from a friend who loved romance. I had tried to read this series before, but never got into it. It takes a little time and you have to be willing to wait to see the convention subversions. Also, realize that the best parts of these books is actually the family relationships. The romances are good, too, but I think Quinn is superb at family. I've devoured these, as well.
Second Sight
by Cheryl Klein
This is a collection of talks that Cheryl Klein has given about editing books to make them better and my copy is underlined all over the place. I took notes on it, as well. Great ideas about character and plot and how they intertwine. This is the real revision stuff, not correcting grammar and spelling. If you're trying to get published, this is an incredible resource. Plus some fun stories on behind the scenes with award-winning authors and books.

45 Pounds More or Less
by K.A. Barson
My daughter read this first and then I picked it up and realized that I was the mother in this book. I don't mean to obsess about weight, but it looks that way from the outside, and the obsession with having a perfect body is part of every young girl's life. I remember going on diets for the first time when I was about 11 years old. This girl doesn't even need to lose weight, and the drive to get a job to earn money to buy weight loss products is heartbreakingly real. I am still thinking about it.
Eleanor and Park
by Rainbow Rowell
This was the first Rainbow Rowell book I read and I devoured it in a few hours, then started looking for a new fix. There is a romance element in the book, though I'm not sure I would call it romance. I loved the 80s setting, which made me feel like I was back in junior high myself. The nagging mystery turns out to be the most important part of the story, but I'll try not to ruin it with spoilers. I know there are people who complain about the racial stereotypes here, and I certainly won't argue against them, but I still think it's a book worth reading.

Landline
by Rainbow Rowell
This is an adult romance with an already married couple who are struggling to remember what it was like way back when. And so a magical phone appears that allows the wife to talk to the younger version of her husband, and she realizes that the past isn't immutable, nor has she ever understood the truth and power of it. Yeah, this is light stuff, but I love Love LOVED it!
Fangirl
by Rainbow Rowell
This is the story about Kath and Wren, two very different twins who grew up nearly motherless and are in their first year of college. One of them is obsessed with a particular series (think Harry Potter) and has a secret fame for being a fan fic writer of that series. But in college, how far does that get her? Can she tell anyone who she is? And what happens when she tries to write a story for her short story class and it turns into fan fiction? A fun YA that will make you rethink fan fiction--and give you romance besides.

Title
by William Kamkwamba
I read this for my book group. It's not my normal sort of book, i.e. it's non-fiction. But it was a well-told and stirring story about an African boy's quest to get schooling and to learn physics and engineering so that he could help his family and ultimately his community to live better lives. The science is explained well enough even for someone like me to understand, and you just cheer for this kid all along the way.
My Real Children
by Jo Walton
This is a brilliant book. It's a bit like the movie Sliding Doors, in that it's about one decision that a woman makes, and then bifurcates into two stories about the consequences of that decision one way and the other way. But it's also about being a woman, about having a family, about sex and marriage, and about how the political world presses in on all of that. I don't want to say too much about it, but go read it! It's science fiction light in some ways, so it will work for any reader, but the ideas are deep. I love everything that Jo Walton writes, but this is probably her best book.

I am Malala
by Malala Yousafazai
Another book club pick. I found the beginning a little slow, but it was setting the stage, making the reader fall in love with a world that is gone now because of the Taliban. I was struck by the similarities between the Taliban and Nazism. Though these groups both use some of the language of religion, the aim has nothing to do with religion. These are political groups with the political aim of getting power through intimidation. There is nothing really religious here. A good reminder.
Isla and the Happily Ever After
by Stephanie Perkins
I've loved this whole series, beginning with Anna and the French Kiss. Three related romances that take seriously the idea that teens can fall in love forever. As someone who married her high school sweetheart, I felt every emotion with these girls. I know that not every teen romance is forever, but some of them really are. And none of them are easy. Isla's story has plenty of ups and downs, and I will say that I sort of want another one with her autistic friend.

Seraphina
by Rachel Hartman
A world where dragons and humans have certain accords to live together, with the flavor of a Russian fairy tale. Seraphina is a gifted musician with a terrible secret. When she falls in love with the prince and realizes that the kingdom is under threat, she has to decide what is most important, her secret or the lives of others. Delicious fantasy with expansive world-building, realistic romance, and some truly breathless moments.
The Lucy Variations
by Sara Zarr
As the mother of a brilliant musician daughter who was a protege, I couldn't not read this book about a girl who has vaulted to the world stage with her playing and then one day, at a competition, decides never to play again. It's about competition and expectation and family. It's also about figuring out what you want and how you know that and letting go all the other things. This book made me cry. It also taught me a lot about being musical that I never understood before.

A Natural History of Dragons
by Marie Brennan
Jane Austen with dragons? Or possibly married Jane Austen with dragons? I loved this book so much I wished I had written. A young girl grows up with a dragon obsessed father and goes hunting them herself. And gets married to a man who shares her passion. Some readers may feel the book moves slowly, because it's setting up character and the world, but I loved all of the parts. Sure, there's adventure and betrayal and a heart-stopping climax, but again, there are so few books with real marriages depicted and you know how I crave those! Plus, naturalistic view of dragons. Science!
We Are Completely Beside Ourselves
by Karen Joy Fowler
I love Karen Joy Fowler and also hate her because she writes all the books I wish I had written. The Jane Austen Book Club, and this one, about a family that takes in a chimp as an adopted child and sees what happens with their other children, when the chimp is there, and when she is sent away later. A lot of secrets and I've already spoiled one of the pot turns (sorry!). This is about what makes us human and PETA and language and love and family and everything that matters. Read this book!

The Glass Castle
by Jeannette Walls
A book club book, but this one I recommended and I think it didn't even have that many bad words in it! This is the story of a very strange childhood with parents who were mentally ill, but just sane enough that no one intervened. The good years are in Arizona in an inherited house. The bad years in the south living in a hovel that got worse year by year. No indoor plumbing. No money except what her father manages to con from people. And the scene where her sister's carefully saved money is stolen is so terrible! But it has a happy ending, of sorts. The kids gradually leave home and help each other out. I will admit, there are certain moments in this book that I felt like she was telling about my own family of 11 kids.
The List
by Siobhan Vivian
I read this book on a recommendation from Sara Zarr. It's a fascinating look at a high school tradition: naming the Homecoming Queen. But this high school goes beyond that and has a list of the "hottest" boy and girl in each year. How Vivian manages to tell the story in such a way as to make me sympathetic to everyone is amazing, plus so many distinct voices is truly superb writing. I did not guess the ending, and will leave it unspoiled for you, as well!

Living with Jackie Chan
by Jo Knowles
This is a sequel to Jumping Off Swings, but it tells the unusual story of what happens to the young man when he gets a girl pregnant and she gives the baby up for adoption. But the books can be read independently. Josh is such a sensitive, believable kid and his experience living with his uncle who coaxes him into karate, is so gentle and real. I love all of Jo Knowles' books, but this one is a particular favorite of mine.
How to Suppress Women's Writing
by Joanna Russ
This is a classic feminist text, but I had never read it. Wow. What a revelation. So many moments of enlightenment where I realized that as a woman writer, I had made these same excuses to myself (I am unique, I am not really feminine) and that I'd heard so many of the complaints about my writing from men and about other women (Too small, Not literary, etc).

The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way
by Amanda Ripley
Borrowed from a friend who reads more non-fiction than I do, this book was an enlightening look at precisely why other school systems are or are not better than the American one. What we do well and what we could do better at. After reading the section on the Korean school system, I was a bit horrified. The hours are incredible and the pressure even worse. And when I read about the Finnish one, I felt a little jealous and tearful. We are not as bad as some say we are. We could be better.
The Emperor's Soul
by Brandon Sanderson
I am not a Wheel of Time fan, and I don't like fantasy that is super long in general. I liked Mistborn, however, and I'm willing to read smaller works that don't require an investment of a year's reading. This is a great story. Good world-building. I liked the character--and disliked her in turns. It turns out to be a bit of Sheherazade's story, with some magic thrown in. How to forge a soul for an emperor who is in a coma and nearly dead? And do you make him the same as he was before or better?

The Scorpio Races
by Maggie Stiefvater
The world of this fantasy, where magical horses come out of the water and are ridden in a yearly race by humans who have trained to subdue them, is strange and wonderful. I loved the stories of the riders who all want to win, and while I knew that I was going to hate the ending, I was ready for it by the time it came. This is Maggie Stiefvater's best book to date, in my opinion.
Back When You Were Easier to Love
by Emily Wing Smith
What do you do when your boyfriend goes off to college and you're left in high school. Since I went through precisely that experience myself, I felt strongly connected to the heroine here, who decides to go off on a long trip to find her boyfriend, whom she is sure has just forgotten to write her in several months. This is a book about high school romances that don't work out, and what happens when you realize the truth of that and it cuts you to the bone.

Killer of Enemies
by Joseph Bruchac
I loved this unusual dystopian with a female and Indian protagonist. Lots of Indian mythology here, but just plain good storytelling. Some of the scenes were set in places I know well, and seeing them in the future, destroyed, was a particular pleasure.
The One and Only Ivan
by Katherine Applegate
Ivan is an elephant at a small circus. But he isn't just an elephant. He is also a living creature with the ability to communicate. A sweet, perfect story for middle grade. Newbery-Honor winning.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer
by Michelle Hodkin-
This book does a fabulous job of teasing the reader, doling out little bits and pieces of the all important back story in paragraphs here and there, and also in startlingly real hallucinations. The main character is "Mara Dyer" (not her real name) who has been in a terrible accident with her three friends and moves to another state to get away from her memories and to start over. But she can't start over, because she doesn't remember what happened, and she is very afraid that she had something to do with it. She becomes involved with a hot English guy (rolls eyes) who is ultra rich (more eye rolling), but she is also a loner at school. She ends up seeing a therapist and being put on anti-psychotic medication. Her hallucinations seem to disappear for a while, and then things grow more sinister, and death is lurking in every corner. At the end of the book, I wasn't sure what parts of the story were real and what weren't real and I liked that. I've tried to do it myself in novels, and it's damned tricky to pull off without making your story seem trivial. I liked these characters and I cared a lot about what happened to them. I will definitely be picking up the next book for more. I have my own suspicions about what is going on, but I won't share them here. The writing is fluid and fun and the pages turned at a quick pace. A great read for people who love mystery and high school. And a huge helping of dark on the side.
Every Day
by David Levithan
What if you were an alien and you woke up every day in a new human body about the age that you were? How would you keep people from finding out the truth? How would you manage to protect the lives of the people who would return to their bodies? How would you ever find someone you could tell the truth to? I loved this book, which to me seemed a metaphorical way of getting at why readers read. We want to experience life in the body of someone else as different--and as similar--from ourselves as possible. Such a great book! So original! And the unique plot feels as if it is utterly inevitable.


Copyright Mette Ivie Harrison 2014 all rights reserved.
Last revised October 2, 2014.