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I would just like to write to you to let you know that I absolutely loved your books! I am on the final book, but I will most likely finish it my the morning because I love it! I honestly wish there was going to be a movie because it would be a mixture of young romance and action which i think would draw in a diverse crowd because it is not such a sappy romance novel! But the descriptive language itself creates a movie in your head so I applaud you for that! If I were a critic, the life of D.J. Schwenk definitely deserves 5 stars!


- Leah

The Pallas Guide to Rome

Mauro Lucentini. This is THE BEST GUIDEBOOK IN THE WORLD. It’s 700 pages with 10 eight-hour walks, an index of artists AND an index of places AND an “Index of People and Gods.” It makes me want to jet to Rome and jump in a fountain, then tell the first person I see how the fountain got there, and who designed it, and why the water is so delicious. BTW, you can drink from most Roman fountains.


Project Mulberry

Linda Sue Park. Park intersperses each chapter with a “conversation” with her main character, in the process nailing how a fictional creation takes over a story, and at times a writer’s life. I also adored how she described Julia’s homework, not just saying “I had math” but going into each problem, which – hello universe? – kids actually do, and care about. Also, the audio features Linda Sue Park as herself.


The Schwa Was Here

Another winner from Neal Shusterman. I’m still musing on the mom and this whole topic of . . . oh, I won’t give anything away.


Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie

Jordan Sonnenblick. My only complaint is that Sonnenblick never refers to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia as CHOP – which, morbid as it sounds, happens to be the universal term for this amazing institution. Which I know because several years ago I had a very sick child, and CHOP saved her life. Which is why I spent the two hours it took to burn through DGDP weeping.


Skippyjon Jones

Judy Schachner. I’m not sure how much existential complexity occupies this one, but the funny accents justify reading this book aloud again and again and again. Plus she lives near me, and is as fun as Skippyjon!


Toys Go Out: Being the Adventures of a Knowledgeable Stingray, Toughy Little Buffalo, and Someone Called Plastic

Emily Jenkins. A delightful story for early readers; its wit will keep “mature” readers equally enraptured. “I’m a greasy buffalo” is now a catchphrase in our household.


The Mysterious Benedict Society

Trenton Lee Stewart. For enthusiastic middle-grade readers, though as it evolved my middle-grade reader didn’t have to read a word, because once he, his sister and his father heard the first chapter, I was forced at knifepoint to continue. It’s actually a marvelous read-aloud, particularly if you give Sticky a high, quavering voice and Constance a tough nasal whine. The book has a total jaw-dropper of an ending.


Truck: A Love Story

Michael Perry. Anyone who likes D.J. will fall in love with Michael Perry, who lives smack-dab in the middle of Schwenk country, and could easily pass as the Schwenks’ wry and eccentric neighbor. I laughed so hard reading this that I woke people up. Adult nonfiction, but please don’t let that stop you from checking it out.


The World According to Humphrey

Betty G. Birney. An early-reader chapter book narrated by a hamster who is CUTE CUTE CUTE and also SMART SMART SMART. We love this guy. ALMOST ALMOST ALMOST makes me want to get a rodent of my own.


The Blind Side

Michael Lewis. Another wonderful nonfiction grownup book, now a major motion picture. I have to say that I finished the book and said to my husband, “the wife is the most interesting character.” And who did they get to play the wife . . . ? Great call, Hollywood.


I Know It’s Over

C.K. Kelly Martin. I had the immense privilege of reading this in manuscript, and it’s something. A teen boy deals with a broken heart and family tragedy. As my daughter used to say, peel your eyeballs for it.


Mennonite in a Little Black Dress

Rhoda Janzen. I’m beginning to see a theme here: YA and MG fiction, and then adult non-fiction. Which obviously works for me, and I hope it does for other readers as well. Great memoir of growing up in super-frugal family scarily close to mine.


Agent Zigzag

Ben MacIntyre. Speaking of awesome nonfiction . . . Absolutely jaw-dropping story about a convicted bank robber who ends up working for the British government as a double agent during World War Two. Have I mentioned it’s all true?


The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York

Deborah Blum. Heard Blum on NPR and bought the book that afternoon, then read the whole thing on a plane . . . and I’m not that big on gore. Then got #1 child — who is sadly outgrowing fantasy — to check it out as well, and he read the goriest parts right back to me. Yum.


Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber, Ship’s Boy

L.A. Meyer. Okay, people, answer me this: how does a one-time high school art teacher — I mean, nothing against high school art teachers; one of them pretty much kept me alive, or at least in school, for a year — but how the heck did he manage SUCH AN AMAZING VOICE??? Voice really matters to me. A LOT. And Meyer NAILS IT. Oh, man, did I love this book. The action’s not so bad either. Or the romance.


The New Penguin Atlas of Medieval History

Colin McEvedy. If you like history, or maps, or ideas for awesome stories, then this is the book for you. Sample sentence: “Within the boundary of the Seljuk Empire, but outside its control, was the fortress of Alamut, where, in 1090, the Grand Master of the Shia sect of Assassins set up his headquarters.” Which sounds like a great fantasy book, right? Only IT REALLY HAPPENED. With those names. So, so cool.


Saffy’s Angel, Indigo Blue and Permanent Rose

Hilary Mckay. A charming series about four British children basically raising themselves as their dreamy artist parents wander about. Reading these books, I desperately wanted to visit the Casson family — and clean out their closets. And make them a whiz-bang dinner . . .


True Grit

Charles Portis. Everyone knows about the movie — excuse me, movies — but the book is even better. That voice — how he managed that voice, I cannot imagine. What an extraordinary writing coup. I stand in awe. The story’s not so bad, either.


Into Thick Air: Biking to the Bellybutton of Six Continents

Jim Malusa. I picked this up for my father and ended up reading it over one hellish day, in the process barely noticing the tribulations Amtrak was inflicting upon me. Malusa writes with such empathy and wit that I yearn to follow his tire tracks across the world – he can make the most dismal situations sound glorious, and the glorious ones transcendental.

favorite books I’ve read recently

other favorites >>


I don’t read nearly as much as I should, especially considering that I’m a WRITER for crying out loud. But because I do need to understand my field, and because I have two kids in their prime reading years, and also because I just adore children’s literature (and want to be able to recommend books to my prime-reading-years kids), I occasionally crack a novel other than fantasy. Apparently I also really like non-fiction, which I didn’t even know about myself but this list doesn’t lie.