Top 5 2015 Books

Hi readers! Sorry to leave you in the lurch during the holidays, but I’m back! 2015 has been an amazing year, filled with lots of good stories. So, to start the new year, here are some of the best books I reviewed in 2015.

  1. The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick

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2. The Marvels, also by Brian Selznick

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3. The Willoughbys, by Lois Lowry

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4. The War that Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

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5. The Wanderer, by Sharon Creech

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What were your favorite books read in 2015?

 

The Marvels, by Brian Selznick

In 1766 a tale, told in pictures, reveals the story of the Marvels. Beginning with Billy Marvel, survivor of a shipwreck at sea, the saga of theater-bound generations are not spoken, but shown descendant after descendant.

Fast forward to 1990. Joseph Jervis has runaway from school to find his Uncle Albert, an unknown relative who might just hold the key to the adventure Joseph is looking for. Upon arrival, Joseph finds that it isn’t his uncle, but the house he lives in, that brings more mystery about his family’s past than he even knew existed.

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When I said that the first story was told in pictures, I meant it. Brian Selznick himself sketched over 300 pages of pictures, so don’t be intimidated by this book’s size. The total amount of time it took to read this book isn’t very long, even if you take your time soaking in the pictures. Also, don’t get to thinking that this is a picture book; the plot is too big for that.

It was such a beautiful story. This is one of the books where you get so invested in characters that it’s hard to let the book end, especially the illustrations. I was really struck with the emotions which aren’t really said in the book, but once you take a minute to see what’s going on on the inside, almost a secret second plot, things like grief, overwhelming loss, and seeing things in a deeper sense even if it’s only inside your head become apparent.

One of the more interesting things about this story is that, all in all, there was a lot of plot for the amount of story that happened, but that wasn’t actually a lot. If you could pack the entire book into a summary, you could, but that awesome sense of unfolding doesn’t happen. Like I said, the actual read time isn’t long but in the end it turns out to be so simple that it makes you wonder at how well it is written.

Another fantastic book by Brian Selznick, who also wrote The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which still is one of my favorite books of all time. The review is here. I look forward to reading Wonderstruck.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Violence: 1/10

Language: 2/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 3/10 (It is briefly stated that two men were in a relationship, but I was surprised by the way it played out. It could fly over some kid’s heads it was so brief, but then again it might not. For me it didn’t take away from the book at all.)

Audience: Ages 10 and up; the general themes are too grim for anyone younger. Personal taste can vary hugely as to what age can read this.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick

Hugo has kept the secret of his notebook from everyone he knows, even if he doesn’t know many people at all. But especially from his uncle, his only living relative. Arguably, Hugo’s very existence of living among the clocks in the walls of the train station in Paris is a secret, keeping them well-oiled and running.

When Hugo’s Uncle Claude leaves and doesn’t come back to the train station, Hugo begins to wonder what will happen if the clocks stop working. He knows how to fix them, for the most part, but what will happen if the station inspector finds out he’s living alone? It would be straight to the orphanage, and then the secret of the notebook and what Hugo hides would be lost forever.

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Have you seen this movie yet? If you’ve only just heard about it, please, please, please read the book first! The movie adaptation, named Hugo, is a relatively good movie, but it is just so much more awesome once you know the story. There is a lot left out, and the story is just told in a different way that keeps the mystery much better.

There are so many good things to say about this book! I’ve only read the book through the audio, narrated by Jeff Woodman (who is a personal family favorite), and to this day The Invention of Hugo Cabret is my dad’s favorite book and probably goes down in our history of books as ‘One of the bests’. I am looking forward to checking out the book, because it has only just now come to my attention that the book has beautiful illustrations as well. Double whammy!

Technically, this is historical fiction because it takes place sometime in the 1930’s, and there was some history involved which I would rather not say, but the story didn’t feel as involved with the rest of history as you would think. In other words, it doesn’t feel like your typical historical fiction.

The way the story unfolds is just fantastic, and even though I hesitate to say it is an action/adventure type story, it still had us on the edge of our seat as the mystery of who Hugo was is discovered. The way the tension builds into an inescapable fiasco is so perfect I don’t know what to say. Other than READ IT.

Overall Rating: 5/5

Violence: 2/10

Language: 0/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 1/10

Audience: Ages 7 and up

The Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis

Imagine other worlds, in which anything can happen. Worlds with other times, destinations, mystery, magic, and different sorts of experiences all together.

When the four Pevensie children step from our own dull, ordinary world into Narnia, they are transported to a world which is always filled with adventure; sword fights, mythical (or not so mythical) creatures, and battles between good and evil. The story of a different world, whose tale only now being told….

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Of course, everyone’s heard of the Chronicles of Narnia, especially after they began turning them into movies. If you have ever considered reading the books, do.

There is not much for me to say about them, other than the series is my one true fantasy love. It was my ‘introduction’, if you will, into the fantasy genre and probably the only one which I will never forget. It reads similarly to a fairy tale, which is how he intended it; however, even many adults agree that this story is enjoyed at any age.

Now, there is a lot of controversy about the Chronicles of Narnia, and it’s Christian content. True, there are many things to be gleaned from each story, but only as much as you wish to take away. It still is a fairy tale about good and evil, and is still enjoyable to most.

Being probably the cleanest of fantasy books, the movies are surprisingly violent compared to how Lewis words each story. For example: “But such people! Ogres with monstrous teeth, and wolves, and bull-headed men; spirits of evil trees and poisonous plants; and other creatures whom I won’t describe because if I did the grown-ups probably would not let you read this book.” That is about the extent with which he goes to tell about the various creatures, and battles.

There are two different ways to read the books: the order in which they were published, or chronologically. The movies have been made in the way that they were published. I prefer the published order, because the Magician’s Nephew is better appreciated after the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Publishing Order:

#1: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

#2: Prince Caspian

#3: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

#4: The Silver Chair

#5: The Horse and His Boy

#6: The Magicians Nephew

#7: The Last Battle

The chronological order is:

#1: The Magician’s Nephew

#2: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

#3: The Horse and His Boy

#4: Prince Caspian

#5: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

#6: The Silver Chair

#7: The Last Battle

Overall Rating: 5/5

Violence: On average, 2/10, some maybe a little more.

Language: 0/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 1/10

Audience: Ages 6 and up

Mara, Daughter of the Nile, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

Mara, an intelligent but ill-used slave in ancient Egypt, is swept from everything she knows when she is bought and threatened by two different men who have noticed her wits and wishes to use them to his advantage. The work is easy, and the rewards are great. If she is caught by either working for the other, she will be killed. In essence, gambling with her intelligence to free herself, or disobey and die; no other option is given her.

Doing spy work for both sides by disguising herself as the translator for the fiancee of the Pharoah’s brother proves to be more dangerous than she ever bargained for. To keep both men satisfied, she must use every ounce of brilliance to save her life. She also never bargained, or expected in any way, to fall in love with one of her masters. When both masters discover her duplicity, the fate of Egypt ultimately rests on who her loyalties are, and if she chooses to gamble with her life one last time.

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This book is really intriguing, and a bit of a nail-biter. I just reread it, the first time being when I was about 14. It was better the first time because I obviously didn’t know what was going to happen.

Being much more critical now than I used to be, it was still enjoyable. There aren’t any major problems I had with it. Just a side note, if you hate romance, this book is not for you. The romance is fairly  important to the plot.

The one weak part in the book was probably the dialogue. McGraw was trying really hard to capture how long ago this was in their speech, but it may have been overdone. Using thee, thou, and thine made it feel too abrupt. She also added in exclamations such as ‘son of Osiris!’ or ‘I swear on my ka!’, which didn’t bother me, but every single person seemed to not be able to remember her name. To add in another strange factor, Mara had blue eyes. Everyone commented on them, and everyone called her whatever came to their mind. ‘Lotus-eyed maid’, ‘face-of-the-lily’, you get the idea. Not exactly the appearance of one who is trying to be inconspicuous.

I’ve read several other books by McGraw, and my sister and I always agree that the author, in every single book, makes it drag a little in the middle. There was a little of that in this book, but for me the overall plot of double-spy was intriguing enough to keep me reading. Honestly, I don’t know why that double-spy idea isn’t more popular in books or movies; everyone is intrigued with futuristic plots that are almost all the same.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Violence: 3/10 (one man was killed, several are whipped, but nothing gory. There was a creepy part in which they break into a tomb that is a bit intense)

Language: 0/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 3/10 (several kisses and some flirting)

Audience: Ages 10 and up

The Castle Corona, by Sharon Creech

Long long ago, and far far away, there was a castle, high on a hill….

For the royalty that live in the castle, life is not easy. The king, queen, and their three children are tired of always having duties and obligations, never able to do whatever they would like. Constantly dreaming of what it would be like to be a peasant, their sleepy lives are turned upside-down when a thief breaks into the castle and several things are stolen.

And there was a village, down in the valley….

Pia and Enzio, two peasants who have always worked hard for their master, have always wondered what it would be like to live in a castle, have lots of money, and never have to clean another dirty dish or make another watery stew or sweep another filthy floor. In other words, to be able to do whatever they liked. The never-ending pattern of chores is broken when they, too, are changed when they find a pouch, containing unusual contents that might change their lives forever and take them to places they never dreamed of.

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To be honest, this is one of my favorite books to this day! Yet when I go to think about it, I can’t figure out precisely why. Maybe it is just because I am a huge fan of Jennifer Wiltsie, the narrator for the audio (which I highly, highly recommend!). This is the only book I have heard her narrate and she is, in my opinion, some of the most original and entertaining voices for the characters.

It is not exactly the deepest thing Sharon Creech has written. If you have read some of Sharon Creech’s other stuff like Walk Two Moons or The Wanderer, you may notice a pattern in her books: her main character is always a 13-year old girl who has something to prove or a journey to take. While this particular book went off her usual track, it still echoes the usual things she adds.

My sister doesn’t care for Sharon Creech’s other books, except for this one. She usually adds in a lot of symbolic ‘scenes’, if you will, but this one she chose a little more witty plot and chose to have a more subtle character change. Her characters have a lot less to prove, which helps, because character change wasn’t the whole plot like some of her other novels.

The characters are the real gem of the story. Very memorable (especially with Jennifer Wiltsie’s unique voices), they are so creative. For example, the King is constantly complaining about his itchy, heavy robe and just wants a nap. The queen just wants some privacy and a chance to love her children. The hermit, which is a stroke of genius and is one of the best parts of the story, gives out advice the shallow king never understands.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Violence: 1/10

Language: 0/10

Innappropriateness/Romance: 0/10

Audience: 6 and up (enjoyable for older kids as well).

Mandy, by Julie Andrews Edwards

Mandy, a girl whose parents are dead, has lived in an orphange her entire life. Her life is not wholly bad; on the contrary, she has friends, a safe place to live, and is always treated fairly. But something is lacking, something she can’t put her finger on.

Her life changes when she starts taking an interest in the curious, high wall along the back of the orphanage that seperates the orchard grounds from the mysterious forest beyond and what it may be hiding. When Mandy chances to sneak behind it, she is surprised to find a cottage, completely abandoned. Maybe it’s the way the house has been left behind and forgotten just as she has, or maybe the loneliness that she has in common that pushes Mandy to question the way she lives, and finds a longing for something to call her own, and the need to be needed.

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First of all, along with Nancy and Plum, I was given this book when I was maybe nine or ten. Unlike Nancy and Plum, I read it right away and fell in love with it! It awoke a lot of different ideas and dreams in me that gave me something to think about outside of what I normally thought of. If you happen to read someone else’s description of it, you may happen to notice how they always choose to talk more about the house. I am so familiar with the story that some of the lesser themes struck me more than the overall plot.

I know that there are a bazillion other stories about orphans who are in similar situations, but Mandy is particularly special to me because of Julie Andrew’s spectacular story-telling. Her character, Mandy, is very believable. In fact, every time I read it, (which I still do), when it gets to the part in which she is being discovered (don’t worry, it’s inevitable), I yell “No! No! You’re spoiling everything!” right along with Mandy. She says exactly what anyone would say, which is what makes her so real.

I think this book really appeals to all ages, boys and girls, but especially the 8-12 range.

Overall Rating: 5/5

Violence: 0/10

Language: 0/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 0/10

Audience: Ages 7 and up.

The Unseen Guest, by Maryrose Wood

Book #3 in the Incorrigible Children if Ashton Place series.

Penelope has been making remarkable progress with the children, and they have taken up bird watching. Strange; who knew ostrich’s lived on the Ashton grounds?

The house is in an uproar as it tries to prepare for the arrival of Widow Ashton, Lord Frederick’s mother. No one was expecting her until the day she announced she was on her way.

The widow has been mourning her dead husband, drowned in a medicinal tar pit, for all these years in a convent. However, she has recently met a wonderful man, the Admiral Faucet has asked for her hand in marriage and she wishes for her “Freddie’s” approval.
As soon as Admiral Faucet hears of the ostrich, they learn that the ostrich belongs to him and cost him a great deal. He proposes a search party to find her in the woods of Ashton place and enlists the help of the Incorrigible’s to sniff out the large bird before Frederick Ashton’s hunting dogs do. But can the Incorrigibles control themselves in the woods, or will Penelope be forced to admit that maybe the children are better off in the woods?

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This book is even more hilarious than the first and second, filled with the sayings of Agatha Swanburne and Penelope’s lists of things to bring on this outdoor excursion. Of course, the audio is the best, as you have already heard.

This book is so mysterious….and no, no questions from the last book are answered. More is told, but the original questions change after this book.

If you are reading this book and happen to be concerned that there is a seance, don’t be. It’s all hilarious, and nothing really scary happens.

Filled with plot twists that even a certain nice young playwright would be excited about (whom we of course haven’t seen the last of!), this is my favorite out of all five of the books.

Overall Rating: 5/5

Violence: 2/10

Language: 0/10 (unless exclaiming ‘blast!’ when a certain book goes missing….)

Inappropriateness/Romance: 1/10

Audience: Ages 8 and up.

The Hidden Gallery, by Maryrose Wood

The second book in the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series.

The Ashtons have decided to leave Ashton Place while repairs are being made to the house and invite Penelope and the Incorrigible’s to join them. Of course, Penelope snatches the opportunity, thinking only of the children’s education. And of course, she doesn’t plan on tasty pigeons, British guards, and the theater to be a problem.
And why, oh why, didn’t Miss Mortimer give her an actually helpful guide, instead of the Hixby’s Guide to London that is filled with gibberish? And what did that fortune-teller mean by ‘the hunt is on’?!?
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This book is absolutely wonderful! Even more hilarious than the first, and filled with funny new characters, including an old Gypsy fortune-teller and the perfectly nice young man, Mr. Simon Harley-Dickinson.

Much more mysterious than the first book, so many more question are asked than answered, so be prepared to go straight into the third book!

The narrator is just as entertaining and enjoyable as before; please do the audio!

Overall Rating: 5/5

Violence: 2/10

Language: 0/10 (does exclaiming ‘blast!’ when a certain book goes missing count?)

Inappropriateness/Romance: 2/10

Audience: Ages 7 and up

The Mysterious Howling, by Maryrose Wood

The first book in the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series.

Miss Penelope Lumley, fifteen years old, leaves her beloved school to become a professional governess. Her employers are Lord and Lady Ashton, the wealthiest people for miles. However, Penelope discovers that she didn’t understand all the terms before taking the job.

It turns out that her three pupils have been raised by wolves. Literally. They were found in the woods, and brought to Ashton Place.

Penelope finds that the children, outlandishly named Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia, are actually quite friendly, so long as you can look past the chewing, barking, and howling. Penelope accidentally finds herself boasting a little too soon of their accomplishments. Lady Ashton is quite astonished by her report and invites Penelope and the children to a Christmas ball. Of course, she says, they will need perfect table manners, learn all the socially useful phrases, and of course, the Schottish. But what is the Schottish?

Penelope finds that maybe she has gotten herself in a little too far as she tries to teach the children everything they need to know before the dreaded Christmas ball.

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Maryrose Wood is an outstanding author, however, it is the narrator, Katherine Kellgren, that really makes the story. Each character has a distinct voice, some of them quite hilarious, and are each full of emotion. It really is more like a radio drama.

One thing that is really special about Maryrose Wood is that she has a very unique way of getting across a point. For instance, she usually begins a chapter with, “If you have ever……” and then goes into a long tangent that describes the way Penelope feels.

It is set in the Victorian era in England, but it is not really historical fiction, if you get what I mean….

I highly recommend this series for all ages, simply because it is outrageously funny, clean, and mysterious.

Overall Rating: 5/5

Violence: 2/10

Language: 0/10 (unless exclaiming ‘Blast!’ when a certain book goes missing counts….)

Inappropriateness/Romance: 0/10

Audience: Ages 8 and up