A Book In Everyone’s Stocking

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For once my husband and I have tackled our Christmas decorations right after Thanksgiving. It used to surprise me to see lights and trees up so early in the season. Remember that I come from a place where people still decorate their trees days or hours before Christmas. I suppose I’ve become a true American. Or just have a little bit more time on my hands than I ever had. Just saying that the house is ready for the return of the college kids.

 

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Meanwhile, I count the days until the stampede in the stairs gives a happy vibe to the quieter house, until the sink welcomes dirty mugs and plates, until the garbage can overflows, until books and board games crowd the dining table, definitely too big for two grown-ups.

Until then I’ve compiled a list of a few books that I’ve really loved in 2016. Not all of them were published in 2016, but all of them can make great gifts for that special reader you know.

In France, we leave our best pair of shoes under the tree on Christmas Eve. In the morning this is where we find the gifts we’ve asked to the Père Noël. For some reason, at my home, our Père Noël seems to love bookshops very much. Even if stockings have been added to our shoes.

 

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Still Life With Tornado

A.S. King

For Young Adults

I need to contain myself with this book, because in the category favorite authors A.S. King is my Mount Everest. And if writers were to be compared to explorers she would be the one who goes where nobody ever went. In each of her novels she’s a daring explorer of teenagers’ emotions and real life experiences and never misses her target. I encourage parents to read her work because you’ll feel a teenager again and you will probably understand your teenager better.

I fell for her work when I fell for Vera Dietz, the protagonist of Please, Ignore Vera Dietz, which earned her a Printz Honor among tons of other awards. Every single one of her novels has been noticed. And more.

When I thought she could hardly do any better after her novel I Crawl Through It, she did it again.

In Still Life With Tornado, A.S. King treats of the hard topic of domestic abuse and violence and of its devastating lasting impact on children and teens.

I’m not a book reviewer and I hate to read a detailed synopsis before reading a novel. So I won’t reveal too much about this outstanding novel.

Sixteen-year-old Sarah is losing it. She can no longer draw, while art was natural to her. Something bad happened at school to her big art project that was so cool she was the one who should have won the big award. And something even bigger is happening at home for quite a long time between her parents. And what happened to her older brother who left six years ago after a family trip to a cheap resort somewhere in Mexico?

Sarah is really lost and quits going to school for a while. I cried and smiled, too, as I followed her heartbreaking but also heart lifting journey through the streets of Philadelphia. I even played Bruce Springsteen’s song as I read.

A.S. King is known for her unique use of magical elements in her story telling. In Still Life With Tornado, Sarah has “visions” of herself when she was ten and when she’s in her twenties and then forty. It’s the forty-year-old Sarah who gives the necessary dose of hope to the novel. At forty, Sarah has lived long enough to know who she is and has found her rhythm ago. And her art.

Because this novel is also about art. The art of creating art, the kind we see in museums, but also the art of just living our lives. As heart wrenching as they can be sometimes, they are also beautiful and deserve our attention.

 

The Red Umbrella

Christiana Diaz Gonzalez

For 10 years old and above

It’s 1961 in Cuba. Two years after the communist revolution fourteen-year-old Lucia still leads a carefree life, shared between the beach, parties, and boys. But the day the soldiers arrive in her small town, she’s forced to face certain truths about her family, friends and country. As the revolution’s impact becomes more obvious and dangerous, Lucia’s parents make the hard decision to send her and her younger brother to the United States while they will remain in Cuba.

The novel is perhaps more relevant now than it was when published in 2010. With the recent passing of Fidel Castro, discussions about the reasons for the revolution, his legacy and his impact on Cuba are re-opening, in Cuba and in the US.

In this novel Christina Diaz Gonzales deals with separation, culture shock, homesickness and identity. These themes can talk to young readers interested in history and social studies and to the many children who have left their homeland. And to anyone who likes a good read, because this book reads as a great adventure, too.

I didn’t know of the Operation Peter Pan or Pedro Pan until I heard one of the children sent from Cuba to the US speak in California, a few years ago. Now an old man, he described the shock of leaving his family, his hometown, and native country for the unknown US but also of his gratitude for the chance he had to leave Cuba, despite the fact that he never saw his family again.

Last year I met the author of The Red Umbrella. She told me that she used some elements of her own Cuban family’s story to write the novel. Makes it even more moving.

 

Simon Versus the Homo Sapiens Agenda

By Becky Albertalli

For Young Adults

One of my very, very favorites this year, I already spoke about it in this post.

Sixteen-year-old Simon is simply so adorable that I kept wondering if Becky Albertalli knew him or if she was such a talented writer that she could describe the adolescent heart and angst with such accuracy.

Simon is gay but not very openly gay. Until an email falls into the wrong hands and threatens to bring his secret into the spotlight. The rest is yours to discover…

With a set of characters as credible and as loveable as Simon, the novel is fresh, funny and filled with heart. It represents with respect and sincerity a typical contemporary American high school.

 

Big Magic

Creative Living Beyond Fear

By Elizabeth Gilbert

No Age Limit

Okay, I must admit that I didn’t read Eat, Pray, Love the book that put Elizabeth Gilbert on her pedestal and brought her millions of readers. The reason is very simple: when the book came out ten years ago I was very busy taking care of my young family. So I wasn’t exactly in the mood to follow a woman on her existentialist journey. Mine was quite mundane back then.

But.

I just read Big Magic published in 2015 and I loved it. A friend of mine recommended it to me as I was receiving what we call between writers “positive rejections.” All of us at some point wonder why we still write. Or why we still paint. Or make music.

Well, says Gilbert, it’s a choice and a good choice, according to her, because creativity is what makes life more interesting and meaningful. Even if we never reach fame and make money out of it.

Although some nuggets of wisdom make sense to anyone who makes some kind of art, Gilbert’s unique sense of wonder and conversational voice won me over.

Divided in six parts titled Courage, Enchantment, Permission, Persistence, Trust and Divinity, all parts divided into short chapters with evocative titles, the book reads as easily as a fun novel.

Filled with true examples from her creative life, Gilbert wrote a book that gives us the permission and even urges us to create what we want, when we want, the way we want. Liberating.

Also inspiring to follow this renowned author’s journey as she still embraces creativity as if it were new to her.

Big Magic is the perfect gift for this creative person in your life or for the one who wonders where to start being creative. The answer for Gilbert is simple. Start making things. Now. This is what being creative means.

As for me the book has reignited my desire to revise this story that I like and want to make as good as possible.

 

Draw the Line

By Laurent Linn

For Young Adults

Emmy Award-Winning puppet designer and builder in Jim Henson’s Muppet Workshop, among other accomplishments, Laurent Linn wrote and illustrated a different kind of contemporary novel, mostly due to his black and white illustrations that represent the dream life and real life of sixteen-year-old Adrian Piper.

Set in Texas, the novel explores his life as a sci fi geek, as a young artist fascinated by the Renaissance art and as a young gay. Not an easy combo in Adrian’s conservative environment.

So Adrian prefers drawing and crafting his own imaginary world through his superhero Graphite and avoiding the regular high school crowd. To the exception of his two best friends Audrey and Trent (love them!), Adrian hides from everyone the fact that he’s gay.

Until a hate crime changes his world and challenges him. Is it the time to stop being invisible? When do you must draw the line? Adrian may draw superheroes in the secret of his bedroom will he act like one in the face of hate crime and brutal meanness?

I always admire visual art artists and Laurent Linn’s talent adds a great dimension to a novel that tells of a serious topic in a nonconventional way. I found Adrian’s voice honest, realistic and moving. The conversations with his friends Audrey and Trent, also misfits in their own ways, are funny smart and right on target.

Even though the novel centers on a gay teenager, the story will speak to any teen who is bullied for one or another reason. And will challenge anyone facing any hard situation when you’ve got to decide if you stand up or not.

Due to the numbers of illustrated pages the book is thicker than most YA novels but the blend of writing and black and white illustrations makes it unique and a great gift.

 

Maybe a Fox

By Kathie Appelt and Alison McGhee

From 10 to 14 years old

I’m always attracted to stories where siblings play an important role. Maybe even more when sisters are the protagonists.

Maybe a Fox is an unusual novel that blends fantastic elements to real life. Sylvie and Jules are best friends more than sisters. Sylvie is the oldest, the only one who remembers of their mom who died years ago. Sylvie is also a very fast runner. When she runs to the river where their father forbids his daughters to go to throw a wish rock just before the school bus comes on a snowy morning, Sylvie runs so fast that no one sees what happens. When no one ever sees Slyvie again Jules’s world shatters. Yet she refuses to believe that her sister is gone forever.

And there is the female fox cub, the only one in the litter who senses danger, but is too young to know exactly what she senses.
When Jules believes one last wish rock for Sylvie needs to be thrown into the river, the human and animal worlds collide.
Written in the alternate voices of Jules and the fox cub, Award-winning authors Kathy Appelt and Alison McGhee offer a gorgeous tale of a family’s heartbreak that still manages to bring hope.

Because of the topic of loss and the importance of nature the novel reminded me of the timeless Bridge to Terabithia written by Katherine Paterson in 1977.

 

 

Whether we celebrate Christmas or not, whether we celebrate another celebration, religious or not, the month of December is a time for peace and compassion.

I wish you all a beautiful month.

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Comments

  1. Our Pere Noel also loves bookshops! I haven’t read any of your choices Evelyne, but Big Magic is on my list as well as quite a few others 🙂

    • Ha, I’m glad our Pères Noël are good friends, Andrea. You’ll love Big Magic! Reading it is like having a conversation with a good friend who would happen to be a great writer. Especially great for moments of doubt. Enjoy the holiday season!

  2. I fondly remember when I bought books for everyone. These days, everyone who reads does so on a Kindle or computer, so there are no lovely hard cover books tied in ribbons with inscriptions. I miss that. It may be one of the few things I truly miss.

    • In a funny way, only my husband has switched to reading on his iPad, even though he still enjoys re-reading an old paperback. Our kids who spend hours on their computers and phones, even for work, favor books to ebooks. And I will probably forever keep reading “real” books. Like you I love to wrap and unwrap them. Books make perfect gifts and I’m glad that my kids have asked for some specific titles this year again. Happy Holiday Season to you and Gary, Marilyn.

  3. Beverly Broughton says:

    It’s always inspiring to hear from you and your travels and activities. Enjoy that beautiful home awaiting your loved ones!
    Fondly,
    Bev Broughton

  4. Nicely done on the decorations. We tend to go heavy on books every year. It’s what we give and what we like to get.

    • Thank you, Dan. I do indoor decoration and my husband takes care of the yard. Pretty traditional for this kind of things! Books make such wonderful gifts. I love to make a pile of them and going through after the holidays. Enjoy the season!

  5. Books just happen to be our go-to Christmas gifts for each other and the grandkids, Evelyne. 🙂 So I can empathize! We exchange lists of books we might like and then throw in surprises. Even for our wedding, some 24 years ago, Peggy and I came up with a long list of books and then put it out as our desired wedding gift list. 🙂 –Curt

    • Aw…I like the idea of adding books to a wedding list. Really nice. Like you I ask my family for book ideas and then always add a couple of extras. My writing group meets for a holiday book exchange. We each wrap a new or gently used book. Then we have a lottery so we don’t know who will get which book. Enjoy the holiday season!

      • I like the gift exchange form your writing group. Fun! Do you then try to guess which book came form which person based on how well you know each others reading tastes? –Curt

  6. Sisyphus47 says:

    Je vous souhaite une bonne et heureuse fin d’année Evelyne 🙂

  7. What timely suggestions, Evelyne. Merci! My son is still grateful to you for recommending ‘Wonder’. And, yes, love the tradition of Christmas books … one of the great joys of the season.

    • Oh I’m so glad that you son loved “Wonder,” Kimberly. It is one of the most meaningful middle grade book I ever read. Most books I put on this list are for older readers, but your sons are growing up, so maybe you’ll discover another great read. I wish you and your family a beautiful holiday season.

  8. I am reading Big Magic, and it is so very appropriate for all who tap into creativity. Thank you for your shared book list. I look forward to adding them to my growing stack of books. Wishing you the best this holiday season.

  9. Love giving books as gifts! Thanks for sharing your picks, Evelyne!

  10. Hope you have a great Christmas, Evelyne, and much success with your writing ventures in the New Year!

    • Thank you so much, Stella. I wish you the same. I already saw that you’ve been busy with new books. Congrats! I wasn’t able to comment on your most recent post about the illustrator of your Aliens book. Was very cool, though, to read about his creative process. Again bravo for your 2016 books and best for 2017!

  11. As we’ve said many times my friend, we share so many similarities in our discoveries over these many years of the different ways to celebrate the holidays! Like you, I was amazed when people started decorating their houses right after Thanksgiving! But also like you, I also started to do the same, although not as early, waiting until my middle boy’s birthday at the end of the November at least! And of course, also like you, I await the arrival of my boys and the happy clutter of a home filled with family once again. Thank you for sharing such a comprehensive book list. One there in particular, Big Magic, I am very keen to read. I wish you and your family very best wishes for a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year filled with joy, love and laughter…and plenty of books 🙂 xxx

    • Thank you so much, Sherri, for your kind visit. Yes, we do share many, many common experiences on this vast land, expecially because we both landed in CA. I also wait for after-Thanksgiving, which also happens to be right after my birthday! You will enjoy Big Magic. I had the feeling to be seated next to the author, sipping tea or coffee, and listening to her pieces of advice. Her tone is that conversational. Really a good book for anyone who cannot live without being creative, one way or another. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Sherri! See you in 2017.

      • We share many things indeed Evelyne, including similar family birthdays it seems! Happy Belated from back in November! I hope you had a wonderful family Christmas. Our house, like yours, was filled with laughter and clutter and now the boys have gone home…but at least we had the leftovers to eat since I have been so glad to keep away from grocery shopping for a while! I very much look forward to reading Big Magic, it sounds like a really great book from your description. Happy New Year my friend! I hope 2017 is a great year for you in every way xo

      • Same to you, Sherri. Very best wishes for a healthy and joyful 2017. 💐

      • Thank you Evelyne!

  12. Behind the Story says:

    I read Eat, Pray, Love when it came out. I think the main reason I liked it was Gilbert’s conversational voice carried me through. I just added Big Magic to my Amazon Wish List.

    I was late putting up my Christmas tree this year. I waited until my teenage grandkids came so they could help me put it up. My eight-year-old grandson who is coming tomorrow can help me take it down on New Years Eve.

  13. I just added Still Life with Tornado to my to-read list. My novel in progress has a big silence near the heart of it. I’ve had a pretty good idea from the beginning what the silence was about, but at the outset the child (who is one of my POV characters) has no access to her memories and the other POV character, along with a couple of other adults, have no way to settle her growing uneasiness. Art is turning out to be the way several characters communicate with themselves and to others, so I’m especially eager to see how this author handles it all. Thanks for the lead!

    • Hope the novel can help you, Susanna. In any case it is an amazing read from a daring author who doesn’t shy away from big topics and writing conventions. Let me know how you like it when you’ve read it.

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