Imagination doesn't just mean making things up. It means thinking things through, solving [problems] or hoping to do so, and being just distant enough to be able to laugh at things that are normally painful. [Some people] would call this escapism, but they would be be entirely wrong. I would call fantasy the most serious, and the most useful branch of writing there is.
--Diana Wynne Jones

Monday, December 13, 2010

Quick Christmas Picks

This is the year I set a goal to read 100 books. By Christmas I was going to have all kinds of book recommendations.

Which I do.

I just don't have time to talk about them.

I still have (ack!) eleven more books to read in the next three weeks. Plus Christmas stuff. No problem.

But people have been asking what books to buy for Christmas, and there's not much time left, so, okay, here's the short version of my 2010 book recommendations (not all published in 2010, but all read by me this year).

Keep in mind I have a literary bias. I mean, my true favorites are always the books I feel have a real sense of the beauty and wonder of language. They must tell a great story. I have to love the characters--or hate them and then grow to love them. The character progression has to interest me. The book has to have something worthwhile to say, but never, ever beats me over the head with its ideas. And in books for kids, they have to carry a sense of hope and possibility. Because kids need books like that.

My number one picks with these qualifiers:

Middle grade boys: The Clockwork Three, Matthew Kirby. My 11-year-old son's one-sentence review: "One of the best books I ever read."

Middle-grade girls: Kate DiCamillo's The Tiger Rising, even though the POV character is a boy. Which means it's also for boys, but most good books work that way. DiCamillo has a beautiful, poetic way with words and the story is simple and lovely.

Teen girlsWolves, Boys, and Other Things That Might Kill Me, Kristen Chandler. See my earlier short review.

Teen boys: Interworld, Neil Gaiman. Gaiman's language and storytelling are always perfect. This one reminded me a bit of Diana Wynne Jones's multi-dimensional worlds, but was still brilliantly creative and entirely Neil Gaimanesque in style and development.

Fantasy: Diana Wynne Jones's Chrestomanci series, and Dalemark Quartet. See my earlier short review and the Diana Wynne Jones official website for more.

Older Teens: The Life of Pi, Yann Martel. Surprising, and then you want to start over and read it again. Makes you think. And funny in unexpected ways. My eighteen- and sixteen-year-olds loved this book. Me,too.

Adults:  To be honest, I didn't read a lot of big-people books this year, besides books for research related to my novel. The 100-books-in-a-year goal didn't exactly lend itself to long, slow reads, you know. So my favorite big-people book for the year was a really short one, a novella, actually: Hadji Murat, by Leo Tolstoy, a beautifully-written, tragic book about Tolstoy's real-life experience with the real Hadji Murat. The perfect pick for your literature-lovers, since this is not well-known or widely read. Also, it's short, so they'll have time to read it no matter how busy they are.

Picture Book: Didn't read a single one this year. Sorry. Nobody that age at my house. I'll do better there next year. So I'll just throw out one of my all-time favorite picture-books, instead: Petronella, by Jay Williams, Illustrated by Friso Henstra. Out of print, like most of Jay Williams's books, which is a gross crime, but you can still get it at and amazon in time for Christmas, I'll bet. A perfectly-told perfect story. Jay Williams was brilliant. Nobody does picture books like that any more. Yes, the illustrator matters. The newer edition makes Petronella look about 40 years old with bad bangs.


More soon for the new year, when I've finished 11 more books. Plus an author interview I've been meaning to do for a couple of months now.

No, I have not completely abandoned my blog.

We survived our trip to Alabama (didn't get lost, mugged, or crash), and my daughter won second in her 5k at the National USA Track and Field Cross-Country Junior Olympics.You can go here to see the official listing and her time, in case you're interested. Notice she was only one second away from the first place girl.

Am I bragging? Yes. As if I had anything to do with her speed. Ha, ha.

How obnoxious is this blog-design? I might get rid of it soon. Very soon. It's


  1. I thought the blog design is lovely. It reminded me of smoke curling up from a fire. The orange looks warm and cozy. Both nice for a blog called Storyfires. But if you hate it, that matters too. I'm sure you can find something just as nice.

  2. Hi, Kim! I thought it looked liked fire, too, but I don't know. Maybe I'll let it settle awhile before throwing it out.


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