Five Young Adult Novels For Winter Break

It’s the last day of Book Rec Week!  (I bet you didn’t even know I called it that.  I know how to forget what I called a week of posts!)  I’m so excited to bring you my last recommendations, five young adult novels.  And don’t give me any of that “I’m an adult, I can’t read a teen book” nonsense, because you totally can.

Winter Break Book Recommendations

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children | Ransom Riggs

This is one of the weirdest books I’ve ever read. But it’s so great, and it’s the first of a trilogy. The second book, Hollow City, came out in 2012, and the third is set to come out in 2015. It follows Jacob, a teenager from Florida, who discovers his grandfather dying in the woods, and suffers an apparent nervous breakdown. Then, he and his father go on a trip to Wales for a few weeks, and everything changes. Jacob discovers the children’s home where grandfather lived as a teen during World War II, and that just maybe the other children he grew up with are still there, hidden from the rest of the world.


We Were Liars | E Lockhart

Oh my god, this book. I read it in less than 24 hours, and it’s incredible. I made a video about it here, and you can watch that for my reaction closer to the time I read it. We Were Liars tells the story of a teenage girl, Cadence, who goes to spend the summer with her grandfather, her aunts, and her cousins on the family’s New England private island. But all is not as it seems and there are mysteries lurking beneath the pristine surface of the family’s life, and Cadence needs to know them. When you read it, don’t read the last 50 pages in public. And if anyone asks you what it’s about, just lie.


The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks | E. Lockhart

I read this after I read We Were Liars simply because it was by E. Lockhart and it looked good. I was not disappointed. Frankie is a brilliant girl going to an elite boarding school. She has it all, good grades, good friends, hot boyfriend, and inspiring classes. Then, she discovers her boyfriend is a part of an all-male secret society, and that infuriates her. You see, Frankie is a young feminist, just discovering how divided the world can be. So she sets out to prove that she’s smarter than all of them, and she just might be. There are some truly epic pranks, a lot of mystery, and an incredibly cool protagonist. Frankie is one of my favorite protagonists of all time.


The Lovely Bones | Alice Sebold

This book is amazing. I actually haven’t seen the movie, because the book is so amazing. (Sidenote: have you seen the movie? Does it do the book justice? Tell me in the comments). I read it at about 12 or 13, and I still think about it all the time. The story follows Susie Salmon from the moments before she’s murdered into the afterlife, where she watches her family for decades. Her family doesn’t know who killed her, and we see them struggle with her loss, searching for her killer. We watch her younger sister grow into a woman Susie is intensely proud of; we see her parents face the loss of their daughter, and struggle to keep their family together. It’s a very intense book, and I recommend it highly.


The Perks of Being A Wallflower | Stephen Chbosky

This is one of my favorite books. I might go so far as to call it my favorite book. It’s an epistolary novel, told in the form of letters he’s writing to this anonymous friend of a friend explaining all that’s happened during his freshman year of high school. And believe me, Charlie’s year was interesting. He starts out with no friends, but by the end of the first few weeks, he’s found himself absorbed into this group of seniors. Charlie is also totally in love with one of them: Sam. But Sam is dating an older boy, and Charlie dates another friend, and that ends badly for everyone. There is also a secret trauma in Charlie’s past that comes to light after a while. This is a wonderful, amazing book. Everyone needs to read it.


Those are my final winter break book recommendations for you. For more, check out the rest of the week here.  Have a wonderful break, a great holiday whichever holiday you celebrate, and in the comments tell me your book recommendations.


Five Lightheared Mysteries for Winter Break

I refer to these as lighthearted not because there isn’t any violence or death, but because of the tone of the prose. Most lighthearted mysteries are also narrated by amateur detectives. Not all of them, as you’ll see, but many are. I love a good lighthearted mystery for winter break, because they’re so easy to get through. They’re not as terrifying as serious mysteries, nor do they have the thriller elements that many serious mysteries do.

Winter Break Book Recommendations

The Sweetness At The Bottom of the Pie | Alan Bradley

I read this book on my last trip to DC, after I got it at a library book sale. It follows 11-year-old Flavia deLuce, an amateur chemist/detective in an aristocratic English family during the 1950s. The real mystery starts when she discovers an old stamp, a connection to her father’s school days, and a murder plot. Flavia’s narrative voice sounds older than she is, but in context it really works.

Stephanie Plum series | Janet Evanovich

Janet Evanovich has been writing Stephanie Plum novels for about 19 years. My mom and I picked one up for a road trip as an audiobook, and we’ve been hooked since the first. The series starts when 30-something lingerie buyer Stephanie Plum finds herself divorced, laid off, and in need of some quick cash. Her mother suggested a filing gig with her cousin Vinny, but when she goes to ask it’s already filled. Of course, since Vinny’s a bail bondsman, there are always bail jumpers to catch, and Stephanie does need the money. She’s also perpetually caught between two equally difficult men: cop Morelli and fellow bounty hunter Ranger. Stephanie’s narrative voice is light, and the novels are always infused with comedy, be it Stephanie’s new friend Lula or her elderly (and slightly demented) grandmother. You can start anywhere, but I’m on the twentieth.

Dug To Death | Adrian Praetzellis

This was actually assigned for my archeology class sophomore year. Why? Because it’s a teaching novel. Praetzellis uses the novel’s mystery to teach readers about archeology procedures. The setting? Obviously an archeological dig. The characters? Archeologists, geologists, and the like. At the back of the book you’ll even find a glossary of archeological terms. You don’t have to be into archeology to enjoy it, but it certainly helps. Because the plot isn’t the only focus of the book, it makes for a fairly lighthearted read.

Lighthearted Mysteries

Nero Wolfe | Rex Stout

This series is one that’s not narrated by an amateur detective. They’re narrated by Archie Goodwin, a private detective and assistant to the great Nero Wolfe. Beginning with Fer-De-Lance, New York’s greatest detective has been written about since the 1930s. Of course, after the original author Rex Stout died others have taken up his mantle. I’ve loved Nero Wolfe mysteries since the early 2000s tv show, which I own on DVD but I’m sure you could find online if you want to watch it.

Hannah Swensen Mysteries | Joanne Fluke

I’ve only read one of these (Candy Cane Murder) but my mom has read at least half a dozen. She loves them and has been reading them for about 12 years. They’re set in Minnesota in a small town where there is an alarmingly high murder rate. Hannah, the main character, owns a bakery called the Cookie Jar, and gets into a lot of hijinks. Plus, every book contains at least one recipe!

Five Non-Fiction Books For Winter Break

If non-fiction is more your cup of tea than fiction is, then I’ve got recommendations for you!  Or for someone you love who needs some non-fiction this winter.  Keep in mind, most of the non-fiction I read is related to history, anthropology, or archeology. There is also the occasional book about religion or languages, so you won’t find anything for your favorite physics nerd here.

Winter Break Book Recommendations

Vikings, Saxons, and Celts | Bryan Sykes

This book is the sweet spot where history and science meet. It gives both historical documents and genetic history a foothold in the historiography of the British Isles. Sykes defines the British Isles as the modern countries of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Brian Sykes is a geneticist, not a historian, but as a historian, his work holds up to my scrutiny. I’ve actually had this book since Christmas 2010, and I’ve never gotten around to reading it until now. If you’re into history and science, this is the read for you.

In Small Things Forgotten | James Deetz

James Deetz is sort of a god in American Archeology. If you can trace your academic lineage to him, you feel pretty great about yourself. I know, because my archeology professor was a student of a student of Deetz. I read this for my archaeology class, and I still keep it on my bookshelf and flip through it now and then. If you’re into archaeology, you should definitely read this. Plus, I kind of want to make a blog series called In Small Things Remembered and write about archaeology.

Violence in Medieval Europe | Warren Brown

Another former class book, I read this as research for my thesis. If you’re into medieval history, this is a great book for you. It goes into incredible detail, and it doesn’t paint the middle ages as a brutish, ugly period. It wasn’t a brutish, ugly period in human history. There was plenty of beautiful art, incredible writing, and cultural exchange. Of course, there was also a lot of violence. For a full picture of that violence, read this book.

Non Fiction Books For Winter Break

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue | John McWhorter

I must admit, I haven’t read all of this. I bought it in August but then school started up so I haven’t had the chance to read it all yet. It traces the history of English, and the linguistics that have gone into it, and what I did read was fantastic. I’m a major nerd when it comes to language and history (I tried to read Beowulf in Old English several times, didn’t work) so this book fascinates me. If you’re into language at all, and you speak English, then this book is for you. It’s not terribly long either, and what I read wasn’t dry at all.

Religions of the Silk Road | Richard Foltz

The last book is another one I read for class. As an undergrad I took two religion classes, and totally loved them. This book gives the history and a brief introduction to various religions that have lived (and sometimes died) on the Silk Road trading route. Of course, there is a lot of overlap because the Silk Road created immense cultural exchange. If you’re into comparative religious studies, this book will keep you enthralled all winter break.


That’s all I’ve got for you today, but check back tomorrow for more book recommendations!  As always, any of these recommendations can really work for anyone, whether you’re a student or not.

5 Reasons To Read Classic Literature

I’m a historian, not a literary scholar, but for most of my time studying history, I read at least one novel per class.  So I know just how great classic literature can be.  Personal enjoyment is great, but how about five other reasons to choose a classic book to read this summer?

5 Reasons To Read Classic Lit

1. You can get a great sense of the culture at the time.

This is part of what I loved about reading Dickens.  I learned so much about the cultural expectations for noble women in France and England in the late 18th century when I read A Tale of Two Cities.


2. You see the references to them in all kinds of modern media.

The people who write books now, often studied literature in school.  Even if they didn’t, writers are always avid readers.  Screenwriters, movie directors, television showrunners, they’re all often avid readers.  So you’ll find Gatsby references wrapped in Odyssey parallels, tied up with a bow first tied by Dostoevsky.  When you’ve read the original source material, you find a lot of parallels, and you can really understand current media.


3. Increase your analytical skills.

Really, all reading will do this.  But because when we read classic literature we’re usually reading the best of the era, we’re getting really good books.  If you were to just select what was popular, you’d probably find a lot of badly written books.  Instead, you’re getting a choice selection of good books, with complex storylines, often written to be published in separate sections, which have been influencing culture for decades, centuries, or in some cases, millennia.  By reading complex books, and analyzing them, you can develop your analytical and critical thinking skills.

5 Reasons To Read Classic Lit

4. Cultures change, people don’t.

When you read classic literature, you discover something really incredible.  While the cultures and societies change, underneath that people stay the same.  So many girls grow up seeing themselves reflected in Jane Eyre, or Elizabeth Bennet, or one of the March sisters.  People are ultimately the same no matter if they’re from 21st century America, 18th century Peru, or Ancient Greece.  The first joke written down in English was a penis joke, written by an English monk.  Medieval monks loved writing down dirty jokes.  Yes, there are a lot of differences between the cultures that Odysseus and Telemachus encounter, and the ones that you and I will encounter, but when you read their stories you find the same types of people you’ll meet in your own life.


5. Imagine others complexly.

The cultures in these books are so wildly different from our own, that by living in them just temporarily, we see a totally different world.  By getting to live in someone else’s head for the duration of the book – in some cases multiple people’s heads – you see our own world in a different way.  When you read the Great Gatsby, you can look at the world through Nick Carraway’s eyes, as someone who’s learned the lessons of Gatsby’s obsessive love.  While you can get into lots of different types of heads in modern literature, the variation in culture really helps you learn to imagine others complexly.


My favorite pieces of classic literature are The Great Gatsby, A Tale of Two Cities, and Chretien De Troye’s Arthurian Romances.  You can find a lot of classic literature for free in ebook format, widely in libraries, or fairly cheaply in print format through Amazon or used book stores.  This is your casual reminder that I am a sometimes booktuber.  What’s your favorite classic novel or short story?