Book Review: Greetings From Utopia Park

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Greetings From Utopia Park: Surviving a Transcendent Childhood by Claire Hoffman

Pages: 288

Book Description:

In this engrossing memoir, Claire Hoffman recounts the remarkable years she spent growing up in an increasingly isolated meditation community in the American heartland.
When Claire Hoffman’s alcoholic father abandons his family, his struggling wife, Liz, tells five-year-old Claire and her seven-year-old brother, Stacey, that they are going to heaven—Iowa—to live in Maharishi’s national headquarters for Heaven on Earth. For Claire’s mother, Transcendental Meditation—Maharishi’s method of meditation and his approach to living the fullest possible life—promises world peace and Enlightenment just as their family is falling apart.
At first this secluded utopia offers warmth and support, and makes these outsiders feel calm, secure, and connected to the world. At the Maharishi School, Claire learns Maharishi’s philosophy for living and meditates with her class. With the promise of peace and Enlightenment constantly on the horizon, every day is infused with magic and meaning. But as Claire and Stacey mature, their adolescent skepticism kicks in, drawing them away from the community and into delinquency and drugs. To save herself, Claire moves to California to live with her father, breaking from Maharishi completely. After she works for a decade in journalism and academia, the challenges of adulthood propel her back to Iowa, where she reexamines her spiritual upbringing and tries to reconnect with the magic of her childhood.


I had a few complaints about this book, though they were mingled among a multitude of things I thoroughly enjoyed about it. The first couple of chapters felt slow and dry to me, going more into the backstory of the movement and the lives of Claire's parents and grandparents, whose stories were compelling, but not the ones I was most interested in hearing about. The last chapter again felt a little dry and unexciting, after I'd flown through the entire midsection in the course of a couple of hours. The best parts of the book for me were the fast paced, highly readable chapters focusing on Claire's unique and troubled childhood, which transitioned into an equally tumultuous young adulthood. 
Claire's story is captivating, and at times had me wrapped up in it like a novel would. In fact, her character development and progression throughout the many events of her life often felt more like a work of fiction than of fact. However, a few of the other portions of the book that were more informational sometimes tended slightly closer to fact dumping. I had a harder time focusing on the facts and statistics she gave when describing the Transcendental Meditation Movement itself; it's history, founders, and finances were somewhat less fascinating to me than the author's personal stories from that experience. 

However, I also found the book's premise to be unique and highly intriguing. I had very little previous knowledge of this meditation movement that apparently swept the country in the 1970s and 1980s, but it's supposed corruption, seemingly impossible beliefs, and it's effects on the author's life all fascinated me. The entire time, I could see what the author seemed to realize later in life; it seemed that much of the intention of the movement was money. In every "good intention" and attempt at World Peace, I saw another corrupt, money-hungry person, using a very nontraditional method to find his success. However, I also saw the pull and the intrigue for those involved. The practices and results that meditation offered seemed wildly captivating and yes, transcendent. Through the author's own multi-faceted perspective on the movement, the reader is also afforded the same, part-cynical, part-reverent viewpoint the author seems to take. 

The writing in this book was quick, intelligent and relatively unadorned, though there were some incredibly graceful, descriptive passages that seemed to ebb and flow like moving water. The cast of characters were all the more complex and multi-dimensional because they were real and truly lived this incredible and bizarre moment in history and space.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves memoirs, or is interested in the Transcendental Meditation Movement and its effects on those who truly experienced it. 

*I received an advanced copy of this book from TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.*

Amazon Purchase Link
Barnes and Noble Purchase Link

Book Review: Jackaby

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Jackaby by William Ritter

4/5 stars

This charming novel is the first in a series that follows Abigail Rook, a young girl recently arrived in New England in 1892, who finds herself employed by a quirky detective named Jackaby. The most unique thing about Jackaby is that unlike most detectives, in addition to a keen eye and attention to detail, he can also see creatures that most can't--things like Brownies, Fairies, Trolls, mythological creatures, etc. This book is centered on a mysterious string of murders, where the suspected killer is far from human.

This book was surprisingly funny and charming! It wasn't overly deep or poetic, or anything like that, but it was certainly a delightful book to read, with plenty of suspense and intrigue throughout. The dialogue was sharp and clever, and didn't feel forced.

There were a few predictable moments, but that's never bothered me much, as long as there are plenty of other moments that I didn't see coming. And that was definitely the case here. Sometimes I'd have an inkling of what might happen; other times I had no idea what to expect.

This book was dark and macabre in the aspect of the various grisly murders the pair is investigating. However, it was also very humorous, which I hadn't expected going in! Jackaby as a character very distinctly reminds the reader of Sherlock Holmes (though I suspect this is intentional), but with the awesome added feature of being able to see and identify all manner of fascinating inhuman creatures. Additionally, the cast of secondary characters, including a detective named Charlie Cane, a ghost and a human-turned duck, each brought a new great aspect to the story.

Overall, a highly enjoyable book that I read in the span of just a few days, full of mystery, humor and quirky characters.

Cast of Characters: 8/10
Character Development: 3.5/5
Setting: 4.5/5

Recommended Standalone Novels

In my opinion, the standalone novel is a phenomena in book culture that is entirely underappreciated. As much as I love a good series, there is something immensely rewarding about a standalone novel, a book that wraps itself up inside of its own two covers, that leaves no important strings hanging about in the breeze, waiting to be snatched up by a sequel.

I'll be writing a post fairly soon about my favorite series, but these are some wonderful and entertaining standalone novels that won't leave you attached to a huge series for months.

1. The Good Girl by Mary Kubica
This is a gripping thriller novel following a kidnapping gone awry. It takes on multiple perspectives and multiple timelines, and will keep you on the edge of your seat. It's also very psychologically deep, with complex, fascinating characters and dramatic action. The ending made me cry pretty aggressively, I won't deny it.
Pages: 352
My Rating: 5/5

2. The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman
This is a gorgeous, poetic book, centered on a "museum" of sorts that at times seems more like a circus/freak show/gallery of perplexities. It's a tumultuous and beautiful love story, with mysteries, familial turmoil, history and beautiful writing.
Pages: 368
My rating: 4.5/5

3. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
Another highly poetic and captivating story, this features a young protagonist, Ava, born with the wings of a bird, into a highly unusual family. It's a magical realism piece about finding a place in the world, a mythological and romantic work of art.
Pages: 301
My Rating: 5/5

4. Stolen: A Letter to My Captor by Lucy Christopher
This book is a chilling story of a young girl named Gemma, who is stalked around the world and finally abducted and taken to the remote Australian outback by her kidnapper. It is written as a letter from Gemma to the man, Ty, who stole her, and follows their tumultuous relationship and experiences in this terrifying landscape. It also incorporates more psychological issues, and concepts like Stockholm Syndrome. The character of Ty is startling, complex and often unexpected. He is in love with Gemma, so much that he feels his only option is to take her and "protect" her in the desert. This is not a "typical" kidnapping story and it has a way of making you question your own opinions and judgments as you read it.

Pages: 304
My Rating: 4/5

5. My Name Is Memory by Ann Brashares
I no longer remember many details of this book, as it's been several years since I read it. However, I do know that it follows two characters, Daniel and Sophia, and their epic love story, which spans many centuries. Daniel is able to remember each of his lives, and spends the entirety of every one in love with the same woman, who doesn't have the memories that he does. Their love crosses centuries and continents and it's completely magical and often painful, as they are drawn together time after time, and then tragically pulled apart.
Pages: 324
My Rating: 4.5/5

6. The Future of Us by Jay Asher
This book is ingenuous in concept. It follows two friends in 1996 who turn on a new computer, only to find themselves looking at their Facebook pages 15 years in the future. Of course, Facebook hasn't been invented yet, and the two are confused to see their decisions in 1996 affecting and shaping their future lives. It's a great book, with equal parts humor and drama.

My Rating: 4/5

7. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Another enchanting novel with beautiful prose, this follows dueling illusionists in a circus that appears and disappears without warning. It's a magical, fascinating story with so much to offer. It is at times playful and romantic, at other times dark and intense.
Pages: 387
My Rating: 5/5

8. I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
Markus Zusak's writing has among my favorites; his talent is abundantly apparent. The Book Thief is incredible, but I also adore this less famous book by him. It's full of riddles, mysteries, fascinating characters and tons of intrigue. The protagonist, Ed, is a normal guy with a boring, typical life, until he accidentally stops a bank robbery. After this, he is chosen as a "messenger", traveling around his town fulfilling tasks, without knowing who or what is behind it.
Pages: 360
My Rating: 5/5 

9. Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
This is a book that I definitely need to reread, as it's been several years and I've forgotten many of the plot points. It's based off of a lesser-known Grimm's fairy tale story, and opens with two women, Dashti and Lady Saren, who are trapped together in a tower after Saren refused to marry a man she hated. Later on, two new suitors arrive, and dangerous choices must be made if they're to ever be released. It's an adventurous, romantic tale with an uncommon setting in the steppes of central Asian.

Pages: 306
My Rating: 4.5/5

How I Read

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

In my experience, every hardcore reader has their own specific reading style, preferences and habits. There are the serially monogamous readers, always reading something, but never more than one book at a time. There are the super busy readers who stick to a straight diet of audio books and e-books on their daily commute. There are traditionalists who read hardcovers and nothing else. The list could go on and on.

As for me? I too have a definite reading style that may be rather foreign to anyone who falls into one of the categories above.

Format Preference

Ahhh the classic debate: paperback vs. hardcover. And now, of course, it's only fair to include ebooks and audio books as well. I don't have a super solid and steadfast answer for this one. Actually, I'm typically reading 5-10 print books, 1-2 ebooks and 1-2 audio books at once. I prefer them all for different reasons. For example, I'm cursed with pretty terrible motion sickness, and struggle to read in cars or on the train. For this reason, I've recently gotten into audio books as a way to fill my train rides and walks to work. I also enjoy reading an ebook from time to time because my kindle is so tiny and light, I can read it in the dark, and it holds so many lovely books in one small place!

However, my preference will always be to physically hold a book. One of the reasons I love reading is because of the physical feeling and experience it provides. It's familiar and comforting, and holding a book immediately puts me in the mood to read. In most cases, I do prefer paperbacks. They're cheaper, lighter, and easier to hold onto. However, hardcovers can be much more attractive, they're more durable, and sometimes I need a book so bad that I just won't wait for the paperback edition to be released.

My Style

Now I say this knowing full well that some people may be appalled by the way I read books. Those who prefer to read one single thing at a time may find it hard to fathom, but the typical list of books I'm reading is between 8 and 13. *gasp!* This, as I said before, typically includes several ebooks and audio books as well as a plethora of paperbacks and hardcovers. And I realize you may be wondering now why and how I read so many different things at once.

Essentially, I like to have options at all times. I'm not always in the mood to read one thing in particular, but if I have 10 books to choose from, I can pick up whichever intrigues me the most at any given moment, or I can read a little of each (which often ends up happening). In most cases, I'll be steadily plowing through my list of "currently reading" titles, and one book will start to pick up speed faster than others. At that point, I may start to focus my attention much more singularly on that book until it's finished, at which point I'll go back to my steady mixture of titles.

As for the question of how I'm able to read so many things at once: it's never really been a problem for me to distinguish between the books I'm reading.  I never overlap the characters or plot points of several books, partly because I've always had a good memory for these types of things, and partly because I tend to be reading a wide variety of things at once. I'll have some YA fiction, some general fiction, a memoir or two, a graphic novel or comic, and one or two rereads or middle grade novels, all at once, and that's the way I like it. I read best when I'm inspired to read something, which is why I like to have such a variety of options.

And when do I read?
I make time (generally 2-3 hours if I can) before bed every night just to read. I bring all of the books that are intriguing me, and spend time unwinding and getting some solid reading done in my bed, so I can simply go right to sleep when I start getting too tired to concentrate. I also tend to read in the morning if I have a little time before work, on the train, in the afternoons, on breaks at work, if my computer is acting up, and so on and so forth. So, essentially all the time. At this point, I'd guess that's not a shocker. ;)

Book Review: You

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

You by Caroline Kepnes

2.7/5 stars, to be precise

To say my feelings are conflicted about this book is a huge understatement. At times I wanted to give it five stars. At many other times, I would have preferred to give it one or two. So I suppose a middle ground is this 2.7/5, which still doesn't feel *quite* right. Regardless, I'm sticking with it.

I'll also preface this review by saying that I listened to the audio book version of this book, which I don't often do, and which may have had some effect on my opinions of it. It's quite possible that on paper, some of the parts of this book sounded a lot less creepy and weird and disturbing than they did being read aloud by a real man.

*This review may contain some minor spoilers, but nothing life changing or book ruining*

First, the things I liked about the book: It is completely unique. Kepnes' writing style in You is not one you read often. The use of second-person narration at first seemed totally cool and awesome (though by the end was driving me insane). The plot is suspenseful and has many unexpected, thrilling and shocking moments. The pacing is quite fast and doesn't leave room for many boring or dead (pun intended, hehe) moments. The characters are well established, even if you hate almost every single one.

However, I also had many complaints. All of the reasons I started out loving the book were among the reasons for my disliking it by the end. The main character, Joe, and his narration style of referring to the object of his obsession (also known as the other protagonist, Beck) as "you" constantly and obsessing over her every action and movement became repetitive, monotonous and disturbing to me.

Also, this book was so damn creepy (sort of in a good way, but not really). Seriously if there are real people out there who think and act like Joe does, I don't think I'll ever sleep again. His obsession is haunting and the things he does that he convinces himself are "for the best" are terrifying. He's definitely a psychologically fascinating character with numerous disorders or serious issues, which does give the book a nice layer of intrigue and depth. However, he's then also a total douche as well as being a total stalker and psychopath, which actually made him much less interesting to me. In my opinion, a mentally disturbed character, while creepy, is also interesting and worth reading the perspective of. But a sexist ass is someone I find much less appealing to listen to.

Joe, as a narrator, is also incredibly repetitive and delusional. Some of the phrases he uses are repeated so many times I thought I might scream the next time he used one. My note to the author: when you come up with a cool, creepy or usable phrase, don't overuse it to the point where it's mind-numbingly painful to hear even one more time.

Lastly (at least for now), I can certainly handle graphic violence, language or sexual content in books. In fact, as long as it's well-done, I enjoy any of those. However, this book was a heavy-handed on all three, particularly the sexual descriptions. At times, I began to wonder when it became an erotic novel instead of a dramatic thriller. Seriously, a bit too graphic and a bit too much. Those who are thinking of picking this book up should definitely keep that in mind.

All in all, I didn't totally hate this book, but for someone who started out really enjoying it, it says a lot that I gave it a low rating by the end. There was a lot to like in this book, but also a lot that was aggravating, disturbing, or just redundant. I also can't say whether I would have enjoyed it more in a print version with my own mental voice narrating, but it's definitely possible.

Frustrations: 4.5/5
Creepy Factor: 5/5
Suspense: 4/5
Cover: 4.5/5
How Much I Hate Joe: 10/5
How Much I Love Ethan: 7/5
Audio book Narration: 4.5/5 because his voice is awesome, 2/5 because it made me feel alarmed

Classic or "Old" Books that Won't Bore You

Monday, June 13, 2016

For the people who didn't love their high school English classes and resented required reading, "classic" books or anything written decades in the past may be a terrifying and taboo reading category. And it's true that some "classic" literature no longer seems like it should be so popular in classrooms. There is certainly a huge wealth of newer literature that deserves to be integrated into curriculum everywhere, and hopefully as time moves on, some required reading lists will be updated to include some "new classics" as well.

Nevertheless, there are some incredible classic books out there that won't bore you or make you feel like you're trapped in high school again. For those who just faked their way through required reading, or for those looking for some classic literature to get into, these are some of my suggestions for older novels or classic novels that won't bore you and might teach you some amazing things as well.

1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I talk about this book a lot! Because I love it so much! This book is great for anyone who enjoys romantic and humorous, character-based stories, and for those who enjoy Victorian Literature. It is delightful and so much more complex than it may seem at first glance.

2. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
A very popular high school requirement, The Great Gatsby is much better read for enjoyment than for a class, in my opinion. I read it first on my own for fun, and loved it and then read it a second time for class, and got a deeper and better appreciation of it. But I definitely could see liking it a whole lot less if I only ever read it when I was forced to. It is opulent, poetic, and features highly complex and conflicted characters.

3. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Possibly the most classic "young adult" novel of all, this one is well-known, and can be fairly polarizing to readers. Most either love it or hate it. While I'm definitely among the camp who loved it, the style of this book certainly might not be for everyone. But in my opinion, this book is hilarious, sharp and entertaining as hell.

4. Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster
Why don't more people know about this book?! This will forever be one of my all-time favorites--I've read it quite a few times, and it never becomes less enjoyable for me. It's the adorable and humorous tale of Judy, an orphan with big dreams who receives money from a mysterious benefactor so she can attend college, with the stipulation that she must write him letters frequently. What follows is one of the best epistolary stories of all time, featuring plenty of laughs, intellect and romance.

4. Beloved by Toni Morrison
This book both creeped me out and emotionally moved me. It follows Sethe, a mother of four who escapes slavery, only to have to make a terrible choice when some of her slave captors come back to find her. What follows is part ghost story, part journey to forgiveness, and completely amazing.

5. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
I will admit that this book does get a bit dry in just a few parts. But it's also essentially the first true crime book ever written, and it's extraordinarily fascinating. Capote unearths the true story of a quadruple murder in rural Kansas, and writes the book based entirely on his extensive research of the case. He also conducted numerous personal interviews with the convicted murderers in the case, making the book very psychologically fascinating as well.

6. 1984 by George Orwell
This book felt super creepy to me, but also highly fascinating. It was published in 1949, about the then-future year of 1984, which of course has long since passed. It's thoroughly interesting to see someone's prediction of a future year when, as a reader, we know what has actually happened in that time. Orwell's imagined version of 1984 is brutal, dark, startling and imaginative.

7. Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
I will give the disclaimer that this book isn't for everyone, and it can be a bit dense or confusing at times. But it also an excellent and interesting story, and if you take the time to really read it carefully, it's highly enjoyable. It tells the story of a girl named Tess, and her increasing misfortunes and tribulations. For a book published in the late 1800's, it is impressively scandalous, action-packed and emotionally moving.

8. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
This is both an excellent book and movie, set in a mental hospital in the 1960s. The world the novel creates is a much different one than what we'd expect in today's mental hospitals and therapy centers. It is a brutal and graphic story, but also heartily humorous at times as well. Many do favor the film adaptation in this case (myself included) simply because of Jack Nicholson's phenomenal performance, but the book is excellent as well, and will entertain and teach you from beginning to end.

9. Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote
This book is shockingly different from the other Capote book on this list, but is equally worthy of its inclusion. It is technically a novella, very short and very readable. This charming story could definitely be devoured in the span of one rainy afternoon. It follows Holly Golightly, one of film and literature's most well-known characters, a very outspoken, unique woman with lofty goals, living in Manhattan in the 1940s.

10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Possibly the most classic of any typical required school reading, this is truly a literary masterpiece. Harper Lee's gorgeous book examines race, family, friendship and justice. The writing is poetic, beautiful and sometimes humorous, and the characters are wonderfully fleshed out and established. If you are among the few people who never read this book for school, consider reading it now, at any stage in your life. The morals and messages in this book are lifelong and will never stop being important.

11. A Time to Love and a Time to Die by Erich Maria Remarque
This is a deep and emotionally moving book that takes a unique perspective on one of the world's most well known events. The book follows a German soldier in WWII, and was the first book I remember reading that had an opposite perspective on a war covered so thoroughly in my schooling. This book is less popularized than some of the others on this list, but that doesn't make it any less excellent. Like a few of the others, it can be dense or a bit hard to follow at times, but this is something of an expectation in some older literature, and particularly in translated volumes. However, this is also a captivating, emotionally moving novel that will open your eyes to a totally new perspective of WWII.

My Most Beloved Childhood Books

Monday, June 6, 2016

Brace yourselves for my most nostalgic post of all time. Over the past several days of writing this post, I've spent much more time than normal reminiscing about my childhood, where my love of books began...

From my infancy, I was read to constantly by my parents. My mom has always been a huge book lover, and of her three children, I was the only one to really pick up this trait.

As a tiny child I'd carry books around constantly. This has not changed, and I hope it never does. I am the girl who always brings a book (or several) anywhere I go, just in case. I can't even begin to count how many times I was glad I did. I read ten books at once, switch from one to another every few pages, read and reread beloved books, and can't stop myself from recommending books to any fellow book lover I meet.

And I know without a doubt that the books in this list were some of the defining factors that have made me the book loving fiend I am today. A childhood spent adoring books is a good childhood, and makes for a good adulthood - of this I am very confident. So, below, in a general order of books for younger children to books for older children, these are some of the stories that have defined the reader I am today.

1. Eric Carle Books
Who can forget such colorful childhood classics as "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" and "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" These books are a staple for many young readers and families for a good reason.

2. Sandra Boynton Books
Another hugely popular children's book author. I remember clutching these books from a very early age, carrying them around with me as I did with all of my most beloved stories. Boynton's illustrations are unique and very recognizable and the stories are adorable.

3. Owl Babies by Martin Waddell
One of my all-time favorite children's books. I still remember it vividly to this day. I mean, look at the precious owl babies!

4. The Great Fuzz Frenzy by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel
This is an adorable and amusing book about a group of prairie dogs living in tunnels underground, who are thrown into a frenzy when a tennis ball falls in their hole. This is a favorite of my entire family to this day. It's truly a hoot.

5. Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner
Another hilarious book that I still love. My Ma had great voices for the characters when she read this that still make me laugh when I imagine them. These books are about a young and amusing kitten who thinks he's a Chihuahua.

6. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
Still without a doubt one of the greatest books of all time. This is a charming, funny, heartwarming classic tale that most have read, or at least heard of. I almost feel a need to read this for maybe a third or fourth time now as an adult, and remember once again just how wonderful it is.

7. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
This book is absolutely gorgeous. The writing is just beautiful and the story itself is wonderful as well. This book was read to me as a child, and even then I could recognize beautiful writing when I heard it here.

8. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
Okay, obviously Kate writes some amazing stuff. This is another incredible children's book by her, where she yet again proves that children, like adults, can appreciate beautiful stories and writing.

9. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
This book is stunning. For those who don't know, it is an impressively huge children's book, due mainly to the fact that more than half of the pages are completely illustrated. The book is told in groups of written pages, interspersed with groups of illustrated black and white pages that continue the story.

10. The Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
I'm currently rereading this beloved 13-book series from my childhood, and thoroughly enjoying it. These are darkly humorous books about three orphans, an evil villain, and all of their very unfortunate experiences. The books seem to mature with their readers, getting a bit longer and more sophisticated each time.

11. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
This book is amazing! I seriously can't even describe how much I loved this book as a kid and how much I want to reread it now (casually just put it on hold at the library). It's funny and mysterious and adventurous and extremely unique. I'd highly recommend this for parents looking for something to read aloud to their kids, as I'd imagine you'd enjoy it just as much as your children would.

12. Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke
What a majestic book. Want to start your children on a dragon-loving path early on? Here's your strategy. I cherished this book, and still do. The three main characters are a dragon, a Brownie named Sorrel, and a young boy, and they. are. all. best. friends. It's understandably awesome.

13. May Bird and the Ever After by Jodi Lynn Anderson
This was the first darker, creepier book I read, and I loved it. It follows a young girl and her cat, who fall into a lake behind her house. They emerge on the other side in an "alternate" world, with a friendly ghost guide, lots of crazy adventures, and a spooky villain she's fleeing from, in the hopes of getting back to her real life.

14. The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
This is a remarkable book, and has a special place on my top ten list of favorite books to this day. My mom read this to my sister and I as kids, and we absolutely adored it. The writing is excellent, and the characters are the kind you want to meet in real life and have adventures with. Seriously, look at that shiny seal...award winners are always awesome, right?

15. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
Another award winner! Even though I will admit to enjoying the movie adaptation of this, the book is so much better! First of all, the movie changes and adds a ton of stuff, when this book was basically perfect to begin with. This book began my love of retellings and fueled my desire for magic and
humor and royalty.

16. The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
Another one of those book-is-so-much-better-than-the-movie situations. Seriously, an amazing book. The first one is by far the best, while the second and third are just pretty good, and the fourth is really not great (in my opinion). The book is essentially about an underground city where people are given specific jobs at a certain age, and it focuses on two characters, Lina and Doon, best friends who, through a series of crazy events, end up fleeing the city and changing everything they've known.

17. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
By now, most have heard of these famous books following a group of siblings who discover the portal to a magical land in a wardrobe. It's a longer series, and teaches lesson upon lesson while also being extremely entertaining and exciting.

18. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
This is a very unique and captivating book about a girl receiving prompts and clues that take her around her city. It follows three different storylines, and deals with time travel and various mysteries. There are some unexpected surprises in the book, and it is very well written, and enjoyable for adults and kids alike.

19. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
Cornelia writes amazing books, part 2! If my memory is correct, this book is designed for a slightly older audience than Dragon Rider, but both are fantasy books for middle grade readers. This book is particularly fantastical, with magical creatures, magical books, and tons of adventure.

20. Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series by Rick Riordan
I hear all of Riordan's series are excellent, though I have yet to read any besides this. Still, these are the original and most classic of his books, and highly beloved to all those who read them. For those who don't know, these books follow the adventures and perils of Percy Jackson, a young demigod, whose father is Poseidon himself. Each book contains new mysteries and action, as Percy and his friends take on quests and maintain order for Olympus.

21. The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot
This is an adorable book series from a very excellent young adult and middle grade author. These books are quite different from the movie adaptations, though the basic premise of Mia discovering she's a princess is the same in the books as it is in the movie. This book is cute, funny and intelligent. I thoroughly enjoyed this, as well as the continuing books in the series.

22. Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
Of course, a list like this could never be complete without mentioning one of my all time favorite series, Harry Potter. At this point, I doubt there are many people who don't know about Harry Potter, but if you haven't read these books, no matter your age, I implore you to pick them up and give them a try. They are amazing, funny, fascinating, and beloved for a very good reason. I'm currently rereading the entire series for about the fourth or fifth time and I've never regretted anything less.

23. Holes by Louis Sachar
This is a very unique book following a young boy whose family is apparently under an ancient "bad luck curse", and who is sent to a juvenile detention center to dig holes for a summer. The book centers around a huge mystery and is full of action and humor. There are also flashbacks and the like, which make it an even more entertaining read.

24. Alex Rider Series and Raven's Gate by Anthony Horowitz
Horowitz is truly a master of middle grade and young adult suspense and action stories. I read and loved the Alex Rider books, which feature a young spy and his various missions. I also read Raven's Gate, and though I don't remember all of the plot anymore, I remember feeling a burning need to tell everyone I knew about this book as soon as I finished it. It was that intense, even back then.

If you read this entire lengthy blog post, I seriously appreciate you! Please feel free to comment below the childhood books you loved and cherish!