Celebrating 20 Years of Sonderbooks: Favorites from 2004

This month, it’s been 20 years since I began writing Sonderbooks! To celebrate, I’m doing 20 posts reminiscing about my favorite books I read each year. So far, it’s been extra fun to realize exactly how long I’ve loved the books of some of my now-favorite authors. With some of the nonfiction, I’m discovering when my thinking started going a certain direction.

Today let’s look at favorite books from 2004. As usual, I’ll start with the Sonderbooks Special Edition I wrote summing up my reading year. I’m not going to repeat the books I reread, mostly listed here as “Old Favorites” and “Classics.”

Oh wow! When I look at the list — this is going to take awhile. I read some amazing books that year. Again, I’ll start with the three favorites:

Crown Duel, by Sherwood Smith

How I love this one! I read it because of a story in the Firebirds anthology I mentioned in the 2003 post. It’s one of those slow-burn romance fantasy stories that’s just exquisite. Two books were put together in this edition. Both have wonderful twist endings. The second has a relationship building in letters, so she doesn’t even know who she’s falling in love with as it happens.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke

This one’s so good, too! Despite being extremely long and for adults, I couldn’t stop reading it. This is alternate reality England during the Napoleonic Wars where magic exists. Magic users must decide what they’re willing to do to fight Napoleon.

The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness, by Joel ben Izzy

I still think of this as one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. Joel ben Izzy was a storyteller — and he lost his ability to speak. He tells that story in this book, weaving in tales from around the world for a completely enchanting tale.

Sabriel, by Garth Nix

Wow! That’s still my reaction to thinking about reading Sabriel. It presents an elaborate fantasy world where some have the power of necromancy — walking into the realm of Death and sometimes learning things, sometimes bringing people back, but many times helping send people on or keeping things away that should not come out of death. That same year, I read the wonderful follow-ups, Lirael and Abhorsen.

Sorcery and Cecilia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot, by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

So much fun! This is essentially a Jane Austen book with magic added. The two authors wrote it in letters to one another as letters between the young ladies in the book. I also read and enjoyed the follow-up, The Grand Tour.

The Hollow Kingdom, by Clare Dunkle

This wonderful novel is about a teen who gets pulled into the underworld to be the Goblin King’s bride — but things don’t then go as the reader expects. This author lived near me in Germany, and I think of her as a friend after some wonderful conversations together. Later that same year, I read the also-wonderful follow-up, Close Kin.

Enna Burning, by Shannon Hale

This sequel to The Goose Girl goes beyond the fairy tale that inspired the original and adds to the system of magic in that world as Enna, a friend of Ani, discovers a power that can be used in war.

Wren to the Rescue, by Sherwood Smith

This is the start of a trilogy, and I also devoured Wren’s Quest, and Wren’s War. Yes, I read them because of how much I loved Crown Duel. This is a full fantasy adventure trilogy for kids.

Defending Irene, by Kristin Wolden Nitz

Yay! Another good friend and writing buddy got published! This tells the tale of an American girl wanting to play soccer — while her family lives in a town in Italy.

Indigo’s Star, by Hilary McKay

Hilary McKay’s stories about the Casson family continue to be wonderful.

The Schwa Was Here, by Neal Shusterman

This was my introduction to Neal Shusterman, with a character who is memorable for being unmemorable.

godless, by Pete Hautman

This one’s sticking with me. A kid decides to worship the water tower and recruits others to his new religion, and consequences ensue.

Nights of Rain and Stars, by Maeve Binchy

More Maeve Binchy! This one’s about a small group of tourists who meet on a Greek island.

Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett

My first Ann Patchett novel! This tells about an opera singer who gets taken hostage by a group of terrorists — and somehow makes an enchanting and haunting story out of that.

The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde

Oh boy, my first Jasper Fforde book, featuring literary detective Thursday Next! In his alternate-reality England, people can go in and out of books, and Jane Eyre’s life has been threatened. But that’s only a little bit of the wackiness.

The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho

A fable for adults, poetically told.

An Assembly Such as This: Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman, Book 1, by Pamela Aidan

This is the beginning of a delightful trilogy that gives us the events of Pride and Prejudice from Mr. Darcy’s perspective. I read the second book, Duty and Desire, that same year, and the third book, These Three Remain, the following year. Marvelous!

Expecting Adam, by Martha Beck

This is a memoir about an incredibly difficult pregnancy while the author was a grad student at Harvard, combined with the pressure to abort the baby because he had Down syndrome. And what an amazing gift that baby turned out to be.

The Inescapable Love of God, by Thomas Talbott

I became a Universalist from reading books by George MacDonald along with the Bible, before I started writing Sonderbooks. But Thomas Talbott’s book was the first book I read by a living author arguing that Universalism is the clearest and most straightforward way to interpret the Bible. He gives a systematic defense of Christian Universalism.

If Grace Is True and If God Is Love, by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland

These books aren’t as Bible-based as Thomas Talbott’s, but they do present a logical case for Universalism, and they opened my eyes to how many of the church fathers taught Universalism.

Count Down: Six Kids Vie for Glory at the World’s Toughest Math Competition, by Steve Olson

Another book about brilliant kids and Math! With thoughts about doing math.

Earth From Above, by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

I’ve read other books that do this — gorgeous photographs of our beautiful world, taken by satellites. I’ll never get tired of looking at them.

Actual Size, by Steve Jenkins

This was my introduction to Steve Jenkins’ amazingly realistic paper-cut artwork. In this book, he shows parts of animals in actual size, and it’s visually stunning.

I, Crocodile, by Fred Marcellino

Why do I so enjoy picture books where someone gets eaten? (Don’t answer that.) Anyway, this story of a crocodile taken to Paris still makes me chuckle.

This list is so long, you won’t believe me it’s only the highlights from 2004! But take a look at my full list of 2004 Stand-outs to appreciate that I really am pulling out a few.

Celebrating 20 Years of Sonderbooks: Favorites from 2003

This month I’m celebrating 20 years of writing Sonderbooks by looking back at some of my favorite books I’ve read over the years, the ones that have stood out among the Stand-outs.

As I look these over, I’m blown away by what good books I was reading! It must have helped that at the time, I worked half-time. More time for reading! Once again, I’m only going to focus on the books I read for the first time in 2003.

Tonight I’ll reminisce about my favorites from the Best Books of 2003.

That year, I posted my three favorite books of the year on top of the page, so I’ll start with them.

The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale

The first of the Books of Bayern series, and the book that made me fall in love with Shannon Hale’s writing! It’s a retelling of the classic fairy tale about a princess who must learn her own worth. Still one of my all-time favorite books.

Beyond the Limit: The Dream of Sofya Kovalevskaya, by Joan Spicci

Another that’s still one of my all-time favorites. A novelization of the life of the great mathematician Sofya Kovalevskaya, who had to enter a fake marriage in order to leave Russia and study mathematics, but who still faced incredible obstacles.

Saffy’s Angel, by Hilary McKay

This is the first Hilary McKay book I read, introducing me to the amazing and chaotic Casson family. Brimming with joy.

East, by Edith Pattou

Another fairy tale retelling that arrived at the Sembach Base Library the same day as Goose Girl. This one retells “East of the Sun, West of the Moon.” It’s also amazing.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J. K. Rowling

Yes, Book Five came out that year. We were still reading them together as a family.

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, by Vivian Vande Velde

So much fun! Six new versions of the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale that all make more sense than the original.

Feed, by M. T. Anderson

This one’s already a classic. It’s set in a future society where people get a chip implanted in their brain to stream the internet — and we can see that their language and ability to think deteriorates.

A Coalition of Lions, by Elizabeth E. Wein

The first Elizabeth Wein book I read! It’s about a daughter of King Arthur who has had to flee to Africa and the kingdom of Aksum.

Run from the Nun!, by Erin MacLellan

My own friend Erin got published! This delightful book is about a girl who tries to get herself kicked out of Catholic school.

Firebirds, edited by Sharyn November

This truly wonderful short story collection led me to some new favorite fantasy authors.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Mark Haddon

A novel for adults, this story is told by an autistic boy who solves a mystery.

The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

This novel was an amazing accomplishment, telling the story of a man with an illness that makes him skip around in time without any warning. Who manages to fall in love and get married. The book skips around in time, and yet the author pulls it off.

Life of Pi, by Yann Martel

Another astonishing and memorable book. About a boy in a lifeboat with a tiger. Amazingly, he lives to tell the tale — and we believe it. Or at least maybe we do.

Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons, by Lorna Landvik

Isn’t that the best title? A fun story of female friendship and how it can get you through the crises of life.

Children of the Star, by Sylvia Louise Engdahl

This is an amazing science fiction trilogy about a society built on a new planet.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith

Wow, that was when I read the first of these wonderful books. I now have seventeen reviews of books from that series posted, about a woman who starts a detective agency in Botswana.

The Road from the Past: Traveling through History in France, by Ina Caro

A wonderful combination of history and travel guide — my only sorrow is that we never did make it to these parts of France while we lived next door in Germany.

Feynman’s Rainbow: A Search for Beauty in Physics and in Life, by Leonard Mlodinow

Some really wonderful musings about life based in the author’s relationship with Richard Feynman.

What Should I Do With My Life? The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question, by Po Bronson

I was surprised how much I enjoyed this book and how much it stuck with me — true stories of how people decided what they’d do with their lives.

Take Joy! A Book for Writers, by Jane Yolen

A book that reminds writers to take joy in what they’re doing.

The Myth of Laziness: America’s Top Learning Expert Shows How Kids–and Parents–Can Become More Productive, by Mel Levine

This eye-opening book explains that nobody wants to be unproductive — but many different things block the productivity of children and adults. It’s also full of ideas for helping open up that productivity.

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, by Mo Willems

This classic picture book was my introduction to Mo Willems, one of the greatest picture book authors of them all.

Serious Farm, by Tim Egan

This picture book about a farmer who’s too serious still makes me laugh.

The Dot, by Peter H. Reynolds

A picture book about making art your own way.

Celebrating 20 Years of Sonderbooks: Favorites from 2002

August 2021 marks twenty years of writing Sonderbooks! To celebrate, I’m writing posts about favorites I read each year.

This is simple, because I make a Sonderbooks Stand-out post every year, but I’m looking at each year’s list and highlighting a few extra-special favorites. It’s making me want to do a lot of rereading!

2002 was my first full year of writing Sonderbooks. As with 2001, I was still posting in “issues” and trying to review an Old Favorite for every issue — so I reread some truly amazing books each year. Again, I’m not going to highlight those, but let me say that every single one of the books I list as a “Reread” in the Special Edition is wonderful.

Books I read the first time in 2002 and still remember with love:

Heir Apparent, by Vivian Vande Velde

This is a kid-trapped-in-a-computer-game story, so I shouldn’t have loved it, but I did. The computer game is a medieval fantasy tale, and the author pulls it off. I think this was the first book I read by Vivian Vande Velde, and got me started on some other wonderful books.

The King’s Swift Rider, by Mollie Hunter

This one’s a historical novel set in Scotland during the time of Robert the Bruce with a young protagonist riding for him.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, by Ann Brashares

Here’s a classic friendship novel, showing a group of girls each living their own summer, but always having their friends — and having the pants.

The Best of Times, by Greg Tang

I still think this is the best book ever for kids learning to multiply. Instead of just blindly memorizing the times tables, it helps kids understand how multiplication works and be able to figure out answers when they forget the rote memorization.

Cleopatra’s Heir, by Gillian Bradshaw

Another amazing historical novel from Gillian Bradshaw — immersing the reader in a time I didn’t know much about.

Quentins, by Maeve Binchy

I’d read some Maeve Binchy books before this one, but this was the first one I reviewed. I love her immersive fiction, making you feel like you know the characters. I read many more over the years.

Crocodile on the Sandbank, by Elizabeth Peters

The first Amelia Peabody mystery!

Angles of Reflection: A Memoir of Logic and a Mother’s Love, by Joan L. Richards

So good! This book is about a mathematician and a mother who is dealing with her child’s severe illness and trying to juggle her motherhood and her career.

In Code: A Mathematical Journey, by Sarah Flannery with David Flannery

Another wonderful book about a mathematician! This time, she’s a 17-year-old girl who figured out an improved algorithm in cryptography. A very fun story.

Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M. I. T. Students Who Took Las Vegas for Millions, by Ben Mezrich

I read lots of math books that year! This one is about how a team of students from M.I.T. figured out a method to win at blackjack. Though the casinos fought back.

A Mind at a Time: America’s Top Learning Expert Shows How Every Child Can Succeed, by Mel Levine

This was a fascinating look at how people learn. I like this line from my review: “Dr. Levine believes that every mind has strengths and weaknesses. When a child comes up against an obstacle to learning, he does not believe we should blame the child, but help the child get around the roadblock via his strengths.”

Hungry Hen, by Richard Waring, illustrated by Caroline Jayne Church

This is still one of my favorite picture books. Someone gets eaten — and it’s not the hen!

Celebrating 20 Years of Sonderbooks: Favorites from 2001

This month, I’m celebrating 20 years of writing Sonderbooks!

I thought it would be fun to celebrate by posting some favorite books from each of those 20 years, so I’m starting with 2001.

Of course, that task is simple, since each year I made a list of Stand-outs — I called it a Special Edition at the beginning. So I’ll look at my list from 2001 and talk about the books that I especially remember and love twenty years later.

Wow. The first thing I notice is that I was doing more rereading back at the beginning — and covered some of my all-time favorite books that year. This was because I tried to include an Old Favorite in every issue. I’ve gotten away from that and I miss it. But I won’t even go over all the wonderful books I reread that first year — those are all still my favorites, and you can see them in the Special Edition.

But look at the books I read the first time that year!

The Thief and The Queen of Attolia, by Megan Whalen Turner!

These almost-historical fantasy novels in a world similar to ancient Greece deal with the cleverest but also wonderfully flawed main character and the plots of the whole series, but especially at the beginning, have twists that make you want to read and reread to admire the craftsmanship.

Enchantress from the Stars, by Sylvia Engdahl!

This science fiction book tells a story from three perspectives — a super advanced society who has perfected space travel and telepathy, a medieval society on a planet somewhere, and an advanced — but not so advanced — society that also has space travel and wants to harvest the resources of the medieval planet. Without interfering, a young woman from the super-advanced society is sent to the planet to convince a young man she is an enchantress and can teach him to go on a quest and defeat the dragon that’s attacking.

Dark Lord of Derkholm and Year of the Griffin, by Diana Wynne Jones!

In these books, we see a fantasy world where people from our world come for tours. This year, Derk of Derkholm has been appointed the Dark Lord the people on the tour will have to think they’re defeating. Lots of humor plus insight into fantasy tropes.

The Sand-Reckoner, by Gillian Bradshaw!

This is still one of my favorite novels ever — about the life of Archimedes, the great mathematician of Alexandria.

Tales from Earthsea, by Ursula LeGuin!

This went along with rereading all the Earthsea books — but I especially loved some of the additional insights in the stories of this book.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig!

I can’t believe I didn’t read this until 2001! It’s a classic. Read it!

I read five books about English Speakers moving to live among a different culture! Those are so much fun. Check my Special Edition for the list.

Suburban Nation, by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck

The ideas in this book still fascinate me — about how much the design of cities makes them livable — or not. I could see for myself how much nicer it was to live in a European village, and this book pointed out some of the reasons why suburbs aren’t as livable.

For the Love of Ireland, edited by Susan Cahill

This is still my favorite travel book ever. It very much helped that I read it during my favorite vacation ever — three weeks traveling around Ireland. But I also liked the format — stories and essays about Ireland collected in one volume and tied to places in Ireland.

Okay, there were lots more wonderful books I read and reread that year. It’s made me smile to revisit them. I can tell this way of celebrating is going to make me want to do lots of rereading. No wonder I love writing Sonderbooks so much!

20 Years of Sonderbooks!

Twenty years ago I began writing Sonderbooks.

It started as a sometimes weekly, sometimes biweekly ezine — an email newsletter. I think before the end of 2001, I’d figured out how to make it a website. I posted the back issues on the web and still posted them in “issues.” Here’s Sonderbooks #1.

I like the tagline I used then: “Discover new books. Discuss old books. Order more books.”

In 2007, I took a web design class while I was getting my degree in Library Science and decided it was time to revamp my website. A friend even made a new logo for me!

My last “issue” was Sonderbooks #107, dated June 30, 2006 — the last one I posted while living in Germany. I didn’t post a lot that year when I moved back to America, went to library school, looked for a job, and was on the other side of the world from my husband, who was planning to divorce me. But when I started back up, the website had a new look, I added a blog, and I’ve continued on for twenty years — longer than my marriage lasted before he left!

Once I started writing Sonderbooks, I knew this was just the right outlet for me. I got to write, I got to write about books, and I got to use a little bit of my computer skills. Besides, once I’d started working in a library, I couldn’t keep track of all the books I read, and writing Sonderbooks was a way to keep track. I have even made friends, starting back in 2001 and continuing through the present, by discovering a mutual love of books through Sonderbooks.

Since I didn’t date my first few issues except August 2001, I think that means I need to celebrate all month! I’d like to do twenty posts about my favorite books from each year of reading.

But I’m also hoping to rethink the look of the site again and (finally) make it more mobile friendly. I’ll probably choose a wordpress theme for my blogs, so may have to give up the way the look matches the pages. I need to fix the search box, which stopped working when I switched hosts a few years ago. I want to add a Teen Nonfiction category. And I’m going to think through if I want to change the format out of tables — which don’t show up as well on mobile devices. I might even do like I did in 2006 and just start new pages, with links to go back to the old. But one thing I need to figure out is how I want it to end up.

So stay tuned!

And to readers, old and new, thank you for letting me share good books with you! Writing Sonderbooks continues to bring me great joy!

Watch for more 20th Anniversary posts this month!

Problem Solved!

Forgive me all this drama! But when you got very little sleep the night before trying to upgrade your blog — and then it doesn’t work, it’s easy to overreact.

The last problem was solved when I deactivated a plug-in called “Customizable Permalinks” that a message had warned me sternly needed to be activated! I hope, hope, hope that now the blog is working fine!