Monday, December 28, 2015

El Jefe's Top Tier Books of 2015

People give me the side-eye when I tell them I track all the books I've read on a spreadsheet. They tap their watches when I tell them I categorize everything into five tiers. There's a lot of nervous searching for an escape plan when I describe my detailed criteria for each tier.

Hey, you're still here!

Most books can claw their way past my fifth tier and land solidly in the fourth or third tier. Some even shine all the way to the second tier. But to gain entrance to the vaunted Top Tier, a book has to keep me up at night. Make me think about it well beyond the last page. Gush about it to friends. Buy extra copies to give to Jehovah's Witnesses that come to my door.

In short, it has to be nearly perfect. Without further ado, my stats for 2015:


Middle Grade (Early)


Paddington will always have a special place in my heart, as I gobbled down the classic series as a young boy. I went back with trepidation, worrying that seeing the Peruvian bear with the floppy hat through adult (or "adult," as my wife would say) would tarnish the memories.

Not so! If anything, I appreciated Paddington's adventures even more. There's something so comforting reading about this well-meaning little fella who manages to get into so much innocent trouble.

Hmm. I wonder if my one-year-old could pass as a bear and get me some free marmalade ...

Middle Grade


A librarian friend of mine purchases a TON of graphic novels for his library system. I've always associated the term "graphic novel" with "awesome X-men and other superheroes kicking major butt," so it's great to see graphic novels trending hard into the forefront of kid lit.

Check out EL DEAFO's cover! A story about a girl who imagines herself as a superhero in order to help her work through her hearing problems = even better than the Amazing X-men. (Okay, on par with.) The cute artwork drew me into Cece's story, and I couldn't help cheering her on.

The ending slowed down a bit, but overall, a fantastic and compelling read.


I have to admit, I'm a wiener. Harry Potter book 4 scared me so bad I had to sleep with the lights on after finishing (I was in my 30s.) As a kid, I avoided the refrigerator for several months after watching "Ghostbusters." Who needs refrigeration, anyway?

I usually avoid the horror genre, but when I found out that Jonathan Stroud (of my beloved Bartimaeus trilogy) started an MG series, I had to give it a shot. Am I glad I did! With a strong female lead possessing paranormal ability and a older-than-his-years boy owning a Victorian London ghost-hunting agency, it's a winner.

Young Adult / Adult


This year was strange for me -- a full half of my Top Tier books weren't kid lit at all. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore has a tinge of YA, but it might better be categorized as "New Adult."

A young man and his romantic interest who's a brilliant new programmer at Google = a great foundation. Toss in a centuries-old mystery only a few people even know about. Center it around a rickety old bookstore towering high into the sky and you get a "Da Vinci Code"-like adventure. Brilliant.


All I'll say is that I COULD NOT PUT THIS DOWN.

Okay, I can't keep my big fat piehole shut. Hearing lines like "Castaway on Mars" doesn't do this justice. Mark Watney is a relatable, funny guy, who gives us glimpses of both his despair at being stranded on Mars (as he slowly dies of starvation) and of his unbreakable can-do, must-do attitude.

As an engineer, I loved hearing about all of Mark's calculations. As an writer, I loved hearing about Andy Weir's journey. It's so rare to hear about a self-pubbed author putting his book on Amazon so he could share it with friends ... and then tens of thousands of people downloading it. It's the new American dream.


Non-fiction? About logical thinking puzzles that Google uses to find the best of the best?  Yes, I know that this might seem out of place on a kid lit blog, but when a great book comes along, you have to roll with it.

I'm a huge fan of puzzles in general, and William Poundstone's book on game theory ("Prisoner's Dilemma," a very accessible read) made me pick up his latest. This book is jam-packed with some of my favorite logical thinking puzzles (you have a 4-minute timer and a 7-minute timer and you have to measure 9 minutes, etc.) but it also included dozens I hadn't heard before.

SO much fun to stop and think about each one of them to see if I was smart enough to work at Google! (I wasn't, but I'm okay with that.)

So there you have it. Happy New Year from the Kidliterati Krewe!

1 comment:

  1. I eagerly await El Jefe's top picks every year! A spreadsheet though? Have you considered Goodreads? Thanks for some great recommendation here. Jeff. I loved the Stroud book too! But there are some great recommendations here to add to my TBR pile.


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