Click on each category for the titles, jacket covers, and brief descriptions of my favorite books:

For Grades 3-5
For Grades 6-8
For Teens and Adults

My criteria for choosing books are rather rigid. The world is full of awesome books, but to make it onto my list, books have to appeal to my husband and son. I know it’s a ridiculous standard, especially considering that these guys are not big readers. I’m a huge fan of Michael Chabon and Zadie Smith and Téa Obreht, to name only a few, but their books aren’t on my lists because my boys won’t read them (too long, cough, cough, or too literary). But hey, I’m just saying. To make it onto my great-reads list, a book has to appeal to my boys while it mesmerizes me, makes me yearn for it, keeps me up at night. The guys have to find the book compelling, and I have to be willing to re-read it, and that’s saying a lot, considering the limitations of 24/7.

I finish anywhere from four to eight books a month, but only about one percent make it onto my great-reads list. I prefer fiction ten-to-one over nonfiction, boy-books over romance or chick-lit, and don’t much care for mysteries or science-fiction. I especially enjoy a fast-paced read with rich and interesting characters. Give me a great plot without compelling characters, and I’ll give the book a hundred pages, then ditch it mid-sentence. Give me sympathetic characters and no plot, and I might keep going for two hundred pages, but at some point will probably set the book down to eat a cheese* sandwich, and never return.

*Cheese—of course, cheese—because at Vermont College of Fine Arts, in a July 2009 lecture on the elements of a good story, faculty member Alan Cumyn bemoaned authors who slap together cheese sandwiches that are more compelling than the fiction they write. He forever changed the way I eat cheese craft fiction.