Thursday, December 31, 2015

26 Books in 2015 WRAP UP

It's the final day of 2015! I've been meaning to post my 26 Books in 2015 wrap up this past week - but to be honest...I JUST STARTED my final book last night! I have always been a "by the seat of my pants" kinda girl. With that being are my 26 books. I starred my new favorites above! 

The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey - This is the second book in a series. The first being The 5th Wave (which I loved!) I really enjoyed this continuation of the story. It's fast paced and original and there were some unexpected twists that kept me guessing. I also like the multiple POV's and the development of Ringer's character. Only downside is that this is a trilogy and the final installment doesn't come out until May 2016. The upside...the story is a modern, sci-fi funride complete with aliens, romance, action, and suspense. BONUS - the first movie is out in January! I bought The 5th Wave for Matt for Christmas because I know it is a story he will enjoy. 

The DUFF by Kody Keplinger - I have mixed feelings about this book. It was just so-so. I liked Bianca's strong voice and her loyalty to her friends. I did not like the body shaming undertones and it was hard for me to believe that Bianca would get involved with the guy who insulted her in the first place! In the end, Bianca and Wesley help each other through some obvious coming of age dilemmas - divorce, alcoholic parent, peer pressure and social expectations - and I appreciated that Bianca stayed true to herself. SIDE NOTE - the movie is horrendous! Huge script changes from the book. It was so bad, it made me grumpy.

Mosquitoland by David Arnold - I loved this book. It (and Where the Moon Isn't) is what lead me to add the "siblings" prompt to next year's challenge. I love books with complicated family dynamics. Books that rearrange our thoughts about family and love and the lengths we will go to for both. Mosquitoland is one of those books! It's told from the POV of a teen girl who jumps on a Greyhound bus to locate and "save" her crazy mother. The people she meets along the way, the real-life, hard truths she confronts and the growth these two things bring about in her, are what I loved most about this book.

Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins - One of my favorite books of the year! I love an unreliable narrator and this book has THREE. It is dark and twisted and at times, I got a little annoyed with Rachel's drinking and wanted her to straighten herself out and make sense of her haunts...but her drinking adds to her jealousy and feelings of betrayal and the overall creepiness of the whole book! I loved how it all came together and how at the end, I didn't feel good, but I did feel extremely satisfied as a reader.

November 9 by Colleen Hoover - Hoover is a one-click author for me. She writes, I buy, I read. Like many, I got hooked by Slammed and then became unequivocally sold after Hopeless. But her last few books haven't been so great for me. Maybe Someday's plot turned me off (cheating makes my stomach turn) And Confess felt like it was rushed to me. (Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed both books and gobbled them up on release day, but they just didn't give the same Hoover FEELS that her early novels had given me.) November 9 is Hoover back at her best, IMO. Hoover, once again, excels at witty back and forth banter and the story is angsty and romantic and yet full of heartache. The plot is reminiscent of One Day (which I loved) and I liked the artistic theme of a book within the book. If anyone knows how to write a swoon worthy "Book Boyfriend," it's Hoover. And Benton James Kessler fits the bill perfectly.

The Paper Swan by Leylah Attar - I went into this book knowing nothing other than my best friend (also an avid reader) had texted me saying, "You must read this book right now! I'm a few chapters in and I need to discuss it with someone." So I downloaded it and began without reading one review or even the synopsis. I'm so glad I did!! Because this is one of the most bizarre starts to a book I have ever read - and had I read the synopsis, I probably would have given it a pass. But after the first 50 pages, I couldn't put it down. It is gripping and thrilling and unique and unexpected and some of the prose is so thoughtfully written it's almost poetic at times. It's a story of love and betrayal and family and rage and vengeance and power and forgiveness and redemption. And it all starts with a gun pointed at the heroine's head. I promise you'll be thinking about it long after you finish.

Before We Were Strangers by Renee Carlino - There are so many good things I could say about this book, but I'll keep it to three. 1) It starts with a missed connection on the subway that leads to a letter posted on Craigslist! (Imagine the train pulling away as they press themselves up against opposite sides of the glass!! Hello - you want to read it now, don't you?!) 2) I love romance books, but rarely do I come across a good one that has main characters similar in age and experience to my own  - this one DOES! It was refreshing to read. 3) Even with #2 being true, it's a story about first loves and all the magic and heartache that accompany that. It's a book about beginnings and endings and second chances and having faith enough to navigate the ups and downs of life so that you end up right where you were always meant to be. I texted my BFF as I turned the final page, saying "That's the best I've felt at the end of a book in a long time." 

How We Deal With Gravity by Ginger Scott - I really enjoyed this story, but when compared to some of the other books on this list - it was just okay. I enjoy Scott's writing for the simple reason that her stories include relatable characters and HEA's. How We Deal With Gravity is just this. It's the story of a young, single mother of an autistic boy and her second chance at love with a guy from her past. It's fast, light reading and I enjoyed how the music in the story brought the heroine's love interest and her son together. The whole instalove/reformed man-whore plot that is overplayed in NA books right now is present here, and there are parts of the story I feel could have been developed better - but it was still a fun read. 

Grey by EL James - Before you read this, you might want to read my take on 50 Shades in general. It will help you understand why I even picked up this book. I had my misgivings, of course, but ended up being pleasantly surprised. Like I said in the linked post, I didn't like Christian in Fifty Shades of Grey. And that's probably because his growth didn't really occur until the middle of Book 2. But this retelling from his POV gave me some insight into his mannerisms and control freakerishness that was much appreciated. I liked seeing Ana through Christian's eyes and knowing his thoughts as he pursued her. What I really wanted at the end, however, was for EL James to write books 2&3 from Christians POV - like, what was he thinking as other people were bidding on Ana at the Masquerade? And what went through his head when he saw she had tossed her martini in Elena's face? Did his life flash before his eyes as Charlie Tango crashed? Come on, EL. Don't leave a girl tied up like this! 

Chasing River by KA Tucker - Tucker is another one-click author for me. I have read everything she's written and enjoyed them all! This book is the third in a 4 book series - but they are all stand alones that build on characters introduced in the first book (Burying Water.) This series was my first delve into a the "romantic suspense" genre, and I must say, I LOVE IT! Tucker's characters are always well written, but the added suspense of secrets and broken laws and forbidden relationships and foreign mafias really keep you turning the pages. This book is set in Ireland - a place I've always wanted to visit - and is a story about a badboy attempting to reform his ways while still embracing where he comes from and a girl who can't decide if she should fight for love or do the sensible thing and walk away. This book, and book 2 (Becoming Rain) were my favorite of the series.

Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater - Shiver was my pick for book club around three years ago, I think. Sinner is the fourth and final book in this unique series about angsty teens in Mercy Falls who shape shift into WOLVES. I started it long ago - eager for Cole St.Clair's installment in this fun line of stories, but for reasons I can't remember, I never finished it. I picked it up again for this prompt knowing the desire to learn Cole and Isabel's fate still interested me. Stiefvater is a master storyteller and her characters (even the minor ones) are always well developed. Cole and Isabel are two of the strongest willed among the Mercy Falls bunch and their personalities, regardless of how attracted they are to each other, don't always mesh. With that being said - I really think you need to read the full series if you are going to enjoy this book. Unless you already have a love for these characters, you might not have the desire to push through their trials in order to discover their conclusion.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness - I've left this prompt for last! I started this book last night, but I can already tell you I'm going to enjoy it for two reasons. 1) My friend, Rachel loves it. 2) A witch falls in love with a vampire. Hello people, this book was made for me. I'll come back a write an update in a few days when I'm done! 

Sweet Girl by Rachel Hollis - So that friend Rachel I was just talking about? She wrote a book. Actually, she's written THREE books!! (The GIRLS series - Party Girl, Sweet Girl and Smart Girl) But we're just talking about his one right now. I had the privilege of reading Sweet Girl before it went to print. (Fun shit like that happens when your friend is a legitimate author who knows how to make your year!) And let me just tell you, I read this entire book on my iPhone, in PDF format, in one sitting. Rachel's books are pure joy. With each one, there are parts that feel like she sat down and wrote them just for me. But you know what? I bet if you read her books, you'll feel the same. Her "Girls" are lovable and relatable and so very much fun. Sweet Girl holds a special place in my heart because I feel like I relate most to Max out of all of the girls - she's rough around the edges and a bit of a tomboy. She has a potty mouth and always seems a little bit in a bad mood. Don't ask her to talk feelings and don't you dare give her a hug! Furthermore, Max is a baker - the fast-paced scenes and tough-love relationships that happen in the "back of the house" where she works were so nostalgic for me. My career before children was managing a restaurant and baking their desserts, so you can see why Max's story got me all feel-y. But then Rachel goes and adds in Bennett TAYLOR and his tattoos and his "working oven," and his not giving up attitude where Max is concerned and....SWOON. I flove Sweet Girl. It's bigger than your average "beach read," in that it deals with very real life issues in a very honest and responsible way. But it's just as fun. There's a pan of potato chip brownies and a visit to a Renaissance Faire and a Bingo game that had me kicking my feet and squealing out loud it was so good. I chose this book for this prompt because of the growth Max goes through. It's a journey all women can relate to, and I really appreciate that Rachel has Max do the work to find herself, and get to a good place, on her own. Not for a boy or because of a boy, but yes, with the support of a boy and some very good girlfriends. I love that Max follows her dreams even when they scare the shit out of her. And I love that Max faces her demons even when it's the most painful road to travel. She's my perfect, imperfect heroine. I really hope you take the chance to meet the GIRLS and fall in love with them the way I have! Smart Girl is out January 26th!!!

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly Whitmore - This NYT Bestseller and "Summer's Hottest Fiction" pick did not disappoint. It was one of my book club reads (in the Summer, no less) and I was pleasantly surprised with how fun it was while still being well written, unpredictable and page turning. It's a story of wealth and privilege and finally becoming "one of them" and then finding out that with all the luxuries this are also privy to debilitating, dark, dangerous secrets. It paints the picture of two unlikely friends. One mousey and shy. The other glamorous and flirty. I enjoyed Whitmore's ability to make Genevra's lakeside retreat in Vermont feel like a fairy tale...that turns Grimm. And I especially enjoyed the mystery of Mabel's choices. I so wanted her to make the right ones and kept turning the pages to see if she did.

Selected Poems by ee cummings - My parents both love to read. I have them to thank for books being in my blood. I can remember, at a young age, thumbing through my Dad's dogeared, underlined books of poetry. I may not have understood them all at the time, But what I did grasp, was that the words were special, lyrical, and heavy with meaning. Poetry, for me, is like therapy. It makes me slow down. It makes me step back. For these reasons, and many more that can be found within ee cummings' words, I really enjoyed this book. His poems are as much art as they are literature. Their non-traditional form and eccentrically placed words intrigue me. This was my favorite...I imagine whispering it into the silky crown of my tiny babe's head as I rock him/her to sleep.

in the rain-
darkness,     the sunset
being sheathed i sit and
think of you

the holy

city which is your face

your little cheeks the streets

of smiles

your eyes half-


half-angel and your drowsy

lips where float flowers of kiss


there is the sweet shy pirouette

your hair

and then

your dancesong

soul.     rarely-beloved

a single star is

uttered,and i


       of you

Volition by Lily Paradis - ugh. This book is hard for me to write about. I wanted to love it. And there were parts that I enjoyed. But in the end, it fell flat for me. Which is unique - because my best friend super-loved it! And we very rarely disagree. Maybe I was expecting too much...or trying to read too much into it...but I had unanswered questions at the end and there were whole scenes that didn't add up. Furthermore - the author starts out by writing her readers a letter letting you know you might HATE this book and she doesn't care. She didn't write this book for you. (CRINGE) Finally - this book has been widely accused of plagiarism. (DOUBLE CRINGE) I haven't read the books Paradis supposedly "stole" from - but to people who have, it is apparently pretty obvious. There are a ton of 1 star reviews on Amazon stating this very fact - to the point that Paradis herself has admitted that she might pull Volition because she thinks she "accidentally did something. I would NEVER, EVER copy another author on purpose, but I did write Volition in the wee hours of the night and sometimes I read it back and think "I wrote that?" (TRIPLE CRINGE) Read at your own risk.

Thug Kitchen Cookbook by Thug Kitchen - you might think it's weird or cheating to include a cookbook as a part of this challenge, but not for ME! And I think, if you read this book, you'd agree with me. The recipes (and the bonus material) are HYSTERICAL. And if I have to grab a cookbook to make dinner at the end of a long day - laughter is exactly what I need to go with it! That, and a beer and few swear words. Those are in here too! The recipes are all delectable. I have made about half of them and enjoyed every one. The kids's been hit or miss. Like when I made the Lentil Tacos. They thought I was downright insane to replace ground beef with LENTILS...but Matt and I loved them - so much so we ate the leftovers with poached eggs the next morning! All the recipes are meat and dairy free (which is new for me) and use fresh ingredients you can readily find at your local grocery store (save for a few they happily list direct links for where to buy!) For a sneak peek into the awesome hilarity that is this book, WATCH THIS. They also just came out with a "Party Grub" cookbook - it's what I gave as my "Favorite Thing" at our annual Christmas party! 

The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider - This is another book I went into blind. I bought it for the blue cover and because the title reminded me of one of my favorite Gatsby quotes - "I love her, and that's the beginning and end of everything." BAM! I open the book and what do you think is the epigraph? That was enough to sell me. What was eerie - was that once I started reading, the story is set in a fictional town that is basically Irvine, CA (a hop, skip and a jump from me.) There are schools, streets, housing developments, beaches, strawberry fields, outdoor malls and restaurants referenced in the book and I KNEW EXACTLY WHAT SHE WAS DESCRIBING because I had been there. That gave me sense of ownership over this book, that I think if wasn't there, I wouldn't have liked this book as much. The story is similar to John Green's Paper Towns in that you are pulling for a couple the entire time that doesn't end up together, but in the end, you still feel oddly satisfied. The story has a familiar feel to it (even if you've never been to Irvine) and the continual Gatsby references/comparisons had me smiling. I also ALMOST used this book for the "Book With A Great First Line" prompt! ---> "Sometimes I think that everyone has a tragedy waiting for them, that the people buying milk in their pajamas or picking their noses at stoplights could be only moments away from disaster."

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky - I tried people. I really did. But I just couldn't. It's so dark and loooooong and ugh, I think I just still have deep scars from senior year AP English over this book. I wanted to be the "Good Girl" who finished EVERY. SINGLE. PROMPT. I wanted to find the epiphany within the pages I had missed at 18...but I have to admit - 150 pages into this thing and I never picked it up again. Crime and Punishment is the literary equivalent to beets in my life. I've roasted them, stewed them, mixed them in a salad, slathered them with goat cheese, blended them with carrots...AND ALL I TASTE IS DIRT. I've given them a good go. I'm okay with never attempting to eat beets again. 

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr - Ok. I'll admit. When this book was chosen by my book club I wasn't excited. I'm one of those people that tends to push back against the books that "everyone" is reading. I don't know why. Did I really want to spend my precious book reading time on another dry book about WWII and Nazi Germany? No. I did not. But that's where I was wrong.  This wasn't a book about Nazis or even war really. It's beautiful. And sweeping. And full of emotion and personal strife and the unavoidable undercurrent of what it means to be human. It was one of the "meatier" books I read this year and I am glad I did.

The Martian by Andy Weir - SUCH A GOOD BOOK! I chose it for this prompt because the very first line made me laugh out loud and set up the book perfectly. With four words, you adequately understand Mark Watney's predicament as well as his personality. "I'm pretty much fucked." is how this book begins. The man has been left behind on Mars and presumed dead. He's not exaggerating! The events of this book were equal parts science and survival. I loved the "man against the odds" story line and enjoyed turning the descriptive full pages to see how he was going to make it work, even in the face of extreme difficulty! It's not a touchy-feely book (which, you can tell by now, I gravitate towards) but in the end, I did feel. I wanted so badly for Mark to get home. When his potato field is compromised, I cried. I won't ruin it for those of you who haven't read it yet. But if you are like me, and shy away from Science Fiction, this just might be the book to change your mind. BONUS - the movie is downright fabulous. 

Confess by Colleen Hoover - I can't very well rip this book apart seeing as Hoover is the only author who has made this list TWICE. There is obviously something about her writing that I love. When it comes to creative plots and memorable dialogue - Hoover is Queen. But this book fell a little flat for me. It was the first Hoover book, where I liked the plot, but finished feeling a bit unsatisfied. I needed a little bit more. It's hard for me to explain - but it's almost like she got too many things going at once and then didn't wrap them all up well. The whole thing felt rushed to me. The glory that is Hoover however, is that even tho this book wasn't my favorite - there were still many things I loved about it. For one, it's uniqueness - the idea of the confessions is brilliant and awkward at the same time. You feel like you are trespassing on someone's soul. And the ARTWORK. The art is breathtaking. Don't buy this on your kindle, unless you have a full color one. You will lose some of the magic. Finally the emotion and the banter. Colleen is triumphantly consistent in these two things. There is loss, love, and legal battles...secrets, seduction and shady cops. It might not have been Hoover's best, but it was still a damn good read. (It has over 1000 5 star reviews on obviously, I'm not the norm!)

Where The Moon Isn't by Nathan Filer - Like I said earlier, this is one of the books that lead me to include the "siblings" prompt in next year's challenge. It is also a book I don't know if I will ever stop thinking about. It's told by a 19 year old boy from his room in a psych ward. He is schizophrenic and constantly replays a night from 10 years earlier that left his brother (2 years his senior with Downs Syndrome) dead. He blames himself for his brother's death and this guilt is compounded by his metal illness. It's a book that you aren't quite sure what to do with when you are done, other than maybe read it again, in order to fully soak up it's hope-filled prose and heartrending humanity.

Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay - If you've asked for a book recommendation from me in the last two years, then I have undoubtedly told you to read this. I can't even tell you how many times I have read it - save for it's more than I can count on one hand. I check Millay's Amazon page at least once am month hoping to find she's written another book. But no. Not yet. So I keep reading this one. I could write forever about my love for this book, but I'm trying to wrap this post here are some of my absolute favorite things: 1) There is no Instalove. As a matter of fact, Nastya makes herself very hard to like at all. Oddly enough, you do. 2) The secondary characters are just as good at the primary ones. I might like Drew as much as I like Josh Bennett - and I like Drew's family even more. 3) Josh Bennett. If ever there was a book boyfriend for me, he is the one. He's brooding and tortured and works with his hands. And he does this thing with a bucket of pennies that pretty much made me want to wrap him up in a tiny little ball and carry him around in my pocket forever. Oh, and he gives Nastya the most unexpected, but perfect nickname. 4) The mystery. Nastya has experienced a great trauma - one that has made her go mute and give up her life long dream. Even if there was no swoon worthy romance going on - learning what caused this, would keep you turning the pages. 5) Nastya's redemption - it's written in a way that is respectful of her pain and yet empowering in her growth. 6) The final few lines of this book are hands down one of the best endings to a book you can experience. I gasped out loud the first time I read them. 

Looking for Alaska by John Green - Green is so fucking good at dealing with the big things. Love. Loss. Suffering. Grief. Loneliness. Joy. and doing so in a way that there is no such thing as a happy ending. Just the end. Which is also the beginning. And you turn the last page 100% okay with that. It trips me out. Looking For Alaska is quintessential John Green. You fall in love with it's characters -especially Miles and Alaksa  - and their struggles while laughing along side their witty quips and double entendres. You simultaneously rejoice and sympathize with the hard and fast ,coming-of-age (albeit timeless) lessons they must learn. You laugh and you cry - sometimes withing the spans of the same page because the story is as hilarious as it is heartbreaking. There were times that I found Alaska a little whiny - but I just had to remind myself she was a tormented teenager for her voice to ring true. The fact that it was written 10 years ago made me feel old. But then again, so was Harry Potter, and that is just mind-blowing!

The Boys In The Boat by Daniel James Brown - this was a book club pick for me as well. I say that because I probably wouldn't have chosen it on my own. Which is precisely why I love book gets me out of my box! For someone who rarely reads non-fiction or memoirs or even historical fiction...this book was surprisingly enjoyable. There were some pages that I skimmed, when it got overly descriptive for me. But overall, I enjoyed the story of perseverance and unlikely heroes made of hard work and teamwork. It was inspiring and patriotic and once again - waaaay more than just a book about sports or WWII and the Natzis. The feel and scope of it reminded me of Unbroken. If you liked that book, I'd venture to say you'll like this one too. 

AND THAT'S ALL SHE WROTE, FOLKS...or read. OR maybe read and wrote! I hope my reviews were helpful and you found a new title or two to add to your list! HAPPY NEW YEAR! 


Amanda Marshall said...

Thank you for some great new titles to read!! Appreciate the time you took to write a little synopsis about each one too. I'm looking forward to starting the new year with book ideas! 😊

Sue W said...

Just wanted to leave a short update. I proclaimed last January that I was undertaking your reading challenge as well as one from Bethany House Publishing. Then I pretty much followed my normal reading patterns -- reading prepubs to review on my blog, month book club choices, and lots of books that just caught my eye when online or at the library. I usually read over 100 books and this year my written list is at 108, which means my total is somewhere around 115. I always forget to write down some titles. So today I took my list against your 26 book challenge and without trying to accomplish the list, I completed 19 of the 26. I did not leave a book unfinished. I did not read a book I should have read in school. (Being an English teacher and a librarian, I confess I am one of those nerds who actually read the assigned materials when I was a kid.) I did not read a book of poems, but I did read poems over the year, including children's poems. And I am sure I read a book with a blue cover, but really can't latch onto a title. Thanks for the challenge. Are you doing one for 2016?

Erin Burns said...

Yes!! I posted 2016's prompts yesterday ;-) here's the link -->

Congrats on 115 books! I usually aim for 104 (2/week) and I fell just shy at 99 in 2015!

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