Saturday, December 31, 2016

26BOOKS in 2016 WRAP UP

I keep a list of the books I read all year in the "NOTES" on my phone. For the most part, I didn't chose books this year based on the challenge prompts (like I have in years past). I wasn't that organized in 2016! There were a few I knew I wouldn't just happen to complete without some forethought (decade I was born, favorite book from my childhood) and those I researched and planned. But the rest, I just sat down yesterday and went through my "2016 Books Read" note and fit titles to the prompts. I have been working under the assumption that I wasn't going to complete the challenge this year, since I hadn't been diligently keeping track. But to my surprise...I DID! One would hope that when you read upwards of 100 books over the year, you could find 26 that fit...but I tend to get caught up in series and am bad about breaking out of my typical genres, so I was pleasantly surprised to see it all come together. I hope to be more adventurous with my reading in 2017! With that being are my 26 books. I starred my favorites above.

I initially chose this book simply because of the water on the cover and the general theme of sisters who are opposites. While not even close to the lengths that Win and Poppy are in the book, my own two daughters are similarly opposite - one is methodically organized while the other more laissez-faire. I ended up being pleasantly surprised by the emotive writing and relatable plot. The two sisters come together one summer on a lake after years of being distant. Secrets are revealed, relationships tested, and long standing family dichotomies are challenged. The summertime, small town vibe this book has lends itself to be a perfect "beach" or vacation read. It was a pleasant, easy escape!

Carlino is a one-click author for me. I have loved everything she's written and eagerly await her next publication! Swear On This Life did not disappoint. The basic premise of the novel is a post-graduate student and struggling author who is comfortably numb in her long term, live-in relationship discovers the newest best selling novel all her friends are talking about is actually based on her early life and authored (under a pseudonym) by her lost love, forcing her to face her past, present and future all at once. What I loved most about this book is that it unfolds as a novel within a novel. The chapters flip back and forth between present day and the book the main character is reading. It was such fun to read!! And if you know Carlino, you know this book was witty and romantic without being sappy or unrealistic. It is one of my Top Five Favorite reads this year. 

This was the first book I read in 2016, having been my free, January Kindle First download. So I went into it knowing very little other than the 3 sentence synopsis Amazon gives you in an email. I am a sucker for an unreliable narrator however, so I really enjoyed this book. If you enjoyed Girl On The Train, Gone Girl or We Were Liars...then I would highly suggest this read! The main character, Grace, wakes up one snowy winter morning in the hospital. She has survived a car crash but can't remember anything that happened before it. She moves in with her sister in their old family farmhouse to recover and what unfolds is a long list of dark twists and suspenseful turns as Grace slowly begins to piece together her former life. I must say, this book was predictable, but even in the end...I had one of those, "NO WAY!" moments as all of the questions were answered.

I received an ARC of this book from St. Martin's Press and knew nothing other than it was already a #1 bestseller in the UK. Within the very first paragraph of the book, you know something isn't right. From all outward appearances, Jack and Grace seem like the perfect couple. He's devilishly handsome. She is the picture of elegance and poise. They are educated, wealthy and throw beautiful dinner parties. One might not think twice that Jack and Grace are never apart, but behind closed doors there is more going on then newly wedded bliss. This book jumped the shark for me a little bit. I bent so dark, it wasn't probable. But I kept turning the pages because I couldn't believe what I was reading. I wish Grace had a little more gumption. An ounce more self-love.

"If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find our who we want to be; in war we find out who we are." 
When the very first line of a book contains both an ellipses AND a semicolon. Help me, Rhonda. You are most likely in for the read of your life. I think what blows me away is the breadth of Hannah's ability. She writes chic lit as well as she writes historical fiction as well as she writes urban fantasy. You think you know what you are going to get with her, but you DON'T. And yet, you are never disappointed. I will admit I went into The Nightingale with some hesitation and even a bit of dread. It was a bookclub pick and as a group we had already read All the Light You Cannot See. I wasn't eager to pick up and discuss ANOTHER World War II novel. I could already taste the stale diatribe I would arrive with at our discussion on my lips. I will suffice my review to say these three things: there is no other bond like sisters, I am continually thankful I only have experienced war through novels, and I will NEVER balk at another Kristin Hannah novel, no matter the subject matter.

I totally skimmed this book. I read it in high school and picked it up again knowing it was written in the 70's. I think what resonated with me the most, is when I read this book the first time, I thought the mother was horrible! I empathized with Conrad, the son left behind after his brother's death. This time around however, my heart broke for Beth. Her life was turned upside down and she wasn't strong enough to deal with it...but as a mother now, I can understand her pain, denial and desire to keep order and present a poised personae. Sometimes strength and weakness are one in the same.  

I almost used this book for "A book with a great first line." 
"I am finishing up dinner with my family and my fiancĂ© when my husband calls." 
Wait. WHUT?! This is a story of Emma. A girl who married her high school sweetheart, Jesse and together they move away from their Massachusetts home to California. On their first anniversary, however, Jesse goes missing while on a trip for work. Emma moves back home and attempts to rebuild her life once it is assumed Jesse is dead. Over time, she runs into Sam, an old friend and they start to fall in love. Then...Jesse is found. I read this book while stranded in the airport waiting on a flight to Miami and it was perfect. The plot is a little far-fetched, but it's not all fluff either. There are some delicate themes tackled and good, honest relationships developed. I liked that Reid adequately gives the reader time and experiences with both men. You end up liking both of them, on their own, and for Emma, for different reasons. If you read it, I'd love to hear who you were rooting for and if you were happy with the ending! 

God bless, this book threw me for a loop. I just finished it a couple days ago and it is still ruminating in my brain. The plot controversial and redemptive, aggravating and healing, resilient and heartbreaking. I picked this book as the one that would "help me to grow" because I went into it knowing I probably wasn't going to like it. I read several reviews about the storyline before I started (which is the antithesis of how I like to start a book!) but EVERY REVIEW I READ came to the same conclusion. The reviewer was troubled, disturbed, triggered...and yet, they were so glad they read it. It was one of the best books they had read all year. WHUUUUUTTT? How could this be? I had to see for myself. This book is not for everyone. But it was for me. It is gritty and honest and moving and captivating from the very first page. It is fabulously well written, the story being told from multiple POVs. It does more than pull on your heartstrings. It makes you rethink how and why and IF you have a heart and what those strings really even mean at all. It is at once, Ugly and Wonderful and makes you feel that way too. It is one of my Top Five Favorite reads this year.

While this book is considered YA, it tackles a lot of heavy, emotional subjects - abuse, rape, suicide, drugs/alcohol and sex. The story is told in alternating POVs of two main characters who are both high-schoolers dealing with recent traumas in their lives. They choose to handle those feelings with destructive behavior. It is thoughtfully written with good character development and I appreciated the coming of age growth that both characters went through. The main character is a musician and there is a lot of the book that focuses on her talent and how she interprets and uses to music in her life. The music was almost a secondary character. This was interesting, but also seemed to draw out the book. The same story could have been told in 50 less pages. But even though the book was almost 400 pages, the ending felt too simply wrapped up for the breadth and weight of the story. 

This was the book I bought for my "Booknerds Blind Bookswap" last Christmas. Everyone brings a book they haven't read yet, wrapped in plain paper, with just a one sentence synopsis written on the front. We all exchange and open and then meet up again throughout the year to pass the books around. It is great fun!! Obviously I was eager to read this one, since I had been the one to purchase it. The synopsis I had written on the front was "WILD meets Endless Love." A college bound McKenna defers her acceptance for a year to hike the Appalachian Trail with her BFF (much to her parents chagrin) At the last minute, the BFF backs out of the adventure and McKenna goes it alone. On the trail she meets Sam, a drifter who has dropped out of school and left an abusive father behind. I think I especially enjoyed this book because my own brother had just completed hiking the John Muir Trail when I read it. It was refreshing that while there was a romance in the book, it took a less important role in the story than McKenna's growth, survival and self discovery. I liked the basic lesson it sends to college bound women everywhere: trust yourself and don't give up! 

I absolutely LOVED this book! It was a bookclub pick and the hostess made Hummingbird Cake. Let me just tell you...if you ever have a chance, EAT THAT CAKE!! It's a banana-pineapple-pecan-cream cheese frosting slice of bliss. The book was similarly satisfying. I laughed out loud so hard there were tears. More than once. And my heart broke to the point of tears. More than once. Often in the span of a few pages. This book is set in the South and the small town is as much a character in the book as the three best girlfriends. I loved the dynamic between these three friends and how each of their personailites were allowed to shine as they faced trials, triumphs and traumas together. I also enjoyed the honest glimpse this story gave into the ups and downs within a long term marriage. I thoroughly enjoyed every page and highly recommend! I've already pre-ordered McHale's next release

This was also a bookclub pick and we gave it mixed reviews. The story follows Ana, a Yugoslavian girl, and moves back and forth between 1991 Zagreb and 2001 Manhattan. You see first hand how history shapes a person and is something that can never be truly escaped. Ana's childhood was impacted by war and danger and even though she is now a young college student in New York, those experiences invade every relationship in her young adult life. She decides to return to her home country and face her demons. The book is gritty and honest and emotional, and I appreciated Ana's perseverance and desire to heal.

This could have fit 2015's prompt "A book everyone has read but you." Haha! I can't believe it took me this long to tackle. I actually listened to this book on Audible, and I think it made me like it that much more. The actors who read Louisa and Will were superb and I enjoyed their British accents very much. It added an extra layer of authenticity to the story that I don't think I would have gotten had I read it inside my own head. You probably know all about this story already so I won't go into much of a synopsis. My favorite things about the book were Will and Louisa's witty banter, Louisa's quirkiness and the overriding theme that while love may not conquer all, it's worth the ride. (Also - I thought the movie was very well cast and loved that lines from the book were used verbatim in the screenplay.)

Both my daughters had to read this book for school so I picked it up one night and read it from cover to cover. I loved the insight and compassion the various POVs leant to the story. Auggie is a young boy with a facial abnormality that has kept him from attending mainstream school. Wonder is the story of his inclusion and exclusion as he decides to join the classroom as a 5th Grader and how the people around him adjust to this change as well. I've never wanted a happy ending more than I wanted for Auggie. An excellent read and lesson on friendship, courage and kindness. I wish everyone would read this book!

This book was a mind bend. I was thankful to read it with a friend because I was constantly texting her with my utter disbelief, confusion and shock. If you have read any Fisher in the past, then you know this is exactly what she goes for with her writing. She takes her readers out of the expected and drops them right in the middle of WTF. This story is about Helena and a vivid dream she has about a man, Kit. In her dream, she and Kit are wildly in love and full of happiness. Helena is so enraptured by this dream and her relationship with Kit in it, that she upends her life completely. She quits her job, breaks up with her boyfriend and moves cross country...all in the name of self-discovery and dream fulfillment. The main hiccup, however? Helena knows Kit in real life. He is her BFF's boyfriend. Whoops! While there were a few things about this book that I thought were unrealistic (Helena tracks down Kit's ex fiancee and moves in with her!) I really enjoyed this book. It was a great escape and I had a hard time understanding how Fisher was going to wrap it all up in a satisfactory way, but true to form, she did quite well. 

This memoir is one I picked up as research into the foster care system. It is an emotionally charged telling of a Native American girl's struggles as she navigated through life with neglectful and drug/alcohol addicted parents. At the age of 13, she ASKED to be put into foster care, thinking that would be her ticket out of her disappointing and depressing life. Sadly, it was not. This story is one of resilience and perseverance however, as Chefalo went on to graduate from college and is now a successful business women who is married with a daughter of her own. I was inspired by her unwillingness to give up on herself as well as her self-awareness and desire to give back to the foster care community as an adult. 

I blew through this book in 24 hours. It was a fun page turner. A Contemporary Sports Romantic Suspense story...Yes! That is a thing! haha. Which is basically all my favorites wrapped up in one, so it's no wonder I couldn't put it down. This story follows Ty, the daughter of a veteran baseball star, who has always travelled with her father's team (Yankees). When she is 17, a rookie named Chase Stern joins the team and Ty can't ignore their immediate connection. They end up secretly dating and true to romantic fiction form, drama breaks them apart. Neither can admit they were together, but neither can move on. Fast forward several years and Ty and Chase are thrust back into each other's lives, only now she is married and there is a serial killer on the loose who's victims are all young blondes in NYC that look just like Ty. I feel the need to note that there is cheating in this book, which never sits well with me. I don't mean to leave any huge SPOILERS in my reviews...but I know this is one subject that is a triggery no-go for many readers! In spite of this less than amour-able plot twist...I really enjoyed the book. And not that there is ever a justifiable "reason" for cheating, but the ending does take some of the edge off Ty's infidelity. 

I started this book knowing nothing about it other than it had over 400 pages (which met one of the challenge prompts!) and I have enjoyed Dessen reads in the past. Come to find out, the plot mirrored my own life at the time I was reading it, in many ways, even though the main character was 23 years younger than me. Dessen has a knack for writing secondary characters that are as likable as they are intriguing. And her main characters always have a strong voice and complex relationships which I really enjoy. There is always great banter and difficult emotions and personal growth. Saint Anything didn't disappoint in any of these capacities! It was a very enjoyable read. 

This book wasn't what I expected. I knew it was set in the future after a pandemic flu decimates life as we know it. I guess I was expecting a Hunger Games meets Fifth Wave sort of situation, but what I got was even better. More depth. More relational. I enjoyed how the plot jumped back and forth in time, spanning many years and was told from various POV's. In the end, the impact was similar to The Husband's Secret or the movie Traffic. There are twists of fate that wind each storyline together and allow them to connect and collide. One of the main characters sports a tattoo that says, "Survival is insufficient." And this is a theme that run throughout the entire novel. It is post-apocalyptic tale, but it focuses more on philosophical themes than science-fi ones, being a story of humanity, survival and how one learns to LIVE again after life altering trauma.

When I picked up this book, I hadn't read fantasy in a long time...I purchased it because I've yet to meet an Amy Harmon book I didn't like! But it wasn't until I began it, that I realized I would be reading about a mystical land of kings and wars, curses and magic, Gods and monsters. The Bird and The Sword sucked me right in and I lived happily in the Land of Jeru for a weekend. Harmon's characters are always multi-layered and well developed and I love that her stories always have a deeper meaning/lesson to them. I enjoyed watching Lark and Tiras' relationship develop as well as witnessing Lark grow into a woman who took what once made her different and small and inadequate and embraced it as a gift that made her beautiful, powerful, and regal. Words are powerful, as the heart of this book demonstrates, and Harmon continues to command them. One of the best books I read all year!

There were parts to this book that were a little like reading a biography that I wrote. My husband is a high school football coach and we live, eat and breath football in the Fall. Even some of the things the West End team did and said were identical to the mottos and routines my husband's team does. TRADITION. LEGACY. TEAM. I love Scott's writing and have enjoyed all her books, so I knew I would like this one too, but the football aspect of it made it especially endearing to me. This a YA romance story who's main focus is the football and how school/town politics play into that. It's also about the coach's daughter and the quarterback from the wrong side of the tracks and how they navigate their differences and the prejudices stacked against them as they fall in love. I really enjoyed it! It's chaste - if you're looking for a read acceptable for young teens. ;-)

This book might as well be a love sonnet explained in the simplest of terms we all can relate to - song lyrics. Authored by a Rolling Stone editor who uses songs on various mix tapes to tell the story of his one true love, their unlikely coupling, and ultimately how he deals with loss after her sudden death. It is heartbreaking, funny, healing, witty and soulful all at once. It's a quick read, but an emotional one. I probably spent a good quarter of my high school and college years making mix tapes. So I can appreciate the thought and care that goes into the ordering and selection of songs. I loved how this story is told through them and because of them. 

This was a bookclub pick and the synopsis on Amazon called it "The most charming book of the year." So when I started it and it was kinda slow...I was confused. I didn't even finish it by the time we met to discuss (which is RARE for me!) But my group resoundingly LOVED I went home determined to power through and discover what they all were so enamored about. In the end, I must agree. You fall in love with Ove and all his grouchiness. This book has some of the best character development I have read all year. From the young, voracious family that moves in next door to Ove himself - a widow who is having a hard time adjusting to being "alone and useless." It is a tender story which calls into question our blind assumptions and how kindness, patience and embracing life's ups and downs go a long way toward our happiness. 

I listened to the book on Audible and it was a pleasant distraction from laundry, dishes or whatever other mundane task I was completing as I listened. Schumer is hysterical and hearing her words in her own voice leant a special understanding to how she wanted them delivered and received. The humor wasn't lost, but her sarcasm, satire and self-deprecation took on intensified levels of reliability. This book is politically charged and sexually explicit. It is also honest and unguarded in a way that makes you admire Schumer and re-examine your own story and if you are brave enough to tell it. 

I first read this book in 8th grade. I remember being so enthralled with it, that I would read it during class under my desk. I was that kid. When I picked it up again, I wondered if it would capture my attention the way it did back then. It did! And I enjoyed every page. But now I am left wanting to finish out the trilogy again! Peretti is a Christian writer and in This Present Darkness a small, college town preacher and local newspaper reporter are at the center of a spiritual battle over mankind. It is the epitome of good VS evil, literal angels VS demons. The characters are relatable and faced with many intense experiences allowing for the reader to become invested. Peretti is a great story teller, weaving together the spiritual and the natural world in page turning fashion. It left me with a renewed passion for prayer and faith in The Creator's plan for my life. 

Hoover...Hoover...Hoover...what can I say? I always enjoy her books and this one was no exception. It just had a plot that pushed all my buttons, and even though I enjoyed it, left a sour taste in my mouth. I think that is what Hoover wanted, however. The best thing about Hoover's books is the banter. She can write a witty conversation better than anyone. The back and forth between Lily and Ryle was some of her best, which I why you fall in love with them. And why is hurts so bad when the red flags start to appear! But appear they do, and from the very first flash, I was done. OUT. NO GO. But Lily keeps going back. I think it is a testament to Hoover's writing and personal experience that she was able to passionately convey the struggle Lily had with her decisions and what allowed for her to keep giving Ryle second chances. For me, however, I could never get there. I loved Lily's relationship with Ryle's sister. And in the end, Lily's healing and healthy decisions were all her own - not because another man came and rescued her. Not because she had no other choice. I really appreciated that about the story.

That's a wrap on 2016!! I hope you found a few titles in here to add to your own TBR lists and look forward to another fun year of page turning and reading challenges! I'd love it if you left your favorite book in the comments...I'm always looking for suggestions! Happy New Year! xoxo -Erin


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