Top 5 books of 2016

It was a bit of a rough year as far as favorites go.  Most of what I read didn’t blow me away.  I think I was just in a weird place this year – trying to look for a new job, building my social life up again, and having too much free time on my hands and being unfocused.

There were some books I read that failed to impress despite their blockbuster status (like My Name is Lucy Barton), but I think it’s more because of the place I was in this year, rather than the books not living up to their reputation.  Also, as I mentioned in my last post on my reading wrap up for the year, I read too many free advanced reading copies, and didn’t prioritize the books on my to do read list enough. But, there were some winners this year!

My top five books of 2016 are:

1.   The Girl on the Train.  Deservedly a bestseller and a movie (which I need to see), this thriller kept me turning the pages to see what would happen next.

From the cover:
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EVERY DAY THE SAME
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

UNTIL TODAY
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

2.    Modern Romance.  Even if you are not single and trying to date in these crazy times, this is a great read that gives you a hint as to what your single friends are dealing with!  I thought it was a funny, insightful examination of today’s {exhausting} dating culture.

Excerpt from the cover:
23453112A hilarious, thoughtful, and in-depth exploration of the pleasures and perils of modern romance from one of this generation’s sharpest comedic voices.

At some point, every one of us embarks on a journey to find love. We meet people, date, get into and out of relationships, all with the hope of finding someone with whom we share a deep connection. This seems standard now, but it’s wildly different from what people did even just decades ago. Single people today have more romantic options than at any point in human history. With technology, our abilities to connect with and sort through these options are staggering. So why are so many people frustrated?

In Modern Romance, Ansari combines his irreverent humor with cutting-edge social science to give us an unforgettable tour of our new romantic world.

3.    Dreaming Water.  While this book honestly didn’t blow me away, it was a good read and it did get me to read out my usual genres and is encouraging me to read more books like it.  A tear jerker written in two voices, the book explores a mother daughter relationship and is a reminder to be grateful for the small things.

Excerpt from the cover:
Bestselling author Gail Tsukiyama is known for her poignant, subtle insights into the most 51112complicated of relationships. Dreaming Water is an exploration of two of the richest and most layered human connections that exist: mother and daughter and lifelong friends.

Hana is suffering from Werner’s syndrome, a disease that makes a person age at twice the rate of a healthy individual: at thirty-eight Hana has the appearance of an eighty-year-old. Cate, her mother, is caring for her while struggling with her grief at losing her husband, Max, and with the knowledge that Hana’s disease is getting worse by the day.

Dreaming Water is about a mother’s courage, a daughter’s strength, and a friend’s love. It is about the importance of human dignity and the importance of all the small moments that create a life worth living.

4.    The Forgotten.  Because I love thrillers and mysteries. Published in 2013, this book is the second in a series about character John Puller.  However, I never read the first book and didn’t have trouble following the story or understanding the characters.  A fun page turner.

15791157From the cover:
Army Special Agent John Puller is the best there is. A combat veteran, Puller is the man the U.S. Army relies on to investigate the toughest crimes facing the nation. Now he has a new case–but this time, the crime is personal: His aunt has been found dead in Paradise, Florida.

A picture-perfect town on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Paradise thrives on the wealthy tourists and retirees drawn to its gorgeous weather and beaches. The local police have ruled his aunt’s death an unfortunate, tragic accident. But just before she died, she mailed a letter to Puller’s father, telling him that beneath its beautiful veneer, Paradise is not all it seems to be.

What Puller finds convinces him that his aunt’s death was no accident . . . and that the palm trees and sandy beaches of Paradise may hide a conspiracy so shocking that some will go to unthinkable lengths to make sure the truth is never revealed.

5.    Past Crimes.  This was one free advanced reading copy I got at the ALA conference that I enjoyed.  This thriller is a finalist for the 2016 Edgar Award for Best First Novel, and is an exciting and fast paced debut.

Excerpt from the cover:
22535504.jpgThe Anthony, Macavity, and Strand Critics award-winning debut from Glen Erik Hamilton.

When his estranged grandfather is shot and left for dead, an Army Ranger must plunge into the criminal underworld of his youth to find a murderer and uncover a shocking family secret in this atmospheric and evocative debut thriller.

Van Shaw was raised to be a thief, but at eighteen he suddenly broke all ties to that life and joined the military—abandoning his illicit past and the career-criminal grandfather who taught him the trade. Now, after ten years of silence, his grandfather has asked him to come home to Seattle. But when Van arrives, he discovers his grandfather bleeding out on the floor from a gunshot to the head. With a lifetime of tough history between him and the old man, Van knows he’s sure to be the main suspect.

Edgy and suspenseful, rich with emotional resonance, gritty action, and a deep-rooted sense of place, Past Crimes trumpets the arrival of a powerful talent in the mold of Dennis Lehane, Robert B. Parker, and John D. MacDonald.

Honorable mentions:

Somebody I Used to Know.  Another free book from ALA.  I enjoyed this thriller about a man who seems a woman that is the spitting image of his college girlfriend – who was killed in a fire.

Sarah’s Key.  As my mom says, “An oldie (2008) but a goodie”.   I had a big phase this year with reading dual timeline novels.  This was my favorite of the bunch, connecting Sarah’s story in 1942 with Julia’s in 2002.  Also, check out the movie if you like the book.  It diverts from the book, but it also good in itself.

What were some of your favorites from 2016?

2016 Reading Wrap Up

I can’t believe it’s already time again for a reading wrap up.  2016 was a weird year, wasn’t it?  I’m looking forward to it being in the rear view mirror soon.

I didn’t read as many books as usual.  I think because it was my first free year after finishing grad school and I spent a lot of my time enjoying a social life again (another reason why I haven’t been blogging much this year!)  But, I still managed to read 32 books – not too shabby.

Total – 32
Percent fiction – 63%
Percent mystery/thriller –28%
Percent young adult –9%
Percent female authors – 34%
Percent nonfiction – 37% – up from 2%
Average per month – 2.6
Percent really liked – 24%
Percent just okay – 54%
Percent didn’t like – 22%

I started another four books that I didn’t finish, all four of which were advanced reading copies (ARCs) I got at the ALA conference last year.  Overall, I’ve sadly been unimpressed with the ARCs I got there and I learned my lesson that if I ever go again, I’ll be much more selective in which books I carry home.  Many of the books I got were those that publishers foisted upon me as I walked down the aisles and not what I’d usually read (as in lots of chick lit and kids’ books), but I was also trying to take advantage and explore new genres. It hasn’t been working out great, but I still have about 20 to go!

I again focused on reading more fiction (up from 31%) over young adult this year and succeeded (down from 25% to only 9%).  It was nice trying to focus on fiction, although I admit they weren’t all exactly “literary” and many were free books from ALA.

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Somehow my to read list on Goodreads has exploded to over 300 books.  I think it may be time to clean out some of the ones I’ll never get around to reading!  But, in 2017, in no particular order, I’d like to read:

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihira

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman

Stiletto (Rook Files #2) by Daniel O’Malley.  I really liked the first book, but I read it a long time ago and may need to refresh my memory.

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. Because I finally saw the movie and now I’m intrigued.

Trespasser by Tana French

Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

And I saw this every year, but I’d like to try to read some short stories this year. Any suggestions on some good story collections?

What are some of the books you want to read in 2017?

I’ll share a few of my favorite books from this year soon!

PS Here’s my wrap ups from 2014 and 2013.

Image source.

 

10 Beautiful Books for National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month!  In celebration, here’s 10 beautifully designed books of poetry published in 2014.

   wreckageNo Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay

wingless The Wingless (Carnegie Mellon Poetry Series) by Cecilia Llompart

negmanejma by Nayyirah Waheed

daylightInto Daylight: Poems (Dorset Prize) by Jeffrey Harrison

abideAbide by Jake Adam York

bonemapBone Map: Poems (National Poetry Series)
by Sara Eliza Johnson

sixfoldSixfold Poetry Summer 2014 by Sixfold

fourpart#fourpartpoems by @emolabs

dangerousDangerous Goods: Poems by Sean Hill

You’d be amazed at how many poetry book covers feature trees or streams.

Do you have any favorite books of poetry?  Please share!

Books to celebrate Mardi Gras

In honor of Mardi Gras next Tuesday, I thought it would be fun to share some books honoring the beautiful city of New Orleans, and the holiday.  I’ve always wanted to visit New Orleans, but just haven’t made it yet.  Someday!

Have you ever been to Mardi Gras? Any other recommended books on NOLA?

cooking

Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from The Times-Picayune of New Orleans by Marcelle Bienvenu

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New Orleans Carnival Krewes: The History, Spirit and Secrets of Mardi Gras by Rosary O’Neill

empire

Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans by Gary Krist

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The Southerner’s Handbook: A Guide to Living the Good Life by the Editors of Garden and Gun

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A Guide to the Historic French Quarter by Andy Peter Antippas

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The Encyclopedia of Cajun & Creole Cuisine by John D. Folse

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New Orleans: Facts and Legends by Raymond J. Martinez and Jack D. L. Holmes

And for the kids:

king cake

The King Cake Baby by Keila Dawson

dolphins

Eight Dolphins of Katrina: A True Tale of Survival by Janet Wyman Coleman

paper crafts

Paper Crafts for Mardi Gras by Randel McGee

All images via Amazon.

The Art of Jessica Hische

I admit it—I’m guilty of judging books by their covers.  I am a sucker for a beautifully designed book jacket.  So, I’m starting a new column, The Art of…, to feature book designers and their amazing artwork.

First up is Jessica Hische.  I’ve long been a fan of hers.  Her lettering is gorgeous and has graced not just book jackets, but advertising campaigns, logos, wine labels, and even USPS first class stamps.

Here are some of my favorites.  Please visit her website for even more inspiration.

jh1Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Blood Stains

jh2Lolita

jh3On the Divinity of Second Chances

jh4Shopping in Marrakech

jh5Church of The Dog

jh7The Night Circus

PrintKarma

jh9Wuthering Heights

jh6Song Reader

jh10Jane Eyre

Do you have any favorite book designers?

Currently reading As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride by Cary Elwes

Top 3 young adult books read in 2014

I had been planning to write a top five books for young adult books read in 2014, but looking back at my reading list, I didn’t love too many YA titles last year.  It was probably in part being a little tired of the genre and wanting to focus on other types of fiction, and getting tired of reading series, which so many YA books are.

161011281. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey (2013).  It’s sort of funny that I liked this book because I don’t really like dystopian fiction, or stories about aliens.  But, it was paced well and filled with action.  I liked the main character, Cassie, a brave, positive lead female character.  It features multiple narrators that give interesting takes on the fifth wave.

From the cover: After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.  Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker.  Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

136184402. Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor (2014).  I had been really looking forward to this, as it is the final story of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy.  I loved the first two books, and this one was good, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first two.  It needed some stronger editing and about 100 pages of the over 600 could probably have been cut out, as every time Akiva and Karou got near each other, the same angst kept repeating itself over and over. Still, it was an interesting read, featured continued great worldbuilding, and was a good wrap up for the series.  Karou remained a strong heroine and positive role model, unlike other YA novels.  I can’t really say much more without giving spoilers.  But let’s face it—this series is all about Zuzanna’s one-liners!

Excerpt from the cover: By way of a staggering deception, Karou has taken control of the chimaera rebellion and is intent on steering its course away from dead-end vengeance. The future rests on her, if there can even be a future for the chimaera in war-ravaged Eretz…When Jael’s brutal seraph army trespasses into the human world, the unthinkable becomes essential, and Karou and Akiva must ally their enemy armies against the threat. It is a twisted version of their long-ago dream, and they begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people…From the streets of Rome to the caves of the Kirin and beyond, humans, chimaera and seraphim will fight, strive, love, and die in an epic theater that transcends good and evil, right and wrong, friend and enemy.

135977233. The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (2013). This is just a fun story about teens with special abilities that are recruited by the FBI to use their special powers to solve murders.  Each teen has a different talent that they bring to the team, such as reading emotions and spotting deception.  It does include the love triangle trope so common in YA fiction, but it doesn’t overwhelm the mystery aspect of the plot.  This book has been compared to Criminal Minds on just about every review that I’ve seen, and is am entertaining thriller.

From the cover: Seventeen-year-old Cassie is a natural at reading people. Piecing together the tiniest details, she can tell you who you are and what you want. But it’s not a skill that she’s ever taken seriously. That is, until the FBI come knocking: they’ve begun a classified program that uses exceptional teenagers to crack infamous cold cases, and they need Cassie.  What Cassie doesn’t realize is that there’s more at risk than a few unsolved homicides—especially when she’s sent to live with a group of teens whose gifts are as unusual as her own. Sarcastic, privileged Michael has a knack for reading emotions, which he uses to get inside Cassie’s head—and under her skin. Brooding Dean shares Cassie’s gift for profiling, but keeps her at arm’s length.  Soon, it becomes clear that no one in the Naturals program is what they seem. And when a new killer strikes, danger looms closer than Cassie could ever have imagined. Caught in a lethal game of cat and mouse with a killer, the Naturals are going to have to use all of their gifts just to survive.

Have you read any good YA books lately?

Top 5 books read in 2014

In 2014, I focused on reading more books that I would probably have otherwise waited on, to try something new and get out of my literary comfort zone.  In creating this list, I was very surprised to discover that all of my top five books can probably considered historical fiction, which I always felt I didn’t care for.  I guess it goes to show that breaking a pattern can yield some wonderful results.  I’m very motivated to keep trying new types of fiction this year!

In no particular order, my top five books read in 2014 are:

181439771.  Justly the winner of many awards in 2014, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014) was hands down my favorite book read last year.  I don’t even care for books set in World War II, yet this story about the parallel lives of two youth coming-of-age during the war was just so beautifully written, it captivated me at once and I couldn’t put it down.   Just read it.

From the cover: Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure’s agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.

In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.

173333192. Published in 2013, Burial Rites by Hannah Kent is inspired by the true story of a woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829.   I admit that I picked up this book not because of the plot, but because I am obsessed with Iceland and want to visit there.  It is a beautifully emotional story, yet never overwrought.  Kent creates a haunting atmosphere and I could feel the cold, harsh, lonely environment that Agnes endured while waiting for her execution.

From the cover: Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution.  Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes’s death looms, the farmer’s wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they’ve heard.

158190283. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker (2013) is another story about parallel lives, except the characters are a brand new golem and an ancient jinni.  The golem and the jinni navigate late 1890s New York City while trying to figure out the meaning of life and overcome their loneliness at being the only creatures of their kind in NYC.   A wonderful debut novel.

From the cover: Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master, the husband who commissioned her, dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York in 1899.  Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Though he is no longer imprisoned, Ahmad is not entirely free – an unbreakable band of iron binds him to the physical world. The Golem and the Jinni is their magical, unforgettable story; unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures – until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful threat will soon bring Chava and Ahmad together again, challenging their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.

182094684. Published in 2014, The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh is another debut novel.  Although perhaps not as powerful or evocative as The Golem and the Jinni, this was a moving story about family secrets.  The dual storyline alternates between a daughter trying to solve the disappearance of her mother years earlier, and the story of her mother prior to disappearing.

From the cover: The Dane family’s roots tangle deep in the Ozark Mountain town of Henbane, but that doesn’t keep sixteen-year-old Lucy Dane from being treated like an outsider. Folks still whisper about her mother, a bewitching young stranger who inspired local myths when she vanished years ago. When one of Lucy’s few friends, slow-minded Cheri, is found murdered, Lucy feels haunted by the two lost girls-the mother she never knew and the friend she couldn’t protect. Everything changes when Lucy stumbles across Cheri’s necklace in an abandoned trailer and finds herself drawn into a search for answers. What Lucy discovers makes it impossible to ignore the suspicion cast on her own kin. More alarming, she suspects Cheri’s death could be linked to her mother’s disappearance, and the connection between the two puts Lucy at risk of losing everything. In a place where the bonds of blood weigh heavy, Lucy must decide where her allegiances lie.

70939525. Faithful Place by Tana French (2011).  The third book in the Dublin Murder Squad series, this story focuses on Frank Mackey and his investigation into what happened to the love of his life on the eve of their elopement.  His search reunites him with his estranged family and uncovers many deeply disturbing buried secrets and repressed emotions.  I always feel that I can’t go wrong with a Tana French novel.

Excerpt from the cover: Back in 1985, Frank Mackey was nineteen, growing up poor in Dublin’s inner city, and living crammed into a small flat with his family on Faithful Place. But he had his sights set on a lot more. He and Rosie Daly were all ready to run away to London together, get married, get good jobs, break away from factory work and poverty and their old lives.  But on the winter night when they were supposed to leave, Rosie didn’t show. Frank took it for granted that she’d dumped him-probably because of his alcoholic father, nutcase mother, and generally dysfunctional family. He never went home again.  Neither did Rosie. Everyone thought she had gone to England on her own and was over there living a shiny new life. Then, twenty-two years later, Rosie’s suitcase shows up behind a fireplace in a derelict house on Faithful Place, and Frank is going home whether he likes it or not.

Runners-up:

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938).  A classic.

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill (2007).  Hill’s first novel, not-quite-horror, but creepy and suspenseful.

Defending Jacob by William Landay (2012).  A great courtroom/family drama thriller.

What were some of your favorite books read in 2014??