Top Ten Reads of 2021

Time for my favorite year end activity! The delightful and agonizing task of looking back at a year’s worth of reading and picking out my top ten favorite books I read. This year’s reading goal was 100 books, which I am very unlikely to meet. I have read 95 books and am likely to read one more graphic novel. Unlike last year where I just lost an interest in reading as the pandemic intensified, this year I did plenty of reading. However, what did happen was a number of times I spent days reading something and then gave up on it. I was so excited to get the newest Liane Moriarty as a pre-pub and I never even read it. So I guess I’m not quite back to my normal reading habits. 
When I go to create my top 10 list the first thing I do is sort my year’s books by their ratings (in Goodreads, my ratings.) This year I had 31 5 star reads! That’s 1/3 of the books I read this year! and I thought that this year I was lot more open to giving out 3 stars (and even handing out a mere 2 stars to one book) and more cautious with the 5 stars. All of my rereads were 5 stars, which just makes sense. I also had a handful of children’s books that were 5 stars, including a reread (shoutout to Fake Mustache! which I suppose is really more of a 4 star book but it’s got sentimental value inflating its rating) and one book which will likely make it to the final 10 list.  Shall we get right to the top list before looking back at some other categories? Yes? OK, then. 

After much agonizing I managed to get it down to 12 books that I would say were my favorite books of the year. The runners up were all 5 star books that I really enjoyed (esp the J.Courtney Sullivan, which I hated to demote to runner up). I am also finagling my list by removing children’s books from it, though the fact is that if you asked me truly which books I most remembered from 2021, it would include those top children’s books, perhaps even before some of the adult books (for example, I loved and highly rated the Nick Hornby book, but had forgotten all about it. I have not forgotten reading Starfish. So maybe in that case one book is not better than the other, but more memorable to me.)
**In no particular order, my favorite books read in 2021 (title links are to my original review)**

The Martian by Andy Weir–That’s right, I never read this book before this spring when I read it immediately after watching (and loving) the film version. I was so caught up in this book I remember not leaving my chair. I loved the fast pace, the adventure, the science. I was excited to read it this year when he had a new book coming out.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir- is this the first time 2 precious spots have been given to the same author? Not sure. I read this very soon after The Martian and the writing style was exactly the same, which I loved. This was some serious science fiction and I was there for every single bit of it. Made me look at the night sky differently for the rest of the year.

The No Show Beth O’Leary-I believe this isn’t even coming out until spring 2022 and I was fortunate to get a prepub to read. Even stranger–I didn’t even finish The Road Trip, which I’d looked forward to for months, but then I picked this up and read it straight through. This was an especially good reading experience because I had no idea what the book was going to be about and was, therefore, totally surprised by everything. I loved the characters and the crafting of the story. Really excellent.

Mercy Street Jennifer Haigh–Ditto getting this as a prepub and not reading anything about it ahead of time. I was so immersed in this gratifyingly long novel. As our country is already cruelly revoking abortion rights, I wish everyone would read this book. It’s also not just a story about abortion and health clinics. I loved the characters and their own stories (multiple p.o.v s) and Haigh’s writing style was same as in Baker Towers, which I love.

The Incredible Winston Browne by Sean Dietrich–my mom handed this to me telling me I’d love it and she was right. It was so touching and heartwarming. Just a real feel good story. Made me think about Billie Letts and Lorna Landvik-small town stories with good people in them. (Read the final chapter in a semi-public area with tears running down my face.)

Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny– [just looked up Heiny and isn’t it funny that she also appeared on my 2017 top ten, along with J. Courtney Sullivan and Jennifer Ryan books and both of those authors were also on this top ten list (but got demoted to runner up.)]  Another small town with quirky characters (yeah, some might be a bit over the top) and a touching story. As with Heiny’s Standard Deviation I enjoyed her way of writing and describing characters. I found myself really responding to stories this year that showed the joys and sadness in life, and this was one of them.

The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett by Annie Lyons–“This had a strong Man Called Ove theme and feel about it-somewhat cranky old person perfectly willing to end her life. ” This book really stayed with me, particularly thinking about death and how we approach it and respond to it. Heartwarming and thoughtful. Another book I loved this year was They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera. You’d think both of these death heavy books would have brought me down, but they didn’t. On the contrary I found them life affirming and beautiful.

Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau–Damn, this was a fun book. 1970s Baltimore, sex drugs rock n’ roll, coming of age. Kind of Almost Famous, kind of Dazed and Confused. I loved the contrasts of Mary Jane’s incredibly conservative life with the wild other end of the spectrum. (And realistically, it was fun to read about but if my young teen was exposed to the things Mary Jane was I’d have a conniption fit.) I was satisfied with the neat ending of the story-that fit into a summer, that it really was like looking at this bubble of time. 

The Guncle by Stephen Rowley–I wanted to not like this just because everyone else did and also I hate the title. But I got sucked right into this sweet story that wasn’t all sweetness. It really was a story of grief and life and it also had a lot of funny moments in it.

Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne– Fun, sexy, kooky old people, endangered tortoises. I just really enjoyed this.

This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub–The only time travel book to make the top list this year! This was an immediate 5 star for me even though Melissa read it at the same time and gave it a mere 3 stars.  I found the time travel elements very satisfying and I found all the thoughtful observations about life also satisfying. 

This Time Next Year Sophie Cousens– I love stories of characters whose lives crossed paths without them knowing it and this one was top notch fun. Romantic and clever.

I’d like to give a special commendation to a trilogy which, if I’m honest, was even more delightful to read and an even more memorable reading experience for me than some of these Top Ten. The Kingdoms & Empires trilogy by Jaclyn Moriarty. This was comprised of The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst, The Whispering Wars, and The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone. Originally I said “I haven’t been this entertained by a book in a long time.” and “there was just something about the story, the setting (boarding school) and the storyteller’s voice that I loved.” Each book was a fun fantasy adventure that I loved and found very clever. I also desperately felt the need to own the whole trilogy. So really, I think this deserves to be on the list.

The Runners Up: 5 star books that didn’t make the list. I loved them but found them either slighly less memorable than those on the list or slightly less enjoyable to read:

Friends and Strangers J Courtney Sullivan
Just Like You Nick Hornby
The Kitchen Front Jennifer Ryan
The Rose Code Kate Quinn 
The last two there were probably my favorite historical fiction of the year. I also liked Band of Sisters, which was WWI, and very historically interesting to me. It was not a quick romp of a read, though.

And here are a group of 4 star books that on reflection I like a little more than some of the 5 star books (not the ones listed above)–Dear Emmie Blue, Very Sincerely Yours, Little Wonders, Last Letter from Your Lover (an old JoJo Moyes I’d overlooked) [Not sure why Dear Emmie Blue got 5 stars and Second First Impressions got 5. I mean, I basically felt the same way about both of them and they had a similar vibe.]

This year I reread the entire Leviathan trilogy (most satisfying to read them all in a row), Elsewhere (I love a good afterlife book), and my most favorite precious old book to revisit periodically–Ladder of Years. It will always be 5 stars to me.

In the children’s books category I loved Charlie Thorne and the Lost City, Scary Stories for Young Foxes: The City, and Starfish.  I also read a lot of children’s graphic novels. I especially liked Oh My Gods, Snapdragon, Secrets of Camp Whatever, and Katie the Catsitter.

I only read two time travel books: This Time Tomorrow and And Then She Vanished.

I read three complete trilogies reading books 1-3 all in a row–Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, The Overthrow by Kenneth Oppel (full on creepy sci-fi), and Kingdoms & Empires by Jaclyn Moriarty.

There were some disappointments (besides the aforementioned starting books and not bothering to finishe them). I was excited to read TWO new Mike Chens and gave them each just 3 stars. I liked them but they weren’t standouts at all for me. Looking back I had forgotten all about Ready Player Two. Ready Player One is a favorite of mine and this unnecessary sequel still garnered for 4 stars from me, but was disappointing.

I have no special reading goals for next year (other than to perhaps set a reading goal of less than 100 since it seems like I can’t hit that anymore!) As usual I will reread familiar old stories that I’ve loved and read what catches my eye. Some books I’ll read and love and immediately forget about it, and others will stay with me for years to come. Here’s to another year of discoving those gems!

Sarah

Top Ten Books of 2020

Fellow Readers,

It was not a normal year. We all know that. I think everyone who is a reader had their reading changed in some way. Maybe you only read magazines or travel fiction, maybe you didn’t read anything, maybe you only read most unrealistic things you could find, or the most comforting, or maybe you read a ton of books you always meant to and now was the perfect time. For me the unsettling news and experiences of this past year meant that I ended up reading sporadically. I fell short of my 100 book goal by over 20 books. (78 books is nothing to sneeze at though! And I might still get in one more in the next two days. Or not.)  I went weeks juggling multiple books and only half heartedly picking up things. Every now and then I was back in the groove with books I loved.  I also spent a lot of my free time really focused on some of my other hobbies, so rather than reading on a Saturday morning I was sewing and creating embroidered felt ornaments.
For all of that, I still read a lot, but I long ago let go of any goals or expectations. I had more 3 star reviews than usual-perhaps I’m being more blunt than in years past. I seemed to have fewer 5 star reviews, and some of my 4 star reviews are one I think should make it in the Top Ten. I noticed that my most effusive reviews mentioned the book’s ability to just transport me.

So, here they are, in no particular order, with link to original review by clicking on title.


Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan:  Absolutely fun and filthy rich.  I ate up all the over-the-top details.


The Midnight Library by Matt Haig: I really like Matt Haig’s books and I love books like this-not time travel or alternate time line, but kind of asking “What if?” In this case, what if you could pick a life that undid a regret you have? A deeply thoughtful book without being mopey or slow, I really loved everything about this.

How the Penguins Saved Veronica by Hazel Prior: Reminiscent of a Man Called Ove, set at a penguin research center in Antarctica, and a feisty old lady man character. This book was a charmer.

Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore: I know this is not going to end up on Melissa’s list because she didn’t love it, but man I did! Just the kind of messed up time travel, what if, shenanigans I love. (By the way, time travel books didn’t star in this year’s list. I didn’t seem to have as many as usual.) Starting on the eve of her 19th birthday (conveniently, Jan 1) Oona lives her life with each year out of order. It’s disconcerting and weird and it doesn’t bear thinking too closely about how some things would work or it makes your brain hurt and makes you want to poke holes in this. At once sad, funny, bizarre, and curious, it was just the kind of thing I like.

The Bright Side of Going Dark by Kelly Harms: I loved this and knew it would make Top Ten at the time I read it. A marvelous blend of what seems at first like you’re just going to make fun of an Instagram influencer, but then find yourself involved in a really engaging story that makes you think about people. 

Marilla by Sarah McCoy: At this point it’s been almost one year since I read this book-it was the second book I read of 2020. Rereading my review of it made me feel fondly towards it all over again. I mean, look what wonderful things I had to say about it! And this was a big deal for me-I’m a big Anne fan and didn’t like the idea of reading some kind of fanfic. But no, this was a simply perfect book that slotted in very neatly to Green Gables.

I’ll pause here to say that while the list is not in any order the above six books were quickly and decisively chosen to be on the list. The next four I’m trying to choose from among 8 contenders.

Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran: My original review said this was Maeve Binchy + Chocolat + Sarah Addison Allen and I’d stick by that as a good way to describe this. I was absolutely enchanted by the tiny Irish village, its characters, and the amazing Persian recipes. I was very excited to read the sequel but alas, only got a little ways in before I lost the book behind a chair and had my head turned by other novels.

America for Beginners by Leah Franqui: Today I finished her second book Mother Land, and I really liked it a lot. It gave me so much to think about. But ultimately her first book, which I read in the spring, is the one making it to my list. I thought this was wonderful. I loved the different points of view, the cultural comparisons, and the story. It felt so different from everything else I’d been reading and it was a really touching story.

Separation Anxiety by Laura Zigman I feel like this was a divisive book this year. I really liked it and rereading my review and thinking about how it stuck with me, I’m placing it on my list. Zigman is a great writer and for her to make the dog wearing woman not be absolutely ridiculous was pretty amazing.

Miss Cecily’s Recipes for Exceptional Ladies by Vicky Zimmerman: It’s actually a little hard for me to remember some of this, but I do remember how much I loved the fake cookbook at the heart of this story and how it connects a young woman and a cranky old lady. 

[The four runner ups: Two Truths and a Lie, Good Omens, The Switch, Siri Who am I?]


Some of my highest rated books this year were rereads. It’s not surprising that I turned to rereading tried and true books (some of which were on previous Top Ten lists.)  We also reorganized and weeded our home library, which brought a bunch of old books I love into my hands again. My most Highly Rated Comforting Rereads were:
Miss You by Kate Eberle
What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (Guess what? For Christmas I received the new biography of Louise Fitzhugh! Apparently she was just as spunky as her heroine.) 
Pennington’s Last Term by K.M. Peyton 

I read a lot of children’s books this year. I’m a children’s librarian, so I should, but a lot of it was just because in the spring I was home so much and it seemed like a good opportunity to read even the books I wasn’t that excited about that I was adding to the school library. My Top Three Children’s Books are:


We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly. Three siblings in the days before the Challenger launch, family drama, very emotional and beautifully crafted book. I also read her Newbery medal winning Hello Universe this year, but honestly I thought this was better. Will it see some Newbery love in just a few weeks? We’ll see..  
Scary Stories for Young Foxes by Christian Heidicker. This straight up was one of my favorite books this year. For the amount that I have recommended it to people and talked about it I should just stick it above on my top 10.  This book was quite simply, a masterfully told story. The storytelling craft here is just so strong. And he’s not kidding about some of the stories being scary. Be prepared for frightened kids! (But I’m a baby and I could handle it.) The Beatrix Potter chapter alone is just, well, fascinating. You’ll never look at Peter Rabbit the same again. 
Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina This was another Newbery winning book I made myself read and then said “oh, I see….this book is just all around terrific.” I can’t eve seem to describe this book in a way that makes you want to read it. I resisted reading it myself. But then I did and honestly thought it was just a wonderful refreshing realistic fiction that maybe every 5th and 6th grader should read. I’m pretty excited to read the forthcoming sequel.

Special mention to Becoming RBG by Debbie Levy This was such a great book and made me really admire RBG even more and appreciate everything she’s done.  Recommended to any tween, teen, or adult.

Special Notes:
A special commendation to The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson for being such a satisfying conclusion to a trilogy. “What an absolutely satisfying conclusion!! When is the last time I sat by the fire eyes glued to my book, hand reaching in and out of popcorn bowl, just completely caught up?”

2020 saw Tabby and I finishing The Giver quartet by Lois Lowry. We finished Messenger and Son, all on audio. It was absolutely wonderful to read the whole series together and as one very long book. It was a terrific experience. Lowry is a master storyteller. Here was my reflection on that.

And finally, a Special Note for The Beginning at the End by Mike Chen. I love Mike Chen’s books, and I love stories that really ask “what if?”, which post apocalyptic stories squarely fall into. I’ve read many a pandemic book but this one, well this one was too realistic, a portent, and a case of Worst Timing Ever. I read this in February. It’s a book that begins with a terrible pandemic in the year 2020 and then shows what the world is like 6 years later. I’ve spent a lot of this year thinking about that 6 year future and wondering if we’ll be just like the people in that story. I hope not. This was a good book that I wish I hadn’t read.

And that’s a wrap! If I could leave you with one thought for 2021 re: your reading, it’s this: Read what you like! Don’t be afraid to put down a book you don’t like. 
Happy Reading and Happy New Year!
Sarah

Top Ten of the Decade

I hadn’t even been thinking about this New Year’s being the end of a decade. And then Melissa said that in addition to her Top Ten of the Year, she was thinking of doing a Top Ten of the Decade. Obviously, I immediately wanted to do it, too.  I really enjoyed looking back and what I had kept track of. It turns out that here on this blog I’ve written a list of my favorite books each year since 2010, with the exception of 2011. It appears that 2011 I was very spotty on my reviews and not coincidentally, that’s the year I started keeping track of things on Goodreads. It wasn’t hard, though, to look at 2011 and figure out what I would have picked that year.
Decade at a glance: 2013 and 2014 were the best years. Just SO. MANY. GOOD. BOOKS.  This is also the decade where I started reading (and they became very popular) Liane Moriarty, Lisa Jewell (again), Kate Morton, and J. Courtney Sullivan–authors I see now as my tried and true favorites. I also read a lot more YA at the beginning of the decade, which makes sense since I was still profesionally involved in young adult librarianship.
I stayed true to my interests and read a LOT of time travel and WWII fiction.  This decade had some stand out trilogies for me too-Hunger Games, Arc of a Scythe, Leviathan.

It’s going to be very very hard to narrow this down, so I think my criteria will be: which of these wonderful books are the ones that I am still thinking about? Which ones really made an impact on me?  I’m making my own rules here, so what I’ve come up with is an actual TOP TEN. Followed by a second set of ten that we’ll call the runners up. Really, just as good and still a 5 star book, but getting slightly edged out by these first ten.

In no particular order, my favorite books of the Decade are:

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20191230_151445Irresistable Henry House by Lisa Grunwald: This book has stayed with me for sure. Henry was a baby raised by home ec students! Historically fascinating, and then a great story following Henry well into adulthood. I remember I liked the details about his Disney days.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty: This was the first book I read by her. She wasn’t a popular author in the states yet and I just loved this. I thought it was a great story and I liked her writing and started seeking out all her other books.

Maine by  J. Courtney Sullivan: In my initial run through of top books there were THREE by J. Courtney Sullivan. I think she is a great writer and I love how big her stories are. This one probably stayed with me the most-the setting, the Catholicism, the unlikable characters. Just a sweeping great story.

Arc of a Scythe trilogy by Neal Shusterman (Scythe, Thunderhead, The Toll): Since I just finished this two days ago I feel like I’ve been talking about it constantly. This trilogy was fantastic and I know I’ll still think of it well into the next decade. Wonderfully and intelligently well written and constructed  paired with a a really exciting story. Plenty to think about in terms of humanity, civilization, religion, technology, and politics-but also just a really ace story.

Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn: So great that I reread it last year and deemed it still wonderful. Some of the other books on this list were big popular hits. This one wasn’t, but for whatever reason it really spoke to me and has stayed with me. Superb.

Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein: Yes, I’m going to count both of these books as one even though they are not really a series. These books were emotionally gutting. In particular I can vividly recall finishing Rose Under Fire on a sunny Saturday morning at the soccer field and crying and crying. I…should have finished it a home. Brutal and inspiring. Verity shows the heroism of a pilot and spy and the strength of friendship and sacrifice. Rose takes you into the most brutal of concentration camps. Highly recommended for everyone.

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton: Another WWII and another author with more than one title on my original list. Her stories can somewhat run together-she’s got a distinctive style. But this one really stood out to me. I loved how the threads of mystery came together (slowly, but surely, it’s a big book) and just found it supremely satisfying and clever, as well as being another great look at life in England during WWII.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan: About a thousand times lighter than the sad WWII books, this book was endless fun. Very popular for good reason and the movie was fun, too. When this first came out my friend and I kept remarking to each other that it was actually super educational. And you know what? It was. A fascinating look deep into another culture-not just Asian culture, but also the uber wealthy.

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck: Taking it down once again, this heartbreaking and intense novel was amazing. First of all, it showed a time and place that I really hadn’t seen in WWII fiction before–the war is technically over and it’s in Germany. Now what? What of the women left alive? I was fascinated the different characters and stories. Not an easy book to read, but oh so worthwhile.

Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh: I really enjoy her writing style. Blunt? Matter of fact? Something about the way she spins her story pulls me right in. This look at a Pennsylvania coal mining town through a few decades was so interesting to me. Historical fiction that is surely relatable and memorable to people still living, but to me might as well have been another world and time entirely.

————–
This second set is also great, for sure. We’ll call them the runners up.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson: Truthfully I barely remember what the story is about. But I remember the warm feeling of how much I liked it, as well as one particular scene that, like Henry Himself, was a small detail of ordinariness that spoke volumes about simple pleasures in life. (In fact, Maine also carries a similar detail. A character responding to someone who feels that she put too much effort into a tray with a cup of tea and something to eat on it by saying it was exactly the right amount of effort. That the small things in life are worth doing nicely, even if, perhaps especially if, they are for oneself.)

Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz: I just remember loving this.

Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis: WWII again. Bumping it down to tier 2 because these books are big and long and full of historically accurate detail that is probably boring to a lot of people. It’s like being in a museum. I felt like I time traveled when I read these. (Oh and there’s time travel in these,so…)

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton: A fantastic Morton story mostly taking place in Australia. I was captivated by how the pieces of this story fit together.

The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan: “A diamond is forever.” That marketing slogan and how it was created is the basis for this book, which I found a fascinating premise. Lots in here about a powerful career woman and a really engaging (ha ha) story.

Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan: This one is perhaps more similar to Maine with family saga and drama, with the added appeal of a cloistered nun. Also, as a story about young women emigrating from Ireland I really liked learning about that.

I Think I Love You by Allison Pearson: This book was such a surprise to me. Thought it would be fluff, but in fact it was a great all around well written novel. It stuck with me.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline: YA? Adult? A book everyone can love. Loaded with 80s pop culture references this is a wonderful fun and clever story. The film, sadly, did not do it justice.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson: This was a divisive book in my reading circle of friends. Personally, I loved it. I thought it was amazingly well written-the structure of the story trying one life after another trying to get it right. Seeing so many alternative timelines (in WWII) was just incredible.

A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman: Ove is a character I won’t soon forget. Cranky and depressed, determined to die. And yet, this was a heartwarming and even funny (!) story.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah: Not funny. Another gutwrenching WWII novel. Like Women in the Castle I felt this story was giving me an interesting perspective of the era that I hadn’t read a lot about. But it involves the French Resistance so you know it’s going to be really sad. And it was. But of course also heartwarming.

I’m going to finish up by mentioning yet another WWII book: The War that Saved My Life and its sequel, The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. These are children’s books and they were the best children’s WWII fiction I’ve ever read. A crippled and abused girl is a London evacuee to the countryside where she is paired with a sad woman. I both read and listened to it on audio and the audio made it even more intensely emotional. Wonderful books for children who want to grow up and read all the grown up WWII books I like.

[Update: It’s 4 days later and I have to add two more because I can’t bear the thought of leaving them off this list of memorable fantastic books of the decade: Kitchens of the Great Midwest by Ryan Stradal and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Both of these books were great stories and wonderfully well written. I especially admired the structure of Kitchens.]

And there you have it!
Would be fun to look back in another 10 years and see if these books are ones I am still returning to, or have read again since, or if the authors continue to be ones I admire.
Here’s to another decade of great books!
Sarah

P.S. And if you’re interested, here’s the list I was working with and whittling down

2010 Dies the Fire, Candymakers, Revolution, The Help, The Lonely Polygamist, One Day, Irresistable Henry House, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Admission

2011 [Apparently in 2011 I didn’t make a top 10 list and posted only occasionally.] All Clear, Goliath, Scorpia Rising, Wonderstruck, Maine, I Think I Love You, Started Early Took My Dog, Three Wishes, What Alice Forgot, The Penderwicks, Leviathan, Behemoth, Shipbreaker, Revenge of the Radioactive Lady, Forgotten Garden, Cleaning Nabokov’s House, A Visit from the Goon Squad, Book of a Thousand Days

2012Mrs. Queen Takes the Train, Code Name Verity, Hypnotist’s Love Story, Ready Player One, Scorpio Races, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, The Fault in Our Stars, I’ll Be There,

2013The Engagements, The Husband’s Secret, Rose Under Fire, Life After Life,  Where’d You Go Bernadette, Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore,  The Secret Keeper

2014Crazy Rich Asians, House We Grew Up In, Before I Met You, Eleanor and Park, Hundred Year House, Big Little Lies, Fangirl, Rosie Project

2015 The Lake House, A Man Called Ove, My Real Children, A Spool of Blue Thread, The Nightingale, The Rocks, Replay

2016 In the Unlikely Event, Miss you, Scythe, War That Saved My Life

2017 War I Finally Won, Saints for All Occasions, Time and Time Again, Dear Fahrenheit 451, Standard Deviation, Elinor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Chilbury Ladies’ Choir

2018 Kitchens of the Great Midwest, The Women in the Castle,  Baker Towers, How Hard Can It Be?

2019

Top Ten Books of 2019

Christmas is over and now it’s time for one of my favorite activities of the year’s end–looking back at what I read and choosing my Top Ten. My friend Melissa suggested she might also do a Top Ten of the DECADE and oh my, you’d better believe I’m going to do that too.
OK, as usual, first some details about my year in reading: I set a Goodreads goal of 100 (just like last year) and have read 101 (same as last year!) [Update: I squeezed in one more book after writing this. So it’s really 102.]I’m pretty pleased with that amount, though if I’m honest, I really don’t try to meet the goal-I’m just out here reading what I like.
Of those, 13 were graphic novels, and I’m just going to eyeball it and guess about half were children’s books (and all the graphic novels were children’s or YA.)  As for audiobook listening I’ve enjoyed taking the opportunity this school year to listen to some stories I love with my 12 year old daughter–Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and The Giver (we’re midway through Gathering Blue.) And, earlier in the year, we listened to Sharon Draper’s Blended, which gave us lots to think and talk about. And I couldn’t have been more thrilled this summer than to make the whole family listen to Cheaper by the Dozen. (phew! they liked it!) As a family we also listened to Circus Mirandus, which was a top audiobook for me this summer. We loved the heartwarming story and Bronson Pinchot can do now wrong in audiobook land. Listening to The Giver was absolutely wonderful. It had been a long time since I’d read it and it was just fantastic to return to this story.
I did not do a ton of rereading this year, but I did reread Mrs Queen Takes the Train, which was one of my Top Ten of 2012. If it wasn’t already on a list it would go on this one. Just as terrific the second time around.

I noticed this year that I had many more 3 star ratings than usual. I had 7 clear standouts and then just a little more reflecting to come up with my top 10. Does that mean that overall this year I didn’t read as many amazing books as usual? Or perhaps I’ve been a more critical rater. Either way, I started and ended the year strong with the first and final books both going on the list.

In no particular order, here are my Top Ten** Books of 2019! These are the books that I thought were the most well written, the most engaging, the best stories, the ones that I wanted to recommend to others, and the ones that I continued to think about after the last page.
**Turns out it’s eleven.
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The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes Historical, plus an empowering story about amazing women, plus it’s about the WPA Pack Librarians in Kentucky. There was no way I wasn’t going to love this.

The Toll by Neal Shusterman Simply incredible. I’ll be thinking about this A LOT and continuing my quest to try to get my husband and teenage son to read this. (I don’t rank, but if I did this would be in the top five.)

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel What a picture of a future world. This was a fascinating story and I was so intrigued by how Shakespeare and theater were woven throughout. This was also amazing in how it cleverly brought together threads of the story to go full circle. Beautifully written.

Henry Himself by Stewart O’Nan  When I think back on this it makes me want to sigh and slow down. It is such a different pace and tone from the Blake Crouch novels I read this year. I kept describing this story as one where not much happened, but it was somehow compelling and I loved the minutia. O’Nan’s writing was top notch. And the Pittsburgh details really drew me in. I should note that after I read Henry Himself I read Emily, Alone and also loved it. If I had to choose between the two, though, Henry is making the list.

How Not to Die Alone by Richard Roper You know, I wasn’t sure if I’d put this on the list or not. My criteria is usually that I should remember the book without having to read my review, but when I read it I felt like I really wanted to include it. As with the next book listed, this is one that I actively enjoyed the process of reading. Here’s what I said, “And I really liked this emphasis throughout the story on the possibility of being happy. The possibility of being loved and loving. The possibility of change… And it’s also well written with some gentle humor and terrific lines.”

Time After Time by Lisa Grunwald.  I don’t know if this was as well written (in terms of literature) as some of the other novels listed, but I was completely swept up in this story, fascinated by the unique twist on time travel, and captivated by the historical detail. This was one of the books I most enjoyed reading this year. I couldn’t help but notice that Grunwald made my Top Ten list in 2012, as well.

Recursion by Blake Crouch Fast paced and totally kooky and convoluted and I was delighted with every twist and turn of time.  After reading this I immediately read another Crouch book, which I also liked a lot.

Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen And here we go with a third book on this list (that’s basically a third) that is about time travel (loosely defined.) It’s sometimes hard to keep all the time travel books straight. I remember this one as being the one where the guy is an agent from the future who is stuck in the past and has one of the cleverest time travel endings I’ve ever read.

The Lost Roses by Martha Kelly While some of the other books listed I’ve described as being enjoyable and fun to read, this was so intense I wouldn’t call it fun to read. But it was truly great-I loved the history of it, plus WWI is not what I usually read so I found it highly educational.

I’ve been so torn between these final two that I’m just going to give in and call this year’s list Top Eleven because I simply can’t choose. These two are both really good and really different from each other. Apples and oranges.
The Spies of Shilling Lane by Jennifer Ryan–For some reason I only gave this 4 stars, which is silly, because this book was a straight up delight. Spies and stout ladies with handbags in WWII, but as with her other novel, a deeper level of the serious dangers of daily life in WWII.
The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell–creepy and weird, unreliable narrators, unlikable people, but I couldn’t look away and she’s a really good writer.

Honorable Mentions to ya novels Match Made in Mehendi and To Night Owl from Dogfish by Meg Wolitzer. Mehendi was such a fun book. I felt like it was refreshing take on romance and teen (much older teens) and though I run hot and cold on Wolitzer, Night Owl was also super fun. A little bit Parent Trap, a little bit crazy camp, and of course everyone had personality to the extreme in an unbelievable way, but I liked it and my daughter loved it, too.

This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews. Although this isn’t slipping into my Top Ten, this book deserves an honorable mention as well, and perhaps the qualifier of Best Graphic Novel I Read This Year. This was just enchanting, magical, charming. It felt quite a bit like a Studio Ghibli film and I loved going on this surreal adventure with the characters. I also loved the soothing blue color palette.

What’s ahead for next year? As you might guess, we have a huge home library. I find myself wondering when I’ll read the books that we have. In my mind it’s like I’m waiting for some stretch of time when we’re all stranded in here and have to live off the entertainments we have in the basement. Which is kind of awful because it seems like I’m imagining a post-apocalyptic time. Why should I wait for that? So, my personal reading challenge for next year, for a span of 3 months, is to only read books that are already in my home. Nothing new from the library. Even if something fantastic comes out. I’m limiting it to three months because I don’t think I’ll have the self control to do a full year, or even six months. And I will likely make exceptions for books I feel I ought to read for work (including the book club for staff that I’m starting in a couple of weeks.) Honestly, it shouldn’t be too hard because not only will I get to reread wonderful books I keep thinking “oh someday I’ll reread you”, but there are plenty of pre-pubs and the like that I’ve just never gotten around to. I’ve already grabbed a few from the basement to get me started–What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty (a dusty old prepub, the first book of hers I read) and a Maeve Binchy.
What are you most excited to read next year? What are your reading goals?

Happy Reading and Happy New Year!
Sarah

Top Ten Books of 2018

I was afraid I wouldn’t reach my Goodreads goal this year, but I did-100 books! (disclaimer-to make sure I reached that I put down the book that was going slowly and instead read two fast paced, can’t put down books.)  I’m pretty pleased with 100 (though apparently last year I read 124?!)and I know from my double Goodreads accounts that 50 of them were children’s books-exactly half! (Update: I just found out that I never recorded a book I read this summer. Which brings my total to 101.)Some of those books were long, some were short, some were adult, some were YA, some were children’s, some were audiobooks, some were graphic novels, but they were all stories, and that’s really what I’m counting. So, of those 100 stories, which ones will stick with me? What were the top ten?

Looking back at the titles I read I can’t believe some of the titles were this year! A year is a pretty long time and if you’d asked me when I read, for example, the new Kristin Hannah book I would have said “Oh a couple years ago.” But it was, in fact, a January book. And glancing over the titles and seeing what falls into the one year time frame-well, I read a lot of really good books. In fact, I gave 5 star ratings to twenty-four books! They can’t all be top ten though, and just because I thought a book was 5 star doesn’t mean it was my favorite of the year. (And perhaps I’m a bit free with my 5 stars.)

The Top Ten Books of 2018 (in no particular order)

Check Please!: #Hockey, Vol 1 by Ngozi Ukazu– The only graphic novel on my list this year. This book was funny, sweet, and gave a great look into the world of college (and professional) hockey. Unique and feel good. I adored this.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal– Man I loved the structure of this story. It left me wanting more but at the same time I was so tickled by the way she moved me right into another story.

The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain–Light, charming, clever. I simply loved this little treasure.

Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman–Scythe made my top list last year and it was no question this sequel was headed to my best of the year. This was incredible with an ending I can’t. stop. thinking. about. Absolutely fantastic. Mr. Shusterman please don’t write anything else until you’ve finished this! I can barely wait!

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck–I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again-each WWII book I read adds a little bit more to my understanding of this time period. So much of what happened in this amazing and sad story was completely new to me. I think this is a book I won’t be forgetting.

Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain–One of 5 time travel books I read this year. I love seeing how different authors choose to explain time travel (I was fascinated by Once Was a Time) This one presents us with difficult choices and sad situations. I cared a lot about all the characters. Really good.

Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh– Haigh is a fantastic writer and this story just gripped me. It was not light and there were many depressing lives, but oh I loved the way she matter of factly told this story about this coal mining town.

The Truth About Animals by Lucy Cooke– For possibly the first time ever, a nonfiction book on my top 10! And I’m going to admit that I still haven’t actually finished it! Not only are the animal facts fascinating, but Cooke’s writing is well crafted and entertaining. Friends, family, and strangers got to hear me sharing many of these facts throughout the year.

How Hard Can It Be? by Allison Pearson–This book was laugh out loud funny, but also really hit some emotional moments. Pearson’s books are a treat.

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell–Gosh, I love just about by Lisa Jewell. A missing child is a horribly sad topic, but somehow this book didn’t make me cry and I couldn’t put it down.

One thing these books all have in common is that they stayed in my mind long after I read them. Some were funny, some were dark, but I felt they were all really well written and had something special about them.

Let’s recap a few other things and see how I did with 2018 reading goals.  This year I did get back on track with keeping up to date here as well as on Goodreads. I made myself write my review here (perhaps a quicker shorter post than in the past, but I’m getting it done) before putting it on Goodreads, and that worked. As with the previous years I wanted to make time to reread at least one book.
This year I reread Time and Again by Jack Finney, September by Rosamund Pilcher, and a whole lot of children’s and ya books: Locked in Time by Lois Duncan, The Candymakers by Wendy Mass, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone (as an audiobook), Luvvy and the Girls by Natalie Savage Carlson, and Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry.  It was so much fun to read Anastasia and Luvvy again and remember why I liked them so much (esp Anastasia) and reread the scenes I recalled (esp Luvvy.) 68 Rooms was a reread because we visited the object of the story on our vacation and so we listened to the audio on the drive home. Princess Academy was really enjoyable and had the benefit of discovering and reading the sequel. As for Time and Again, I just finished that so it’s fresh in my head. It was good to reread, sort of scratched an itch. September I don’t even remember reading this year! But oh how I love Rosamund Pilcher and would be happy to reread one book of hers each year. (I’m going to exempt this from the top 10.)
Rereading last year’s post I see that there were a few books I put in the runner up category that I really liked a lot and couldn’t wait for sequels. Well, I read those sequels this year: 2 Fuzzy 2 Furious (Unbeatable Squirrel Girl), The Broken Vow (Spill Zone), and Arabella and the Battle of Venus (Arabella of Mars). While Squirrel Girl was just as delightful as the first, and Arabella turned the story around and was still exciting and fascinating, the Spill Zone sequel disappointed me a bit.
Also in sequels–the final Penderwicks book came out and I loved it. Not as much as the previous titles, but it was a worthy goodbye to the fictional family I love. It was fun to find a sequel to Evil Librarian; Revenge of the Evil Librarian was just as funny and bizarre and Buffy-esque as the first. And technically Allison Pearson’s How Hard Can It Be? was a sequel, as was Marisa de los Santos’s I’ll Be Your Blue Sky, even though both took place many many years after the first book and could be read as stand-alones.  The same is true for Elizabeth Berg’s Night of Miracles (though the time frame is closer together.) That’s quite a few books with returning characters! The Wedding Date and The Proposal are not a true book 1 and 2, but Proposal is close, like a spin off. There were a few books I read this year that I hope will have sequels soon, and even more that I remember to look for and read them (Last Girl on Earth, Check Please). And I also read a few books and their sequels nearly simultaneously (Wild Robot and Wild Robot Escapes, Witch Boy and Hidden Witch, Baker Towers and Heat and Light.) Basically I read a lot of books this year that were either by authors I already knew or actual sequels.
More number fun: I read–
3 books by Kate Morton
2 books by Jennifer Haigh
2 books by Antoine Laurain
5 time travel books (one wasn’t exactly time travel, but close to it)
12 graphic novels (I thought it would have been more)
2 nonfiction
2 memoirs (double dipping-one was a graphic novel)
5 audiobooks

Additional Notes (you’d think I’d list 10 books and leave it alone, did you?):

*I read three Kate Morton books this year and it seems like one of them should be on this list because she’s a favorite author for sure. Reading my review of The House at Riverton it seems like I was swept away by it, but I don’t remember much detail at all! Her newest book, The Clockmaker’s Daughter, I loved, too, but did I love it the best? That’s why she’s getting a note this year and not in the list.
*The Night of Miracles by Elizabeth Berg was really lovely and heartwarming. It definitely almost makes the list.
*The Dreamers by Karen Elizabeth Walker is also a definite runner-up. There was just something about this that I loved-kind of a pandemic, less horrifying, but with many of the problems that come along with that.
*Special mention to Snow and Rose by Emily Winfield Martin for being a beautifully illustrated book that felt nice to hold and was a captivating fairy tale (that felt a little like Wildwood) and was part of a lovely memory for the year-snuggling on the couch and reading this aloud to my daughter while she was sick.
*Truly Deviously by Maureen Johnson might have made it to the top ten except I got so mad at the last page.
*One graphic novel made it to the top ten, but there are two extremely close runners up: Be Prepared by Vera Brogol, which was painfully hilarious and wonderfully weird (Russian camp) and The Prince and The Dressmaker by Jen Wang , which was charming and fun and beautifully accepting.

*None of the children’s books I read this year made it into the top 10 (though see the line above-those two almost did), but I did read some great ones that really stuck with me. They are:
Front Desk by Kelly Yang: superb and realistic look at being an immigrant, even more amazing when you read the afterward and find out how much is true
The Wild Robot and The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown: I both read and listened to the audiobooks of these. I loved both of these, wonderfully captivating, thoughtful whole family stories.
The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty: funny and charming, with math to boot!
Dreaming Dangerous by Lauren DeStefano: creepy and weird with a touch of Miss Peregrine but for younger readers
One Good Thing About America by Ruth Freeman: I’ve thought about this book a lot since reading it. It’s not didactic, but I don’t think anyone could read this and not learn something about empathy.
The Road to Ever After by Moira Young: Weird and sweet.

And that’s my year in reading! No specific goals for next year, other than to again make time to reread, perhaps fill in some series gaps (Her Royal Spyness), and to keep up with keeping track because I really do like being able to look back on everything.

Happy New Year!

Top Ten Books of 2017

It’s not quite the 31st but I’m going to start this post today because 1. I’m not sure I’ll read another book in the next 2 days and 2. Even if I do what are the chances that it would make it in to the top 10?
As noted on last year’s top 10 post, I haven’t been keeping up here. Last post was in February! And I do feel bad about that, especially because I categorize my books here way better than I do on Goodreads (and it’s easier for me to vaguely recall a book and look it up here.) Perhaps a resolution for 2018 is to do a better job about posting here first? One reading change I made this fall that I’m having a hard enough time keeping up with is that I started a second Goodreads account just for school for students to follow.
So how did I do with my goals? First, I set a goal of 85 books, and as of today have completed 122. As usual this includes all adult and children’s titles, graphic novels, and audiobooks, but not picture books. I’m pleased with smashing that goal-this might be my highest number in years! But also, I kind of don’t care about the number-it’s more important to me that I found and enjoyed lots of stories. As in the past two years another reading goal was to reread old favorites. This year that included Sushi for Beginners by Marian Keyes, Wild Designs by Katie Fforde, Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts, Adopted Jane by Helen Daringer, and Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery. Fforde and Keyes were authors I used to adore and read everything by. I have to admit I didn’t love rereading Sushi for Beginners. On the other hand Where the Heart Is was wonderful. Apparently I didn’t remember very many details and was surprised by some of the very dark and sad parts, and thoroughly enjoyed the overall warm and emotional story. Adopted Jane was a beloved childhood book that I read aloud with Tabby and it retained its charm. And of course, Anne is perfect.

In audiobook listening Clark and I finished the Gregor the Overlander series, which I have to say was good but nothing I’d ever reread. Man, was it dark. A long drive and back to New Hampshire for vacation afforded many hours for the whole family.  A childhood favorite-Half Magic by Edgar Eager-was an absolute delight on audio. And we all liked a weird Swedish gem called Adventures with Waffles.  The absolute best was The War I Finally Won, which you will see on my list.

When I look at my 5 star ratings for the year, it seems like most of them were children’s books. I read some really great ones, especially some anticipated graphic novels–Real Friends, Swing It Sunny, I Love You Michael Collins, Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, Confessions of an Imaginary Friend (a French delight! )and many others. I also read my very first actual Nancy Drew book!

**If you (me) read through all that, thanks. And now for the main event….**
The Top 10 Books of 2017 (in no particular order):

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley: I was so excited by the arrival of this sequel. I listened to this on audio with both kids, as they were also invested in the story and we thought the reader, Jayne Entwhistle, was phenomenal. Both Bradley and Entwhistle did not disappointment. Again, top notch historical fiction, details sprinkled throughout to make us realize how the start of Ada’s life left her at such a disadvantage (knowledge-wise particularly). Lesser storylines pulled forward in this sequel to shine and be expanded on. Emotional, thoughtful, compelling–I can’t say enough good things about this. I feel like I’ll never forget these characters and what they lived through.
Zenn Diagram by Wendy Brant: A clever premise, a clever title, and a great story all around. A girl who has a touch-psychic ability, falls for a boy who gives her a vision of something “dark”. Why this is and how it works out made a thoughtful and interesting story.

Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan: I think we all knew this would end up on my list way back when I read it in the early spring. This reminded me very much of Maine, which was another favorite of hers. A good long satisfying story, with a bit of regretful history (That I hope angers and perplexes modern readers), and some super fascinating nuns (always of high appeal to me.) This book hit all the marks for me.

The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen Flynn: Two time travel books make it on the list this year, both brought something new and interesting to time travel stories for me. Beginning with the premise that Jane Austen is even more of an icon than she is today and that scholarly time travelers are going to infiltrate her world so that they can recover a lost manuscript, there is plenty of fascinating Jane Austen stuff, as well as the usual time travel delights.

Time and Time Again by Ben Elton: This time travel book Blew. My. Mind.  After I read it I relished telling the entire story to a few people (who were never going to read it) and found even that super satisfying. This is a book I have thought of off and on all year since reading it (and I honestly thought I read it last year.) Basic premise is “if you could stop one event that ended up being the downfall of the 20th century what would it be?” and then going back to try to stop WWI. But. But. It’s wrapped up in a fascinating set-up. And then stuff gets crazy. I’ll say no more. But do let me know if you read it and love it!

The Flower Arrangement by Ella Griffin: I read a lot of cozy, fluffy, charming books this year, but this is one that stood out as cozy and charming, yes, but also really good, a good story, and well written. A flower shop on a street with regular and not-so-regular customers. The proprietress going through a rough time, but still able to select the just right flowers for her customers–and then we see the effects those flowers have. And it all ends up tying together beautifully.

Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence: I enjoyed this book so much I gave it as a Christmas gift (and might purchase it for myself.) Perfect for librarians, but even if you’re not, if you’re a reader you’ll enjoy these letters to books. Gentle humor and sharp commentaries are spot on. A quick read. And bonus–you’ll end up with a list of books you want to read!

Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny: Oh wow did I love this. It was funny, it was awkward, it was touching. I really found so many parts laugh out loud funny, but I was also really touched by the frank difficulties the parents of an autistic child faced and how they dealt with it (some of which was very funny.) The “talk to everyone” younger wife cracked me up. I really cared for the imperfect characters and Heiny is a great writer.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: No surprises here-I’m sure this is on many a top 10 list this year. I adored this. It had the laugh out loud funny parts that reminded me of The Rosie Project, but then it went deep. Honeyman sucks you in with ‘oh funny quirky” and then has your heart breaking for Eleanor. This was just a great solid read.

The Chilbury Ladies Choir by Jennifer Ryan: some seriously fine WWII historical fiction. I can’t believe this was Ryan’s first novel! And while it seemed it would be a “rah rah the women step up while the men are away type of war story”, it went far beyond that. Told in letters, journals, and ephemera the village characters tell a story of blackmail and spies, set among WWII.  This was riveting and like all good WWII fiction, there were a few scenes/incidents that stuck with me for their casual tragedy.

Runners Up: OK, I know this extends the list, but here are some other titles that I wouldn’t bump any of the top 10 for, but I really enjoyed and would recommend.

I Found You by Lisa Jewell: I really like Lisa Jewell and I preferred this to the Girls in the Garden, which I’d read earlier in the year. This had a little more of a cozy factor added to it.
Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan: There was no way this wouldn’t show up somehow! I thought this was a really satisfying end to a trilogy, very well done, and had plenty of those juicy details about the crazy rich Asians, that I so loved in his first book.
The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn: This book made me laugh a lot, which I liked.
Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld: I usually prefer realistic fiction graphic novels, but this bizarre tale had me hooked (and left hanging–where’s the sequel??). Very creative and creepy.
Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley: beautiful story, well written, emphasis on books. One of several bookshop set stories I read this year
Arabella of Mars by David Levine: This just had all the makings of a great story-Mars, regency, woman stowaway on ship, but the ship sails to space, not on the water. All around terrific and I hope I can remember to look for a sequel.
March: Book Three by John Lewis: This trilogy is absolutely incredible. Painful to read, heartbreaking, and very important.
Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill: Newbery winner. I avoided reading (cover and title didn’t draw me in) and I’m so glad I read it because it turned out to be an incredible fantasy magical fairy tale adventure with amazing themes and threads. Barnhill is quite a storyteller.
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Shannon Hale: Oh, Squirrel Girl. You’re a hoot. After loving the comic books I was so excited to see a novel written by the great Shannon Hale. This cracked me up, so funny and delightful.
Venturess by Betsy Cornwall: This was absolutely terrific and best of all, a true great sequel furthering the story from book one, taking it and making something new. I loved the steampunky magic details as well as the unique-in-fiction take on love.

Happy Reading for 2018!
Sarah

 

Top Ten Books of 2016

Top Ten Books of 2016

It’s a sad truth that I haven’t been putting my reviews here since August. BUT. I’ve still been meticulously keeping track of all I read, and writing brief reviews on Goodreads. Here it is December 31 and I wouldn’t dream of not doing my top ten books of the year post.
First, how was my reading this year? This year I set my goal to be 70 books, which I thought to be reasonable, and possibly even low (ever since the year I didn’t meet my goal, I go for “attainable.”) I easily exceeded and finished with a very nice 91 titles. You can see a lovely image of all the covers here.  My reading changed a bit this year because I returned to work as a school librarian in a school for 4th and 5th graders. Thus, I’ve upped my middle grade reading. As usual I did not count picture books, although I read plenty, though I did include the audiobooks we listen to as a family. Things got a little fizzley at the end of the year, with nothing wowing me or captivating me. Fortunately I was handed a prepub of Miss You by Kate Eberlen right after Christmas and it saved the day. Good to end the year with an emphatic 5 stars!
As in the past two years I was determined to reread at least one or two old favorites, and this year I reread Patty Jane’s House of Curl by Lorna Landvik, Anne of Green Gables and  Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery (beautiful new editions I got for Christmas), Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married by Marian Keyes, and  The Shell Seekers by Rosamund Pilcher.  They are all five star books and were all a joy to reread and rediscover. Every time I read a little detail I’d forgotten I’d have a lovely gasp of recognition.  I’m not going to include any of them on my top 10 list (so I can squeeze more in, of course), but if I did I would put The Shell Seekers and Harriet the Spy on it. The Shell Seekers is on my permanent Top 10 list and not surprisingly this not only held up, but was like a vacation from life as I was totally immersed in it. It will forever be one of my favorite books. It’s engrossing, historical, emotional, and really made me realize how often I refer to it consciously or unconsciously when reading other British historicals. Here was my full review of it.  Harriet the Spy was a treasured childhood book that I have not reread as an adult. Rereading it now I realized that it was an even better book than I’d realized at the time. It’s also more mature than I realized, really tapping in to difficult friendship problems and emotions. The characterization of Janie and her parents was hilarious and I remembered just how much, as a child, I’d love these stark unflattering portrayals of adults and children. Here is my full review of it.

 

Top Ten Books of 2016: (in no particular order)

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende: What a beautiful story. I adored this. It had the lovely writing I expect from Allende, was nicely put together, had some interesting historical parts (internment camps of WWII), and she made characters I deeply cared about. All woven together into a bit of mystery. How did the past part turn into the current part? What happened in their lives? How is this all fitting together? Though my books aren’t ranked, I would put this in the top 3.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling (and others): I was initially reticent about reading this-screenplay, not really Rowling, do we need it? But boy am I glad I read it. It was a very welcome return to HP’s world and extremely satisfying. I loved it.
Miss You by Kate Eberlen: Can’t say enough about this, the last book I read of the year. Dreamy, romantic, nice and long, really everything I want in a book.
The Sculptor by Scott McCloud: The only graphic novel to make the list. This book was fantastic. The ending took my breath away-literally made me gasp, and then cry. It was perfect.
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld: A favorite writer. This was part of that whole Jane Austen rewrite thing (I also read Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler,which I enjoyed.) and it was immensely satisfying. Funny, clever, the whole package.
In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume: O Judy! I loved this! Such an interesting specific historical time (and New Jersey local!) that I really knew nothing about. I loved the many points of view, and of course Judy’s writing. I was very caught up in this story.
Scythe by Neal Shusterman: The only YA to make the list this year. A perfect example of dystopia and I can’t stop thinking about so many aspects of it. A great story and the structure and writing were great.
Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple: A worthy follow up to the success of Where’d You Go Bernadette? I really enjoy her humor and style of writing. This book made me laugh and cringe.
The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley: The only children’s title to unreservedly make my Top 10 list. Absolutely wonderful historical fiction, touching, beautiful story with some really harsh truths about humanity in it. A great addition to this genre (WWII, London children evacuees.)
One True Loves by Taylor Reid Jenkins: I only gave this 4 stars, but I’m putting it on the list because, to be frank, the story has stuck with me more than some of my 5 star books. I love “what if?” concept and I thought she charmingly managed to explore a person’s two possible paths very nicely and neatly.

Honorable Mentions: The list was originally 13, so I’m forcing 3 onto the honorable mention list.

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty: Moriarty remains one of my favorite authors. I know I will like anything she writes. Good long stories with many points of view, human foibles fully on display, and realistic outcomes. I did have to look up which one this was, though, as I can’t keep her books straight. And rereading my review I see that yes, I didn’t like this as much as her other books, but on its own it was compelling and well written. I gave it 5 stars, but given the previous sentences I’m putting it in the honorable mention section.
The Nest by Cynthia D’Apix Sweeney: I know I gave this 5 stars, but I’m bumping it to the HM list because…I really couldn’t tell you much about it unless I reread my review in great detail. At the time I enjoyed it very much and liked the writing but very little of the story has stuck with me.
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson : I truly liked this very very much and am not sure why it only got 4 1/2 stars from me. Unlike The Nest I remember quite a bit about this WWI story, and in fact some scenes remain vivid in my mind. Simonson really captured this moment in time quite well. Though like all WWI stories you know it’s going to be sad..

Other Bests and Honorable Mentions:

I may not have kept track of all the audiobooks this year, but we did listen when we drove places on summer vacation. Also, with the start of my job my son drove to work with me and we listened to books on our very short commute together. My two favorite were both books I’d already read in print, but enjoyed something new from the marvelous audio production. The first was City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, read by Wendy Dillon. The atmospheric sounds added so much, especially at the end of the novel. The other was The Graveyard Book, read by the author, Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is a wonder at reading his books. He’s basically both author and amazing actor. I loved hearing this.

As I mentioned before I’ve been upping my middle grade reading since I’m now a 4th/5th grade librarian. These were the standout children’s titles I read this year:

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan: Wonderful! I loved the structure, which is that the story of this last year of a school (before it is destroyed) is told from many points of view in poetry. So beautifully put together and showcasing many forms of poetry. Really super.
The Seventh Wish By Kate Messner: Drawn to this by the hubbub surrounding its release. I thought it was wonderful and I do so love this genre-realistic with a little bit of magic. Same style as her other book, All the Answers, but this time taking on what it’s like to have a drug addict in the family. Really solid good story.
Baker’s Magic by Diane Zahler: Top notch magical adventure. I loved it and the students I’ve passed it on to have loved it as well. I’m struggling to find a readalike for this. A great story structure-every single chapter came to an end and made you excited to turn the page and find out what happens next.
Pax by Sara Pennypacker: What an ingenious blend of animal story-human story, and not magical, fully realistic. Some dark explorations of contemporary war, lots of stress for animals lovers, and an emotional story. A real gem.
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson: Newbery honor graphic novel, I (and my daughter, and all my students) loved this. No easy answers in friendship and yes, as you grow up, you sometimes grow apart from your friends, and it’s not easy. The roller derby angle is simply a really interesting added bonus to a great story about growing up (not too much!) and finding your own interests and friends.

Honorable mention YA book would be The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. As a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, I loved the premise of this. Consider all those shows and books like Buffy that focus on the few kids who are always fighting off supernatural danger. What about everyone else?? Very clever and fun.

thisisjustOne more honorable mention for a (not new) nonfiction book that I “discovered” on the shelves of my library: This Is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness by Joyce Sidman. I do love the poem This Is Just to Say by William Carlos Williams, and that’s the set up for this terrific story. A class reads that poem and then each writes an apology poem. The second half is the poems that the apology recipients write back. And what’s so impressive is that the stories together (not unlike The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary) form a bigger story. It’s really incredible to read on your own, or as a class.

squidAnother nonfiction that I loved was Giant Squid by Candace Fleming. (It’s getting award buzz, so I’m looking forward to seeing what it gets.) I loved the poetic opening, Eric Rohmann’s gorgeous dark illustrations, and how Fleming writes about a creature that we know very little about! As usual, I loved the extra information in the afterward. If I remember nothing else it will be the astonishing fact that sperm whales have been found with thousands of giant squid beaks (they don’t digest, but remain whole) in their stomachs. Which means there are thousands and thousands of squids swimming around in our oceans and yet we only ever saw a living one for the first time a few years ago!!!!

A very full varied year of reading! I’m so glad I took the time to reread so many old favorite this year and will continue to do so next year. Who knows what 2017 will bring? Well, of course we know some things. My next most anticipated books will be Kevin Kwan’s newest and I just hear that J. Courtney Sullivan has a new book in the works. Hooray!

Happy New Year and Happy Reading!

Top Ten Books of 2015

2015 was a strange year of reading for me. I was constantly several books ahead of “schedule” according to Goodreads, in terms of reaching my goal. But at the end of the year everything sort of fizzled. I started books I didn’t finish (I wasted precious Christmas time reading on a specially purchased cozy Christmas book that turned out to be so annoying I couldn’t even get halfway through; I was very excited about Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On but just didn’t like it very much and slowly read it and finally just gave up), I had a few weeks in a reading funk, I wasn’t motivated to find something good, etc. Finally, at the end of the year I finished up with some great titles, but it wasn’t enough to allow me to reach my goal. I read 62 books (well, that’s how many I have in my 2015 category-it’s somehow a couple numbers off of the GR total and I can’t be bothered to find out why.) 62 books is still an average of more than 1 book a week, which is fine. I also read fewer YA books than usual this year. Although I’m behind on writing up my reviews, I did diligently log and rate every book I read on Goodreads this year, and thus was able to take a look on December 31 at all of them and come up with my top “10” list. (I thought I hadn’t read many great books, but it turns out I’d ready lots of terrific books-just all in the first 6 months of the year!) In this case 10 meant 16. I’ve since managed to whittle it down to 12. Without further ado, the best books I read in 2015 (in particular order):

 

  1. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline: This was a reread. I was in the midst of a slower book and decided to bring this along on our trip to Denver. I’d forgotten how captivating it was, how exciting, and what an interesting world Cline had created. I loved it and read it very quickly. 
  2. The Doomsday Book  by Connie Willis: It had been years since I’d first read this and the reread was even better. Absolutely incredible historical fiction, fraught with tension as the bubonic plague takes hold of a village. 
  3. The Lake House by Kate Morton: As long as she keeps publishing, Morton’s books will keep ending up on my top 10 lists. I just love these fat engrossing stories, Cornwall setting, and unraveled secrets. I really enjoyed how this was told with alternating time points of view (as the incident happened and years later trying to figure it out), and how much of it was a mystery. Immensely satisfying.
  4. First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen: At this point I don’t remember too many details, but I do remember the warm feeling that this was kind of Sarah Addison Allen book I like. A happy revisit to  her first book, magical and a good story.
  5. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman: This book was terrific. How could there be humor in tragic loneliness? But, there was. Ove is cantankerous and rough, and also desperately sad. How a noisy family transforms him is a joy to read. Sadly, I was super excited to read his next book later on in the year and I just couldn’t get into it (though my mom assures me it was good.)
  6. China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan: How could this not be on my list? I enjoyed it just as much as Crazy Rich Asians. Even more money! More outrageous behavior! More high fashion! A completely over the top drama in an international setting.
  7. My Real Children by Jo Walton: This story was a kind that I really enjoy-two stories, each showing a woman’s life, but one is if she had made a certain decision at a crossroads in her life and the other shows the other outcome had she decided differently.  What makes this story so special is how they two converge at the end of her life. Wonderfully constructed.
  8. A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler: Much like when I read First Frost earlier in the year and sighed happily that it felt like a return to Sarah Addison Allen’s earlier writing, I felt the same way about Anne Tyler when I read this. Stylistically right in line with that favorite of mine-Ladder of Years. A Baltimore family with all kinds of sort of unlikable people, but you do root for them. Definitely some sadness. This one was really interesting because of the format and chronology.
  9. The Third Wife by Lisa Jewell: Jewell continues to be a writer I can rely on to provide for stories that draw me in and tease out information slowly. Not a mystery, but always a puzzle. And like Kate Morton, or earlier Marian Keyes,  or Liane Moriarty, an author who can have you convinced you know a character, only to reveal that you didn’t know the whole story about him or her. One of the things I like about that though, is that her characters aren’t bad people. They are just people and people have flaws and aren’t perfect and aren’t always able to accurately judge situations or other people. This book was especially thoughtful about consequences of divorce. 
  10. Armada by Ernest Cline: Not a sequel to Ready Player One in any way, but definitely has a lot of the same elements that makes RPO so enjoyable-pop culture, video games, the 1980s, humor, and action. It felt like watching a movie, and while so many of the elements are nothing new (space battles!) the story felt fresh and fun.
  11. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah: Some more gut-wrenching historical fiction. Add this to my list of WWII books that are weepy, but oh so good, and so important and heart breaking. As soon as you know, going in, that it’s about WWII and the French Resistance, you know there will be death and it will be sad. I thought this book was incredible (as did millions of others, it was a huge hit this year), even if at times I had to take a break from reading because it was difficult and intense.
  12. The Rocks by Peter Nichols: Another one of those books that’s not especially warm and you think so many of the characters (or their choices) are…not great and they are unlikable, but somehow overall the story is compelling. One of the things I especially liked about this was the way the story was told in reverse chronological. That setup alone created a mystery. The Mallorca setting was also exotic and fantastic (and reminded me of Ibiza-not now, but back in the Shell Seekers.)

The honorable mentions:

  • Replay by Ken Grimwood: Guy stuck in a time loop so many times. And for such a long stretch of time. I really enjoyed seeing what he did each time and how time travel-y it was. I didn’t let it be on the top 10 fully because the writing style can’t hold a candle to Nichols, Tyler, Willis, etc.
  • The Mermaid’s Sister by Carrie Ann Noble-the only YA title to make it here this year. I loved this romantic and magical tale.  The other YA title I really liked this year was A Court of Thorns and Roses.
  • Two Across by Jeff Barsch: Crossword puzzle creators in love (sort of.) Paul found the characters just too maddening, but I didn’t let that get in the way of my enjoyment of the crossword details. A weird story.

For 2016 I’ve set a goal of 70, which who knows if I’ll make, but since I love reading and always seem to find time for it, I’m not really interested in challenging myself to read a certain amount. Rather, I’d rather set a goal for myself of what kind of reading I’d like to do. Last year it was to revisit old favorites, which I did this year with one of my top 10 books. I’d like to continue that and this year revisit the Outlander series, as well as The Shell Seekers and Anne of Green Gables-both of which I received lovely new editions of for Christmas.  I’d also like to do more reading this year from what I have. I have stacks of books around that I never get to and have stopped seeing. So, until I can read some of those books (Beautiful Ruins, I’m looking at you sitting on my bedside table for 2 years), I need to stop getting new, new, new stuff from the library. Those things can go on to the “to read” list and be gotten to later.
Wishing you a very happy new year, one filled with captivating and enchanting stories, plenty of comfy couches and chairs and nooks. Happy Reading!

Top Ten* Books of 2014

It’s one of my favorite posts of the year! I look back on all I’ve read this year and choose my top 10 (or, in this case, 12.)So, first a few things about this year in reading. At the end of last year I was very disappointed to have not met my Goodreads goal for the year and subsequently set this year’s goal deliberately low. My goal was 65, but as of today, the last day of 2014, I’ve read 91 (that’s 140% of my goal!) And yes, I count a variety of books, including graphic novels and big long adult books, and short ya books and all sorts of things.  This year I started including the long audiobooks we listen to.  According to Goodreads, I rated 31 of them as 5-star books. Either I’m a lenient starrer, or I have great taste. 37 books were 4 stars. Really, for the most part I do really like the books I choose. I suppose that also means I stick with authors and formats I like, which I suspect is true for most people. Only 2 books got stinker 2 star reviews (a terrible Jackie Collins and a clunker by my beloved Anne Tyler!)
My other reading goal for the year was to indulge in re-reading books/series I’d loved. I started off the year by rereading Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler. I was thrilled that I still loved it, and in fact maybe liked it even more now!  I didn’t reread anything again until the summer when I began the Harry Potter series.  This was extra fun because I read each book after we watched the movie, and enjoyed talking to Clark about them. I really had forgotten just how much I liked them.  I only read the first 4, so next year I’ll continue the series. I also didn’t get around to rereading the Outlander series, which is high on my list of cherished books to revisit. Also next year I’d like to reread the early Nick Hornby books, like About a Boy and Fever Pitch.
Not listed here are the many books we read as a family, including audiobooks. This year we took a few very long car trips and thus listened to many books. We discovered The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom and The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle. Bronson Pinchot (yes, Cousin Balkie!) is my new favorite audiobook reader. These books are looooong on audio (10 hours!) but so worth it. He is an amazing reader and the book is hilarious.  You can read Paul’s reviews here. We’ve also been enjoying M.T. Anderson’s Pals in Peril books. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library was also a wonderful treat. Apparently I’d missed any buzz when this came out,which surely there was amongst my librarian friends as it seems like half of them were mentioned by name in it!
In other reading news I ceased my Fourteen Bears blog. I’d really loved doing it and the way it looked, but I only had between 2 and 4 readers and when I stopped doing it not a single person noticed (not even my husband), so I figured it wasn’t worth doing anymore. Your loss, world!

Now, on to the books! Not listed in any ranked order and two authors have two books each on my list. (Though I read three books by each of these authors and liked them all, there were two by each that stood out.) Lots of my titles were ones that did have big buzz this year and have probably shown up on other lists as well.

Let’s begin with the first book I finished in 2014 (on January 2) and immediately knew would make it to the list 12 months later. I’ve spent the year having it be my go-to recommendation for something hilarious and different, and very much look forward to his second book, which is coming out soon. I’m talking about, of course, Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan.  The fashion, the drama, the intriguing and educational details about Asian culture, the intriguing and fascinating details about the insanely wealthy, and the food! food! food! all made this a highly entertaining and satisfying package.

One Plus One by JoJo Moyes-This author has the distinction of having written one book I loved so much I’d put it on my top list of the year, and another book I hated (Me Before You.) I guess she’s quite versatile. Funny and sweet, it reminded me maybe of a melding of Marian Keyes and the movie Little Miss Sunshine. It’s feelgood, for sure.

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer-There was no way this was not going to end up on my list. A YA novel set in a boarding school for teens with emotional needs? Plus there was an element that I don’t want to call magical or supernatural, but yes, I suppose it’s technically not real. Anyway, I loved this and thought it was a great story, emotional without being burdensome, and a great addition to the boarding school books I adore.

House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell-What a fascinating story! Besides the hoarder element, this was a beautifully constructed, and then unraveled story.  It was not a “fun” read, as it seemed like pretty much everything that happened was depressing, a bad choice,uncomfortable, etc. Yet somehow it was not a depressing book.

Before I Met You Lisa Jewell-It was a year of rediscovering Lisa Jewell. I’d read her a long time ago, then forgotten about her, and then discovered just how many books she’d written since then.  In addition to her newest book (above) I also read and loved this.  Again, one of those stories that I really admire how it was put together. Two time lines that you wait breathlessly for them to merge so that you can finally uncover exactly what happened. This had an interesting historical element and setting of an isolated island.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty-Obviously this is on my list. I love every single thing she’s written.  This was a terrific one, too. Really great. A broad cast of characters, a mystery set up at the beginning, and piece by piece figuring out exactly what has happened and whodunnit.  She does such a good job of blending tragedy, comedic elements, emotion, and not 100% rosy happy endings.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart–I was blown away by this book. Disturbing, sad, beautiful, a mystery.

The Hundred Year House be Rebecca Makkai-Another winner for me because of how this book is put together. Setting up a bit of a puzzle, and then going back and back in time in each section. Although it doesn’t solve the puzzle for the people in the present day, it does for the reader. A really interesting story too, about an artists’ colony.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell-Everyone in the world (who reads YA) loved this and with good reason.  Added bonus for people of my age, it is set in the 80s. This actually drives the plot-a walkman, sharing music on cassettes, etc.  This is a beautiful romance, but lots more here, including isolation, neglect, poverty, and a really bad family scene. You root for the two kids so hard!

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell-I was in a fever of reading everything she’s written this summer. I think Fangirl was even better than Eleanor & Park and was especially taken with the inclusion of sections of the protagonist’s fanfiction (and guess what? She’s publishing a whole book next that is the story that is happening in the fanfiction!).  The whole fanfiction community and world was entirely new to me and was an interesting angle. On top of that, the story of adjusting to college and family changes was wonderful.  An absolutely terrific story.

The Rosie Project by Don Tillman-Come on, who wouldn’t love this book? It was the go-to feel good book of the year. Suitable for people who say they don’t like to read, or people who only like feel-good books, or basically anyone. And yet, it didn’t feel like a lame please everyone story.  What sticks with me that I liked so much is that the whole book manages to find the humor in the clearly Aspberger’s guy strange ways while not making fun of him. A wonderful story and I eagerly await the sequel (though I didn’t think it needed one.)

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen-I liked this a lot. She writes enchanting stories with bits of magical realism. Although it wasn’t a big dramatic book like some of the others on the list, I enjoyed it very much and particularly because I felt like it was a return to the strength of her earlier books (and speaking of which I cannot wait for her new book next month which revisits her first novel.) A rundown old hotel by a spooky lake, lots of family history and secrets. Read this on a hot summer afternoon with a tall glass of iced tea.

So those were my favorites of the year.  There were plenty of other wonderful books I read and it seems like the world will never run out of great books to read.  How was your year in reading? What were your favorites?

Wishing you a very Happy New Year and a 2015 filled with amazing stories!
Sarah

 

 

Top 10 Books of 2013*

*as judged by me, that I have read this year.  And not only that, there are 11, plus a few extras.

When I started thinking about what would be on my top list I really could only think of a few that I had read in a clump over the summer. I looked through my Goodreads list for the year and was shocked to discover that another clump of great books counted for 2013 as I had read them in January-seemed soooo long ago. I noticed that most of the books that really stood out to me this year were big, fat, long, satisfying books with not necessarily happy resolutions for everyone and a mixture of both likable and unlikable characters.
As for stats, I read a total of 72 books. I had set my goal quite high, based on last year’s high number. But in the spring I didn’t complete the YALSA reading challenge, which meant fewer books overall. I reduced my goal twice and still didn’t quite meet it, but I think 72 is still a pretty high number-that’s more than a book a week. Plus, it doesn’t even include the many hours of reading aloud picture books, easy readers, and chapter books to my kids, and listening to audiobooks with them. (If I had to pick an audiobook/kids book that really stood out for me this year it would be Miracles on Maple Hill.) This year I also did a good job of keeping up with reading a book and promptly writing about it here, which satisfied my need to organize and record.
In other books news this year, I started another blog, Fourteen Bears, where I’ve been keeping track of the books my kids are reading and that we read together. Although it doesn’t have a huge following I really enjoy the chance to write about children’s books (since when I’m working I’m a youth librarian) and share my recommendations.  In December I published a post each day (from the 1st to the 25th) about Christmas books, which was a fun project.  I also started writing reviews for SLJ’s Adult Books 4 Teens, which has gotten me to read several adult books I might not have read otherwise.
OK, on to the best books of 2013!

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The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer: I haven’t been a big Meg Wolitzer fan (and actively didn’t want to read her previous book), but this one sounded so interesting to me-friendships starting out at summer camp, which is practically boarding school. I loved this. It was an interesting book since I found the main characters to be quite flawed, but I loved being able to see how the adolescents you met in the beginning turned out to be as adults.

The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan: This was so fantastic.  I have liked her other books very much and had high hopes, which were met, with this one.  I was so fascinated by the multiple story lines and how they ended up twining together, and especially the historical aspect of deBeers and the diamond industry and the fabrication of the diamond engagement ring tradition.

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty: I love every single one of her books and this one seems to have been her big hit in the American market, making her suddenly very popular. If this was the first book of hers you read because you saw a review in People magazine or EW, do go back and read her other titles-they are just as good! This was so thick and satisfying. Like her other books she has elements of happiness, sadness, surprise, secrets, and not necessarily tidy endings. It was also a book that really made you think “what would I do?” so many times. Absolutely wonderful.

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein: Last year I included Code Name Verity on my top list, and this follow up (a companion, not a sequel) is included here with no hesitation. Probably the book that really hit me in the heart and stuck with me the most.  I enjoy WWII fiction very much, but rarely have read anything set in a concentration camp-it’s just too sad. Well, this is not only in a camp, but also includes the women who were experimented on. Beautifully written, achingly sad, a must read.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson: Another WWII book, this one with such an interesting concept. The book follows the life of Ursula and shows each lifeline she would have with a different decision. You know right away that she keeps dying (drowning, flu, etc.) until some element is changed and she lives a bit longer.  I found it fascinating, but I know that what I liked was exactly what my good reading friend, Melissa, did not like. Do you ever really know which is the “real” life? Like a confusing time travel novel, sort of.  I thought this was a wonderful story, but also a fabulously constructed novel. The most unique book I read this year.

and next we have the three books I read right in a row at New Year’s last year and loved and five starred them all.

Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple: Hilarious and quirky. A trip to Antarctica and absurd scenarios.  I hardly remember all that happened in it, but it was terrific.

Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan: Also quirky and funny (and set in the same general area as the above, so I always think of them together-in one someone works at Google, in another at Microsoft.) A novel with a puzzle in  it, wonderful details (which I will assume are true) about Google, and kind of smartypants fun.  Maybe I’ll consider this the second unique book I read this year.

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton: A big fat story (again, WWII!) with shocking twists. I loved this story of a woman and her children uncovering her secrets. Flashes back and forth in time.

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis: A fantastic fairy tale of a story and I’m super excited that when I looked it up for this list I found out that book #2 is out already and waiting for me at the library! This is the rare book that had me very excited to see it being set-up for a series (in a perfectly natural way.)

After Her by Joyce Maynard: I received this for review and probably wouldn’t have read it otherwise. I thought it was wonderful written and suspenseful. The details of the 1970s were excellent and cinematic, and the suspense of the serial killer was super.

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson: I was shocked to discover I read this in 2013 as I thought I read it a couple years ago. Anyway, another suspenseful winner. Also-boarding school and Jack the Ripper. This was a fantastic novel (and I believe there will be a sequel?)

Honorable Mentions to:

I wouldn’t put these YA titles in my top 10, but they were definitely worth noting this year. They are all series/trilogies.

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey: a somewhat terrifying alien invasion novel. I should probably stop reading these types of books, but I’ll certainly be reading the sequel.

The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson: This was the conclusion to the Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy. Of all three I probably liked the second book best, but this was a wonderful and satisfying conclusion.

Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger: a new series from this steampunky supernatural author. It’s set in a boarding school that is located on a dirigible and trains young ladies to be covert agents. Vampires and werewolves are around and just as important as wearing the right gloves to tea.  I was happy to discover this new series for some fun quick reading.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman: a fantasy novel involving a fully realized world that includes dragons living among us and the battle brewing between them and humans. At its center a girl who is half dragon. Looking forward to following this trilogy.

The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes: not the sort of book I usually read, and I really was caught up in it. Rather CSI-y. A girl who is a natural profiler is recruited to live in a house with others like her and assist the FBI with cold cases. Of course she gets caught up in a current serial killer situation.

There you have it. Thanks for reading along!

Here’s to happy reading in 2014! I’m starting the year with a hilarious book recommended by my friend Mary Lynn, called Crazy Rich Asians.