Wednesday, December 31, 2014

* Top Ten (2014)

Top Ten Books of Past Years:

Choosing my top ten books this year was a lot harder than I thought it would be!  This was the first year that I didn't automatically go right to my list of five-stared books.  I had twelve on my list, so that put me at two over as it was.  Looking back, I realized that just because I had rated a book as five stars didn't mean that it was worthy of making my top ten list!  Some of my 4 and 4 1/2 stars were really unique and interesting and I just had to add them to the list.

This year was busy for me - as usual.  I got engaged in February, married in August, and my husband and we are currently a little over a month away from our daughter being born!  Lots of big life changing events and I have a feeling my reading is about to have some picture-book additions in the near future :)

Combine all that with working and grad school and I wasn't able to find as much time to read as usual.  However, I did manage to read some really great books in the past twelve months!  I also continued to listen to audio books quite a bit on the way to and from work and at work as well.  I've become a lot more picky with them - some books are just so much better when actually read!  I started listening to audio books by a number of authors that I have enjoyed in the past - Jodi Picoult, Kristin Hannah, and Chris Bohjalian to name a few.  I've started to use audio books as reading that I want to get through, but don't necessarily need to be 100% focused on.

This year, I read and listened to 56 books.  You can checkout my complete list on my goodreads page.  I almost made my goal of 60 books - maybe next year!

#10: The Kingmaker's Daughter (Philippa Gregory)

This is the fourth book in Philippa Gregory's Cousins' War trilogy.  In this novel, the story of the women of England's royalty before the Tutors is continued with Anne and Isabel Neville - daughters of the 'Kingmaker' and key components his ambitious goal to capture the throne for his family.  In traditional Philippa Gregory style, she captures all of the history and romance of 14th century England.

#9: The Things They Carried (Tim O'Brien)

This isn't normally the type of book I usually read, but it has been sitting on my bookshelf for years and I finally got a chance to read it once my husband mentioned that it was one of the only books he has ever read and liked.  Told through many different, but connecting stories this very well-written and powerful collection shows the impact of the Vietnam was on several young men.

#8: Life After Life (Kate Atkinson)

This extremely unique and complex novels tells the story of a young women named Ursula who is born again and again into the same life during the span of the first and second world wars.  I wasn't sure I 'got' everything that this book had to offer, but it was a beautiful story.  More than anything else, this novel is about life and ow it is effected by the everyday choices that we make.

#7: The Smart One (Jennifer Close)

Much like Jennifer Close's first novel, this book seemed to catch me at just the right time and focused on three sisters and their struggles as they 'transition' to adulthood.  The book was funny, charming, and realistic and the author has an amazing knack for perfectly capturing those not-so-perfect but inevitable times.

#6: The Bookman's Tale (Charlie Lovett)

I am so glad that I came across this wonderful book by a new author that focused on so many great aspects - books, libraries, booksellers, romance, and Shakespeare.  It was charming and quirky and unbelievably sad and is the perfect book for book lovers and readers alike.  I preferred the parts of the book written in the past, but I loved the overall writing style and different storylines that were woven together.  I also loved the 'book preservation' scenes that captured the beauty of the book world perfectly.

This book was brilliant.  It is was the ultimate book for book lovers and I couldn't put it down!  It's about finding "the right book, at exactly the right time" and creating a world where print and technology can exist side by side.  Not only was it fascinating, but super fun to read.  I just loved it.  Robin Sloan got this one right.  

#4: The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)

I am so glad that I finally got to read this epic historical-fiction novel.  I swept through the 900-plus pages in a little over a week and loved every second of it.  This book had everything that I look for in a great historical fiction novel - lots of history and description, interesting characters, tons of emotion, and enough conflict to keep the story interesting.  I very much enjoyed the storyline, but my favorite part of the novel was the characters.  I was intrigued by each individual story, their relationships to one another, and how they each played a unique part in the building of the cathedral.

#3: The Winter Garden (Kristin Hannah)

I have been a huge fan of Kristen  Hannah (especially with Firefly Lane and Night Road) and was excited that she had ventured in the genre of historical fiction.  I absolutely loved this book!  I am a huge fan of anything World War II and this novel had an unique perspective of the Siege of Leningrad in Russia.  I really enjoyed learning about Anya's story as she told it to her daughters as a fairy tale (which I love) and seeing how it shaped their lives both as children and adults.  Hearing the story told this way made the novel extremely powerful and showed the importance of family and learning to live with the past.  I cried through the entire last hour or so on the way home from work.  This was an amazing book and one that I will remember for a long time!

#2: The Secret Keeper (Kate Morton)

In true Kate Morton fashion, the novel alternates between Laurel's search and her mother's past in war-torn London in the 1940s.  The book was very engaging, the characters were wonderfully developed, and I just loved the description of Laurel's mother and the people of her past.  I thought I had this book figure out so many times, but was pleasantly surprised by the ending.  Everything fit together so well and I was left in awe by the outcome.  I can't wait to get my hands on Morton's next novel!

#1: The Winter Sea (Susanna Kearsley)

I've read a lot of past/present historical fiction novels, and this is by far one of my favorites.  I loved the description and instantly was intrigued by the characters.  I usually have a tendency to like the parts in the past better, but this one was a dead tie.  This novel was extremely well-written and unique.  I knew it was going to be a 5-star from the very beginning and I loved the idea of using the writing of a historical-fiction novel as the contemporary story!  The research process was really interesting and I loved being able to learn more about it as the author did.  All-in-all and excellent book and a great new author to read! 

Monday, December 29, 2014

* Christmas List Books for 2013

Christmas List Books of Past Years:

Books that I got for Christmas this year:

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
Nefertiti by Michelle Moran
The Bookman's Tale by Charlie Lovett
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
The Smart One by Jennifer Close
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Sunday, December 28, 2014

* Christmas List Books for 2014

Christmas List Books of of Past Years:

This Year's List:

Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Goodnight June by Sarah Jio

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

"Having faith in God did not mean sitting back and doing nothing.  It meant believing you would find success if you did your best honestly and energetically."

"Nevertheless, the book gave Jack a feeling he had never had before, that the past was like a story, in which one thing led to another, and the world was not a boundless mystery, but a finite thing that could be comprehended."

My historical fiction book for LIS 642 - Reading Interests of Adults

The Pillars of the Earth is an historical fiction novel centered around the building of a Gothic cathedral in twelfth-century England.  The epic story spans over five decades and intertwines the lives of several main characters.  The book begins when Tom Builder and his family come across Kingsbridge Priory with Ellen and her son Jack while looking for work as a builder after his wife passes away.  They seek refuge for the night, but when the church burns down, Philip Prior offers Tom the position of master builder to rebuild the cathedral.  Nearby, the son of a lord, William Hamleigh is rejected an offer of marriage by Aliana, the daughter of the Earl of Shiring.  William’s family seeks revenge by proving Aliana’s father is a traitor to the new King Stephen and takes over their land.  Left penniless, Aliana and her brother Richard end up in Kingsbridge trying to rebuild their lives.  As the cathedral is build, the lives of each of the characters become more and more connected and new characters are introduced. Kingbridge begins to grow and prosper each year, but is faced with constant barriers due to the ambition of William against the people of Kingbridge and the Priory.  

This book has been on my “to-read” list for a number of years but, at 974 pages, I haven’t gotten a chance to get around to reading it until now.  Historical fiction has always been my favorite genre to read.  When selecting a book from this genre, I found that I had read all of the “must-reads” listed except The Pillars of the Earth, so I decide to give it a try.  It took me a little while to get into, but once I got through the first couple hundred pages, I became obsessed with the story and couldn’t put it down!  Luckily, the fall semester was ending and I had a lot of time to read.  This book had everything that I look for in a great historical fiction novel - lots of history and description, interesting characters, tons of emotion, and enough conflict to keep the story interesting.  I loved the description of twelfth-century live (which I haven’t read too much about) and liked learning about the details of building a large cathedral and living in a priory.  I very much enjoyed the storyline, but my favorite part of the novel was the characters.  I was intrigued by each individual story, their relationships to one another, and how they each played a unique part in the building of the cathedral.  I couldn’t wait keep reading to find out what would happen to everyone in the story and kept rooting for them to find their own “happy endings.”  The Pillars of the Earth is one of the best books I have read in a long time and one that I will want to come back to again and again - granted that I have the time!

This book was #4 on my top ten list of 2014.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Day After Night by Anita Diamant (audio)

"Sometimes luck was just another word for creation, which was as relentless as destruction."

This novel covers the post-World War II experience of four young girls.  Their lives shattered after the Holocaust, Shayndel, Leonie, Tedi, and Zorah struggle to find new lives for themselves in a holding camp for illegal immigrants in Israel.  Each women deals with their loses and memories in different ways and come together as a support system.

I first read Anita Diamant many years ago when I read The Red Tent.  I believe I was around 14 at the time and it was one of earlier attempts at reading historical fiction.  Today it remains one of my favorite books.  Day After Night was no comparison, but I did enjoy reading it.  I read a lot of Holocaust historical fiction, and this one gave the unique perspective of what happened to people directly after the events of the war.  Usually novels end in 1944-1945 or shortly after or flash back between the past and the present.  Day After Night had really unique characters that processed their past in different ways.  It was interesting to see the direct effects that the war had on them.  I did get a little confused sometimes with all of the story lines, but listening to the audio at work might have had some effect on that as well!

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

★★★ 1/2
"In the darkness of a thousand withered souls, it was Er Lang's hand that I sought, and his voice that I longed to hear.  Perhaps it is selfish of me, but an uncertain future with him, in all its laughter and quarrels, is better than being left behind."

 Li Lan, the daughter of a bankrupt family, receives word that she has been offered a proposal to be a ghost bride for the heir of the Wealthy Lim family.  The marriage would guarantee Li Lan and her family a respectable future, but she would have to be the wife of the dead son.  As Li Lan considers the options, she gets to know the Lim family and discovers their secrets.  During the night, she is visited by the son's ghost and during the day, she begins to fall in love with Tian Bai, the new heir of the family.  After a tragic accident, Li Lan finds herself trapped between this world and the next and struggles to survive before she is stuck as a ghost forever.

I have mixed feelings about this book.  I really enjoyed the beginning.  I loved the description of Malaya and it's traditions of marriage and family life.  The author made the scenery and time period so real, I could picture myself right in the books.  I thought that Li Lan's situation was really unique and couldn't wait to find out what was going to happen.  Toward the middle of book, I got a little restless.  Li Lan travels to the spirit world and I felt like this part of the book dragged on a lot.  It was interesting at first, but I kept wanting to get back to Li Lan's life in Malaya.  The ending was good, but the build up felt a little flat for me.  All in all an interesting read though.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

★★★ 1/2 
"It was time to take the pumpkin out of the pot and eat it.  In the final analysis, that was what solved these big problems of life.  You could think and think and get nowhere, but you still had to eat your pumpkin.  That brought you down to earth.  That gave you a reason for going on. Pumpkin."

I normally don't read too many mysteries, but this one has been sitting on my shelf for awhile.  This one was entertaining, but didn't have that "wow" factor for me.  I did enjoyed the character of Mma Ramotswe and her "small town" lifestyle in Africa though.  There were a lot of funny moments and interesting secondary characters as well.  It was a good audio book to listen to - not too much plot line to keep track of!  I also really enjoyed the authors book La's Orchestra Saves the World that I read a few years ago.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult (audio)

★★★ 1/2
"In the space between yes and no, there's a lifetime.  It's the difference between the path you walk and the one you leave behind; it's the gap between who you thought you could be and who you really are; it's the legroom for the lives you'll tell yourself in the future."

I must be reading too many Jodi Picoult books because I guessed the ending on this one...again.  Maybe it's just that I've been going back and reading her older books lately?  I don't know, but I'm use to having me completely surprised by the last few pages!

This one was good, but nothing special.  Years after June Nealon's husband and young daughter are killed in a tragic murder, she is faced with a tough decision.  Her daughter, Claire, needs a heart transplant and she doesn't have much time left.  Suddenly, she gets a phone call that Shay Bourne, the man that was charged for the murder of her family, wanted to donate his heart to Claire after he is put to death for the crime.  June is left with many questions about forgiveness, redemption, and what cost she is willing to pay for the her daughter's life.