Best Books of 2016

9781501141515_p0_v4_s192x300This past year was a great year for books.  I probably said that last year, but I’m saying it again.  I read some really great books – and some that were quite disappointing.  I finally read FanGirl – and I honestly could’ve read it in one sitting.  I really loved it – and though it wasn’t released this past year, I’ll be looking forward to anything that Rainbow Rowell writes.  Of all of the new releases I read this year, these are my favorites.

Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen  Growing up, Bruce Springsteen was always one of my Dad’s favorite artists.  I still think of him every time I hear the song Born to Run – which is all the time!  I had to read this book, and I really loved it.  I had 9780399588570_p0_v1_s192x300no idea he had such an interesting life, and after reading it now know the inspiration to some of his songs.

Eligible – Curtis Sittenfeld She is one of my favorite authors and I was so excited to read this.  Although the story wasn’t 100% original I still loved it.  She wrote the book as part of the Austen Project, which challenged 4 contemporary writers to rework Jane Austen’s classic stories.  This was her version of Pride and Prejudice – set in modern day Cincinnati.

At the End of the Orchard – Tracy Chevalier If I were ranking 9780525953005_p0_v1_s192x300these – this book would be my number 1.  I don’t read historical fiction too often, but this book had a lot of history of it.  Regional history – beginning in Connecticut, a family moves out west, into the swamps in Ohio.  It follows the family’s youngest son to California, during the gold rush of the mid-19th century.  It was touching, and sometimes heartbreaking, but I really loved it.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – So this wasn’t a full Harry Potter story, just a manuscript of a play that debuted in London.  I loved the story, which is set years after the last book left off.  He and Ginny are now married and their sons are students at 9781501132933_p0_v3_s192x300Hogwarts.  There was a lot of action and I kept wondering how it work on stage.

The Woman in Cabin 10 – Ruth Ware From the very beginning until the end, I could not put this book down.  At least 3 separate times while reading it I was convinced I knew exactly what had happened.  I was wrong each time.

The War at Home – Rachel Starnes As I type this, we are counting down the days until my husband’s next deployment.  He has 6 days until he leaves again.  Rachel Starnes is also a 9780143108665_p0_v1_s192x300military wife, and her husband works in the same Navy community as my husband does.  She spoke to me in this book, or at least that’s what it felt like.  She speaks of military life candidly, honestly, and unapologetically.

I’m looking forward to many more great books next year.  Early mornings with a cup of coffee and a good book.  Late nights with a cup of tea and a good book.  Right now I’m working on Just Mercy, which I am loving!

Happy New Year and happy reading!!

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New Fiction Friday: The Mothers

51n7sl28jyl-_sx329_bo1204203200_What does it take to be called a mother? I became a mother when my daughter was born, but I have called others mother – other than the one who raised me.  Brit Bennett’s debut novel is The Mothers, all about a group of women at a church called the Upper Room. Nadia Turner, a teenage girl who loses her mother to a tragic unexpected suicide, is at the center of this story. She too could be a mother, her life becomes shaped by the loss of her mother, and this story – which spans the months following her mother’s death, until her graduation from law school. Throughout that time, she is searching. Searching for meaning in her life, something to fill the void that her mother left behind, and for approval – for the mother she no longer has, and for the mothers of the Upper Room.

Nadia becomes wreckless after her mother’s death. She is only 17, and without guidance in her life. Her father has mentally and emotionally checked out- and there is no one else in her life.  She finds a connection with Jake – a local football hero whose mother is involved in the Upper Room. It’s not the right kind of love or attention she needed, but it’s all she can get. She’s a great student – and has earned admission into the University of Michingan, which is thousands of miles away from the home she shares with her distraught father. Still, she’s counting down the days until she’s able to escape.

Her story seems so sad, and she is so badly damaged emotionally.  Even when she goes away to school – and stays away, even going to law school, she won’t allow herself to heal.   She is drawn back home when he father gets sick, and reconnects with some old friends. She’s still hurting – and returning to the home that she shared with her parents is a stark reminder of her mother’s absence.

This book was a selection of the Book of the Month Club and I read it immediately when it came to my house. I had heard Brit Bennett interviewed on NPR and knew the premise of the story, and was so excited to read it.  It’s a reminder that no matter how old we get, we still need our mothers.  Even if we don’t have our real mothers, like Nadia, we need someone.

Gift Ideas For the Reader On Your List

9780062494603_p0_v5_s192x300Only 10 more shopping days left until Christmas!  I am complete freaked out now.  I still have more shopping to do, and even though each year I attempt to get my shopping done early, it somehow never happens.  I still have a few things left to buy for my husband and daughter, and stockings that need to be stuffed – and cookies to be baked!  If you’re like me, and you still have some shopping to do, these are some great gift ideas for the readers on your shopping list.  Some of these I’ve already bought, and some are on my own Christmas list!

One book that is definitely on my TBR list is Settle for More by Megyn Kelly.  I’m buying this book for my Mom for Christmas 9780763695828_p0_v4_s192x300this year – and I can’t wait to read it together.  Full disclosure: neither of us are Republicans or watch Fox news (like, ever).  I still am awed by her and impressed with her for strongly and intelligently standing up to Donal Trump.

There are a few great gifts for Potterheads this year.  And I want all of them!!  A book was just released that chronicles all 8 of the Harry Potter movies – with gorgeous pictures and 9780062409959_p0_v3_s192x300details about scenes and locations.  There are two newish books that pick up where the series left off: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  While at the store over the weekend I spotted a Harry Potter themed coloring book that looked really fun!

Anthony Bourdain just released a new book called  Appetites.  In it are recipes and stories about the food that he’s had all over the world.  The book is perfect for any foodie on your list!

614twaobmfl-_sl300_I’m not a big fan of giving gift cards at Christmas, and I personally would rather have an actual gift over a gift card.  However, one of my favorite gift cards to get are those for iTunes.  Instead of just music or apps, there are also digital downloads available for ebooks and audiobooks.  I am also a fan of Audible.com, and this is great for a last minute gift, as there are gift cards available online.  I love audiobooks, and I love this website because downloads are quick and easy, but mostly because of the audiobooks.  They frequently feature 9781465444967_p0_v1_s192x300popular or classic titles read by popular actors and actresses.  There is a version of Anna Karenina narrated by Maggie Gylenhaal.

For my daughter, who is 6 this Christmas, and obsessed with American Girl Dolls, there are a few great books.  There is a new line of dolls that was just released this year, and with them is a new series of books.  The books are great even for girls who don’t have the tools.  There is also a new, huge, hardcover book that details all the dolls the company makes, along with the history behind the dolls and the company.

These are great gifts for the reads of all ages on your list.  They are also perfect gifts for me!  I hope after all the shopping and craziness that the holidays bring, you’re finding time to read!  As soon as I get my final grades posted this week, I’ll be able to finish my shopping, and hopefully finish the book I’ve been trying to read for about 2 weeks.

New Fiction Friday: Horrorstor

51hggt7lll-_sx419_bo1204203200_I love a good scary story. I also love Ikea. When I first saw Horrorstor, I didn’t pay close attention to the cover. It looks just like an Ikea catalog, and along with the story inside the book are pictures and diagrams of Ikea-type furniture. The store is not an official Ikea, though Ikea is mentioned several times in the book. Orsk, as described by some of its employees, is a second-rate Ikea. It’s a gigantic, maze-like building, meant to keep customers in the store as long as possible in order to get them to spend more money.

The store is the setting for the store, and most of the characters are store employees.  Amy had been working at the store for a while, working for a guy named Basil. They really didn’t get along – so much so that she had recently asked for a transfer to a different store. He has to sign off on that in order for it to get approved. He really doesn’t want her to leave though, she is one of the store’s best employees.  They end up striking a bargain. He will sign off on the transfer if she will agree to work a little overtime, stay overnight and prepare the store for the arrival of some of the store’s executives the following morning.

This is when things start to get interesting. A few of the store’s employees have been getting random, seemingly anonymous texts saying “help”. Amy is one of them – and it’s puzzling.  This is just one of the odd things happening around the store. Recently the store has been in disarray when employees first show up in the morning to open the store. Amy reluctantly agrees to stay overnight, along with Ruth Ann, a coworker to maybe witness just what happens in the store after hours.

I love the premise of the book, and the end of the story suggested a possible sequel – which I would love to read. The book wasn’t as scary as I hoped it would be, and wasn’t as fast-paced as I think it should be. But it was unique in delivery – the faux-Ikea catalog format I totally loved.

TLC Book Tours: I’ll Take You There

519a6u44pjl-_sx328_bo1204203200_The first Wally Lamb book I read was She’s Come Undone, which I absolutely loved. I actually read it twice, which is something I rarely do. I’ve also read The Hour I First Believed, and I Know This Much Is True.  I was excited to get my hands on I’ll Take You There. He seems to have a knack for great female characters – getting into the minds of women in a way most male writers haven’t, or at least none that I’ve read.  Although some of these characters are incredibly flawed, they are still likable and relatable.  Delores is the main character of She’s Come Undone, she is one of my favorite characters. In his new book, which is told from the perspective of man named Felix.

Felix Funicello (distant cousin of Anette Funicello, former star of the Mickey Mouse Club) is a super movie fan. He is a college professor, film scholar, and leader of a movie club that meets in an old vaudeville theatre to watch old movies. He is an older man, with one grown daughter, who is a journalist living in NYC. He and his wife don’t live too far outside the city, but the distance is too great for him. They miss her quite a bit, and he is so excited to reconnect over a story assignment she is given to write an article about the Miss Rheingold competition.

Rheingold was a beer that was brewed locally in New York, and at one time was one of the most popular beers in the area. Each year the brewer held a beauty competition to pick Miss Rheingold, and local residents would have the opportunity to vote for their favorite girl.  In talking to his daughter about the competition (which in reality crowned 25 Miss Rheingold in between 1940 and 1964), he remembers voting each year with his two older sisters for the girl they wanted to win. It’s also during this time that he’s reconnecting with his daughter that he is visited by two ghosts in the theater his group meets.

These two ghosts are former screen stars – one being one of the most famous silent screen stars that he is a big fan of.  They’re not there just to visit though, and don’t need his assistance connecting them with anyone in the in the living world.  They’re there, instead, to take him into the past. Through a series of movies (reel to reel, of course), he is able to revisit some of the most important moments of his past. They seem to want to confront himself, or someone else he was close to. This part of the story reminds me a lot of a Christmas Carol.

I really loved this story – and I loved the closeness between Felix and his daughter. This project that she worked on that brought them closer together, and I loved that it included a bit history – something that they were both interested in. With the help of these two ghosts he is able to revisit the past.  Through the women in his life, past and present, he gets an important lesson in feminism. The women’s movement has come a long way – and this witnesses some of this change by seeing what his mom, and sisters have gone through.

The story is so beautifully written, and I wanted so much more of Felix.  I think there may be a part of Mr Lamb in Felix.  Even though their stories are similar, Felix is no Ebenezer Scrooge.