Best and Worst of 2018: Part 2

Welcome back to The Best and Worst of 2018. If you missed part one, I detailed my five least favorite books I read last year and why they rated so low on my list.

Now for the good news! I actually read many more enjoyable books than not last year, so I’m excited to announce my top five favorites. It was really hard to choose! I read so many solidly good books this year, but these five stood out from the crowd.

My Favorite Books of 2018

#5. The Kiss Quotient- by Helen Hoang

This my Book of the Month pick for June, and it was a perfect poolside read. I’ve already gushed about it in my review, but here are the highlights: Stella is on the autism spectrum and feels likes she’s bad at sex and relationships. So, she hires Michael Phan, an escort, to help her practice. Yes, it’s Pretty Woman in reverse, and the plot is definitely not realistic. But that’s why it’s fiction. And that’s part of what I find so enjoyable. It’s smart, funny, sexy, and gave me all the feels. And also, I can’t lie, made me blush. Bonus: a very honest portrayal of autism spectrum disorders. All around win in my book.

#4. Surprise Me- Sophie Kinsella

It’s possible that I’m biased here because Sophie is one of my all-time favorite writers and my dream is to become the American version of her someday. This book received some mixed reviews on Goodreads, but personally I loved it. I liked that it was different than her other books. Sylvie and Dan have a happy marriage, but faced with the prospect of 70 more years together, they both begin to freak out a little. They decide the best way to combat the monotony is to try and surprise each other. But Dan surprises Sylvie in a way she wasn’t expecting. And yes, some of the plot was outlandish, but aren’t all of hers? (Wedding Night, anyone?) I don’t read Sophie Kinsella looking for realism. I read it for quirky characters, humor, and lots of heart. Surprise Me delivers on all three.

#3. Sweet Little Lies- Caz Frear

This was another Book of the Month pick, though I can’t remember which month. It was around the time I was going through Tana French withdrawal (before The Witch Elm came out and disappointed me), and I was looking for a juicy mystery to sink my teeth into. This debut novel follows Cat Kinsella as she attempts to solve the murder of a woman who was strangled outside her father’s pub. It also happens to be the same woman who disappeared when she was a child, forever altering her relationship with said father. (Cat believed her father had something to do with the disappearance). What follows is a fast paced, well-plotted mystery with great writing and sharp characters. I sincerely hope that Caz Frear is out there writing another book, because I am waiting to devour it.

#2. The Alice Network– Kate Quinn

I’ve read a lot of historical fiction this year, but this was by far my favorite. The Alice Network is about a female spy ring in World War I, focusing on one new spy, Eve Gardiner. Half of the book is from her perspective during the war. The other half of the book takes place a generation later, immediately after World War II, and is told by Charlie St. Clair. Charlie is a young woman who finds herself in trouble, or as she calls it, “her little problem.” But she doesn’t let that deter her from what she’s truly after, which is finding her cousin who disappeared during the war. For this endeavor, she teams up with Eve. Both Eve and Charlie are dynamite characters and badass women, which was one of the big appeals of the book for me. It’s both action-packed and beautifully written. It gripped my attention from beginning to end, even when I found myself reading late at night. I will definitely be checking out Kate Quinn’s other books.

#1. Little Fires Everywhere– Celeste Ng

There was so much hype surrounding this book. Everyone couldn’t stop talking about how amazing it was. I’m always weary of books that get too much hype, but this book was nothing short of stunning. I won’t lie—I don’t read too much “literary” fiction these days. I read a lot of contemporary literary fiction in graduate school and I never enjoyed it that much. But Little Fires Everywhere is a gem that straddles the line between literary and commercial fiction beautifully. Where do I even begin to describe this book? Little Fires Everywhere is about single mother Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl, who live a somewhat nomadic lifestyle but have recently landed in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Here, Pearl becomes friends with the affluent and popular Richardson children, an alliance that seems harmless enough. Until, that is, Mia and Mrs. Richardson end up supporting opposite sides of a battle over the adoption of a Chinese-American baby. This synopsis doesn’t do justice to the subtle complexities of this book. Every character is developed so thoughtfully that they leap off the page. The writing itself is gorgeous. And there is no way you can anticipate where the plot is headed until it hits you in the face. It is the ingenious way that Little Fires Everywhere surprised me that earned its top spot. So on this one, all that hype was completely earned.

So what do you think about my top 5 picks? Do you agree or disagree with my choices? What are the best books you read in 2018?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Happy Reading,

Best and Worst of 2018: Part 1

There is nothing better than reading a book that you can really sink your teeth into, that makes you think or laugh or swoon. And on the flip side of that, there’s nothing worse than a book that you want to like but is just so disappointing, or a book that you struggle through from page one but make yourself finish anyway. I had both of these reading experiences many times over in 2018, so I decided to compile a list of my favorites and… least favorites.

It’s a little bit of a longer post, so this will be a two part series. Let’s start with the bad news, shall we?

Please note: these are not all books published in 2018. I read them in 2018.

My Least Favorite Books of 2018

#5. The Witch Elm– Tana French

It pains me to put this book on the list. Really, it does. I think Tana French is an amazingly talented writer. She’s an “automatic buy” author, which is among the highest compliments I can give. But her most recent novel, a departure from her Dublin Murder Squad Series, just didn’t work for me. I could maybe have lived with the fact that the murder mystery wasn’t front and center on this one, but I just did not care for the protagonist. Toby lacked the depth I’ve come to expect from French’s narrators. I suffered through the nearly 500 pages of this one, but it was really disappointing.

#4. The Tatooist of Auschwitz– Heather Morris

This was our October book club pick. It’s marketed as a novel but it doesn’t feel like a novel when you’re reading it. The prose is really sparse, and for such a charged topic, seriously lacks emotion. We debated this point at book club; some of my friends thought that the relative emotionlessness of the book was intentional to show how Lale needed to compartmentalize in order to survive. I can see this as argument, but in my opinion, it didn’t work. Maybe Morris didn’t want to embellish anything and detract from Lale’s story as he told it to her. Either way, it’s not often I emerge from a book on the Holocaust completely unmoved.

#3. Manhattan Beach-Jennifer Eagan

Our book club pick from February, on my suggestion. I’m ambivalent about Jennifer Eagan’s work as a whole. I read A Visit from the Goon Squad in graduate school and loved it. But I read another of her novels later and I didn’t like it. In fact, I can’t even remember the title.  The premise of Manhattan Beach was promising; I thought we were in for a mysterious, 1940’s noir kind of read, so I suggested it. No dice. Mostly, we read a lot about underwater diving in order to fix submarines, which wasn’t all that interesting. I found the plot very hard to follow, and I wasn’t invested in the characters. We did, however, have a spirited discussion at book club about all the things that annoyed us about this book, so that was fun.

#2. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend- Katarina Bivald

My best friend tried to warn me off this one, but I thought maybe it was just that we have different tastes in books. So, during our February book club meeting, after discussing Manhattan Beach to death, and drinking a fair amount of wine, we couldn’t come up with a good idea for our next book. I had The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend on my “eventually read,” shelf and it seemed like a harmless enough pick. And it was harmless…it was just also kind of lifeless. I didn’t find the characters or story very compelling, even for a light read. It could be that something was lost in the translation. But we universally decided that this was our least favorite book club pick of 2018.

#1. Neon in Daylight– Hermione Hoby

There was no contest for my least favorite book spot. I don’t even remember where I saw this book, but I thought it would be edgy and cool, but it was just not. I only finished this because my friend Betsy was already reading it with me. I almost always finish a book once I’ve started, but I should have put this one down early. The prose was completely overdone and too flowery for a novel. A short story, maybe, could have worked with this writing style. But for me, it was way too much. The characters were simply not likeable. There was no discernable plot. To me, this book felt like something that came out of an MFA program, and would only appeal to a very small subset of readers. I was not one of those readers.

What do you think about this list? Do you disagree with me about any of these? What is on your least favorite list from 2018?

Let me know in the comments, I would love to hear your thoughts!

Happy Reading!

2019: New Year, New Books

I’m a sucker for New Year’s Resolutions. I love thinking about how on January 1st of each year, I will magically be able to wipe the slate clean of bad habits and finally start doing all the things I say I will….

It generally doesn’t happen. But that’s a different topic altogether.

For the past couple years, in addition to the usual: lose weight, stop snoozing, declutter… I’ve starting making some more fun reading resolutions as well. I started in 2017 by setting a goal of 40 books on my Good Reads Challenge. I met it–just under the wire, by listening to the audiobook versions of the Harry Potter Series. This felt a little like cheating.

In 2018, I upped it to 52 books. I ended up reading 53 (#winning). But I wanted to add more to my reading life than just more books. So, I also made goal to start a book club. I’m proud to say that it’s going strong with 13 members after a year of consistently meeting. Less consistent was my resolution to start this book blog. But hey, it’s here. And I did post a handful of times, so that counts for something, right?

2019 Book Resolutions

Read 60 New Books
This year, I’m setting the bar high with a goal of five books a month. And I want those five books to be new to me. I love to reread, but there are so many books out there and only so much time to read in a day. I’m trying only to reread using audiobooks. I’m actually really enjoying this. It makes my commute more pleasant and livens up chores and making dinner. It also leaves my coveted before bedtime reading free to new material.

Blog Consistently
I must admit, I’m struggling with this already. My official goal–I’m putting it out into the universe–is to post twice a week. By the end of the 2019, I want to publish 100 new blog posts. This is quite a deviation from my post-whenever-I-have-time strategy of last year. By having a specific, numeric goal, I hope to be able to get myself to do something that I’ve wanted to do for (literally) years now: becoming a regular blogger.

Connect with Other Readers
Reading is a solitary activity, which is part of what appeals to my introverted nature. However, I feel like nothing deepens my experience with a book more than discussing it with others. I get to do this once a month with my book club, regularly with some of my bookworm friends, and occasionally with my husband. However, this goal speaks directly to my desire to connect with the online book loving community–book bloggers, in other words. I don’t know what shape this is going to take just yet, but consistently reading and commenting on other book blogs seems like the place to start.

How about you? Do you make book-related new years resolutions? What is on your to-read list? Do you have any great book blog recommendations?

Happy New Year and Happy Reading,