A Year in Books -- What to Read and What NOT to Read!
All that to say, here is the scoop on the "fun reading" I did unreported this past year, with the READ / DON'T Read verdicts and miniature reviews you know and love!
Book Reviews in Miniature, 2016 Edition
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North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell
Classics, Romance, Social-Justice
READ, if you enjoy classic literature
This is truly one of my favorite books. There are a handful of books that I revert back to reading compulsively in times of stress (such as moving across 5 states, say), and this book is one of them!
North and South is set in Great Britain at the time of the industrial revolution, when Margaret's family suddenly faces a "reversal in circumstances" and are forced to move from their idyllic home in the south of England to a rough-and-tumble industrial town in the north of the country. Despite the culture shock, Margaret slowly comes to understand the inhabitants of this noisy, smoky, "modern" town, and also grapples with a series of unfortunate events that force her into greater independence and maturity. This book is far more "political" than, say, Jane Austen's novels, grappling with matters of social responsibility and justice... and it's love story rivals Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy's in number of misunderstandings and depth of eventual connection. SO GOOD. Download it for free on kindle!
You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life, by Jen Sincero
Inspiration, Self-Help, Non-Fiction
READ, if you are struggling with purpose / direction / anxiety / confidence and don't mind some bad language
I listened to this audiobook literally in the midst of my epic 5-state move this summer, and it was just what I needed to hear in that moment. Empowering, in-my-face, and humorous. A few moments in the book are a little "out there," but given that we're constantly bombarded with extreme negativity, I don't think a little over-the-top positivity will hurt anyone, do you? I will definitely be reading this one again in the future, and will continue recommending it to pretty much everyone I "talk books" with. ;P
I'm Happy For You (Sort of... Not Really): Finding Contentment in a Culture of Comparison, by Kay Willis Wyma
Non-Fiction, Inspiration, Self-Help
READ, if you ever get insecure. So that just about covers all of us, right?
I reviewed this book in detail here, so hop over for the full scoop! This one managed to obtain a rare and oft-envied home on my bookshelf after I finished it, which proves how good it is... and my friend Samantha (of Samantha Says fame!) just finished it and loved it too. So, double proof of how good it is! Note: this book is written from a Christian perspective, but the insights she shares are psychologically sound and relevant no matter your belief system.
Secrets of the Capsule Wardrobe: How to Find Your Personal Style and Create a Happy, Confident Closet! by Sarah Eliza Louderback
Self-Help, Fashion, Humor
READ, if you are intrigued by minimalism or trying to figure out this whole "personal style" thing
Okay, shameless self-promotion here... but dude, I read this book about a MILLION times in the process of editing it! Doesn't it deserve to be on my book-reading list? ;P And honestly I'm very proud of how it turned out -- it's the funny, empowering, approachable Capsule Wardrobe how-to guide I wished I had, back when I started on the journey to revolutionize both my own closet and how I understood style. But hey, you don't have to take my word for it! Check out the review my good pal Audrey did (completely unsolicited!) over on her blog Munofore! And then maybe go check out this slightly-sneaky way of getting to read my ebook absolutely free too, haha!
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs
READ, if you like time-travel, weird vintage photos, or just a good story.
I loved this one! If you saw the recent Tim Burton film version you will still want to read the books, because it just didn't translate as amazingly as it should have to the screen... and they made some really annoying plot changes too! Here's the quick gist though: a modern teenager's grandfather is tragically murdered, LITERALLY by monsters. As the boy grapples with the reality of that, and with having all the adults in his life treat him like he's crazy as a result of what he says he saw, he comes across a collection of strange photographs from his grandfather's past... and sets off on a journey to discover what he can about the school where his Jewish grandfather sought refuge during World War II. And it just gets better from there. ;) PS The book is built around ACTUAL vintage found photos, which adds a whole extra dimension of fun and eerie to the story!
Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon Self-Control, and My Other Experiments in Everyday Life by Gretchen Rubin
READ, for a relatable exploration of concrete ways to be more mindful and joyful in the day-to-day
I liked Happier at Home even better than Rubin's first book The Happiness Project (which I review here), so go ahead and just jump to reading this book if you haven't already read the other... I'll be honest, the memoir parts can get on my nerves sometimes, but I still found lots here to ponder. An easy read, and you're guaranteed to want to try at least a few of the ideas! Anybody want to start a children's book reading club with me??
The Girl with All the Gifts, by M.R. Carey
READ, unless you hate science fiction
This was such a fun book! Satisfying, well-written, and a super intriguing point of view. It might technically qualify as a zombie book, so take that as a word of warning or as an endorsement depending on how you feel about the genre... but at the same time, it is unlike any zombie book I've encountered! I literally couldn't put this one down until I finished it.
Ghost Gifts, by Laura Spinella
Fiction, Supernatural, Mystery, Romance
Read, if you liked the tv show The Medium
A young woman journalist can communicate with ghosts who are seeking to settle matters on earth before making their journey on to the beyond... However, the communication isn't super clear, which leaves an element of mystery as she strives to understand who they "were" and what they want from her. A fun and fluffy read with some decent surprise twists! I would read it again at some point, which is a pretty decent endorsement I think...
Scarlet, by Marissa Meyer
Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Fairy Tale
Read, if you enjoy a fresh new spin on classic stories
The second book in the Lunar Chronicles (read my review of Cinder here!) Scarlet is the story of a young woman who is determined to find her missing grandmother, even when no one else seems to care and a dangerous (but wolfishly good-looking) man seems out to stop her. Of the two books I think I liked Cinder better, but this was a light and fun read, and I'm enjoying the overall story-arch so far. The Lunar Chronicles is a great series for fantasy / sci-fi lovers who have a weak-spot for retold fairytales! (yea, I just described myself, haha! I could do a whole book post just on my favorite re-spun fairy tales...) I have the next book in the series, Cress, on hold at my library as I type.
Cleaning House: A Mom's Twelve-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement, by Kay Wills Wyma
Parenting, Family Life, Memoir
Read, if you're currently rearing children in the modern world
I read this book after reading and loving the other of Wyma's books, I'm Happy for You (Sort of... not really). I enjoyed Wyma's approachable, humorous style, and given that I had spent the previous 5+ years working with children in America, I was curious about her assessment on how to deal with youth entitlement. I thought she had great insights, and it was interesting to see the shift her household went through as she began to reevaluate the "values" of privilege and materialism that they were accidentally instilling in their children. I will totally read this book again when I have school-aged children of my own. Note: As with Wyma's other book, this memoir is written from a Christian perspective but completely accessible to those with other belief systems as well.
The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins
Suspense, Drama, Mystery
Read, if you like the idea of a depressed Bridget Jones trying to solve a mystery involving her ex
This book kept me engaged but it kind of annoyed me at the same time... the heroine reminds me of a Bridget Jones who has TOTALLY lost it post-breakup and gone a little crazy, fixating on her ex-husband to the point where she begins to realize there is something strange going on, and of course she is the only one paying enough attention to notice. That might sound drama-filled, but the first chunk of the book is so slow and quiet that when we actually ended up with a "showdown" at the end of the book I was a little shocked by all the action. An interesting read if you're in the mood for it.
Yes Please, by Amy Poehler
Don't Read, unless you're already a die-hard fan of Poehler or the show Parks and Rec, and aren't feeling particularly bitter towards life at the moment
I'll be honest, of all the female-comedian books I've read lately (Mindy Kaling and Tina Fey's books mostly) this is probably my least favorite. Poehler went through a divorce not long before writing this book, and mentions repeatedly the mad dash it took to finish the book on time, and I think that her emotional tumult / lack of motivation shows. She can come across as more tired and discouraged than I was expecting -- in that respect, maybe it is more genuine memoir than book of humor. I didn't MIND it, and mostly just felt sad that she was going through such a difficult time, but it's worth being aware of going into the book. The best parts are definitely the chapters when she discusses her time on Parks and Rec and various interactions with her fellow writers and actors... if you're a fan of the show, it will feel like reminiscing with an old friend.
The Night Sister, by Jennifer McMahon
Suspense, Fantasy, Horror
Don't Read, unless you like creepy stuff and being able to predict the ending of a story half way through.
The Night Sister starts SO STRONG, totally creepy and heart-wrenching... but then seems to lose steam as it goes. The book hops between two story lines -- one modern day, as a woman seeks to uncover the truth about a childhood friend accused of a terrible crime, and one set in the 1930s, as two sisters grow up in a thriving motel, the glamorous older sister writing letters to Alfred Hitchcock before running away to Hollywood, never to be seen again. The references to the Hitchcock movies and the retro motel establish a fun ambiance, while the tower motel gave me the eebie jeebies in both timelines. BUT the book begins so dramatically that it struggles to maintain the momentum going forward, and then there's a weird anticlimactic period after the "reveal" (which the reader will probably have already been suspecting for the past 70 or 80 pages) during which there's a lot of scampering around town and trying to protect the innocent, and of course the innocent has misplaced her cell phone... *rolls eyes* So yea, I was totally hooked for about half of the book, and then disappointed in the ending. Still worth a read if it sounds your style though!
Maisie Dobbs, by Jacqueline Winspear
Mystery, Historical Fiction
Don't Read, unless it's literally your only option because you're stuck on a plane
I kept trying to like this one, really I did... a smart and resourceful female detective solving mysteries in the 1920s SHOULD be right up my ally... but I just couldn't get into it. The mystery felt contrived, and I was (yes, this will sound heartless...) incredibly bored by Maisie's childhood / young adult experiences. Agatha Christie novels are set in this same time period if you were excited about the historical mystery aspect... opt for one of those instead for a much more satisfying read!
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
Zombies, Plagiarized Classics
DON'T READ -- unless you're truly obsessed with zombies, or a Jane Austen fan determined to feel indignant about the torture inflicted on this beloved book
I couldn't finish it, y'all. I just couldn't. It was too awful. And I say that in full awareness that I watched the movie and found it entertaining... but while the overall idea is fun, this book was just too tortured for me to finish reading it. The parts added by Seth Grahame-Smith stick out like sore thumbs, and I honestly found myself getting mad that he's made a boatload of money off of something so close to plagiarism... Let's stop talking about it, k? It's too upsetting.
Well, there you have it, my year in books, not counting Nancy Drew mysteries and pregnancy resources, haha! Anything you're dying to check out now?? Any awesome recommendations for ME? Parenting or pregnancy books, or just anything you think I'd enjoy... one of my New Year's resolutions is to read more, so I'll be excited to hear about anything you've got to share!
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