Overall, this year of reading was a mixed bag. I read 84 books. Some of them were great. Some of them were good. Some of them were truly terrible. In the end, it was actually pretty easy to select these top seven reads from 2017. Here are my picks—click on the title for a link to buy the book!
Following an independent storyline in an alternate universe from the movie, this is an excellent origin story featuring a teenaged Diana. The Amazonian princess risks exile by rescuing a mortal—only to discover that the mortal is a warbringer, a descendant of Helen Troy with the supernatural power to destroy the world. This is a marvelous tale of adventure, female friendship, girl power, mythology, and just the teeniest bit of romance. I listened to the audiobook, and it’s fantastic.
This book felt like warm comfort food or getting comfy under a blanket with a mug of hot tea. I still remember my second grade teacher, Mrs. Knutson, recommending the LITTLE HOUSE books to me on the stairwell of Washington Elementary School, because reading these novels was one of my most formative reading experiences. I shared a room with my younger sister while growing up, and my mom read the entire series aloud to us. As a family of four girls, we went to the Laura Ingalls Wilder play; we stayed in a sod house; we visited the Minnesota landmarks. I am a huge fan girl. So when I heard that a new and authorized LITTLE HOUSE book was coming out in 2017, I was ecstatic—and I was not disappointed! As it is written from Ma’s (aka Caroline’s) perspective, this book offers a more realistic picture of life on the frontier than the children’s books. It is heartwarming but also deeply human. How would it feel to have a husband you love dearly who is always wanting to move on to the next place when you might be just as happy to stay? What can you find for your little girls to do that won’t drive you crazy while you try and get something done? There are some truly touching scenes between Caroline and Charles as well as some beautiful snapshots of motherhood.
What a delight! Originally published in 1970, this slim volume of real letters exchanged between Helen Hanff, a freelance writer living in New York, and a London used book dealer are an homage to the world of books and letters. Funny, irreverent, and showing humanity at its most generous, this book is more wonderful than words can express. At only 95 pages, I read this book in a single sitting and it was undoubtedly my most pleasant reading experience of the year.
And . . . another tiny book about books. I can’t help myself. In this novella, Queen Elizabeth II discovers a voracious appetite for the written word in the later years of her life. On a stroll with one of her hounds, which escapes its tether, she learns that a traveling library visits Buckingham Palace every week. It’s only polite, she feels, to borrow a book once she comes face-to-face with the librarian and a young kitchen boy perusing the shelves. Soon enough, the queen can’t stop reading for pleasure—something she’s never done before. She’s always read books, of course. But reading for enjoyment is a new concept. This begins a passionate affair with literature that leads to a surprising revelation at the end. I won’t tell!
An intense but ultimately rewarding read. “When a white servant girl violates the order of plantation society, she unleashes a tragedy that exposes the worst and best in the people she has come to call her family” (from Goodreads). Excellently written, this a tale that will grab you and not let go. Set in the American South and exposing the harsh cruelties of slavery, this novel is not for the faint of heart but is so worth the effort. I think part of the reason I found it to be such a difficult (in the best sense) read is that I listened to it on audio. There was no escaping or skimming over the reality of injustice, and perhaps that’s a good thing. I was very satisfied with the ending, although there is a sequel that I haven’t read yet called Glory Over Everything.
This is a beautifully written, tangled-twisty mess of a feminism, deception, and shame. WOW. The Lie Tree is starkly true at particular moments, and there are many wonderful quotes within. I was riveted by the way this YA novel portrayed the way a lie takes on a life of its own and the power that even the smallest fib can wield over our lives and the lives of those around us. Read more about the book and what I thought here.
You and everyone you know should read this book, especially if they happen to love books. This is a beautiful journey of two people growing closer, of a mother and her son, of a lifelong love of literature, of what a well-lived life looks like, and of what a good death truly means. It is emotional and incredibly inspiring. I savored every carefully crafted word.
It’s been awhile since I’ve done a traditional book review, but I’m back and ready to report on what I’m reading and what you should be reading, too! You can expect to see a more balanced output of posts on lifestyle, literature, and faith coming from me this fall. I’m starting mid-month, but September is the other January – so here we go!
And now . . . the review. I would like to thank the publisher, Orbit Books, for providing me with a digital advanced copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I was so excited to be approved as this book is SO in my wheelhouse. A historical family saga about witches? Yes, please. Give me all the access.
Here’s the copy from Goodreads:
After Grandmére Ursule gives her life to save her tribe, her magic seems to die with her. Even so, her family keeps the Old Faith, practicing the spells and rites that have been handed from mother to daughter for generations. Until one day, Ursule’s young granddaughter steps into the circle, and magic flows anew.
From early 19th century Brittany to London during the Second World War, five generations of witches fight the battles of their time, deciding how far they are willing to go to protect their family, their heritage, and ultimately, all of our futures.
Sounds great, right? I have been hesitant to write this review because, honestly, A Secret History of Witches theoretically rang all my bells but failed to live up to my expectations. This was a so-so read for me. I’m not sorry I read it. However, it’s not going to be a book that I recommend. The writing is solid. It’s the story and character development that is problematic.
Although I typically love family sagas, this one is composed of stories that are too similar. The five women all have the same struggles and basic journey, so it felt like I was reading the same story again and again. Also, their stories felt incomplete. Each character’s journey was cut off just when it was getting interesting to make way for the next character. In order to fulfill my expectations, this book would have had to have been significantly longer.
Another issue I had is that the women are so unlikable! The majority are selfish, vain, ungrateful things. I just couldn’t handle it. I appreciate that this book featured a cast of independent women. I like to see that in my fiction. But in this case, it wasn’t a positive representation, which is unfortunate.
I would have loved to have seen the author delve deeper into the historical time periods, and explore how this factored in to change things for each individual character more, as the blurb implies. I thought this plot aspect was underdeveloped in the actual book.
Another reader might really enjoy this book. It’s well-written in a technical sense and has a beautiful cover to draw the reader in. It just wasn’t for me.
When Hollywood moguls and stars want privacy, they head to the exclusive Burning Cove Hotel . That’s where reporter Irene Glasson finds herself staring down at a beautiful actress at the bottom of a pool.
Seeking the truth, Irene finds herself drawn to the mysterous Oliver Ward. Formerly a world-famous magician and now the owner of the Burning Cove Hotel, Oliver can’t let scandal threaten his livelihood, even if it means trusting Irene.
With Oliver’s help, Irene soon learns that the glamorous paradise of Burning Cove hides dark and dangerous secrets. And that the past—always just out of sight—could drag them both under…
Overall, I found this a fun, fast read and a satisfying mystery/romance novel. It wasn’t perfect, but it was very enjoyable, with some gasp-worthy moments and a hero that I fell for. Oliver is handsome, in control, and has a very interesting backstory. He also has a disabled leg, and I’m always here for a non-cookie-cutter romantic hero. Most importantly, he’s a gentleman, not an alpha male.
The mystery—I should say, mysteries—were intriguing and kept me turning the pages. The Girl Who Knew Too Much has a lot of deaths in it, but Quick’s storytelling never gets too dark. I give the romance a moderate heat rating of 3/5 stars, with just one heated scene containing an explicit reference that soon fades to black.
I read this in two sittings and was completely content. Readers who are willing to go along for the ride will love it! Having read and liked ‘Til Death Do Us Part, I got exactly what I was expecting.
Thanks to the publisher for providing me with an ARC of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Hello, readers! I’m trying something new today. I didn’t finish any books this past week! So instead of a review, I’m sharing a list of some anticipated future reads. I hope you find something that sounds intriguing.
Recently Added to My To-Be-Read List:
The Lost Book of the Grail by Charlie Lovett
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.03
Published: February 28, 2017 by Viking
Source: Publishers Weekly listing
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Bookman’s Tale comes a new novel about an obsessive bibliophile’s quest through time to discover a missing manuscript, the unknown history of an English Cathedral, and the secret of the Holy Grail. SOLD!
The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn by Lori Benton
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.29
Published: April 29, 2014 by WaterBrook
Source: Fan of the author
Western North Carolina, 1787 ~ To escape a threatening stepfather and an unwanted marriage, Tamsen Littlejohn enlists the aid of Jesse Bird, a frontiersman she barely knows, to spirit her away from Morganton, North Carolina, west beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Trouble pursues, as the two men intent on seeing her recovered prove relentless in their hunt. . . . Gaining the freedom she longs for will mean running yet again, to the most unlikely refuge imaginable—the Cherokees, a people balanced on the knife edge of war.
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.08
Published: October 21, 2008 by Atheneum
Source: Heard wonderful things about this book and the author
As the Revolutionary War begins, thirteen-year-old Isabel wages her own fight . . . for freedom. Promised freedom upon the death of their owner, she and her sister, Ruth, in a cruel twist of fate become the property of a malicious New York City couple, the Locktons, who have no sympathy for the American Revolution and even less for Ruth and Isabel. When Isabel meets Curzon, a slave with ties to the Patriots, he encourages her to spy on her owners, who know details of British plans for invasion. She is reluctant at first, but when the unthinkable happens to Ruth, Isabel realizes her loyalty is available to the bidder who can provide her with freedom.
Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.05
Published: May 3, 2016 by Atria Books
From the bestselling author of A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, a heartwarming and hilarious story of a reluctant outsider who transforms a tiny village and a woman who finds love and second chances in the unlikeliest of places.
Gracious: A Practical Primer on Charm, Tact, and Unsinkable Strength by Kelly Williams Brown
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.00
To-Be-Published: April 18, 2017 by Rodale Books
Source: Saw it on Goodreads
From New York Times bestselling author of Adulting: How to Become a Grown-Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps Kelly Williams Brown comes a funny, charming guide to modern civility in these—yes, we’ll say it—rather uncivil times.
Throughout the book, she provides tips on how to deal with the people and circumstances that challenge even the most socially graceful among us, advice on how to practice graciousness in everyday life, and thoughtful discussions on being kind to those around you without ever losing your sense of self.
Glory Over Everything: Beyond the Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.24
Published: April 5, 2016 by Simon and Schuster
Source: Listening to The Kitchen House now and loving it! I heard about that book through a trusted bookish friend.
From the author of the New York Times bestseller and beloved book club favorite The Kitchen House, a novel of family and long-buried secrets along the treacherous Underground Railroad.
Jamie Pyke, son of both a slave and master of Tall Oakes, has a deadly secret that compels him to take a treacherous journey through the Underground Railroad.
This was a great year for me and books! What with blogging, joining the Litsy community (@annahenke), and just loving the reading life, I’m perfectly content. I read over 120 books in 2016. It’s customary in the blogosphere to do some sort of “Best of” list, and I’m excited to share mine with you. Here’s my list of the best books I read in 2016 by category!
A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas, A Court of Thorns and Roses #2
I devoured this book! I have loved everything Sarah J. Maas has written so far. The character development in A Court of Mist and Fury is astoundingly good. I really like how Maas handles Feyre’s grief and portrays her PTSD after the events of A Court of Thorns and Roses. I couldn’t put it down! This is a series that MUST be read in order.
NOTE: This is not a YA book, in my opinion – at least, not in terms of the romance. Full-on steamy. This should have been marketed as adult fantasy.
Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
What a remarkable story! This fictionalization of the life of trailblazing horse trainer and pilot Beryl Markham blew me away. Set primarily during her formative years and early adulthood in Kenya, this novel about a strong historical woman who wasn’t afraid to smash boundaries is beautifully written. Beryl was flawed but fierce and endured much for “being a woman and daring to think I could be free” (Circling the Sun). I’ve put Beryl’s memoir, West With the Night, on my TBR, and I’m very interested to hear the full story from the woman herself. Beryl was a private person by all accounts, however, so I hear it doesn’t have much in the way of personal relationships, which was a strength of McLain’s fictionalization. But I still need to read it!
A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn, Veronica Speedwell Mystery #1
I enjoyed this book so much that I read it twice in one year! I had to prep for the sequel coming out in January 2017. Why I loved it: It’s a Victorian historical mystery featuring an intrepid lady/amateur detective who is also a lepidopterist (specialist on butterflies and moths). Sold! There is an enigmatic, handsome taxidermist who becomes her reluctant investigative partner. Yes! There is a romance, but it’s very subtle and develops slowly. Just my cup of tea! They take refuge in an abandoned private museum of sorts. Hooray! There is a mystery about the main character’s heritage. Love it! I could go on, but I won’t.
The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg
Brilliant! The artwork is amazing and perfectly fits the tone of the story being told. The fictional folktales within are everything one would wish for: clever, funny, poignant, and sweet. I think it’s a must-read for graphic novel fans and a great entry point for newcomers to the format.
Jane Steele by Lindsay Faye, Narrated by Susie Riddell
This book was so strange and I loved it. It’s a Jane Eyre-inspired story with a quirky twist: What if Jane had been a serial killer? The tagline for the marketing was, “Reader, I murdered him.” For those unfamiliar with the real Jane Eyre, the most famous line is, “Reader, I married him.” So clever! I was hooked by the fascinating premise; however, the book was something of a surprise. Jane was quite likeable. This is in itself is a remarkable achievement for a writer. I consider myself pretty sensitive to violence, and I don’t enjoy unlikeable characters at all, so I was very impressed that Faye pulled that off. Jane kills multiple people (only bad people, mind), but I was still rooting for her in the end. The audiobook is exceptional. I would not have changed a thing.
As a side note, the premise of this book is so bizarre that it makes a great conversation piece. I had about a twenty-minute conversation with my coworkers about it at the company picnic and they all thought I’d gone mad. 🙂
Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist
I loved what Nyquist had to say about grace, forgiveness, and shame. I learned so much. Read my review here.
The Wood’s Edge by Lori Benton, The Pathfinders #1
I was so impressed with the diversity, vigor, and historicity of Benton’s writing in this first chapter of a new family saga. The story is wonderful. Read my review here.
A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley
I loved this book and look forward to everything Kearsley writes. It contains her signature Scottish history connection, a mystery in a book, and features a beautiful, intelligent heroine who happens to have Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s real, and the romance is so heartwarming and completely believable. Apparently, Susanna’s daughter has Asperger’s, and that shows in the sensitivity and normalcy with which she portrays the social interactions of the main character. I thought it was fantastic! This is a solid, clean romance recommendation.
Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
This one took me a little while to get into, but I was more than amazed by the end of it! Its best qualities are the unorthodox storytelling, the various illustrations, and the gripping action/suspense. I literally gasped at the twists and turns in the last fifty pages. Definitely worth the read! A top-notch YA pick.
That’s all for 2016. 🙂 Happy New Year!
Riveting, brutal, and deeply powerful, The Bones of Paradise by Jonis Agee is the story of two families—one Lakota, one white—and the tragedy that links them. This book is a masterpiece with a plot that’s as winding as Agee’s lyrical sentences. The story begins with two murders. The first victim is Star, a Lakota woman that Nebraska rancher J. B. Bennett finds by chance. When he stumbles upon the crime scene, he is gunned down. The rest of the novel centers on the families of these two individuals. A literary mystery, this tale of vengeance, guilt, love, and betrayal is set ten years after the massacre at Wounded Knee, and the characters are as scarred as the land in which they dwell.
“I am only a girl, a wound in the earth that will not close, I unbury myself over and over until there is justice.”— Star, a murdered Lakota woman, speaking to her sister in a vision
Along with Agee’s gorgeous sentences, the complexity of the characters and their relationships to one another is one of the book’s greatest strengths. I disliked almost every character at various points, which is something I normally find off-putting. However, the personalities were so vivid that it didn’t matter. Agee strategically reveals only small portions of each character’s backstory at a time, which kept me very engaged and compelled to find out the rest of the story.
The timeline of The Bones of Paradise is very fluid, and at one point we are transported back to the historical tragedy at Wounded Knee. Agee’s writing in this section is stunning as we view the massacre through the eyes of a first-hand witness. The events are horrifying in the extreme, and she does not shy away from the violence. Still, her lyrical prose softens it slightly. I was completely transfixed by the narrative.
Overall, I thought the Native American representation in this book was well done, as was her depiction of racism. Agee’s portrayal of white attitudes is honest and multi-faceted. We have a racist white man’s POV and other racist minor characters, but we also have the POV of Dulcinea (the wife of J. B. Bennet), a white woman who is unaffected by racism. The one qualm I have with The Bones of Paradise is that I would have liked to have more from Rose, the sister of the murdered Lakota women. She is such a fascinating character!
If you’re a literary fiction reader or a fan of historical fiction, this beautifully crafted novel is a must-read.
That’s all from me. Shout out to fellow Litsy users! You can find me posting daily about my reading life @annahenke