Top 12 Books of 2016

As 2016 draws to a close I can’t help but reflect on the past year and all the books I read. For the most part, the majority of the 102 books read I found entertaining and enjoyable, there were only a handful that I did not enjoy. Looking back on all of these books, I felt it was only right to select my top 12 books from the year. As I waded through the list of books, I decided it was best to select my top read from each month to help narrow down the contenders.

JanuarySalt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the Sea was my first introduction to the writing of Rita Sepetys and she quickly became a writer that I look forward to reading more from. This was a beautifully written historical fiction YA book about a very little known piece of World War II history. The story centers around four teens who are each making their way, amidst thousands of other refugees towards the coast in hopes of boarding the Wilhelm Gustloff ahead of the Soviet advance. This was a heart-wrenching and all too human story of the greatest tragedy in maritime history. This book was my top read for January because of how well Ms. Sepetys wove the story together and for moving me to moments of tears and joys as she told the story.

FebruaryAudacity by Melanie Crowder

Another historical fiction YA book, Audacity tells the story of Clara Lemlich, a young Russian Jew who emigrated to New York at the turn of the twentieth century. Clara found herself working in a factory on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and after harsh work conditions she went on to lead the largest strike by women in US history. This book made it to the top of my February list mainly for the way the story was told. This important story was told in verse and for me it brought the story to life that much more. Verse isn’t for everyone, but I think that this is a book that many would find enjoyable.

MarchDark Sparkler by Amber Tamblyn

Every so often I get in the mood for some poetry reading and I will look towards either a classic poet, or a more modern poet. In March, I found myself reading Amber Tamblyn’s book of poetry that looks at the lives of more than twenty-five of Hollywood’s actresses. The poems range from Marilyn Monroe to Sharon Tate, from the famous to the lesser known. The poems are insightful and raw, and the pictures that accompany many of the pieces are each unique to that poem and to the artist who drew it. I would love for Amber to one day write a male version of Dark Sparkler as there are plenty of male actors in Hollywood with dramatic stories of their own.

AprilNovember 9 by Colleen Hoover

This was my first Colleen Hoover book and I decided to pick it up after seeing so many rave reviews of it on Instagram. I devoured this book in a matter of hours and was left not only satisfied with the book as a whole, but left wondering how I had gone so long without reading it. Not only did November 9 quickly become my favorite read for the month of April, but it became one of my favorite books of all time. So much so, that I’m afraid to read any other books by Colleen Hoover in case they don’t live up to this one, but I’m sure I’ll get over that fear in the New Year.

MayScarlett Epstein Hates It Here by Anna Breslaw

Reading this book was like spending the afternoon with one of my best friends. Scarlett was the kind of fan girl that I was able to relate to as she reminded me of how obsessed I was with Buffy the Vampire Slayer when I was a teen. Now, I didn’t take part in the online communities or write Buffy fanfic, but I did make it a point to be home when it aired and I would shush anyone who tried to speak to me during that hour of the night. This was one of my favorite début of the year and I can’t wait to see what else Anna Breslaw comes out with.

JuneGirl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes

I found this book to be a very cathartic read, as I myself had experienced a trauma at the beginning of the year. I was able to relate to Maguire and her issues with anxiety so much so reading Girl Against the Universe aided me in dealing with my own anxiety and working to move forward in my own life. Both this book and the author, Paula Stokes, are on my favorites list because of what was an important read for me and because of the kind words I received from Paula Stokes when she read my review of her book.

JulyThe Call by Peadar O’Guilin

This YA horror story is one that literally haunted my dreams while reading it. Rather than reading the story in one sitting, I decided to draw out the anticipation of everything and as a result I would toss and turn at night dreaming of all the different possibilities where the book was going to go next. My nocturnal musings led to me only getting 4-5 hours before I was awake again and picking the book back up. I loved everything about this book and its unique take on the folklore of the fae in Ireland and what happened to them. This was the perfect book to keep one up reading late into the night.

AugustGirl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

I have recommended this book to so many of my fellow bookworms since reading it, I even filled out a shelf talker at the bookstore to further help promote it. Girl in Pieces is a story that needs to be told as it deals with some of the darker issues which exist in society and that some of us, our friends, or family may deal with. The story was raw and emotional in its sadness. Reading this book made me want to reach in and hug the main character, telling her everything would be all right and that she could count on me. Upon finishing the book, I was left wishing I had studied psychology  or social work in school and gone into counseling for teens.

SeptemberMiss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

This was actually a re-read for me. I first read the book not too long after it was originally published and decided to revisit it after hearing they were going to make it into a movie. On my second read through, I found insights into the story and the accompanying pictures that I had missed on the first read through. Sadly, I still have not seen the movie, or finished reading the rest of the books, but those are both things I plan on resolving in the New Year.

OctoberThe Steep & Thorny Way by Cat Winters

This 1920s retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet was so well written and uniquely done. I loved that for once, an author actually wrote about a minority female as their main character. The story was beautifully woven together and had so much rich insight into the history of Oregon in the early 1920s. The included historic pictures further added to the story for me since I was unaware of the vast majority of the facts which are covered in the book not having grown up in Oregon. I was fortunate enough to meet Cat Winters at a book signing and share with her just how much I enjoyed her book; I was even able to convince 4 other people (all strangers to me) who  were looking to read a diverse book to purchase it.

NovemberVassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

This retelling of a classic, and lesser known, fairytale was darkly enjoyable. Vassa was such a different story and unique in it’s telling that I flew through the book, and then proceed to read the original fairytale. Sarah Porter told this story so well, that I think she could give the Brother’s Grimm a run for their money.

DecemberBlack Moon by Romina Russell

The third book in the Zodiac series did not disappoint. The stakes continue to be raised, the new zodiac worlds which are introduced are just as stunning unique as those introduced in previous books and the cliff hanger ending left me screaming in shock and horror. This book quickly jumped to being my favorite book in the series thus far.

As previously stated, 2016 was a wonderful year when it came to reading. I read a total of 102 books, attended some amazing author discussions and books signings, made some new bookworm friends along the way. Looking forward, there are some amazing books coming out and I can’t wait to see which authors I’ll get to meet on their book tours and stops in Denver.

 

How I did on my 2016 Charity Reading Challenge and What’s Next

At the beginning of the year, I wrote about my desire to take part in a charity reading challenge. My goal was to read as many books as I could and for every book I read, I would set aside a certain dollar amount (1-499 pages = $1, 500-999 pages = $5, 1000+pages = $10), to be donated at the end of the year to the charity of my choosing, Stand Up 2 Cancer, in memory of my father who passed away from bladder cancer in 2010.

As 2016 draws to a close, I have managed to read 102 books, and to set aside $131 for donation. Of those 102 books read, 96 were ones that earned $1, 5 books earned $5 and only 1 book earned $10. Although I originally planned on making a donation to Stand Up 2 Cancer, I have since then become aware of the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network (BCAN) and have made a charitable donation of $131 to them. My reason for this change is because although Stand Up 2 Cancer is a wonderful cancer organization, I want to donate to a cancer organization that is specifically working to raise awareness about, provide resources for, and find a cure for the type of cancer my father passed away from. Many people are not aware that bladder cancer is the 5th most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in the United States, and I want to do what I can to help raise and support that awareness.

With that being said, moving forward into 2017, I have decided to reduce my reading goal from 100 books to 75 in hopes that I will be able to read longer books and have even more money to donate at the end of 2017 to the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network.

As I did with my original charity reading challenge post, I encourage all who read this to create your own charity reading challenge to benefit the charity or cause closest to your heart.

“Frostblood” Book Review

frostblood-cover image courtesy of: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27827203-frostblood

Author: Elly Blake

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: January 10, 2017

Type: Fantasy, Young Adult, Advance Readers Copy

Rating: 🌸🌸🌸🌸🌸 out of 🌸🌸🌸🌸🌸

Synopsis:

Elly Blake’s upcoming YA novel, Frostblood, is delightfully action packed and full of danger from the very beginning of the book. The story revolves around seventeen-year-old Ruby, a young fireblood, a unique human who is able to start and control the element of fire with her body. When Ruby’s village is raided, and her mother killed by the frost soldiers of the Frostblood King, Ruby finds herself imprisoned with nothing but thoughts of revenge to keep her going.

Despite the country being the home of the frostbloods and their king, and hatred of the firebloods, there are those who oppose the king and work towards overthrowing him. Thus, Ruby finds herself being broken out of prison by a couple of mysterious monks and taken to their abbey for safety and proper training of her powers in exchange for her agreeing to help them kill the king.

As the months pass, Ruby’s powers continue to grow and she finds herself not only learning to trust and befriend some of the monks, but even falling in love with the mysterious Arcus. Just when Ruby and Arcus finally begin to admit to and explore their feelings for one another, the king’s soldiers raid the abbey, taking Ruby into custody once again. This time though, Ruby is taken to the court of the ice king where she is made to flight frostblood champions to the death in a gladiator style arena.

With her powers continuing to grow, a dark force attempting to control her, no idea as to whether her friends are alive and coming for her, it is all Ruby can do to hold on to a piece of herself and remember her original mission.

Thoughts:

I received an advance review copy of Frostblood, courtesy of Netgalley. Even before starting the book, I was taken in by both the beautiful cover and the engaging description. I find that with a lot of fantasy novels, YA or adult, the description will make the book sound absolutely amazing, but upon actually reading the book, it falls flat for me. Luckily, Frostblood did not do this. The book both lived up to and exceeded my expectations. I loved the world building Ms. Blake created and the mythology she developed for the story. The mythology is so rich with details, that the possibilities for the subsequent books int he series have my interest so piqued that I’m ready for the next book and the first one is still weeks away from release.

The characters were well-developed and for once I didn’t want to constantly beat the main character upside the head for whining too much. That’s not to say that Ruby was a perfect character, she was stubborn and often acted before fully thinking things through. Thankfully though, Ruby did learn from her mistakes and developed into the kind of character who thought things through and allowed others to help advise her.

As for the romantic aspect of the book, it held just the right amount between Ruby and Arcus. Since the developing romance between them is not the main focus or driving force of the story, it was actually a pleasure to read because it didn’t feel forced upon me as the reader. Did I know that they would go from not liking or trusting one another to friends and eventually more than friends? Of course I did, but the progressions was both enjoyable and humorous. I was further pleased with the love story development because I really saw how complementary they were and it was nice to see that Ruby could hold her own when Arcus wasn’t around.

Overall, this was a truly enjoyable read that I flew through and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

YA Happy Hour Review

(the above books represent some of the 22 authors who were present at the YA Happy Hour)

Last Friday, October 14, 2016, I had the pleasure of attending the Tattered Cover Bookstore’s first ever YA Happy Hour in which 22 Young Adult authors were in attendance. Tattered Cover’s YA Happy Hour came about in large part because on the following day, all the authors were to gather at Littleton High School for the first ever Teen Book Con, an all day event with panels and book signings. When it was first announced that Tattered Cover was going to host a Teen Book Con, I of course was ecstatic and looking to clear my calendar months in advance; sadly, as more information became available it turned out that the Teen Book Con was only open to those who were 13-20 years of age. As I contemplated using the fact that I currently can pass for an 18-year-old and whether or not to use this fact to “crash” the event, other young adult reader fans were emailing and contacting the Tattered Cover about something for the adult fans of young adult literature.

Luckily for myself, and all the other YA adult fans, the Tattered Cover agreed to host a separate event for the adults the night before. The Tattered Cover had managed to avert any further backlash from their adult patrons (a large source of income not only for the store but for these authors as well) and all of us over 21 year old’s would have an evening for ourselves complete with food, wine and beer and of course mingling and signings with the same 22 authors as the teens would meet the following day. I immediately bought my $10 ticket to the event, a truly great deal as I was then able to apply that $10 towards the purchase of a book that evening, and secured a sober designated driver for the evening (my Mom).

As Friday evening quickly approached, I worked to gather all the books by the authors I wanted signed and counted down the days until the event. Finally, Friday arrived and like a kid in a candy store, I found myself clutching a stack of books as I weaved in and out of groups of my fellow bookworm’s, looking for the next author on my list to get books signed by them. Not only did I get to spend sometime speaking with and meeting some of my favorite authors, but I also made some wonderful new friends among the other YA adult readers who were in attendance.

I left the store that evening still hyped up from my discussion with authors: Cat Winters, Sharon Cameron, and Matthew J. Kirby about their books and where they found the inspiration; book bag overloaded with the nine books I had gotten signed that evening, and excited about having made new friends in the book community who I look forward to future book discussions with and seeing at other book signings. From my perspective, I have to say that the evening was a huge success. The event was sold out days before the event and the store was packed. In speaking with the authors they were enjoying themselves and really impressed with what Tattered Cover had managed to put together. Many, both fans and authors alike, expressed the hope that both Friday evening and the next day’s Teen Book Con would prove to be such a success that this would become an annual event with other authors getting a chance to attend.

“Girl in Pieces” Book Review


Cutting is a fence you build upon your own body to keep people out but then you cry to be touched. But the fence is barbed.” Girl in Pieces

Author: Kathleen Glasgow

Publisher: Random House US

Type: Young Adult, Mental Health, Advanced Readers Copy

Rating: 🌸🌸🌸🌸🌸 out of 🌸🌸🌸🌸🌸

Synopsis:

Kathleen Glasgow’s début novel Girl in Pieces is a first person narrative which tells of teen Charlotte “Charlie” Davis whose life is in shambles. At the age of seventeen Charlie is: homeless, a cutter, has a best friend who will spend the rest of her life in a vegetative state, a mother who doesn’t want her, a father who is dead and currently residing in a mental institution. Charlie is a seventeen year old who is broken in more ways than one can count; yet, despite being broken, the reader can’t help but root for her to find a way through her pain and to come out a stronger person on the other end.

When the book opens, Charlie is lying on a hospital lawn reflecting upon the stars shining down upon her: I remember the stars that night. They were like salt against the sky, like someone spilled the shaker against very dark cloth. As the blood seeps out of her veins, Charlie’s story is only just beginning. Over the next first third of the book, the reader is taken within the walls of the mental hospital Charlie finds herself in following a cutting experience which was in fact a suicide attempt. Here, amongst other teenage girls who are dealing with their own forms of addictions, from alcohol and drug abuse to self-mutilation, Charlie begins to take her first steps towards acknowledgment of who she is, where she has been, her experiences and finally to begins to see a way to move forward.

Following Charlie’s stint in the hospital where she meets others who are similar to her, she is discharged and finds herself leaving the cold and pain of Michigan for the warmth and sunny sky of Tucson, Arizona. Arriving in Tucson, Charlie finds work as a dishwasher in a restaurant  along with an apartment. As Charlie fights to remain sober and not to give in to the need to cut, she enters into what evolves into a toxic relationship with one of her coworkers,  Riley, a once famous musician who lost his way to drug abuse. Although the reader can argue that Charlie and Riley love one another and want to save each other, ultimately their relationship fails and they find that they are unable to save the other without first saving themselves.

The final part of the book, can be viewed as a rebirth for Charlie. Like the phoenix rising from its own ashes, Charlie falls and yet is able to climb her way out of the inferno. With the help of her friends and her art, Charlie finally comes to understand what she needs in order to survive and have fulfilling relationships.

Thoughts:

I was extremely fortunate enough to receive and advance readers copy of this book from Random House Children’s Books and I can’t begin to thank them for giving me the opportunity to read this emotionally charged book. From the description of the book and comparisons to 13 Reasons Why and Girl, Interrupted (both of which are stories that I thoroughly enjoyed), I couldn’t help but be intrigued and slightly skeptical about this new young adult story by a début author. Luckily, I need not have been so skeptical as the book was everything I could have hoped for and so much more.

This was a book that I found hard to put down as I recognized that the story was not only tragic and heartbreaking, but beautifully written and one that needed to be told. Although Charlie is a very flawed character and there were times that I wanted to reach out and shake her while yelling “What the hell do you think you’re doing?!?”; I couldn’t help but feel empathy for Charlie, a young woman who had been without any kind of affection for so long that it was the physical pain she brought on herself that allowed her a way to cope with her feelings of worthlessness.

Girl in Pieces is a human story that tells of the darker side of humanity, the story that many in society do not want to acknowledge exists or is even possible. It serves as a harsh reminder that there are teens in this world who are dealing with very real pain who believe that they have nowhere to turn other than to harm themselves in some physical way. In the publisher’s letter to me, they said that Girl in Pieces is “a haunting, beautiful, and necessary book that will stay with you long after you’ve read the last page.” I have to say that I agree with the publisher, I have already recommended it to my book club (a group of women where ages range from 22-80s) as well as other friends. It’s a book that I have yet to stop thinking about, despite having finished it five days ago. The story is raw and emotional and will definitely remain with me for a long time to come.

Girl in Pieces will be published in the United States on August 30, 2016.

 

“Girl Against the Universe” Book Review


Author: Paula Stokes

Type: Young Adult

Rating: 🌸🌸🌸🌸🌸 out of 🌸🌸🌸🌸🌸

Synopsis:

Some people seem to have all the luck. They’re the ones who win sporting competitions with what looks to be no effort, always ace the test, receive two items out of the vending machine for the price of one, and find money lying on the side of the street. The average person has neither a high amount of good or bad luck, rather life that goes along as it’s going to. Then there’s Maguire, the protagonist of Paula Stokes’ newest young adult novel, Girl Against the Universe. Maguire is the poster child for bad luck for bad luck seems to follow her everywhere she goes like a faithful dog, despite all the good luck charms she buys and rituals she follows.

Maguire traces the start of her bad luck back to when she was a young girl and the sole survivor of a car crash that took the lives of her father, brother and uncle; a car accident which she walked away from with barely a scratch. Since the car crash, Maguire has managed to escape: food poisoning at a slumber party, a roller coaster going off its tracks and injuring the other riders and her neighbors house catching on fire. Having escaped all of these events with little to no damage to herself, Maguire has come to the conclusion that she is bad luck and needs to do all she can to limit other people’s exposure to herself.

With the start of the new school year, at a new school, Maguire finds herself trying to overcome her fears and experience more in life with the help of newfound friends, especially the ever stubborn Jordy who is convinced that he can help Maguire break her unlucky streak.

Thoughts:

From the moment I receive an email with tracking information for the shipment of my Uppercase Box, it’s all I can do not to check the tracking of the box every hour. Having seen that my book subscription had been delivered to the mailbox one afternoon in May, I immediately jumped up and headed out the door to retrieve my package so as to discover what that month’s book would be. Having torn open the package and retrieved the book, I proceeded to read the description before even looking at the other items included with the book. As I read the book jacket, I was immediately intrigued and excited to read this book for I recognized that it was not only a unique story but that it would make one think about the different ways humans find to cope after tragedy.

Unlike Maguire, I have never been the sole survivor of a car accident, been in a roller coaster crash, attended a slumber party where everyone but me got food poisoning and I’ve never had my neighbors house catch on fire. I have however been in a restaurant eating lunch when there was a gas leak and the building exploded with myself and others still inside. Like Maguire, I walked out of the building physically unharmed, while others who had been in the restaurant did experience injuries and have to be taken to the hospital. Reading of Maguire’s experiences and the resulting survivor’s guilt and anxiety in public places which resulted, I found that I was able to empathize and even relate to many of the feelings Maguire was dealing with. It was because of similar shared feelings following a tragedy that I enjoyed the book as much as I did, even going so far as to read the book cover to cover in one sitting.

Just like attending therapy for myself following my own experience helped me to learn to cope with and deal with what I lived through, Paula Stokes’ book also helped with my ever continuing healing process. It helped to remind me that I will never forget what it was like to be in that situation and to think back on the what ifs; to have moments of anxiety when I experience something that reminds me of the sights, sounds or smells of the explosion; and that to still dream about and occasionally have flashbacks to that day are normal and part of the healing process. Girl Against the Universe reinforced that despite the horrific memories that with the help of family and friends, I can continue to not only move forward, but that I don’t have to fear that anytime I leave the house I’m going to have a similar experience. It’s okay for me to eat in restaurants, it’s okay for me to be in public places, and not every work crew I see is going to mistakenly cut the gas line and cause an explosion.

 

“Scarlett (A Creepy Hollow Story)” Review


Author: Rachel Morgan

Type: Young Adult, Fantasy, Short Story

Rating: 🌸🌸🌸🌸🌸 out of 🌸🌸🌸🌸🌸

Synopsis:

Scarlett tells the story of sixteen-year-old Beth, a young girl who is living a rather ordinary and somewhat mundane life. Beth finds herself exhilarated to celebrate her one year anniversary with her boyfriend Jack, with a new dress and feeling more beautiful than she ever has before, Beth knows that tonight will be the perfect night spent with her boyfriend whom she loves. Unfortunately for Beth, things do not go as she had planned. After almost killing her boyfriend, Beth flees to the fae realm to track down her siren mother in hopes that her mother will be able to help her control her newly awakened siren powers.

Sadly, Beth finds herself cast out by her mother as it turns out her powers are different from a true siren’s power and as a result uncontrollable. Afraid of her new powers and of having harmed her boyfriend, Beth finds herself in the Dark North where she takes up residence with a group of witches who claim to be able to help her not only gain control of her powers, but to also learn the full extent of the power within her and how to wield the.

Assuming the name of Scarlett, Beth learns that not only is she powerful and deadly beyond anyone’s imaginings, but of a world that she never knew existed and of her place within that realm.

Thoughts:

When Rachel Morgan announced at the beginning of the month that she had written a companion story about her beautiful and unique siren character, Scarlett, I immediately bought and downloaded it as soon as it was available. The Creepy Hollow Series quickly became a favorite series for me from the moment I read The Faerie Guardian, and I was beyond happy to finally get to learn more about Scarlett, a character who was first introduced in the first book and makes appearances throughout the series in different contexts.

I have always found Scarlett to be a complex and hard to crack character, whom I never believed to be truly evil. It was nice to read of Scarlett and to have an insight into who she really is, as she is definitely one of the more mysterious characters within the books. Reading this makes me want to go back and read the series all over again from the beginning as I believe I would view Scarlett with new eyes now that I know more of where she came from.

Rachel Morgan has done a wonderful job of continuing the expansion of her storyline with books that are not only beautifully written, but that are fully engrossing and hard to set down until the last page has been read. This was definitely a welcome read to help tide me over until A Faerie’s Curse, the sixth book in the series is released next month.