Holly and Amanda’s Best Reads of 2018

Happy New Year!  It’s not too late to tell you our best reads of last year is it?  If it is, its Amanda’s fault.

Holly

Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter: I don’t know why I waited so long to read this.  Actually, I do.  The description as “set in a remote Italian coastal town in 1962” made me think it would be a snoozefest.  That’s because it reminded me of the time I tried to listen to “Under the Tuscan Sun” on audio on a long drive.  Anyway, this book was no snoozer – it was smart and funny and lovely.

Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel: You guys 99% of the world’s population dies in a pandemic, and the wold that’s left is haunting.   I don’t think I have enough chill to live there.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest, J. Ryan Stradal: All I want to do is go to an exclusive dinner party that ends with Pat Prager’s Peanut Butter Bars.  Or maybe I should host one.

The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas: Read.this.book.  And  then examine your life.  I highly recommend the audio.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo: I threw away most of my socks because they were not bringing me joy.  Recently this became a problem because it got cold out, so I have been searching the internet for all the most joy-inducing socks.  I’m pretty sure those come from Smartwool (Amanda votes they come from Stance). 

Amanda  – Yes I cheated and made a few categories.  It was a good reading year!  I tried to read as few white dudes as possible and loved that.  I will definitely continue that goal for 2019.

Half a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  She’s brilliant.  Read everything this woman writes.  

Night and Silence, Seanan McGuire.  Have I mentioned I’m obsessed with Seanan’s books?  I love October Daye (and all her other series) but these books just get better and better.   This urban fantasy series makes me laugh and cry and I could reread them all at any time. I just joined her Patreon and I can’t wait to read all the short stories too!

A Dangerous Crossing, Ausma Zehana Khan – heart wrenching but a great mystery.  Maddening when you think about the tragedies in Syria and immigration in general.   I loved the growth of the characters over this series.  Honorable mention: The Dry, Jane Harper -I’m enjoying this series and eager for #3.

Whiskey and Ribbons, Leesa Cross-Smith.  This story of a woman who is widowed while pregnant is one I can’t stop thinking about.  This gave me a lot to consider about grief and motherhood, but was also just a great story.

The Dinner List, Rebecca Serle.  Another book about love and loss that stayed with me all year (link to my review.

YA: Sadie, Courtney Summers – A brutal mystery about the things that can happen to young women (link to my review).   Everywhere You Want to Be, Christina June – Read this retelling of Little Red Riding Hood so you can feel summer in January! Get some red sunglasses and let Tilly dance off with your heart. (I need to give a copy of this way soon)Far From the Tree, Robin Benway – This book about siblings and adoption was fantastic.  Made me cry and I loved just about every word.

Romance: A Princess in Theory, Alyssa Cole- Long lost princesses are my jam and I don’t even feel a bit of shame.  Alyssa Cole was one of my best finds of the year.  Read all her kissing books! The Wedding Date, Jasmine Guillory – This romance kicks off with a stopped elevator  and a fake date – apparently fake dates are also my jam (See The Kiss Quotient as well) The Proposal was also delightful and I can’t wait for her next book.

Nonfiction: So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo – Things have to get better.  Just read this. From the Corner of the Oval, Beck Dorey-Stein – – This was a such a happy read even if it made me miss Obama terribly.  I would never have thought being a White House stenographer brought along so much personal drama.

Now to kick off 2019 by finishing my 2018 library books including: Daughters of the Winter Queen, Of Blood and Bone, My Sister the Serial Killer and For  Muse of Fire before I get all the fines.  I can ignore my children to read right?  Then I am going to dive into my first ARC of the year, The Ruin of Kings– a long last prince and dragons sounds like just the thing for January.

Review: The Dinner List

The Dinner List, Rebecca Searle

Hardcover, 288 pages

Expected publication: September 11th 2018 by Flatiron Books

Source: ARC from Shelf Awareness

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When Sabrina Nielsen arrives at her thirtieth birthday dinner she finds at the table not just her best friend, but also her favorite professor from college, her father, her ex-fiance, Tobias, and Audrey Hepburn.

At one point or another, we’ve all been asked to name five people, living or dead, with whom we’d like to have dinner. Why do we choose the people we do? And what if that dinner was to actually happen? These are the questions Sabrina contends with in Rebecca Serle’s utterly captivating novel, The Dinner List, a story imbued with the same delightful magical realism as Sliding Doors, and The Rosie Project.

As the appetizers are served, wine poured, and dinner table conversation begins, it becomes clear that there’s a reason these six people have been gathered together, and as Rebecca Serle masterfully traces Sabrina’s love affair with Tobias and her coming of age in New York City, The Dinner List grapples with the definition of romance, the expectations of love, and how we navigate our way through it to happiness. Oh, and of course, wisdom from Audrey Hepburn.

Who among us would pass up dinner with Audrey Hepburn?  I know I could not miss that chance, so I was ready for this book the minute I read the description.  I was expecting a fluffier more “chick lit” book than this really was.  I found The Dinner List to be a book about love and loss, about growing up and friendship, and about what we learn to love from our parents.  I loved this book so much.  I laughed, I cried – I actually ignored my kid while I was riding the train with her so I could read it – something that has never happened.

Even though the night was of course magical – hello Audrey – it didn’t have so much whimsy as magical realism can.  Not like reading Sarah Addison Allen for example.  If magical realism isn’t your jam I wouldn’t let that steer you away.  We move back and forth from the dinner party to Sabrina’s time with each guest.  We see her falling in love, realizing she’s an adult and learning to say goodbye.  I really did cry when the party ended and this will be a book I read again.

Listing the guests at my fantasy dinner party is a favorite game of mine.  My husband and I fight about who would be worth the invitation or not. As of right now my fantasy dinner party guests are: Lucrezia Borgia, Madeleine Albright, Neil Gaiman and my dad. Fascinating conversation all around I am sure! I’d bring my husband as an honorable mention. Tell me who you’d invite to your party?

Thank you Shelf Awareness and Flatiron Books for this advanced copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

 

Review: Sadie

Sadie, Courtney Summers

Publication: September 4th 2018 by Wednesday Books
Hardcover, 320 pages
Source: E-ARC from NetGalley
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Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meagre clues to find him.

When West McCray—a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America—overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

Whenever I look at a Courtney Summers book I think why haven’t I read all of her books yet?  Then I remember how All the Rage basically gutted me and how I haven’t been ready to go through that again. And now comes Sadie.  Sadie is the kind of girl that goes missing all the time sadly.  Not enough of us care when it happens.  Sadie disappears after her younger sister’s violent murder, and a podcast host is convinced by their surrogate grandmother to try to find her.  I struggle with reading books about dead girls because sometimes the real world is sad enough and because I don’t want to think about a world that might hurt my own girls.  Or my sister!  But this was well worth my reading fears because Sadie is fierce and brave and I loved her.   I started slowly but once I got into Sadie’s hunt for her sister’s killer I could not put this book down.

Summers makes you feel Sadie’s pain and her anger.   You also worry for her and I physically cringed away from my kindle while reading at the truths I feared would come out.  I thought the change from podcast narration to Sadie’s point of view was a really cool way to tell the story and unravel her mystery.  I love that Macmillan actually put out a podcast – The Girls – to accompany the book.  I am terrible at podcasts but I am going to have to listen to this even knowing how it ends.  The ending wasn’t what I wanted it to be- but it was a perfect ending.  I almost wish I had started listening first.  I’m afraid to say too much and give something away so I’ll just say I loved Sadie and you should read it.

I’ll just be collecting the rest of Courtney Summers’ books to read when I’m feeling brave.  Any recommendations on what to try first?

#FindSadie

Thank you NetGalley and Wednesday Books for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

 

All the news is garbage – but I love my library!

I am reading the news in short snippets these days because unless it’s about Serena Williams or maybe Prince Louis’ christening it all gives me panic attacks. I’ve been reading fiction voraciously to escape (and a few nonfic too) and The Chicago Public Library is giving me everything.  Here’s a list of what I’ve been loving – other than reading Goodnight Moon on repeat.

Fiction

Non-Fiction

With Babycakes 

  • Ranger in Time series by Kate Messner – what is there not to love about a golden retriever traveling through time and space to help people in need?

What else is out there that I should be reading to avoid reality?

Review: Spy on History: Victor Dowd and the WWII Ghost Army

I’ve been reading a lot of middle grade fiction lately, maybe I’m just way too excited for my big 7 year-old to be reading with me.  When asked to look at this middle grade non-fiction book I was way too curious to pass it up.

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Spy on History: Victor Dowd and the WWII Ghost Army, Enigma Alberti

Published January 23rd 2018 by Workman Publishing Company
Hardcover, 96 pages
Source: Finished copy received from publisher

Your mission: Find Victor Dowd’s missing sketchbook. And discover one of the most unusual stories of World War II.

Meet the 603rd Camouflage Engineers, better known as the Ghost Army. This group of artists and sound engineers were trained to deceive the Germans in World War II with everything from fake tanks to loudspeakers broadcasting the sound of marching troops. And meet Victor Dowd, a real-life sergeant who with his fellow Ghost Army troops fought his way from Normandy, through France, and eventually across the Rhine.

First of all, why have I not heard of the Ghost Army?  A whole unit devoted to fooling Hitler and the Nazis with artwork, sound effects and clever camouflage – what an amazing story!  I read this almost entirely in a train ride, so less than an hour, a fast read but I was completely engrossed.  Yes, this was written for kids but my interest is piqued and I will be finding some more titles on this unit to read soon.
This book didn’t talk down to the young reader but made the Ghost Army’s story engaging by talking about Victor Dowd and his experiences as an artist being used to paint planes and trucks to trick the Nazis about the soldiers and units in place.  I haven’t looked at kids’ nonfiction since I was a kid and I wasn’t sure how it would come together.  Victor’s individual story made it compelling on an individual level I think and then makes the branching out into the rest of the Ghost Army easier for a young reader who might not be used to nonfiction.  
And then there are the spy tools.  Spy tools!  My daughter wasn’t interested in the topic – she is too young and this isn’t her thing – but even she was ready to break out the spy tools to solve the mystery of the missing sketchbook.  These were awesome!
I loved this book! I will definitely be gifting copies to some young readers in my life and sending it to my daughter’s school.  I can’t wait to pick up Enigma Alberti’s first Spy on History book, Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring -that is a topic we’ve talked about at home so I hope the kid is ready. 
Thank you so much Workman Publishing for this copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Overdue Reviews: Nevernight

I have 22 books on my Goodreads shelf that I still intend to review.  Oops.  Here’s my first try with a book that I devoured last year.  

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Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

Published August 9, 2016 by Thomas Dunne Books

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley 

In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.

Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father’s former comrades. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined.

Now, Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest flock of assassins in the entire Republic—the Red Church. If she bests her fellow students in contests of steel, poison and the subtle arts, she’ll be inducted among the Blades of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to the vengeance she desires. But a killer is loose within the Church’s halls, the bloody secrets of Mia’s past return to haunt her, and a plot to bring down the entire congregation is unfolding in the shadows she so loves.

Will she even survive to initiation, let alone have her revenge?

Let me just say Nevernight was bad ass.  I loved it so much I’m rereading it right now to get ready for the sequel.  I am not going to minimize things,  Nevernight was violent and it was vulgar but it was fabulous.  Kristoff himself sums the book up on twitter as #stabstabstab.  That’s accurate.   As I am remembering what’s coming in the book I’m cringing a bit waiting for the blood to start flowing. 

Mia is on a mission for revenge over her the deaths of her parents which takes her to assassin school out in the desert.  This is no Hogwarts – the teachers will kill the students as soon as help them in some cases.  Mia is also a darken – which brings powers she doesn’t fully understand herself – but one thing Mia can do is to manipulate shadows.  She can seemingly manufacture the dark and pull off some scary things.  She has her own shadow companion with the misleading name of Mr. Kindly.  I didn’t know I could like a cat so much!   Mr. Kindly lives off Mia’s fear which enables her to be both extra brave and extra stupid at times.  She needs to be brave while living among assassins but I did question her judgement quite a few times as well… 

So in a brief summary Nevernight has a young woman learning mad murder skills, friendships and kissing, backstabbing and gore, all in a world with three suns and fabulous new magic.  I was obsessed while reading and I loved it!  I cannot wait to see what Mia goes on to do and who she goes on to kill in the future.

I thought about trying to be clever and footnoting this – but that just seemed silly.  I’ll simply say that the footnotes made me snort laughing on a few occasions.  It seems snarky footnotes are a way to my heart – see also Jen Lancaster, Kevin Kwan.  

#stabstabstab

Thank you NetGalley and Thomas Dunne Books for this review copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Review: Sweetbitter

Sweetbitter, Stephanie Danler

Publication: May 24th 2016 by Knopf

Hardcover, 368 pages

Source: ARC gifted from a friend

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“Let’s say I was born when I came over the George Washington Bridge…”

This is how we meet unforgettable Tess, the twenty-two-year-old at the heart of this stunning first novel. Shot from a mundane, provincial past, she’s come to New York to look for a life she can’t define, except as a burning drive to become someone, to belong somewhere. After she stumbles into a coveted job at a renowned Union Square restaurant, we spend the year with her as she learns the chaotic, punishing, privileged life of a “backwaiter,” on duty and off. Her appetites—for food, wine, knowledge, and every kind of experience—are awakened. And she’s pulled into the magnetic thrall of two other servers—a handsome bartender she falls hard for, and an older woman she latches onto with an orphan’s ardor.

These two and their enigmatic connection to each other will prove to be Tess’s hardest lesson of all. Sweetbitter is a story of discovery, enchantment, and the power of what remains after disillusionment.

I think this is my favorite read of 2016 so far.  I don’t think I’m ever going to feel the same way dining out at a nice restaurant.  Tess leaves her childhood home and her life as she’s known it behind at 22 and heads to New York to find her adult path.  She almost never looks back.  She lucks into an apartment to share and a job at an unnamed restaurant in Union Square where she’s hired as a backwaiter.  The training, the hazing, the bar towels, the wine, the food, the semi-incestuous staff relationships, the management, the FOOD, the drugs.  So many things are going on in a restaurant and I had no idea!

Tess navigates new friendships and toxic relationships with the bravado and bluster every 22 year-old should have.  She’s brave and she’s thoughtless and I just loved her story.   The writing is intense and enthralling.  I loved the slips into stream of consciousness as Tess lived out her days at the restaurant.    

Once you admit you want things to taste like more or better versions of themselves – once you commit to flavor as your god – the rest follows.  I started adding salt to everything.  My tongue grew calloused, abraded, overworked.  You want the fish to taste like fish, but fish times a thousand.  Times a million.  Fish on crack.  I was lucky I never tried crack.

Read this with a glass of wine – skip the crack.  Then come talk to me about it!  I’m going to be reading this again soon and then hoping to be out at a great restaurant watching the staff.