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: Sparrow Hill Road

Sparrow Hill Road, Seanan McGuire

Published May 6th 2014 by DAW

Paperback, 312 pages

Source: Purchased

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Rose Marshall died in 1952 in Buckley Township, Michigan, run off the road by a man named Bobby Cross—a man who had sold his soul to live forever, and intended to use her death to pay the price of his immortality. Trouble was, he didn’t ask Rose what she thought of the idea.

It’s been more than sixty years since that night, and she’s still sixteen, and she’s still running.

They have names for her all over the country: the Girl in the Diner. The Phantom Prom Date. The Girl in the Green Silk Gown. Mostly she just goes by “Rose,” a hitchhiking ghost girl with her thumb out and her eyes fixed on the horizon, trying to outrace a man who never sleeps, never stops, and never gives up on the idea of claiming what’s his. She’s the angel of the overpass, she’s the darling of the truck stops, and she’s going to figure out a way to win her freedom. After all, it’s not like it can kill her.

You know how sometimes you get so excited when one of your autobuy authors has a new book that you preorder it and wait and wait and wait and then you’re so excited you think you’ve already read it?  Just me? I danced in my chair when I got my hands on an ARC of Seanan McGuire’s The Girl in the Green Silk Gown and decided to “reread” Sparrow Hill Road in anticipation.  Imagine my surprise when I realized I was reading a brand new book!  So… on to Rose’s story.

Rose Marshall is a beloved ghost aunt to the Price family in McGuire’s Incryptid series – one of my favorites – I know a ghost aunt sounds odd but just read them!  When we meet Rose she’s been dead much longer than she’s been alive and she has tons of stories to tell.  She rides the roads as a hitchhiking ghost preventing accidents when she can and when she can’t she tries to guide other souls home.

I should have known McGuire would write ghost stories that touch my heart rather than scare me.  This is the author that got me obsessed with zombies (just her zombies – and just read Feed if you haven’t!).  Rose tells her story going back and forth in time until we find out what happened on Sparrow Hill Road the night she died and why Bobby Cross still won’t let her be – that’s the part of this ghost story that gave me chills.   We learn ghosts can make families of choice and that being dead doesn’t stop hurt and regrets. Listen to Rose’s stories – maybe you’ve seen her on the road in her green silk gown.  

You can’t kill what’s already dead.

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: When Katie Met Cassidy

When Katie Met Cassidy, Camille Perry

Published June 19th 2018 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Hardcover, 272 pages
Source: ARC at 2018 PLA meeting
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Katie Daniels is a perfection-seeking 28-year-old lawyer living the New York dream. She’s engaged to charming art curator Paul Michael, has successfully made her way up the ladder at a multinational law firm and has a hold on apartments in Soho and the West Village. Suffice it to say, she has come a long way from her Kentucky upbringing.

But the rug is swept from under Katie when she is suddenly dumped by her fiance, Paul Michael, leaving her devastated and completely lost. On a whim, she agrees to have a drink with Cassidy Price-a self-assured, sexually promiscuous woman she meets at work. The two form a newfound friendship, which soon brings into question everything Katie thought she knew about sex—and love.

When Katie Met Cassidy is a classic story of girl meets boy, boy breaks her heart and girl meets… girl.  This was not my typical romance at all and I loved it.  I loved the sparks between Katie and Cassidy and the flirting.  I also loved the questioning and challenging of relationship boundaries and terms.  Katie hadn’t thought about another woman until she meets Cassidy and then she had to rethink everything.  I enjoyed going back and forth between Katie’s doubts and Cassidy’s surety – they were a fantastic pair.  I honestly wasn’t sure how this book was going to end which was extremely refreshing.  
I thought this was a fun and fast read – I was done in a day – but it could have been longer.  More depth into Cassidy’s family and her friendships wouldn’t have hurt at all  It comes through loud and clear that she’s a player but there clearly could have been much more to her.   For light summer though read this was just right and I will definitely make an effort to pick up Perri’s The Assistants now.  
Thank you GP Putnam for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion! 

All Abuzz over Buzz: A Stimulating History of the Sex Toy

Buzz: A Stimulating History of the Sex Toy; Hallie Lieberman

Published November 7th 2017 by Pegasus Books
Hardcover, 288 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
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Once only whispered about in clandestine corners, vibrators have become just another accessory for the suburban soccer mom, showing up in all manner of pop culture, from sitcoms to talk shows to the pages of glossy women’s magazines. But how did these once-taboo toys become so socially acceptable? The journey of the devices to the cultural mainstream is a surprisingly stimulating one.

In Buzz, Hallie Lieberman—who holds the world’s first PhD in the history of sex toys—starts at the beginning, tracing the tale from lubricant in Ancient Greece to the very first condom in 1560 to advertisements touting devices as medical equipment in 19th-century magazines. She looks in particular from the period of major change from the 1950s through the present, when sex toys evolved from symbols of female emancipation to tools in the fight against HIV/AIDS to consumerist marital aids to today’s mainstays of pop culture. The story is populated with a cast of vivid and fascinating characters including Dell Williams, founder of the first feminist sex toy store, Eve’s Garden; Betty Dodson, who pioneered “Bodysex” workshops in the 1960s to help women discover vibrators and ran Good Vibrations, a sex toy store and vibrator museum; and Gosnell Duncan, a paraplegic engineer who invented the silicone dildo and lobbied Dodson and Williams to sell them in their stores. And these personal dramas are all set against a backdrop of changing American attitudes toward sexuality, feminism, LGBTQ issues, and more.

What bravery must Hallie Lieberman have to have said “I’m going to be the first person to pursue my doctorate in the history of the sex toy.”  I can’t imagine walking into a professor’s office to say that!  Bravo to her.

I know the personal is political but wow does Buzz get personal. The history of America’s sex toy industry is as fascinating as you might imagine, ranging from a man pursued by the Federal government under RICO to a bisexual woman who went from hosting masturbation workshops to opening one of the first feminist sex shops.  Feminism is everywhere in Buzz, but also advocacy for the sexual experiences of the disabled and the rights of gay couples.     

Lieberman also takes the story of America’s sex toy interest from garage manufacturing to sales at Macy’s.  Seriously, this book covers all kinds of ground!  I definitely recommend this one when you want a non-fiction read that doesn’t get too serious, but still covers surprising depth.  Even if I was giggling to myself at that cover every time I pulled Buzz out on my train rides.

 

Review: The English Wife

The English Wife, Lauren Willig

Published January 9th 2018 by St. Martin’s Press

Hardcover, 376 pages

Source: Goodreads giveaway

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Annabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil live a charmed life: he’s the scion of an old Knickerbocker family, she grew up in a Tudor manor in England, they had a whirlwind romance in London, they have three year old twins on whom they dote, and he’s recreated her family home on the banks of the Hudson and renamed it Illyria. Yes, there are rumors that she’s having an affair with the architect, but rumors are rumors and people will gossip. But then Bayard is found dead with a knife in his chest on the night of their Twelfth Night Ball, Annabelle goes missing, presumed drowned, and the papers go mad. Bay’s sister, Janie, forms an unlikely alliance with a reporter to uncover the truth, convinced that Bay would never have killed his wife, that it must be a third party, but the more she learns about her brother and his wife, the more everything she thought she knew about them starts to unravel. Who were her brother and his wife, really? And why did her brother die with the name George on his lips?

Holly and I have made no secrets that we’re Lauren Willig fangirls.   Though I do think the Pink Carnation series ended at just the right time I have missed Willig’s flirtatious banter and witty women.  The English Wife started a bit slow  but in the end I found it was just the right book at the right time for me. The romance and flirting – with just enough cheesiness was pure Willig and despite the sad mystery this book left me with a smile on my face.  

We have a murder, a missing wife, the possibility of a blatant affair (or more than one), and the drama of old New England money.  I loved the tension with the muckraking press and the overbearing mother who thought her class should rule the day.  And oh my – the freaking ending – I had definite theories as I read as to what could have happened to Annabelle and Bay and let me just say I did not expect what the ending was at all.  

Now I will go back to a Pink Carnation re-read while I wait to see what Lauren Willig writes next!

Thank you St. Martin’s Press for this advance copy!

Review: Young Jane Young

Young Jane Young, Gabrielle Zevin

Published August 22nd 2017 by Algonquin Books

Hardcover, 294 pages

Source: ARC from ALA Annual Meeting

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Young Jane Young‘s heroine is Aviva Grossman, an ambitious Congressional intern in Florida who makes the life-changing mistake of having an affair with her boss‑‑who is beloved, admired, successful, and very married‑‑and blogging about it. When the affair comes to light, the Congressman doesn’t take the fall, but Aviva does, and her life is over before it hardly begins. She becomes a late‑night talk show punchline; she is slut‑shamed, labeled as fat and ugly, and considered a blight on politics in general.

How does one go on after this? In Aviva’s case, she sees no way out but to change her name and move to a remote town in Maine. She tries to start over as a wedding planner, to be smarter about her life, and to raise her daughter to be strong and confident. But when, at the urging of others, she decides to run for public office herself, that long‑ago mistake trails her via the Internet like a scarlet A. For in our age, Google guarantees that the past is never, ever, truly past, that everything you’ve done will live on for everyone to know about for all eternity. And it’s only a matter of time until Aviva/Jane’s daughter, Ruby, finds out who her mother was, and is, and must decide whether she can still respect her.

Gabrielle Zevin’s Storied Life of AJ Fikry was one my favorites that I’ve read in the last several years so I was very excited to get to Young Jane Young.  What a completely different book! If you were not hiding under a rock during the Clinton years then Aviva’s story will sound remarkably familiar to the Monica Lewinsky happenings.  Aviva’s story is told in alternating perspectives from her own side of things as well as that of her mother, her daughter, and the wife of the cheating Congressman. Everyone’s life is rocked by the Congressman’s inability to keep his pants on, yet life just goes on for him. Aviva’s life can’t go on as it was thanks to the media coverage and so she changes it.  She does what she has to do so that she can start to live again – becoming Jane Young. 

Jane/Aviva’s part of the book is told in a kind of Choose Your Own Adventure format which I loved.  Aviva knows as she’s diarying her life that she isn’t making great choices – we all sometimes know that though right?  I appreciated that Zevin made Aviva smart enough that she had all her thoughts laid out and though she makes some truly bad choices she finds a way past them.  I remember reading that Sarah at Sarah’s Book Shelves couldn’t get past the style so it wasn’t for everyone, but I thought it was a clever way to get inside Aviva’s head and decision making.  I enjoyed following the repercussions of the affair through the other characters and over time.  

Aviva’s story didn’t move me to tears like AJ Fikry but instead had me laughing at some of the snark.  Definitely still a great read. Now I really have to get on to Gabrielle Zevin’s backlist of books.

Thank you Algonquin Books for this advance copy in exchange for a long overdue review! 

Review: Sourdough

Sourdough, Robin Sloan

Published September 5th 2017 by MCD Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Hardcover, 262 pages

Source: Library!

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Lois Clary, a software engineer at a San Francisco robotics company, codes all day and collapses at night. When her favourite sandwich shop closes up, the owners leave her with the starter for their mouthwatering sourdough bread.
Lois becomes the unlikely hero tasked to care for it, bake with it and keep this needy colony of microorganisms alive.  Soon she is baking loaves daily and taking them to the farmer’s market, where an exclusive close-knit club runs the show.
When Lois discovers another, more secret market, aiming to fuse food and technology, a whole other world opens up. But who are these people, exactly?
 

So I have a new love in my life.  A few months ago off a neighborhood Facebook page I claimed a container of sourdough starter.  His name is Bruce – Bruce Rauner to be specific thanks to my 7 year-old.  I’m obsessed.  Like Lois in the book I didn’t know quite what to expect of my starter but have learned it is like having a pet.  A stinky yet delicious pet full of possibilities.  I haven’t been brave enough to actually bake a loaf of bread but I’m having so much fun baking other things with Bruce.

So you see why I HAD to read Sourdough when I read in a review that this book is about a sourdough starter that wants to take over the world.  Lois lives a lonely existence aside from a nightly delivery of amazing spicy soup and sourdough.  When the brothers cooking the food move on, they gift Lois with some sourdough starter and instructions to bake her own bread.  She just starts baking!  As someone who has watched a number of how to bake sourdough videos on YouTube and started obsessively listening to baking podcasts this threw me.  But she bakes her own magical sourdough and life changes dramatically from there.   

This book was delightfully quirky and just what I needed.  Now I have to finally pick-up Sloan’s other book, Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Book Shop and work-up the nerve to bake a loaf of bread.  Any bread bakers want to advise me?

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!