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42. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: A Novel by Rachel Joyce
What a gorgeous book about aging, ageless love, and the failure to age. There were a few twists I didn’t see coming, but Harold Fry is an amazingly lovable character. The issues, grief and marriage he deals with are real; the journey he embarks on in his heart touching. I really loved this book.
41. She’s Still There: Rescuing the Girl in You by Chrystal Evans Hurst
Verdict: Either way
I enjoyed this very much- I wouldn’t say I was moved or inspired personally but then I am always doing this work . I picked up this book because I know how important it is to work on yourself, to understand who you are and what you want.
I really loved her honesty, asking the brutal questions that we need to hear and shouldn’t be spared from: how do we spend our time? How do we deal with our choices? How do we make change instead of just speak about it? Very easy, casual writing style.
40. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
Could millions of Americans have written this book? Well, yes, but they didn’t. We have this one. And it is needed. This is such a useful addition to policy and political discourse as we look at where America is today. There is an entire demographic that votes and speaks a certain way but to many other Americans they aren’t understood. America wants to fix the addictions, broken homes and poverty with public policy but we go in blind. Vance gives a real voice and much insight into the lives of the poor, working-class whites. The book does a wonderful job of finding a balance between being a memoir and being a policy discussion, which makes it imminently readable. Unfortunately, the conclusions he makes would be best shared with the folks he talks of back home, ones I hope do read it but, based on his description, probably aren’t. Either way, I devoured this book and was so glad it was so well-shared.
39. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
I agree with most other reviewers- Duckworth was way too much in this book with her “humble brags.” But if you look around that, the book was a really interesting study. I particularly liked her argument for parenting kids with grit- that kids in extracurricular activities trend towards more perseverance. All in all, it did make me assess myself and my own grit!
38. Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West by Stephen E. Ambrose
A must-read. I didn’t realize how little I knew about this time in American history, and how much it mattered. This book was not only educational in facts, but also in psychological analysis and sociological studies. It kept moving and was extremely exciting. What a wonderful book!
37. Theft by Finding: Diaries: Volume One by David Sedaris
Despite being a Sedaris fan (or so I thought) I just couldn’t make it. Too disjointed with a focus on irrelevant minutae (and drugs) for me.
36. Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Verdict: Read if you want easy, escapist YA
Well who would have thought that a cyborg romantic thriller based on a fairytale could be so captivating ? Fun read. Will I continue the series? to be determined – after all, this is a cyborg romantic thriller based on a fairytale so it’s a little hard to swallow at times. But all in: this was certainly entertaining.
35. The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America, from Key West to the Arctic Ocean by Philip Caputo
What a fabulous book- the premise is wildly simple yet fascinating. The book blends all of my favorite things: the best quality writing, adventure, history, travel, interviews with interesting “characters”. I am so glad I read this.
34. A Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes
Powerful book- uncomfortable moments about white fear and the role of supremacy that are worth discussing and confronting. Sometimes the conceit felt forced but overall something to study.
33. The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis–and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance by Ben Sasse
Even though I am on the other side of the aisle from Sasse, I still thoroughly enjoyed this book. I found that it emphasized, or at least gave concrete examples and (I use this lightly) “theory” for why I parent the way I do. Are there things that are problematic? Yes. But it is still worth the challenge, especially as we think about the road America’s future is on.
For a more in-depth thoughts on this, visit my full review on The Vanishing American Adult.
32. I’ll Never Be French (no matter what I do): Living in a Small Village in Brittany by Mark Greenside
I always love a good travel book, but I didn’t really like the author. And when the book is autobiographical, that hurts.
31. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
What a surprisingly wonderful book! It started slow and the characters started to irritate me, but just when they did, the new person moved in and it all took off. It was no longer a veiled commentary on the bourgeoisie looking down their noses to miss things. And the ending was perfect: how else could it have ended?!
30. The Sun Is Also a Star (Yoon, Nicola) by Nicola Yoon
I didn’t have the love affair with this book like other people seem to have – I suppose I am more like Natasha then. But it also is a YA book. NOT a sweeping commentary on love at first sight for an adult age. This is for readers who are not yet pessimistic about love. It is about a start, about how you can feel all those things in one moment for one person…during the tender teenage years. It was fun to try to recall those feelings.
What was particularly unique about this book, though, were the creative ways stories and perspectives were tied together. At times it all felt a little too packaged and neat, and disjointed, it was a neat literary approach. One day affected not only the two main characters, but so many others. The ripple effect.
29. Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World by Bob Goff
An easy but thoroughly inspirational read about how to live a life more connected – not just with God’s purpose, but also with other human beings. I crave more.
28. ONE YEAR OFF: Leaving It All Behind for A Round-the-World Journey with Our Children by David Elloit Cohen
What was even more enjoyable than these snapshots of their journey, the challenge to look at my own life and hesitations in traveling with young children? Seeing people travel before the Internet and smartphones! In all seriousness, I really loved this book. Yes, it is told through his emails, but I found that added to some charm. He wasn’t trying to be all-inclusive (which would have been long and dry). He wasn’t trying to share his agenda with us. He was trying to give us insight into moments of tremendous growth, trial and and joy that occurred during their time of experimentation with a different life. And that’s what the best travel writing is really about: not the place itself but how the place changes us.
27. The Buddha in the Attic (Pen/Faulkner Award – Fiction) by Julie Otsuka
But after awhile, it fell flat. I found myself actually wanting to be connected more to a particular person, a particular story, so I could FEEL it instead of study it.
26. Every Day by David Levithan
Just when you start to get jaded that there is nothing new to be written, that it is all just the same remake of a WWII romance novel, a book like this comes along. It was wildly fun and hard to describe the true point of the book (love? How we define self? Family? Where does the body begin and the mind take over – which controls which? Can humans be saved from themselves? What is our responsibility towards other humans? How much are we the products of our environment?) which makes it genius. I particularly appreciated how nuanced the author was with his approach to tough topics, like addiction and suicide. These are issues that teens deal with and they are real, and they were treated with reality yet gentleness. And sure, the love plot was a little unbelievable, but teenage love IS. If you are looking for a book based in reality, this is not the one, move along. But if you want a book that has a plot so different than other pop books today, go for it. Also, I thought the ending was perfect. This book was a wonderful breath of fresh air.
25. Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation by Kyo Maclear
One of the best books I have read in a long time. It felt fresh while still grappling with age old questions. Humanity questions. It isn’t a story, but it is an amazing narrative capturing a lot of thoughts, feelings and conflicts in modern life. The perfect tone; perfect balance.
24. Girl at War: A Novel by Sara Novic
I picked this book up on a whim and devoured it. It is such a fresh novel in today’s bestseller market. It is about war, yes, but about one Americans know little about. And while the book is real and open, it is eye-opening while still offering hope. I loved the main character and I thought the ending was perfect.
23. The Kitchen House: A Novel by Kathleen Grissom
Well written but it was as though she took every single tragedy she could think of and threw it all into the pot – which not only made it very depressing but also hard to figure out which tugged heartstrings to follow.
22. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
I have a thing for books that celebrate reading and the way that life can change when you open a book. This sweet love story- not just with a man but with an entire town- that revolves around a woman who loves the written word is a wonderful, feel-good, escapist read.
21. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
My second try and I made it through. I thought it could have ended at the part where she decides whether or not to go back. But I didn’t like her- and certainly didn’t feel attached to her – so I found myself drifting out of the book. I love a romantic fantasy as much as the next…at least, I thought I did… But I am clearly in the minority so perhaps it’s just me. Overall, the idea is neat but I found myself scoffing at parts, and confused by her, and irritated by her, and then losing interest, then wanting it to be done. Tell me, America, what I missed!
20. Heart of Darkness (AmazonClassics Edition) by Joseph Conrad
A must read. While dark and dense, riveting and driving. Couldn’t put it down – every much a thriller even with bigger vocabulary and literary tricks than what we are used to consuming today.
19. The Girl with the Lower Back Tattooby Amy Schumer
Verdict: Read (or listen) without little ears around
I really loved this. I was surprised at how vulnerable and open it was, especially compared to Poehler’s and Fey’s books which held almost nothing personal. Schumer shares a lot of her mistakes and embarrassment, her imperfect family, and I found I related to a lot. I could have done without vulgarity- it’s just not my thing- so that was irritating. But it was worth wading through things like “note to my vagina” to get to the good stuff. I cried and laughed reading this book, it was a pleasant surprise.
18. Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg
I love Sandberg and admire her strength, but for some reason this book felt like it just wasn’t enough and a trifle confused. Is this personal story and memoir? Social commentary and call for change? Deep analysis on resilience? It seemed to do a little of everything without doing any one extremely well. That said, the three Ps were so helpful. I am glad I learned that. And while I am glad I read this, it was quite depressing for me, to be reminded constantly of all the senseless tragedy the world has.
17. Gift from the Sea: 50th-Anniversary Edition by Anne Morrow Linbergh
Eerily insightful for today’s modern woman and society despite its publish date. A worthwhile read, but not life changing.
16. Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls (and Everything in Between) by Lauren Graham
Verdict: Read if you like her otherwise skip
This was a fun book to listen to and, honestly, it was because it was fun having Lorelai talk to me for so long. Because that’s who Graham is: Lorelai. Her affectations, humor, metaphors, pop culture references…they are the same person.
You have to be a Gilmore Fan to enjoy this, I believe. And even I could have done without the chapter where she walks us through each season of GG (the original) discussing fashions and what she loved. But I did enjoy hearing her discuss the reboot.
Overall, what impressed me the most was Graham’s work ethic and how much time and scrappiness went into her becoming an actor. I think we forget that when we look at Hollywood. It was a fresh reminder that she’s been successful because she has worked really, REALLY hard.
15. Dead Man Walking: The Eyewitness Account Of The Death Penalty That Sparked a National Debate by Helen Preejan
Well, yes, you will know going in what side this argues for, but you will be surprised by the complexity of the entire situation. This is a well-reasoned and intellectual look at the death penalty as taken with a massive dose of reality. This isn’t a paper or philosophical narrative. It is thoughts formed from true accounts and events. Agree with her or not, this is a book that should be read.
14. Middlemarch (Penguin Classics) by George Eliot
Timeless. A complex look at marriage and the role of women in a society far beyond what we can imagine. Long, not action-filled, yet I kept returning to it, looking forward to my time in the world.
13. Primates of Park Avenue: A Memoir by Wednesday Martin
The real travesty of this book is that a lot of these issues are somewhat universal for the stay at home mom crowd, just in lower levels, and it would have been a better book if that had been explored and blown open. Instead, I had the same feeling most r adders did that the author wasn’t at all a sympathetic character who was hard to relate to – she kept saying she was apart. But apart is someone who really cannot afford the Birken.
12. 27 Views of Wilmington: The Port City in Prose & Poetry by miscellaneous authors
As always with a compilation, some of these were stronger than others, but there was a surprising amount of exhilarating freshness and creativity in here. I liked the essays that dealt more with Wilmington and seemed less, “how can we squeeze this author in here.” But overall, a quick and enjoyable read.
11.Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
Truthfully, Noah’s comedic style doesn’t do much for me. It feels a little too self-conscious BUT this book? This raw Noah? This man who shares an amazing life story with experiences I could never begin to comprehend? So moving. I listened to Noah’s voice read this and it was remarkable. Hearing him do the characters, speak the various languages, made post-apartheid South Africa come alive. This is worth reading (or listening to) but don’t expect a laugh. At the end, I was a little weepy.
10.You Will Know Me: A Novel by Megan Abbott
Not for me. When, in the opening scene, I already found myself detesting the mother and father, I had a hunch I wouldn’t be on board. The fact that none of the characters have redeeming qualities may be true to the gymnastics world, I dunno, but it makes it hard to feel invested in anyone or want to root for them. I didn’t much care what happened to them. Plus, as a professional ballerina at the age of 13, this triggered a lot of old memories and feelings. But my parents weren’t dysfunctional and kept my head on straight by reminding me what is truly important in life…thus, we didn’t have to murder anyone. Just sayin’…
9.The Pillars of the Earth: A Novel (Kingsbridge) by Ken Follett
When a book can completely transport you, when you feel like you know the characters as real people, when you return to modern life after reading and feel dazed, that’s the magic of a good book. I couldn’t give this 5 stars because I detested some of the characters, which made it hard to read at times, and there were characters whose stories never finished. (What is the deal with Martha, please tell me Walter dies?) It took me a long time to get around to reading this and it was intimidating to start, but oh so worth it. It completely ruined my Goodreads reading challenge this year (I feel like this should count as 3 books towards that) but so glad I read it.
8. I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafazi
7. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Lifeby Mark Manson
The language was such a publicity stunt and totally not needed – it actually distracted from the amazing message delivered. We rage against the attitude of entitlement. Life is hard, and sometimes just acknowledging it permits us to move forward. When we pretend that everything is glorious and a perfect Facebook post, that is when we compete and are limited in life in by our own mind. Happiness isn’t far away. And, by the way. this isn’t about not giving a f*ck – poorly named! It is about how to care and what to care about.
6. Confronting the Controversies: A Christian Responds to the Tough Issuesby Adam Hamilton
A gentle read given the whopper topics dealt with. Mingling compassion with Biblical teaching, sprinkling in relevant political issues, the book is a great starting point for Christians to figure out what they believe and why. While the book does guide the read to what Hamilton feels is the ultimate Christian response, it is respectful. Christians need to be thinking beings, not blindly following a leader, and this book is a great addition to any thinker’s repertoire.
5. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel by Robin Sloane
This book could have been ridiculous and an utter failure but it was saved by the hyper-consciousness of the narrator about how ridiculous it all was. Having the main character be the person that he was made this book work. I was intrigued throughout the reading and propelled forward, even if the Harry Potter-like portions were a little hard to get on board with.
4. Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott
I just adore her writing. While there were some repeated essays in here, and it hardly had a cohesive theme, it was still a wonderful read.
3. The Dream Lover: A Novel by Elizabeth Berg
2. The Summer Before the War: A Novel by Helen Simonson
I was quite taken with the book. If you love Downton Abbey, sweeping historical snapshots of England, with a focus on aristocracy, this is for you. I appreciated that many different topics from the time were touched without laboring on one issue in particular (because that’s how society is, after all). I also, surprisingly, didn’t mind the over-dramatic death scene. It seemed appropriate.
Overall, the book did a great job of evoking a time, place and era, with characters who simultaneously felt real yet indicative of certain class representations.
1. Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution by Michelle Moran