Tuesday, January 3, 2017

*Top Reads of 2016*

It's that time of year again, the time when book bloggers everywhere hole up to compile their lists of top books they read that year. (It's past that time, I'm totally late to the game here.) I should warn you not, I'm not going to give myself a number of books to meet (I wouldn't stick to it anyway), and it's very possible that many of the books that make my list weren't even 5 star reads for me, because I'm going to base this list on books that I'm still thinking about now, even though I've moved on to new pastures.

In no particular order (because trying to do that is a pain in the butt anyway), here are my favorite reads from 2016.

The Velvet Hours by Alyson Richman

Blurb: As Paris teeters on the edge of the German occupation, a young French woman closes the door to her late grandmother’s treasure-filled apartment, unsure if she’ll ever return. 

An elusive courtesan, Marthe de Florian cultivated a life of art and beauty, casting out all recollections of her impoverished childhood in the dark alleys of Montmartre. With Europe on the brink of war, she shares her story with her granddaughter Solange Beaugiron, using her prized possessions to reveal her innermost secrets. Most striking of all are a beautiful string of pearls and a magnificent portrait of Marthe painted by the Italian artist Giovanni Boldini. As Marthe’s tale unfolds, like velvet itself, stitched with its own shadow and light, it helps to guide Solange on her own path. 

Inspired by the true account of an abandoned Parisian apartment, Alyson Richman brings to life Solange, the young woman forced to leave her fabled grandmother’s legacy behind to save all that she loved.

As a WWII era historical fiction lover, my list would not be complete without a book set during that time period, so it makes a great place to start. What really made The Velvet Hours stand out for me is that the book alternates between the build up to WWI and the build up to WWII. Also, Marthe de Florian is an incredibly interesting character. 

Read my review here.

The Bitter Side of Sweet by Tara Sullivan

Blurb: Two young boys must escape a life of slavery in modern-day Ivory Coast

Fifteen-year-old Amadou counts the things that matter. For two years what has mattered are the number of cacao pods he and his younger brother, Seydou, can chop down in a day. This number is very important. The higher the number the safer they are because the bosses won’t beat them. The higher the number the closer they are to paying off their debt and returning home to Baba and Auntie. Maybe. The problem is Amadou doesn’t know how much he and Seydou owe, and the bosses won’t tell him. The boys only wanted to make some money during the dry season to help their impoverished family. Instead they were tricked into forced labor on a plantation in the Ivory Coast; they spend day after day living on little food and harvesting beans in the hot sun—dangerous, backbreaking work. With no hope of escape, all they can do is try their best to stay alive—until Khadija comes into their lives. 

She’s the first girl who’s ever come to camp, and she’s a wild thing. She fights bravely every day, attempting escape again and again, reminding Amadou what it means to be free. But finally, the bosses break her, and what happens next to the brother he has always tried to protect almost breaks Amadou. The old impulse to run is suddenly awakened. The three band together as family and try just once more to escape.

The Bitter Side of Sweet was eye opening for me and it has stuck with me since January. With that kind of staying power, it definitely earned it's spot on this list. 

Read my review here.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Blurb: Despite their differences, sisters Viann and Isabelle have always been close. Younger, bolder Isabelle lives in Paris while Viann is content with life in the French countryside with her husband Antoine and their daughter. But when the Second World War strikes, Antoine is sent off to fight and Viann finds herself isolated so Isabelle is sent by their father to help her. 

As the war progresses, the sisters' relationship and strength is tested. With life changing in unbelievably horrific ways, Viann and Isabelle will find themselves facing frightening situations and responding in ways they never thought possible as bravery and resistance take different forms in each of their actions.

There was no way The Nightingale wasn't making my list. This book sucked me in, chewed me up, spit me out, and then its dog licked me up off the floor. (Why I think that's a good thing for a book to do to me, I'm not sure.) If I were going to recommend one non-Holocaust related WWII novel, this very well might be it (although it has some significant competition from other books I read this year.) 

Read my review here.

The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman

Blurb: Brooklyn, 1947: in the midst of a blizzard, in a two-family brownstone, two babies are born minutes apart to two women. They are sisters by marriage with an impenetrable bond forged before and during that dramatic night; but as the years progress, small cracks start to appear and their once deep friendship begins to unravel. No one knows why, and no one can stop it. One misguided choice; one moment of tragedy. Heartbreak wars with happiness and almost but not quite wins.

From debut novelist Lynda Cohen Loigman comes The Two-Family House, a moving family saga filled with heart, emotion, longing, love, and mystery.

I read this book months ago and I still want to talk about it with people in real life (and it keeps not happening!) There is just so much going on in this book that is like soap opera worthy (although the cast is a bit small for a soap opera.) I would love to see this book optioned for a movie. 

Read my review here.

The Winemakers by Jan Moran

Blurb: A young woman
A family secret
A devastating truth that could destroy the man she loves

Many years ago, the Rosetta family’s hard-won dreams of staking their claim in the vineyards of California came to fruition. Now high-spirited, passionate Caterina Rosetta, who has inherited both her mother’s talent for crafting the finest wines and also her indomitable will, wants nothing more than to win her mother’s approval and work at her side. But that can never happen, because Caterina is keeping a secret that could ruin her: a daughter of her own, fathered by the love of her life, who left her without explanation. Just as she feels she has nowhere to turn, Caterina discovers that she has inherited a vineyard in the Tuscan countryside in Italy, from a grandmother she’s never heard of, and she seizes the chance to start a new life for herself and her child.

But the past is not so easily outrun. In the country of her ancestors, Caterina meets the family of the father she never knew, and discovers that her mother is also hiding her own secret—a secret so devastating it threatens the future of everything her family has worked for. As an old murder comes to light, and Caterina uncovers a tragedy that may destroy the man she loves, she realizes her happiness will depend on revealing the truth of her mother’s buried past—if she has the strength to face it.

From author Jan Moran comes The Winemakers, a sweeping, romantic novel that will hold you in its grasp until the last delicious sip.

This book was a rollercoaster for me, and I loved how it alternated between Caterina's and Ava's lives. It also made me really mad about societies views at the time it was set, and any book that inspires such strong feelings in me deserves a spot on my list. 

Read my review here.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Blurb: They had nothing in common until love gave them everything to lose . . .

Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.

Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.

A Love Story for this generation and perfect for fans of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, Me Before You brings to life two people who couldn’t have less in common—a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks, What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart?

I am still mad at Jojo Moyes for this book. While I want to read more of her books at some point, I haven't been able to bring myself to yet because I haven't forgiven her for ripping my heart out with this yet. 

Read my review here.

The Demon Within Series by Ginna Moran

Tainted Blurb: Seventeen-year-old Cami Anders uses one word to describe her life: Purgatory. What she doesn’t know is she’s closer to Hell than she thinks.

On the run from the demon that killed her parents, Cami struggles to find her place on the fringes of the Veiled Realm, the part of the world where demons and other creatures lurk in the shadows. Striving to find a normal life in the care of a former demon hunter, who would punch even an angel to protect her, is harder than Cami ever imagined. There’s nothing ordinary about sipping holy water like it’s her beverage of choice, having stare-downs with animalistic demons, and relying on a hunter with enough secrets to fill an ocean to keep her soul safe. 

When the demon from Cami’s past arrives to collect her soul, which he believes is rightfully his, she must unravel the secrets her protector has spent the last three years keeping from her. She finds herself questioning her existence and learns that running isn’t the answer. The only way to find normalcy is if she fights for it. But is it worth the risk of losing everything, including her soul, in the end?

I cannot say enough good things about this series. It has me rooting for a freakin' demon for crying out loud. I was hesitant to add a book that I'd worked on to my list, but this series has been such a pleasure for me to work on, it hardly feels like work at all. And I'm just absolutely in love with it. 

*My reviews are not finished yet for these books.

You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

Blurb: From online entertainment mogul, actress, and “queen of the geeks” Felicia Day, a funny, quirky, and inspiring memoir about her unusual upbringing, her rise to Internet-stardom, and embracing her individuality to find success in Hollywood.

The Internet isn’t all cat videos. There’s also Felicia Day—violinist, filmmaker, Internet entrepreneur, compulsive gamer, hoagie specialist, and former lonely homeschooled girl who overcame her isolated childhood to become the ruler of a new world... or at least semi-influential in the world of Internet Geeks and Goodreads book clubs.

After growing up in the south where she was "home-schooled for hippie reasons", Felicia moved to Hollywood to pursue her dream of becoming an actress and was immediately typecast as a crazy cat-lady secretary. But Felicia’s misadventures in Hollywood led her to produce her own web series, own her own production company, and become an Internet star.

Felicia’s short-ish life and her rags-to-riches rise to Internet fame launched her career as one of the most influential creators in new media. Now, Felicia’s strange world is filled with thoughts on creativity, video games, and a dash of mild feminist activism—just like her memoir.

Hilarious and inspirational, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) is proof that everyone should embrace what makes them different and be brave enough to share it with the world, because anything is possible now—even for a digital misfit.

This book had me dying laughing, and I didn't even know who Felicia Day was before I listened to the audiobook. The book made me want to look into some of Felicia Day's other work, and that's the sign of a good memoir I think. 

Read my review here.

You Can't Touch my Hair by Phoebe Robinson

Blurb: A hilarious and affecting essay collection about race, gender, and pop culture from celebrated stand-up comedian and WNYC podcaster Phoebe Robinson.

Phoebe Robinson is a stand-up comic, which means that, often, her everyday experiences become points of comedic fodder. And as a black woman in America, she maintains, sometimes you need to have a sense of humor to deal with the absurdity you are handed on the daily. Robinson has experienced her fair share over the years: she's been unceremoniously relegated to the role of "the black friend," as if she is somehow the authority on all things racial; she's been questioned about her love of U2 and Billy Joel ("isn t that . . . white people music?"); she's been called "uppity" for having an opinion in the workplace; she's been followed around stores by security guards; and yes, people do ask her whether they can touch her hair all. the. time. Now, she's ready to take these topics to the page and she s going to make you laugh as she s doing it. 

Using her trademark wit alongside pop-culture references galore, Robinson explores everything from why Lisa Bonet is "Queen. Bae. Jesus," to breaking down the terrible nature of casting calls, to giving her less-than-traditional advice to the future female president, and demanding that the NFL clean up its act, all told in the same conversational voice that launched her podcast, "2 Dope Queens," to the top spot on iTunes. As personal as it is political, "You Can't Touch My Hair" examines our cultural climate and skewers our biases with humor and heart, announcing Robinson as a writer on the rise."

I am a liberal and a feminist, so I was predisposed to enjoy this book. And while I'm still working on my review right now, this book gave me a lot to think about, and at times made me realize that I very much benefit from my white privilege (and that's something that I was already aware of.) I would definitely recommend this book to pretty much everyone. 

And an Honorable Mention Goes To
An Exaltation of Larks by Suanne Laqueur

Blurb: September 11, 1973: Eleven-year-old Alejandro Penda watches from his apartment window as Santiago, Chile falls to a military coup, destroying his family and his childhood. Arriving alone in America, he’s taken in by the Larks: a prominent family in the town of Guelisten. Though burdened by unresolved grief for his disappeared parents, he becomes fiercely loyal to the Larks, eventually marrying one of their daughters, Valerie.

September 11, 2001: Javier Landes watches from his apartment window as New York City falls to terrorism. As one of Manhattan’s top-paid male escorts, this professional lover has never lacked for company and is loyal only to himself. But in the wake of 9/11, Jav is named guardian for an orphaned nephew in Guelisten and must open his carefully-guarded heart to pain he's long suppressed.

Alex, Valerie and Jav meet first in their twenties, with a sudden attraction each finds strange and compelling. When they meet again in their forties, they discover not only is their bond still strong, but their life experiences are strangely similar. All have been shaped by separate 9/11's, and their unfinished business from the past will change everything they know about love, loyalty and friendship.

"Life has rules. You cannot come in the middle of the night and take what we agreed isn't yours."

Across three decades and two continents, Suanne Laqueur's fifth novel explores the unpredictability of sexual attraction, how family ties are forged, torn and mended, and how love's downfall can turn to exaltation.

I have not finished reading An Exaltation of Larks yet, so it can't go on the official list, but I was supposed to have finished it last year (and I started reading it last year), and it is so good already (at 33%) that there's pretty much no chance I'm not going to love it in the end (although I am also going to hate Suanne Laqueur because she is putting me through the ringer with this book.) So for those reasons, it gets an honorable mention. 


  1. I've only heard of a few of these books. I'll have to check these out.

    1. Quite a bit of it is historical fiction (half if you consider An Exaltation of Larks historical since it starts in the '70s.) - Katie