Pick Ups

Reading between the Wines – our Top Book Club Books (a never ending list)

Choosing a book for Book Club is a lot harder than it sounds. You want something people are going to enjoy but also something to talk about. Easier said than done.

Our Book Club – “Reading between the Wines” (which is, yes, the most adorable name on the planet and one I cannot claim to have come up with myself) has been in progress for ~5 years. Here is a list of the (mostly) unanimous great books that led to even better discussions.

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Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
This is a beautiful book to make you laugh and cry and gives a LOT of fodder for discussion!

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Verity by Colleen Hoover
Honestly, it’s not common for our books to have a viseral reaction. Some of us will gush or dislike a book, but generally we accept good as good and move on. This book, however, will change you. For the better? … Probably not. But MAN does it make for great conversation.

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Becoming by Michelle Obama
We tend to do fiction but this was such a beautiful and timely book and one we all wanted to read. It also led to a lot of amazing discussion about what we knew, what we thought we knew, and more.

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Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Honestly, chick list/rom com type of books don’t often play well in book club (at least not ours). They are often met with “I liked it!” and then crickets. But Eleanor packs just enough of a punch that we had a lively conversation about it in addition to generally enjoying it.

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Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
So, it certainly helps that at least 2/3 of our book club are in love with Trevor. But, that aside, this book is as fantastic as it is memorable as it is eye opening. It’s easy to spend plenty of time combing through this book and chatting about his life growing up.

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Beartown by Fredrik Backman
This was a bit of a stretch for our little group but it nestled in quite comfortably. There are a lot of pieces to this novel and topics to pick out and dissect. And a sequel to boot (we read that too!)

What should our next book club book be?

This list is ever expanding so come back to see the latest top recommendations!

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The BEST Mystery Novels and Series (an ever expanding list)

The Cuckoo’s Calling (Cormoran Strike #1)
Robert Galbraith

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If you want to hear about (one of) my most recommended books – it’s this one, right here. This series blew me away. I don’t know what I expected but what I got was amazing characters, truly interesting mysteries and a perfect balance of both. Even if mysteries aren’t typically your “thing” pick this up!

A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell #1)
Deanna Raybourn

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Can’t help it, guys, I love these books. I actually started this series on book #4 and was smitten with it. Here are some of my favorite things about this series:
1) The language – I am certain that Raybourn has a BLAST writing these books. The time period allows her to be flowery, even overly so. She uses the subtleties of archaic language to say the most absurd and downright naughty things. I constantly find myself giggling at it.
2) The play with time – I love how these books are set in the 1800s but the protagonist doesn’t quite fit. She is a protagonist of the now and her witty remarks are gold in these stories
3) The partnership – Stoker and Veronica are adorable and make me snicker-giggle constantly.

The story itself is lovely as well, but it’s really about the people and the writing. I’ve enjoyed the stories immensely. 

Caravan
Dorothy Gilman

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I’ve read this book twice now and it is truly incredible. It has everything – every twist and turn you can imagine. It’s the story of a young girl told by an old one where you can feel the truth of it but with the knowing eye of an old woman looking back. This is a book where horrible, terrible things can happen to the characters and somehow you still want their lives. This book is magic wrapped up in one neat little package and now I can’t say anything else without just positively gushing.

Gilman is a forgotten rock star of mysteries and I recommend this one AND all Mrs. Polifax!

City of the Lost (Rockton #1)
Kelley Armstrong

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I took a risk on buying this book with only a short synopsis read. I was very pleasantly surprised. It has a truly interesting and unique premise, a great main character, solid support characters, and some really interesting stories. The best part was that I legitimately didn’t know where the story was going – not when it came to friends, love interests, what was going to happen next, or, of course, “who dun it.” The whole series is a great read.

The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line (Veronica Mars #1) –
Rob Thomas

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So, so many reasons to love this book. Let me list them for you!
1) Veronica Mars – anyone who has watched the series (and it’s horrible mid-cancellation) practically wets themselves when there is anything new that comes out. It’s with good reason. All the new Veronica Mars stuff has been fan-tastic.
2) The audio book is read by Kristen Bell – okay, this time I did wet myself. No shame.
3) It’s actually a good story – the book reads just like an episode; and I mean that in a good way. It’s fast-paced with a good mixture of characterization and crime action. The story keeps you guessing but doesn’t put you in the dark either. It was a quick read without being skimpy.

Sex, Murder, and a Double Latte (Sophie Katz Murder Mystery #1)
Kyra Davis

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This book is what I love about chick-lit. It’s silly and sassy and exciting and a read that you can breeze through in just a few days. I’m a firm believer that a story you can get sucked into – silly or not – is a fun story. Yes, this is dated and I don’t really have a thing for Russians – but I am glad I picked up this book.

I would love your recommendations for what else should be on this list!

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The BEST RomCom Books (an ever expanding list)

I am a no-shame RomCom lover and is there a better time to get into a few of these fun, delightful reads than in the midst of a global pandemic? I think not!

The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams
What do I look for in a romance novel?
1) Giggles
2) Spicy scenes that’ll make me squirmy
3) At least a little bit of heart
This had all of that and then some. What a great book!

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Tweet Cute by Emma Lord
So. aptly. named. The characters are in high school so definitely YA but delightful nonetheless. A+ banter and, well, cuteness.

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My (Not So) Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella
Sophie Kinsella is pretty much my idol. I have adored multiple of her books but this is one of the latest and also one of my favorites. It’s light but also one that will speak to you.

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Well Met by Jen DeLuca
Heaaaaarts, rainbowsssss, and sunshine.
That’s what I feel about this book. I adored it. I giggled – a LOT. The characters are delightful, the setting adorable, there’s some very satisfying sexy time and ogling, etc, etc. Basically, it was right up my alley and I highly recommend.

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Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Okay, so first off, any NaNoWriMo book has a special place in my heart. But on top of this, it’s an adorable YA novel with a great setting and unique circumstances. While not perfect, it’s cute and easy to get into. Bonus – it’s a series and the rest are adorable too!

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The UnHoneymooners by Christina Lauren
Is there a better trope than two dissimilar people somehow ending up on a vacation together? I THINK NOT.

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Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes
This one is a bit deeper than you typical RomCom but I really liked not only the premise but the characters. It felt really authentic and had the main protagonists communicating like I think real humans would actually communicate (shocking!)

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Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuinston
Mainstream LBTQ? Ugh, love it. That being said, this was a little too Disney ending for me but at the end of the day, that’s not a complaint.

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The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker
Confession people – I have RE-READ this one. I knooow! Mostly for one particularly epic scene involving a cabin and a yeti… this book gets delightfully spicy but doesn’t cross into the true “romance” category.

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The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
I really enjoy the new flavor of the main character. He’s not your standard knight in shining armor – it’s endearing and energizing to see a new kind of protagonist, one with a “social handicap” so-to-speak. In that respect this story has some truly deeper ideas about love, how it manifests, as our expectations of ourselves AND others.

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Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
An oldie but a goodie. Are there issues here (re: weight concerns that are sooo not concerns, etc)? Yes. But I love the writing style immensely.

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Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles
I devoured this book series a while back. This was an adorable YA – cliche as hell, but adorable. Alex is Cutie McCute and sure, there are a lot of groan worthy moments (really, Chemistry class? I mean REALLY?) But let’s face it, Elkeles had me laughing out loud at times. The best friend, Paco, is freaking hilarious.

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The BEST Book Series to Binge

I know binging on Netflix is all the rage, but I’m much more interested in binging book series

You can probably guess some of the main things in my life that make me happy – kids, husband, traveling, cookies with their centers still soft and, of course, reading. But let’s dive just a bit further into reading… for all your readers out there, is there anything quite so wondering than finding that amazing book series and getting completely lost in it?

One of my favorite things to do is to read book the first book in a series and then head to the library to check out ALL the remaining books so I can binge read them. You know – like Netflix but so. much. better.

So maybe that’s why I generally hesitate to pick up the first book of the series. Am I the only one? I am wary of the commitment it implies – I’m in this for the long haul, it tells me. In the time it takes to read four very different books, I may be reading, basically, one really long story. It’s enough to make my palms sweat.

So, to help any similar anxiety you have, I thought I would highlight some of my absolute favorite series. (Note – I’ve left off the ‘duh’ ones such as Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. Those are, obviously, amazing and if you haven’t read them then you need to shut this down and start reading!)

In particular, I’ve highlighted the series I’ve truly binged. There are some series out there that, while wonderful, aren’t necessarily ones that you need to binge. (The Rockton Series by Kelley Armstrong is a great example of this) These, however, I recommend you get all books at once and settle in for the long haul.

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1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon – Anyone who knows me is likely shocked this is my number one (#kidding). These are easily some of my favorite books and definitely my favorite series. Binging this is a very time consuming commitment so it is SO worth it. And then you can watch the series for a double binge-whammy!

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2. Renegades by Marissa Meyer – Let’s face it, I’m a little in love with Meyer. She’s the author of another great series, Cinder, but I decided Renegades was much more binge-worthy. Why? Because I just recently inhaled this series and loved it (especially the conclusion). YA friendly and very timely with superheros it’s both predictable and unique at the same time.

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3. The Cormoran Strike Series by Robert Galbraith – I’ve really gotten into mystery/crime books lately and I recommend these books ALL the time. They are so good and I can’t wait for additional books to come out. What I love most about them is that they are binge-worthy. Most mysteries are so stand alone you can pick them up at any stage, but these books truly excel if you go in order.

PS – Fun fact, Robert Galbraith is J.K. Rowling’s pseudonym. But this is NO Harry Potter!

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4. The Veronica Speedwell Mysteries by Deanna Raybourn – these books are SO good with an incredible, sassy protagonist. They are set in the 1880s and include mystery and seduction. I regularly laughed out loud at these and can’t wait to eat up the rest (she’s still writing more *squee*)

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5. Beartown by Fredrik Backman – at only two books some people might not consider this a “series” but I still had to include it. Beartown and the sequel, Us Against You is such a beautiful story. Being from a small town myself, I tend to bristle at “small-town” books as they often are written by someone who doesn’t quite get it. But Backman does a wonderful job at building these character and town.

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6. Cake by J. Bengtsson – let’s be honest, there are few things more delightful than binging smutty romances. And Cake is easily one of my favorite binges. While, yes, they are stand along novels, this is one of the first series I’ve read where the continued story line of the characters really matters in future novels. The stories are adorable, endearing, and filled with all kinds of sexual exploits.

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7. The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg – I’ll be honest, I wasn’t blown away by The Paper Magician. I had my hesitations with the story, but I decided to keep reading (mostly due to a romantic component, I’m such a sucker for that) and ended up blowing through the series. I think this series works best when you can binge it – when you can really immerse yourself, you get those feels!

So – what did I miss? I’d love to find another series to add to my list!

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5 Books to Read AND Watch

Movies don’t always (rarely, even?) get the book right.  Here are what I feel are notable exceptions.  Read the book and watch the movie and you’ll love them both!

train

The Girl on the Train is the most timely of this collection.  Do you ever read a book and think, “oooh yeah, this will be a movie.”?  That was this story for me.  I could just tell it was going to work on screen. It was fast paced and gripping on paper but on the big screen the intrigue was that much better.  The things that needed to be laid out in the book were able to be short quips and scenes in the movie. This is one I actually would consider watching the movie first – suspense is great that way.

cuckoo

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is an oldie but a goodie.  Seriously, Kesey’s story of the mental institution is incredible and then Nicholson’s portrayal in the movie?  Gold.  I’ll admit I like the nuances of the characters in the book better – they do change a few things in the movie that to me make certain scenes darker than necessary – but overall the movie performance is just incredible. It’s worth experiencing both.

chocolat

Chocolat was one of the rare occasions for me where I watched the movie before the book. Usually, when that happens, I expect the book to fall short.  There’s something about understanding a movie plot line, or envisioning actors for characters, that can turn a book sour. Not this one.  Chocolat, both book and movie, is full of magic and wonder and things that make my tummy growl. Harris is one of my favorite authors and Chocolat is one of my favorite movies.  A win/win.

waterforelephants

Water for Elephants bore the scrutiny of the re-read. I adored the story.  Maybe it’s because I grew up near Baraboo, WI where the Ringling Bros Circus has been for almost 150 years.  Maybe it’s the exoticism of characters, the era, the mesmerizing colors and interactions.  Maybe it’s because it’s a NaNoWriMo novel (something I always hold dear).  Who knows exactly.  All I can tell you is that the story is fantastic and, surprisingly, the Hollywood adaptation did an incredible job.

outlander

Outlander might not be a movie but it’s even better – it’s a STARZ original series that, I believe, is planning to go through all the books in this epic series.  SQUEAL. I’ve re-read Outlander at least three or four times and it’s one of my absolute favorite stories.  It just grips me.  The STARZ series has done an incredible job with bringing it to life on screen.  It is 100% accurate?  No, but Diana Gabaldon is involved in the making and I think her adjustments have actually enhanced the story.  Really, it’s lovely all the way around!

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6 beautiful book covers (with equally incredible stories inside)

gotham

The beauty of this cover is a little non-traditional, but I love it. You’ll learn it tells a bit about the story inside and it’s just so eye-catching.  Books with male main characters sometimes get the shaft when it comes to beautiful covers but this one did a great job. And then there are the words – it’s a page turning, heart-thumping historical fiction that highlights a time I wasn’t familiar with.  It’s worthy of its reputation.

golden

This is a historical fiction that will make you wonder if it actually happened. It was so expertly woven, the truth and tales of the times intermingled with the fiction so beautifully, I thought it had to be true. I adored this (audio) book. It’s a historical fiction that reads like a mystery. I knew the instant I picked this up it would be a winner of my heart: Spain, flamenco, and ballet? It’s like Alexandra knew what draws me to a story and decide to put it all into one place – beautifully at that. If you don’t already have a soft spot for any of those items, you’ll be hard pressed to walk away from this tale without one.

russian

The story behind this beautiful cover will surprise you. As flowery at this story appears, the book is definitely not for the weak of heart, which is part of the reason I like it so much. Furnivall took me by surprise nearly around every corner – no one quite reacted the way I thought they were and the plot twists themselves were numerous but elegant.

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I’m a sucker for colorful towns on the water, so maybe this cover doesn’t appeal to everyone. I also love the font.  Did I mention I love the story too? This book is amazing. The characters are beautiful. The story line unfolds in front of you perfectly and seamlessly and yet with a new surprise around every corner. You truly feel like you are reading about lives, not just characters in a book. It’s undeniably poetic and equally real.

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Probably one of my favorite things about YA books is that they always have incredible covers.  I was then so pleasantly surprised to find the inside was wonderful, too. I love this book’s imagination, the colors, the scenes. It’s all so beautiful. The setting is incredible – Prague, the art studio, Poison. Even better are the people! Humans, angels, and creatures – they are all fascinating. Taylor does such a great job of showing me everything without overloading me with exposition. I can see so much, and I don’t even think that’s because I’ve traveled to many of the places (Prague and Marrakesh being two main settings – gorgeous on paper and in real life!).

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Here’s another YA fantasy series that is worth it’s weight to the eyes and the imagination. This series is unique and beautiful. I like the flavor of the setting. I love the back and forth between suspense and life. I like our main character and how we get deep but not too deep. I like the conflicting romance and, even more, I like what took me by surprise. Characters evolved in great ways. Bardugo had my hand quivering at a page turn because I didn’t want to see what would happen next and that’s what I want out of a really good YA book.

What did I miss?  What’s your favorite beautiful book?

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2014 End Of Year Book Survey

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Each year, Jamie from the Perpetual Page Turner does a Year-End Book Survey. I’m a total sucker for surveys – so here is my own take from this year! (P.S. – if you don’t know about Jamie’s blog yet – GO there! It’s amazing!)

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Number Of Books You Read: 58
Number of Re-Reads: 1
Genre You Read The Most From: Hard to tell – probably a tie between YA and women’s fiction

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Best Book You Read In 2014?

wings

In my opinion, Sue Monk Kidd blew this away.  This book is just perfect in so many ways – fascinating historical fiction, great characterization, excellent writing, good pacing. It’s perfection and she deserves all the praise!

Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

lost

As a lover of women travel memoirs, I thought this was going to be a great read.  I really didn’t like it though – it just fell flat.

Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read in 2014?

oryx

This book was surprising in a number of ways – one because Atwood is one of my favorite authors but I wasn’t 100% in love with the book (it took me FOREVER to get through) and two because of it’s shocking ending!

Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did) In 2014?

gotham

I didn’t have to push too hard – this book is well-known for being excellent (and it is!)

Best series you started in 2014? Best Sequel of 2014? Best Series Ender of 2014?

heartsblood

Outlander is still so incredibly fantastic.  This isn’t the season ender (thank goodness!) but it’s going to be AGES before the next one comes out!

Favorite new author you discovered in 2014?

golden

It’s a little hard to say that Alexandra is a favorite author since I’ve only read one book,but this one was incredible and I am absolutely going to try another one from her ASAP.

Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

doubt

This is definitely a newer genre for me – in truth I don’t know if I’ve ever read a crime thriller.  I had some issues with this first book in the series but I liked the second one much better.

Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

phenomenal

Definitely “unputdownable” – I read this all in one sitting and was completely taken with it. Highly recommend.

Book You Read In 2014 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

worldafter

I love to re-read parts of series in preparation for the next one!

Favorite cover of a book you read in 2014?

romancing

Women in pretty dresses on the front of romance novels are always wonderful, but I find this one particularly gorgeous.  Look at that color!

Most memorable character of 2014?

smoke

It’s not really fair to say just “character” – I think all the characters in this series are totally memorable. Very unique (as is the whole story) and it all works so well together. Karou is fantastic.

Most beautifully written book read in 2014?

lettersfromskye

I adore the way this story unfolds. I’m a sucker for any kind of novel that includes letters but I really enjoyed how this one left mystery throughout.  The life was an unveiling – very well done!

Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2014?

gifts

Okay, so I think “life-changing” is a bit heavy-handed but thought-provoking, certainly.  There’s a lot to ponder about who are and aren’t the bad guys – and the ending through a wrench into everything. I found it fascinating (and really readable!)

Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2014 to finally read?

poisonwood

This book has seriously been on the list forever.  I am sad I waited so long, too, it’s an incredible story and I’d like to try more of Kingsolver’s books.

Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2014?

sabriel

“I love you,” he whispered. “I hope you don’t mind.”

Okay, so I technically finished re-reading this in 2015 but I read 80% of it in 2014.  I love how simple this line is and it totally works for the story.  Ahhh, Touchstone!

Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2014?

fierycross hishaven

I was really surprised to see that Fiery Cross was longer than the latest George R.R. Martin.  It did not feel like it at all – I plowed through this installment so fast!

Book That Shocked You The Most

gold

With any biography like this, there are things that will shock me, but maybe I was most shocked by how tame this one ended up being.  I really felt like a lot of it was sugar-coated or glossed over.

Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year

cress

Cinder and the Captain ❤

Favorite Book You Read in 2014 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

siegeandstorm

This was just a wonderful second installment – and it almost made the list for the book that shocked me the most!

Best Book You Read In 2014 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure:

earthabides

I read this book only because it was for my sci-fi book club and absolutely LOATHED it.  Ugh!

Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2014?

happy

Graham was frickin’ adorable, even if the book overall was not. I wish we could have seen MORE of him. (If you know what I mean!)

Best 2014 debut you read?

berlin

I actually didn’t really read many/any debuts this year. It’s kind of a cop-out to call this a “debut” but it is, technically, her only publication.

Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

dance

As many things as I don’t like about Martin’s writing, you certainly have to give him credit for world building.

Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?

rosie

Oh my goodness, this book is the definition of a fun read.

Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2014?

neartoyou

Oh yes, this book has ALL the feels.  Add in the fact that it’s based on fact and it’s impossible not to get misty-eyed.

Hidden Gem Of The Year?

phenomenal

Per what I said before, this is a book that can easily sweep you away if you let it.

Book That Crushed Your Soul?

Weddingnight

Okay, so “crushing my soul” is a little dramatic, but I was really disappointed by this book. It had so much potential and it all just fell so flat.

Most Unique Book You Read In 2014?

impulse

It wasn’t so much the story that was unique, but the way in which it was written.  Definitely a nice change of pace.

Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?

belltolls

It made me mad just because I really want to like Hemingway and I can’t do it.  This book was a beast to get through and I definitely consider it a waste of my life to have trudged through it. That direct Spanish to English translation of dialogue is just horrible.

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One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2014 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2015?

isla

I don’t buy a lot of YA books because I read them so quickly and this was always checked out at the library.  I hope some of the popularity will go down and I can get my hands on it this year!

Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2015 (non-debut)?

mrkiss

Oh man, I loved the first installment of this series and I can’t wait to listen to the next!

2015 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?

simon

I actually don’t keep up much on debuts, but I saw Jamie’s review for this one and my interest is definitely piqued!

Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2015?

angelfall3

Seriously. So excited.

One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging Life In 2015?

Successfully have my baby in March!  That’s pretty much the one life goal. It would be great to keep reading some books, too, but let’s be honest, I’ll have some other priorities. 🙂

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Book Review: The Girl with All the Gifts – 5/5

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

gifts

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really want to give this book a nice, solid slow clap. This book goes down like a really well-made plain cheesecake. When you take a bite, you get the flavors you expect, it is just what you had hoped for, but somehow it is also still so much BETTER. Start to finish, Carey really nailed this one. This book has so much of everything and Carey just did it right.

In essence, this is a zombie story. End of the world, post-apocalyptic zombies. In many ways we have heard this story multiple times before; good humans and bad humans and always the zombies. But nothing about this story is dull. The protagonist just isn’t who you think she is. In fact, no one quite is. The story line moves quickly and effectively. It provides all the necessary drama to, what I think, is the best part – the character reveals.

The book keeps you guessing a subtle way. The twists and subtle and believable. It all is works and I sincerely find myself in awe because of it. These kinds of stories often have gaping holes, but I think Carey really cinched this one up.

It can be a quick read, but I think it’s one that will stay with you. Well worth the read.

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