As I confessed last month in one of my Books of My Life Posts, 2016 was not a great reading year for me. Over the three year period of 2013-2015, I read over three hundred books. This past year I only read fifty-eight (and I must confess to giving up on a few of those). GoodReads sent me an email to inform me that I did not meet my reading goals (100 books) for the year. Ouch. I think I was burnt out – and of course working impacted my leisure reading time. I must do better this year.
Now sit back and relax my friends. Enjoy a cup of coffee. Y’all know I love to talk about books!
Since I didn’t indulge in as many books as years past, I was able to keep my list to a modest eleven (last year I included twenty!). However, I wasn’t able to resist my annual analysis of the data and included that information, along with some frivolous superlative awards.
This year, once again, I listened to more books (32) than I read – thirteen hardcovers, ten paperbacks, and three books on Kindle. I read eight books for review, five for book club, and three for school (to help Hunter). The longest book I read was a Louisa Adams biography (512 pages) and the shortest was Twelve Angry Men (79 pages). I re-read (highly unusual for me) three books this year: Lord of the Flies (ugh, if possible I hated more the second time around), Romeo & Juliet (loved) and The Ex-Debutante (I needed cheering up and this charming novel did it!). The oldest book I read was Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I read 43 books that were published in 2016, the largest percentage ever for me (74%).
Who I Read:
When I find an author I love, I usually binge on their back list (if they have one). This year I only read one author twice – Beatriz Williams (although one of her books was co-authored with two other writers). The woman is on a roll, though. She has three books coming out next year and I can’t wait! I read twenty-nine books written by authors I’d not been exposed to before, seventeen of whom were debut authors. Nine-one percent of the books I read were penned by women.
I’ve decided that reading less definitely makes me grumpier. I, one who’s notorious for being extremely generous with the five-star ratings (last year I awarded 39 of them) only gave out thirteen. Yikes. I have no explanation as to why I was so stingy. My greatest deviation from the GoodReads average was 2.09, for a romantic novel I shall not name. I abhorred the book and was disappointed, because it was by a writer I used to love. Again, maybe it’s me (but I really don’t think so in this case). Also, when reviewing my list, it’s obviously that this was the year of the easy read.
What I Read:
I usually read an equal amount of fiction and nonfiction, but this year the numbers were skewed. I only read thirteen nonfiction books (26%). Consequently, my top three genres were fiction:
Women’s Fiction (11)
Tie – Historical Fiction and Chick Lit (10 each)
Literary Fiction (8)
These are my favorites, divided into fiction and nonfiction and listed alphabetically..
A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams. Those who regularly read this blog may be rolling their eyes. This is the fourth year in a row that Williams has been included on the list. I can’t help it, I adore her books. In this novel, she transports the reader back to the New York City of the roaring twenties, reminiscent of The Great Gatsby. Mrs. Theresa Marshall is woman of a certain age who’s having an affair with a younger man – the dashing World War I hero, Captain Octavian Rofrano. Matters get complicated when he falls under the spell of a beautiful socialite, Sophie Fortescue, who just happens to be engaged to Theresa’s brother. Deep dark family secrets on both sides add intrigue to the personal drama. A wild ride, with a bittersweet ending.
Eligible: A Modern Telling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld. I listened to this one while on our road trip and I loved it. Sittenfeld is a wonderful writer who creates clever and intriguing characters, some ridiculously so! Her dialogue is fabulous (and I’d love to see her write a screenplay for one of her novels). Obviously, the plot closely follows Austen’s, but it’s peppered with modern elements such as paleo diets, ticking biological clocks, transgender characters, and realty TV. The love story of Fitzwilliam Darcy (omg, don’t you just love it?) and Liz had me in stiches (see below) – truly. This is one strange family, but they sure are entertaining! Also, as I was listening, I kept picturing Colin Firth in my head♥.
In Twenty Years by Allison Winn Scotch. This novel is about a reunion of college friends, almost twenty years after they all lived together while attending the University of Pennsylvania. It’s not exactly a happy reunion. They come together at the request of their dead friend and housemate, Bea. Bea’s attorney has asked them to meet at the house where they all once lived, on what would have been Bea’s fortieth birthday. Some of the friends aren’t exactly speaking to each other. The book is full of drama, grudges, temper tantrums, and hurt feelings, but it’s also about forgiveness, and remembering who we are and where we came from. For my fellow bloggers, there’s a character named Catherine who has a life-style blog. Her stresses will make your heart race!
One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Emma and Jesse were high school sweethearts who got married after college. They enjoyed successful careers and lived a carefree and nomadic life. Their happiness was cut short when the helicopter that Jesse was on crashed in the North Pacific. His body was never found and he was declared dead. Jesse’s death crippled Emma and she moved home with her parents. Eventually she ended up working at her family’s store, Blair Books – something she swore she’d never do. Slowly, Emma begins to accept her new life and is able to move on. She falls in love with an old friend, Sam, who asks her to marry him. Then one day Emma’s phone rings. Guess who it is? Her dead husband! Yes, coming back from the dead is usually the stuff of daytime drama, but it was a genius plot point in this story. It set up a love triangle in which there were no bad guys. I couldn’t chose who I wanted Emma to end up with – Jesse or Sam. The author’s voice is so authentic, I felt as if she was personally telling me an intimate story.
Somewhere Out There by Amy Hatvany. This was a book club pick, and if it hadn’t been, I wouldn’t have finished the book. And then I would have missed out on a beautiful story of forgiveness. Yes, the book is a bit of a downer (I cried hysterically in one scene – as in hyperventilated), but it is riveting. Hatvany explores how our early experiences – the subtle and traumatic – define us as adults. Natalie Clark had a happy childhood and never asked her adoptive mother about her birth parents. After her daughter starts to ask questions for a family project at school, Natalie decides it time to find out where she came from. Her biological sister, Brooke, wasn’t so lucky. She grew up “in the system” and never had a real family. Now pregnant and unmarried, she has grave doubts about her ability to raise a child. But after what happened to her, how can Brooke give up her own child? When Brooke’s reunited with Natalie, the sisters decide to try and find the woman who gave them up and ask her why. Do not read without boxes of Kleenex. Seriously though, it’s excellent.
Sunshine Beach by Wendy Wax. This is the fourth installment of Wax’s 10 Beach Road series, all of which I’ve read. I admit that after Mermaid Point (book three), I thought the series was done. I wanted it to be done, because I was mad. No spoilers, but one character in that book didn’t have a happy ending. I really didn’t know how the story could go on. Focus Allie, book four! Ok, I’m a sucker for a great cover (see below), so that seduced me back. Of course, in the hands of a talented writer, the story can always go on. The book is emotional and full of real-life, relatable drama about marriage, divorce, pregnancy and parenting. The girls are back on the west coast of Florida, and Wax’s descriptions of the setting are excellent. There’s still beach time, cocktails and renovations, but the author kicked it up a notch with a murder mystery. There’s an underlying theme of grief and how we all deal with it differently. The book ends nicely – but not perfectly. I’m really hoping there will be another installment.
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler. This book that was heralded by all the major media outlets last summer (and written by a debut author) and it definitely lived up to the hype. Tess arrives in New York City broke and eager to live an exciting life – although she’s not really sure what that means. Tess ends up landing a job at one of the city’s finest restaurants. I was charmed from the beginning. As a woman who spent years in the restaurant industry, doing everything from owning (or rather being the daughter of the owner) to dish-washing, I can attest that all aspects of Tess’s work world were accurate. I actually had an “in the weeds” dream while I was reading the book. I was enchanted by the vivid descriptions of food and wine that were enhanced by the author’s attention to sensory detail. The subplots involving the restaurant employees were intriguing and I could actually rename the story’s characters with former coworkers I once knew. I was disillusioned with the elements of the story that involved drugs. I never experienced that part of the restaurant world, although I certainly heard rumors about it. It made me sad, but it also added to the melancholy mood of the book that characterized many of the players. It was powerful and haunting.
The Children by Ann Leary. I truly wish Ms. Leary was more prolific. I had to wait three years since her last novel. Her books feature characters who are well developed and just eccentric enough that they’re interesting, yet still relatable. This is a story about a blended family and the complicated issues of love, death, and inheritance. The Whitman family is wealthy. Walt, the patriarch, left his first wife for Joan, who is the mother of two daughters. Walt and Joan eventually marry and set up home with the two girls at the Whitman family’s summer estate in Connecticut. Walt’s two sons from his first marriage join the family on the weekends. All seems very Brady Bunch-esque, until Walt dies. He leaves the house, which had been in his family for generations, to this sons. According to the trust, Joan can stay in the house until her death. The arrangement seems to suit everyone until Skip, Walt’s youngest son, unexpectedly marries a mysterious young woman named Laurel. Laurel really likes the lake house and really doesn’t want to wait around for Joan to die. Oh, the trouble she brings. Long simmering grudges and resentments surface. This book often made me angry, but goodness, I could not put it down. The ending was a bummer, though.
The Ramblers by Aidan Donnelly Rowley. This engrossing novel, which is about three people who are at crossroads in their lives, unfolds with the backdrop of New York City during Thanksgiving week. I love the lush details of this book – Central Park, the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, the Hamptons, fancy apartments, a splashy wedding, sexy careers, and beautiful people. You may ask yourself, “How can these people, who seemingly have it all, be lost?” This made me think of one of my favorite quotes, “Be kinder than necessary, because everyone is fighting some kind of battle.” Isn’t that the truth? Aren’t we all a bit lost sometimes? Rowley’s style of writing is so intimate that I really got to know these characters – Clio, Smith and Tate. I worried about them. Greif, broken hearts, and mental illness have no boundaries, they affect us all. The glamorous aspects of the book quickly faded to the background, because of the empathy I felt for Clio, Smith and Tate.
How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Over Parenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims. Lythcott-Haims was the Dean of Freshmen and Undergraduate Advising at Stanford University for over a decade. Her book is based on her personal experiences and research, as well as discussions with other professionals who work with young adults. Helicopter parenting is preventing our children from being well-rounded, confident, and independent adult. Her stories and examples of adults who can’t even go on job interviews without their parents is frightening. She offers relevant strategies about how we can stop the madness and empower our children to be successful – without our help (says the women who read three books assigned by a sophomore English teacher). My copy of the book is highlighted, and has really helped me in my transition from stay-at-home mom to working mom.
Ten Reasons Why You Feel Old and Get Fat by Dr. Frank Lipman. The title’s pretty self-explanatory, yes? You know I’m always looking for the Fountain of Youth, and this guy’s advice is pretty solid. Last March I followed his advice to a T, and even ordered some of his products. The result? I felt fabulous! Too bad I didn’t stick to it. I’m trying again next week, and I’m confident that I’ll feel rejuvenated. It really does simply come down to our choices. I must remember that.
Honorable Mentions by Genre:
Chick Lit: The Singles Game by Lauren Weisberger – Fun, set in the world of professional tennis.
Diet & Health: The Longevity Book: The Biology of Resilience, the Privilege of Time, and the New Science of Aging by Cameron Diaz and Sandra Bark – A book about growing old gracefully and embracing it. I have a newfound respect for Ms. Diaz.
Historical Fiction: The Forgotten Room by Karen White, Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig – A family drama that spans three generations and was seamlessly co-authored by three fantastic writers.
History: Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams by Louisa Thomas.
Memoir: Hungry Heart: Adventurers in Life, Love, and Writing by Jennifer Weiner – Very interesting and filled with some surprises.
Parenting: Multiples Illuminated: A Collection of Stories and Advice from Parents of Twins, Triplets and More edited by Alison Lee and Megan Woolsey – Interestingly, this book has the HIGHEST average rating on Goodreads of all the books I read last year. Fun Fact – I’m a contributor!
Romance: I only read three, and they were okay.
Self Help: The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy by Chris Bailey – Filled with tons of helpful advice.
Women’s Fiction: Opening Belle by Maureen Sherry – Having spent many years working in finance, often the only girl in the room, I found this book fun and fascinating. Reese Witherspoon has optioned the book – fingers crossed.
Favorite Female Character: Mrs. Theresa Marshall from A Certain Age.
Favorite Male Character: Dylan Burke from Regrets Only.
Best Character Name: Fitzwilliam Darcy in Eligible. I don’t know why, the name makes me smile.
Best Title: I’m Glad About You – The title was also the closing lines of the book. Apropos.
Dumbest Title: Luck, Love & Lemon Pie – Nope, not a cookbook.
Favorite Book Cover: Sunshine Beach & The One That Got Away (love the retro look).
Book That Made Me Feel Like the Odd-Girl Out: H is for Hawk. It was on many best book lists, I couldn’t even finish it.
Biggest Let Down: SuperBetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient – Powered by the Science of Games. I read this last January, which is when I usually go overboard on the self-help. This book would only make sense to gamers. WTF??? Only book I’ve ever returned. Momma wanted her money back – now that’s productive.
The Biggest Surprise: When Beth sort of hooked up with Jimmie, her husband’s boss and her best friend’s husband, in The Hopeful’s. Shocking, to say the least (she didn’t even like him).
Sauciest Revelation: Did you know that Carole Lombard had the mouth of a truck driver? I didn’t – but it’s revealed in all it’s filthy (J) glory in A Touch of Stardust. I fact checked (the book was fiction) and by all recorded accounts, the woman loved the f-bomb.
Most Read Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, including six different genres.
Authors I Met This Year: Kate White, Beatriz Williams, Susan Meissner, Emma Cline, and Stephanie Sprenger.
Cleverest Plot: The Forgotten Room by Kate White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig.
Favorite Reread: Romeo & Juliet – I thoroughly enjoyed it! Having read it for the first time at fourteen, I certainly missed a lot.
Most Overrated: Lord of the Flies – ugh! Why are we still teaching this book to our children?
Book That Made Me Laugh the Most: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld. Indeed!
Book that Made Me Cry the Hardest: Somewhere Out There by Amy Hatvany. Buckets.
Book that Gave Me the Most Anxiety: Opening Belle. Life on a NYC trading desk is stressful. Damn. And then add money troubles, young children, a cheating husband, and a flirtatious married ex-boyfriend who wants you back? I needed an Ativan.
Book That Made Me Blush: Regrets Only by M.J. Pullen.
Most Popular Setting: New York City (14 books were set there), Los Angeles was a distant second (5 books).
Most Popular Profession: This stat is the most telling of the type of reading I did this year. I read eight books with no profession at all. The major character was wealthy, with no official job! Coming in second was actress. Before you think I’m completely shallow – third place was a three-way tie with housewife, waitress, and lawyer.
From One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid:
“You know that you will never truly be free of grief. You know that it is something you must learn to live with, something you manage. You start to understand that grief is chronic. It’s more about remission and relapse than it is about cure. What that means to you is that you can’t simply wait for it to be over. You have to have to move through it. Like swimming in an undertow.”
From Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler:
“It is an epidemic with women your age. A gross disparity between the way that they speak and the quality of thoughts that they’re having about the world. They are taught to express themselves in slang, in clichés, sarcasm – all of which is weak language. The superficiality of the language colors the experiences, rendering them disposable instead of assimilated. And the to top it all off, you call yourselves ‘girls’”
I don’t think I said it well before. His teeth were slightly crooked and when we did last call he would unbutton the top of his shirt, his throat pulsing like something that had been caged. His hair was irreverent after eight hours of bar tending. He drank like he was the only person who understood beer. When he looked at you, he was the only person who understood you, sipped you, and swallowed. Someone told me his eyes were blue, someone else that they were green, but they were gold in the center, which is entirely different. When he laughed it was rare and explosive. If a song came on the affected him, let’s say Miles Davis’s “Blue in Green,” he would shut his eyes. His eyelids would flutter like he was dreaming. He was making the bar and guests disappear. He would disappear too. He could turn himself off like a switch and I stood there in the dark, waiting.
From Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld:
She said, “When we get to Edwards, want to race up the hill?”
Fitzwilliam: “You know those little dogs who get up in the faces of German shepherds and bark at them? That’s what you remind me of.”
Liz: “Are you scared you’ll lose?’
Fitzwilliam: “Apparently, growing up with Title IX (she didn’t) gave you quite a sense of self-esteem.”
Liz: “All right, then, it’s on.”
Off they ran. You have to read the book to see who won and what happened after. A little tease, the chapter ended with, “Indeed.”
Books I Purchased and Meant to Read (and will, I swear!): Commonwealth by Ann Patchett; The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis; Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch by Sally Bedell Smith; and Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple.
Books I’m Excited About in 2017: Always by Sarah Jio: The House at Waters End by Patti Callahan Henry; The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams; A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner.
Favorites from years past: