Thursday, December 31, 2015

Julie's 2015 Year in Review

 photo Top Books 2015_zpseiss3mrm.jpgIt's everyone's favorite time of the year! You know where everyone comes out with their favorite books of 2015 and I'm no different.

My Goodreads Challenge Goal:
75 Books
Books Read: 86!! (Through 12/30/2015)

2015 was yet another year where I had more than a handful of 5/5 books! So, here is the break down by category for my favorites (top 5 (or more) in each if applicable, not in a specific order).

Contemporary Fiction:
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
The Status of of All Things by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke
Center of Gravity by Laura McNeill
The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs by Matthew Dicks
Come Away with Me by Karma Brown

Historical Fiction:
The Magician's Lie by Greer McAllister
A Fireproof Home for the Bride by Amy Scheibe
Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams
The Edge of the Lost by Kristina McMorris

Historical Fiction & Contemporary Fiction:
The Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy
Sisters of Heart and Snow by Margaret Dilloway

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian
The Mask by Taylor Stevens
Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica
The Stranger by Harlan Coben

Women's Fiction:
The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza
Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford
Who Do You Love by Jennifer Weiner

Young Adult:
All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
If You're Lucky by Yvonne Prinz

Other Categories:
Armada by Ernest Cline (Sci-Fi)
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari (Humor, Sociology)

 I am hoping that 2016 is as wonderful of a reading year as 2015! Happy Reading!


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Julie's Review: Pretty Baby

Author: Mary Kubica
Series: None
Publication Date: July 28, 2015
Publisher: Mira
Pages: 384
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  Suspense
Rating: 4.75/5
Bottom Line: A novel that turns everything around on a dime
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: She sees the teenage girl on the train platform, standing in the pouring rain, clutching an infant in her arms. She boards a train and is whisked away. But she can't get the girl out of her head… Heidi Wood has always been a charitable woman: she works for a nonprofit, takes in stray cats. Still, her husband and daughter are horrified when Heidi returns home one day with a young woman named Willow and her four-month-old baby in tow. Disheveled and apparently homeless, this girl could be a criminal—or worse. But despite her family's objections, Heidi invites Willow and the baby to take refuge in their home. Heidi spends the next few days helping Willow get back on her feet, but as clues into Willow's past begin to surface, Heidi is forced to decide how far she's willing to go to help a stranger. What starts as an act of kindness quickly spirals into a story far more twisted than anyone could have anticipated.  

Review: Pretty Baby was one of those books where I actually had no clue where it was going. I will say that where it ended up was completely shocking and mouth-dropping. Also, my opinion shifted about each character throughout the story, which is amazing because it's hard to change someone's mind when they've already formed an opinion, typically. Heidi is a do-gooder. She works for a non-profit, recycles religiously and is extremely socially conscious. It is one of the things that made her husband, Chris, fall in love with her. It is also the thing that is now a small wedge between them. Chris also travels a ton and leaves Heidi on her own with their daughter, Zoe. Who pretty much hates everything right now.

So when Heidi happens upon a girl and a baby, her maternal instincts kick in and she offers the teenager shelter for a night. We all know that one night isn't going to be the end of it and of course Willow ends up staying longer. Chris is none to pleased about the one night and furious when it turns into more. Zoe, while she isn't pleased, she isn't really in the novel except mentions by her parents and the occasional appearance.

It's no surprise that Willow is running away from something huge since we get a glimpse into it early but Ms. Kubica leaves us kernels to follow. Willow's past is sad and disturbing but unfortunately something that happens more often than we all would like to admit. The puzzle pieces begin to fall into place pretty quickly on her story with a satisfying ending. Where things really get crazy and wacky is with Heidi. She starts to act erratic and unlike herself. She starts to miss work, forgets to pick up Zoe and generally doesn't focus on anything but Willow and baby Ruby.

You really need to pick up Pretty Baby before I spill all the details. It's the twists and turns that makes suspense novels some of the hardest to review. Ms. Kubica does an excellent job of turning everything around in this novel. I can't wait for her next novel!


Monday, December 28, 2015

Julie's Review: Come Away with Me

Author: Karma Brown
Series: None
Publication Date: August 25, 2015
Pages: 304
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: Damn
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary:  An unexpected journey leads one woman to discover that life after loss is possible, if only you can find the courage to let go… One minute, Tegan Lawson has everything she could hope for: an adoring husband, Gabe, and a baby on the way. The next, a patch of black ice causes a devastating accident that will change her life in ways she never could have imagined. Tegan is consumed by grief—not to mention her anger toward Gabe, who was driving on the night of the crash. But just when she thinks she's hit rock bottom, Gabe reminds her of their Jar of Spontaneity, a collection of their dream destinations and experiences, and so begins an adventure of a lifetime. From the bustling markets of Thailand to the flavors of Italy to the ocean waves in Hawaii, Tegan and Gabe embark on a journey to escape the tragedy and search for forgiveness. But they soon learn that grief follows you no matter how far away you run, and that acceptance comes when you least expect it. Heartbreaking, hopeful and utterly transporting, Come Away with Me is an unforgettable debut and a luminous celebration of the strength of the human spirit.

Review: Come Away With Me is the kind of book that will keep you up long past your bedtime to complete the journey. At the end of the journey it will leave you in utter awe and disbelief. It is the kind of book that you will want to go and read again, if only you could experience it again for the first time. For me, that is a rare and delightful experience.

I know this will make me sound like a horrible human being but honestly at times, Tegan got on my nerves. I understand the horrible tragedy she's been handed but she's also hurting those that are the closest to her. She's wallowing in her own despair and can't seem to get herself out of it. Seriously, there were a few times I wanted to smack Tegan to get her to realize that she did still have a life to live. There were times when I felt her loved ones were a bit easy on her; a lack of tough love.

I wanted Tegan to lash out at Gabe. I wanted her to spit her anger and fury at him because she needed to and he needed to hear it. It would also work wonders for her recovery. You are desperate for both of them to find their way back to each other and to regain the love they have for each other.

Gabe is uber-patience with Tegan. It is evident that he just wants his wife back. He knows they can't go back to the way things were but they have to find a way to move on. I love how he makes her take the trip to some places they would eventually get to in their lifetime. He's trying to get her to live life again.

Each of the locations, Thailand, Italy and Hawaii start to bring Tegan to back to herself but not without setbacks. Those setbacks are heartbreaking to read. Each of these locations is breathtaking with beauty and makes me a bit envious of the trip but not for the reasons they are there.

I really can't go into much more detail about this beautiful, heartbreaking and hopeful novel without ruining it. If you haven't read this novel, make it a priority for the rest of the year or at least early 2016.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Julie's Review: The Guest Room

Author: Chris Bohjalian
Series: None
Publication Date: January 5, 2016
Publisher: Doubleday
Pages: 455
Obtained: Amazon Vine
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.75/5.0
Bottom Line: Captivating and disturbing subject matter
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: When Kristin Chapman agrees to let her husband, Richard, host his brother’s bachelor party, she expects a certain amount of debauchery. She brings their young daughter to Manhattan for the evening, leaving her Westchester home to the men and their hired entertainment. What she does not expect is this: bacchanalian drunkenness, her husband sharing a dangerously intimate moment in the guest room, and two women stabbing and killing their Russian bodyguards before driving off into the night. In the aftermath, Kristin and Richard’s life rapidly spirals into nightmare. The police throw them out of their home, now a crime scene, Richard’s investment banking firm puts him on indefinite leave, and Kristin is unsure if she can forgive her husband for the moment he shared with a dark-haired girl in the guest room. But the dark-haired girl, Alexandra, faces a much graver danger. In one breathless, violent night, she is free, running to escape the police who will arrest her and the gangsters who will kill her in a heartbeat. A captivating, chilling story about shame and scandal, The Guest Room is a riveting novel from one of our greatest storytellers.  

Review: The Guest Room is a riveting and disturbing look at how something as normal as a bachelor party can turn badly so quickly. I can't even get into the debauchery that is Philip's bachelor party without giving it all away but you will want to slap the crap out of the men at this party. The aftermath of the party is told from Richard and Alexandra's point of view, which makes the story all that more intriguing.

Richard is a bit out of his depth in dealing with the fact that his actions have consequences that he can't even say, especially since his day job is M&A manager at an investment firm. He feels that things are way out of his control and isn't quite sure how to handle the situation. Not only that but he can't possibly understand what the ramifications on his marriage and young daughter will be.

Kristin isn't sure what to think or what to believe. She desperately wants to believe her husband but when she comes home and see what a shambles their house is in, she wonders if their marriage is in the same state. We get a glimpse into how her and Melissa, their daughter, are processing the outcome of the party at times, which is just enough to understand their anger, confusion, hurt and ultimately forgiveness.

The real focus is on Alexandra and her backstory, heck her story are fascinating and depressing at the same time. How she came to be at Richard's house will break your heart and you will root for her to gain her freedom. She knows loss and heartache but she doesn't know yet what it's like to live your own life, to have choices and you very much want her to have those things.

There are times when The Guest Room is hard to read. The social issue that Mr. Bohjalian highlights here is one that doesn't get a lot of airplay on the news but is definitely deserving of attention. What I love about Mr. Bohjalian's books is that no matter what the subject matter is, he pulls you in immediately. It never takes me 50 pages to get into one of his novels.

The Guest Room is a riveting novel that makes you think and give pause to something that isn't in the news daily. It is rich with well-written characters and an ending that stuns.


Friday, December 11, 2015

Julie's Review: Moonlight Over Paris

Author: Jennifer Robson
Series: None
Publication Date: January 19, 2016
Publisher: William Morrow
Pages: 352
Obtained: Amazon Vine
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.25/5.0
Bottom Line: Delightful novel about coming into your own
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: An aristocratic young woman leaves the sheltered world of London to find adventure, passion, and independence in 1920s Paris in this mesmerizing story from the USA Today and internationally bestselling author of Somewhere in France and After the War is Over. Spring, 1924. Recovering from a broken wartime engagement and a serious illness that left her near death, Lady Helena Montagu-Douglas-Parr vows that for once she will live life on her own terms. Breaking free from the stifling social constraints of the aristocratic society in which she was raised, she travels to France to stay with her free spirited aunt. For one year, she will simply be Miss Parr. She will explore the picturesque streets of Paris, meet people who know nothing of her past—and pursue her dream of becoming an artist. A few years after the Great War’s end, the City of Light is a bohemian paradise teeming with actors, painters, writers, and a lively coterie of American expatriates who welcome Helena into their romantic and exciting circle. Among them is Sam Howard, an irascible and infuriatingly honest correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. Dangerously attractive and deeply scarred by the horror and carnage of the war, Sam is unlike any man she has ever encountered. He calls her Ellie, sees her as no one has before, and offers her a glimpse of a future that is both irresistible and impossible. As Paris rises phoenix-like from the ashes of the Great War, so too does Helena. Though she’s shed her old self, she’s still uncertain of what she will become and where she belongs. But is she strong enough to completely let go of the past and follow her heart, no matter where it leads her? Artfully capturing the Lost Generation and their enchanting city, Moonlight Over Paris is the spellbinding story of one young woman’s journey to find herself, and claim the life—and love—she truly wants.

 Review: Moonlight Over Paris is a great story centered in the artist community of Paris and is about being true to yourself, finding out what you love, living the life you are given. Helena almost died and decided that because she didn't she was going to live her life and to do that she needed to go to Paris to study art. Luckily she has a rich aunt that she can live with while she goes to art school.

Most of the time is spent with Helena and her friends, Mathilde, Etienne and Daisy as they make their way through the demand of art school. They spend most of the time painting, drawing, eating and drinking. Within this close knit friends is Sam Howard, who Helena feels drawn to but something makes her keep her distance. She keeps him at arms length but they develop a deep respect and friendship for each other.

It isn't too hard to see how the book is going to end but it's the in between pages that capture your imagination about how it was to live in Paris in those days. It must have been so vibrant, alive and exciting. It is the people that Helena meets/rubs shoulders with during that time that I found interesting.

If  you are looking for a solid read about the early years of the Bohemian movement in Paris and how it became to be the City of Light, then you should read Moonlight Over Paris.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Julie's Review: Everything I Never Told You

Author: Celeste Ng
Series: None
Publication Date: June 26, 2014
Publisher: Penguin Press
Pages: 304
Obtained: from a friend
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: Interesting look at how family secrets effect each family member
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library
Summary: Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . . So begins the story of this exquisite debut novel, about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue—in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party. When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart. James, consumed by guilt, sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage. Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to find a responsible party, no matter what the cost. Lydia’s older brother, Nathan, is certain that the neighborhood bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it’s the youngest of the family—Hannah—who observes far more than anyone realizes and who may be the only one who knows the truth about what happened. A profoundly moving story of family, history, and the meaning of home, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, exploring the divisions between cultures and the rifts within a family, and uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.  

Review: Everything I Never Told You is a poignant family story about how the secrets we keep affect each of a family's members differently. How as parent's we some times can pin our hopes and dreams on our kids without knowing how it can effect them. For the Lee family and their children, being the only Chinese family in a small Ohio town has it's own issues.

Each of the family members in the Lee family has their own secrets, some more harmful than others. Marilyn hasn't been happy for years and the family has swept her disappearance years prior under the rug. Unfortunately, the fallout of her leaving and coming back have had long-term ripples that turn into tidal waves. Lydia is the favorite of the family. It is clear that she is the golden child. Marilyn has all her hopes and dreams pinned on her. James is the working father and husband who doesn't have a clue that something is wrong at home until it's too late. He's also the father who has no clue how to relate to his kids or help them to fit in, except in the most awkward way.

Marilyn has her own issues and a lot of them stem from her relationship with her mother. I don't think she married James to spite her mother but I don't think she had any clue about how difficult it would be for them with no one to help them work through it. She doesn't understand and won't until it's too late how her leaving the family left deep scars.

Hannah, Lydia and Nath all deal with their own issues with their relationships with each other and with their parents. Nath feels largely ignored or that his parents have no interest in what he's interested in. Hannah is the youngest and feels like she's on the outside looking in at her family.

It isn't until the later part of the book that we understand what Lydia was feeling and thinking. You can't help but feel sorry for her. Her parents can't see through their own goals for her to even ask if that's what she wants for her life. Marilyn is the epitome of a helicopter mom before that term was en vogue.

Everything I Never Told You will make you pause and think about how your parents shaped you and how you will shape your children. It is a book that makes you pause and think.


Monday, December 7, 2015

Julie's Review: The Edge of Lost

Author: Kristina McMorris
Series: None
Publication Date: November 24, 2015
Publisher: Kensington Books
Pages: 352
Obtained: via author
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: Enthralling
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: On a cold night in October 1937, searchlights cut through the darkness around Alcatraz. A prison guard's only daughter--one of the youngest civilians who lives on the island--has gone missing. Tending the warden's greenhouse, convicted bank robber Tommy Capello waits anxiously. Only he knows the truth about the little girl's whereabouts, and that both of their lives depend on the search's outcome. Almost two decades earlier and thousands of miles away, a young boy named Shanley Keagan ekes out a living as an aspiring vaudevillian in Dublin pubs. Talented and shrewd, Shan dreams of shedding his dingy existence and finding his real father in America. The chance finally comes to cross the Atlantic, but when tragedy strikes, Shan must summon all his ingenuity to forge a new life in a volatile and foreign world. Skillfully weaving these two stories, Kristina McMorris delivers a compelling novel that moves from Ireland to New York to San Francisco Bay. As her finely crafted characters discover the true nature of loyalty, sacrifice, and betrayal, they are forced to confront the lies we tell--and believe--in order to survive.

Review: The Edge of Lost is a novel to get lost in and to explore. It is a novel that you won't want to put down until you know how the opening prologue relates to the events that Ms. McMorris unfolds in the beginning of the novel. It isn't hard to put the names together but what you long to figure out is how they got to where they are.

It is so easy to get caught up in Shan's story and adventure. Luckily for him he happens upon the Capello family that takes him in and treat him as their own. He slowly begins to form a bond with Mr. and Mrs. Capella, Lina and Nick become the siblings he never had in Ireland. He's a studious young man and ingratiates himself to the family by working with Mr. Capello. Nick on the other hand isn't particularly studious and would rather work at a club making money. Of course you know that the club Nick works in isn't on the up and up and will get him into trouble eventually.

What Ms. McMorris does is an excellent job of demonstrating how family is who we deem it to be at times. Shan's immediate family was lost to him and his extended family wasn't kind to him, so the Capello's ended up being the family he always wanted. He gave up the search for his father shortly after coming to America.

Even though it's pretty clear to the reader early on how things are related, there are a few twists and turns that were not expected by me. I closed the book completely happy with how she deftly weaved everything together! It isn't often an author can take me by surprise, especially when I thought I had figured it out. I had but not fully put all the pieces together.

The Edge of Lost is a novel that will have you turning the pages until the very end and as you close the book you will be wholly satisfied. I wish my review was longer but honestly if I talk more about the book, I'll ruin it for you. You don't want to miss out on this one though.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Julie's Review: Armada

Author: Ernest Cline
Series: None
Publication Date: July 14, 2015
Publisher: Random House Audio
Length: 11 Hours and 58 Minutes
Narrator: Wil Wheaton
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  Science Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: Alien invasion with a sense of humor
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library
Summary: It's just another day of high school for Zack Lightman. He's daydreaming through another boring math class, with just one more month to go until graduation and freedom - if he can make it that long without getting suspended again.
Then he glances out his classroom window and spots the flying saucer.
At first Zack thinks he's going crazy. A minute later he's sure of it. Because the UFO he's staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada - in which gamers just happen to be protecting the Earth from alien invaders. But what Zack's seeing is all too real. And his skills - as well as those of millions of gamers across the world - are going to be needed to save the Earth from what's about to befall it.Yet even as he and his new comrades scramble to prepare for the alien onslaught, Zack can't help thinking of all the science-fiction books, TV shows, and movies he grew up reading and watching and wonder: Doesn't something about this scenario seem a little too...familiar? Armada is at once a rollicking, surprising thriller, a classic coming-of-age adventure, and an alien-invasion tale like nothing you've ever heard before - one whose every minute is infused with author Ernest Cline's trademark pop-culture savvy.

Review: Armada isn't really my cup of tea and pretty much the only reason I used an Audible credit for it was 2 words: Wil Wheaton. You see, he narrated Ready, Player One and I just love the sound of his voice and how he creates the voices of the characters. While this is a science fiction book it has a heavy dose of humor and pop culture. It is evident to me that Mr. Cline is a huge gamer.

Zach Lightman is a 18 year old who isn't quite sure what he's going to do with his life after graduation. He just wants to work at his part time job and continue playing his favorite video game Armada. This life contemplation doesn't last long because what happens next is straight out of a sci-fi movie. He's quickly recruited into an elite group that is fighting an alien invasion that is imminent.

What I really love about Mr. Cline's novels is how you immediately connect to the main character. Even if you don't understand the gaming world or frankly care about alien invasions, you will like Zach and his sense of humor. Mr. Cline also doesn't go geeky sci-fi on you either. He talks enough of the language for those who do like to geek out but not too much that you get lost.

What is an important in both of his books is relationship: family, friends and romantic. He makes it clear that humans wouldn't be human if we didn't establish and maintain those that sets us apart. There is so much good in this book that it does make you believe in the good in us humans.

Let's talk about Wil Wheaton's narration skills for a bit. He's simply fantastic. I could listen to him narrate almost every book I listen to. He does an excellent job of distinguishing his voice for all of the characters and in an non-irritating way.

While I might not have liked this one as much as Ready, Player One, I still thought that was a lot to think about.