Book Banter March 2017

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I finally broke out of my reading rut. After reading Brave New World last month I could not get into another book. The end of that book wrecked me. But I decided I would ease back into reading with a good young adult mystery and then it was off to the reading races!

I have recently started a facebook group for the blog called Golden Retrievers and Stars  (of course) and you should definitely check it out. I share fashion and books deals and live un-boxings of my recent purchases.  I am also toying around with the idea of doing an online book club, so let me know if that is something you would be interested in doing!  So seriously, go check out the faceook group, you won’t regret it.

Back to the books. Here is what I read this month:

1. A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

A Study in Charlotte (Charlotte Holmes, #1)The main characters in this new series are Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson (yes, they are descendants of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson of literary fame) and they find themselves thrown together at a boarding school in Connecticut when one of their fellow students was murdered. Of course they are the prime suspects. I love a good mystery and when the characters are interesting it is even better. Jamie is very easy to like and I am so glad the story is told from his perspective. Charlotte is complex and not altogether easy to love, but is really honest. I liked the banter. I liked that there wasn’t too much ooey-gooey teenage emotion.  The second book in the series recently came out and I have a feeling I am going to start buying these books because the covers are GORGEOUS. Disclaimer: there are some scenes with adult content and drug use.

2. Devil in thee White City by Erik Larson 

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed AmericaI am a sucker for excellent narrative nonfiction. I love to read, and learn new things, so nonfiction that reads like a novel makes my heart happy! That being said, I do not know why I have not read Erik Larson sooner. This book follows the lives of H.H, Holmes (Chicago serial killer) and Daniel H. Burnham (Chicago World’s Fair Architect) as the Chicago World’s Far comes together. Both the drama surrounding the World’s Fair and the murders committed by H.H. Holmes were very interesting. I cannot believe how far police investigation has come since the late 1800’s. H.H. Holmes was not only murdering but committing fraud all over the place!  My favorite bit of architecture and engineering history was the invention, building and operation of the first Ferris Wheel! This book was slow in spots, but I really loved it. If you have an interest in serial killers (sounds bad, but we all know it is a thing) or the history of U.S. architecture you should totally check this book out. If not, still check it out, it is fascinating!

3. Grave of Hummingbirds by Jennifer Skutelsky

Grave of HummingbirdsI am a sucker for a good setting and the setting of this book was perfect. Picture a small South American village, condors flying overhead and weird murders all around. Our cast of characters finds themselves in the middle of these strange murders as a local festival draws nearer.  An American anthropologist and her son visit the village for the festival and locals begin to notice the anthropologist resembles a recent murder victim. Not long after they arrive and notice that something strange is going on she goes missing. The local doctor (whose wife has recently died and also looks like the murder victim) gets involved and things just keep getting weirder. Throw in some corrupt politicians and police and you have yourself an excellent, exciting story.  I saw that is free on kindle unlimited so if you subscribe to that, then definitely download this book!

4. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder 

There isn’t much to say about this book other than it is one of my all time favorite books. I have read this book too many times to count. The most recent read was with my students. The joy that they got from hearing Laura’s stories amplifies my own joy. They learned a lot and asked me so many great questions. After we finished reading we made Johnny cake, butter and maple sugar candy, just like Laura did in the book. This made this read extra special. If you have not read this please do it now! I have heard the audiobook is awesome because there is real fiddle music when Pa plays!

 

 

 

 

5. The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport 

The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and AlexandraEver since I was a young girl I have been interested in Tsar Nicholas II and his family. Their story is so tragic I have always thought it was weird I was so drawn to it.  But it wasn’t until I read this book that the reason for my curiosity became clear. The Romanov family suffered well. Their world was crumbling around them and their deaths were imminent. Yet, they took joy in the world around them. They were happy to be able to chop wood, or walk around a garden. They enjoyed their time together and they never lost faith. Their biggest regret about being in captivity was that they could no longer help at their hospitals. What a powerful example they were. Nicholas was not a good ruler, but he was a good man and father. He put his family before his country until he took his last breath. His daughters and son were never allowed to grow up, but their story is inspiring. I cried my way through this one, and it didn’t help when Anthony said, “well its not going to get any better” but this story is one I will keep revisiting.

6. A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny

A Rule Against Murder (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #4)I have been slowly reading my way through the Chief Inspector Gamache Mystery series. This is book number 4 and was by far the best. The strength of this series is the characters and while they take time to develop it is worth it. This book is set in the wilderness of Canada at an old inn. One of the guests is crushed by a statue of her father that was just erected. The only suspects are the family members themselves and the staff of the inn, oh and the Chief Inspector himself, who happened to be staying at the inn with his wife at the time. We get to see a glimpse into the Inspector’s past and learned a little about his father, and why he chose the path he did. I am going to keep plugging away at this mystery series, because I hear it only gets better!

7. Edge of eternity by Ken Follett

Edge of Eternity (The Century Trilogy, #3)This is the third book in Follett’s Century Trilogy and it covers post WWII to the falling on the Berlin Wall. That is some serious ground, and I think that is why this turned out to be my least favorite of the three. I felt like I didn’t really get to know the characters as well as in the other books. Don’t get me wrong there were very touching moments in this book, but most of them included characters from the previous stories. The best part about this book was how much I learned. I knew the least about the subject matter in this book and was horrified and fascinated by all that I learned. One thing that really bothered me about this book was that Follett’s characters seemed less morally ambiguous than in his previous books. All of the characters were still flawed, human beings, but it was clear Follett was trying to make certain characters out as the “bad guys” because of their political views. In the previous books the reader was allowed to make their own judgments about a person based on the glimpses of humanity that Follett provided for all characters. I much preferred that to the over-generalization of characters based on their political leanings. I would highly recommend this series to historical fiction lovers. The audiobooks are fantastic and well worth the $15 audible credit price because they are about 37 hours each. Disclaimer: there is tons of adult content in the series.

8. Golden Son by Pierce Brown 

Golden Son (Red Rising, #2)This book is the second in Brown’s Red Rising Saga. It follows Darrow, a young man who has left his family behind in order to free them from the life of slavery they live. This is a post-apocalyptic type series, set in our solar system after earth’s destruction.  In this book Darrow further infiltrates the Golden society that has kept his people underground for hundreds of years. This series is similar to The Hunger Games (yes it has lots of violence), but the political system of the society is very interesting. What I love about these books is that I found myself writing down quotes and nuggets of wisdom. Every once in awhile Brown slips in a keen observation on human nature and I am a sucker for that. I am excited to get the next book from the library!

 

I managed to read 8 books during March! What have you been reading? Have you read any of these books? If so, tell me your thoughts in the comments. You can follow me on twitter and instagram @whitksmith and search #bookbanter2017 to keep up with what I am reading. Don’t forget to join my facebook group to get great deals on books!

Until next time,

I love you more than Russian Tsars and Ferris Wheel Cars,

Whitney

 

 

 

Book Banter: February 2017

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Welcome to post 100 on Golden Retrievers and Stars! Whether this is your first time reading, or your hundredth (hi mom!), thank you! When I started this blog I never imagined I would reach thousands or readers. So, thank you.

Ok, enough with the mushy stuff, let’s get to why you are really here, BOOKS.

This month I was in a reading slump. I did not get nearly as much reading done as I had anticipated. Especially since a bunch of my library holds came in this month. I will cut myself some slack since February is a short month, and I was out of town over a long weekend. But seriously, can I have my reading  groove back?

All titles are linked to Amazon for your convenient buying pleasure. These links are affiliate links and I will earn a small commission from your purchases at no extra charge to you.

1. Call the Nurse by Mary J. MacLeod

Call the Nurse: True Stories of a Country Nurse on a Scottish IsleReader Confession: I have not read Call the Midwife or seen the show-Don’t worry, it is on my to-do list- So I am assuming that this book follows a similar style as the one its name echoes.  I have heard both compared to James Herriot’s writings, which I have read and love. This book is the memoir of MacLeod, a nurse, who decided to move with her family to a remote Scottish Isle and become the island nurse. It really made me want to visit Scotland and maybe turn into a hermit and live there. I am not sure about peat smoke, but I bet I could get used to it. The people in the stories are so vibrant. MacLeod does not shy away from tough stories, but had her share of funny stories as well. I loved the passion with which MacLeod described her time on the island. I HIGHLY recommend this on audio because 1. Scottish accents 2. name pronunciation.

2. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White 

Charlotte's WebI think I have read this book more times than any other, even *gasp* Harry Potter. It is a masterpiece. The language is so rich. The story heartfelt, and the characters are complex and humorous (Templeton) Every time I get to read this with my students I cannot imagine a greater privilege. Seriously. The looks on their faces and their belly laughs are worth 10,00 words. I still get choked up at the end, even though I give myself a pep talk before reading it. If you have never read this book I will try not to judge you, but seriously, now is the time. If you haven’t read this book in the last ten years I recommend you revisit it. You will be glad you did. It is a tale of friendship and trust. Love and loyalty. Plus, if you get the opportunity to read it aloud, your kiddos will love the voices you get make for the different barnyard animals. I love this book so much I currently own 5 copies of it. Some will be going home with students are year end gifts, but still. So good.

3. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

17262158This book might have started my reading slump. I finished it and was shocked. I was not anticipating it to be so sexual. I was not anticipating the ending. I was also not anticipating Shakespeare (that part I really liked). I read this as part of a series on Totalitarianism I am following along with. I also read Darkness at Noon and 1984.  Huxley was obviously very well educated and very afraid of where the world was headed. His imagined totalitarian government was not as outright scary as the others I have been reading about. But, that made it even scarier. There were not too many people who were disgruntled or asking questions. They filled their days with work and nights with government promoted entertainment. They took a literal happy pill whenever they had bad feelings. That is scary. It sounds like something people might actually do. Yikes. I am glad I read this, bu I  am not sure I enjoyed it and I don’t think I was supposed to.

Well that is it for February Book  Banter! Don’t forget to follow along with my reading adventures on instagram and twitter! Juts follow me @whitksmith and tag your books with #bookbanter2017

Also, join my facebook group for book deals, fashion finds and more! Right now I am having a $20 Stitch Fix Giveaway to celebrate their launch of more sizes! They now carry sizes 0-24W and XS-3X. Check out my last Stitch Fix post for more details or just head on over to the facebook group to enter now!

What have you been reading lately? Any ideas to get me back on the reading train? Let me know in the comments.

Until next time,

I love you more than Scottish isles and kiddo smiles,

Whitney

 

Book Banter January 2017: Part 2

Thanks for stopping by to talk about books! I have been focusing on books I want to read this month and I haven’t been sticking to my usual regimen. I will probably get back to it in the coming months, but it was fun to just sit back and let my mood drive my reading choices for the month of January.

I read ten books this month so my Book Banter post has been split in two. Read the first Book Banter post here. The books have been linked using my affiliate links, so if you make a purchase a small portion of the price will come back to me to help support my blog!

6. Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery 

Emily Climbs (Emily, #2)I love everything I have read by L.M. Montgomery and the Emily series is no exception. This is the second book in the Emily of New Moon Series. Emily Starr, like Montgomery’s well known character Anne Shirley, lives on Prince Edward Island and is an orphan. She loves writing and dreams of being a well known author/ poet/etc. I LOVE the way that Emily looks at the world, she sees beauty everywhere and takes the time to admire it. I feel like I notice the beauty in the world, but rarely take the time to truly indulge in it. So Emily’s observations are a welcome reminder. Emily’s character is so endearing, at times you can feel her anguish and remember being as young as she is. Of course, you can see budding romances forming, but they are so sweet and innocent that it warms your heart. Emily and Anne are similar in many ways, but their differences make the Emily series a very different read.

7. The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

The Shining GirlsThis is a book my best friend recently read and the premise made me push it to the top of my stack. This book is all about a time-traveling serial killer. Pretty interesting right? The time travel is not science-fictiony; it is the means by which the killer finds and gets to his victims. After he has found a victim he takes something from her and then leaves it at the scene of the next crime. For investigators this is puzzling because the trinkets are often left during a time period where they have not yet been invented. He is going undetected when one of his intended victims lives and is set on finding out who tried to kill her. The writing is weak in some areas. I found myself rereading a few of the passages because the wording was off, but it didn’t take away from the overall read.  I really liked the premise and would look for more by this author. As she continues to write I am sure her style will improve.

3. Emily’s Quest by L.M. Mongomery

Emily's Quest (Emily, #3)Yes I finished the Emily of New Moon series this month. After I finished the second book I quickly started the third and final book in the series. I wanted to stay in Emily’s world for just a while longer. In this last book Emily does a lot of growing up and learns what it is like to break a heart and have her heart broken. The descriptions are still gorgeous and make me want to visit Prince Edward Island. I would be lying if I told you this was easy for me to put down. I stayed up VERY late on a school night to finish this book because I HAD TO KNOW what happened. I wasn’t disappointed. I am not the type of person that always needs the ending of a book to be wrapped up with a pretty little bow on top, but this book had the biggest and brightest of bows and was just right. Let me leave you with some quotes from the book, “But love is not bought and sold. It is a gift.” and “Even if we never find it,” he said to Emily, as they lingered in the New Moon garden under the violet sky of a long, wondrous, northern twilight, on the last evening before he went away, “there’s something in the search for it that’s better than even finding it would be.”

4. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station ElevenI have heard a lot about this book over the last year, most of which have been rave reviews. So I FINALLY listened to it on audio using my Overdrive app (free audiobooks anyone?). This book starts in what seems to be present day. After an opening scene, that at first seems unrelated to the story, you find out that a flu pandemic is sweeping the globe and nothing can stop it. Fast forward 20 years and civilization is all but gone. The story is following the youngest girl in the opening chapter as she navigates this desolate world with a traveling Shakespeare group. Yes, that is for real and I LOVED it. As the story progresses, the stories of the characters in the opening scenes have all become interwoven in this new world. You get snippets from the past to help inform the present, which is a plot device I usually enjoy. I appreciated the attention to detail and how plot lines were not left unexplored. The opening chapters through the death of society had me on the edge of my seat, heart pounding. But the “fast forward to 20 years later” seemed abrupt and took me out of the story a bit. I could not really get my emotional connection back. I wonder if this can be attributed to the way the narrator read it. If I had read this in the text form maybe I would have liked it better. I did really enjoy this book, and see why people like it. It was just not as good as I had hoped.

5. The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

Magician's Elephant, TheThis was another audiobook pick (three in one month! I have been doing a lot of work in my classroom on my days off I guess…) I love the balance of whimsy and serious issues DiCamillo brings to her books, and this was no exception. This book is about a young orphan boy who made a promise to his mother before she died that he would take care of his newborn sister. When his guardian is not fit to take care of the girl, she is taken away and years later the boy is still determined to find her. He goes to a fortune teller to ask about his sister and finds out that an elephant will lead him to her. Meanwhile a magician comes to town and accidentally makes an elephant appear in the drawing room of a well-off woman’s house. It is a real elephant in the room situation, if you know what I mean ? 😉 The boy finds out about the elephant and knows this is the elephant he has been waiting for. As he tries to discover where his sister is, the boy finds out who is there for him and learns what family he already has. I enjoyed this book, while it was not my favorite by DiCamillo, and have a few students that will bee hearing this as a recommendation for a story they should read.

That is it for my first Book Banter post of the new year! Don’t forget to follow along with what I am reading and share what you are reading by snapping a picture and posting it on instagram or twitter using the hashtag #bookbanter2017 You can follow me @whitksmith

Until next time,

I love you more than violet skies and the world’s demise,

Whitney

Book Banter January 2017: Part 1

I had made a goal to post at least 2 times per week this year, but that did not happen in January. Maybe I didn’t have time to blog because I was spending all my time reading! I managed to read ten books this month, so my Book Banter post will be broken into two parts. Follow along with what I am reading on Instagram or Twitter @whitksmith and tag your books too! Use the hashtag #bookbanter2017 .

Here are my first five reads of 2017! All books are linked using my affiliate links, so if you purchase them I will get a small commission that supports the content of my blog.

1. Perelandra by C.S. Lewis

Perelandra (Space Trilogy, #2)

This is the second book in the C.S Lewis Space Trilogy and I liked it much better than the first. This book takes place on Perelandra (Venus), and the main character, Ransom, is on a mission to allow humans to begin to populate Perelandra without the interruption of evil forces. There are quite a few philosophical conversations in this book, so despite its small size, it took me a bit to get through it. I found some parts to be laugh out loud funny, and other parts to be dark and scary. As usual, I found the descriptions of the natural world to be absolutely mind-blowing.  They way Lewis is able to capture beauty with words is almost unparalleled.  I always find myself re-reading passages because the images they conjure up are too delightful not to relive. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Creation stories and Science Fiction!

2. Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith 

Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike, #3)This is the third book in the Cormoran Strike Private Investigator series written by J.K. Rowling (under a pen name of course). I LOVE these books. This particular book follows the investigation of a serial killer than has a personal grudge against Strike. The killer decides he wants to ruin Strike by killing his assistant investigator, Robin. When Robin and Strike realize her life is in danger they disagree on how this case should be investigated. Of the three books in the series, this was probably my least favorite because a lot of the descriptions of Strike were repetitive. I kept thinking, “I get it, he only has one leg, you can stop telling me now.” I didn’t feel like Strike’s character was advanced at all, and the other characters were just passing him by. I did enjoy the mystery and Rowling’s creativity serves her well in this series. The cases are always interesting and full of detail.

Winter of the World by Ken Follett 

Winter of the World (The Century Trilogy #2)This is the second book in Follett’s Century Trilogy. This series follows the same families in England, Germany, The United States, and Russia over the course of the twentieth century. Winter of the World is set around the time of WWII and shows how the devastation of the war impacts so many lives. Follett is amazing at weaving real-life events into his fiction. I love how seamless it feels, even though you have to suspend disbelief a little when the people he is wiring about seem to end up involved in every big event of the era. I love how his characters are varied in their level of evolution. Warning: there is a lot of adult content in this book. Like an uncomfortable amount. At times it advances the story, but it feels gratuitous in some situations. I listened to this as an audiobook which I would recommend. The narrator does great accents and it really helps you to keep tack of the characters. It does make skipping the adult content harder though. If you like historical fiction and don’t mind graphic scenes I highly recommend this series.

4. Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Red Rising (Red Rising, #1)

I had never heard of this trilogy until I came across it listed as “an unputdownable book.” I was in the market for a read that would keep me up at night, so this book jumped to the top of my To-Read list. In this series the human population has been genetically modified into color groups and these groups are ranked by class. The problem is, the lowest class, the Reds, believe they are finding a way to make Mars habitable for the other humans, but they find out they are not any better than slaves for the higher classes.  When the protagonist, Darrow, loses his wife and discovers the truth, he infiltrates the highest class, the Golds, and that is when the story takes off. What happens next reminds me of the Hunger Games, but if you can believe it, more brutal, so be mindful of that if you pick it up.  I really enjoyed this book and it had just the right amount of twists and turns to keep me engaged. I already have the second one checked out from the library.

5. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt 

Tell the Wolves I'm HomeMy best friend gave me this book for Christmas and told me it is in her top twenty favorite books of all time. That is high praise because we are both avid readers. This book seems to be about a teenage girl dealing with the death of her favorite uncle. Along the way you find out it is about so much more. The protagonist, June, is grieving, forming new bonds and questioning why old ones no longer seem the same. For a debut novel, Brunt really handles complex teenage emotions deftly. She also weaves in a narrative about the turmoil and confusion surrounding the AIDS epidemic during the 80’s that seems honest, but doesn’t hit you over the head. I was especially impressed with the different types of love that were explored. In the category of “Coming of Age” novels, this is among my favorites. And, isn’t that cover gorgeous?!?!

 

Have you read any of these books? Let me know in the comments and stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow!

I love you more than heart-racing action and heart-wrenching love,

Whitney

 

Top Ten Reads of 2016

For the last four years I have been keeping track of all of the books I read on goodreads.com. Not only can you create a shelf for the books you want to read and have read, you can also set a reading goal as part of the Goodreads Reading Challenge. I like to have a reading goal to work toward and never cease to surprise myself with how much I read.

In 2016 my goal was to read 74 books and I managed to read 82 for a total of 30, 086 pages. The shortest book I read was Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J.K.Rowling (59 pages). The Longest book I read was Fall of Giants by Ken Follet (985 pages). My average book length was 367 pages. I listened to 9 audiobooks and a 3 of them are in my top ten of the year. I read the most books in December (10). The fewest number of books I read in one month was 5 and I did that in 4 months (February, March, June and November).

I love stats! I also love to look back on what I read an pick my favorites of the year. I read a lot of excellent books this year. I rated 25 books 5/5 stars! From those 25 I picked my top ten to share with you here. These are the books that have stuck with me all year long. They kept me interested and revealed nuggets of truth, beauty and goodness. I will link my original Book Banter post with each book so you can read the fresh takes I had on these books as well. You can also click the book titles to purchase the books to add to your own “To Read 2017” book-list. Just remember, I get a small commission from every purchase to help quench my thirst for reading. Thanks for your continued support of my blog!

Let’s countdown my ten favorite books of 2016!

10. Greenglass House by Kate Milford (originally read December 2016)

Greenglass House (Greenglass House, #1)Even though I just finished this book, I know it will stand the test of time. The combination of a mystery, snow and an endearing main character this book had a lot of charm and a few life lessons. I love how the author weaves adoption into the narrative naturally. I have a few adopted family members and friends and know that it can be a tough topic for some. This book doesn’t disregard that, but allows for it to be discussed. By no means is adoption the main focus, but it was what pushed this book into my favorites pile. I am so glad I read this book!

9. On Hallowed Ground by Robert M. Poole (originally read April 2016)

On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National CemeteryThis book is all about the history of Arlington National Cemetery. I was lucky enough to visit Arlington when I was in 8th grade and after reading this book I definitely want to go back. I loved learning about how Arlington belonged to Robert. E Lee at the start of the Civil War, but was used by the Union Army throughout the Civil War. The story of how the cemetery came to be and the history of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier makes my American heart swell with pride. If you love U.S. History I recommend this book.

8. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S Lewis (originally read April 2016)

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Chronicles of Narnia, #3)I have read this book many times before, but it remains one of my favorites of the Chronicles on Narnia. There is just something about a nautical adventure that I love. Also, the characters in this book are exemplary. They make mistakes, but learn that being virtuous is what we should all strive for. Plus a valiant mouse named Reepicheep steals the show and teaches so many good lessons along the way. I read this with my students which makes this book even more special.

 

7. All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot (originally read August 2016)

All Creatures Great and SmallWhen I was younger I fell in love with the stories of James Herriot and even toyed with the idea of becoming a vet(that didn’t last when I realized how sad I’d be to tell people their pets did not make it). I believe I had the picture book made for children and I could have watched a few episodes of the show. I am not really sure. I am sure that this book was fantastic. The stories about the relationships Herriot had with his animal patients and their human owners were engaging and endearing. I am so glad I decided to read the grown-up version of a childhood favorite.

6. Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler (originally read December 2016)

Darkness at NoonWell if creep factor was the only thing I considered when picking my 2016 favorites this one would be number one. This look at totalitarianism and how the leaders of a movement can find themselves at the bottom of the barrel was eye opening. It had so many places I wanted to highlight and mark up, but I borrowed it from the library so I decided against  it, even though someone before me has used a pencil to faintly underline some very interesting nuggets. Even though this book frightened me, it is so worth reading, and in my opinion necessary.

5. Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières (originally read October 2016)

Corelli's MandolinI had never heard of this book before I saw it on this book list of 200 superb books everyone should read. This book deserves to be on the list. It is about what happens to a small Greek town, and the people in it, under Italian and Nazi occupation during World War II. It took me awhile to get into this book, but the slow beginning was so worth it. This book was both gut-wrenching and heart-warming. The characters were so well written and I really came to love them. This book probably wins the award for “Most Tears Shed by the Reader” but every tear was well earned by the author. Historical Fiction in one of my favorite genres and this is now high on my list of Historical Fiction favorites.

4. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (originally read March 2016)

A Man Called OveThis is the book I like to compare to Disney Pixar’s Up. The story centers around an elderly gentleman that has lost his wife. His life just doesn’t seem worth living without her. He plans his suicide but it keeps getting interrupted by the people in his neighborhood. Slowly, Ove finds himself in the middle of his neighborhood drama and he doesn’t hate it. I loved how this story focused on living a connected life. It definitely was the runner-up for “Most Tears Shed by the Reader” and I cannot get over how good it was. Grumpy old men for the win.

3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (originally read Sept. 2016)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter, #1)That “originally read” date is a little misleading, I originally read this when it came out back in 1999. Since then I have read it probably upwards of 6 times. I think it is pretty impressive that a book I have read so many times can still make it into the #3 spot on my favorites of the year list. It had been a few years since I read this book and I was surprised by how emotional some of the passages made me. If you are not familiar with this story I highly recommend it. It is all about bravery, friendship and love in the face of evil. So. Good.

2. The Green Mile by Stephen King (originally read August 2016)

The Green MileMy mom has been telling me to read this book for years. I had never read anything by Stephen King, nor had I seen the movie based on this book. But after years of hearing about how good this story is I finally bit the bullet and read it. It surpassed my expectations. I was utterly captivated by the story of a few prison guards and their prisoners. There is an element of the supernatural I was not expecting, but the characters remained so human that it fit perfectly with the story. This is a beautiful story that is definitely worth reading.

 

1. Dracula by Bram Stoker (originally read October 2016)

DraculaObsession is the first word that comes to mind when I think of this book. Not only are the characters in the book obsessed (rightly) with getting rid of Dracula, but I am obsessed with this classic. I could not put this down. I never imagined that a very old book about a vampire would be my favorite of the year, let alone one of the best page turners I have ever read. The way Stoker writes his female characters was excellent. I have never read another classic that portrayed traditional femininity in quite the same way. Every time I go into a bookstore I look at their copies of Dracula to find a cover I really like to add to my collection. If you have not read Dracula, do it, it is especially creepy around Halloween (that is when I read it).

Honorable mentions: Anna Kerenina, A Hobbit, A Wardrone and a Great War, The Killer Angels

In 2017 my goal is to read 75 books, which is an average of 6 books per month. Even though I was able to read more books than that this year I have a feeling 2017 might get pretty busy with new ventures on the horizon so I wanted to create a goal that is higher than last year, but low enough to be attainable. I also want to “read my shelves” as much as I can. I have so many books on my shelves that I haven’t read that are calling me (can you say To Kill a Mockingbird?) I also like to participate in this reading challenge from my favorite book blogger.

What were your favorite books of the year? What are your reading goals for 2017? Let me know in the comments!

Until next time,

I love you more than vampire creeps and book induced weeps,

Whitney

December 2016 Book Banter: Part 2

Curling up with a good book by the fire has been one of my favorite pastimes this month. in December I managed to read 10 books while eating countless cookies and drinking my new favorite tea. Since I read a lot of great books I had to split my Book Banter post into two parts. Read Part 1 here and see the first five books I read this month.

Without further ado here is Part 2:

6. The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick 

The Curious Charms of Arthur PepperThis book was recommended on one of my favorite Podcasts, What Should I Read Next , for people who loved A Man Called Ove (and love that book I did). Before I tell you about the story can we just appreciate the title for a minute? So good. Ok back to the book, this book is about Arthur Pepper whose wife has been dead for a year. He gets up every morning and does the same things day in and day out. He is sad and lonely. When cleaning out his wife’s closet he comes across a charm bracelet he has never seen. On one of the charms he finds a phone number and that is where his adventure starts. Arthur goes on a journey to discover some of his wife’s secrets, but along the way he learns a lot about himself. This was a delightful read. It is not as emotionally riveting as A Man Called Ove, but it does have a lot of humanity to it. I really enjoyed this and read it rather quickly. Hooray for books about old men being a thing!

7. The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines
The Magnolia StoryWell for those of you who are not HGTV fans the names Chip and Joanna Gaines will mean very little to you. For Fixer Upper binge watchers you know and probably love these two. Anthony bought me this book for our anniversary because not only do I like the show Fixer Upper, but I like what Chip and Joanna stand for. Their faith is strong and guides how they live their lives. They are not ashamed of it and do not try to hide it for the TV cameras. In a world full of social media and very different opinions, putting your beliefs out there for everyone to criticize is scary, but they do it with such grace. This book tells the story of how their businesses came to be. It talks about the good times, and the bad times, and how they never gave up. It talks about their marriage and how in different seasons, they fill different roles for each other. I book darted (if you don’t know what it means click the link, you will thank me) so many passages in this book. It was full of wisdom and things I want to revisit. I loved reading this book, it felt like reading about a friend. It made me feel like anything is possible.

8. The One- in-a Million Boy by Monica Wood 

The One-in-a-Million BoyFirst of all, you need to buy this book because the cover is so pretty, especially if you ROYGBIV your bookshelves. It will make your shelves look happier with its cheery red color. Then once you have purchased it, you should read it. It is good. This is the story of how a man becomes a father after his only son has died. Really. It is also the story of finding friendship in the most unexpected places. It is about World Records and trying to break them. It is about love and loss and lost love. I had heard a ton of hype about this being “The best book of 2016” so I think my expectations were a little high, but I really did enjoy it. The characters are vibrant and fun. Even with the loss of a child as the backdrop for the story, it remains uplifting and is not a total downer. I didn’t even cry until the very end! While this is not my favorite book of 2016 I could see why so many people claim it as their favorite.

9. Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis  

Out of the Silent Planet (Space Trilogy, #1)This is the first book in the Space Trilogy series written by Lewis. I bought the series for my husband for our anniversary and after he finished the first book he asked me to read it too. This story follows Ransom, an Englishman that is kidnapped and taken to Malacandra, or as we know it Mars. While this is not nearly as exciting as Lewis’ Narnia series (in my opinion) the way Lewis writes dialogue and descriptions of landscapes are some of the best I have read. Ransom’s time on Malacandra is not full of adventure (there is some) but is full of observation and learning. This book is slow to start and given that it isn’t long at all, I was well over halfway through the book before I decided I liked it. There is a lot of philosophy packed in at the end so I found myself really savoring it. Usually I rush through the end of a book to discover what happens, so this was new for me. I think Anthony liked it more than I did, but I still enjoyed it.

10. Greenglass House by Kate Milford

Greenglass House (Greenglass House, #1)I picked this book up on a whim when I read it is set in an Inn during the holiday season. This book it written for pre-teen audiences and I have no doubt they will enjoy it, but I LOVED it too. The main character is a boy named Milo who lives in the Greenglass House, an inn frequented by smugglers, with his (adoptive) parents. He is just getting ready to settle down for a great Christmas vacation, a time when the inn is usually vacant, when all of the sudden a guest appears. But not only one person has come to stay, the cast of characters keeps getting larger and things start being taken from the guests’ rooms. Everything that is taken is in some way linked to the mysterious history of the inn. Of course, Milo and his new friend Meddy set out to find out who is snooping around the house and why. This is a fun mystery, it is not scary and no little description I can give this book will do it justice. The author works Milo’s musings about his birth family in a really unique and interesting way. There is a lot of love and fun in this book and I am already looking forward to the day I can read this with my own kids.

I read a lot of great books this month. I mean when your library holds come in all at once, you know it is going to be a good stretch of reading time. Have you read any of these? What did you read this month?

Until next time,

I love you more than old man adventures and middle grade mysteries,

Whitney

December 2016 Book Banter: Part 1

How is it already time for my last Book Banter post of 2016?! This month (and my Christmas vacation) certainly flew by. It may have felt faster than normal because my nose was apparently stuck in a book for much of the month. I blame it on the snow, but I am still surprised I read 10 books this month! Since I read so many titles I will be posting in two parts. So get ready for a lot of book talk, because I still need to countdown my favorites of the year too! As always, the books appear in the order I read them. Each title will be linked for your buying pleasure, just note I may receive a small commission from any purchase you make!

1. A Wardrobe, A Hobbit and a Great War by Joseph Loconte 
A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-18This book was excellent. I mean, who doesn’t want to read about how the Great War influenced some of the best writers of the twentieth century?  Ok, probably not everyone, but I certainly do. If you know me, you know I am a bit obsessed with WWI. I took every class I could about it college and continue to read about it often. In fact, I have actually read a few of the books cited as sources for this one. Can anyone say #nerdalert?  With WWI as the backdrop for this nonfiction read, I knew I would enjoy it. Add in C.S. Lewis (who I read more of later this month) and J.R.R Tolkein (who wrote my beloved The Hobbit-still have not read the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, awful I know) and this book was practically written for me. I loved it. I could not put it down and even made my husband wait in the car with me, before going in to a party, so I could finish my chapter. This thing is so full of my highlights and notes, I am excited to go back and read them again.

2. The Tresspasser by Tana French

The Trespasser (Dublin Murder Squad, #6)I was on a veeerrrry long holds list to get my hands on the much anticipated sixth book in French’s Dublin Murder Squad series. I have read my way through the series in the past two years and enjoy the level of detail and character development these books have. Warning: these books contain graphic scenes and bad language, sensitive readers beware. This book follows a female detective with a chip on her shoulder, Detective Conway. Detective Conway is beginning to feel like it is time to move on from the murder squad and reckons that the straightforward lovers quarrel gone wrong she is handed will be her last case. But when the evidence doesn’t point in the right direction Conway decides this case is way more complicated than it appears. While I liked the plot twists and turns in this book I did not like Detective Conway. At times her character development felt forced, which I have not seen in many of French’s other books. I still enjoyed this book it dragged for me a bit and was one of my least favorites of the series.

3. Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler 

Darkness at NoonI had never heard of this book and would have probably never picked it up if it had not been featured as part of a book list for a course on Totalitarianism being offered at Hillsdale College. I decided to read through the book list and follow along as Dr. Arnn and Hugh Hewitt discuss the books. You can listen here.  This book is about what happens when the regime you helped bring to power has no more use of you. In this book, Rubashov, who is fictional character who is based on real people in the socialist Soviet movement, finds himself arrested by the government he helped create. What follows is his interrogation and an internal struggle. Rubashov must determine if the ends justify the means. There is so much in this haunting novel that sheds light on what totalitarian regimes are capable of. It not only illuminates the horrors of the past, but allows the reader to see how the present suffers from the same ailments. There was a particularly disturbing scene in which Rubashov and a prisoner on the other side of the wall from his cell have a conversation by knocking back and forth about their definition of honor and the stark differences were horrifying to me. I highly recommend this book.

4. Colleen Coble Christmas Collection by Colleen Coble  

A Colleen Coble Christmas Collection: Silent Night, Holy Night, All Is Calm, All Is BrightI love a good romance around Christmas time and had been wanting to read something like Christmas in Good Hope which I read last year and really enjoyed. When I saw this on sale for kindle I grabbed it up. It contained four short stories all set around Christmas time, each with an element of mystery. Had I known they were suspenseful Christmas stories I probably wouldn’t have purchased them. I was wanting a fluffy, snowy romance, complete with a bakery owner who can’t seem to find the right guy. A couple of these short stories had just enough of that and I enjoyed them. I did not particularly like the one set in Hawaii because it was not Christmasy enough, but overall they satisfied my romance fix. I also enjoyed reading short stories and want to read more in the future.

 

5. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett 

CommonwealthThis is another book that I had to wait on the library holds list for quite awhile to get my hands on. I am making my way through Patchett’s work after reading Truth and Beauty falling in love with Bel Canto. This book is the story of two families that become one. It is one of those books that is really about nothing more than people. It reminded me of The Interestings and City on Fire, only I liked it better. There was just something about the characters that made this more compelling than the other stories I have read that are like it. They weren’t all likable, but they seemed real. The story is told from different points of view and an episode from the childhoods of the main characters drives the narrative. There were some very beautiful scenes that had me tearing up. If you like stories about the messiness of being human, that don’t have a ton of action or plot, but are full of characters you may relate to, this would be a good book to put on your “to read” list.

Those were the first five books I read in the month of December. Have you read any of these? Let me know in the comments! Click here for December Book Banter: Part 2!

Until next time,

I love you more than books about the Great War and December books galore,

Whitney