Best Books of 2016

I know 2016 was a great year for books when all but one of these selections published for the first time this year.  This list contains multiple genres, everything from memoir to YA and even a new one for me, sci-fi.  So grab a cup of coffee and get your holiday gift lists ready!

The Sound of GravelThe Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner: A fascinating memoir about growing up in a polygamist community in Mexico and it’s one of those cases where truth is stranger than fiction.  Beautifully written considering the author’s trials and tribulations and a perfect book for fans of The Glass Castle.

All the Winters After by Sere Prince Halverson: This beautiful and All the Winters Afterhaunting novel is not just words written on paper, but a multilayered story of a family and their grief over time.  At its heart is also a love story, not only between two people, but one between a person and his home.  The setting is chilling and the story is full of hope and promise.

Behind Closed DoorsBehind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris: I truly was holding my breath in spots as I turned the pages of this book.  It had a hold on me that didn’t let up until I finished the entire thing.  For a debut author, that’s quite an accomplishment.  This is the one thriller I’ve recommended to everyone this year.  I guarantee you won’t think of a “perfect marriage” the same way after finishing this book.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner: When I think of outstanding YA, my brain automatically goes to John Green for The Fault in Our Stars or Rainbow Rowell for Eleanor & Park.  Make room on your The Serpent Kingbookshelves for Jeff Zentner.  He had me laughing in one paragraph to crying in the next.  I was so emotionally invested in these characters.  They were extremely well drawn out that I couldn’t help but form a tight connection.  I was sad to see them go as I turned the final page.

Small Great ThingsSmall Great Things by Jodi Picoult: As important as this novel is, so is the author’s note at the end.  Jodi portrays three completely different characters with such grace and credibility.  You know a ton of research went into creating them.  It’s a story of race relations and it couldn’t have come at such an important time in our history.  I applaud her for not shying away from writing this story, which needed to be written, when she knows people will react with hatred.  I know when I pick up one of her books I will never be disappointed.

Aftermath by Clara Kensie: Lots of books have been written about a tragedy, where something Aftermathhappens to a family as they all have to deal with it.  Aftermath takes place when a tragedy is resolved, and the repercussions of a kidnapped child and how the family handles it today.  I loved the short chapters which made it easy to keep reading.  The story itself was compelling and there were plenty of surprises along the way.

The One ManThe One Man by Andrew Gross: Mix historical fiction with a thriller and you have this hard-to-put-down novel.  Gross used to co-write with James Patterson but he clearly deserves the individual accolades for this one.  It is an extremely well-paced story about trying to infiltrate the Auschwitz concentration camp during WWII and then having to break out.  So far, this is the defining book of his career.

Center Ring by Nicole Waggoner: Nicole jokes that she was so homesick when she moved away from her hometown that she invented 5 best friends to keep her company and that’s how this Center Ringstory was born.  I related to multiple characters in this book, especially when they were trying to balance it all, like the circus theme suggests.  It ends with a cliffhanger but happy to report Book 2 in the trilogy, The Act, releases in February!

When Breath Becomes AirWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi: A beautiful reflection of living life and living it to the fullest told by this neurosurgeon as he faces his imminent death from cancer.   Yes, the story is heartbreaking, but his words will move you.  This is a tiny book but it sure packs a powerful punch.

The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin: I knew I was in for a treat when I saw this debut was recommended and blurbed by both Jodi Picoult and Diane Chamberlain, two of my favoriteThe Forgetting Time authors.  This has one of the most unique storylines I’ve ever read and had me spellbound.  It even has a mystery embedded in the story.  I cannot recommend it enough.

Emmy & OliverEmmy & Oliver by Robin Benway: A sweet and fun contemporary YA.   Oliver is kidnapped by his father and reappears years later in his hometown when all his elementary school friends are now teenagers.  Emmy’s personality is full of wit and snark and just jumps off the page.  A truly heartfelt read that answers the question, “Does absence make the heart grow fonder?”

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch: Sci-fi is not a genre I normally read but when I heard all the raveDark Matter reviews for this one, I knew I had to pick it up.  It is a complete mind warp that has your brain working in new ways.  As I was reading, I was envisioning it playing out as a movie right in front of me.  So even if this isn’t normally your cup of tea, if you like thrillers and fast-paced books, please give it a try.

 

Did you read any of these books and feel the same way?  What were your favorites of 2016?  I’d love to hear and welcome any comments.  Have a Happy New Year!

 

 

Conjuring Casanova Review

Conjuring Casanova


New From: $8.24 USD In Stock

The synopsis: Lizzy has been wounded by the men in her life far too often, which is why she spends herfree time immersed in the memoir of the legendary lover, Giacomo Casanova. After a child in her care tragically dies, Lizzy escapes to Venice for a needed break to work through her life crisis. One morning, Casanova appears beside her on the hotel rooftop. The time gap and culture clash sets in motion an attraction that spans centuries. Witty and charming, Casanova is
Casanova—in a frenzy of love for women. Who better to teach modern, guarded Lizzy about
love and life than an eighteenth-century Libertine?

Page by page, Rea engagingly sets our modern mores into sharp focus, giving readers a
great romp through time. Lizzy’s friends are seduced—literally and figuratively—by the open,
and curious high mind of Casanova. He loves modern technology and imaginative experiences.
Seeing life through his eyes, Lizzy has new epiphanies, struggles and surprises, as she rethinks
her life and supposed liberty.

For lovers of love, humor and sharp banter, Conjuring Casanova is an entertaining and
touching read. Rea dishes up the perfect romance—spicing it up with a taste of history and a
time-slip, and delivers a delicious story about love and being human.

My thoughts: This book came at a perfect time, as I had just finished a heavy and emotional read.  It was a light book but still had me flipping pages.  The unique storyline was one I couldn’t stop reading because I had to know how Casanova appearing in 2016 would end up for Lizzy.

For fans of romance, be sure to add this to your reading list.  The humorous dialogue and situations add an extra dimension of fun to this book.

I loved the descriptions of Venice and Paris.  Being a couch traveler, Rea made it feel as if you were walking the streets with the characters.  And having known nothing about Casanova prior to this read beside his reputation as the world’s greatest lover, it was interesting to see what a smart and endearing man he was.

img_1456About the author:

Melissa Rea has a degree in psychology with a minor in French, is an amateur Casanovist. A dedicated researcher, she has read Histoire de Ma Vie many times in English and in its original Archaic French. She traveled to Paris to see the handwritten manuscript when it was displayed for the first time in over two hundred years, and has stayed in the hotel in Venice that was Giacomo Casanova’s home for nine years. Originally from Louisiana, Rea has a degree in dentistry from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She practices in St. Louis where she lives with her husband, and is at work on her third novel. When not drilling, reading or writing, she is in search of the next Madmen/50s era dress and a matching bon mot.  She can be reached on Facebook, Twitter, and her website.

Thank you to Quatrain PR for a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Small Great Things Review

Small Great Things: A Novel


New From: $12.39 USD In Stock

I was in high school when I learned that OJ Simpson had been acquitted of the murders of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman.  I remember the Bronco chase, I remember the trial, and I remember exactly where I was when they announced the verdict.  But because I was in school, I didn’t get to watch the day-to-day trial coverage or know much more than the jury found him not guilty.  So recently my husband and I binge-watched the FX series “American Crime Story: The People VS. OJ Simpson.”  I was fascinated to see how much race played a role in the trial and the outcome.  I had no idea.

As I was reading Small Great Things, I was reminded of the OJ case.  Everything from jury selection and being stuck with the assigned judge all the way through adding an African-American lawyer to second chair the case for image purposes.  My point is this: OJ was acquitted 21 years ago.  Jodi’s book released this October, of 2016.  We haven’t made much progress in race relations.

Small Great Things tells the story of Ruth, an educated African-American labor & delivery nurse who is accused of murder after white supremacist parents forbid her from touching their baby and the infant dies after a routine medical procedure.  Looking for a scapegoat, the parents, Turk & Brit, immediately take action against the hospital and Ruth specifically.  The story is told through the points of view of Ruth, Turk, and Ruth’s white public defender, Kennedy.

I can imagine you, like me, will find sections tough to read because of how honest and real they are.  It’s amazing to me how Jodi portrays three completely different characters with such grace. The words are important.  I had to step away a time or two to remind myself that this was fiction because they were written with such credibility.  And I applaud her determination to write this book when she knew she would get different reactions.

Equally as important as this book is the author’s note at the end.  Please do not skip over that when you finish.

If you can imagine being shocked more at how race is handled in our justice system today, be sure to read Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson.  An incredible nonfiction book that should be required reading for every American.

My sincere thanks to Penguin Random House for a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

img_1449About the author:

Jodi Picoult is the author of twenty-two novels, including the #1 New York Times bestsellers “The Storyteller,” “Lone Wolf,” “Between the Lines,” “Sing You Home,” “House Rules,” “Handle with Care,” “Change of Heart,” “Nineteen Minutes,” and “My Sister’s Keeper.” She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children.

Fractured Review & Giveaway

Fractured


New From: $5.63 USD In Stock

Catherine McKenzie should stick to psychological thrillers.  Trust me, I’ve read some of her earlier novels and was wholeheartedly recommending Arranged to all my friends who loved chick lit.  But the speed at which Fractured reads was worth the wait for her writing in this genre.

I was able to devour chapters at a time so I could figure out how the mystery would play out.  Told from the point of view of Julie Apple, a writer, and her neighbor John Dunbar, the book alternates between past and present as to who is harassing Julie and her family when they move into a new neighborhood in Cincinnati after escaping a stalker from their time in the Pacific Northwest.

Who thought the story of a neighborhood could be so exciting?  I had a hard time putting this one down.  Julie and her family start receiving threats and with her husband at work while she writes at home, she is left without anyone to confide in.  That is until she meets John, a neighbor who was recently laid off and who she can run with.

All readers know from the outset is there is an accident in the present, and thr narrative past slowly builds up to its climactic ending.  A lot of this story reminded me of Paula Treick DeBoard’s last novel, The Drowning Girls, where moving to a new neighborhood could be a cause of so much disastree.  Fans of Mary Kubica and Heather Gudenkauf will fly through these pages and be thrilled they have a similar writer in style to follow.

As of this post, Kindle Unlimited members can read this book for FREE and everyone else can read for only $4.99!

And coming next month readers can download the actual book at the center of this story, The Murder Game written by Julie Apple.

I can’t wait for Catherine’s next book, especially if she writes another psychological thriller.  She is meant to write this way.

img_1434About the author:

A graduate of McGill University in History and Law, Catherine practices law in Montreal, where she was born and raised. An avid skier and runner, Catherine’s novels, SPIN, ARRANGED, FORGOTTEN, HIDDEN and SMOKE, are all international bestsellers and have been translated into numerous languages. HIDDEN was also a #1 Amazon bestseller and a Digital Bookworld bestseller for five weeks. SMOKE was named a Best Book of October by Goodreads, one of the Top 100 Books of 2015 by Amazon, and was a #1 Amazon bestseller.

Her first novel writing as Julie Apple (the protagonist of FRACTURED), THE MURDER GAME, will be published on November 1, 2016.

She is at work on her eighth novel.

And if you want to know how she has time to do all that, the answer is: robots.

Visit her online at her website, on Facebook, and on Twitter and Instagram.

imageThanks to TLC Book Tours, I have 1 copy of Fractured to give away to a lucky reader.  U.S. and Canada only, please.  Enter on the Rafflecopter.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Be sure to follow the tour for more reviews, guest posts, and giveaways!

Deliver Her Review & Giveaway

Deliver Her: A Novel


New From: $6.00 USD In Stock

Imagine being 16 and in high school with your whole life ahead of you.  You have a close group of friends, and your family throws you a blowout party for your Sweet 16.  Later that night you get into a car accident where your best friend is killed.  And now you have to go on without her.  This is the premise of Patricia Perry Donovan’s debut, Deliver Her.

After Alex loses her best friend, she starts to withdraw, starts skipping school, and spends her time with not the best crowd.  Her mom, Meg, knows how upset she is but doesn’t know how to reach her to help.  When she brings up the idea of a change of scenery in a boarding school, Alex scoffs at the idea.  Fiercely determined to help her daughter, she goes behind her back to enroll her and hires a private company to take her there.  And that’s where the trouble begins.

Deliver Her is narrated from multiple points of view, including Alex, Meg, and the driver of the transport company, Carl.  While the point is to get Alex from Point A to Point B, secrets from each character’s past bubble up threatening multiple lives during the course of the book.

I could completely relate to the character of Meg.  While my daughter is still young, I know how it is to question each and every parenting decision you make, still unsure if you did the right thing days after the fact.  She was portrayed completely realistically.

If you like books filled with secrets or domestic dramas, Donovan alternates between a fast-paced thriller and a good character study of a family crumbling under a tragedy.  I’m eager to see what she comes up with next.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and the author for a copy in exchange for an honest review.

imageAbout the author:

Patricia Perry Donovan is an American journalist who writes about healthcare. Her fiction has appeared at Gravel Literary, Flash Fiction Magazine, Bethlehem Writers Roundtable and in other literary journals. The mother of two grown daughters, she lives at the Jersey shore with her husband, with whom she has fond memories of raising their young family abroad in France. Connect with her on Facebook  and on Twitter. Learn more at her website.

imageThanks to TLC Book Tours, I have a copy available for one lucky reader.  Please head to the Rafflecopter to enter.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

*Be sure to follow the tour for more reviews and more chances to win!*

Wednesday, October 5th: Just Commonly
Friday, October 7th: Books ‘N Tea
Monday, October 10th: Building Bookshelves
Wednesday, October 12th: Books a la Mode
Friday, October 14th: Kahakai Kitchen
Monday, October 17th: Kritter’s Ramblings
Wednesday, October 19th: Wall-to-Wall Books
Thursday, October 20th: From the TBR Pile
Monday, October 24th: Bibliotica
Wednesday, October 26th: Back Porchervations
Sunday, November 6th: Writer Unboxed

Triple Love Score Review

Triple Love Score


New From: $14.12 USD In Stock

As a book lover, I also happen to be a grammar nerd and word fiend.  Seems to go hand in hand, right?  So the premise of this new novel, about a poetry professor who creates a brand wirh Scrabble tiles, seemed to be a winner.

Here’s the synopsis:

What happens when you stop playing games?

Miranda Shane lives a quiet life among books and letters as a professor in a small upstate town. When the playing-by-the-rules poet throws out convention and begins to use a Scrabble board instead of paper to write, she sets off a chain of events that rattles her carefully planned world.

Her awakening propels her to take risks and seize chances she previously let slip by, including a game-changing offer from the man she let slip away. But when the revelation of an affair with a graduate student threatens the new life Miranda created, she is forced to decide between love or poetry.

This was a for sure 4 star read.  I found Miranda to be a risk-taker once that Scrabble board came out.  She spoke her mind, not caring what (or who) ended up in her wake.  It’s almost as if the game woke that part of her personality up.  What I loved was that it was her love of words that did it, not a man, even though romance readers will find plenty to love in this story.

With a storyline that takes the reader on a wild adventure, including a trip across the ocean, Brandi has fully developed characters with several surprises along the way.  You’ll be cheering for Miranda to get the career and love life she’s always dreamed of.

imageAbout the author:

Brandi Megan Granett is an author, online English professor, and private writing mentor. She holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University, Wales, an MFA in Fiction from Sarah Lawrence College, a Masters in Adult Education with an emphasis on Distance Education from Penn State University, and her BA from the University of Florida.

Granett is the author of My Intended (William Morrow, 2000). Her short fiction has appeared in Pebble Lake Review, Folio, Pleiades and other literary magazines, and is collected in the volume Cars and Other Things That Get Around. She also writes an author interview series for the Huffington Post.

When she is not writing or teaching or mothering, she is honing her archery skills. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and daughter.

She can be reached on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and her website.

Thank you to Brandi for the copy in exchange for an honest review.

 

Home Field Review

Home Field: A Novel


New From: $4.95 USD In Stock

When I saw this book being called a mashup of My So-Called Life and Friday Night Lights, my teenage self got all giddy.  I had to get my hands on it, and the wonderful publicity department at William Morrow came through.

I was not disappointed.  Do you ever read a book that transports you to another time and place, where you’re so involved in the telling of the story that time disappears while reading?  This was that book for me.

I found myself at home in rural Maryland along with head football coach Dean, his stepdaughter Stephanie, and his two sons Robbie and Bryan.  They’re reeling after the suicide of their mother Nicole.  Stephanie is about to start college away from home.  Robbie has discovered a love of the arts.  And Dean is in constant fear he isn’t doing right by his family while focusing on his football team.

This book focuses a lot on the characters, alternating propelling the story forward between Dean and Stephanie narrating.  But the plot does not slow down.  We follow this family try to cope with Nicole’s death in their confused states, grieving in their own, unique way.

Hannah Gersen is an extremely talented writer, and it’s hard to believe this was her debut novel.  Each character was someone so well developed that at times it was almost like reading a memoir.  I had a tough time parting ways with this one, and I was tied to each character, hoping they each found peace in the year ahead.  I’ll be looking forward to whatever Gersen writes next.

Thank you to William Morrow for a copy in exchange for an honest review.

image

About the author:

Hannah Gersen is a staff writer for The Millions, and her writing has been published in the New York Times, Granta online, and The Southern Review, among others.  Home Field is her first novel.  She lives in Brooklyn with her family.

 

The Things We Wish Were True Review & Giveaway

The Things We Wish Were True


New From: $5.99 USD In Stock

I am a sucker for books that promise secrets.  Whether from other characters or to the reader, count me in.  This domestic drama had lots of them.  Each main character had a secret, which made getting to the end even more fun to find the truth.

This story covers a close group of neighbors over the course of one summer.  After a tragedy at the local pool, the neighbors band together as relationships form and break, and secrets are revealed.

Our cast of characters include:

Jencey…moved away after high school suddenly and is back after her personal life takes a nosedive

Bryte…Jencey’s best friend from high school and now married to Jencey’s high school sweetheart

Zell…the neighborhood matriarch with empty nest syndrome

Lance…Zell’s next-door neighbor who is overworked and a newly single dad of two

Cailey…an 11-year-old struggling to fit in and needing a sense of security

I sure loved some of these incredibly unique names.  The whole time I was reading I was wondering how the author chose them since I hadn’t heard most before.

Slowly unraveling from start to finish, this was certainly a fun story that had me turning pages in order to find out how everything would play out.  I grew to bond with these characters quickly and I sure wouldn’t mind finding out what they all are up to in the future.  Wink, wink.

imageAbout the author:

Marybeth Mayhew Whalen is the author of The Things We Wish Were True and five previous novels. She speaks to women’s groups around the US. She is the co-founder of the popular women’s fiction site, She Reads www.shereads.org. Marybeth and her husband Curt have been married for 25 years and are the parents of six children, ranging from young adult to elementary age. The family lives in North Carolina. Marybeth spends most of her time in the grocery store but occasionally escapes long enough to scribble some words. She is always at work on her next novel. You can find her at www.marybethwhalen.com.

imageThanks to TLC Book Tours, I have one copy of Marybeth’s book for a lucky reader.  U.S. and Canada only, please.  Head to the Rafflecopter to enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saving Phoebe Murrow Review

Saving Phoebe Murrow


New From: $7.33 USD In Stock

Everybody who is a parent knows that being a parent is hard.  There is no manual when you leave the hospital with your baby on how to care for them or discipline them.  In this day and age, there is no book on how to protect them from social media and cyberbullying.  And that is the exact premise of Herta Feely’s novel, Saving Phoebe Murrow.

The focus of this story is Phoebe, a teenager who just wants to fit in.  She doesn’t want her friends to turn on her or be the butt of their jokes.  She wants to be noticed and wanted by the boy that she likes.  Her mom, an attorney, sends her to private school in an attempt to make these things happen for her.  They are well-to-do and socialize with families of a similar stature.

Starting out with the main bullying incident, Feely works backwards in time to explain how everything came to be as told from many characters’ points of view.  If you think bullying is bad, the idea of cyberbullying is even worse.  No way to connect it to a certain person and it can go on for such a long time without anyone else knowing.  As a parent, that is my biggest fear.  And I sense that Feely wrote this story to make more parents aware of the signs and how to be more involved in what’s going on in their children’s lives.

It for sure opened my eyes to see how easily (and quickly!) it can happen and escalate.  I know I will never be able to completely shelter my children from computers and the Internet, but this book was eye-opening to the motivations behind teenagers’ actions and words and even adults’.  Fans of domestic dramas will enjoy it for sure.  And those hoping for a manual on raising teenagers.

 

image About the author:

Herta B. Feely is a writer and full-time editor. Her short stories and memoir have been published in anthologies and literary journals, including The Sun, Lullwater Review, The Griffin, Provincetown Arts, and Big Muddy. In the wake of the James Frey scandal, Feely edited and published the anthology, Confessions: Fact or Fiction? She was awarded the James Jones First Novel Fellowship and an Artist in Literature Fellowship from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities for The Trials of Serra Blue. She has also received an award from American Independent Writers for best published personal essay for a piece on immigration. In Saving Phoebe Murrow, Feely continues her commitment to activism on behalf of children. A graduate of UC Berkeley and Johns Hopkins University, Feely is the co-founder of Safe Kids Worldwide, an organization dedicated to saving children from unintentional injuries, the leading killer of children in the United States. She lives in Washington, DC, with her husband and cats.

Connect with Herta on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and her website.

Thank you to Smith Publicity for a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

The Whiskey Sea Review & Giveaway

The Whiskey Sea


New From: $5.99 USD In Stock

If you’re looking for your historical fiction to add an element of adventure or a touch of romance, look no further.  Ann Howard Creel’s new novel does just that.  I learned about the lengths people would go during Prohibition for extra money.

After her mother’s death when she was just a child, Frieda and her sister, Bea, were taken in by a fisherman, Silver, when they had nowhere else to go.  He cared for them as if they were his own.  When he loses the ability after a health crisis to take care of himself or the girls, Frieda is left to pick up the pieces to take care of him and pave a way for a better life for Bea.

As a trained boat mechanic, an opportunity presents itself to help the rumrunners make nightly boat trips for liquor to sell in town.  As lucrative as it is, it’s extremely dangerous.  Not only to be caught by the guard boats and arrested, but to be captured and killed by pirates.

The book started and hooked me right away, as I haven’t read anything before about rumrunners during Prohibition.  I loved how Frieda was feisty and fought hard for what she wanted, unusual for these times.  While other girls went to school to study to become nurses or teachers, she knew she was meant to work on the sea.

I thought the middle of the book got a little bogged down with a new romance that seemed out of character for her.  But the ending also was a page turner.

For anyone who enjoys historical fiction, if you’re looking for a new-to-you subject, this is one to pick up.  The adventure is enough to hold your interest.

 

image About the author:

Ann Howard Creel is the author of ten published novels–four middle grade, three young adult, and three adult novels. Her children’s books have won numerous awards, and THE MAGIC OF ORDINARY DAYS was made into a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie for CBS.

Creel’s latest novel, THE WHISKEY SEA, a story about a female rumrunner, is available on Amazon as a Kindle book, paperback, audio book, and MP3 CD.

For more information, visit Ann’s website.

image

Thank you to TLC, I have a copy for one lucky reader.  Please fill out the Rafflecopter below.
a Rafflecopter giveaway