Thursday, January 21, 2016

My Favorite Books of 2015

Hi Everyone!

I have a little bit of a different post for you today. I am an avid reader. I am often reading 2-3 books at a time in addition to listening to an audio book each night as I fall asleep. I love a good book! I wanted to share with you the books I rated 5 stars on Goodreads in 2015. Maybe it will help you decide what you want to read next! 
Now, what makes a book 5 stars? Well, for me it comes down to three criteria: 

1. Writing: The art of writing is not as easy as it may look and doing it well is even harder. When an author is able to write a story in such a way as to exhibit continuity and flow between plot points and character development, I notice it makes for a smooth and pleasurable reading experience. In addition, writing in such a way that I care what happens to the characters in a story, that I almost begin to feel as though they are part of my life is important as well.

2: Emotion: If a book makes me laugh out loud or cry; if it makes me angry, frantic with worry about a character, then this is a story I love. Characters and stories for whom I want to cheer and tell all my friends about are favorites as well.

3: Lasting Impression: If I read a book and find that I'm almost sad it's come to an end, and then can't stop thinking about the stories and characters in the book for a long time after, this is a great book in my mind.

When those three elements all come together in just the right way, I rate that book 5 stars. These books I have pictures here are my favorites of the past year. I try, when rating a book five stars to give a review on Goodreads as well; but sometimes life happens and I don't. I've included my reviews with the description of the book where applicable.

1: The Snow Child: Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart--he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm, she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season's first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning, the snow child is gone--but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees. This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them. 
My reviewA captivating and magical story from beginning to end. Set in the unforgiving Alaska wilderness of the 1920's, this story breathes hope into life and life into the hearts of the characters bound together by one "Snow Child" 
Is she real or is she magical? Is she a lost child from the mountains or an answer to a prayer? Whatever you decide as you read this story, you will realize there is no right or wrong answer. 
Beautifully written with heartwarming words of love, beauty and faith this is a story that will stay with you long after you read it.
You will have questions at the end...and the best part? You can answer them any way you wish. 
I'll be thinking about this book for a while, that's for sure. It was mesmerizing, it was magical. It was confusing and bewildering at times! It makes you laugh, it makes you question, it makes you cry; and it makes you believe. In the makes you love!

2. The Lost Wife:  In pre-war Prague, the dreams of two young lovers are shattered when they are separated by the Nazi invasion. Then, decades later, thousands of miles away in New York, there's an inescapable glance of recognition between two strangers...
Providence is giving Lenka and Josef one more chance. From the glamorous ease of life in Prague before the Occupation, to the horrors of Nazi Europe, The Lost Wife explores the power of first love, the resilience of the human spirit- and the strength of memory.
My reviewI'm not sure I can put into words my feelings about this book. It a word...stunning. It's a book that you not only read; but a love story you experience. Josef and Lenka's story will stay with me for a long time to come. There really is no reason this book shouldn't be on everyone's "to read" list!

3. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner of Island Books, has recently endured some tough years: his wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and his prized possession--a rare edition of Poe poems--has been stolen. Over time, he has given up on people, and even the books in his store, instead of offering solace, are yet another reminder of a world that is changing too rapidly. Until a most unexpected occurrence gives him the chance to make his life over and see things anew. 
My review: When I wrote my review for this story, I included some spoilers, so I'm going to just provide a link to it. You can decide if you want to read it or not. I truly loved this delightful story.

4. Face the Winter Naked: Daniel Tomelin, a shell-shocked veteran haunted by the carnage of the First World War, abandons his family in the Great Depression and goes on the road in search of relief from his nightmares. The life of a freight-hopping, banjo-strumming hobo appeals to him more than he wants to admit. But he insists he's not a bum - he's a family man looking for work; a down-and-out victim of the Depression, whose war flashbacks and guilt for leaving his family accompany him through the hills of Missouri. 
My Review: This was an unexpected surprise for sure. It isn't often that a free book is not only good; but also really good! I thoroughly enjoyed this story about a young man during the Depression desperate to give his family a better life the only way he thinks he can only to realize his choices would have consequences he never could have imagined.
A entertaining and addictive read! Recommend for a great poolside or beach read!

5. One plus One: Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. That’s Jess’s life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight-in-shining-armor offers to rescue them. Only Jess’s knight turns out to be Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean. But Ed has big problems of his own, and driving the dysfunctional family to the Math Olympiad feels like his first unselfish act in ages... maybe ever.
My Review: I didn't actually review this book; but I pretty much love all books by Jojo Moyes. She's one of my favorite authors. You should absolutely read it!

6. The Art of Racing in the Rain: Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver.
Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn't simply about going fast. On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through.
A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human only a dog could tell it.
My Review: Go! Go right now and read every beautiful heart-breaking, redeeming and powerful word of this book. This story will take your heart and soul to places you never imagined. As a friend of mine will break you and save you all at the same time.

7. All the Light We Cannot See: (The description of this book was much longer on Good Reads. I've just included a small portion of it here.) 
WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II. 
My Review: This is a story that is meant to be savored, absorbed and appreciated while reading. This is not a "quick read" or "beach read" book. It is exquisite in its detail and prose, with richly developed characters and a complex plot that requires your full attention. Mr. Doerr does a masterful job weaving together the stories of these two rather unrelated main characters and bringng them together in a surprising way. In addition, the "supporting" cast of characters are given equally impressive stories. I believe the short chapters help the flow of the story, giving it the balance its complexity requires.
I do understand why some have a hard time "getting into the story" Many have started it and had to come back to it; and I think that has to do with not understanding the richness of detail in it and trying to read it too quickly. 
So many WWII stories center on themes around the Holocaust and German/Jewish characters. This story has a unique and inviting French perspective. 
It is the Pulitizer Prize Winner for fiction 2014 and is worthy of prize and all it's praises!

8. Inside the O'Brien's: Joe O’Brien is a forty-four-year-old police officer from the Irish Catholic neighborhood of Charlestown, Massachusetts. A devoted husband, proud father of four children in their twenties, and respected officer, Joe begins experiencing bouts of disorganized thinking, uncharacteristic temper outbursts, and strange, involuntary movements. He initially attributes these episodes to the stress of his job, but as these symptoms worsen, he agrees to see a neurologist and is handed a diagnosis that will change his and his family’s lives forever: Huntington’s Disease.
My Review: This is another story I didn't actually review; but I was deeply moved by this story. I knew very little about Huntington's disease prior to reading this book. I believe the author did a superb job of providing human insight into this disease. I felt like the O'Brien's were a family I could cheer for and that I wept with and wanted to never let go of. 

9. Everything I Never Told You: So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. 
A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing,Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.
My Review: I started to rate this as 4 stars; but then I realized that I couldn't find anything about it that I didn't like. I found the story and characters very compelling and multilayered and realistic. Definitely recommend!
Leave me a comment and let me know what your favorite books from this past year!

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