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Posts Tagged ‘yearly reading wrap up’

Happy New Year!! I thought I would start off 2017 by celebrating the best of the books I read last year. Rather than do my usual Top 10 list, I thought I’d try something new this year and list my favorites in various categories, with links to (and quotes from) my reviews.

BEST HISTORICAL FICTION (WWII)

A Moment Forever by Cat Gardiner

A Moment Forever Cover LARGE EBOOK

A Moment Forever is not a book you merely read; Gardiner ensures you actually live the story — from the overindulgence of Long Island’s Gold Coast to the wartime excitement in the Big Apple, from the airfields and USO dances and the fashions of the ’40s to the solemnity of Paris 50 years after the roundup of its Jewish residents for deportation. There are so many layers to this story, and I never wanted it to end.

BEST HISTORICAL FICTION (OTHER ERA)

Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James

lost among the living

Simone St. James is a new-to-me writer, and as soon as I finished Lost Among the Living I determined that I must read her previous novels, which all seem to be equally suspenseful. I loved her writing here, particularly the passages that describe the intensity of Jo and Alex’s relationship, which enable readers to feel Jo’s grief and the frustration inherent in not knowing Alex’s fate. I also liked that while there was romance and passion, Lost Among the Living is at its core a ghost story, but it’s so much more than that. St. James shows the impact of the war on the returning soldiers and the women whose men never came home, as well as the blurring of the boundaries between social classes and how greed and selfishness can tear families apart.

BEST AUSTEN VARIATION (REGENCY)

Mr. Bennet’s Dutiful Daughter by Joana Starnes

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Mr. Bennet’s Dutiful Daughter is a beautifully written novel, with just the right amount of angst to move me to the brink of tears without making me put the book down in despair. Starnes has a knack for putting Elizabeth and Darcy in impossible situations, delving deep into their souls, and keeping readers on the edge of their seats as they wonder how a happily ever after will be achieved. I loved the pacing of the novel, and Starnes does a wonderful job evolving their relationship through many ups and downs as they navigate the challenges posed by their families and themselves.

BEST AUSTEN VARIATION (MODERN)

Without a Conscience by Cat Gardiner

without-a-conscience

Like Denial of Conscience, Without a Conscience is sexy (definitely for mature audiences only) and exciting from the very first page. Gardiner is a fantastic storyteller who weaves clever plots and navigates Darcy and Liz through the twists and turns while further evolving their relationship. In the midst of the danger and excitement, Gardiner provides plenty of humor, and the obvious rivalry between Liz and Caroline had me laughing out loud several times. The novel is perfectly paced, and there’s just something about Gardiner’s writing style that has me hanging on every word.

BEST AUSTEN VARIATION (SECONDARY CHARACTERS)

The Trouble to Check Her by Maria Grace

the-trouble-to-check-her

The Trouble to Check Her exemplifies why Grace is one of my favorite authors of Austen-inspired fiction. Her attention to detail in terms of character development and the history of the era is fantastic, and I hope there is another book in the series (mainly because I want to find out what happened to Jane Bingley after her falling out with Elizabeth Darcy).

BEST AUSTEN VARIATION (OTHER)

The Elizabeth Papers by Jenetta James

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I enjoyed reading both Elizabeth’s diary and about the rocky start to Charlie and Evie’s relationship and their determination to find Elizabeth’s papers. I especially loved how James showed that even Austen’s beloved couple likely didn’t have a perfect marriage, and by telling that story from the point of view of Elizabeth, readers are able to see her insecurities and her frustration while having little clue what Darcy is thinking or feeling, which creates just the right amount of tension. I also loved getting a glimpse of the Darcys and their family years into their marriage, so they are no longer bright-eyed newlyweds but older and wiser and settled into their life together. Charlie and Evie’s story was exciting and even had some similarities to Darcy and Elizabeth’s, and Charlie’s client, Cressida Carter, is very Caroline Bingley-esque. The dual narratives were seamlessly connected, and the shifts between the two were timed perfectly to ensure readers can’t put the book down.

MOST UNIQUE AUSTEN VARIATION

The Many Lives of Fitzwilliam Darcy by Beau North and Brooke West

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The Many Lives of Fitzwilliam Darcy is unique and exciting. It made me laugh, and it left me in tears, so much so that my husband kept asking if I was okay and I worried I would short out my Kindle! It’s been a while since I’ve been so emotionally affected by a Pride and Prejudice variation. It’s absolutely one of the best books I’ve read this year, possibly one of my all-time favorites, and definitely one I won’t forget!

BEST HOLIDAY NOVEL

Lucky 13  by Cat Gardiner

lucky 13

Oh, how I loved this novel! Gardiner is a master at bringing Jane Austen’s characters into the present day and turning up the heat (and the laughs). From their heated arguments to their heated encounters at the jaw-dropping calendar audition and the chest-oiling photo shoot, I couldn’t get enough of this Lizzy and Darcy. The secondary characters are equally entertaining, from Jane, the supermodel with a secret, to Caroline, the matchmaking poochie mama, and especially Charlotte (aka “Punky) and Darcy’s cousin, Rick (aka “Preppy”), who are the most obnoxious of the numerous matchmakers.

BEST POETRY COLLECTION

The Jane and Bertha in Me by Rita Maria Martinez

BerthainMe

Martinez’s poems are full of vivid imagery (“The Bertha in me sleeps until three in the afternoon and sits on the back porch with a cup of Earl Grey that quells the desire to chop up her crotchety landlord,” from “The Jane and Bertha in Me”), sensual (“Charlotte’s manuscript sepulchered like an incorruptible saint, splayed on its back like a woman whose architecture I want to touch,” from “At the British Library”), insightful (“Pain caused by first love never truly subsides,” from “Jane’s Denial”), and even humorous (“She’ll be sorry for canoodling with the missionary, thinks Rochester, who’s exceeded his cursing quota and looks like Wolverine,” from “Jane Eyre: Classic Cover Girl”). Martinez even writes about Brontë herself, from her different personas to the migraines she suffered through in order to create her “pristine prose” (from “The Literature of Prescription”).

BEST SHORT STORY/COLLECTION

“Tea Time” by Tiffani Burnett-Velez

tea-time

I finished reading “Tea Time” in less than half an hour, and I was satisfied with the abrupt ending even though I wasn’t ready for the story to be over. The final few lines pack a punch and made it a story I won’t soon forget. I can’t wait to read more from Burnett-Velez.

FAVORITE COVER

Undercover by Cat Gardiner

undercover book cover

Gardiner is a fantastic storyteller who had me hooked from the very first page. The use of slang from the era, her vivid descriptions, the steamy scenes, and the murder mystery are handled so perfectly that I could picture the entire book in my head, as though I were actually watching a black-and-white hard-boiled crime drama on the screen. She moved Austen’s characters into 1952 New York City in a way that felt true to them. I loved that she gave Darcy a painful back story and that Elizabeth and Jane weren’t the best of friends. Gardiner’s portrayal of Georgiana as a modern and independent though innocent and sheltered young woman is handled beautifully, as is Lydia’s downfall at the hands of Slick Wick.

****

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Some of the more memorable 5-star books from 2016 (click the covers to read my reviews)

darcys-hope

denial-of-conscience

undeceived

COAOEB cover

Miss Darcy's Companion front cover_V4

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Liebeslied-Final-Kindle

the forgotten room

What were your favorite books of 2016? I’d love to know!

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Happy New Year! I hope you all had a lovely holiday season filled with family, friends, and great books! Today I’m spending a much needed lazy day at home, and I’m looking forward to a cup of peppermint tea and a book. But first I want to reflect on my past year in books. I read 63 books last year, which is a pretty big accomplishment given how busy I’ve been with work and my daughter’s schedule. My blog has sometimes taken a back seat, but in the past year, I’ve taken a more laid back approach, just doing what I can when I can. In fact, I still have a few reviews to post for books I read a few months ago, but I’ll get to them eventually.

My Top 10 Favorite Reads of 2015, with links to my reviews:

the mapmaker's children

The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy

longbourn's songbird

Longbourn’s Songbird by Beau North

three amazing things about you

Three Amazing Things About You by Jill Mansell (review coming soon!)

the unthinkable triangle

The Unthinkable Triangle by Joana Starnes

bianca's vineyard

Bianca’s Vineyard by Teresa Neumann

mistaking her character

Mistaking Her Character by Maria Grace

the race for paris

The Race for Paris by Meg Waite Clayton

the prosecution of mr. darcy's cousin

The Prosecution of Mr. Darcy’s Cousin by Regina Jeffers

after the war is over

After the War is Over by Jennifer Robson

a peculiar connection

A Peculiar Connection by Jan Hahn

Honorable Mention: These are the other 5-star books I read last year, with links to my reviews:

Pride, Prejudice & Secrets by C.P. Odom

Pride and Prescience by Carrie Bebris

The Matters at Mansfield by Carrie Bebris

Even in Darkness by Barbara Stark Nemon

Suddenly Mrs. Darcy by Jenetta James

Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer by Lisa Pliscou

A Will of Iron by Linda Beutler

What were some of your must-reads in 2015?

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Happy New Year!  The Girl and I wish you all the best in 2015!

I read 80 books last year, which was an amazing feat given how busy/stressful last year was for my family.  I’m still finding it hard to find time to read/blog/read blogs, but I’ve given up trying to plan it all out; I’m just going with the flow these days.  Despite all the chaos, I did manage to finish all of my reading challenges, so YAY ME!  Here’s my list of favorite books from 2014, keeping in mind that all of them were read last year but not necessarily published last year.

My Top 10 of 2014

the winter guestThe Winter Guest by Pam Jenoff

(from my review) Jenoff unflinchingly details the struggles of living in an occupied country, the atrocities committed by the Nazis as they liquidated Jewish neighborhoods, and the danger of ignoring what’s happening in your own backyard.  She deftly balances the excitement of taking action with the horrors and loss inevitable in war, and she makes a story that happened decades ago relevant in the present day.  The Winter Guest is about the bonds between sisters and twins, the destructive nature of secrets, loyalty and betrayal, and the need to preserve wartime stories of courage and resistance before those who know exactly what happened are gone.

jane austen's first loveJane Austen’s First Love by Syrie James

(from my review) Jane Austen’s First Love is a satisfying novel that gives Jane the love story that many of us imagine she had.  But more than that, it’s a portrait of a young woman who was ahead of her time in many ways, whose brilliantly composed stories and characters have stood the test of time.  James shows Jane Austen as a normal teenager, with a desire to act older than her age, an impulsiveness that prompts her to make poor decisions, and a romantic nature that ensured she truly felt the things she wrote about.  The few letters that survived provide the only glimpse we’ll ever really have of the real Jane, but James does such a fantastic job creating a believable inner narrative, I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t actually inside Jane’s head reading her thoughts.

first impressionsFirst Impressions by Charlie Lovett

(from my review) It can be difficult for authors juggling a dual narrative to make them equally appealing to readers, but Lovett had me hanging onto every word of both stories from the very first page. I thought it was creative how Lovett puts Jane Austen at the center of a mystery that takes a sinister turn. The friendship between Jane and Rev. Mansfield is beautifully portrayed, and Lovett even makes Sophie’s story, though wild and over-the-top, completely believable. Despite the darkness of the mystery, there are light, heartwarming moments throughout the book, from the scenes where Uncle Bertram passes on a love of books and reading to Sophie to the scenes where Jane shares her writing with Rev. Mansfield.

the fault in our starsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green

(from my review) Looking at the world through the eyes of a girl who is facing the end before she’s really had a chance to live makes you ponder what it means to be truly alive and to fall in love.  The Fault in Our Stars makes you appreciate the little things and think about what it means to remember and be remembered.  I didn’t expect these characters and their love story to affect me so deeply, but it’s definitely a novel that will stay with me for a long time.

the annoted persuasionThe Annotated Persuasion by Jane Austen, annotated and edited by David M. Shapard

(from my review) The Annotated Persuasion is the perfect book for Austen fans or readers who simply want to delve deeper into the story of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth.  Shapard covers so many topics that it’s impossible to list them all, but it’s obvious he has done his homework in order to provide a comprehensive analysis of the novel.  Most of all, I loved revisiting one of my favorite novels, and I loved it ever more the second time around.

the sea gardenThe Sea Garden by Deborah Lawrenson

(from my review) The Sea Garden brings to life the ordinary people who did extraordinary things during the war, from the young women who proved they could hold their own as secret agents to the farmers who allowed Allied planes to land in their fields.  Lawrenson captures the desperation of wireless operators running from the Gestapo and those who spent years trying to find out why their loved ones disappeared during the war, as well as the blurred lines between hero and traitor.  I found myself lost in this story from the very beginning, with rich descriptions of the various landscapes and plenty of mystery to keep me guessing.

jane austen cover to coverJane Austen Cover to Cover by Margaret C. Sullivan

(from my review) I loved everything about this book, but most especially I loved that it was more than just cover images.  Sullivan definitely did her homework, and it’s obvious how much she enjoyed this project.  I learned a lot about how books were made in Austen’s time and how much the process has changed, and I had a few laughs as well, particularly at a cover of Persuasion that portrays “the Napoleonic-era Royal Navy Captain Wentworth as the commander of a 1960s-era New England schooner” looking “like he fell off an Old Spice bottle.”

for such a timeFor Such a Time by Kate Breslin

(from my review) For Such a Time was the first book in a long time that I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning to read, and for that alone it deserves 5 stars.  It was an enjoyable novel (or as enjoyable as a novel about the Holocaust can be), and it read like a thriller toward the end.  I just got lost in the story and followed the characters through times of despair, hope, bravery, sorrow, and joy.  Even if I couldn’t believe the outcome, I wanted to, and I applaud Breslin for taking a chance and telling a story about hardship and courage, love and faith, and a fight for freedom.

somewhere in franceSomewhere in France by Jennifer Robson

(from my review) Somewhere in France is at its core a wartime romance, but it is so much more than that.  Robson brings to life the battles at home and abroad and shines a light on the women who got their hands dirty and put their lives on the line for the war effort.  Robson keeps the narrative off the actual battlefield, but the descriptions of the ambulance runs and the casualty clearing stations are just as powerful as stories told from the trenches.  Once I started this novel, I couldn’t stop and read its nearly 400 pages in one sitting.  I fell in love with the characters and was captivated by the atmosphere Robson created, and while I haven’t read too many World War I novels, Somewhere in France ranks among the best I’ve read so far.

grand centralGrand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion by Alyson Richman, Jenna Blum, Sarah McCoy, Melanie Benjamin, Sarah Jio, Erika Robuck, Kristina McMorris, Amanda Hodgkinson, Pam Jenoff, and Karen White

(from my review) Grand Central seems to perfectly capture the postwar atmosphere in a big city, with the chaos in the train station and the roller coaster of emotions within each character.  The changes in society, especially in regards to women and their romantic relationships and career aspirations, also feature prominently in some of these stories.  I was impressed not only by the character development in these stories but also by the ways in which the characters crossed paths with one another, which emphasizes how well this collection is structured.  If you love novels set during World War II or have loved novels by these authors in the past, you’ll definitely want to get your hands on a copy.

******

Despite having a busy year that involved graduating from 8th grade, applying to high schools, and starting her freshman year, she still managed to read 25 books (not including her in-class assignments)!  Of course, she hasn’t had time to write reviews (or start the blog she had been working on), but here are her top picks for 2014.

The Girl’s Favorite Books of 2014

the girl's best of 2014

What were your favorite books of 2014? If you’ve posted a “best of” list, please feel free to link to it in the comments so I can check it out!

© 2015 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Now that 2013 has come to an end, it’s time to count up the challenge books and see where I stand.

american revolution buttonWar Through the Generations: 2013 American Revolution Reading Challenge

Goal: 4-10

Books read: 3

Thoughts: I’m not happy that I failed to complete my own challenge, but I just wasn’t motivated to read about this war, even though I do find it interesting.

1. The Turncoat by Donna Thorland

2. Jack Absolute by C.C. Humphreys

3. Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

historical fiction reading challenge

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2013

Goal: 25+

Books read: 37 — COMPLETED 🙂

Thoughts: This is always an easy challenge for me, so in 2014, I will set a higher goal to see if I can clear more historical fiction books off my shelves.

1. The Passing Bells by Phillip Rock

2. Circles of Time by Phillip Rock

3. The Secret of the Nightingale Palace by Dana Sachs

4. The Klipfish Code by Mary Casanova

5. A Future Arrived by Phillip Rock

6. The Flowers of War by Geling Yan

7. The Turncoat by Donna Thorland

8. The Crooked Branch by Jeanine Cummins

9. Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada

10. The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen

11. The Clover House by Henriette Lazaridis Power

12. The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver

13. The Last Telegram by Liz Trenow

14. The Wars by Timothy Findley

15. Seduction by M.J. Rose

16. The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein

17. Jack Absolute by C.C. Humphreys

18. The Last Van Gogh by Alyson Richman

19. Resistance by Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis

20. Defiance by Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis

21. Victory by Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis

22. I’ll Be Seeing You by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan

23. Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan

24. City of Hope by Kate Kerrigan

25. Letters From Skye by Jessica Brockmole

26. Winter in Wartime by Jan Terlouw

27. Gracianna by Trini Amador

28. Rutherford Park by Elizabeth Cooke

29. His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire, Book 1) by Naomi Novik

30. Rising Sun, Falling Shadow by Daniel Kalla

31. The English German Girl by Jake Wallis Simons

32. Sophia’s War: The End of Innocence by Stephanie Baumgartner

33. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

34. The Lavender Garden by Lucinda Riley

35. Wolfsangel by Liza Perrat

36. Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

37. City of Women by David R. Gillham

P&P bicentenary

The Pride & Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge

Goal: 9-12

Books read: 21 — COMPLETED 🙂

Thoughts: I really enjoyed this challenge, and I’m thinking about doing a Jane Austen challenge on my own in 2014.

1. Dear Mr. Darcy by Amanda Grange

2. Pride & Prejudice (Marvel Illustrated) by Nancy Butler and Hugo Petrus

3. The Man Who Loved Jane Austen by Sally Smith O’Rourke

4. Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen by Sally Smith O’Rourke

5. All Hallow’s Eve by Wendi Sotis

6. For All the Wrong Reasons by Mary Lydon Simonsen

7. A Walk in the Meadows at Rosings Park by Mary Lydon Simonsen

8. A Pemberley Medley by Abigail Reynolds

9. Darcy and Elizabeth: The Language of the Fan by Mary Lydon Simonsen

10. Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil G. Brinton

11. Spies and Prejudice by Talia Vance

12. Mr. Darcy’s Promise by Jeanna Ellsworth

13. The Red Chrysanthemum by Linda Beutler

14. The Pursuit of Mary Bennet by Pamela Mingle

15. First Impressions by Alexa Adams

16. Second Glances by Alexa Adams

17. Holidays at Pemberley by Alexa Adams

18. Pride, Prejudice and Jasmin Field by Melissa Nathan

19. “Jane & Bingley: Something Slightly Unsettling” by Alexa Adams

20. Project Darcy by Jane Odiwe

21. Undressing Mr. Darcy by Karen Doornebos

ireland reading challenge

Ireland Reading Challenge 2013

Goal: 4

Books read: 3

Thoughts: I love reading books set in Ireland, but time just got away from me this year. I had a 4th book picked out, but just didn’t get to it.

1. The Crooked Branch by Jeanine Cummins

2. Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan

3. City of Hope by Kate Kerrigan

dive into poetry challenge

Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013

Goal: 1

Books read: 2 — COMPLETED 🙂

Thoughts: I’m glad Serena challenges me to read poetry every year. I don’t think I could read as many poetry books as she does, but I’ll try to read a couple more next time around.

1. Eyes, Stones by Elana Bell

2. Love: Ten Poems by Pablo Neruda

Literature & War Readalong 2013

Books read: 4/12

Thoughts: I really love these readalongs, and even though I didn’t get to participate every month (either because of time or because I couldn’t get the book through my local library), I enjoyed reading the discussion posts. With the focus on WWI in 2014, I hope to participate more often.

February — The Flowers of War by Geling Yan

March — The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen

April — The Wars by Timothy Findley

June — Winter in Wartime by Jan Terlouw

goodreads challengeGoodreads 2013 Reading Challenge — COMPLETED 🙂

Read: 102/100 books

Final thoughts:  Overall, I think I did really well, just got a little pressed for time at the end of the year.

Did any of you participate in any reading challenges last year?  How did you fare?

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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I managed to read 102 books in 2013, which is amazing given how busy I’ve been the last few months visiting high schools and filling out applications and financial aid forms for The Girl.  With everything due in December, right around the holidays, I’ve been exhausted.  So I’m not surprised that I didn’t top the 114 books I read in 2012 and that I was two books short of finishing all the challenges in which I participated.  But I’m thankful that I had reading time at all, and I read so many good books in 2013 that narrowing them down was really difficult.  So here’s my list of favorites, keeping in mind that all of them were read in 2013 but not necessarily published that year.

My Top 10 of 2013

life after lifeLife After Life by Kate Atkinson

(from my review) Life After Life is a beautifully crafted novel whose impact on me has not lessened in the weeks since I finished it.  Atkinson has created an amazing character in Ursula — someone so ordinary and so endearing yet called to something too big for us to wrap our minds around.  If I hadn’t grown to care for her, to cheer her on every time she struggled through another life, and if Atkinson had not set the book in such a fascinating time period, it might have grown as tedious as the title sounds.  But in Atkinson’s skilled hands, Ursula and her story (gift? plight?) will not be easily forgotten.

the english german girlThe English German Girl by Jake Wallis Simons

(from my review) The English German Girl is one of those books that leaves you speechless when you turn the last page and haunts you for weeks afterward.  It’s also one of the best World War II novels I’ve read depicting the struggles of Jews living in Germany as Hitler and the Nazis come to power. … Beautifully written, with rich details and unforgettable characters, The English German Girl is a powerful novel about how war brings people together and tears them apart, how far people are willing to go to save the ones they love, and finding hope among the horrors, love among the ruins, and the strength to keep going.  I was blown away by Simons’ storytelling, how he made me feel as though I was actually in prewar Berlin and wartime London, walking alongside characters who felt real, like I knew them as well as I know myself.

rising sun falling shadowRising Sun, Falling Shadow by Daniel Kalla

(from my review) Rising Sun, Falling Shadow is an exciting novel, with Kalla showing the danger and chaos from the very first page.  Kalla is a fantastic storyteller, making wartime Shanghai come to life.  I could see how the once vibrant city had begun to deteriorate, feel the fear and hunger and never-ending anxiety and uneasiness of the refugees, and sense the danger lurking everywhere. … With complex and memorable characters struggling with anger and guilt and simply trying to survive, Rising Sun, Falling Shadow is an emotional story about how far people will go to save those they love.  Kalla provides enough back story for the novel to stand on its own, but I recommend reading them in order to appreciate the evolution of the characters and the changes the city undergoes as the war drags on.  The novel is not only a page-turner but also a thought-provoking tale of love and loss, courage and betrayal, and the search for humanity amidst so much wretchedness.

looking for meLooking for Me by Beth Hoffman

(from my review) Looking for Me is one of those books you know you’re going to love from the very first page.  Beth Hoffman is such a talented storyteller, and I’ve loved her writing since I read Saving CeeCee Honeycutt (which made my Best of 2010 list).  Her characters are so well developed and so real, and her descriptions are so vivid and rich that you feel like you are walking alongside the characters.  The best way to describe Hoffman’s writing is warm and insightful, and this book just spoke to me. … I love how Hoffman can take you on an emotional roller coaster ride (I teared up reading this on the train and didn’t care if anyone noticed), and even when you feel wrung out and breathless like the characters, you can’t help but enjoy it and want more.  She writes about a family broken by a tragic event, and she does so with heart and even hope.  Looking for Me is such a rich novel, with delicious descriptions of antiques and a portrait of the power of nature, the unbreakable bond of close siblings, and the freedom that comes from accepting the past while looking forward to the future.

the crooked branchThe Crooked Branch by Jeanine Cummins

(from my review) Normally when I read a novel that weaves together the past and the present, I find myself drawn to the historical story and think the present-day story is just so-so.  But this time around, I was equally captivated. … The Crooked Branch is a story with motherhood at its core, how parenting comes with its ups and downs, no matter the time or place.  Majella’s problems may seem insignificant in comparison to Ginny’s, but her fears and inner turmoil are authentic.  Cummins paints a picture of two women willing to do anything to protect their children and addresses the issue of heritage and one’s identity after becoming a mother.  It’s a tale of mothers and daughters — Majella and the mother she feels she never knew, and Ginny and Maire, who was forced to grow up too soon.  Cummins’ prose flows so beautifully that it’s easy to get lost in the story and breeze through a whole chunk of pages without even realizing it.  The connections between the past and the present are satisfying, and the characters are so fascinating that I didn’t want the novel to end.

the passing bellsThe Passing Bells, Circles of Time, and A Future Arrived by Phillip Rock

(I know I’m cheating with a trilogy, but these books span both world wars and must be read together!)

(from my review of The Passing Bells) The Passing Bells is truly an epic novel of the “war to end all wars” that shows how the war ushered in change on all levels.  Rock’s characters were so tenderly crafted and so wonderfully complex that I could understand them all even when I didn’t like them.  Their relationships and entanglements felt true to the chaos of the time, and the battle scenes had just the right amount of description to emphasize the horror and the confusion without going overboard on the violence or the military maneuvering.

(from my review of Circles of Time) Rock was a fantastic writer, bringing the post-World War I landscape to life, all the chaos and the change, and letting readers tag along while the characters they have grown to love evolve with the times. Even while the world is swiftly moving forward, Rock doesn’t let readers forget about the massive loss of life, the destruction of the landscape, and the veterans with missing limbs or shell shock left behind by the Great War.

(from my review of A Future Arrived) A Future Arrived was a difficult book to put down, but at the same time, I didn’t want to rush through it because I knew I was going to have a hard time letting these characters go.  Although I longed for more time with the characters I’d grown to love since the first book, I understood the need for the torch to be passed and to view the wartime struggles from the eyes of the characters at the forefront.  At the same time, Rock also shows how those who remember the Great War deal with the prospect of another, and he continues to shine a light on social class, sexuality, and the role of women, which changed so much in response to WWI.  The scope of this trilogy is so big, so ambitious, yet focusing on one family navigating the changes brought by two wars makes it manageable.

the revolution of every dayThe Revolution of Every Day by Cari Luna

(from my review) The Revolution of Every Day is gritty and raw, yet carefully composed and beautifully written.  Luna doesn’t portray squatting as right or wrong, but she gets readers thinking about why people would take such a risk for a chance to create a home of their own in an exciting and vibrant city.  Her love for the city of her birth shines through as she describes the promise it once held and a sense of loss as money ushers in change.  Most importantly, Luna shows how revolutions are grounded in the every day and how struggles within a community and within friendships and romantic relationships affect and even transcend the larger movement.  Luna’s prose is detailed and insightful, and The Revolution of Every Day is a thought-provoking page-turner with unique characters whose strength and passion will not be easily forgotten.

every man dies alone hans falladaEvery Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada

(from my review) Every Man Dies Alone is a powerful book, one I won’t easily forget.  It was easy to see where the story was headed, but there were plenty of twists and turns to keep it from being too predictable.  It’s one of only a few books that have affected me so deeply that, after turning the last page, I could do nothing but sit and stare and ponder what it all meant.  Reading the bonus features about Fallada’s difficult life, especially how the Nazis stifled his creativity, and the true story behind the book made for a richer reading experience.  Every Man Dies Alone is an important novel, and I fear I didn’t do it justice here.  I urge you to give this one a try, so long as you don’t mind a story that plunges you into the depths of evil and despair but also leaves you with a better understanding of what it was like to live in Nazi Germany.

city of womenCity of Women by David R. Gillham

(from my review) City of Women was both difficult to read and difficult to put down.  Gillham focuses on a flawed woman who had grown so used to ignoring the atrocities being committed around her that she can’t help but be completely changed when she is forced to act.  It’s a novel that really underscores how easy it is to grow complacent, to do nothing, to lose oneself in the routines of everyday life.  Sigrid is far from perfect, but readers will recognize a little of themselves in her, making it easier to understand her choices.  And life-or-death choices must be made over and over during the course of the novel.  Gillham forces readers to think about how they would have behaved in Sigrid’s shoes, how far passion can drive someone to act, and how love and duty affect our decisions.  A highly recommended portrait of fear and longing, with rich prose that highlights the darkness of war and the freedom that comes from finding one’s true self.

the last telegramThe Last Telegram by Liz Trenow

(from my review) I honestly can’t think of one thing I didn’t like about The Last Telegram.  The romance between Lily and Stefan might seem like something that’s been done before in other WWII novels, but Trenow makes it different by incorporating the history of how the British government placed all men and boys age 16 and older with passports from enemy countries in internment camps. … The Last Telegram is a story about love and loss, guilt and forgiveness, and although it made me cry, Trenow does a good job balancing the sadness with hope.  It’s a fast-paced novel that isn’t too heavy on the tragedy, but the love you feel for the characters and how Trenow transports you back in time, in their shoes, make for an emotional and completely captivating read.

The 2013 Honorable Mentions

I’ll Be Seeing You by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan — The best epistolary novel set during World War II that I’ve read so far.  With each author writing from the point of view of one of the heroines and trading letters via email without ever meeting in person, the novel has two distinct voices.

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik — I never would have read this book if it wasn’t for my book club, and I would have missed out on a great fantasy novel set during the Napoleonic Wars.  I never thought I could be so captivated by a talking dragon, but now I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

Jack Absolute by C.C. Humphreys — A fantastic swashbuckling spy novel set during the Revolutionary War.  Jack Absolute is a dashing, brave, charming, and completely unforgettable character.

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan — This novel goes beyond the typical teenage love story by delving into the romance between two female best friends in Iran, where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death.  Farizan gives readers a glimpse of Iran’s underground gay community and shows the struggles endured by those who choose sex reassignment surgery, which is legal.

The Ghosts of Rue Dumaine by Alexandrea Weis — I’m very picky about romances, especially paranormal ones, but Weis is one of my favorite romance writers.  I do enjoy a good ghost story, though, and coupled with Weis’ detailed and enticing descriptions of her native New Orleans, this one grabbed me from the very beginning.

What were the best books you read in 2013? Feel free to link to your lists in the comments, and I’ll be sure to check them out.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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The Girl (age 13) wanted to share her favorites out of the books she read this year.  She has been very busy with school this year, and much of the last few months have been spent preparing for the high school placement test she took at the beginning of December and writing various essays for high school and scholarship applications.  While she hasn’t had much time to post reviews here, she has been busy reading.  When things ease up a bit, she hopes to launch her own blog, so you might see some of these books reviewed there in the (hopefully) near future.  She’s been getting the blog ready, and I’ll let you all know when it’s been launched.

The Girl’s Top 10 Books Read in 2013

divergent

Divergent by Veronica Roth

The Girl says:  “I read this in one day and thought it was amazing.  The world was believable, and I fell in love with the characters.  Most of them, anyway.”

the outsiders

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

The Girl says: “I loved everything about this book from start to finish.”

unfed

Unfed by Kirsty McKay

The Girl says: “It’s a great second book in what I hope is a series.  It picks up right where Undead ends.  It’s a great zombie book and always kept me on my toes.”

catching fire

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

The Girl says: “This is book 2 in The Hunger Games trilogy and my favorite of the three.  I loved the scenes in the arena, and I loved Finnick.”

lockdown

Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith

The Girl says: “This is a young adult novel for teens 14 and up because it is gory.  Really gory.  But I didn’t mind the gory descriptions because they made the book more vivid and exciting.”

slated

Slated by Teri Terry

The Girl says: “I loved Kyla from the first page, and the dystopian world was very unique and believable.”

mockingjay

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

The Girl says: “A great way to end the trilogy.  It almost made me cry.  Almost.  I haven’t cried reading a book yet, though.”

lord of the flies

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

The Girl says: “I could feel the fear.  This book makes you think.”

blackbox

Black Box by Julie Schumacher

The Girl says: “A sad, compelling story that has stayed with me.”

every soul a star

Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass

The Girl says: “Wonderful writing, a page-turner.”

The Girl’s 2013 Honorable Mentions

tomorrow girls series

The Tomorrow Girls series by Eva Gray

The Girl says: “I couldn’t put these books down.”

entice and endure

Entice and Endure by Carrie Jones

The Girl says: “A series that will always stay with me.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget these characters.”

The Girl wants to know:  What were your favorite YA books of 2013?

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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The Girl (age 12) read 42 books last year, which is a personal record for her.  I’m so proud that she always has a book in her hand and enjoys talking about books as much as I do.  After seeing my best of 2012 list, she wanted to create her own.  When I asked her why these were her favorite books, she just said, “They were really really good.”  (These are books she read last year; not all were published last year.)

The Girl’s Top 10 of 2012

undead

Undead by Kirsty McKay

need

Need by Carrie Jones

hunger games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

code name verity

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

the book thief

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

ashes

Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick

the limit

The Limit by Kristen Landon

witch & wizard

Witch & Wizard by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet

the help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

judy blume

Just as Long as We’re Together/Here’s to You, Rachel Robinson by Judy Blume

The 2012 Honorable Mentions

the lost hero

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

the lightning thief

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

zombie blondes

Zombie Blondes by Brian James

smile

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

What were the best books you read in 2012?

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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