book superlatives

The Year of 100 Books: Reading Superlatives for 2016

Somehow, without quite intending to, I will finish 2016 having read exactly 100 books. (I say this with confidence now having 3.25 days left in the year and 1.5 books to go, but I’m hoping claiming 100 a little early won’t jinx it). Since I read a wide diversity of books, it’s impossible for me to simply choose just a few to write about, so instead I like to do book superlatives, because then I don’t have to pick favorites and I also get to create categories to fit the books I really want to write about. It’s a win-win!

Before I jump in, I wanted to address two  comments I frequently receive from people about my reading. First: “You must read really fast!” I’m actually a fairly slow reader due to the fact that for me to really process what I’m reading, I have to move my lips like I am mouthing each word, which basically means I read in my head at the same pace it would take me to read aloud. Of course, it depends on how dense the book is, but on average I’d say a 300 page book will take me 6-7 hours of reading time. I’m also not always reading literary fiction or works of research. This year in particular, I’ve read quite a few books that had little or no literary or educational merit and were just for fun.

The second comment I see often is, “I would love to read that much, but I never have time. How do you find the time?” I have a few answers to this. Practically speaking, I am a twenty-nine year old woman with a self-sufficient husband and no kids. While I often work 60 hours/week, I still have fewer demands on my free time than many other people do. Audiobooks have played a huge role in my reading life this year.  I sometimes listen to a book on audio while also reading the hard copy and switch back and forth between the two. I listen to audiobooks while I’m getting ready in the morning, while I’m driving to work or running errands, and while I’m cooking dinner. I get at least 2-3 hours of reading in every day just by doing that. I also bring a book with me everywhere I go and take advantage of the small moments I get throughout the day. Five or ten minutes here and there really do add up.

If you’d like to see the full list of what I read this year, feel free to check out all of the titles on my Goodreads Reading Challenge. You can also read my superlatives from 2015 here. Now on with the show!

Grumpiest Old Man Book

18774964A Man Called Ove by Friedrik Backman. Ove is the quintessential grumpy old man with plenty of opinions about all of the youngsters these days. All he wants is to be left to die in peace, but the young family who moves in next door isn’t about to let him. This book is heartwarming, but also made me excited to be a cranky old person some day.51Q3z3emk2L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Runner Up: The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood. Though this one has a 104 year old grumpy old woman (plus a quirky little boy), it still fits the category and was one of my favorite reads this year.

Most Thrilling Thriller

23125266I went through a thriller phase this summer and into the fall, but I found myself let down by most of the ones I read. I think this is because thrillers set you up to expect some great twist and most of the ones I read either didn’t surprise me or just didn’t make a ton of sense. My top pick was I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh which managed to be unexpected without being a wild dramatic twist. Big trigger warnings for domestic violence though.

More recently, I really enjoyed Before the Fall by Noah Hawley which also steered away from the last minute plot twist in favor of a reasonably paced reveal of what happened. But don’t read this on a plane.

Most Likely to Make you Want to Cook All the Foods

3090282A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg which is both a memoir and a book full of recipes, reminding us of how food shapes our ordinary lives.

Runner up would be Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler which I didn’t ultimately give a great review because I really disliked the main character, but it paints an incredibly vivid picture of life on the Manhattan restaurant scene.

Most Disappointing Book

51rq4omr5l-_sx329_bo1204203200_I really hate to say this because this wasn’t a bad book at all, I just had very high expectations. I’m talking about Tana French’s latest Dublin Murder Squad mystery The Trespasser. I absolutely loved her previous five books (especially The Likenessand had extremely high expectations for this one. It wasn’t a bad book, but it did drag for me a bit in a way her previous ones hadn’t, and I didn’t feel as connected to the detective as I have in her previous books.

Most Fun Book

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Crazy Rich Asians and the sequel China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan. Both books are pure, voyeuristic pleasure peeking in on the lives of the filthy rich of Singapore and Hong Kong. These books also made me want to move back to Asia ASAP.

Book I Now Wish I Could Get Back the Hours of My Life I Spent Reading

27190202We Could Be Beautiful by Swan Huntley. Rich White People Problems book except with completely flat characters and no development whatsoever and weird creepy incest-y relationships.

I also did not care for Jennifer Weiner’s newest book Who Do You Love although I usually find her books to be reliable feel-good reads.

Best Historical Fiction

515p3OrN1KL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah which is about two sisters living in occupied France during WWII, each fighting in her own way. (One of the best books of the year for me).

51tXTlzZcNL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Runner up: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. Another WWII novel, this one focusing on the lives of Japanese Americans forced into internment camps in the US during the war told through the eyes of a Chinese American boy.

Best Contemporary Fiction

51MDWaEfUiL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. Just wow. I loved this book so much. I don’t even know what to say about it. Just read it.

Book I Can’t Shut Up About

51C9yK9VzzL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. I mean, I really couldn’t shut up about this. I was bringing up the topic of end of life care and the inevitability of death like it was my job. This book manages to deal with a morbid subject with grace and compassion and truth. I think it’s a must-read.

Best New Series

This wasn’t a new series to the world, just a new series to me. Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache mysteries came highly recommended and they have not disappointed me. I will say that the first few were good but not amazing to me, but the further you get in the series, the better they are. These are the types of mysteries that are focused on character development, delving into the psychology of the characters and probing human nature. I will be finishing book 9 of 12 in the few days. (PS- You do sort of need to read them in order because sometimes they refer back to previous cases).

Most Challenging

20342617Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy broke me and challenged me not to turn a blind eye to the injustices being enacted every day in my country through our prison system. After hearing Bryan speak last month I am even more determined that we all have a responsibility to work towards justice in our communities.

Furthest Out of My Comfort Zone

9969571Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I have little to no interest in video games or in 80’s pop culture references and yet this book completely charmed me. As a bonus, the audio book is narrated by Wil Wheaton.

Most Exotic Setting

This is a three-way tie between Enchanted Islands (Allison Amend) which is based on a real-life couple who were sent to be spies in the Galapagos islands pre-WWII (but only about 1/3 of the book takes place there), The House at the Edge of Night  (Catherine Banner) which is a dreamy, multi-generational, Gabriel Garcia Marquez-esque book set on a small Italian island, and The Light Between Oceans (M. L. Stedman) which is mainly set on a mostly uninhabited island (more of a rock really) off the western coast of Australia.

Best Series Ender

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Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor. This is the final book in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy and it is magnificently intense. Runner up goes to Winter, the conclusion of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles. Both of these books run around 800 pages long so it’s a good thing they were worth it!

Most Important

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Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Written as a letter from Coates to his young son explaining what it means to be black in America. This is a book that everyone should read.

Funniest Book

16141924Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan. If you are familiar with Gaffigan’s stand-up, the book is very similar. I really enjoy his sense of humor.

Book That Made Me Cry

25899336When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Yet another book I read this year about mortality, the reality of death, and the brevity of life. Reading the words of this thirty-something neurosurgeon who must grapple with his own terminal diagnosis and what’s really important in life. I dare you not to cry reading this man’s words and knowing he does not live to finish the book.

 

Best Rich White People Problems Book

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Because this is a genre I actually enjoy now and again, The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney is the ultimate indulgence. Four adult siblings who are within months or receiving a tidy inheritance, only to find that the “nest” has been plundered to cover the indiscretions of the eldest brother.

Best Prose

13152194I was honestly blown away by Tiny Beautiful Things which is a compilation of essays Cheryl Strayed wrote in her Dear Sugar advice column at the Rumpus. I don’t always agree with her advice, but I was moved by her genuine compassion and authenticity which shone through in these letters. They are stunning.

Most Educational

51PfhTR2k-L._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. I learned so much in this book recounting Kingsolver and her family’s year of dedication to eating only foods they grew themselves or sourced locally. For example, did you know that the ability to mate naturally has been bred out of American turkeys and the turkeys you eat at Thanksgiving are all the result of artificial insemination? Told you it was educational.

Most Unique

61sewvnupl-_sx324_bo1204203200_A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. I’m not even exactly sure how to explain this book except to say that it was both intensely realistic, dealing very explicitly with things like mental illness and suicide, and also somewhat surreal. Which I think was the point. It’s difficult for me to tell you what this book is about and it’s probably better to just read a synopsis, but I will say that while this book had some disturbing parts and some strange magical realism towards the end, I still really liked it.

Best YA Book

515e3HFpceL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. I love what this book had to say about art, why we create it and what makes it necessary. Noah and Jude are twins (Jude’s a girl, btw) who have always shared a special connection until some time in their 14th year, something breaks them apart. The story is told in alternating sections from Noah’s and Jude’s perspectives. Noah’s part of the story is told in the past, while Jude’s portions are told three years later. You get bits and flashes of what happened between them from each side until it all comes together in the end. Noah is strange and isolated, drawing constantly, misunderstood by his peers and desperately in love with the boy next door. Jude is rebellious and fiery, ready to crash and burn if that’s what it takes. Something tears them apart in a way that changes them completely, but they each only have half the story.

Most Surprising

25852870Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld. This book is part of the Jane Austen project, a collective that invited several modern authors to modernize classic Jane Austen novels. I normally really hate re-tellings of classics. Especially modernizations. But this one (based very closely on Pride and Prejudice) just worked for me. Bingley is a famous bachelor after being on a nationally televised show called Eligible (like the Bachelor), Lydia and Kitty are obnoxiously into CrossFit and Elizabeth and Darcy have hot hate sex. Also, the whole thing is set in Cincinnati of all places and mentions lots of places I go when I’m visiting my in-laws there.

Celebrity I Now Want to Be Friends With

51YEfYZUHLL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Padma Lakshmi after reading her book Love, Loss, and What We Ate. I never really knew anything about her before, but after reading this book I think she’s pretty impressive and much smarter than people probably realize. She’s also led a really interesting life–born in India before immigrating to America with her mother, working as a model in Europe in her early twenties, meeting and marrying Salman Rushdie, and later going on to become a television cook and a judge on Top Chef.

Best Heroine

So, this book will really only work for you if you are a Jane Eyre fan or a fan of the gothic novel in general. This is not a retelling of Jane Eyre, but it is heavily inspired by it. Except in this novel, our heroine, Jane Steele, is an accidental serial murderer. I also love the cover design for this book.25938397

If you’ve stuck with me this far, thanks for reading. Believe me, I did my very best to pare this list down to the ones I most wanted to talk about, and I still had to leave a few good ones out. I don’t have a specific reading goal for 2017 and I actually hope to do more writing, which would probably cut down on my reading time, but you can always follow my progress on Goodreads!

What were the best books you read this year?

 

 

 

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2015 Book Superlatives

For those of you who have been missing my Book Chat posts (which are coming back in the new year in some form!) here is a post for you. I decided to look over all of the books I read for the first time in 2015 and hand out some superlatives. Don’t forget to follow me on Goodreads for up-to-date info on what I’m reading and for my reviews. Drumroll please….

Best Literary Read

Station ElevenStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. One of the books I’m including in my 10,000 subscriber giveaway, this book is hauntingly beautiful. It tells the story of a Hollywood star and the people connected to him (though sometimes only by a slender thread) before, during, and after the collapse of civilization. It’s eerie and post-apocalyptic, riveting and elegiac, moving and insightful. I’m not normally drawn to post-apocalyptic stories, but I’m so glad I read this one as its become one of my favorites. This one also wins the award for Most Beautiful Prose.

Fastest Read

eleanor and parkEleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. This book is just pretty adorable. A love story for the ages, but with real characters in real and difficult situations. Eleanor is the wrong size with the wrong hair and the wrong clothes and most definitely the wrong family. But to Park, she is the magic that holds the sky up. They know it’s destined for disaster. But they also know the real thing when they see it. I was utterly enchanted and read the whole thing in two days. 

Most Fun

51hy+GbenKL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling). I generally think good mysteries make for fun reads. This one was particularly fun to me because Jonathan and I read it aloud to each other during our long drive to and from Ohio for Thanksgiving. This is the third in Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike mystery series and is my personal favorite. The story begins when Strike’s assistant Robin receives a mysterious package containing a woman’s severed leg. Strike can immediately think of four men from his past who might have had something to do with it. Unraveling the mystery is great fun, though I will warn you that there are some particularly gruesome descriptions of violence towards women that you may want to be aware of if you are sensitive to that type of content. 

Most Surprising

CinderCinder (The Lunar Chronicles) by Marissa Meyer. This unique twist on the Cinderella story t’s set in a futuristic world where androids are essential to daily life and the moon has been colonized and become the home of a new species known as Lunars. It involves a cyborg/mechanic Cinderella, a handsome prince, and the search for a cure for the plague pandemic that is wiping out Earth’s population. This is not the sort of book I would normally gravitate towards, but it was so fresh and clever and well-done that I was completely enchanted.

Best Fantasy Trilogy

MistbornThe Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. After finishing my beloved Way of Kings and Words of Radiance I needed more Sanderson in my life so I dove into his well-known Mistborn trilogy. He’s actually written a set of trilogies that all involve the Mistborn world, but I only read the first one which includes Mistborn, The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of Ages. I think Sanderson might be my favorite fantasy writer. His characters are complex and compelling and his world-building is top-notch.

Most Likely to Make You Ugly Cry

The Middle PlaceTo be honest, most of the books on this entire list made me ugly cry at some point, but that’s just me. As the category winner I will chose. The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan. This is a memoir about being in the middle place between being a child and being a parent. Corrigan, a mother of 2, is diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 36. As she goes through treatment, she relies heavily on her father who has always made her feel like the most important person in the world. When her father is diagnosed with cancer himself a few months after she is, Corrigan must deal with what it means to move from being the cared-for child to being the caretaker, for her children, for herself, and for her father. It’s very moving.

Book I Wish I’d Written

searching for sundaySearching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans. My experience with my faith and with the church over the past decade resonates deeply with Evans’ own experiences, and Evans writes poignantly about some of the conclusions I’m also coming to about what it looks like for me to still be a Christian and still participate in the Church in spite of those things. This book is one you can win in my 10,000 subscribers giveaway!

Most Atmospheric

51irgNzUDAL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_The Lake House by Kate Morton. If there is one thing Kate Morton does well, it is setting. Whenever I take a break from one of her novels I always feel slightly disoriented because I could swear I’ve just been somewhere in the English countryside. This was a more recent read for me, but long-anticipated. Morton fans will not be disappointed in The Lake House which hits all the notes we expect in a Morton novel – an unsolved mystery involving an old house in the English countryside, movement between the past and the present, and shocking family secrets. The ending is satisfying, if maybe a bit too neat, and the writing is irreproachable.

Most Over-Hyped

the life changing magic of tidying upThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. So many people were losing their minds over this book and I just was not impressed. I did pick up a few helpful tips, but overall I found the book to be incredibly repetitive and also pretty weird. While I like to personify my possessions and talk to inanimate objects as much as the next girl, Kondo takes it to another level. She suggests thanking your belongings before getting rid of them and goes so far as to give this advice about storing your out-of-season clothes, “Let them know you care and look forward to wearing them when they are next in season. This kind of ‘communication’ helps your clothes stay vibrant and keeps your relationship with them alive longer.” Too much, Marie. A little too much. Also, I can’t “only keep things which give me joy.” My vacuum cleaner gives me no joy, but still I must keep it. It’s really not as simple as she wants it to be.

Best YA Book{s}

Daughter of smoke and boneDaughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy by Laini Taylor. So I confess that I’ve only read two of the three books in this trilogy, but that’s only because right as I finished the second one I got an influx of books I’d put on hold at the library and they all had to read within a few weeks. I will absolutely read the third one ASAP. Because they are intense and incredible. I read the first half of the first one and was like, “Eh…I guess it’s all right. I’ll finish it.” And by the time I got to the end I was like. “Holy hell. I get it.” And the whole second book got better and better. This is a fantasy trilogy, though it is somewhat set in our world. “Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a world free of bloodshed and war.”

GrishaThe Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo. Alina Starkov is nobody – an orphaned refugee whose never been noticed. Until her best friend’s life is threatened and a dormant power is awakened in her unlike an the world has ever seen. Alina is immediately taken into the Grisha court to study and train under the most powerful Grisha of all, The Darkling. Together he says they can destroy the Shadow Fold that threatens their country. Together they can remake the world. But nothing is as it seems and Alina must learn to see things that have long been hidden, even the things inside her own heart. This trilogy is so brilliant it kills me a little.

Best Books About Faith

Altar in the WorldAn Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor. This book is part of my 10,000 subscriber giveaway. This book rejects the divisions so many Christians are intent on making between the secular and the sacred. It made me feel so grounded in my body and to this earth. I especially loved the practical disciplines she suggested for making the world a place of worship. Things as simple as taking a walk or working with your hands, or being still and resting. The thing I loved most about this book was walking away feeling that a simple life could be good and honest and holy and true when so often I feel the drive to be more and do more, even from the church.

 

Accidental SaintsAccidental Saints: Finding God in all the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber. I just love Nadia Bolz-Weber and I loved the overall message of this book – that God can and does show up in the most unexpected places and works through people. I don’t think this was a good as her first book as it’s mostly stories illustrating the same basic point, but I still really liked it.

Most Inspiring

Big magicBig Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. If you are a creator of some sort, I think this book has value for you. This book explores the paradoxes of the creative life – that creating art is vital to our humanity, and also completely inessential to human existence. That we should commit ourselves seriously to our creative work, and we should always remember that life and death do not hinge on what we do creatively. Most of all, it reminds the reader of why a creative life is a worthwhile life even if you never receive any kind of recognition for your work. Every time I read a section of this book I felt inspired to complete a project or to put myself out there creatively.

Funniest Book

why not meWhy Not Me? by Mindy Kaling.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I believe Mindy Kaling is my spirit animal. I think she is smart, fun, and funny and I would love to be her friend. Therefore, I loved this book which I read with her voice in my head.

Most Unique

41HRculXpcL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgSmoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lesson from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty.  This book of essays about Doughty’s experience as a young woman working in a crematorium was fascinating. In spite of some frank descriptions, she manages to avoid sensationalism and instead brings up questions about the way we as a society treat death and whether there might be a better way. 

Most Disappointing

31e+Y+unwyL._BO1,204,203,200_.jpgNever Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. This is a sort of dystopian novel along the lines of The Giver but set at an exclusive boarding school in England. Even though there is a first person narrator, I felt disconnected from her and from the other characters to the extent that I didn’t really care that much what happened to them. There was also a moment towards the end that is set up as though it’s a big reveal, but I personally didn’t find the information surprising as I’d assumed it all along. I also found it irritating how extremely non-curious the characters were about the world and their role in it. I know this book is pretty highly acclaimed, but for me it was just OK.

Worst Book

51qX2vnFnNL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_-1A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. I don’t really want to waste space on this ridiculous book, but I will summarize by saying this book was like Twilight for adults, was excessively long, and infuriating. And it’s not well-written. People think that using excessive detailed descriptions makes something well-written. It doesn’t. Don’t waste your time.

Honorable Mentions (books I really enjoyed but don’t have a superlative for)

51Hpr8+w9KL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_After You by JoJo Moyes. The sequel to Moyes’ highly acclaimed Me Before You (right up there with The Fault in Our Stars for most ugly-crying episodes while reading) picks up with Louisa Clarke about a year after we left her. I liked this book because it felt like an honest portrayal of what someone in her situation would be going through, and while I got frustrated with Louisa sometimes, I still wanted to know how it all turned out.

 

last anniversaryThe Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty. I’m just a huge fan of Moriarty’s. I think all of her books are clever and fun. Sophie Honeywell is 39, unmarried, and starting to wonder if she’s missed her opportunity to have a family when she unexpectedly inherits a house from her ex-boyfriend’s Great Aunt Connie – the woman who discovered the Munro baby. This book revolves around the secret of the Munro baby – a (fictional) famous unsolved mystery where the Munro couple mysteriously disappeared from their home with the tea kettle whistling and a warm cake fresh from the oven leaving their 2 week old baby behind. The story takes place far in the future and is centered on the family who raised the baby (now a grandmother herself) and her children and grandchildren who run a family business that capitalizes on the unsolved mystery of the Munro baby.

Leaving ChurchLeaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor. Taylor’s story of her call to the Episcopalian priesthood and later her decision to leave the priesthood and become a professor was full of beautiful thoughts about how the world and the church need not be enemies – separate entities that are necessarily opposed to one another. She writes beautifully about the ways she encountered God and grace outside of the church as well as inside it.

I’ve read 63 books so far this year and anticipate finishing 2 -3 more before the end of the year. Click here for a full list of everything I read this year.

Also, don’t forget that my 10,000 subscriber book giveaway is still open until Wednesday. Check out the submission rules here and may the odds be ever in your favor!