Category: Annual “Best Books” Lists

Best Books of 2018

December 13, 2018 Annual "Best Books" Lists 6

Best Books of 2018

 

Last year, I had no trouble picking an obvious #1 book of the year (The Heart’s Invisible Furies)…because:

This year, I had more trouble picking my #1 book. And, not because it was significantly less good than The Heart’s Invisible Furies, but more because my overall 2018 reading was SO much better than last year (I attribute this to tracking my best and worst recommendation sources using my Rock Your Reading Tracker)! There was just more competition for the top spot. I actually considered over half of my top 10 as candidates for my #1 book of the year.

The reason I picked Waiting for Eden is that it’s the book that affected me the most. I even re-read/re-skimmed it for an upcoming guest podcast discussion (more on that later) and it affected me just as much the second  time around. It’s not a book for everyone (you have to be okay with getting metaphorically punched in the stomach multiple times), but if you you’re comfortable with the gut-punching, then definitely give it a try.

This year, I’m not only sharing my own favorite books, but I’m also sharing the Sarah’s Book Shelves Facebook Group members’ favorites! You can join the Sarah’s Book Shelves Facebook Group (where I share my unfiltered thoughts, sneak peeks of blog posts and members’ trade book recommendations amongst each other) by supporting the blog at the $3/month level on Patreon (more details here).

Finally, I’ve brought back the high school yearbook-style “Superlatives” from previous years (2017201620152014)!

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link), through which I make a small commission when you make a purchase (at no cost to you!).

Best Books of 2018

My #1 Book of 2018

Waiting for Eden by Elliot Ackerman (my review)
Most Emotionally Gut-Wrenching

Best First Chapter
Biggest Punch in a Tiny Package
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The Rest of My Favorites

A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne (review)
Most Memorable Villain
Best Non-Sequel Follow-Up Book (to The Heart’s Invisible Furies, my favorite book of last year)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (review)
Most Readable “Issue” Book

Best New-To-Me Author
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell
Premise I Didn’t Expect to Work, But Totally Did
Best Bookend Essays (Opening and Closing)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan (review)
Best New Addition to my “Women Who Get Women” Club

Book I Most Related To
Most Recommended (tie)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Ensembleby Aja Gabel
Most Gorgeously Written Debut

Best Ensemble Cast
The Book I Almost Didn’t Read
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Female Persuasionby Meg Wolitzer (review)
Best Character-Driven Novel

Most Deserving of its Hype
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai (my review)
Best Book If You Want to Read A Little Life, But Are Avoiding It Because of the Relentless Abuse

Best “Issue” Book
Book With the Most Heart
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Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (review)
Best Debut

Best Southern Novel
Best Coming of Age Story
Most Recommended (tie)

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You Think It, I’ll Say It: Stories by Curtis Sittenfeld (review)
Best Short Story Collection

Most Perfect Collection for New Short Story Readers
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Sarah’s Book Shelves Facebook Group’s Best Books of 2018

Not surprisingly, many of my Facebook Group’s favorites of they year lined up with mine! And, a number of the books that almost made my list did make m Facebook Group’s list! We’re all sharing recommendations in the Facebook Group, so you’d expect to see a lot of overlap.

Get access to the Sarah’s Book Shelves Facebook Group by supporting the blog for $3/month on Patreon (more details here)!

Top Books (2 votes each)

  • Educated by Tara Westover (my review)
    I loved this one too…it just didn’t make my top 10!
  • Clock Dance by Anne Tyler
    I sampled this one, but ended up not reading it.
  • The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya (my review)
    I really liked this one, though it’s a hard read. Just didn’t make my top 10.

Others Mentioned

More Best Books of 2018

Eight 2017 Books That Deserved the Hype…and Five That Didn’t
Best Debuts of 2018
Most Underrated Gems of 2018

What were your favorite books of 2018?

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Most Underrated Gems of 2018

December 11, 2018 Annual "Best Books" Lists 14

Underrated Gems of 2018

 

My Best Books of 2018 list is coming on Thursday, but in the meantime, I wanted to give some love to books I really enjoyed, but that didn’t get much attention from regular readers and bloggers.

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link).

Most Underrated Gems of 2018

A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl by Jean Thompson (my review)
I loved how Thompson wrote about women’s roles in marriage and in the home in this book…and particularly how she talked about the differences in viewpoints between generations. Though she’s been nominated for a National Book Award in the past, this novel didn’t get much attention. But, a few other bloggers I trust did really like it (but not many even read it!). 
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All the Castles Burned by Michael Nye (my review)
I actually can’t think of a single other blogger I follow who read this book. But, it’s a campus novel about a toxic male friendship with some basketball thrown in. Easy reading, but dark. Right up my alley…I included it in my 2018 Summer Reading Guide.

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Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win by Jo Piazza (my review)
This brain candy novel was one of my favorite summer books! It’s easy reading, but smart and contains astute observations on women in politics. I feel like Piazza got a lot more attention for her previous book, Fitness Junkie, but this one is not to be missed!

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Foe by Iain Reid (my review)
Reid’s sophomore novel is sort of Sci-Fi, but not quite (maybe Sci-Fi Lite?)…but, it’s also a rumination on marriage, which I love. It was nominated for a Goodreads Choice Award in the Horror category (huh?!), but it finished in the bottom third of the voting, which tells me not many people read it. But, more should because it had me on the edge of my seat in a creepy, quiet way.

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Laura & Emma by Kate Greathead (my review)
I think I did see this one on one Best Books of 2018 list, but it was fairly divisive among readers I know. Some didn’t like the vignette format, some didn’t like the ending, and some didn’t like Laura’s voice (or that we didn’t hear much from Emma). But, it totally worked for me!

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The Distance Home by Paula Saunders (my review)
You’d think this book would’ve gotten more attention since Paula Saunders is George Saunders’ wife at least. But, no. The writing was gorgeous, but I only know of two other bloggers who even read it.

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The Wildlands by Abby Geni (my review)
I saw this genre mash-up around #bookstagram a little bit when it was published, but not nearly as much as I would have expected! It’s a totally unique book and doesn’t really fit into one genre…but that’s what I love about it!

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Visible Empire by Hannah Pittard (my review)
This novel had the feel of a scaled down A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe. I included it on my 2018 Summer Reading Guide and Anne Bogel from Modern Mrs. Darcy did too…other than that, I really didn’t see it around anywhere.

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Waiting for Eden by Elliot Ackerman (my review)
I’m pretty sure I know why this book isn’t getting widespread attention. It’s hard, emotionally gut-punching…and those types of books aren’t for everyone. But, it affected me more than any other book I read this year. It’s outstanding in a very small number of pages. I’m actually re-reading parts of it right now for a book club discussion and it’s hitting me just as hard the second time around.

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Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties by Camille Pagan (my thoughts)
Pagan is like a lighter, more sarcastic version of Anna Quindlen. And this book is an easy and fun, but not silly read with small threads of darkness running underneath. I thought more people would’ve appreciated her pointed talk about marriage, divorce, and aging for women.

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What are your favorite underrated gems of 2018?

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Best Debuts of 2018

December 6, 2018 Annual "Best Books" Lists 11

Best Debuts of 2018

 

I’ve always felt strongly about reading debut novels…I love to support these authors and I’ve traditionally had great luck with the debut novels I’ve read.

Last year, two out of eight of my Best Debuts of 2017 also made my overall Best Books of 2017 list. 

I haven’t completely finalized my Best Books of 2018 list, but one of these debuts will for sure make it and a couple others are on the bubble. 

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link).

I made a grave mistake with this post…

Where the Crawdads Sing

 

Y’all, I can’t believe I did what I’m about to tell you I did. I have no idea how this happened or what came over me, but I omitted one of my MOST favorite debuts of the year from this list…Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (my glowing review). Not only did I forget to include it here, but I DID include it in my Instagram picture for this post that’s going up later this afternoon. And not only that…but, in my caption for that post, I called out Goodreads for “tragically” leaving Where the Crawdads Sing off their Best Debuts nominee list for the Goodreads Choice Awards. Pot, meet kettle.

I kind of feel like I should send Delia Owens flowers or something. Delia, if by some off chance you’re reading this, I’m SO SO sorry. I loved your book and you’ll see it on another, even better, list soon.

And, if you haven’t read this one yet, it’s my #1 Go-To Recommendation on my 2018 Holiday Gift Guide!

On to the rest of the list…

Best Debuts of 2018

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou (my review)
Though I got lost in some of the science and engineering details, I was fascinated / horrified at the arrogance of Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos’s young CEO who viewed herself as the next Steve Jobs, and the lengths Theranos went to to create a “unicorn” despite the absence of a viable product.
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Educated by Tara Westover (my review)
Imagine if you had to choose between getting an education (both the traditional kind and an education about life in general) and having a relationship with your family. That’s what happened to Tara Westover. This one is topping a bunch of Best Books of 2018 lists!

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From the Corner of the Ovalby Beck Dorey-Stein (my review)
This quarter life crisis memoir set in the world of politics might be my favorite audiobook of the year! It’s like listening to your fun friend who happens to have a job in the White House with access to the President give you all the very best anecdotes (plus, a good dose of her love life) over a glass of wine!

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I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara (my review)
The best true crime books put themselves on another tier by telling the story in a compelling, engrossing way and avoiding getting bogged down in overly dry details. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark does just that. It’s up there with The Stranger Beside Me (but not quite approaching In Cold Blood) in the true crime genre for me. Doesn’t hurt that a suspect in the attacks was arrested soon after the book was published.

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Laura & Emma by Kate Greathead (my review)
The key to loving Laura & Emma is loving Laura’s voice and the writing style (which I obviously did). Laura is offbeat, but likable and funny in an awkward way (she reminded me of a less damaged version of Eleanor Oliphant).

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Tangerine by Christine Mangan (my review)
The story of a fraught, obsessive friendship and all the wreckage it leaves behind. It’s kind of a page turner, but not in the traditional sense. It’s taut with emotional and psychological tension…my kind of “thriller.”

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The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir (my review)
The Book of Essie is the type of brain candy I love…a story about weighty topics that reads quickly and easily. Bonus: you get an interesting behind-the-scenes look at reality TV and image management in the media spotlight.

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The Ensembleby Aja Gabel
I almost skipped this book and I’m so relieved I didn’t! It’s about a musical quartet (which I’m not interested in at all…hence the “almost” skip) and is one of those character-driven novels that I couldn’t put down. It’s all about the simmering dynamics of this group and it explores the implications of having an essentially business relationship that supersedes all other relationships in these characters’ lives. And, the writing is drop dead gorgeous…especially for a debut.

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What are your favorite debuts of 2018?

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Which Literary Awards Match Your Reading Taste?

November 23, 2018 Annual "Best Books" Lists 7

Literary Awards

 

I’ve always had the feeling that award-winning books don’t work well for me. But, it’s always been anecdotal…until now!

I decided to find out for sure exactly how my reading taste lines up with the literary awards committees’ taste.

I used a spreadsheet (you can download it below to find out which literary awards best match your own reading taste!) to calculate the percentage of each major literary award’s winners (from 2012 – present) that I liked / didn’t like. And, now I know which literary awards to pay attention to (and ignore!) so I can pick better books moving forward!

My Best Literary Awards

These literary awards best match my reading taste…

  1. The Audie Awards (29%)
  2. The Shirley Jackson Awards (17%)
  3. The Thriller Awards (13%)
  4. National Book Critics Circle Awards (8%)
  5. The Edgar Awards (6%)

My Observations:

  • These top numbers are somewhat low overall…telling me that literary award winners just aren’t my thing in general. Award season rolls around, I run!

That being said…

  • The Audie Awards is for audiobooks…and I counted an Audie winner as a success for me even if I read that particular book in print format. So, this one might be cheating.
  • Three of my top awards are in the mystery / thriller category…which I don’t even read that much of! This is probably the most useful thing I learned from this exercise. Even though I don’t read a ton of mysteries / thrillers, when I am looking for one, The Shirley Jackson Awards, The Edgar Awards, and The Thriller Awards lists make good recommendation sources for me!

My Worst Literary Awards

These literary awards least match my reading taste…

  1. National Book Award (-10%)
  2. National Book Critics Circle Awards (-5%)
  3. The Pulitzer Prize (-4%)

My Observations:

  • Well, there go the big U.S. literary awards for me! I can’t say I’m that surprised.
  • Although, I am surprised at just how badly I line up with the National Book Award. Of all the big literary awards, I always thought I related most to that one. And, I did like some of the nominees, but the nominated books I like never seem to make it to the winners circle.

So, why do I tend to disagree with the big literary awards committees?

  • I do love literary fiction, but I prefer the type that’s also accessible to the average reader. I like the sweet spot between literary and commercial. Sadly, the books that are likely to get nominated for the big literary awards are the highly literary ones…not necessarily the ones accessible to the average reader.
  • Many books that won awards over the past few years are political / “issue” books. These aren’t my favorites, especially when it comes to fiction. I don’t mind political issues coming up in my reading, but I like the issues to be organic parts of the story and of the characters’ lives. An American Marriage and The Great Believers both did this really well. I don’t like it when the “issues” completely take over the story.

Find out if your reading taste matches the big literary awards!

  • Download the spreadsheet via the sign-up form below.
  • Follow the spreadsheet’s instructions to find your Top and Bottom literary awards.
  • Use them to pick books moving forward. Though I just used the winners in my spreadsheet, most awards have short and long lists, which could be great recommendation sources for you! Maybe you’ll even find some new-to-you sources you didn’t even realize were in line with your taste!
  • Be skeptical of book recommendations from your bottom literary awards.

Give it a go! What literary awards does your reading taste match up with? How do you feel about literary awards in general?

Best Books of 2018 So Far

June 26, 2018 Annual "Best Books" Lists 37

Best Books of 2018 So Far

 

Can you believe it’s already time for the Best Books of 2018 So Far?!

For the past two years, 60% of the books on my June Best Books of the Year So Far lists (2017, 2016) ended up on my overall favorite books of the year lists (2017, 2016). I’ve had a couple big-time winners in the first half of this year that I’m 99.9% positive they will make it on my final list. So, we’ll see if I beat that 60% this year!

This year, I’m not only sharing my own favorite books, but I’m also sharing the Sarah’s Book Shelves Facebook Group members’ favorites! You can join the Sarah’s Book Shelves Facebook Group (where I share my unfiltered thoughts, sneak peeks of blog posts and members’ trade book recommendations amongst each other) by supporting the blog at the $3/month level on Patreon (more details here).

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link), through which I make a small commission when you make a purchase (at no cost to you!).

My Best Books of 2018 So Far

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (my review)
My first 5 star novel of the year…

Educated by Tara Westover (my review)
Your next book if you loved Hillbilly Elegy and/or Under the Banner of Heaven

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara (my review)
The book I couldn’t read at night…

Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan (my review)
My new favorite “women who get women” author…

The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir
An easy read with a ton of substance (yes, a book can be both of those things)…

The Female Persuasionby Meg Wolitzer (my review)
That big, character-driven novel you can sink into…

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai (my review)
Your next book if you loved A Little Life and/or The Heart’s Invisible Furies…or, if you liked the idea of A Little Life, but avoided it because of the overwhelming abuse.

Us Against You by Fredrick Backman (my review)
The author who captures the emotion of sports like no other (except maybe the screenwriters on Friday Night Lights)…

Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties by Camille Pagan (my review)
A lighter, more sarcastic version of Anna Quindlen…and, my #1 “Fun” pick for on my 2018 Summer Reading List.

You Think It, I’ll Say It: Stories by Curtis Sittenfeld (my review)
One of only two short story collections I’ve ever rated 5 stars…

The Sarah’s Book Shelves Facebook Group’s Best Books of 2018 So Far

It’s kind of amazing…there is only one book on this list that got more than 1 vote! The Facebook Group is a varied bunch! And, that means you can mine this wide range of reading tastes for all kinds of book recommendations if you join in.

Get access to the Sarah’s Book Shelves Facebook Group by supporting the blog for $3/month on Patreon (more details here)!

What are your favorite books so far this year?

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The Best Audiobooks I’ve Listened to in 2018 So Far + A Giveaway

June 21, 2018 Annual "Best Books" Lists 39

Best Audiobooks 2018 So Far

 

It took me awhile to get into a good grove with audiobooks, but now that I’m there, they’ve been such a great addition to my reading life. I had to figure out what type of books worked best for me (lighter nonfiction) and the right times to listen (not while I’m exercising). But, I’ve figured it out and incorporating audiobooks enables me to fit in so much more reading than I’d be able to otherwise! Plus, audiobooks are where I fit in lots of backlist books that it’s hard to make time for. So, I’m excited to share the best audiobooks I’ve listened to in 2018 so far…

June is Audiobook Month (#loveaudiobooks) and incorporating audiobooks into my reading life has enabled me to read 20-30 more books per year, so I’m thrilled to participate in the Audio Publishers Association’s “June is Audiobook Month” blog tour (#loveaudiobooks)!

Giveaway

And good news for you…as part of the blog tour, I get to offer you a giveaway of 8 audiobooks from Blackstone Publishing, High Bridge Audio, Hachette Audio, LA Theatre Works, Macmillan Audio, Post Hypnotic Press Audiobooks, Scholastic and Tantor Audio. The books will be available on Audiobooks.com, and you will get a promo code to access all 8 audiobooks. Let me know in the comments section if you’d like to be entered into the giveaway…
*Limited to U.S. residents only.

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link), through which I make a small commission when you make a purchase (at no cost to you!).

The Best Audiobooks I’ve Listened to in 2018 So Far

Bored and Brilliant by Manoush Zomorodi (September 5, 2017)
The host of the Note to Self podcast (which is awesome, by the way!) explores the connection between boredom (aka the opportunity for your mind to wander) and creativity. Hint: it involves unplugging from your phone and social media for periods of time. The science she shares about what excessive smartphone use is doing to our brains is fascinating and scary. And, she includes easy tips to help manage your smartphone use.

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Enduranceby Scott Kelly (October 17, 2017)
It took me the entire month of February to listen to this 12 hour audiobook! It’s Astronaut Scott Kelly’s (Former Congresswoman Gabby Gifford‘s brother-in-law) story of his year on the International Space Station. Hearing about what it’s like to live on the Space Station was mostly really interesting, though the book could have been shorter.

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Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan (February 4, 2014)
I absolutely adored Corrigan’s latest memoir, Tell Me More, so I was excited to delve into her backlist. While Glitter and Glue didn’t blow me away quite as much as Tell Me More, I still relished sinking back into Corrigan’s signature brand of heartfelt, relatable, and sometimes irreverent observations about life and motherhood. Corrigan hadn’t given much thought to what it’s like to mother someone or quite appreciated her mother until she stepped into the role of surrogate caring for two children who had lost their own. If you like women’s life observations-type writing (think Anna Quindlen, Cheryl Strayed), Kelly Corrigan should be next on your list!

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The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills
Chicago Tribune journalist Marja Mills was improbably accepted by famously private Harper and Alice Lee when she visited Monroeville, AL for a story and ended up living next door to Harper. The story is as much about Mills’ journey to friendship with the Lees as it as about Lee herself. As I was listening, I almost felt like I was in To Kill A Mockingbird. For a real treat, pair with Episode 172 of From the Front Porch podcast about Annie Jones’ visit to Monroeville and a breakdown of what’s happened with Harper Lee’s estate since she passed away.

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Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give by Ada Calhoun (May 16, 2017)
This collection of essays flips wedding toasts on their heads…focusing on real talk about marriage with all its joys and challenges. Not the gushy platitudes that fill many actual wedding toasts. It’s contemplative, a bit sad, but also real and honest. If you prefer things less sugarcoated, this collection is for you.
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Tiger Woods by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian (March 27, 2018)
You’ve probably heard much of the scoop in this book before (especially if you’re a golf fan), but mostly in little snippets over the course of his whole career. Benedict and Keteyian put all this together to paint a complete picture of Tiger as a person and an athlete. It’s a cautionary tale of the pitfalls of an elite athlete in the limelight who has been trained as a machine…and sorely under-trained as a whole person. PS – Bill Simmons, one of my favorite sports writers/podcasters, loved this book and read it in a few sittings.

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What are the best audiobooks you’ve listened to in 2018 so far?

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The Best Audiobooks I Listened To In 2017

December 28, 2017 Annual "Best Books" Lists 10

Best Audiobooks I Listened to in 2017


Audiobooks are a relatively new, but welcome, addition to my reading life. It took me awhile to get into a good grove with them. I had to figure out what type of books worked best for me (lighter nonfiction) and the right times to listen (not while I’m exercising), but I’m now confident enough with my strategy to put together a Best Audiobooks I Listened to in 2017 list.

Even though I’ve been in a good listening groove for about a year and a half, you don’t hear much about audiobooks on the blog because I find it hard to review them (taking notes and marking favorite passages is inconvenient with audio!) and the pressure of knowing I’m going to write about them decreases my listening pleasure. But, I’ve been getting more and more requests for audiobook recommendations, so I’m going to try to be better about sharing my favorites here in 2018…most likely in round-up or extremely mini review format.

Audiobooks are also where I knock out lots of backlist books, so unlike my other Best Books of 2017 lists, this one includes books that were published before 2017.

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link).

The Best Audiobooks I Listened To In 2017

A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold
Columbine shooter Dylan Klebold’s mother (Sue) shares her struggle following the shooting and Dylan’s suicide in this poignant memoir. I was initially skeptical of this one (would she just try to excuse her son’s actions?) and, while she did search for a “why?”, there was much more to this extremely complex story.

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Born A Crime by Trevor Noah
The Daily Show host Trevor Noah’s memoir about growing up as a mixed race child in apartheid South Africa is technically a celebrity memoir, but it’s actually not that at all. It is a heartfelt, funny, sad, and warm story about growing up as an outcast in an incredibly oppressive place.

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Daring to Drive by Manal al-Sharif
al-Sharif started the campaign for women to drive in Saudi Arabia and this book is the story of her life as well as a stark portrayal of the oppression women face in Saudi Arabia. This is one eye-opening, heart-breaking read and is perfect for anyone who loved The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg (my review).

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Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
My Mom gave me this book when I was pregnant with my first child seven years ago and it didn’t make much of an impact on me. But, Will Schwalbe made me want to try it again in his Books for Living. The second time, it spoke directly to my core…maybe because I had seven years of motherhood under my belt by then.

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Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen
Listening to Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake was like seeing a therapist and falls into the same category as Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things. Quindlen has such a grounded, practical outlook on life that really puts things in perspective and this book could have made my overall Best Books of 2017 list had it been published this year! 

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My Year of Running Dangerously by Tom Foreman
After CNN Correspondent Tom Foreman’s daughter challenges him to train for a marathon with her, he ends up running 3 marathons, 4 half marathons, and an ultra-marathon in one year. Not only is this memoir about an impressive running feat, but it’s a sweet story of a father and daughter connecting over a shared hobby. 

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The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel
The true story about Christopher Knight, the man who lived alone in the Maine forest for 27 years before finally being arrested for stealing food and essentials from nearby vacation homes, is strange, but completely captivating. It’s like a mash-up between a wilderness story and a study of the introverted personality trait and came extremely close to making my overall Best Books of 2017 list

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What I Talk about When I Talk about Running by Haruki Murakami
This memoir is about running. But, it’s also about writing and the two are inextricably linked for Murakami.

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What Made Maddy Run by Kate Fagan
This heart-breaking story of a seemingly perfect (if you looked at her Instagram account) teenager who commits suicide during her freshman year on the Penn State track team is a must-read for parents of young athletes. 

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Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco
This behind-the-scenes memoir by President Obama’s former Deputy Chief of Staff is technically a political memoir, but it really doesn’t include any politics. It’s more a juicy, behind-the-scenes look at working in the White House and on Obama’s campaign trail sprinkled with tips on making the most of your career…all told through the voice of someone you’d love to grab a glass of wine with! 

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The Best Books of 2017 Lists I Agree With…and the Ones I Don’t

December 19, 2017 Annual "Best Books" Lists 51

Best Books of 2017 Lists Agree With


As you probably know if you’ve been reading my blog lately, I’ve had this feeling that I was on a completely different page than the serious literary critics about the Best Books of 2017. But, I didn’t really know for sure…

Then, a light went off…I could find out for sure exactly how far I was off from the serious literary critics. And, even better, which bookish media sources I should pay the most attention to (my best) and which I should ignore (my worst)? And, you can too (by using my free Excel template, available for download below)!

I kept track of as many Best Books of 2017 lists from major bookish news sources as possible and calculated what percentage of their Best Books of 2017 I liked / didn’t like. Now that I know my Best Bookish News Sources, I can use these publications or podcasts to pick better books moving forward!

The Best Best Books of 2017 Lists I Agree With Most

These are my Best Bookish Media Sources…

  1. Sorta Book Nerds Facebook Group, an offshoot of the Sorta Awesome podcast (50%)
  2. Modern Mrs. Darcy / What Should I Read Next? podcast (33%)
  3. Book of the Month Club (25%)
  4. Amazon (23%)
  5. From the Front Porch podcast (23%)

My Observations:

  • I’m calling these bookish media sources “the people’s sources,” meaning their followers lean more “regular readers” vs. book industry insiders. They have broader appeal and lean toward compelling stories and entertaining books.
  • The majority of these sources are podcasts, which I didn’t even listen to over a year ago!
  • I’m a bit surprised that Modern Mrs. Darcy made this list as I’d always thought she preferred lighter, happier books than I do. Goes to show what you can learn from looking at the numbers!
  • Amazon is a goldmine to have as a Best source…they publish Best Books of the Month lists each month, which are a great recommendation source that I hadn’t been taking regular advantage of!

The Best Books of 2017 Lists I DON’T Agree With

These are my Worst Bookish Media Sources…

  1. Kirkus (Literary Fiction -43%, Debuts -25%)
  2. New York Times 10 Best Books of 2017 (-30%)
  3. Publisher’s Weekly (-20%)
  4. Bookpage Editors Picks (-16%)
  5. Bustle (-14%)

My Observations:

  • These are the opposite of “the people’s sources.” Let’s get a bit snarky and call them “the literary snobs.” They take themselves very seriously and lean towards heavy, “important” books.
  • They tend to be compiled by the book editors at each publication.
  • I’m surprised by Bustle‘s presence in my Worst group, as I do normally like their book coverage.
  • I often cite Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly reviews in my Book of the Month Club commentary posts since they publish reviews in advance of publication date. I won’t be doing this moving forward!

Some Random Tidbits

  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward appears on 13 out of 23 (56%) of the lists. This is the epitome of a heavy, important book that, while I could objectively see why it appealed to the critics, I didn’t actually like (my review). And, while I appreciate books that convey important messages, I also want to enjoy reading them. And, there are books that accomplished both for me (i.e. this year’s Beartown and The Hate U Give).
  • Same goes for Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, appearing in 12 out of 23 (52%) of the lists.
  • Where is The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne, which was my favorite book of the year and is a serious, important book (my review), but is also a compelling and entertaining story? It only made a measly 4 (17%) of the lists (not surprisingly, 2 of them are among my Best Media Sources)! 

Find the Best Books of 2017 Lists You Most Agree and Disagree With!

  • Download the spreadsheet via the sign-up form below.
  • Follow the spreadsheet’s instructions to find your Best and Worst Best Books of 2017 lists.
  • Trust your Best Bookish Media Sources! Use them to pick books moving forward. Most publish “Most Anticipated Books” and mid-year Best Books list, which are great sources for recommendations throughout the year. Maybe you’ll even find some new-to-you sources you didn’t even realize were in line with your taste!
  • Be skeptical of book recommendations from your Worst Bookish Media Sources.

Give it a go! What Best Books of 2017 lists did you agree or disagree with? What are your Best and Worst Bookish News Sources?

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Best Books of 2017

December 12, 2017 Annual "Best Books" Lists 35

Best Books of 2017


For the last few years, I’ve had trouble choosing one favorite for my Best Book of 2017, so I’ve treated my list like an Olympic event with my top 3 books as my “medalists.” But, this year I had one overwhelming favorite. No other book even came close. 

While I’m thrilled to have a secure best book of 2017, this year was difficult overall. There just weren’t as many books that blew me away as in previous years. And, the books that worked really well for me were lighter than my usual fare. But, there’s nothing wrong with some crackling brain candy and I read a couple outstanding ones this year.

I was also on a completely different wavelength than the serious literary critics (via their Best Books of 2017 lists…more on this in a later post) and I didn’t love many of the books that publishers pushed the most (see my post on 2017 Books that Deserved the Hype…and Those That Didn’t).

Finally, I’ve brought back the high school yearbook-style “Superlatives” from previous years (201620152014) and stay tuned for my first ever Best Audiobooks I Listened to in 2017 list (coming on December 28)!

Best Books of 2017

My #1 Book of 2017

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne (review)
Most Likely to Make my All-Time Favorites List

Closest Reading Experience I’ve Had to A Little Life (minus the relentless physical abuse) 
Caused My Most Recent Book Hangover
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Rest of My Favorites

Beartown by Fredrick Backman (review)
Best Author Comeback (I DNF’d A Man Called Ove)

Best Sports Book That’s About Far More Than Sports
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach (review)
Most Recommended and Purchased (via my Affiliate Links) Book of 2017
Most Demented Twins
Best Balance Between Literary and Brain Candy
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker (review)
Best Thriller of 2017 (and Best Thriller I’ve Read Since Gone Girl)

Best Balance Between Surprising, Yet Not Outlandish Ending
Most Dysfunctional Family
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio (review)
Best Campus Novel

Best Debut
Most Sinister
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito (review)
Most Messed Up High School Students

Best Book in Translation
Most Underrated Gem
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugoby Taylor Jenkins Reid (review)
Biggest Surprise

Best of the Brain Candy
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel (review)
Most Endearing Family

Biggest Range of Emotions
Best “Issue” Book
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Trophy Son by Douglas Brunt (review)
Best Sports Book

Hit Closest to Home
Best Non-Traditional Coming of Age Story
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

White Fur by Jardine Libaire (review)
Best Writing

Best Social Commentary about the Wealthy
Hottest
Best Non-Traditional Love Story
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon 

What were your favorite books of 2017?

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Best Debuts of 2017

December 5, 2017 Annual "Best Books" Lists 20

Best Debuts of 2017


Last year, an astounding seven out of eight of my Best Debuts of 2016 also made my overall Best Books of 2016 list. That’s the most debuts that have made my overall Best Books of the Year list since I started blogging by far.

I can pretty much assure you we won’t approach that number this year, but you will be seeing a couple of these books on my overall list in a couple weeks!

Best Debuts of 2017

Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach (my review)
Dead Letters was my first overwhelming winner of the year. I’ve been recommending it like crazy ever since and it’s one of the most frequently purchased books from my affiliate links.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence (my review)
This year’s winning book about books! Spence is relatable, funny, and often snarky…and you will likely have heard of most of the books she talks about.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong (my review)
This tiny gem of a novel is one of the few this year that the book critics from the traditional media and I agree on! Ruth’s endearing, witty, real, and relatable voice is the star of this one.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio (my review)
The The Secret History read-alike I’ve been searching for forever!

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett (my review)
A sweet, delightful, and whimsical story with a main character reminiscent of Scout Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird).

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny (my review)
A debut novel with straight talk about marriage. Plus, Heiny introduces the brilliant idea of a drop-off club for houseguests (similar to the kids clubs at resorts).

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
A rare YA (Young Adult) book that I loved! And, the rare “issue” book that is first and foremost a compelling and well-told story.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter (author interview)
Fiction based on the harrowing true story of Hunter’s family that defies statistics, explanation, and imagination. Also one of the only World War II books I’ve read recently that hasn’t felt like a slog!

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

What are your favorite debuts of 2017?

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