My Most Anticipated Books of Winter 2018

December 26, 2017 Book Lists 29

Most Anticipated Books of Winter 2018


It’s a new year with new books…and, a new method for picking books for me!

After many of my 2017 Most Anticipated Books flopped, I re-evaluated my system for picking books. Previously, I’d comb the publishers’ catalogs and Preview lists from various bookish media sources looking for books that appealed to me. But, all I had to go on was the description of the book and marketing material provided by the publisher. There are precious little unbiased opinions out there months before a book is published.

I realized this system wasn’t serving me well and was leading me to waste time with a lot of books that didn’t pan out. So, I’ve changed things up this year…and it will hopefully benefit you too!

My Most Anticipated Books of Winter 2018 list is almost entirely made up of books from trusted sources (to find your personal trusted recommendation sources, check out this post and free downloadable template) who, in as many cases as possible, have already read the book. For the first time ever, I did not look at a single publisher’s catalog to create this list. I’m sharing the recommendation source for each book and will specify if that source has or has not read it yet.

Finally, I’ve already read two of the books on this list myself and can personally vouch for them!

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

January

Grist Mill Road by Christopher J. Yates (January 9, Picador)
You know how I always rave about the 2014 novel, Black Chalk (my review)?! Well, Grist Mill Road is Yates’s sophomore novel. I’ve already read this one and the bottom line is that, despite some structural elements that bothered me, I couldn’t put it down. A dark, twisty, coming of age story about friendship.

The year is 1982, the setting an Edenic hamlet some 90 miles north of New York City. There, among the craggy rock cliffs and glacial ponds of timeworn mountains, three friends—Patrick, Matthew and Hannah— are bound together by a single, terrible, and seemingly senseless crime. Twenty six years later, in New York City, living lives their younger selves could never have predicted, the three meet again–with even more devastating results.

Recommendation Source(s): Trusted author and I’ve already read the book

Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan (January 9, Random House)
This memoir absolutely spoke to me in a “yes, that’s exactly how it is” kind of way. It’s funny, relatable, and covers all kinds of big life issues including marriage, motherhood, illness, and religion…yet, it’s a light, easy read. This might be for you if you loved Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake or This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.

In channeling the characteristically streetwise, ever-relatable voice that has defined Corrigan’s work, Tell Me More is a meaningful, touching take on the power of the right words at the right moment to change everything.

Recommendation Source(s): Already read by Annie Jones on From the Front Porch podcast (one of my Go-To Bookish Media Sources) and me

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin (January 9, Putnam)
This is not a book that would naturally appeal to me (psychics?! No, thanks!), but the good reports from trusted sources are piling up and my recent enjoyment of The Rules of Magic (another book with magical elements) has made me more open to these themes I don’t normally go for. I just started it and am enjoying it so far. 

If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present?

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

Their prophecies inform their next five decades.

Recommendation Source(s): Already read by Renee at It’s Book Talk (trusted book blogger), Susie at Novel Visits (trusted book blogger), and Michael Kindness (co-host of the now defunct Books on the Nightstand podcast)

The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin (January 16, Delacorte Press)
Melanie Benjamin wrote The Swans of Fifth Avenue (my review), one of my favorite books of 2016 and very best of the Brain Candy. This is all I needed to know to grab this book immediately…but, a trusted book blogger has also read it already. So, we’ve got some icing on the cake!

An intimate portrait of the close friendship and powerful creative partnership between two of Hollywood’s earliest female superstars: Frances Marion and Mary Pickford.

Recommendation Source(s): Trusted author and already read by Susie at Novel Visits (trusted book blogger)

February

Berlin 1936: Sixteen Days in August by Oliver Hilmes (February 6, Other Press)
I have a slight (OK, massive) obsession with the Olympics and became fascinated with the 1936 Olympics in particular after reading The Boys in the Boat. This was the “Nazi Olympics” and it was used by Hitler’s regime as a propaganda tool. I’m certain the events of this story are fascinating and I hope the book about them proves to be too!

A lively account of the 1936 Olympics told through the voices and stories of those who witnessed it, from an award-winning historian and biographer.

Recommendation Source(s): Published by Other Press (the publisher who brought me Quicksand, one of my favorite books of 2017)

The Glass Forest by Cynthia Swanson (February 6, Touchstone)
I love novels about dysfunctional families and literary suspense (though, I hear this one is a slower burn). Plus, this novel is getting fantastic reviews from regular readers on Goodreads.

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Bookseller comes a gripping literary suspense novel set in the 1960s about a deeply troubled family and three women who will reveal its dark truths.

Recommendation Source(s): Susie at Novel Visits (trusted book blogger) via her 2018 Winter Preview (not yet read)

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (February 6, Algonquin Books)
I love a good marriage drama and this one is getting great reviews from regular readers on Goodreads. I’ve heard you want to go into this one as blind as possible.

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.

Recommendation Source(s): Already read and loved by Nicole Bonia (host of The Readerly Report Podcast), published by one of my Go-To Imprints

Sunburn by Laura Lippman (February 20, William Morrow)
Lippman is a new-to-me author and I’m always a little skeptical of psychological thrillers. But, Annie Jones (one of my Go-To Bookish Media Sources) said it was “a different kind of thriller,” which are the kinds that generally appeal to me.

New York Times bestselling author Laura Lippman returns with a superb novel of psychological suspense about a pair of lovers with the best intentions and the worst luck: two people locked in a passionate yet uncompromising game of cat and mouse. But instead of rules, this game has dark secrets, forbidden desires, inevitable betrayals—and cold-blooded murder. . .

Recommendation Source(s): Already read by Annie Jones on From the Front Porch podcast (one of my Go-To Bookish Media Sources)

March

Bachelor Nation by Amy Kaufman (March 6, Dutton)
I should probably be embarrassed to admit that this is one of the books I’m most excited about for 2018, but I’m truly not! Amy Kaufman has covered The Bachelor for the LA Times for years and I’ve been following her on Twitter for awhile now. I’ll be listening to this on audio the very second it’s released!

The first definitive, unauthorized, behind-the-scenes cultural history of the Bachelor franchise, America’s favorite guilty pleasure.

Recommendation Source(s): Honestly, I don’t even need a recommendation source for this one. I’d read it even if people said it was terrible. But, Annie Jones on From the Front Porch podcast (one of my Go-To Bookish Media Sources) has already read it, so there!

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao (March 6, Flatiron Books)
I love the focus on female friendship coupled with the India setting. Plus, the Goodreads reviews from regular readers are outstanding. Plus, it’s a debut, which I’m always eager to try.

A searing, electrifying debut novel set in India and America, about a once-in-a-lifetime friendship between two girls who are driven apart but never stop trying to find one another again.

Recommendation Source(s): Liberty Hardy (co-host of Book Riot’s All the Books podcast) on Instagram (has not yet read the book), published by one of my Go-To Imprints.

The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian (March 13, Doubleday)
Bohjalian’s page turners always have an unique element that makes them stand out from the sea of run-of-the-mill thrillers out there. I hear the main character in this one may not be especially likable (which doesn’t bother me, but does bother some readers).

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Guest Room, a powerful story about the ways an entire life can change in one night: A flight attendant wakes up in the wrong hotel, in the wrong bed, with a dead man – and no idea what happened.

Recommendation Source(s): Trusted author

Tangerine by Christine Mangan (March 27, Ecco)
I like the 1950’s Morocco setting and the reports of extreme tension in this friendship. Plus, it’s another debut.

The last person Alice Shipley expected to see since arriving in Tangier with her new husband was Lucy Mason. After the accident at Bennington, the two friends—once inseparable roommates—haven’t spoken in over a year.

But soon a familiar feeling starts to overtake Alice—she feels controlled and stifled by Lucy at every turn. Then Alice’s husband, John, goes missing, and Alice starts to question everything around her: her relationship with her enigmatic friend, her decision to ever come to Tangier, and her very own state of mind.

Recommendation Source(s): Liberty Hardy via Book Riot’s 101 2018 Books list (unclear whether she’s read the book yet).

*All book summaries (in block quotes) are from Goodreads (edited for length).

What Winter 2018 books are you looking forward to?

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What to Expect from Sarah’s Book Shelves in 2018

December 21, 2017 Goals 23

What to Expect from Sarah's Book Shelves in 2018

 
2017 was a bit of an underwhelming reading year for me. I read some great books (see my Best Books of 2017), but there weren’t as many of them as in previous years and they certainly weren’t the books I expected to be great. This got me reflecting on how to really live my best reading life…on how to get better at picking books that I’ll like and making the most of my reading community. And, things started to look up as I tried out some new methods later in the year. This turnaround helped shape my thinking about where to take Sarah’s Book Shelves in 2018…

Live Your Best Reading Life…

Next year, my primary focus will be on helping you live your best reading life…by sharing some real tools to help you pick better books, by helping you make the most of your reading community, and by sharing the same fantastic book recommendations you’ve always gotten.

Get better at picking the right books for you

Picking the right books for your personal taste is absolutely key to enjoying your reading…and it’s hard to do! Some books may sound like they’re right up your alley, but the pieces don’t actually come together well. Publishers may describe a book in a way that appeals to you, only for you to find that the book is actually nothing like the description. And, on and on…

And, everyone’s reading taste is different. Rather than just sharing my own reading on this blog (don’t worry, I’m not going to stop doing this), I’m also going to help you learn how to choose books that are most likely to appeal to you.

Many of my favorite books of 2017 were recommended to me by trusted sources…and were not the books publishers touted as the “must reads” of the year. I realized the source of the recommendation is way more important than the book itself.

New Tools to Help You Pick Better Books

  • “Rock Your Reading” Tracking Spreadsheet – will enable you to easily figure out who your Go-To and No-Go Book Recommendation Sources are throughout the year (plus, will help you track a bunch of other good stuff…including summary charts that automatically populate as you enter your books). Available for purchase in January.
  • Go-To Recommendation Sources Blog Post Series – I’ll be using my “Rock Your Reading” Tracker to find my Go-To and No-Go Recommendation Sources throughout the year and will share my best and worst sources every quarter.
  • Personalized Book Recommendations for Patreon supporters – I’m planning to start a Patreon page to enable you to support the blog financially…and you’ll get some rewards as a thank you for your support! One of these will be Personalized Book Recommendations similar to the free trial of this service that I ran last Spring.
  • Find Your Go-To and No-Go Best Books of the Year lists – free, downloadable tool to help you figure out which Best Books of 2017 lists are most compatible with your reading taste (already available here).

Make the most of your reading community

One of the biggest joys blogging about books has given me is a huge community of people who love to read and talk books. Many of you interact with me here in the comments section, on social media, or via email. But, until now, you haven’t had easy opportunities to interact with each other. Your fellow Sarah’s Book Shelves readers are a goldmine for great book recommendations since you all have reading tastes that landed you in the same place!

So, I’m going to help you all talk books and get to know each other better!

Ways to Make the Most of Your Reading Community

  • Reader Survey – in January, I’m posting a survey for Sarah’s Book Shelves readers. This will help me get to know you better as a group, which I’m dying to do! And, I’ll share the combined results in a blog post so you can get a collective sense of who your fellow blog readers are.
  • Private Facebook Group for Patreon Supporters – another reward from the Patreon page I mentioned earlier will be access to a private Facebook group where you can talk to other blog readers, share book recommendations, and hear some unfiltered book talk from me.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what I’m thinking for 2018! Does it sound appealing? Is there anything you were hoping for, but don’t see here? Anything on here you’re not really interested in?

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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 48

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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What I’m Reading Now (12/18/17)

December 18, 2017 It's Monday! What are you reading? 22

I spent last week dotting some i’s and crossing some t’s for Christmas preparations, but I’m finally in a spot where I can relax a bit. Shopping is done, gifts are organized (but not yet wrapped), Christmas cards are finally sent (no thanks to Tiny Prints, whose post-Shutterfly purchase system was beyond annoying), and school activities are over. I’m hoping to get some good reading in this week and enjoy the holidays!

If you’ve still got some holiday shopping to do, check out my Best Holiday Gifts for Book Lovers 2017! I’ve got you covered with book recommendations, the gift for book lovers that keeps on giving, and bookish gifts that aren’t books. Best of all, you can get all this stuff without leaving your couch!

Finally, I posted my Best Books (hint: they’re different than the literary critics’ picks) and Best Debuts of 2017 lists and have one more coming (Best Audiobooks I Listened to in 2017). I also have Which Best Books of 2017 Lists Do You Agree With? coming on Tuesday…with a free download to help you find your Go-To and No-Go Bookish Media Sources!

Hosted by The Book Date.

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

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I finished reading…

Grist Mill Road by Christopher J Yates


Grist Mill Road
 by Christopher J. Yates (January 9, 2018)
You know those books that you have structural issues with, but you still can’t put down? Well, Grist Mill Road was one of those. Also, once you realize what the cover means, it’s absolutely chilling. Mini review coming.
Affiliate Link: Pre-Order from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

The Party by Elizabeth Day


The Party
 by Elizabeth Day (August 15, 2017)
I’m about 70% through this psychological story (notice I didn’t say thriller…it’s definitely not one) about two British, school friends that culminates at one of their 40th birthday parties. It’s decent, but I’m not dying to get back to it. However, I am intrigued enough to want to see how it ends.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Upcoming reading plans…

It’s the time of year when I’m alternating between backlist books and 2018 new releases…unless library holds throw a wrench in my plans. I’d planned to read The Virgin Suicides last week, but library holds did throw a wrench, so I’ll try to fit it in after my next 2018 release…

Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan


Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan (January 9, 2018)
This essay collection by the author of Glitter and Glue comes recommended by Annie Jones at From the Front Porch podcast, one of my Go-To Recommendation Sources.

was reading…

One Year Ago: It was the day after Christmas!

Two Years Ago: I finally read The Handmaid’s Tale!

How was your reading week?

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The Best Changes I Made in 2017

December 15, 2017 Blogger Events 32

Best Changes I Made in 2017


My family went through a lot of change this year and much of my mental space and emotional energy was focused on that. My other outlets had to slide in where they could, so I wasn’t focused on intentionally adding more change to the situation. But, more change did find me.

I’m going to focus on three major changes, all of which I didn’t really intend to make this year, but came about accidentally / out of necessity. One is blogging-related, one is reading-related, and one is neither, but all of them are long-term and on-going.

Linking up with A Month of Favorites hosted by Traveling with TEstella’s Revenge, and GirlXOXO.

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

Listened to Online Business-Related Podcasts

This year, I started listening to some online business-related podcasts (The Strategy Hour, Brilliant Business Mom, The Chopped Podcast, Simple Pin Podcast, and Online Marketing Made Easy) and they completely changed my thinking about this blog. For a long time, I’ve had vague ideas of shifting from blog to business, but I didn’t have a consistent business-focused mentality about it. These podcasts helped me shift my thinking from “hobby” to “business (even a small one).” 

There are certain things that many online businesses (including blogs) do as a matter of course, but that book bloggers don’t do for some reason. These podcasts have helped me see that I can and should do this stuff. I’ve already implemented a number of simple tips from these podcasts and have been plotting how to tackle some bigger ones.

I’ll be sharing more about what to expect from Sarah’s Book Shelves in 2018 in a later post, but a lot of it stems from pairing this with my next change…

Figured out How to Pick Better Books

Since starting this blog, I’ve chosen what books to read by combing publishers’ catalogs and various “Most Anticipated Books of X Season” lists, which give you the book’s premise, the publishers’ selling points, and author blurbs (those quotes from well known authors that are on the cover of new books…endorsements, if you will).

I finally realized this system has not been serving me well! The early information I was using to make decisions came from the very people who want to sell as many books as possible (i.e. publishers). So, of course they’re going to slap “THE thriller of 2017”-type labels on books that may or may not be very good. I don’t blame them (it’s their job to create hype), but I don’t have to listen to them.

So, I started thinking about a new system for picking books. Many of my favorite books of 2017 were recommended to me by trusted sources and weren’t on my radar during all that catalog combing. I realized the source of the recommendation is way more important than the book itself.

Over the last few months, I tracked all my recommendation sources and numerically figured out who gives me the best (and worst) ones. I’ll be using this system to pick books moving forward (and I hope you’ll join me!) and integrating this theme into everything I do on the blog next year, including…

  • My Most Anticipated Books of Winter 2018 list (coming on December 26) will mostly be books from trusted sources who, in as many cases as possible, have already read the book. For the first time ever, I did not look at a single publisher’s catalog to create this list.
  • A tool to help you figure out which Best Books of the Year lists are most compatible with your reading taste (coming on December 19).
  • I’m working on a Reading Tracker that will enable you to easily figure out who your go-to and no-go recommendation sources are throughout the year (plus, a bunch of other good stuff)…which will be available for sale in January.

Started Exercising for Longevity

This last change was forced upon me when I threw out my back in February, but I learned some valuable lessons that will serve me well over the long-term.

Up until Winter 2017, I ran a lot (including occasional races) and did Sprint Triathlons. Throwing out my back forced me to drastically cut back my exercising and I haven’t competed in a race since Thanksgiving 2016. The long recovery and endless hours of physical therapy since then have taught me how to exercise for longevity…and that longevity should be my goal now that I’m approaching 40.

What does this actually mean?

  • Don’t go all-out every workout. I should go hard about 2 days a week and convert some of my weekly workouts into recovery workouts at an easier pace.
  • Spend more time on recovery. For me, this includes foam rolling, recovery yoga (I love Jasyoga’s videos), sleep, and stretching.
  • Increase the strength training, cut back on the cardio (which is hard on my joints). I’m now strength training 4 days/week and doing cardio 2 days/week rather than the reverse. And, my strength work is heavily focused on glutes, hips, and core to protect my lower back.
  • Appreciate the ability to just go for a run…at whatever speed feels good to me that day.
  • Listen to my body. If something hurts, stop whatever I’m doing. If I’m really dragging, take some rest. My body is probably telling me something.

What were the best changes you made this year?

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Best Books of 2017

December 12, 2017 Annual "Best Books" Lists 33

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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What I’m Reading Now (12/11/17)

December 11, 2017 It's Monday! What are you reading? 25

I experienced my first Southern snow in a long time this past weekend and it was only a few inches, but dang, it did some damage! It was super wet and heavy and we lost some good sized tree limbs. Our neighbor had a tree pretty much split in half.

I’ve also been working on some fun, new things for 2018…mostly tools and strategies to help you (and me!) pick better books! After my run with hyped books this year, my reading life is screaming at me to figure out a better way. I’m working on some actual tools to help you do this and figuring out how I’ll generally work this theme into Sarah’s Book Shelves next year.

If you’re looking for gifts for the book lovers in your life, I posted my Best Holiday Gifts for Book Lovers 2017 guide on Black Friday! I’ve got you covered with book recommendations, the gift for book lovers that keeps on giving, and bookish gifts that aren’t books. Best of all, you can get all this stuff without leaving your couch!

Hosted by The Book Date.

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

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The Ardent Biblio’s Literary Lifestyle Day 8: Favorite⠀ _⠀ ⠀ Did you expect to see any author other than Pat Conroy in a post of mine titled “favorite”?!⠀ _⠀ ⠀ THE LORDS OF DISCIPLINE: a great book (one of my all-time favorites) by a great author (also one of my all-time favorites) given to me by a great friend. I’m constantly pushing Pat Conroy on my blog readers and Lords is my very favorite of his books (so, go read it if you haven’t already!). Thanks, @annestokesbowman, for stocking my shelves!⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ #theardentbiblioreads @theardentbiblio #bookstagram #bookgram #bookworms #instabooks #bookblogger #booklovers #booklover #bibliophile #biblio #bookaddict #bookaddiction #buildsarahsbookshelves #patconroy #lordsofdiscipline

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I finished reading…

Rules of Magic, Daring Greatly

The Rules of Magic
by Alice Hoffman (October 10, 2017)
I am not a reader who normally likes anything related to magic, paranormal, or fantasy, but The Rules of Magic was an exception. The magic is not hokey at all and makes what is ultimately a story about love and family more fun and unique. It’s also got some mystery, tragedy, a family feud, and a bit of history about the Salem witch trials and New York City. It’s an unconventional kind of historical fiction, which is the only kind of historical fiction that appeals to me these days. 
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown (September 11, 2012)
I’ve heard so many raves about this life improvement book (I hate the term self-help) about confronting your vulnerabilities. People say it’s life-changing. That’s a lot to live up to and I think there was just too much hype going into this one. Her ideas made sense, but I definitely didn’t feel any life-changing “aha” moments. Also, I listened to it on audio and the narrator drove me nuts.

I’m currently reading…

Grist Mill Road by Christopher J Yates


Grist Mill Road
 by Christopher J. Yates (January 9, 2018)
My first 2018 release! And, I was thrilled that this would be my first because I adored his debut novel, Black Chalk, and have recommended it to everyone under the sun. I’m about 25% through and it’s dark and awesome so far. The opening will open your eyes for sure. 

Affiliate Link: Pre-Order from Amazon

I tried, but wasn’t feeling…

The Nix by Nathan Hill


The Nix
 by Nathan Hill (August 30, 2016)
After reading the prologue, I thought I’d love this book. And, I did really like Hill’s writing style (other than his excessively long tangents). But, the story really meandered and the thing is just so dang long. A 700+ page book has to really wow me if I’m going to devote the time to it and, while I liked it alright, it wasn’t enough to keep me going until the end. DNF at 40%.

Upcoming reading plans…

For the rest of the year, I’ll be alternating between backlist books and 2018 new releases…unless library holds throw a wrench in my plans, which I’m sure they will despite my efforts to proactively manage them (via suspensions). So, possibly…

Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides


The Virgin Suicides
 by Jeffrey Eudenides (April, 1993)
Believe it or not, I’ve never read this modern classic (though I have read Middlesex and The Marriage Plot). Annie Spence couldn’t stop raving about it in her memoir about books, Dear Fahrenheit 451, so I figured I should see what all the fuss is about. Plus, it’s short.

was reading…

One Year Ago: I was reading Ann Patchett’s essay collection, which is now a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick!

Two Years Ago: I was reading the Beatriz Williams that turned me off of her books. 

How was your reading week?

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Six 2017 Books That Deserved the Hype…and Eight That Didn’t

December 8, 2017 Book Lists 37

It’s hard to define what makes a book “hyped.” Does this mean a book was nominated for or won awards? Was being breathlessly chattered about in the book blogging world? Was getting big marketing dollars or a huge advance from its publisher? Was on many “most anticipated books of X” lists? Had glowing early reviews? Based on an author’s previous work? Everyone in your real life was reading and loving it? My 2017 Books that Deserved the Hype list landed mostly in the awards and marketing dollars from publishers categories.

Sadly, I said a big, fat “UGH” when I finished compiling my 2017 Books that Deserved the Hype list. There were so many more books that didn’t deserve the hype than those that did. My trust in the traditional media and publishers for book recommendations is waning fast. I’ll be delving into this a bit more (numerically!) in 2018, but suffice it to say that the books that caught my eye this year were generally not the ones that the serious literary critics and publishers thought everyone should / would love.

Linking up with A Month of Favorites hosted by Traveling with TEstella’s Revenge, and GirlXOXO.

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

Six 2017 Books That Deserved the Hype

2017 Books that Deserved Hype


Anything Is Possible
 by Elizabeth Strout (mini review)
New York Times 100 Notable Book of the YearEsquire Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar Best Book of 2017

Beartown by Fredrick Backman (review)
Amazon Best Book of 2017, tons of regular reader buzz

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong (review)
O MagazineEsquire Magazine and Refinery 29 Best Book of 2017

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (review)
Goodreads Choice Award Winner for FictionBook of the Month Book of the Year Nominee, 5 Week New York Times Bestseller (combined print and e-book), tons of regular reader buzz, and AmazonEsquire MagazineHarper’s BazaarPop Sugar, and Refinery29 Best Book of 2017

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
O Magazine and Pop Sugar Best Book of 2017, Goodreads Choice Award Winner for Debut and Young Adult, #1 New York Times Bestseller, National Book Award Longlist for Young People’s Literature

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugoby Taylor Jenkins Reid (review)
Pop Sugar Best Book of 2017, Book of the Month Book of the Year Nominee, tons of regular reader buzz

You’ll be hearing more about most of these books later, so no commentary just yet!

…and Eight That Didn’t

2017 Books That Didn't Deserve Hype


Behind Her Eyes
 by Sarah Pinborough (spoiler discussion)

Accolades: Massive pre-publication hype (i.e. #WTFthatending hashtag campaign), Book of the Month Book of the Year NomineePop Sugar Best Book of 2017
My Take: Completely outlandish ending and a ridiculous key to the story (see spoiler discussion for more details).

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (review)
Accolades: Tons of regular reader buzz, Book of the Month selection

My Take: Kind of cheesy in rom-com way and a major piece of the ending felt like a cop-out.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Accolades: Kirkus Best Literary Fiction of 2017, New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2017, and AmazonO Magazine, New York TimesEsquire Magazine, Time MagazineHarper’s Bazaar Best Book of 2017
My Take: I certainly appreciated parts of this book (i.e. the writing), but the story petered out by the end and overall I was left with a “meh” feeling.

Final Girls by Riley Sager
Accolades: Stephen King called it the “first great thriller of 2017”, Book of the Month Book of the Year Nominee, and Pop Sugar Best Book of 2017
My Take: The ending was outlandish and completely jumped the shark, which is the death-knell of thrillers for me.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (review)
Accolades: National Book Award Winner for Fiction, Kirkus Best Literary Fiction of 2017, New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2017, Book of the Month Book of the Year Nominee, and Publisher’s WeeklyWashington Post, New York Times, Time MagazinePop SugarRefinery29 Best Book of 2017
My Take: I could objectively see the elements that have the critics falling all over themselves. But, something didn’t quite connect with me, I kept zoning out while reading, and I was never dying to pick it up. Also, the ghost element absolutely did not work for me.

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas (review)
Accolades: Kirkus Best Debut of 2017, tons of pre-publication buzz
My Take: The inclusion of “stories within the story” (in this case, Joan’s own writing) added at least a hundred unnecessary pages to an already overly long book and pulled me out of the central story.

What We Loseby Zinzi Clemmons (review)
Accolades: Kirkus Best Debut of 2017 and Esquire MagazineElle MagazineHarper’s BazaarRefinery29 Best Book of 2017
My Take: Written in vignettes that felt jumpy, preventing me from focusing on the story.

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (review)
Accolades: Tons of pre-publication and regular reader buzz
My Take: The last part of the book is a Choose Your Own Adventure story…except it’s a fake one. Enough said.

And, those are just the books I actually finished. I abandoned (i.e. DNF’d)… 

All of these books were nominated for or received literary awards and/or appeared on numerous “Best Books of 2017” lists from publications like KirkusNew York Times, Time MagazinePop Sugar, and Refinery29.

What books do you think deserved their hype this year? Which ones do you think didn’t?

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Best Debuts of 2017

December 5, 2017 Annual "Best Books" Lists 19

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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What I’m Reading Now (12/4/17)

December 4, 2017 It's Monday! What are you reading? 25

It’s officially Christmas season at our house! This is our first Christmas in our new house, so we’re figuring out our decorating strategy. My husband is something of a Clark Griswald about the outside of our house…we currently have lights on our bushes, Christmas balls on the trees, and a laser light show on the house (that last one could be a bit much, but we’re going with it). And, we’re contemplating a 7 foot tall Snowman for the front yard. Our neighbors are probably so pissed.

If you’re looking for gifts for the book lovers in your life, I posted my Best Holiday Gifts for Book Lovers 2017 guide on Black Friday! I’ve got you covered with book recommendations, the gift for book lovers that keeps on giving, and bookish gifts that aren’t books. Best of all, you can get all this stuff without leaving your couch!

Finally, December Book of the Month Club selections are due on Wednesday. As always, I have commentary on all the books (one of which I’ve already read) and my Ultimate Guide to the Book of the Month Club Judges to help you choose the right book for your reading taste!

Hosted by The Book Date.

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

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Nonfiction November Instagram Challenge Day 25: Family⠀ _⠀ ⠀ Family is one of many topics Anna Quindlen writes about in her memoir. She also covers marriage, work, female friendships, motherhood, etc. I first fell in love with Quindlen through her fiction (Every Last One is outstanding), but quickly realized she keenly observes life, particularly for women, in her nonfiction. She is grounded, realistic, and just gets it. Listening to this audiobook felt a bit like seeing a fantastic therapist. Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake is a featured book on my 2017 Best Holiday Gifts for Book Lovers list (LINK IN PROFILE) and would make a perfect gift for the fellow women in your life. _⠀ ⠀ What books are you thinking about giving to the fellow women in your life this holiday season? ⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ *⠀ #bookstagram #bookgram #booktography #amreading #bookworms #instabooks #bookblogger #booklovers #booklover #bibliophile #biblio #bookaddict #bookaddiction #goodreads #nonficnov @kimthedork @doingdewey @catchmybookbreath @randomhouse

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I finished reading…

Everybody's Son by Thrity Umbigar


Everybody’s Son
by Thrifty Umrigar (June 6, 2017)
I’ve heard so many great things about this author. But, Everybody’s Son was completely forgettable to me. It was fine, meh, all those kind of words. I don’t really have much to say about it. But, I still would like to try something else by this author.

I’m currently reading…

Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman


The Rules of Magic
by Alice Hoffman (October 10, 2017)
I’d been so nervous about picking this historical fiction up because magic is most definitely not my thing. But, I’m so glad Catherine at Gilmore Guide prodded me because I’m loving it! The magic isn’t hokey and just makes this story of family and love more unique.

Upcoming reading plans…

For the rest of the year, I’ll be alternating between backlist books and 2018 new releases…unless library holds throw a wrench in my plans, which I’m sure they will despite my efforts to proactively manage them (via suspensions).

The Nix by Nathan Hill


The Nix
 by Nathan Hill (August 30, 2016)
I wasn’t even tempted to read this novel when it came out last year. It screamed long, dense, and heavy to me. But, since then, I saw Amy at Read a Latte‘s rave review where she had the same fears I did (which turned out to be unfounded) and compared it to Donna Tartt. I peeked at the first few pages and think I’m going to love it.

was reading…

One Year Ago: I’d just finished reading my friend, Georgia Hunter’s incredible novel, We Were the Lucky Ones

Two Years Ago: I’d just read one of my favorite books of 2015!

How was your reading week?

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