For the Love of Books, Year in Review

Shelly’s Year in Books | 2019

Before the calendar turns to 2020, I need to announce my top reads of 2019.  Except for my first read of the year, the third book in Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters series, Child of the Prophecy, my year got off to a rather uninspired start with a series of merely OK reads.  Then I picked up The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms, whose previous books I’d thoroughly enjoyed, especially her debut, The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane.  I followed this with a run of mostly great reads through the rest of the fall then finished up strongly with Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale, the gorgeous first book in her Winternight trilogy.  Here are some highlights from 2019:

  • Child of the Prophecy (Sevenwaters #3) by Juliet Marillier is the culmination of the story that began with Daughter of the Forest.  Though it lacked some of the romance of that first novel, this installment brought the mysticism and magic back to the series.  From what I’ve read, I believe Child of the Prophecy was meant to be the end of the story but Marillier has written three more Sevenwaters stories and I am looking forward to seeing where the story will go.
  • The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms, with its uplifting story of a single mother who relinquishes her children to the care of their long-absent father for a summer as well as the interesting ideas about education that will appeal to anyone who struggles with required reading as I’ve always done, made its way not only on my list of top reads but became a Goodreads Choice Award finalist for best fiction as well.
  • How to Stop Time by Matt Haig was at times slow and often maudlin and yet there were times when I couldn’t get enough of it.  I particularly enjoyed the historical passages like meeting William Shakespeare or traveling with Captain Cook.  But what makes How to Stop Time truly special is its perspective on human relationships, history and politics, and how we spend our time on earth.
  • Well Met by Jen DeLuca is possibly the best romance I’ve read in years.  The nerd in me loved the Renaissance Faire setting while the student of human nature in me enjoyed how relatable the two leads are and how believable their relationship is.  And I’m not the only one who loved this one.  Well Met was a semi-finalist for a Goodreads Choice Award for romance.
  • Reading The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman was like looking into a rosy-colored mirror.  The story of Nina, a young woman with whom I share not only my passion for reading and books but an often debilitating case of anxiety around people not to mention a love of trivia and a habit of communicating through film quotes and references, is sweet and wickedly funny (a trait it shares with Waxman’s other two novels, The Garden of Small Beginnings and Other People’s Houses) with a delightful touch of romance and a message about self-acceptance and overcoming your personal hurdles. The Bookish Life of Nina Hill must have connected with many other readers because it too was a finalist in the fiction category for a Goodreads Choice Award.
  • The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal, a novel about overcoming the odds stacked against you, following your passion, the strength of women, and the ties of family, builds on the critical success of Stradal’s first novel, Kitchens of the Great Midwest.  This novel has a better flow and a stronger story.  In this age of female empowerment, it is nice to see a cast of strong, yet flawed women who kick ass while doubting themselves the whole time.  That’s what it’s like to be a woman.
  • Kopp Sisters on the March (Kopp Sisters #5) by Amy Stewart makes it 5 for 5 so far for the Kopp Sisters series on my top reads list.  A lot has changed for Constance and her sisters so the story is quite different from the previous four novels but is at least as good if not better than the last couple.
  • The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight #1) by Katherine Arden captivated me almost immediately, transporting me to the northern forest of what is now Russia to a world inhabited by spirits that protect the forest and the homes of the hardy people that have made their homes there.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if at least one of the other two books in this historical fantasy trilogy made its way onto next year’s top reads list.

So, which one of these great reads is my favorite book of 2019?  As wonderful as some of these books are, I admit the choice wasn’t that difficult.  Drumroll, please…

Bookish

I chose The Bookish Life of Nina Hill not only because of its sweet story or delightful cast of characters or Waxman’s trademark wicked sense of humor.  This book made me feel less alone in a world that often makes you feel like your quirks and fears and passions are something to be ashamed of.  While Nina has come to accept herself as she is, she also comes to learn that she can stay true to herself while bending to make room for more in her life.  And it is darn funny!

These are just a few of the books I’ve read this year.  To see the full list and read the reviews, check out My 2019 Year in Books on Goodreads!

Source: Shelly’s Year in Books | Goodreads

Reviews, Woman's Fiction

Review: The Lager Queen of Minnesota

The Lager Queen of MinnesotaThe Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Confession time. I have never even tasted a beer – I just can’t get past the smell – so I didn’t always understand, or care about, the technical details of the brewing process or get the romance that the drinking and brewing of the stuff held for some of the characters in J. Ryan Stradal’s second novel, The Lager Queen of Minnesota, which is the story of two sisters, Edith and Helen, and the repercussions of one’s efforts to make her dream of becoming a brewer a reality.
My lack of understanding about beer, however, did not impede my enjoyment of the story. Nor did it stop me from caring deeply about the three women at the center of the story, which is less about beer than it is about family, finding one’s passion and following it, love, the strength of women, and forgiveness. The characters are richly drawn and their world so utterly real that it is impossible not to be drawn into their lives and to root for them – not just their professional success – even when I wanted to physically drag Helen out of her ivory tower of pride and fear.
J. Ryan Stradal showed his writing talent in his first novel, Kitchens of the Great Midwest but his second novel is more cohesive while still illustrating both the small-ness and large-ness of the world with the close encounters and connections between the characters as their paths remain divided.  And I have to say ‘cheers’ to that!  (Sorry, I couldn’t resist)

There is something reminiscent of Fannie Flagg in reading J. Ryan Stradal’s writing, especially in The Lager Queen of Minnesota – perhaps it is the middle-America setting or the strong, complex female characters – but with more rough edges.  Still, I haven’t yet read anything too much like his work.  I definitely recommend reading Kitchens of the Great Midwest even if I found that it read more like a series of short stories that come together at the end.  If it is the strong, complex women in a multi-generational story that you enjoy, Kathy Hepinstall’s The Book of Polly is a great read.

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For the Love of Books

New Year, New Look, New Books

I’m hoping that 2019 brings new and exciting things to my life as well as yours.  We may not know what’s in store for us but one thing I know for sure is that there will be great books to read.  Some of my favorite writers have new books coming out this year.  While I may not get to them all (because of all of the new and exciting things 2019 has in store for me, of course!), these are the upcoming releases I’m most excited about:

  • I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella – While her popular Shopaholic series may have gotten stale, Kinsella redeemed herself a couple of years ago with the wonderful My Not So Perfect Life, which is why I’m so looking forward to I Owe You One (expected publication:  February 5, 2019)
  • The Rosie Result by Graeme Simsion – Reading The Best of Adam Sharp last year may have been a huge disappointment but Simsion’s return to Don and Rosie has me excited to read him all over again. (expected publication:  February 5, 2019)
  • The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms – Though it has only been a year and a half since I read Kelly Harms’s The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane and The Matchmakers of Minnow Bay, I’ve been waiting rather impatiently for her to release another. (expected publication:  May 1, 2019)
  • The Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay – I’ve only read two of Reay’s novels but I’ve enjoyed their heart and humor, especially in Lizzy and Jane.  I always look forward to more of her novels to read. (expected publication:  May 14, 2019)
  • The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman – Whether it is the unexpected humor of The Garden of Small Beginnings or the sharp-tongued wit of Other People’s Houses, Abbi Waxman’s writing always makes me laugh.  I can’t wait to meet Nina Hill and learn about her bookish life. (expected publication:  July 9, 2019)
  • The Philosopher’s War by Tom Miller – Tom Miller’s thought-provoking fantasy/historical fiction, The Philosopher’s Flight may not have made my top reads from last year but the story is so unique and timely that I must know what happens next. (expected publication:  July 16, 2019)
  • The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal – Stradal’s first novel, Kitchens of the Greater Midwest, is one of those novels that I feel it might take multiple readings to fully appreciate.  It is the author’s unique voice and view of the people and their lives in the middle of our country that has me anxious for more of his writing.  (expected publication:  July 23, 2019)
  • Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier – I am only halfway through the Sevenwaters series so I won’t be getting to Harp of Kings any time soon but any new fantasy series by Juliet Marillier is a reason to get excited. (expected publication:  September 3, 2019)
  • Kopp Sisters on the March by Amy Stewart – Yes!  Another Kopp Sisters novel is on the way and you can bet that I will be putting in my request at my local library as soon as I can.  I am especially anxious for the next chapter thanks to the all the questions at the end of Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit.  (expected publication:  September 17, 2019)

 

My source for publication dates is Goodreads.com and may be subject to change.  Happy reading!

Reviews, Woman's Fiction

Review: The Book of Polly

The Book of PollyThe Book of Polly by Kathy Hepinstall

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kathy Hepinstall’s The Book of Polly is a story of mothers and daughters, the secrets we keep, and how our past affects our lives. What makes this book stand out, though, are the wonderfully complex and quirky characters. Polly of the book’s title is the most complex of them all. Seen through the eyes of her youngest child, Willow, who wasn’t born until Polly was in her late fifties, Polly’s character takes on almost mythical proportions.
Willow, who lives in fear of her mother’s death, describes her mother as uncompromising, all-knowing, and impervious to what other’s think of her. It is only as Willow grows into adolescence that she (and the reader) see Polly’s humanity. Under her tough as nails elegance, is a kind heart and a deep fear of facing her past.
But, with the help of more lovably unique characters, – my favorite of which is Phoenix, who is perfectly perfect – Polly does face her past and Willow gets answers to the questions she’s had all of her life. This all leads to an ending that, for me, was surprisingly satisfying.

If you enjoy southern fiction with strong female central characters like The Book of Polly, I recommend reading Joshilyn Jackson’s novels such as Gods in Alabama.  If it is the child narrator you like or the mother-daughter story, you can read J. Ryan Stradal’s Kitchen’s of the Great Midwest or Annie Weatherwax’s All We Had.  The Book of Polly is unique, therefore it is difficult to pinpoint just one other book like it.

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