I’m cutting it close this year with my annual round up of books I loved, but better late than never, right? Since I can remember, I’ve loved to read… at any given time, I’ve got over 50 books on my ‘to read’ list. Despite reading 1-3 books per week, I never seem to make any headway on my list! I guess there’s always next year! Here’s the round up of the best books of 2017.
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My (Not So) Perfect Life
The Shopaholic series was my gateway drug to chick lit. I can’t get enough of the quirky girl who meets the handsome guy and falls madly in (mutual) love.
Sophie Kinsella’s newest novel is delicious. Katie Brenner is a hard-working admin at a branding agency, who shares a completely fake perfect life on Instagram. Her boss, Demeter, seems to have the perfect life and is a less-than-perfect boss. She can’t even remember whether she’s fired Katie or not. (She hasn’t).
Katie restarts her life by helping launch her family’s glamping business, when Demeter shows up for a family holiday. Katie leaps at the chance to get her revenge and discovers that maybe a not-so-perfect life is just perfect after all.
Don’t worry.. there’s a handsome guy in the story for the quirky girl.
Before we were Yours
There was a time, not even one hundred years ago, when the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage kidnapped children to illegally adopt them out to families who couldn’t have children of their own.
Lisa Wingate takes a sad truth from history and weaves a story about what might have been. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live on a houseboat in Memphis with their mama and daddy, living a magical, albeit unconventional life. When Rill’s mother goes into labor, she is left in charge of her younger siblings. Soon after, strangers arrive at the houseboat and promise to take the children to see their parents and new baby sibling.
Those strangers lied. Now it’s up to Rill to protect her siblings and attempt to reunite the family.
Before We Were Yours is a dual era novel, which follows Rill and her siblings as well as present-day Avery Stafford, federal prosecutor and daughter of a prominent political family in South Carolina. When a health crisis hits home, Avery begins to unravel the neatly woven tapestry of the family tree. Her research leads her family back to Memphis and some questions that deserve to be answered.
A Bridge Across the Ocean
If you’ve read my 2015 or 2016 lists, you know that I think Susan Meissner can do no wrong when it comes to historical fiction. I’ve read every book she’s written (even the ones that aren’t ebooks, which meant I had to scour online used bookstores to ship me physical copies in various states of wear and tear).
A Bridge Across the Ocean is a bit of a ghost story, centered around the RMS Queen Mary, said to be one of the most haunted ships in the world. Brette Caslake’s visit to the old ship will draw her into a 70-year-old mystery, unraveling the truth about what happened to two war brides on a crossing to America in 1946.
Annaliese Lange, a German ballerina desperate to escape her past, and Simone Deveraux, the wronged daughter of a French Resistance spy both board the RMS Queen Mary, but only one disembarks. Was it murder? Suicide? Or a horrible accident? In typical Meissner fashion, once you pick this book up, you won’t put it down until you’re through.
The Alice Network
“Kate Quinn strums the chords of every human emotion with two storylines that race over continents and through decades to converge in one explosive ending.” — Marci Jefferson, author of Enchantress of Paris
This is a book about a tenacious female spy and a spoiled American heiress who find themselves an unlikely duo on a path that leads to a very bad man. Twisting from WWI and the courageous network of female spies to 1947 when, in the aftermath of WWII, an American socialite comes looking for her missing cousin.
Kate Quinn shines a light not only of the heroism of the spy network, but also the very real guilt and PTSD that comes with a life in this dangerous line of work. And she shows us that no matter who we are, where we come from, or what struggles life throws our way, we can be used to make a difference in the world.
The Woman who Stole my Life
When Dublin mum Stella Sweeney comes down with a mysterious illness that paralyzes her, she thinks the end is near. But when her doctor discovers that she can communicate by blinking, he begins recording her observations about life from a hospital bed.
Fast forward a bit, and those musings have made her an international celebrity with a bestselling book and a romance with the doctor. Introduce one personal trainer who quickly becomes Stella’s best friend and confidant. Soon, Stella’s wondering whether she’s made a huge mistake letting this woman into her life.
This is an easy read, perfect for a plane ride.
At the Water’s Edge
When I travel, I like to read books that will help me delve into the culture. Sara Gruen’s At the Water’s Edge was a logical choice for my trip to Scotland.
After embarrassing themselves in Philadelphia’s high society, Maddie and Ellis Hyde and their friend Hank flee to Scotland to hunt a monster. Decades earlier, Ellis’ father had attempted that very same task, failing and blackening his family name. Now, Ellis thinks succeeding will earn him a spot back in his father’s good graces.
The men become obsessed with the task, spiraling deeper into madness, fueled by alcohol and a self-serving desire to prove the world wrong. Maddie, on the other hand, will experience a bit of true Scottish magic that makes her question everything she thought she knew about life.
The Orphan’s Tale
I read this book in early 2017 when it was released, and it still gives me goosebumps when I think about how good it is!
Noa is a 16-year-old girl who has been disowned by her family after giving birth to a Nazi soldier’s baby. Forced to give the child up, she lives and works at a rail station, cleaning to earn her keep. One night, she hears cries coming from a railcar and finds it full of Jewish babies. Desperate for the baby she lost, she takes one of the babies and flees.
She finds refuge in a traveling circus, and her secret is one of many hidden under the big top. Noa learns the flying trapeze as a cover and begins to travel with the circus. Astrid is lead aerialist, from a prominent circus family with a secret of her own. Will the girls’ rivalry cause an explosion within the circus, or can they form a bond that just might save them both?
Ellen Marie Wiseman
Ellen Marie Wiseman isn’t one to dance around the tough topics. From WWII to insane asylums, her vivid descriptions and unique perspectives leave me wondering “How did I not know about this?” each time I read one of her books.
In Coal River, she tells the story of Emma Malloy, a penniless orphan sent to live with her aunt and uncle in Coal River, Pennsylvania, forced to work in the mining company’s store to earn her keep. She witnesses the hardship the mining community faces as the men struggled to keep food on the table by risking their lives in the mines every day.
Emma learns about the Breaker Boys, the small children forced to work in dangerous conditions, losing life and limb for a company that couldn’t care less. Is Emma brave enough to expose the injustice of the coal mining industry?
Sweetshop of Dreams
Get ready to hear a whole lot of this name, because Jenny Colgan has just earned herself a spot on my list of favorite authors. Jenny Colgan begins this book with an ode to Mrs. McCreadie, the woman who owned the local sweetshop growing up. Colgan marks moment of her life with candies: the good (existing on crème eggs and staying a size two as a teen), the bad (sharing a Twix with a friend while hiding from the bullies) and the exciting (her first taste of American Hershey’s Kisses). I knew immediately that her writing would hit the sweet spot with me.
Each chapter begins with a description of a lolly from days gone by. From sweet staples like fudge to the obscure sour plooms and parma violets. Her vivid descriptions even aided me in guessing the mystery flavor of cotton candy at the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Tea in London. I’ve never tried a cola cube, but thanks to Colgan, I was able to identify the flavor when I tried it!
There’s more to the story of course… Rosie is a Londoner with a long-term boyfriend, but when her Great Aunt Lilian needs caring for, just how much will Rosie have to leave behind? In this dual timezone novel, we learn about Lilian’s one true love, lost decades earlier in WWII, and find that she’s lived her life for the boys and girls who visit her sweetshop.
Rosie must decide which life she wants to live: will she play it safe and go back to a nursing career and a steady (boring) boyfriend? Or will a brooding nobleman, an enchanting vet and a handsome farmer in Lipton offer exciting alternatives?
Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop
SPOILER ALERT! If you’re planning to read Sweetshop of Dreams, I can’t very well tell you about the sequel here, now can I? Do yourself a favor, though, and just go buy this book as well!
The Christmas Surprise
And while you’re at it, get the third and final book in the series, too! Now, maybe you should go pick up a toothbrush. There’s no way you’ll make it through this series without needing a side of caramels, Edinburgh Rock and licorice to really get the full experience.
The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris
I was pushing my bike through the market in Exmouth, Western Australia, glancing at the goods on offer from the various sellers out of the corner of my eye. No eye contact meant I didn’t have to commit to purchasing anything (unless it’s for Ari’s Cakes… I was definitely shopping there). I had just passed the table selling books, when I screeched to a halt. Jenny Colgan’s The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris had been on my list for ages… and hadn’t made it to my digital library yet. The saleswoman sensed my excitement over my impending trip to Paris and gave me a discount. As if I needed any extra excitement on my plane ride to meet my mom in France.
After an accident at the chocolate factory where Anna Trent worked, she emerges from the hospital with a less toes and a rekindled friendship with her old French teacher, Mrs. Shawcourt. Armed with a limited french vocabulary and the knowledge that she has nowhere else to go, Anna up with a dream opportunity at Le Chapeau Chocolat in Paris orchestrated by Mrs. Shawcourt.
As Anna learns about real chocolate (none of that mass produced junk), she discovers her true self and falls in love with more than just the city of Paris.
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America
I’m not going to lie. I spent half this book wondering whether I liked it or not. Erik Larson tells the story of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago weaving the stories of the fair’s architect Daniel H. Burnham and H. H. Holmes, the serial killer whose Murder Castle was the last stop for at least 27 victims. By the end of the book, I was hungry for more. Thankfully, Larson shares his sources so I could continue learning about the fair that shaped America.
This non-fiction book reads like a novel that utilizes eyewitness accounts. Much of the book is in direct quotes, and I was surprised how much history I learned in this one book. Murder, mystery, creativity and fantasy… in this case, reality is far stranger than fiction.
The Girl with all the Gifts
I bet you didn’t have me pegged for a zombie fan. And you’re right. I’m going to be completely and utterly unprepared for the zombie apocalypse. I haven’t watched the Walking Dead and a copy of The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead does not live on my bookshelf.
So The Girl with all the Gifts was a departure from my usual candy-coated chick lit. In this sci-fi novel, the world has separated into two kinds: those who are infected and those who are not. A fungus has spread around the world that causes the infected to feed on the flesh of healthy humans. Melanie is a 10-year-old “hungry,” and test subject number one at a research facility for child hungries. Unlike the majority of hungries, they are able to learn and feel some sort of emotion.
The humans in the compound take careful precautions to mask their scent and keep the hungries safely restrained at all times. When the base is attacked, though, all bets are off, and Melanie’s hunger is awakened. Just how much control over her hunger does she have? Is it enough to keep her from eating her teacher, Miss. Justineau, whom she has come to love like a mother?
Rent the film:
The German Girl
Armando Lucas Correa
Hannah was the perfect German girl living a charmed life of wealth and privilege. Her blonde hair and blue eyes even earned her a spot on the cover of German Girl magazine. The photographer didn’t know his perfect German girl is Jewish. As the war closed in on the Rosenthal family, they and the Martin family board a ship bound for Cuba.
Hannah’s wealthy family is treated like royalty, and she spends her days exploring with her best friend, Leo Martin. The Jews on board are almost fooled into thinking their troubles were behind them. Rumors swirled, though, and as they neared Cuba, they learned that the majority of the ship’s passengers would be returned to Germany.
Unthinkable sacrifices are made and dreams are torn apart when it is announced who will and will not disembark the ship.
In the aftermath of 9/11, Anna Rosen receives a mysterious package on her 12th birthday that leads her to Havana. There, she will discover the truth about her father’s tragic family history.
Like Before We Were Yours, the St. Louis was a real ship, with real people who were denied entry to both Cuba and the USA. Of the 900+ passengers, 254 were killed upon their return to Europe.
It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. The school official called Julia Crowne with the words: Do you have Anna with you? When it’s been established that Anna didn’t go home with a friend or another family member, panic sets in.
And then, Anna returns. Unharmed and with no memory of where she’s been.
The family is shaken and Julia’s life falls apart as she unravels the clues that lead to the person who orchestrated little Anna’s disappearance and sudden reappearance. You’ll never believe who’s to blame.
The Plum Tree
Ellen Marie Wiseman
I’m still on the waitlist to check Ellen Marie Wiseman’s newest novel, The Life She Was Given, out of the library, so I read one of her older novels to make the wait go more quickly.
Set in WWII, Wiseman breaks my heart and picks up the pieces once more, as we follow the story of Christine Bölz, a good German girl who falls in love with Isaac Bauerman, the son of the wealthy Jewish family she works for. Their blissful time together is cut short by Hitler’s invasion of their hometown. In this story of love and loss, fear and bravery, pain and joy, nothing is held back and the graphic nature of the novel provides insight into a horrific time in history. The Plum Tree guarantees a roller coaster ride of emotions. If you hold on tight, though, I promise you’ll be rewarded.
Remember Me This Way
What have you been reading this year? Are you a fan of historical fiction like me? I’m always adding to my ‘to read’ list and would love your suggestions for 2018!
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