Showing posts with label BOTY2019. Show all posts
Showing posts with label BOTY2019. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

2019 Book of the Year: The Winner!

I've learned that this quarantine life has sucked some of the creativity out of me. I'm fine to watch and listen and read, but writing myself just hasn't been working well for me. I have still been doing my book reviews on Goodreads, Litsy, Amazon, & Barnes and Noble, but I just haven't been able to motivate myself to write anything more on the blog.

Part of that I think has just been feeling overwhelmed by the amount of writing that comes with the Book of the Year posts. So...I've given myself a bit of leeway here. It's time to finally wrap up this holdover from last year. Instead of continuing to go round by round, I'm simply going to finish up the endeavor in one post and free myself of the pressure so that I can move on to praising books read this year.

Ready? Let's find ourselves a winner!

I last left off with the Sweet Sixteen. Some great books have been eliminated, but there are still some amazing reads left. And some hard choices were made. I spent a lot time discussing the merits of each of the remaining challengers in the last post, so I'm going to speed through the next two rounds a bit. I'll go back to a bit more in-depth analysis of the matchups when it's down to four challengers.

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery vs. Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Winner: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver vs. Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Morris

Winner: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Dumplin' by Julie Murphy vs. Aurora Rising by Jay Kristoff & Amie Kauffman

Winner: Aurora Rising by Jay Kristoff & Amie Kauffman

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison vs. Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Winner: The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison

100 Days of Sunlight by Abbie Emmons vs. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

Winner: Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah vs. Scars Like Wings by Erin Stewart

Winner: Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert vs. The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green vs. Becoming by Michelle Obama

Winner: An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

Okay...moving on. We're down to eight competitors. Let's get it down one more round and then we'll have some discussion over the final faceoffs.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman vs. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Winner: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff vs. The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison

Winner: The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White vs. Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

Winner: Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert vs. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

Winner: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

Phew! Can you believe it?! We started with 116 books and now it's down to FOUR! The creme de la creme everyone!!

I have to admit, all of these picks are fabulous. Four 5-star reads and all magnificent. Two dystopian sci-fi reads, one fantasy, and one classic. One adult book, two YA reads, and a middle grade. Not a bad little spread and probably fairly representative of my reading for the year. I took a hard sway to the fantasy and sci-fi genres in 2019 with a few historical fiction and contemporary reads sprinkled in. Middle grades made a huge surge thanks to my participation in November's Believathon, hosted by Gavin over at How to Train Your Gavin. (Side note: I'll be participating in his mini-readathon for middle grades in May.) I expected one of these books to definitely make it to the finals and had high inklings for two others. I will admit that Charlotte's Web was a bit of a surprise. I loved it, but really didn't even think to consider it for a contender.

Shall we proceed? I know who the winner is and I'm itching to share!!

Left Bracket Finalists

Scythe by Neal Shusterman vs. The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison

And so it comes to this...the two dystopians are facing off against one another. Such different books, but both so good in their own way. Both books are written by authors I'd never read before and now both of them have books on my TBR for this year. Both of those books are continuations of the trilogies represented by these two first series books. So coincidental.

Scythe was a book I was exposed to from social media. My reading of it was the direct result of hype. And thank goodness the hype was justified this time! I love dystopian reads, but this one is something of its own spin...a dystopian utopia if you will. Death has been conquered and so the only means of controlling the population is through the use of scythes, workers who are tasked with "gleaning" individuals whose lives have been selected to end. It's creepy and unique and so well-written. I'm told that the sequel, Thunderhead, is even better, so I'm super excited to read it later this year.

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison was one of those books I just stumbled upon. It was one of the Prime Reading offerings through Amazon when I was first beginning to read audiobooks and it. was. magnificent. I loved its creepy darkness and I enjoyed that the narrative took the protagonist through areas where I've lived. There was something extra fascinating about that, though I don't know why...just another way to connect with the story I suppose. The protagonist herself is one of my favorites ever. She's a modern warrior and I honestly feel pieces of Jane Eyre in her (which some may find a weird comparison, but I DON'T CARE). I have purchased the entire trilogy since finishing this book and I am both excited and scared to continue on with the series. It's one of those things where you love the first book so much that you don't want the continuation to detract anything from that. Regardless, I WILL be picking it up and I'm super giddy about how much I loved this book.

It should have been a super difficult decision to pick a winner here, but one of these books just gut punched me super hard in a way that will stick with me for a very long time. It was all partially in the ways I could identify with it.

Winner: The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison

Right Bracket Finalists

Pairing books that are so different from one another is always I think the biggest challenge for selecting a winner in this endeavor. These two come from two very different genres and are primarily intended for very different audiences. They're both fantastic in their own right and stand very solidly as 5-star reads. all know the drill...only one can move on.

Charlotte's Web was technically a reread. This would ordinarily disqualify it for a slot in this challenge, but since the last time I read it was literally decades ago (I'm getting to freaking old), I let it pass. Reading it as an adult is a very different experience than reading it as a youth. It's a whole different perspective. I listened to the audio of this read by the author and that added a whole new level of endearing to the tale. It's also more impactful on me as an adult since we raise pigs for a living here on the farm. I could understand Fern's attachment to little Wilbur as I raised Pippa, a runt piglet of my own. I found the tale to be incredibly heartwarming as well as heartbreaking. I just love it so very much. It will definitely be one of the first chapter books I read with the boys.

Adorable Pippa at 2 days old back in 2016. How cute is she?!?!
The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert also happened to be an audiobook experience. Such an odd thing to have audiobooks make such a big showing in the final stages of the bracket when I just started reading them in that format last year. This one is a bit of a fairy tale fantasy based on a premise starring a book within a book. I love that type of premise and I love fairy tale retellings or fairy tale based stories. Especially the dark ones...which this certainly is. The writing was magical and intriguing the cliche line I hate to read in books...there were several times I let out a breath I hadn't known I was holding while reading it. 😉 When I finished my read, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that there was a sequel being released (it was published this January) and I am still chomping at the bit to get my hands on it. I enjoy a good standalone, but there are some worlds where I just HAVE to have more. This is one of those cases.

I don't really know what to say about how I chose a winner here. Both were great reads and both are sticking with me in their own ways. I honestly think that for this choice I had to go with a gut reaction. Sometimes that's just how it is.

Winner: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

And now we've come to the meat, my friends. It is time to crown a champion for my reads of 2019. Though these books were both great ones and I have both of them in my permanent collection, this was not a difficult choice when it came down to it.

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison vs. The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

As already mentioned, both are fabulous reads, both had me gripped, and I found both to be both fantastically written and highly creative. I would happily reread either one of them right now and probably will reread them several times over the up coming years. But, there was a clear winner in my mind as soon as I saw the pairing come up in the bracket.

The question that I think decided this winner was "which book am I more likely to recommend to others?". While both would easily be ones I would offer up to other readers as good choices, there was one that clearly outshone the other in this department. I could talk about this book for a LONG time and I find that other readers who have enjoyed it as much as me tend to be my reading soulmates. That's the sign of a good beacon book.

So...what book would I recommend? Out of 116 reads in 2019, which book would I deem the One to Rule Them All? Which book can I praise over and over again with genuine love in my heart?

Behold...the winner of the 2019 Book of the Year...

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison takes the prize! If you haven't looked into this one yet, please do soon! If you enjoy dystopian reads of any kind, this one will be great for you. It's also highly feminist, very modern, quick paced, has fantastic descriptions, and just hit me hard in the gut. It is a well deserved win. Now...GO READ IT!

It was a looooooong journey to get here and I hope you found a few good books along the way. If you missed out on the whole selection of reads, you can begin the challenge here and see what other books made 5-star ratings, but didn't necessarily make it as far in the competition as they were entitled. Such is the case when you use the devil that is the randomized bracket.

I'm very pleased with the results. The Book Bracket Challenge has yielded another wonderful winner. I'll be repeating this challenge with my 2020 reads in January of next year. I already have some fantastic contenders completed and I'm excited to find more.

Until next time...HAPPY READING EVERYONE!!!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

2019 Book of the Year: Sweet Sixteen

And we're back at it...whittling down the contenders to find the best book of those I read in 2019. We started with 116 and when all is said and done, only one will be left standing. We've already said goodbye to quite a few good reads.

So...I reevaluated my planning since last post. Since I'm going through each book a little more thoroughly with the brackets from here out, I'm spacing things out a little differently. So...instead of the Final Four, we'll be getting to the Sweet Sixteen today. Trust me, this was a good alteration to make. Writing this post as is took me several days due to the amount of evaluation and writing needed.

Last time, I got things down to the the Terrific 32. So this is where we start our bracket today.

As with every other time I've done this, some matchups are easier to decide than others. We're saying goodbye to some really good books today. A few of them were pretty painful to eliminate. must be done if we're going to get to number one! So...let's get crackin'.

Left Side Bracket

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery vs. Postcards for a Songbird by Rebekah Crane

Anne of Green Gables is a classic for good reason. It is lighthearted and fun with a good cast of characters, most notably the spunky and incorrigible Anne. The first in a series and one I will absolutely be continuing. I had a great time with this book.

Postcards for a Songbird is a YA contemporary with some romance written by Rebekah Crane, who has a good touch for keeping things light, but still quite interesting. I love her writing and read this one in a single day, enjoying the way her prose moves and how she weaves her story together. However, there was some questionable character use and the plot got confusing in a few spots that made it a little distracting. 

When decisions have to be made, I base my choice on a few things: certainly the rating I gave each book at the time of reading, but also how well the book has stuck with me (both in how much I remember about the plot and how it has emotionally impacted me) and whether I would read it again or (if applicable) continue the series. In this case, it was an easy choice. 

Winner: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Scythe by Neal Shusterman vs. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

The first truly difficult choice this round and we're only on the second match up. The pain is real my friends. 

Scythe is an amazingly wonderful utopian dystopian (trust me, that will make sense if you read it) based on the idea that death has been conquered and chosen "scythes" must do the "gleaning" of humanity to keep the population in check. This was so intriguing and mesmerizing. I'm going to be grabbing the second in the series later this's already on my TBR for this summer.

This was my second attempt at reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I had put it down a few years ago when I just couldn't get myself into the narrative. But with it being nominated for several awards and having the author come from my home state, I just needed to try it again. This time, I picked up the audio and it was very much the right choice. A little slow burn of a start, it's a fantastic read. Emotional and somewhat heartbreaking, I loved this one ever so much. In fact, I sent a copy of it to my mom for her birthday.

I went back and forth on this one several times, but what ultimately made the choice was the fact that one required a second chance read. Is it still fabulous? Yes. Would I still whole-heartedly recommend it to others? Absolutely. But...a decision had to be made.

Winner: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg vs. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

A matchup of two authors who rank among my favorites. Charlie N. Holmberg writes amazing magical fantasies and I have adored every book of hers I've read. She writes things that a fun and mysterious, swinging in audience from YA to adult. Lauren Oliver writes YA contemporaries that hit hard, but she also writes a good sci-fi. 

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet is a huggable book. Those of you who have read my reviews for a while know that this indicates a keeper. Unfortunately, Before I Fall also ranked this way. Drat. I hate such a hard face-off. But...such is the downside of the randomized bracket. Again, this could have gone either way. 

For this decision, I just had to go with my gut. Which one hit me the hardest and left me with the biggest book hangover?

Winner: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

The Giver by Lois Lowry vs. Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber

I read The Giver as part of Believathon in November and didn't expect to think much of it. Holy moly was I wrong. It was such a good book and I really wish I had read it sooner. It's a great middle grade read and I can't recommend it enough.

Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber is a magical realism read that immediately had me feeling Sarah Addison Allen vibes. SUCH a good thing to have in a book. This kind of read is why I love magical realism. I devoured this book so quickly and I am so glad that I have it in my personal library.

Both good books, but this wasn't as difficult a decision as the last two.

Winner: Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber

Dumplin' by Julie Murphy vs. After the End by Clare Mackintosh

The face-off of the hard-hitting social commentary contemporaries. Dumplin' is for the YA sector while After the End is for an adult audience, but they both have fantastic plots with strong messages and really led to some personal introspection. Both are #ownvoices works. And both hurt that bad but good way books can do sometimes.

This choice honestly could have probably changed based on what day I was asked to pick a winner. Sometimes it's hard to compare books that affect you in similar, but oh so different ways. I just had to rip the band-aid off and pick one.

Winner: Dumplin' by Julie Murphy

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett vs. Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Guys...when "America's Dad" reads a book, you listen. Tom Hanks's reading of The Dutch House by Ann Patchett is part of what made it so great for me. He just brought such good life to some incredibly complicated characters and situations. Literary fiction is sometimes hard for me to handle, but I made the absolute best choice possible by picking this up, especially in audio form. No regrets.

And when it comes to "most unlikely to be read by me", no book tops the list for this group more than Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. I do. NOT. do. space. Seriously. I don't read space books or alien books or anything like that. They just aren't my speed. But Aurora Rising? Holy moly! I loved this book. I don't know why or how, but I just had a great time reading this book.

Both of these ranked out at 4.5 stars. They come from vastly different genres. Literary vs. SciFi. Adult vs. YA. Sometimes the random bracket produces some weird moments. This was one of those cases. It's also a pairing that made me just have to go with my gut and choose based on impact.

Winner: Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett vs. The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison

Freaking A, you guys. Seriously. If I could have picked out of the batch what books would be difficult to pit against each other, these two would have been in the top matchups. Two dysopians with fantastic plots and characters, narratives that both mesmerized me and freaked me out. Books that I just couldn't put down. They were both 5 star reads.

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett is a book I likened to The Hunger Games meets Lord of the Flies meets The Crucible with a touch of The Handmaid's Tale for good measure. It was a seriously wild ride and I loved it. 

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison came out of freaking nowhere. I grabbed it as an Amazon Prime read and it knocked my socks off. It's like medical apocalypse meets wild west in a way and it's just awesome. It's the first book in The Road to Nowhere trilogy and I have GOT to pick up the sequel soon. I don't know why I haven't grabbed it yet.

I was not a happy camper to have to decide between these two. The gut had to be relied on once again.

Winner: The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison

Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid vs. Not So Long Ago, Not So Far Away by Trisha Slay

Remind me again why I don't just list a top ten of favorite books for the year? Damn you bracket. 

Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid is technically a historical fiction, but it's set in the 70s, so...umm...really? Anyway, it's so freaking realistic that I, like others, had to remind myself several times that this was not a real band. I listened to the full cast audio and it was awesome. Seriously atmospheric and I feel like I really got to know the characters in a way I might not have been able to by reading the text.

Not So Long Ago, Not So Far Away by Trisha Slay is more than just a pretty cover (although it is just freaking gorgeous). It's a YA contemporary partially based on the impact that Star Wars has on a teenage girl's life in the summer of 1977. I will repeat the fact that I'm not into space stuff. That includes Star Wars. But holy freaking heck. The writing in this was so dang good. I swooned over this book the whole time I was reading it and then for weeks after. I may still be doing so.

Another hard pick, but decisions were made.

Winner: Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Right Side Bracket

100 Days of Sunlight by Abbie Emmons vs. The Ten Thousand Days of January by Alix E. Harrow

Can I just nerd out for a minute and say how funny I find it that the books with multiples of ten in their titles got matched against each other? Ya...I know, stupid, but it gave me a giggle. I have to take what I can get.

100 Days of Sunlight by Abbie Emmons is a debut novel that is something similar to Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon. It's emotional and cute and wonderful. It was just a dang pleasant read.

The Ten Thousand Days of January by Alix E. Harrow is a fantasy billed as adult, but that really felt a bit more YA in the writing style. (This isn't necessarily a bad thing.) It's one of my favorite tropes: story within a story, a book about a book. It wasn't quite what I was expecting, but it was still a good and enjoyable read.

This decision was a little easier. 100 Days of Sunlight was a 5-star read, while The Ten Thousand Doors of January got a 4.5. Close, but still a clear winner.

Winner: 100 Days of Sunlight by Abbie Emmons

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White vs. The Vine Witch by Luanne G. Smith

I think Charlotte's Web was one of only two rereads for the year (both of which were middle grade reads for the Believathon in November). Typically I wouldn't count that in BOTY, but since the last time I read it was like three decades ago, I'm going to go ahead and give it a pass. A childhood favorite that totally holds up, it was so enjoyable and yet still so totally devastating.

The Vine Witch by Luanne G. Smith was a different style of read and I really enjoyed it. A historical fantasy of sorts it's based on a witch in a winery region of what appears to be something like a mash up of 18th century and early 19th century France. It was a little magical, a little dark, and a lot of fun to read. I'm picking up the sequel later this year.

Sorry...but sometimes childhood nostalgia just wins out. (Though I have to say that it still reads very well as an adult.)

Winner: Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

The Seventh Bride by T. Kingfisher vs. Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

Welcome to weirdo match-up number two. 

The Seventh Bride is a YA fantasy retelling of Bluebeard. It was dark, but totally whimsical and entertaining. A cute and fast read that I will likely return to for a reread at a later date. 

Winter Garden is a hard-hitting historical fiction about the Russian revolution. It's full of Hannah's powerful and beautiful writing. It's emotional and heartbreaking. It's wonderful.

As much as I loved The Seventh Bride, this one was a bit of a no brainer.

Winner: Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

Scars Like Wings by Erin Stewart vs. Tidelands by Philippa Gregory

Scars Like Wings is something akin to a YA version of Wonder. It's hard-hitting and fantastic. I read this book over the span of two days and it made my heart hurt. 

I'm typically a huge fan of Philippa Gregory, so I was thrilled to get to read an ARC of her new novel, Tidelands. It's slightly different than her usual books (Tudor/Plantagenet series), but it still has great pieces of history wrapped up in an interesting narrative. It started slow, but I loved the ending. I'm very much looking forward to the sequel in this new series.

In this case, the ratings were the same, but the gut punch won out. Not a big surprise given my reading tastes.

Winner: Scars Like Wings by Erin Stewart

Cilka's Journey by Heather Morris vs. The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

Cilka's Journey is the follow up to The Tattooist of Auschwitz, which totally wrecked me. It presented a whole new piece of history for me, as I had previously known little to nothing of the post WWII Russian gulags. It was really good, sometimes painful to read (in a good way), and had fantastic description. I was a little disappointed in the ending.

The Hazel Wood came out of nowhere and hit me square in the face. Super fantastical and intriguing. Book with in a book, plus magic? Yes. Yes. Yes. Give me all the reads. I loved this book so much. I need to track down the sequel, which came out in January.

Winner: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

Maternal Instinct by Rebecca Bowyer vs. The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins

Dystopian vs. Magical Realism. Maternal Instinct was an awesome dystopian premise. Based on the idea that women are required under the government to bear two children, which then are entered into a system of government-based rearing, the realistic potential of this read was a bit creepy. It was a great read and I want to see more from this author.

The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins was a cute magical realism set in a small town, generally a recipe for reading success for me. It was a cozy read that I sped right through, enjoying the characters and the small town feel. Looking forward to the sequel.

The choice on this one was again based on the gut punch factor. I'm such a sucker for a good dystopian.

Winner: Maternal Instinct by Rebecca Bowyer

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green vs. The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Me: I don't like books about aliens. Also me (reading An Absolutely Remarkable Thing): What is this? This is magnificent! Give me more! This was so good and so entertaining. Hank Green's writing style is fantastic and I couldn't get enough of this book. The ramifications of the premise are realistically explored and prompted some internal discussion on my part. I enjoy a book that makes me think...especially when it's entertaining me at the same time. Very much looking forward to the sequel coming out this summer.

Want to be hit in the face with a raw historical fiction that tears your heart out and stomps on it repeatedly? Grab The Tattooist of Auschwitz. I know there has been controversy about this book and its sequel, but I don't care. I recognize that this isn't a biography and there are going to be some latitudes taken by the author. Regardless, I loved this book. It was so poignant and powerful. 

This was an odd pairing to deliberate and I feel somewhat bad about my choice...somehow it feels a little bit...wrong. But I had to go with the impact and how much I was made to think and contemplate my own life and choices. 

Winner: An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green


Becoming by Michelle Obama vs. Only Ever Her by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

Regardless of your political leanings, Becoming is a fantastic book about an amazing woman. Michelle Obama has poise, grace, and she is a smart, capable, accomplished woman who tells her story with candor and humor. I really enjoyed this memoir. My personal political leanings happen to be middle of the road and I don't typically enjoy politically based reads, but this was something different than I expected and it was great. She is so open about her youth, her education, her personal choices. The story focuses on her and her experience, not that of her husband...which makes it more real and less political. I appreciated this approach and really felt that it was a good window into her own thoughts. She manages, despite her fame and position in society, to remain very humble and I admire her strength and ambition.

Only Ever Her is a mystery/thriller and definitely not my regular fare. That being said, it surprised me quite a bit with how much I enjoyed it. Told from several perspectives, this is full of unreliable narrators and swirling information that compounds the suspense. I could easily pick this one up for a reread.

Winner: Becoming by Michelle Obama

Phew...and that's the end of that round. This is where we land for our Sweet Sixteen.

Next up, a double round! I'll be getting down to the Elite Eight and then the Final Four. Time to get this baby moving and wrap it up soon!! Are your favorites still in the running?

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