As 2019 draws to a close, I’ve been reflecting on the goals I’ve set for myself this year. One such goal was to read more, as I’ve always been an avid reader, but have not always dedicated the time to it. this was the first year that I decided to take part in the Goodreads 2019 Reading Challenge. I set my goal of 40 back in January, later changing it to 50 once I surpassed that goal in the fall. To my surprise, I have surpassed my goal of 50 just last week, and am ending the year having read a total of 53 books.
As my library continues to grow, I decided to compile my top 10 books of the year — a task that proved to be much more difficult than I anticipated. Since my to-read list continues to grow and I grow more ambitious, I’m thinking of doing a review of what I read each month, as opposed to a wrap up of the whole year in the coming years.
10. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
After hearing nothing but wonderful things about this book, I just had to read it. I was not disappointed. Evelyn Hugo was a big star, oh, and she was married seven times. She is spending her days out of the spotlight when she finally decides to give her final interview recounting her story (which turns out to be a full-blown tell-all biography) to a young journalist. Why does she pick her of all people? Well, you’ll have to find out for yourself in this exquisite story of success, and the price that comes with the celebrity guise.
9. Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware
This was my first Ruth Ware read, and I cannot wait to pick up more of her books. I love a good thriller, especially a creepy atmospheric novel that takes place in the middle of nowhere Scotland. The novel follows letters that the former nanny is writing to her lawyer from prison trying to clear her name after one of the children she was looking after winds up dead. What I found to be most unique about this story was that the main character is not all that likeable and untrustworthy, which helps keep the reader guessing until the very end.
8. Beyond the Point by Claire Gibson
I adored this book and was invested all the way through; it was heartwarming & heartbreaking all at the same time. My only qualm about the book is that I was left with a ton of questions at the end that left me wanting more. I felt like I really got to know each character, and would definitely be interested in a sequel since the three main characters all seemed to have more to their stories.
7. House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig
What do you get when you combine a fairytale with horror and a dash of romance? “House of Salt and Sorrows” – the book with a genre that I never knew I needed. I was hooked when I discovered that it was the retelling of a Brothers Grimm fairytale, and I was not disappointed. I absolutely adore the haunting atmosphere of the Thaumas sisters’ world Craig created.
6. Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
It is important that I preface this review with a warning: this book is certainly not for everyone and is chalk-full of content that can be triggering. Initially, this book started as a slow burn, languidly enveloping me into the atmospheric world of Yale – though, not the Yale we know today. This Yale is teeming with paranormal activity, secret societies, and occult magic. Before I knew it, I was completely captivated by this dark novel. Bardugo’s rich creativity kept me hooked with each turn of the page, and I look forward to seeing what she brings to the table with the next installment of this series.
5. American Royals by Katharine McGee
This novel follows the [fictional] descendants of George Washington as Beatrice prepares to ascend the throne as the first queen of the United States, and is narrated from 4 points of view – Beatrice, Samantha – her rebellious younger sister, Nina Gonzalez – Sam’s best friend, and Daphne Deighton – Sam’s twin brother Jefferson’s ex-girlfriend who believes she is destined to be a princess. I will read just about anything with a royal plot line, so when “American Royals” came out, I knew I had to read it immediately! Drama, deception, romance, this book has it all. I cannot wait for the next book to come out next fall.
4. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
This is not your typical murder mystery, in fact, it is one of the most magnificent books I’ve ever read. Set at a private college in New England, this book begins by exposing the reader to the fact that a group of elitist Classical scholars have killed one of their classmates. The plot is that of a dual timeline — the days leading up to the murder and the days following. It is a heavy read that left me both verklempt and bewildered for days.
3. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
Literally everyone needs to read this book!! Manson presents a hilariously vulgar tough love approach to creating self-awareness and learning about what matters most in life. This book has been sitting on my “to-read” shelf for years, and now I wish I would have had the opportunity to read it at a younger age.
2. The Beautiful by Renée Ahdieh
“The Beautiful” is hands-down one of my absolute favorite books I’ve read this year. Placed in the haunting setting of 1800s New Orleans, Celine Rousseau finds herself constantly facing dangerous situations. Due to this, she surrounds herself with the mysterious members of La Coer des Lions. The problem? They seem inhuman. After being a Twilight fan in high school, I couldn’t help but be at least a bit leery on another series about vampires; however, this decadent read left me savoring every page – I did not want this story to end!
1. The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom
“There is a reason you glance up when you first hear a melody, or tap your foot to the sound of a drum. All humans are musical. Why else would the Lord give you a beating heart?” The remarkably alluring story of Frankie Presto left me completely enchanted and tugged at my heartstrings. As a huge music fan, I loved the connection Albom wove between Frankie and the artists of yesteryear and today, creatively narrating the story by none other than music.
Honorable Mention: The Glittering Hour by Iona Grey
I’m including this because I JUST finished this before this post went live. Elegant, heart-achingly beautiful, and tragic, “The Glittering Hour” hooked me after the first few chapters. Grey seamlessly interconnects society girl Selina Lennox’s story with her daughter Alice’s in a dual timeline between the years of 1925 and 1936. I adored the thorough development of characters as Grey built the plot, though it did get a bit “wordy” at times. I didn’t love the additional forbidden love initially, as it felt overdone, but Selina and Lawrence’s romance moved me to tears in the last pages of the story.
I’m always looking for some new, challenging reads to add to my list. What was your favorite book you read this year?
Thank God it’s finally February, I thought January would never end! I hope you are all staying warm with the crazy polar vortex that happened in the Midwest this week. Despite the miserable cold, there were a number of positives that happened this week: I was able to work from home as a result of the severe weather and I always find that I’m far more productive at home than at the office, and the Backstreet Boys released their new album DNA! I’ve been a HUGE BSB fan since the ripe age of 4, and I love that they’re still producing new music. **Peep a few of their new songs I can’t get enough of in the “What I’m Listening To” portion of this post.**
What I’m Watching: The Assassination of Gianni Versace on Netflix
What I’m Listening To:
7 Rings // Ariana Grande
GIRL // Maren Morris
Dancing With A Stranger // Sam Smith, Normani
New Love // Backstreet Boys
OK // Backstreet Boys
Chateau // Backstreet Boys
The Way It Was // Backstreet Boys
I just picked up this tortoise print Sonix phone case off Amazon, and I’m obsessed with it! I’ve been rocking a Lilly Pulitzer one for the past two years and while I love feeling summery year round, I was ready for a change. This is super affordable at $35 and is Military Drop Test Certified.
Because we know I can’t get enough of books (and I discovered two unused Barnes & Noble gift cards in my wallet), I ordered “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert and “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson. I try to read a handful of self-help books a year and these two have been on my “to read” list for a while now.
I am so incredibly proud of myself for successfully sticking to all of my goals for this year throughout the month of January, so I look forward to seeing the continuing progress I make from here on out. Many of my fitness goals resulted in predominately non-scale victories, which is great, but not quite where I want to be yet. As always, I’m working on some new content on topics I haven’t really touched yet and I’m so excited to share. Stay tuned!
We may still have a few months left of 2018, but in honor of October being National Book Month, I thought I’d celebrate by compiling a list of the books I’ve read this year thus far.
A bit of background before we jump in…
My love for books goes waaaaay back. I remember being bound and determined to learn how to read when my mom informed me that I wasn’t going to get an American Girl doll until I could actually read the books that came with them. I still remember the first book I learned to read happened to be about a firefighter, and I would read it over and over again in an attempt to perfect it. What started as a challenge to overcome blossomed into a passion of mine, and the rest is history. Today, you can always find me carrying a book wherever I go!
This year, I made it a goal of mine to read books that I already own since I’ve made it to the last book of the Outlander series. I’m proud to say that I’ve [mostly] stuck with that goal and knocked out a number of books that have been hanging out on my shelf collecting dust for the past few years.
Also new to my reading list this year is the Book of the Month club — shout out to my co-worker for hooking a sister up! At the beginning of each month, BOTM allows you to choose from five new books in varying genres (some of which aren’t even being sold on the market yet). It’s $14.99 for one book, and you can add on others from the current month or previous months for $9.99 each. You also have the opportunity to opt out each month, and can get free book credits from referring a friend! If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, you can sign up here. This is totally not sponsored, I genuinely want to share my obsession with you!
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven // While I don’t usually read many YA novels at this point, I heard so many rave reviews that I had to check it out myself. The main characters meet by talking each other off the ledge of the school bell tower. Theodore Finch is a “strange kid” fascinated by death and constantly fantasizes about his own; while Violet Markey, a former member of the popular crowd, is learning to cope with her sister’s death. After being paired up for a school project on the natural wonders of their state, they develop a close bond; however, as Violet’s world takes a turn for the better, Theodore’s takes a turn for the worse. A lot of reviews compare this book to A Fault In Our Stars, but this completely stands alone. It addresses mental health in a way I’ve never read before, and found it to be beautifully captivating and extremely emotional.
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin // When four siblings go to a psychic as children, they discover the exact date they are going to die. This book follows how each one chooses to live their life as their death date impends. I really liked how the book was split up to focus on each sibling separately from the rest, particularly because each story differed vastly from the others. I loved the story line and the unique lives each character led.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah // Taking place in a small French village during World War II, this story follows Vianne Mauriac and her younger, rebellious sister Isabelle and the differing paths they take in order to survive the war. While Vianne’s husband goes off to fight, she tries to keep herself and her daughter alive while quartering the enemy in their home. Isabelle finds herself passionate about the resistance, and ends up falling in love with a fellow member of the resistance; that is, until he betrays her. I love, love, love this book! I’ve spoken about my obsession with historical fiction novels for a while now, but this book surpassed all my expectations and kept me hungry for more throughout. There were so many facets explored in this novel – relationships in wartime (romantic and familial), and right vs. wrong in traumatic situations are just two of them.
You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero // Talk about a pep talk in a book. I know that so many self-help books can come across as dry and boring, and this is everything but that! Jen gives readers life advice through hilarious stories, easy exercises for facing your fears and overcoming self doubt, and tips of how to rise above and grasp the life you want and love by the horns. This will be one of those books I pick up at least once a year.
A Fine Imitation by Amber Brock // If you are a fan of The Great Gatsby — AKA my favorite book of all time — then this is the perfect read for you. Vera Bellington is a New York City socialite with a seemingly perfect, coveted life from the outside looking in. When the handsome, mysterious French painter Emil Hallan is hired on to paint a portion of Vera’s building, she finds herself enticed by his secrecy. In attempting to uncover the secrets of his past, Vera finds herself thinking about her own secrets dating back to her college days at Vassar, and eventually coming face-to-face with them. At the end of the day, she needs to decided whether the luxurious life she is living is really the one she desires. I found this to be a very quick read – light and enjoyable. I didn’t find it to be all that much of a page-turner, but I think it’s because I felt no connection to the characters.
America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie // This book is dubbed as a historical fiction (yes, another one made my list), but it is based on research and letters written by and to Patsy Jefferson Randolph throughout her life. Throughout Thomas Jefferson’s life, particularly after the loss of his wife, Jefferson often looked to his daughter as his “right hand woman” in all circumstances. A story of love, politics, and the desire for freedom, America’s FirstDaughter left me wanting to know more about all of these key players during their time. I found it fascinating to dive into the story of someone who played such a large part in our nation’s history that the history books don’t tell you about. So much research went into this book
The Heiresses by Sara Shephard // From the mind of the author that brought us Pretty Little Liars, The Heiresses is the tale of a wealthy family who owns a New York City diamond empire and are plagued by tragic events. When the seemingly perfect Poppy Saybrook flings herself from her office window, her four cousins receive an ominous message that makes them fear for their lives. This book reminded me of a dark version of Gossip Girl, so obviously I loved every second of it! The mystery and drama was plentiful, and the end left me wanting more.
An Echo in the Bone (Outlander Series) by Diana Gabaldon // I have been talking about my love for the Outlander series on my blog since I first rebranded, and I most likely will continue to talk about it for the rest of eternity – sorry not sorry! This is the seventh book in the series, and the story line was chalk full of twists and turns, which resulted in me finishing it in record time. I don’t want to give away the story line since it does have spoilers if you are reading the preceding books or watching the series. I’m actually putting off starting the 8th and final book (so far) because I’m not ready for it to end!
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter // When a sick American actress lands on the shore of a small Italian village to wait for her lover to arrive and take her home, the son of the late village hotelier, Pasquale, falls head over heels for her, despite her current love affair. A story of lost love, the book hops back and forth between 1962 and modern-day Hollywood, presenting characters and connecting characters in a non-traditional fashion. Honestly, I was pretty disappointed by this, even though I pretty much bought it because I thought the cover was pretty and saw it was #1 on the New York Times Best Sellers list. I had a really hard time getting into the story, and did not find it as funny as all of the reviews said it was.
Love & Luck by Jenna Evans Welch // While Addie is on an incredible trip to Ireland for her aunt’s over-the-top destination wedding, she just can’t stop dwelling on the horrible thing she did a few months prior, nor will her older brother Ian allow her to forget. While hiding away from her family, Addie discovers the guidebook Ireland for the Heartbroken which helps her cope with her issues while she anxiously awaits to travel to Italy to visit her friend and escape her family. Soon enough, her travel plans change, and she’s trapped on a road trip across Ireland with Ian and his Irish friend Rowan. With the help of the peculiar guidebook, Addie begins to address old wounds both within herself and with Ian. I was really excited to read this because I adored Love & Gelato, but I didn’t find this to be as riveting as L&G. I still enjoyed the story, but there were a few parts of the book where I had the feeling that I missed a few parts, which was not the case. All-in-all it was a lighthearted, quick read.
1984 by George Orwell // A Dystopian novel that displays the degradation of society under a totalitarian government. In a world where individuality is a crime and big brother is always watching, Winston Smith decides to rebel, but he soon learns that all actions have consequences and you can’t hide from big brother. Oddly enough, I found this book to be quite enjoyable; though, it is strange to me that many high schools have this as required reading. I do wish I read it while I was in high school to compare it to my thoughts reading it as an adult, as I don’t think I would have appreciated it as much then as I do now.
The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle // When I saw this book on the Book of the Month website, I knew it would be right up my alley, and it definitely didn’t disappoint! The story begs the question, “if you could invite five people to dinner dead or alive, who would you choose and why?” The book starts with Sabrina showing up to her 30th birthday dinner to find the five people she listed that she wanted to have dinner with when she was in college. As the dinner flows, the reader is given glimpses into Sabrina’s past, and it suddenly becomes clear that all of those in attendance are there for a particular reason. I was left quite pensive after reading this book, and have been inspired to write a full blog post on it — stay tuned for this post, which will be going live in the next couple weeks.
Circe by Madeline Miller // I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Greek mythology, so I was curious to get a peek inside the life of Circe. The seemingly powerless daughter of Helios, Circe is enamored by mortals, and through her fascination she ends up transforming a lover into a god and an enemy into a monster; it is then that she discovers her power of witchcraft. Zeus grows threatened and banishes her to the island of Aeaea where she further develops her powers while combating mortal men who sail to her island, love, and other gods and goddesses. I loved the strong female protagonist that Circe was, and how she was able to prove everyone that doubted her throughout her younger years wrong.
Goodbye, Paris by Anstey Harris // I need to start by saying that I 100% believed that this was going to be a stereotypical romance novel, but I was mistaken. Grace is a quirky luthier, running her shop in a small English village while maintaining a long-term love affair with David. David wants to remain together while his children grow up so that he can leave his family without traumatizing them (red flag, right?). While on one of their romantic getaways to Paris, David saves a woman’s life, and everything spins out of control when it’s plastered across all news mediums. Grace is forced to learn the ugly truth about David as she’s working to win the world’s most prominent string instrument making competition, which completely shatters her. With the help of two unlikely friends, Grace is faced with the decision to allow her heartbreak to make or break her. I was very surprised at how much I liked this book. There were some slower aspects, but all-in-all I thought it was a great light read!
The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager // The perfect psychological thriller to get you in the Halloween mood, The Last Time I Lied is a chilling story about Emma Davis — a young woman faced with the unthinkable at the ripe age of 13 while away at summer camp. A harmless game of two truths and a lie with the three older girls in her cabin turns dangerous when the three older girls go missing. Flash forward to modern-day, Emma is an artist who can’t paint anything but those missing girls. She’s approached to face her fears and return to Camp Nightingale as a counselor as it reopens 15 years after the disappearance. She is put in the same cabin as before, and starts to dig around to figure out what exactly happened to those girls all those years ago. Things start to become even more suspicious when she discovers she is being watched and threatened all these years later, which soon becomes deadly. I was so enthralled in this book! It constantly kept me guessing and was totally unpredictable. This is not your average scary campfire story; it’s so much better! This is by far one of the top books I’ve read this year.
The Lies We Told by Camilla Way // I just finished this last week, and could not put it down! Purchased as my October Book of the Month, The Lies We Told is yet another psychological thriller I chose to read in honor of Halloween. Clara’s world turns upside down when her boyfriend Luke goes missing. Things become even more strange when Luke’s older sister Emily suddenly reappears 20 years after her own disappearance in an attempt to help find Luke. As Clara searches for Luke, she uncovers secrets he and his seemingly perfect family have kept under wraps, and begins questioning those closest to her. Are Emily and Luke’s disappearances linked? Will she ever be able to trust Luke and his family after all of their lies? Discover the truth by delving in to The Lies We Told. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it starts off with a bang, and takes off from there, leaving the reader feeling as though every character is a suspect in the case. Near the end, I began to decipher who the culprit was, yet I still thought the author revealed all of the truths flawlessly at the conclusion.
To see what I’m currently reading, and what I plan on reading next, follow me on Goodreads, and check out my Instagram story highlights! Now I want to know: What’s your favorite book that you’ve read this year?
I have this problem — the first step is admitting that, right? It’s this thing where I continuously buy books even though I know there is no way I’ll get through them all in the span of a year, yet I continue to build my personal library. In all honesty, there are far worse addictions that I could have than buying books (I know, I know, this is just me justifying it to myself).
My love for books and reading began at a young age. I would “read” books to my then-infant brother Owen as a toddler, and force my parents and grandparents to read to me since I couldn’t read myself. I still remember the very first book I learned to read in kindergarten about a firefighter and his Dalmatian — ironic now that I’m dating a firefighter, amiright?! I even have a list of places I want to visit just to see the resident library; the Biltmore Estate being one I checked off my list this past year (you can see this post here). Additionally, you can bet that I’m always carrying a book on me for when I have down time or during my lunch period at work.
This year, I’ve made it a priority to get through those books that I own that I have yet to touch THEN and only then will I allow myself to purchase more … Oh who am I kidding?!? We all know that I’ll be buying more as soon as I discover a new book I want to get my hands on! As you’ll see below, I have a huge soft spot for historical fiction (i.e. Outlander die-hard over here!), but I’m open to various genres. Here are the primary books I have on my list to read this year:
Last month, I had the pleasure of exploring the magnificent Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. I’ve wanted to visit America’s largest residency for years, and finally had the opportunity to stay during our family road trip to the Outerbanks.
Built in 1895 by George Vanderbilt and his colleagues, the estate is teeming with fascinating history — for the full history of the Biltmore, click here. With everything from beautiful architecture, incredible food and wine and a lovely staff, it’s easy to see why thousands flock to the estate year after year.
Our visit lasted little more than 24 hours, but you could easily spend a week at the estate and never be bored. We stayed at the Village Hotel located in Antler Village on the 125,000 acre estate. Upon our arrival, we freshened up in our hotel rooms and headed out to explore. The first stop for my mom and I? The winery for some wine tasting!
We shipped home four bottles of exclusive Biltmore wine. I opted for the Library White – a sweet, Reisling-esque flavor – that includes an image from one of George’s favorite novels Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen; this also happens to be one of my favorite books of all-time so I just had to have it! My mother chose the classic rosé, not only because of the taste, but because of the gorgeous illustration of the main house featured on the bottle.
We spent the second day exploring the main house and it’s gardens. Here are a few of my favorite photos from our adventures:
George Vanderbilt was a well-read individual with a passion for literary works of all kinds. As you can see in some of the images, at this time, they are currently featuring costumes from some of his favorite novels that were turned into movies. I, being a lover of literature myself, was so inspired that I just HAD to pick up some of Mr. Vanderbilt’s favorites from the gift shop.
This was, easily, one of my favorite places we visited during this trip. I will most definitely be making a return trip in the future — I already told my boyfriend I will be dragging him here for a long weekend!
I highly, highly recommend taking a trip here and eating at the Bistro restaurant in Antler Village next time you are looking for a getaway!