Saturday, February 24, 2018

2017 Book of the Year: Sweet Sixteen

The bittersweet fun of the Book of the Year Bracket Challenge is removing competitors one by one. Today, it's the big cuts. We'll be whittling down the competition from 26 books to the Sweet Sixteen. Some books will find themselves automatically moving forward while 10 unlucky souls will be left behind. 

Here is where we start...

Buckle up...this is a long one...

You'll notice that some brackets have only one competitor. Due to the number of books competing and the inability to fully fill the bracket, six lucky contestants move on automatically through the first round. And so...


have all earned the right to continue.

That was the easy part. Now...let's get to the meat of this round...

Left Side Bracket


Ah...the magic of having the randomized bracket. It's totally unfair to Holmberg that two of her novels face off against each other right off the bat, but hey...she also managed one of the freebie slots, so I'm calling it even.

I debated over this one for a bit. Both of these books are good--the initial and second reads in The Paper Magician trilogy. I initially struggled to get into the series, finding a lot of parallels and fearing that the trilogy was just a ripoff of Harry Potter. But...Holmberg has her own way with things and I quickly found myself more intrigued by the world she created and wondering about certain details as I read. This distracted me from the previous apprehension, and I mowed right through the series.

Each of the two books has its merit. The Paper Magician was responsible for getting me interested in the series in the first place, but The Glass Magician was impressive as a sequel in a trilogy. It wasn't dull or serving as just a tie between the stories presented in the first and third books, as so often happens.

Ultimately, I had to give credit where credit is due. And so... The Paper Magician takes the win and moves on to the next round.


The Bean Trees was given to me in a book exchange and Orphan Train has been sitting on my bookshelf for what seems like forever.

The Bean Trees was a decent read, but the plot was a bit choppy in pieces. It was honest and raw writing without a feeling of melodramatics...well, not ones that drew away too much from the narrative. I wasn't wowed by it, but it wasn't a worthless read either.

Orphan Train had pieces of absolutely beautiful writing and heartbreaking action. I loved half of this book...the half that was written in the past. There were two sets of narration in the book and that, for me, was the biggest downfall. The historical pieces were amazing and read swiftly. The modern sections felt like they were written by an entirely different author and just seemed forced.

Both books were moderate reads that I wanted...expected...more from. But one book just left me feeling more satisfaction in the read. So even though these books were, honestly, quite evenly matched, only Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline survives this round for further competition.


This is a shocking match up for more than one reason. Number one...I don't read horror. Seriously. I haven't read a horror novel since...oh...somewhere around 1994. My apologies to Stephen King. I was pleasantly surprised at Slade House, which I read as part of RIPXII. It was witty and catchy. I read it pretty quickly since it gripped me quite well. I was slightly disappointed in the ending (this happens all too frequently), but overall I really quite enjoyed it.

The other reason it's shocking? Well...Slade House managed to get paired up against John Green. Oy. Seriously. Based on my reading and rating history, An Abundance of Katherines should have been a shoe-in for progressing to at least the Final Four. And yet...I enjoyed the book, but I wasn't wowed. It was a good read, but didn't seem to be as deep and hard hitting as some of his other books.

And that...well, that is the short version of why Slade House manages to edge out An Abundance of Katherines to move forward in the BOTY competition.


This was a pretty odd pairing to consider. The downside of a randomized bracket, I suppose. 

The Girl Without a Name is a mystery and suspense novel. I don't typically read that genre, but the synopsis drew me in. The story itself was quite interesting and the writing shows some definite talent. However, there were a few glitches that caused me pause. One major glitch, in fact. The author has a medical background (she's a neurologist) and yet her protagonist repeatedly disregards the principles of HIPAA, one of the most important and basic parts of being a medical provider. Anyone in real life who acted in the way her character does would immediately be at very least suspended and more likely fired with the possibility of having a licensure review. This nagged at me so almost resulted in my ditching the book altogether. However, I soldiered on due to the good writing and the promise of a solid story. Ultimately, the plot held and I didn't hate it, but some of the characters seemed underdeveloped and that glitch just rubbed me the wrong way.

Similarly, I found that Dad is Fat was a bit disappointing. You must think at this point I'm just a negative reviewer, but I blame this on seeing Gaffigan's stand up routine too often. I find him highly entertaining and enjoy his anecdotes. The book just fell short of whatever bar I had set for him. Damn you, preconceived notions. Don't get me wrong, the book is still funny and I did find myself giggling on occasion. I think I just expected to be wowed a bit more. Rats.

So...two books that I had high hopes for that wound up being mediocre. Ugh. This is a depressing match up. Let's just rip the band-aid off and be done, shall we? Dad is Fat moves on to the next bracket, out of the sheer merit of not ticking me off. 


It's Not Summer Without You was my one reread of the year. And here's where I sound like an idiot... I didn't realize it was a reread until I was about fifty pages in. I just kept reading, thinking "Geez this sounds familiar. Have I read a book with a similar character before? Dang it...I know I've heard this name." And hey, guess what? I'd read it before. Embarrassing. And yet, I still enjoyed it. It could be a good beach read. It's nice and light and quick. Not hard hitting or enigmatic, but still entertaining.

I read A Gentleman in Moscow as part of a short-lived book club. It took me a bit to get into...something of a slow starter, but I really enjoyed the character development. Alexander Rostov is an interesting character with a mesmerizing background. The narrative plows through several historical events with clever detail. Russian history is not my forte, so I think I did lose a little bit through my ignorance. Additionally, the author is incredibly bright and the writing is highly intellectual. The vocabulary is complex, which occasionally detracted from the story for me. It's definitely worth the read, but I would have gotten a bit more out of it had my understanding of some of the historical references and the language been more comprehensive.

In this case, I decided to judge the winner based upon which one I would be more apt to grab up again or refer to a friend. Granted, the recommendation choice would likely be dependent on which friend was in question. But...I'm going by the most likely. So...A Gentleman in Moscow moves into the Sweet Sixteen.

Right Side Bracket


Ah...the easiest pairing you shall ever find. least in this list. 

I received the The Lauras from the publisher as a review copy. I had read Sara Taylor's The Shore a couple of years ago and thought she held great promise as an author. I wasn't wrong in that. The Lauras is a contemporary fiction novel that could easily fall into a young adult category. The writing is very honest. Taylor does fantastically with description and creates a very vivid narrative. There were detractors that kept this away from a 5-star review, but they aren't important for this particular match-up. So...we'll address them later.

We Love You, Charlie Freeman...oh boy. This book...I really am almost at a loss for words. Almost. But let's cut to the quick...I did not like this book. Nope. Not at all. I should have thrown it straight into the DNF pile. There was a gigantic eww factor that developed for me and the narrative just fell seriously flat. Nope. Big, fat pile of nope.

Obviously, The Lauras takes this pairing.


Library of Souls is the final book in the Miss Peregrine series. It totally holds up the series. I stayed up super late to finish it because I just couldn't put it down. That is the sign of a delightful book. Riggs is a talented author and I very much enjoyed this conclusion to the series.

I read Ceremony as an assigned book for an American literature course. It's a fantastically honest Native American historical fiction novel. It's painful and raw, but beautifully written. It's a political and social commentary, but still maintains an individualized feel. It's a great journey book.

This was a good pairing, but there was an obvious winner from the start. For me, a book that keeps me from sleep is always a good one and a difficult one to beat in these circumstances. Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs takes the slot and heads on into further competition.


I read A Secret Kept because I had so loved de Rosnay's Sarah's Key. I think it suffered from the fact that I had read her prior work. A Secret Kept just felt okay. There wasn't a wow factor in any capacity. It read fine and had a decent plot, but the characters didn't feel fully fleshed out and the narrative was nowhere near as hard hitting as I expected. Again, having read Sarah's Key first, I really had a bar set that just wasn't reached.

Big Magic was given to me by my sister-in-law. It's technically a self-help book, which had me leery at first, but don't let that label tarnish this one for you at all. The book stresses the individualism of creativity and the need to embrace the talent that may come from it. I found its message freeing and inspiring. That sounds completely lame to say, but it's totally true. This honestly is likely a book that could demand a reread every once in a while to refresh my belief in myself. 

Big Magic is going to take this bracket and push forward as a member of the Sweet Sixteen.


If you're someone who picks a book based on the cover, don't tell me you wouldn't stop and seriously consider Hollow City. The good news is that the book is just as fabulous as its cover. Hollow City is the second novel in the Miss Peregrine trilogy. It breaks the mold of the sad sequel, those books lacking in originality and spice, existing only to further the narrative and extend it to a third book. Nope. This one holds its own, baby. The world Riggs created in Miss Peregrine just continues to be marvelous in its strangeness. It's fabulously fun.

Snow Flower & the Secret Fan is a historical fiction novel and it's heart wrenching. I was suuuuuper close to putting it in the DNF pile after struggling to get into it for a few months. But, it turns out that the issue wasn't the was me. I just wasn't in the right place to appreciate it at the time. The second attempt was the winner. It's beautiful and real and the characters are just fantastic. I definitely anticipate that I will be reading more of Lisa See's work in the future.

It was a close one in this case. Either of these two books could have easily taken the win and moved into the next section of eliminations. But...we all know the rules. Only one can win. And so, Riggs takes it again and Hollow City moves into the next round. 


We'll Always Have Summer is the concluding novel in Jenny Han's Summer trilogy. While it does have a decent ending (which is a small miracle), I did find that this one was a bit too predictable. I don't know if it's a matter of having stretched the series out for too long rather than reading the books back to back, but I just wasn't as enthralled as I had hoped to be. On the plus side, it was a quick and light read. Fitting for a summer based series, this one (as with its companions) would be a good beach read.

A Man Called Ove was an adorable read. Seriously heartwarming, but also highly entertaining in Ove's quirkiness. Ove is a curmudgeon. He's grouchy with his neighbors and stuck in his ways. But he's also the cutest old man ever. He's a sweet widower in his own right, he just doesn't show that beyond his own private moments. This one would be a good book to revive someone out of a reading slump.

Another easy choice. I loved Ove so, so much. He was just so incredibly well-written. Backman did a great job at developing a plot that served well to Ove's tedious nature without allowing the narrative to succumb to the same tendencies. A Man Called Ove will be moving on.

WHEW! That was a long post and took me just about forever to write. But...we're through the hardest round in terms of volume. We now have sixteen books remaining in the running for my 2017 Book of the Year.

Did your favorites make the cut? Inspired to add any new reads to your TBR? Think you know who will take the ultimate prize?

Next up...the Elite Eight!


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