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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