2016 A Year in Books

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This year was “The Year of the Series”; for me at least.

This year my reading goal was to read at least six book series, from start to finish.
I experienced a loss last year that seemed to drain my passion for reading from me, so while I started the year reading six books each month, it slowly dwindled to much less.
I am happy to report that although my reading rate may have dipped in the middle of this year, I still managed to meet (even exceed) my goal.

1 year. 48 books. 16,448 pages. Roughly 4,087,000 words.

Here is my list, reviews/recommendations:

Series #1 Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepherd
(Books 1-16 for the Year)
Upon the recommendation of a friend, and the convenience of Netflix, I found myself watching Pretty Little Liars and quickly getting sucked into their lives in Rosewood. Just like how I discovered my love of Craig Johnson’s Longmire Mysteries, I noticed each episode had the lovely line of text, “Based on the book series by Sara Shepherd” after the title credits. My sister/enabler gave me the first four books for my birthday in 2015 and I saved them for the year of the series…
I do not understand how the writers for the show keep coming up with new twists, new turns and new As. I can say the same for the books the hit show is based on (loosely based I’d say.)
The target audience for this series is teenage girls. Each of these sixteen books builds on the stories of the last one, and they are easy reads. I found myself questioning the characters at times, thinking, “If you did not do that you might not be in such trouble.” Some of the scenarios the four main characters, Spencer, Aria, Hanna and Emily wound up in seemed very unlikely to me (but I was a good teenage girl who never would have dreamed of pushing a person off of a roof in Jamaica, so what would I know). I enjoyed the unpredictability of the storylines, the pace, and the characters, no matter how unrelatable I found them. Recommendation: Read the books if you are looking for a fun easy read that also has twists and turns you do not expect.

Series #2 Hannibal by Thomas Harris
(Books 17-20 for the Year)
I started the series by reading Hannibal Rising (which was actually the last book Harris wrote about Hannibal Lecter, but it is the first book when reading in chronological order). By reading Hannibal Rising first I saw the circumstances that made Hannibal the villain that people know from the movies and television show. Knowing Hannibal’s childhood and upbringing paints him in a different light, for me at least. I am not saying I would duplicate Dr. Lecter’s actions, but I saw most of his actions as justified (please don’t think I am creepy). While I would not think that his actions would put him in the “good egg” category, there is a very strong archetypal Good vs. Evil presence throughout the whole series.  As usual, the movies do not do Mr. Harris’ work justice. Sir Anthony Hopkins is a far cry from the “lyth, dark haired” Dr. Hannibal Lecter described in these books (as far as casting goes, I believe Jodie Foster and Julianne Moore who both play FBI Agent Clairice Starling were not quite right (although of the two, Foster was the more convincing), but Edward Norton as Will Graham and Ralph Finnes as Francis Dolarhyde were good), but enough about my casting notes. Recommendation: Read the books. As usual (99.9% of the time) the books are better than the movies.

Series #3 The Divergent Series by Veronica Roth
(Books 21-24 for the Year)
I must admit I sort of saw this series as a “Poor Man’s Hunger Games”, I do not know why I thought that because in truth I knew nothing about these books. What I was doing was worse than judging a book by its cover; I was judging a book by its movie trailer. (GASP!)
I received a box set of this series for a gift (what can I say, my family knows me well). I am so glad I read these. I truly cannot say much about this series without major spoilers, so I will go straight to my recommendation instead… Recommendation: READ THESE BOOKS! DO NOT watch the movies instead. The books are very well written, they have good character development and you get sucked into the story. The movies are another story. Literally. The first film follows the first book, Divergent, fairly well but there is that usual discrepancy you get when trying to create the author’s imagination on the silver screen. The second movie had almost nothing to do with the second book, Insurgent. Because of the almost completely different plot I did not bother seeing the third movie which was the first part of the third (and final) book, Allegiant. The fourth book, Four, is not really a part of the series… It tells select parts of the series from the viewpoint of the second main character, Four. I really liked The Hunger Games trilogy, but I also really enjoyed the Divergent series too. They are not as similar as I had been afraid they were; however they do have some similarities: both are dystopian series (a popular genre these days), both are classified as YA (Young Adult) Fiction, both focus on a young heroine facing big decisions, family, friends, love and loss. I recommend both series.

Series #4 The Royal Wedding Series by Rachel Hauck
(Books 25-28 for the Year)
I am not really sure how I stumbled upon this series, other than that I found them in my wonderings at the Flagship Half Price Books store in Dallas (I probably was drawn to them thinking about THR the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, what with a title “The Royal Wedding Series” and having read “The Royal We” by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan last year). Rachel Hauck has written several series in the Christian Fiction/Christian ChickLit genre, this is the only one I have read so far, but I like her writing style. The characters in this series are all very relatable, they all have internal struggles about what they want vs. what God wants for them. The series opens with Prince Nathaniel of Brighton Kingdom and Georgian (USA) landscape architect Susanna. You get to see how their individual stories and struggles become intertwined and what becomes of a fairy tale in real life—
The second book takes on a more political tone when a long lost princess is found in Southern USA and finds out she is the key to ending a one-hundred year old treaty and establishing independence for a nation, although she has the training of an accountant and the passion of a car mechanic. Once Regina, “Reggie”, has some divine intervention everything works out as it was always supposed to.
The third book picks up with the brother of a familiar character from the first book in the series. Prince Stephen of Brighton Kingdom (former member of his country’s military) and his past love Corina del Rey (an American heiress) are the focus of this book; their complicated history and equally stormy futures get some magical assistance and understanding. This book addresses tough topics like guilt, confusion and loss without being depressing.
The fourth book rejoins supporting characters from the first book again, Susanna’s little sister, Avery and a prince of her very own. It is a book that features true love, tradition and divine intervention.
I enjoyed these books. They are easy reads with parts that will you make you laugh, sigh, and cry (not too much crying though). These books are wholesome romance books that focus on the fairy tale lives little girls imagine. Recommendation: Read them and hope Rachel Hauck writes some more.

Series #5 Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
(Books 29-35 for the Year)
I must confess, this one might have been cheating a little, I had previously read the first five books of this series when they were first published in the United States. I did not care for some of the happenings in Year 5 – The Order of the Phoenix (Harry’s attitude and the overall darkness of the book) and I stopped reading them. I liked Harry Potter but I did not see all of the movies, feeling as I did about the fifth book I did not see the point. I decided to add this series to my list of series this year and read it book one through seven. I am so glad I did! I had forgotten what an amazing writer J.K. Rowling is. The first five went rather quickly for me, since I was familiar with them already and the last two where beyond expectation. Again, I do not want to give anything away, plus most of you have probably already seen the movies. Recommendation: Read the books. I have seen the movies since completing the series, but they cannot compare with the awesome way Ms. Rowling transports you to her magical world in her writing. The movies skip things (i.e. an obstacle to the Sorcerer’s Stone). Recommendation: The books are definitely worth a read, or a reread.

Series #6 The Night Trilogy (Night, Dawn, & The Accident (re-published as Day)) by Elie Wiesel
(Books 36-38)
These three memoirs by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel cover his time in Auschwitz/Birkenau, and Buchenwald, the actions he took after liberation, his survivor’s guilt, and faith. These are dark pages, but a true story that needs to be both told and heard. With the conspiracy circulating of late that the Holocaust never happened accounts of survival, like Mr. Wiesel’s, need to be read, shared and discussed. Recommendation: The subject matter is dark, but I highly recommend that everyone reads Night, if not the whole trilogy (I believe Night should be required reading for all high school students).

Series #7 Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, Moonraker, Diamonds are Forever by Ian Fleming
I intended to complete Ian Fleming’s whole James Bond series this year (minus Dr. No, which I read in 2012) but extenuating circumstances this year kept me from completing this series. I did manage to get the first four read this year, and I will read the remaining nine in the future. I have always enjoyed the 007 franchise, and while I found it difficult to get into each of the five books I have conquered, once I got into the books I really enjoyed them. Recommendation:  I recommend this series to any fan of James Bond.

I had the pleasure of also reading the two latest Longmire books by Craig Johnson, The Highway Man and An Obvious Fact. I have previously read the other eleven Longmire books, and these did not disappoint. Humor mixed with the sleuthing Sheriff of Absaroka County, and the Cheyanne Nation, make for a great story every time. The show is losing my favor (since it has switched to Netflix from AMC it has changed), but the books always deliver.

I also read the long-awaited Frogs and Kisses, the eighth novel in (Texas author) Shanna Swendson’s Enchanted Inc. series. I have loved this series since I found the first four books at Half Price Books in 2011. I quickly became hooked and completed the series. For years I (along with many other fans) have been waiting for more about Katie Chandler, Owen Palmer and friends (and their various nemeseses (nemesi?)). Frogs and Kisses was long-awaited and well worth the wait. If you enjoy chick-lit that has a unique kind of magic involved, I highly recommend the Enchanted Inc. series.

Not as a part of the series part of this year I also read three pieces of classic literature:
Paradise Lost by John Milton
Utopia by Sir Thomas More
The Prince by Niccolo Machiaveli
All of them are worth reading (they all earned a spot on my Literary Tree). Word to the wise- make sure your copy of Paradise Lost has an appendix of notes to help you when you get lost in this epic poem.

To see a full list of the titles (with links to get your own copy) of this year’s books click here. 2017 is my “A-Z Year” (I will be reading a book for each letter of the alphabet). As I finish reading books I add them to my “My Reading List” page; a link for which can be located at the top of the site or on the right hand margin.

P.S. I attempted to include The Maze Runner series in this year’s “Year of the Series” but I had a terrible time getting into the first book. At one-hundred pages in, I decided to call it quits, set it aside and may try again sometime later. Did anyone else have this issue? Does it get better? I understand the confusion was part of the beginning of the book, but I found it off-putting. Hopefully I will have better luck next time.



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