AnnAlysis: The House We Grew Up In

the house we grew up inFrom Goodreads:
Meet the Bird family. They live in a honey-colored house in a picture-perfect Cotswolds village, with rambling, unkempt gardens stretching beyond. Pragmatic Meg, dreamy Beth, and tow-headed twins Rory and Rhys all attend the village school and eat home-cooked meals together every night. Their father is a sweet gangly man named Colin, who still looks like a teenager with floppy hair and owlish, round-framed glasses. Their mother is a beautiful hippy named Lorelei, who exists entirely in the moment. And she makes every moment sparkle in her children’s lives.

Then one Easter weekend, tragedy comes to call. The event is so devastating that, almost imperceptibly, it begins to tear the family apart. Years pass as the children become adults, find new relationships, and develop their own separate lives. Soon it seems as though they’ve never been a family at all. But then something happens that calls them back to the house they grew up in — and to what really happened that Easter weekend so many years ago.

My Thoughts:
The House We Grew Up In is one of the SheReads.org Books of Fall. Instead of choosing one monthly book, they have changed it up a bit, now choosing a few books that you can pick from and read through each season. While a couple of the other choices may have been more up my alley, the reason I love being part of this online book club is expanding my horizons. I normally opt for crime and thriller books, so when I can read a little more women’s literature, I am always on board. Oh and this one is set in England, so I narrated the whole thing in a British accent, which is always a plus.

This book, wow! It follows the Bird family, past and present. While Meg is the main character in the book, all of the family members play a lead role at some point or another, sharing the story from their perspective. And boy do they have a story to tell!

The Bird family is seemingly all put together, but “seems” is the key word. One Easter, the holiday of all holidays in the household, tragedy takes a toll, and it’s a toll they struggle with their entire lives. As I read this book, my heart broke, several times over. Even if you haven’t suffered the tragedy that the Bird family did, Jewell puts you right in the middle of it and tugs on your heartstrings like they’ve never been tugged on before. And if the tragedy wasn’t enough, the dysfunction of this family pulls at you even more. It’s sad and tragic and raw. And it will make you want to call your family and thank them.

This book really touches on a lot of family dynamics. From secrets, to tragedy, to relationships, to death, to lies, and mental illness. And it’s all in one family.

Jewell knocked this one out of the park. I give The House We Grew Up In 5 out of 5 bookmarks.

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SheReads.org
Released: August 2014
Author Website

AnnAlysis: The Shadow Year

shadow yearFrom Goodreads:
On a sultry summer’s day in 1980, five friends stumble upon an abandoned lakeside cottage hidden deep in the English countryside. For Kat and her friends, it offers an escape; a chance to drop out for a while, with lazy summer days by the lake and intimate winter evenings around the fire. But as the seasons change, tensions begin to rise and when an unexpected visitor appears at their door, nothing will be the same again.

Three decades later, Lila arrives at the same remote cottage. With her marriage in crisis, she finds solace in renovating the tumbledown house. Little by little she wonders about the previous inhabitants. How did they manage in such isolation? Why did they leave in such a hurry, with their belongings still strewn about? Most disturbing of all, why can t she shake the feeling that someone might be watching her?

The Shadow Year is a story of secrets, tragedy, lies and betrayal. It’s a tale that explores the light and dark of human relationships and the potential the past has to not only touch our present, but also to alter our future.

My Thoughts:
The story opens with Lila receiving a letter from a solicitor’s firm about a piece of property that now belongs to her. She has no idea who it’s from, but knows that after the tragedy she recently went through, she’ll do anything to get away.

Sometimes we all just need to get away, right? Or at least we feel like we need to get away. Most of us don’t have the opportunity to act on it like Lila did, and Kat before her. There’s just something that sounds magical about living off the land, a year away from everyone, except those that you are closest to. A little cabin, a little lake, a lot of land. Yes, there are hardships you will face, and I know I don’t have the skills to live off the land, but it still sounds…peaceful, calm and simple. The exact opposite of my sitting here, writing my blog post, watching Netflix on another screen, checking my emails on my phone and reading a couple lines off my e-reader between writing sentences.

But there’s a lot more to this story that was skims the surface of that lake. There’s mystery, deceit, love and so much more in this book. And this book reveals secrets from the start to the finish. You get a little more with the turning of each page, from Kat’s story of the past and Lila’s story of the present.

Richell did a great job of jumping back and forth between the two time periods and telling this story, but as it is with every book that does this, there’s always a time frame that I am more interested in and want more from it. In this book, it was Kat’s time, because I knew that a big secret was about to be unveiled. The story kept hinting at a tragedy and you know it’s coming and you just have to keep reading until it’s finally unveiled. And she also knocked it out of the park with the emotions in this book. You really feel a pull to each and every one of them and all their feelings throughout this book, whether it be on the initial stay in the cabin, or Lila’s new journey there. You really get a sense of who they all are and get connected with them.

This book is definitely a page turner. I give The Shadow Year 5 out of 5 bookmarks.

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Released: June 2013
Author Website

The Shadow Year is the May pick for SheReads.org. Make sure to check out other reviews on this book, as well as an interview with Hannah Richell.

AnnAlysis: Lost Lake

lost lakeFrom Goodreads:
Suley, Georgia, is home to Lost Lake Cottages and not much else. Which is why it’s the perfect place for newly-widowed Kate and her eccentric eight-year-old daughter Devin to heal. Kate spent one memorable childhood summer at Lost Lake, had her first almost-kiss at Lost Lake, and met a boy named Wes at Lost Lake. It was a place for dreaming. But Kate doesn’t believe in dreams anymore, and her Aunt Eby, Lost Lake’s owner, wants to sell the place and move on. Lost Lake’s magic is gone. As Kate discovers that time has a way of standing still at Lost Lake can she bring the cottages—and her heart—back to life? Because sometimes the things you love have a funny way of turning up again. And sometimes you never even know they were lost . . . until they are found.

My Thoughts:
Oh Lost Lake, where do I start with you? You are the place in my dreams. A little cabin on the lake, a summer of memories at any age. You are the small, quaint vacation spot I always imagine when I think of the perfect getaway. I like to travel and spend time on the beach and sight-see. But more often than not, the places that always appeal to me the most are the eccentric B&Bs and small cottages. I always think of all of the reading and writing I could get done at a place like this.

But this book is much deeper than a summer vacation to get away life. Every single character in this book is longing for something. For Kate and even Devin, it’s getting past the death of Kate’s husband. For Eby, it’s the decision to stay or go. You have longtime guests Bulahdeen and Selma, the mute French chef Lisette, and the boy from Kate’s memorable summer at Lost Lake. There is an extremely ecclectic mix of characters in this book, but they all put together such an amazing puzzle. I absolutely love Devin. She is a young girl wise beyond her years. And I really liked Lisette. The ones who don’t speak sometimes leave you with the most.

While this book is magical, it is also very sad at parts, but also very hopeful. I always have so much respect for an author who can reach so many emotions at once and make you think so deeply about the hand we are dealt in life and what we make of it.

I give Lost Lake 4 out of 5 bookmarks and highly suggest it to anyone who enjoys women’s fiction. I also think that I will look for more of Allen’s books next time I am struggling with finding something to read. In most reviews I read for Lost Lake, readers have mentioned her other works and how much they were enjoyed.

I read this book as the March selection on SheReads.org. Head over to the website to see what other reviewers are saying about Lost Lake. You can also get a sneak peek into Allen’s writing space and a yummy recipe to go along with the book.

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Released: January 2014
Author Website

AnnAlysis: Love, Water, Memory

love water memoryFrom Goodreads:
If you could do it all over again, would you still choose him?

At age thirty-nine, Lucie Walker has no choice but to start her life over when she comes to, up to her knees in the chilly San Francisco Bay, with no idea how she got there or who she is. Her memory loss is caused by an emotional trauma she knows nothing about, and only when handsome, quiet Grady Goodall arrives at the hospital does she learn she has a home, a career, and a wedding just two months away. What went wrong? Grady seems to care for her, but Lucie is no more sure of him than she is of anything. As she collects the clues of her past self, she unlocks the mystery of what happened to her. The painful secrets she uncovers could hold the key to her future—if she trusts her heart enough to guide her.

My Thoughts:
Can you imagine finding yourself with water rushing around you and not knowing how you got there? What a strong way to start a book.

Lucie is quite an interesting character. This is the second book I’ve read recently where you had a bad girl lose her memory and turn good. I would like to do a little research on this to determine if  this is common, or if it’s just a trend in writing. It’s funny how I tend to pick books at random and they have similar themes. Does anyone else run into this??

The thing I found most interesting about this book was that Lucie was the one who lost her memory and had so much re-learning to do, but how Grady had just as much growth in the book as Lucie did. I was expecting this book to be about her regaining her footsteps, not as much about him, but it was a welcome and unexpected surprise.

Along with Grady, some of the other characters in this book are very memorable, like Lucie’s aunt who tries to help give Lucie her memories back, along with the neighbors, who once despised Lucie, but now she becomes friends with. And don’t forget the cast of Grady’s siblings who play a minor role, but are obviously a big part of his life and his growth.

I thought this book started strong, but it was a bumpy ride for me. There were parts of it that I couldn’t get through quick enough, and there were other parts that I wanted to read more about. I loved when Lucie’s history unveiled itself and watching her grow, but her relationship with Grady wore on me. Granted, I can’t imagine my husband or myself losing our memories and how it would impact our relationship, but I just couldn’t get on board with it. I wanted them to be happy together, but I wasn’t so sure they were happy together before the memory loss happened…. so should they really be together? I’ll leave that up to you to decide when you read it.

I give Love, Water, Memory 4 out of 5 bookmarks.

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Released: January 14, 2014
Author Website
More on SheReads.org

AnnAlysis Best of 2013

Wow! Today’s the day. The last day of the year. Where did the time go? I fee like when I was a kid, time passed at a snail’s pace. Summer never got here fast enough, it took forever for basketball season to start, the dance was always so far away. But now, that I’m adult and look back and wish I cherished that time more, the time is flying before my eyes.

This year was a big year for me in the term of books. This year I actually followed through with a few of my reading goals from last year. I didn’t set a number goal for this year, but I did get through 76 books. I’m pretty proud of that number. I never count until the end of the year, and honestly, am horrible at guessing, so it’s always a surprise.

This year, especially toward the end of the year, I did a lot better with reading books off NetGalley. This is also in part to another goal: being more picky and choosy about my review books. For several years I felt obligated to read every single book that came into my inbox. I still get several of my books that way and always give an extra credit to those who have found me and taken the time to email me. But, like everything else in life, some books just aren’t meant for some people.

One thing I did, unintentionally, this year, was to expand in genres. This year I read about art, travel, countries I had to look up on a map, history, ghosts, teens, murder and mystery. I even read a chick lit book with the main character being a man. Who would have ever thought? I would never have imagined reading so many different genres and actually enjoying them. I give a lot of that credit to SheReads.org. They have opened my eyes when it comes to reading. There are several books that are on my favorite list this year that came from their recommendation. And they are books I would not have picked up without them.

One thing I super slacked on this year was cleaning off my TBR shelf. But hey, two outta three aint bad… right? I did add a few to my shelf, like The Great Gatsby. One of these days, I may not want to review books anymore (lol just kitten with ya)… but I may need to fall back on my shelf. And when I do, I’ll have months of reading before needing to restock.

So, you’re here for my favorite books of 2013. Hold on for this one. We are all over the place!

Let Me Go by Chelsea Cain: I listened to this book on audio book and fell in love. There are several in this series, and I missed the first few, but there were definite “Oh sh!t” moments in this book. You know it’s good when you are texting people tell them they HAVE to get to the library immediately to check this one out.

Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks: Do I really have to explain this one? What put this one on the list, other than my love for NS, was the fact that I felt this book was completely different than his others. Yes, you have a little love story, but this was deep and dark compared to my other loves of his.

Hysteria by Megan Miranda: This. Book. Was. Crazy. Enough. Said.

The Boy from Reactor Four by Orest Stelmach: I denied this book when it first came in. Then I had an opening and thought, ‘What the heck’. Boy am I glad for that opening. Totally not what I would consider up my alley, but this book blew me away and led to me doing quite a bit of research, which if you can get me to do historical research, you deserve a prize!

The Sixth Station by Linda Stasi: Why not throw a religious mystery into the mix. Is your head spinning yet? This book blew me away. You don’t have to be “into” religion to like this book. It’s a fast paced thrilled that keeps you on your toes from start to finish. And the research done to make this book come together. Very commendable.

The Fate of Mercy Alban by Wendy Webb: When I reviewed this book back in April I said it was going to be on my favorite list for this year, and here it is. Oh and this was another audio book. I really nailed it at the library this year. From the cover to the story. I loved its intensity.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline: I think this is an absolute, must read for this year. Amazing story weaving the past with the present, fiction and reality.

Shadowlands by Kate Brian: We all know I’m a fangirl of Kate Brian. Have been since my husband bought my a random book from the Private series. This book had been hooked from the summary. And will keep you hooked until the very last period. Then infuriate you that you have to wait until you can get your hands on the next book. I didn’t love the second book in this series as much, but Shadowlands was top notch.

Oh and you are probably wanting to know what my FAVORITE  book of 2013 was, right? Drumroll please….. Here we go!

calling-me-home-197x300

Julie Kibler set the bar so high for me back in February, there was no chance anyone could get close to topping this one for me. I am still gushing about it 10 months later. From the Kentucky setting of this book, to a story that is told through the past and the present, to the characters who jump from the pages, straight to your heart, Kibler nailed it with Calling Me Home. And what I love most about this, is that I have seen that I am not the only one who made this the top read of 2013. I even had a former teacher, who shares a love for reading, have my mom ask me about this book because she had to share it with someone. Kudos to SheReads.org for an amazing pick and Julie Kibler for the homerun!

What were your top reads of 2013??? Let me know if you have posted them so I can make sure I add them to my TBR!

Happy Reading in 2014!