2013 Top Five Countdown #1: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

After much contemplation, I picked my favorite five books that I read in 2013 (not necessarily published in 2013) and posted one review per week until we got to the top. So far, I have posted…

And now it’s time… my favorite book that I read last year is Wild by Cheryl Stayed. I loved it because I’m an adventurer at heart and it was more than inspiring. It put me back on a memoir streak, too.

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5 of 5 stars!

My original review:

We are in the mountains and the mountains are in us. -John Muir

Tell me, what it is you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life. -Mary Oliver

This book is phenomenal.. I mean freaking AMAZING. Everyone should read it. Even if you aren’t super outdoorsy and could never see yourself backpacking across 3 states, it still has a great message.

As for me, I’ve always loved to explore the outdoors. I’ve actually never gone full on backpacking though. This book really made me long to get away from life and just be in nature for at least a week – or at least go camping in some cold weather… although, that’s not so easy in Hawaii.

The story starts off with the explanation of Cheryl Strayed’s whole downward spiral after her mother died and how it led her to the Pacific Crest Trail. I’m not going to lie, the first chapter is extremely depressing, especially for anyone close to their mom. It honestly did not give me high hopes for the rest of the book. But the story picks up in the next chapter once she is on the PCT, and the adventure begins.

There are stories of all the awesome people she meets and all the miles she walked alone. There are stories of kindness from strangers. There are stories of beautiful nature experienced in the most serene places. Can you imagine walking thousands of miles by yourself, not knowing what you will run into? Talk about flying by the seat of your pants. Sounds like the ultimate adventure to me. Cheryl Strayed really made me feel like I could if I wanted to.

Mostly, this book is a discovery of self. The author believed that she would leave her life and just be alone in the woods for 3 months to contemplate her life, cry, and get over it. She actually was only able to think about her aching feet and body at first, then was just quiet with nature. What she found instead was the strength within herself that she didn’t know she had – to remember her hard times and still be able to live.

This is a strength that we all have if we only know how to find it. This was truly an inspiring and entertaining story that I could definitely go read again right now.

In hindsight:

I have read a lot of reviews of this book that talk about how Cheryl’s selfishness in her marriage after losing her mother or her stupidity with lack of planning for her backpacking trip really annoyed them. I did find myself judging her a little while reading, but I think they add to the lessons that she learned and provide an honesty to the story. After all, it is a true story, an amazing true story of redemption and adventure. I recently purchased this book for a re-read before the movie comes out in September? (I think). I can’t wait to see if Reese Witherspoon does the story justice.

 

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2013 Top Five Countdown #2: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

After much contemplation, I picked my favorite five books that I read in 2013 (not necessarily published in 2013) and will post one review per week until we get to the top. So far, I have posted…

My number two pick is The Rosie Project because of its delightful take on the romantic comedy and its superb characters. I couldn’t put it down.

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5 of 5 stars!!

My original review:

Naturally, the books and research papers described the symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome, and I formed a provisional conclusion that most of these were simply variations in human brain function that had been inappropriately medicalized because they did not fit social norms – constructed social norms – that reflected the most common human configurations rather than the full range.

I was hooked after I read this… Don is researching Asperger’s and comes to the above conclusion. YES!! I am a wholehearted believer that Asperger’s and autism are extremely over-diagnosed simply because a child is different and not considered the social norm… I believe their difference should be celebrated.

Ok.. back to the book.

The Rosie Project is about Don Tillman, professor of genetics at a prestigious university, who is very socially awkward but still actually very charismatic. He starts the Wife Project, and in the middle happens to meet Rosie who breaks every rule he has for his “suitable mate”. Rosie teaches him to give up some of his OCD-ness and learn how to have fun. This story about their adventures is pretty stinking hilarious and just cute.

I read some reviews that said the main character reminded them of Sheldon from Big Bang Theory. It’s true… in the greatest way possible. I also read some reviews that harped on the fact that the book is full of stereotypes, but I felt that it really aimed at breaking the stereotypes that people believe about Asperger’s. They’re just people too.

If you like quirky books and have a slightly nerdy side, or if you just like sweet love stories, then this book is for you. The only negative thing I have to say about the book is that the ending was a little emotionally lacking. I wish it had been expanded on and a tad more emotional – but then again, he does have “Asperger’s” and it still wrapped everything up nicely, so I can’t complain.

Plus, there’s going to be a SEQUEL!!!! I’m sure it will complete the story and hopefully add some emotion to the current ending. I’m going to be waiting on the edge of my seat.

Sidenote: I just found out that Graeme Simsion is also a playwright, which makes complete sense. The Rosie Project would make a great play, if you ask me.

In hindsight:

I realized how much I truly completely loved this book because I think about it all the time, and I freak out and start raving when someone tells me they’re thinking about reading it… Then of course I ask them a million times if they’re done reading it yet. The Rosie Project is such a fresh take on the romantic comedy genre. It’s light but also has an important message and manages not to be cheesy. I definitely think I’ll be reading this one again as a poolside read this summer.

2013 Top Five Countdown #3: Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

After much contemplation, I picked my favorite five books that I read in 2013 (not necessarily published in 2013) and will post one review per week until we get to the top. So far, I have posted…

And… my number three book is… Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. I picked it because of it’s beautiful character development and perfect use of every day magic.

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5 of 5 stars!

My original review:

This was the perfect book to read after my last book left me in a sad slump. It was amazing – the perfect amount of magical realism mixed with southern town drama mixed with love stories mixed with family – leaving me happy and hopeful.

The story centers around the Waverley family – Claire and Sydney, two estranged sisters, each with their own secrets and past. My favorite character was their great aunt/cousin Evanelle (great name!) who is the perfect quirky old lady that is compelled to give gifts to everyone… out of her Waverley magic. The Waverley house has an apple tree with a ton of personality, and a garden that grows magic. I love magic! I wholeheartedly believe in fate and magical every day happenings… which is probably why I love this book so much.

There’s also a bit of southern small-town drama that has stuck around for several generations, but not overdone. And the guys that are the side plot and come to love the Waverley women in their own special way are perfectly written into the story without taking over the main theme of Claire and Sydney reuniting.

This story is a treat. I love a book that really makes you reflect on your own life through the different characters, and this one definitely did that. The ending was perfect and left you with a satisfied hopefulness, especially for Bay, Sydney’s little girl that has a magic all her own.

I would say this book made up 100 percent for the fact that I did not like The Girl Who Chased the Moon. Sarah Addison Allen is a great story teller, and I now count her among my favorites.

In hindsight:

Garden Spells still stands out to me because it really got me into the magical realism genre. I have read several since because they still have the romance element but offer more than your typical chick lit for when you are in the mood for a light but non cheesy read. I’ve also read other books by Sarah Addison Allen, and Garden Spells, in my opinion, is by far her best.

2013 Top Five Countdown #4: The Forgotten Garden

After much contemplation, I picked my favorite five books that I read in 2013 (not necessarily published in 2013) and will post one review per week until we get to the top.

Last week #5 was What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty, and the review can be found here.

And… in fourth place we have… The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. I’ve chosen it because of Kate Morton’s writing style that is reminiscent of the classics.

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5 of 5 stars!

I absolutely loved this book. It was the first time I read a book by Kate Morton, and I immediately searched all the local thrift stores for more of her books… and I found two – all for the low price of 1 dollar!! I have yet to read them.. you know how to-read lists pile up, but that’s a small demonstration of how much I loved her writing.

My O.G. review:

The Forgotten Garden was so amazing, so refreshing. The characters had so much life. The story switched back and forth between time periods but was not difficult to follow at all. It was a steady unfolding of hinting of events and then revealing the whole story. It captured my attention for the entire book. There were never any times where the book was lagging or where I wished it would hurry and get to the point – which happens all to often. Kate Morton even includes some of the fairy tales that are in the book that the Forgotten Garden is centered around, and they were incredible. There is so much symbolism in this book that really makes you think. This book is so rich in detail. I believe I could read it several more times and keep discovering small nuances. Kate Morton is now, without a doubt one, of my favorite writers. Her style mimics a classic but keeps you entertained. She adds suspense little by little with perfection. I will definitely be reading more of her books. This is the book that I will be comparing historical family secrets fiction to for years to come.

This was clearly before I decided to be a legit reviewer, so I’ll add a little…

The parts about this book that still stand out to me (several months later) are the couple of fairy tales that Kate Morton wrote that were from the fictional fairy tale book that was an integral part of the book. All of the magical elements were slightly woven in to make this story whimsical but did not distract from the overall real life plot. I’m slightly obsessed with magic and fairy tales – I actually have a Disney sleeve tattoo – so when it’s really well done like in this book, it sucks me right in. Plus, add in a secretive but awesome grandmother, and we’ve got GOLD!

There are some details that I have forgotten about the story, so I’ll definitely be giving it a re-read sometime in the near future.. you know, stuffed in there with the others of her books that have now been sitting on my shelf for 4 months.

Do yourself a GIANT favor and read this book. Soon. Very soon.

2013 Top Five Countdown #5: What Alice Forgot

After much contemplation, I think I’m finally ready to write about my top 5 books from 2013. I picked my favorite five books that I read in 2013 (not necessarily published in 2013) and will post one review per week until we get to the top.

My number five pick is What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. It ranks up there because of the emotion that it was able to draw from me. I really connected with Alice and her sister and was sucked into the story from the very beginning.

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4 of 5 stars

My review written in September 2013:

What Alice Forgot is an outstanding story about a woman who wakes up to find that she no longer recognizes herself, not even a little bit. She finds out that her husband hates her, she is mean to her children, and she isn’t even friends with her sister. Out of all the books I have read in the past couple of months, this one ranks up there with the most outstanding character development… for everyone, not just Alice.

I loved the ending, I’m talking love love love. It boosted my rating to 4 stars instead of 3. It kept you guessing until the very end to what Alice would choose, and what would happen with Libby’s situation, even tricked you throughout the book… I literally did a happy dance when you find out who the one she woke up next to in the last chapter was. I love how the book shows the struggles that there are in marriage. Depending on your point of view, the ending was pleasantly happy, but I didn’t feel it was cheesy at all.

The only complaint that I have about the story is that it seemed to drag out in some chapters, although not bad. It could have been just as great if it was shorter, though.

Overall, I loved this book. It left me with a satisfied joy that life can turn out the way you choose, and that it’s never too late to change who you are. It really made me examine my life… If I woke up tomorrow and didn’t remember the last 10 years of my life would I recognize myself, and would I actually like myself? Not a bad thing to ask yourself every now and then.

Looking back, I still remember all the feels from this book and the richness of the characters. I will definitely be buying a copy for my comfort bookshelf and reading it again soon.

Stay tuned for #4 next week…