Life Imitates Heart

Reading Challenge 2016 Part I

The last two years, I’ve committed to reading more – this year, I want to share a ranking of all of the books that I read – the great, the decent, and the god awful – with all of you! I’ve always loved reading, but putting in the extra effort to make reading a priority has had a tremendously positive impact on my life. It’s pulled me away from the TV and helped me to turn the stories in my head into stories on a page. I can’t wait to see what new worlds I’ll find waiting for me in 2017.

Check out my rankings below and comment, disagree, and rant along with me. I had to expand my interests this year, so I promise there is something here for everyone. Also, I’m trying to read a book per week next year, so suggestions are appreciated!

Starting from the bottom… 

44Annihilation – Jeff VanderMeer –  This book just really sucked. Yet, it kept me intrigued just enough to keep me reading. It centers around four women who are on an expedition to Area X. They are the twelfth expedition to venture into this mysterious area where something has gone wrong with each of the previous expeditions. They died, never came back, or each of the returning members came back with cancer. In theory, this sounded great. However, the writing was heinously dry and I’ve never been so thankful that a book was only two-hundred pages. I didn’t read this book that long ago, but I had to look up the synopsis to write this, so that should tell you everything.

43How to be a Good Wife – Emma Chapman – The matriarch of the family is excited for her son to come home for the holidays, but she keeps having weird visions of a little blonde girl that no one else seems to notice. She doesn’t remember life before marrying her husband, and she’s plagued by the manual her mother-in-law gave to her as a wedding present on how to be a good wife. I’m not sure why I thought I’d be interested in this book, but I skimmed through most of it in an effort to just get through it. I’m too immersed in the swamp of fantasy and dystopian novels to have ever found this book anything but boring.

42Dragon’s Oath – P.C. Cast – This book is a novella from a series that I used to read when I was obsessed with vampires. It’s the backstory for one of the teachers at the vampire school – specifically about how he earned the name Dragon. It’s been sitting on my shelf for a long time and it was short enough to convince myself to read it. It’s not outwardly horrible, just part of a story that I’m no longer interested in.

41Descent – Tim Johnston – A girl and her brother go for a run in the Rocky Mountains while on vacation. Her father gets a phone call from the hospital that they found his son, but when he asks if his daughter is okay, that blanch. They didn’t find a daughter. The story focuses on the aftermath of the girl’s kidnapping and how the family tries to both find her and move on. This is another one that didn’t grab me. You’re bound to find some duds when you’re burning through books, though.

40Strengths Finder – Tom Rath – This is more of a guide – you take an online test to identify your strengths, and then the book gives you a detailed description of each of your strengths and how you can leverage them to your advantage. It didn’t tell me anything about myself that I didn’t already know, but it was interesting to read about how to utilize my strengths. Not a bad read, just falls low on the list of books that moved me.

39Emotional Intelligence – Travis Bradberry – This is literally the exact same book as Strengths Finder, but it focused on ways to improve emotional intelligence. Ranked here for the same reason as I gave above, however I think this book gave better examples on ways to make improvements on a skill set that is desperately needed these days.

38The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon – This book is about an autistic boy who finds his neighbor’s dog murdered in her yard and spends the rest of the book trying to track down the suspect. I thought that this book was really well written, and a great addition to the literary world. However, I found it to be less profound than I expected.

37The Fire Sermon – Francesca Haig – I wanted to like this book so bad. So, so bad. It promised me everything that I love in a book. But it was painfully boring. Everyone born into this world is a twin – one is an alpha and the other an omega. The omegas are deformed and cast out, while the alphas hold positions of leadership and are assigned all of the privileges of life. However, if one twin dies, they both do. Intriguing story that I genuinely liked. It was too slow to keep me entertained.

36Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng – At the center of this story is a Chinese-American family struggling to fit in. I want to preface this one by saying that I read a lot of really good books this year, so just because these next few fall into the bottom third doesn’t mean they were bad. I felt the same way about this one that I did about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I think it’s an important story about an underrepresented sect of our population. I originally had this one ranked lower, but as I stared at it I realized it’s too important. I would encourage people to pick this one up.

35The Light Between Oceans – M.L. Stedman – A lighthouse keeper and his wife live alone on an island off the coast of Australia. They struggle to conceive a child of their own, and one day a boat washes up on shore carrying a deceased man and a terrified baby. The pair decide to raise the baby as their own, and the rest of the story follows the consequences of that choice. I liked the way this book touched on the grey area between right and wrong.

34Exit, Pursued by a Bear – E. K. Johnston – The main character is the head cheerleader of her high school team, cherishing her final season before heading off to college. At her end of summer cheer camp, she gets raped. I have mixed feelings about this book. I picked it up for the heavy stuff, and at times it felt like the author was too flippant with the material. However, I think she covered other aspects of the rape story line with grace, and I appreciated the way that she addressed how a heinous act affected the main character’s relationships with her family, boyfriend, friends, and teammates.

33The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins – I feel like I’ll probably get some flack for this low ranking, but it didn’t live up to the hype for me. The female lead rides the train past the same neighborhood everyday, and has created a background story for the people living in one of the houses. One day, she spots something out of the ordinary, but she fails to convince anyone of her suspicions. I did like the unreliable narrator (plus her name was Rachel, so brownie points). A good, quick read that was a little lackluster after so much hype.

32Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman – Urban fantasy is hands down one of my favorite genres. I’ve heard great things about Neil Gaiman, too, and I’ve often seen this book compared to Harry Potter, so I was excited to read Neverwhere. A man finds a girl bleeding on a sidewalk and lends her a hand. The next day, no one notices him. He’s fallen through the cracks of society into Neverwhere, where monsters and angels and knights roam the underground. It’s a fast paced fantasy with lots of twists and turns. Didn’t live up to some of my favorite fantasy novels, but still a good read.

31Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, & John Tiffany – It kind of hurts my heart to put a Harry Potter book so low – but to be fair, it’s a play, not a book. The Harry Potter name is probably what’s keeping it from falling lower. I enjoyed this book – I loved the nostalgia, loved getting to check in with my favorite characters, and I liked that it was written in a different format because that made it new and exciting. Most of it read like glorified fanfiction, though. I am a die hard Harry Potter fan, but there’s a growing part of me that wants to protect the integrity of the original seven books, and I’m still not sure how this expanded universe J.K. Rowling has created fits into that.

30Eiger Dreams – Jon Krakauer – Ever since I read Into Thin Air last year, I’ve been hooked on Krakauer. Eiger Dreams is a collection of stories about mountaineers, rock climbers, and everything in between. He’s a great writer and this book is no exception. If you like adventure, I would highly recommend any of his books, but the thing I liked most about this one is that it offers a snapshot of the many different ways people choose to interact with the natural world.

29The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness – A boy is on the verge of becoming a man in a town full of only men who can all hear each other’s thoughts. The world that this boy knows is built on lies and piece by piece he begins to uncover the truth. At times, I struggled with the writing style of this book, but the numerous twists kept me guessing and interested the whole way through. This started off slow, but by the end of the book I couldn’t put it down.

26-28The Legend Trilogy – Marie Lou – LegendProdigy, and Champion. In a rare turn of events, I actually didn’t read this series until all of the books were published. Unfortunately, because I read them in quick succession, I can’t recall where one book ended and the others began, so I’m clumping them all together. Set at some point in the future, this story has two focal points, one from each side of the tracks in a broken society. Kids are assigned a trajectory in life based off of a test score – ones who score high end up in prestigious places, while those who score poorly wind up in the slums. The three books follow the two main characters as they intersect first as foes, and later as friends. A solid trilogy that didn’t require as much emotional investment from me as some of my other series favorites that I’ll mention later.

25Red Queen – Victoria Aveyard – There are silvers, and there are reds. Silvers possess otherworldly abilities that allow them to rule over the reds, who go to war and die for their silver counterparts. The main character is a red who is discovered to possess the ability of a silver. This secret turns her into a pawn for the silvers to use to squelch the growing red resistance. Great plot and world building. Average writing. I spoiled the ending for myself, but even so, I’ll definitely check out the sequels.

24Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Illustrated Edition – J.K. Rowling – How many times have I read this book now? 10 times? The illustrated editions are stunning. I can’t wait to get my hands on the next six. I’m starting my new year off with a Harry Potter reread because 2017 needs a dose of magic, love, acceptance, and hope. I’m also going to attempt the arduous task of ranking Harry Potter books next year. I’ve always had a clear order of the first three, but I’ve never been able to come up a definitive ranking for the series.

23Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer – Based on real life events, a young man gives up his life to travel across the U.S. on his own. Along the way, he meets many strangers who fall in love with this lost soul. This book is pretty sad, but offers a glimpse into the mind of someone that can be hard to understand. Krakauer reconstructs his excursion through stories from the people that the young man interacted with, including his family, friends, and fellow wanderers.

22Daring Greatly – Brene Brown – This self-help book centers around the idea that increasing our vulnerability can have great implications for the way we interact with the world. Brown offers her own experiences and research that she’s conducted to illustrate how important vulnerability can be. I read this for school and really enjoyed it. Deep down, we’re all searching for that human connection, but we allow so many things to cloud our communication with one another. I would highly recommend.

21The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho – This is easily one of the most quotable books that I’ve ever read. A Shepard sets out on a quest to find his treasure, but as is life, things don’t go as planned. He lets his path come to him, and along the way he begins to uncover the meaning of life. In the craziness of the past year, from graduating college, to moving to Wyoming, to moving home, to applying and getting accepted into grad school, this is the type of book that reminds me to hold on tightly to the things that I cherish.

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