Tuesday, December 29, 2015

My Best Books of the Year List

Ah, the ubiquitous "Top Ten" list of the year. It might seem silly, but being my first year of blogging I can't tell you how excited I've been anticipating what my list will be. And, of course, I couldn't keep within the ten allotted, so I'm giving you my "Top Eleven" instead! Click on the title of each book to read my review, and let me know if you've read any of these and if you enjoyed them as much as I did, or if you have other books within your top ten. I'd love to add some more books to my wish list for 2016!


Secrets of a Charmed Life
Publisher: NAL
Publication Date: February 3rd, 2015
Pages: 416

She stood at a crossroads, half-aware that her choice would send her down a path from which there could be no turning back. But instead of two choices, she saw only one—because it was all she really wanted to see… 

Current day, Oxford, England. Young American scholar Kendra Van Zant, eager to pursue her vision of a perfect life, interviews Isabel McFarland just when the elderly woman is ready to give up secrets about the war that she has kept for decades...beginning with who she really is. What Kendra receives from Isabel is both a gift and a burden--one that will test her convictions and her heart.

1940s, England. As Hitler wages an unprecedented war against London’s civilian population, one million children are evacuated to foster homes in the rural countryside. But even as fifteen-year-old Emmy Downtree and her much younger sister Julia find refuge in a charming Cotswold cottage, Emmy’s burning ambition to return to the city and apprentice with a fashion designer pits her against Julia’s profound need for her sister’s presence. Acting at cross purposes just as the Luftwaffe rains down its terrible destruction, the sisters are cruelly separated, and their lives are transformed…

Rodin's Lover
Publisher: Plume
Publication Date: January 27th, 2015
Pages: 320

A mesmerizing tale of art and passion in Belle Époque France.

As a woman, aspiring sculptor Camille Claudel has plenty of critics, especially her ultra-traditional mother. But when Auguste Rodin makes Camille his apprentice—and his muse—their passion inspires groundbreaking works. Yet, Camille’s success is overshadowed by her lover’s rising star, and her obsessions cross the line into madness.

Rodin’s Lover brings to life the volatile love affair between one of the era’s greatest artists and a woman entwined in a tragic dilemma she cannot escape.

The Magician's Lie
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication Date: January 13th, 2015
Pages: 320

Water for Elephants meets The Night Circus in The Magician's Lie, a debut novel in which the country's most notorious female illusionist stands accused of her husband's murder - and she has only one night to convince a small-town policeman of her innocence.

The Amazing Arden is the most famous female illusionist of her day, renowned for her notorious trick of sawing a man in half on stage. One night in Waterloo, Iowa, with young policeman Virgil Holt watching from the audience, she swaps her trademark saw for a fire ax. Is it a new version of the illusion, or an all-too-real murder? When Arden's husband is found lifeless beneath the stage later that night, the answer seems clear.

But when Virgil happens upon the fleeing magician and takes her into custody, she has a very different story to tell. Even handcuffed and alone, Arden is far from powerless-and what she reveals is as unbelievable as it is spellbinding. Over the course of one eerie night, Virgil must decide whether to turn Arden in or set her free... and it will take all he has to see through the smoke and mirrors.

Sisters of Shiloh

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: March 3rd, 2015
Pages: 256

A best-selling novelist enlists her own sister to bring us the story of two Southern sisters, disguised as men, who join the Confederate Army—one seeking vengeance on the battlefield, the other finding love.

In a war that pitted brother against brother, two sisters choose their own battle. Joseph and Thomas are fresh recruits for the Confederate Army, daring to join the wild fray that has become the seemingly endless Civil War, sharing everything with their fellow soldiers—except the secret that would mean their undoing: they are sisters.

Before the war, Joseph and Thomas were Josephine and Libby. But that bloodiest battle, Antietam, leaves Libby to find her husband, Arden, dead. She vows vengeance, dons Arden’s clothes, and sneaks off to enlist with the Stonewall Brigade, swearing to kill one Yankee for every year of his too-short life. Desperate to protect her grief-crazed sister, Josephine insists on joining her. Surrounded by flying bullets, deprivation, and illness, the sisters are found by other dangers: Libby is hurtling toward madness, haunted and urged on by her husband’s ghost; Josephine is falling in love with a fellow soldier. She lives in fear both of revealing their disguise and of losing her first love before she can make her heart known to him.

The Seven Sisters
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication Date: May 5th, 2015
Pages: 480

Internationally bestselling author Lucinda Riley returns with THE SEVEN SISTERS, the first novel in a spellbinding new series (seven books in all) inspired by the ancient myth of the Seven Sisters of Pleiades. THE SEVEN SISTERS takes readers from the shores of Lake Geneva to modern day Rio de Janeiro to bohemian Paris of the 1920s in a sweeping saga of passion, sacrifice, and the enduring power of art.

Upon the death of their wealthy, enigmatic father, Maia D’Apliese and her sisters convene at their family home, a secluded estate on the shores of Lake Geneva. Each of the sisters had been adopted at birth from a different part of the globe. Maia, the eldest, is the first to learn of their adoptive father’s death. Confusion is added to her grief when the sisters — Maia, the beauty; Ally, the leader; Star, the peacemaker; CeCe, the pragmatist; Tiggy, the nurturer; and Electra, the fireball – gather to hear the reading of the will. Their father has left each of his daughters a simple clue about her birthplace.

Until now, Maia has constructed her life so that she does not have to leave the safety of the family nest. But spurred by her father’s final bequest, Maia embarks on a journey to Rio de Janeiro to discover the truth of her origins. In Rio, Maia is accompanied by Floriano Quintelas, a novelist and amateur historian, who is intrigued to discover that Maia is apparently descended from the Aires Cabrals, an aristocratic Portuguese family who have been prominent in the country for the past two centuries. Together, they delve into her complex family history, a quest that is helped by their discovery of the crumbling mansion where an elderly woman – Maia’s biological grandmother — is on the verge of death. When the old woman’s caretaker secretly slips Maia a stack of old letters, an astonishing family history unfolds.

The House We Grew Up In
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication Date: August 12th, 2014 (reprint)
Pages: 416/13 hours, 25 minutes

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.

Told in gorgeous, insightful prose that delves deeply into the hearts and minds of its characters, The House We Grew Up In is the captivating story of one family's desire to restore long-forgotten peace and to unearth the many secrets hidden within the nooks and crannies of home.

Maybe In Another Life
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Publication Date: July 7th, 2015
Pages: 352

From the acclaimed author of Forever, Interrupted and After I Do comes a breathtaking new novel about a young woman whose fate hinges on the choice she makes after bumping into an old flame; in alternating chapters, we see two possible scenarios unfold—with stunningly different results.

At the age of twenty-nine, Hannah Martin still has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She has lived in six different cities and held countless meaningless jobs since graduating college. On the heels of leaving yet another city, Hannah moves back to her hometown of Los Angeles and takes up residence in her best friend Gabby’s guestroom. Shortly after getting back to town, Hannah goes out to a bar one night with Gabby and meets up with her high school boyfriend, Ethan.

Just after midnight, Gabby asks Hannah if she’s ready to go. A moment later, Ethan offers to give her a ride later if she wants to stay. Hannah hesitates. What happens if she leaves with Gabby? What happens if she leaves with Ethan?

In concurrent storylines, Hannah lives out the effects of each decision. Quickly, these parallel universes develop into radically different stories with large-scale consequences for Hannah, as well as the people around her. As the two alternate realities run their course, Maybe in Another Life raises questions about fate and true love: Is anything meant to be? How much in our life is determined by chance? And perhaps, most compellingly: Is there such a thing as a soul mate?

Hannah believes there is. And, in both worlds, she believes she’s found him.

Come Away With Me
Publisher: Mira
Publication Date: August 25th, 2015
Pages: 368

A heartbreaking and emotional story of love and loss, COME AWAY WITH ME is one woman’s discovery that life is still worth living, even if it’s not the life you planned.

One minute, Tegan Lawson has everything she could hope for: an adoring husband, Gabe, and a baby on the way. The next, a patch of black ice causes a devastating accident that will change her life in ways she never could have imagined.

Tegan is consumed by grief—not to mention anger toward Gabe, who was driving on the night of the crash. But just when she thinks she’s hit rock bottom, Gabe reminds her of their Jar of Spontaneity, a collection of their dream destinations and experiences, and so begins an adventure of a lifetime.

From the bustling markets of Thailand to the flavors of Italy to the ocean waves in Hawaii, Tegan and Gabe embark on a journey to escape the tragedy and search for forgiveness. But they soon learn that grief follows you no matter how far away you run, and that acceptance comes when you least expect it. Heartbreaking, hopeful and utterly transporting, COME AWAY WITH ME is an unforgettable debut and a luminous celebration of the strength of the human spirit.

Sisters of Treason
Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Penguin Books Limited
Publication Date: July 8th, 2014/July 24th, 2015
Pages: 449/15 hours, 28 minutes

From the author People called “a must-read for Philippa Gregory fans,” a “terrifically entertaining” (The Sunday Times, London) novel about two sisters who must survive life in the Tudor court after the execution of their sister Lady Jane Grey who was queen for just nine days.

Early in Mary Tudor’s turbulent reign, Lady Catherine and Lady Mary Grey are reeling after the brutal death of their elder seventeen-year-old sister, and the succession is by no means stable. In Sisters of Treason, Elizabeth Fremantle brings these young women and their perilous times to vivid life.

Neither sister is well suited to a dangerous career at court. Flirtatious Lady Catherine, thought to be the true heir, cannot control her compulsion to love and be loved. Her sister, clever Lady Mary, has a crooked spine and a tiny stature in an age when physical perfection equates to goodness—and both girls have inherited the Tudor blood that is more curse than blessing. For either girl to marry without royal permission would be a potentially fatal political act. It is the royal portrait painter, Levina Teerlinc, who helps the girls survive these troubled times. She becomes their mentor and confidante, but when the Queen’s sister, the hot-headed Elizabeth Tudor, inherits the crown, life at court becomes increasingly treacherous for the surviving Grey sisters. Ultimately each young woman must decide how far she will go to defy her Queen, risk her life, and find the safety and love she longs for.

The Conqueror's Wife
Publisher: NAL/Penguin Group, LLC
Publication Date: December 1st, 2015
Pages: 496

We are the women who loved Alexander the Great. We were lovers and murderers, innocents and soldiers.

And without us, Alexander would have been only a man.

Instead he was a god.

330s, B.C.E., Greece: Alexander, a handsome young warrior of Macedon, begins his quest to conquer the ancient world. But he cannot ascend to power, and keep it, without the women who help to shape his destiny.

His spirited younger half-sister, Thessalonike, yearns to join her brother and see the world. Instead, it is Alexander’s boyhood companion who rides with him into war while Thessalonike remains behind. Far away, crafty princess Drypetis will not stand idly by as Alexander topples her father from Persia’s throne. And after Alexander conquers her tiny kingdom, Roxana, the beautiful and cunning daughter of a minor noble, wins Alexander’s heart…and will commit any crime to secure her place at his side.

Within a few short years, Alexander controls an empire more vast than the civilized world has ever known. But his victories are tarnished by losses on the battlefield and treachery among his inner circle. And long after Alexander is gone, the women who are his champions, wives, and enemies will fight to claim his legacy…

Stars Over Sunset Boulevard
Publisher: NAL
Publication Date: January 5th, 2016
Pages: 400

In this new novel from the acclaimed author of Secrets of a Charmed Life, two women working in Hollywood during its Golden Age discover the joy and heartbreak of true friendship.

Los Angeles, Present Day. When an iconic hat worn by Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind  ends up in Christine McAllister’s vintage clothing boutique by mistake, her efforts to return it to its owner take her on a journey more enchanting than any classic movie…

Los Angeles, 1938.  Violet Mayfield sets out to reinvent herself in Hollywood after her  dream of becoming a wife and mother falls apart, and lands a job on the film-set of Gone With the Wind. There, she meets enigmatic Audrey Duvall, a once-rising film star who is now a fellow secretary. Audrey’s zest for life and their adventures together among Hollywood’s glitterati enthrall Violet…until each woman’s deepest desires collide.  What Audrey and Violet are willing to risk, for themselves and for each other, to ensure their own happy endings will shape their friendship, and their lives, far into the future.


  1. This is such a great list! I love following your blog because we enjoy many of the same books. There were only a couple above I didn't have, and I added them quickly to my list. :)

    1. Thank you so much, that means the world to me! If you have any must reads from this year let me know....I'd love to add them to my wish list! Thanks for taking the time to read my posts and comment...it means so much to me : )!

  2. Thank you for posting these. I had a lot going on this year so couldn't do as much reading. I loved the Sisters of Shiloh (thank you again!) and I have added those that i missed to my wish list.

    1. Thank you so much, Carol! I love "best of" posts because I always add more and more books to the wish list :). And you are of course very welcome...so glad you enjoyed Sisters of Shiloh!

  3. Thank you so much for posting these. I loved the Sisters of Shiloh (thank you again) and added more to my wish list.

  4. I have to work on getting my list together. Hadn't heard of The Seven Sisters but it sounds interesting! I will have to check it out.

    1. I've been thinking about this post for a while now so I'm just happy I can finally have it go live :). I've read a few of Lucinda Riley's books and have really enjoyed all of them, and the fact that The Seven Sisters is the first of a big series makes me super excited for the rest of the series!

  5. Hi Colleen - thanks so much for including SISTERS OF SHILOH on your list! Kathy and I are thrilled that you enjoyed it, and so appreciate your support. Best wishes for 2016! - Becky

    1. Thank YOU for writing such an exceptional novel! Best wishes for 2016 as well!!