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Lara’s Top Picks of 2019

I couldn’t let the new year (and decade!) begin without my favorite blog edition…my top picks of 2019! Fair warning: this year life really took hold. Suffice to say, I didn’t read nearly as much as I usually do or would like to. But I read enough to select my 10 favorites! This is a list of the best books I personally read, not necessarily books that were released in 2019. For a list of those, here you go.  At the bottom, I’ve also included the complete list of books I read this year.

10. Before We Were Yours – This historical fiction novel showcases the awful beginnings of child adoptions in the United States. Its time jumps and changing narrators add suspense to the story of little Rill, who does everything she can to keep her family in tact when Tennessee Children’s Home Society (a real place in an otherwise made-up story) does everything it can to disrupt that for money.

9. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – It’s the anti-self-help self-help book. The book that tells you it’s not a self-help book and it’s going to tell you all the opposite things from a regular self-help book. And that’s kind of true. Which is why it’s so effective. A lot of my takeaways from this massive bestseller is that author Mark Manson relies on a lot of Buddhist methodology to explain how best to live your life – with the understanding that life is suffering and once we accept that, things can start to be a little better. Prepare for some foul language and real talk truths.

8. Not That Kind of Girl – Writer/director/actress Lena Dunham shares her life in this messy memoir made up of short stories and essays, unveiling the depths of her anxieties, neuroses and mental health issues as well as just being honest about what it is to be a girl and woman in the modern world. Some stories are sad, some are hilarious riots, but all are well-told, vulnerable, and bluntly honest.

7. How to Read Literature Like a Professor – This how-to for making literally any book better is divided into themes and symbols to explain what matters in a story and what it means. Chapters focus on anything and everything from the significance of ill characters in books to Bible references to food and sex and seasons. Most of the examples were from books and literature I haven’t read BUT the writer explains everything so well that it’s not only changed how I understand and appreciate books, it also applies to TV, film and pretty much any creative medium. A true game-changer.

6. Wherever You Go, There You Are – Author Jon Kabat-Zinn book on the power of meditation is a simplistic, effective how-to for those who have been meditating for years and those looking to start a regular practice. He’s science-based, but instead of constantly throwing facts, studies and research at the reader, he shared personal anecdotes and understandable metaphors to make meditation manageable. 

5. Mistress of the Ritz – Melanie Benjamin does it again, choosing real people in history whose stories have remain mostly untold and telling them, with her own fictionalized dialogue and writing. This one is set in 1940’s Paris during WWII. It tells the story of a real couple, Claude and Blanche Auzello, who lets their marriage waiver as they focus on saving Jews during the Holocaust.

4. The Storyteller’s Secret – This fictional tale about love and love lost starts after modern-day Jaya has another miscarriage and separates from her husband. On a search for connection and answers to life’s questions, she travels to her family’s native India. During the course of the book, her story and her grandmother’s intertwine in a beautiful, heartbreaking and heartwarming way.

3. The Light We Lost – I went back and forth on where to rank this one because I loved it so much. The romance of two young people in NYC during 9/11 continues over the next 13 years. It is gripping, tragic, romantic, sexy. I can’t remember the last time I wanted to finish a book and simultaneously not want it to end so badly.

2. The Girls in the Picture – I was halfway (or more?) through this book before I realized this wasn’t only historical fiction about the beginning of the film industry in America in the early 1900s. It was also historical fiction about a real actress and female screenwriter who were friends. This film story that’s really about friendship and feminism detail the lives and careers of Frances Marion and Mary Pickford in a way that’s fun and dramatic.

1. The Four Agreements – Simple, but not easy. This big-time bestselling nonfiction quick read give you the basics everyone can and should follow to live a better, happier life. There are four agreements you must make with yourself. They sound simple enough, but life makes it really hard to make them easy. This book details the how and why. Once you read it, it is truly life-changing.


The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Peronsal Freedom – Miguel Ruiz

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories – B.J. Novak

The Storyteller’s Secret – Sejal Badani

Goodbye, Vitamin – Rachel Khong

The Girls in the Picture – Melanie Benjamin

Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life – Jon Kabat-Zinn

The Light We Lost – Jill Santopolo

Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned” – Lena Dunham

Stinky Tofu: A Comedic Novel – Ross Henry Nodell

Mistress of the Ritz – Melanie Benjamin

Then She Was Gone – Lisa Jewell

Unqualified – Anna Faris

Before We Were Yours – Lisa Wingate

The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life – Mark Manson

How To Read Literature Like A Professor – Thomas C. Foster

Dead If You Don’t – Peter James

Dietland – Sarai Walker

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Lara’s Top Picks of 2013

booksWith three days left in 2013, there are “Best Of” lists galore. The New York Times has already written up its 100 Notable Books of 2013 list, and it is a good list to go by. Each December, I skim it to determine which books I’ll read the following year — hopefully.

But every year, I like to put together my own list. I haven’t read as many books this year as I usually do, but I’ve made it a point to read a few that I’ve been wanting to read for years. That said, this is my annual list of my top picks from 2013. Mind you, these are not all books that came out this year. In fact, most of them didn’t come out this year. This is a selection of the best books I’ve read this year. The publication and release dates are irrelevant to me. For instance, my favorite book last year was The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman, which was actually published in 2010. The year before that, my favorite was The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. A good book is a good book, no matter the year.

So enjoy my list, and read on for a complete list of all the books I’ve read in 2013!

10. Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares. The final book in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, Sisterhood Everlasting is an honest look at modern-day female friendship — how easy it is to drift apart and how wonderful it can be when friends reunite. It takes tragedy to bring these best friends together again, but isn’t that often — yet sadly — how friendships reignite? Buy it now.

9. Teacher Man by Frank McCourt. Bestselling memoirist Frank McCourt takes us through his journey as a teacher, the profession he pursued for 30 years before writing about his life. His memoir is full of anecdotes and writing lessons from the classroom, but more importantly lessons about life, love, and the people you meet along the way. Buy it now.

8. The House Girl by Tara Conklin.  The lives of two women from two very different times intersect when a lawyer working on a class-action suit about slavery begins to research a slave from the 1800’s. In learning about the lawyer, we also learn about a slave named Josephine, and her quest for freedom. The hunt for Josephine’s possible descendents leaves the reader wondering if either woman ever win her uphill battle. Buy it now.

7. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Gailbraith (J.K. Rowling). This bestselling novel made the news when it was revealed that the author, Robert Gailbraith, was actually a pseudonym for the bestselling author of the Harry Potter series J.K. Rowling. But her crime/mystery novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, is a great read in its own right. The page-turning story about the mysterious death of a model makes a social statement about our fame-obsessed society. Buy it now.

6. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. A little girl sets out to find her crazy mother Bernadette in this scatterbrained dark comedy. The story is told out of order, and along the way, we learn more and more about each character. In the end, finding Bernadette isn’t the best part of the book. Searching for her and learning about her is way more fun. Buy it now.

5. Inferno by Dan Brown. Bestselling author Dan Brown has done it again. The latest Robert Langdon adventure (Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol) takes us through Florence and Venice as Langdon works to solve yet another world-saving puzzle. But Brown’s Inferno begins with Langdon already in Florence, suffering from a gun shot wound and two days worth of amnesia. Langdon now must solve two puzzles — the one he’s been given and the one within his own mind. Buy it now.

4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. This coming-of-age novel about a lost soul in the ninth grade is a modern-day Catcher in the Rye. The book is full of letters that the coy, yet observant Charlie is writing to an unknown friend about his freshman year. Charlie must learn to deal with his first love, new friends, lost friends, best friends, family, drugs, and alcohol, all while keeping a dark secret. Buy it now.

3. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. An Italian man seeks out a Hollywood producer in order to find his long-lost love from 1962 — an actress with a dark past. But the two men dislike each other, and neither knows whatever happened to Dee Moray. However, the reader does. Beautiful Ruins is a smart, truly lovely book that flips back and forth between different characters and different decades, ultimately proving true love exists. Buy it now.

2. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Whether or not you’re a fan of video games or the 80’s, you can’t help but enjoy this fantastically fun bestselling novel about a boy who plays a life-consuming video game in order to win a fortune. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets 1984, this coming-of-age quest story says a lot about our technology-consumed world, while including as many pop culture references as you can imagine. Buy it now.

1. Maine by Courtney J. Sullivan. I read this book a few months ago, but my heart still feels a pang whenever I think about it. Maine tells a beautiful, deep story of four generations of relatives, all women forced to spend a few weeks together in their family summer home in Maine. Between the secrets and complicated female relationships forced together by blood and obligation, there is love. It just takes some time to find it. Buy it now.

The Vow: The Kim and Krickett Carpenter Story – Kim Carpenter

The House Girl – Tara Conklin

Sisterhood Everlasting – Ann Brashares

Ophelia Speaks: Adolescent Girls Write About Their Search for Self – Sara Shandler

The Eye-Dancers – Michael S. Fedison

Girls in White Dresses – Jennifer Close

The Mobius Strip of Ifs – Mathias B. Freese

The Oracle Code – Charles Brokaw

Girl Unmoored – Jennifer Gooch Hummer

Sarah’s Key – Tatiana de Rosnay

The Killing Code – Craig Hurren

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

Maine – Courtney J. Sullivan

I’d Know You Anywhere – Laura Lippman

Rome for Beginners – Fiona Coughlin

Then Came You – Jennifer Weiner

The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Gailbraith (J.K. Rowling)

Ways of Leaving – Grant Jarrett

The Best of Me – Nicholas Sparks

Losing It All – M.R. Cornelius

Teacher Man – Frank McCourt

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? – Maria Semple

Beautiful Ruins – Jess Walter

The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky

Inferno – Dan Brown


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Lara’s Top Picks of 2012

It’s that time of year, which means The New York Times has released its 100 Notable Books of 2012 list. So I figured it’s time for me to post my top picks of 2012.

I said this last year, and I’ll say it again; I tend to be a bit behind in reading big bestsellers. I usually keep track of all the books I want to read, and just kind of…get around to reading them when I can. That being said, this is a list of the best books I read this year, not the best books that came out this year. For instance, last year my number one pick for the year was Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence.

So, enjoy my list of the best 10 books I read this year, and keep reading on for the complete list of books I read in 2012.

10. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. The sexy book that took the world by storm, Fifty Shades is most certainly not well-written, nor is it particularly original. (It did begin as Twilight fan fiction after all.) But all that dirty loving between a young girl and a rich, older man made women unashamed to bask in the glory of sex. That’s quite an accomplishment for a silly old book. Get it now.

9. Bossypants by Tina Fey. We all know Tina Fey for her role on 30 Rock, her performances on SNL, and her comedic writing of Mean Girls. But until she released her bestselling memoir Bossypants, the world never knew quite so much about her, and as it turns out, she’s just as funny in real life as she is on TV. Get it now.

8. Fifth Avenue, 5 a.m. by Sam Wasson. This nonfiction look into the making of Breakfast at Tiffany’s not only explicitly explains the behind-the-scenes drama of the old-time classic, but it also details the troubles and talents of Audrey Hepburn, and how this one huge role in cinematic history changed women forever. Get it now.

7. A Mother’s Song by Michael Finaghty. A journey around the world, a journey to find yourself, and a journey to find peace, love and happiness, A Mother’s Song tells the beautiful story of an Australian adopted girl on the quest to locate her birth mother and follow her dreams. This is a story about relationships and deep bonds that last. Get it now for just $1.99.

6. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. This is a bestselling tale of one girl and the two boys she meets and falls in love with — in different ways — in college. Despite the title, however, this is not a love story. It’s a coming-of-age novel about college and the post-grad years, mixed in with sometimes annoying, but mostly powerful and important nods to literary classics. Get it now.

5. Still Alice by Lisa Genova. Alzheimer’s Disease is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, but people not directly affected by it may not realize how much Alzheimer’s can impact an entire family. Still Alice portrays a fictional, but very realistic story about a woman diagnosed at the ripe age of 50 — a devastating diagnosis for her grown children, her husband, and her career. Get it now.

4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It’s an American classic, with good reason. Jay Gatsby is a man who’s financially wealthy but romantically poor. He throws lavish parties at his Long Island estate in the 1920’s, but when he briefly wins back his former love, Daisy, relationships unravel and things get out of hand — a sign that it almost always comes down to love or money. Get it now.

3. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Another huge bestseller that soared this year, this is a haunting tale about a couple who’s marriage has gone sour, and ends in murder. Nick’s wife, Amy, has disappeared, leaving a small Southern town to basically convict Nick of murder. A stunning twist midway through the book suddenly makes the story deeply disturbing, as if it weren’t already. Get it now.

2. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Any love story involves two people playing games, but you’ve seen nothing until you’ve read bestseller The Night Circus. Two magicians, Celia and Marco, are raised to fight each other in an ongoing magic war, but love casts another spell on these two, and they must figure out a way to play for survival. Get it now.

1. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. The newspaper industry is a dying one, but the people who work for this international newspaper are very much alive — alive with stories of love, sadness, and crushed dreams. The Imperfectionists intertwines the stories of 10 different employees — and a reader — at an European-based newspaper. In each chapter, we read about another employee but the overarching story is about the paper — a powerful statement on the current state of journalism and society. Get it now.

And alas, here’s the complete list of books I read in 2012.

The Imperfectionists – Tom Rachman

Room – Emma Donaghue

The Tiger’s Wife – Tea Obreht

Nights in Rodanthe – Nicholas Sparks

The Hunger But Mainly Death Games – John Bailey Owen

Sing You Home – Jodi Picoult
The Reader – Bernhard Schlink

Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

The Long Hello – Cathie Borrie

Looking Into Your Voice – Cathie Borrie

The Alchemist – Paolo Coelho

A Mother’s Song – Michael Finaghty

The Eclipse of Mrs. Moon – Virginia Galfo

Memoirs of Normalcy – Joleene DesRosiers Moody

Reservation Road – John Burnham Schwartz

Bossypants – Tina Fey

Tribes of Time – Jaymes E. Terry

Fifty Shades of Grey – E.L. James

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan – Lisa See

The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell

Fifty Shades Darker – E.L. James

A Horrible Man – Leonie Wallace

The Last Song – Nicholas Sparks

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Perfect Skin – Nick Earls

Have a Little Faith – Mitch Albom

Deuce Delaney – Michael Murray

Fifty Shades Freed – E.L. James

My Story My Song – Luciminaria Roberts

The Night Circus – Erin Morganstern

The Marriage Plot – Jeffrey Eugenides

The Boy in the Suitcase – Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis

Still Alice – Lisa Genova

Fifth Avenue, 5 a.m.: Audrey Hepburn, ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and the Dawn of the Modern Woman – Sam Wasson

Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

How to Rule the World – Jade Heasley

The Art of Fielding – Chad Harbach

Beyond Parallel – Matthew Turner


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Good Stuff Coming Soon…

Sorry I’ve been so MIA in the blogosphere as of late! As you know, the end of the year is a busy time. That being said, I’m working on my big year-end “Top Picks List” for 2012, which will go live tomorrow night at 8pm. Stay tuned for quick reviews of some of the best books I’ve read this year, along with my complete list of books read in 2012.

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Lara’s Top Picks of 2011

At this point, we’ve all read the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2011 list. But if you’re anything like me, you’re still catching up on the bestsellers from the previous two to three years, after everyone’s told you a thousand times “YOU HAVE TO READ THIS.”

That being said, I’ve compiled my own “Best” list for 2011, which includes nothing published in 2011. It’s a list of the best books I’ve read this year, regardless of when they came out. I hope you enjoy!

10. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. Meant to be Franzen’s comeback novel after his beloved bestseller The Corrections, Freedom didn’t get quite the same recognition. But I found this story of a troubled Midwestern woman and her relationships with her husband, children, and former lover a mess of a good time. Get it now.

9. Ice Bound by Jerri Neilsen. Based on a true story, Dr. Neilsen performed surgery on herself after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in the South Pole. The story is so absurd, it can’t be fiction. Her bravery is just as captivating as the story itself. Get it now.

8. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. When two Chinese girls are sold to an American man in the 1930s, their lives can’t possibly get any worse. But it does. Reading about these two women and the ways they move on with their lives after all they’ve been through is mind-blowing. Get it now.

7. The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson. It’s the second book in the Millenium series, but it’s also the best. It moves the quickest, as we rush to learn as much as we can about this mysterious, troubled computer hacker and the past she can’t seem to leave behind. Get it now.

6. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult. It’s a story similar to Columbine. A high school student goes on a shooting spree that kills and injures dozens. But the way the truth unfolds through the trial thereafter is told in the only way Jodi Picoult can: brilliantly. Get it now.

5. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. When you hear romance and animal cruelty are the two components for a bestseller, you might wonder what planet you’re living on. But Gruen makes it work here as the fight to keep a beloved animal alive is shared by two circus member soul mates. Get it now.

4. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. In typical Dan Brown fashion, Robert Langdon goes on yet another mythological, artsy, and religious adventure in a thriving metropolis. But the formula works, as we watch Langdon discover the secrets of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Get it now.

3. The Help by Kathryn Stockett. If you haven’t read this story about a white Southern girl and her mission to write a book about the black help in the 1960’s, you really are missing out. Two maids and one brave white aspiring author detail their personal journeys in this inspiring novel. Get it now.

2. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. In a post-apocalyptic world, teenagers are forced to fight each other in an Olympic-style survival game until only one remains alive. It’s dark and twisted, but it sure is fun. It’s also impossible to put down. Get it now.

1. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. One of the classics of our time, Edith Wharton uses high society New York City in the 1870’s not only as a setting, but as a character in this romance novel. It not only leaves us wondering how much or how little things have changed since then, but also has us wishing we were alive in those times. Get it now.

And in case you were wondering, here’s a complete list of all the books I’ve read in 2011.

Freedom – Jonathan Franzen

Nineteen Minutes – Jodi Picoult

Eclipse – Stephanie Myers

Breaking Dawn – Stephanie Myers

L.A. Candy – Lauren Conrad

The Girl Who Played with Fire – Steig Larsson

Sweet Little Lies – Lauren Conrad

Sugar and Spice – Lauren Conrad

For One More Day – Mitch Albom

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

The Help – Kathryn Stockett

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Next – Steig Larsson

Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins

The Lost Symbol – Dan Brown

One Day – David Nicholls

Painted Ladies – Robert B. Parker

The Red Scorpion – Ed Newman

Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins

Ice Bound – Jerri Neilsen

The Audacity of Hope – Barack Obama

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer

Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen

Little Bee – Chris Cleave

The Prodigal Hour – Will Entrekin

Dear John – Nicholas Sparks

Boom! – Tom Brokaw (abridgement)

The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton

Shanghai Girls – Lisa See

Lethal Circuit – Lars Guignard


What were your favorite reads this year.? I’m always looking for new books to add to my list! See ya’ in 2012!


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