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Lara’s Top Picks of 2018

20181231_144316.jpgWelcome to my eighth edition of “Top Picks!” Easily one of my favorite blog posts of the year, this is where I tell you about the ten best books I read this year. Again, this has nothing to do with what year they came out. In fact, I’m pretty sure only one of the books I read this year was published in 2018. For a list of the best books published this year, check out The New York Times annual Notable Books list. For now, here are the best books I read this year (followed by the complete list of all the books I read this year).

10. Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. After my dad passed away, this was the perfect book to help me out of my slump and come to terms with my grief. Sheryl Sandberg is not just a Facebook COO here. She is a woman navigating loss like so many of us have. If she can do it, we all can, especially with her tactile, concrete advice. Buy it now. 

9. The Lost Family by Jenna Blum. It’s a novel that spans 30 years and three generations of a Jewish family in New York and New Jersey in the years post-WWII. The patriarch lost his first family in the war and starts a new one with an aspiring model. It’s a book that I really enjoyed when I read it, but since I finished it, I simply can’t stop thinking about it. Buy it now.

8. One More Time by Carol Burnett. Both an in-depth look at the iconic comedianne’s life and a book about life lessons, One More Time is a memoir that almost feels like a self-help book. There is so much to be learned from this strong woman who overcame trauma, failure and poverty to become the icon she is today. Buy it now.

7. Cujo by Stephen King. It’s scary to think that it took me this long to read a Stephen King novel (yes, it was my first!!), but everyone told me this was one of his best and it did not disappoint. More thriller than horror, Cujo brilliantly jumps between characters I legitimately cared for while making a dog scary to me for the first time in my life. The ending is something to be both celebrated and mourned — a bittersweet juxtaposition that makes the read all the more complicated and engrossing. Buy it now.

6. 10% Happier by Dan Harris. Dan Harris single-handedly got me interested in meditation, but it took me several years to finally read his book. Both memoir and self-help (is this a common theme here?), 10% Happier makes a case for changing yoru life and through meditation — even for the skeptics — while also telling tales of the fascinating network newsman life he leads. Buy it now.

5. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. Set on reading it before seeing in the theater, I had high hopes for this one, and it surpassed them all. It was more than just a romantic story or an Asian story. It was also a funny store! So tongue-in-cheek in its prose and dialogue, it was a long book that turned into a quick read, and I’ve never been more excited to read a sequel. Buy it now.

4. Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. Julie Powell needed something in her life. She surprised herself by finding it in Julia Child’s famous cookbook. So she set her sights on cooking the entire book in a year’s time. The book details the true story of Powell achieving this crazy and kind of obnoxious goal, even while it tears much of the rest of her life to shreds. She is a hilarious writer who had me laughing out loud. But she also learns a lot about life and herself through the process, and so do we. Buy it now.

3. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. A story from the point of view of a dog, Racing is a more dramatic tale than I expected. But it’s refreshing perspective gives us hope in both dogs and humanity, proving that there is nothing more important than the bonds of friendship and family. It’s a grand story about life trapped in a doggie fiction novel in the most beautiful way. It left me breathless. Buy it now.

2. Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman. After seeing the sexy movie that so deeply resonated with me in its portrayal of first love, I found myself wanting more so I picked up the book the movie was based on. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book is even better than the movie with more details, more sexiness, more teenage uncertainty and more finality. Oh, and the prose is supreme. Buy it now.

1. You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero. As I turned 30, I thought a self-help book would help me better round the corner. What I found in Badass is a swift kick in my badass that left me empowered. Jen Sincero’s real-talk and tangible tips allow for a true journey in confidence-building and goal-setting unlike I’ve ever experienced before. Buy it now.

Here’s a link to the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2018. 

BOOKS I’VE READ 2018

In the Studio with Michael Jackson – Bruce Swedien

Damned Good- J.J. DeCeglie

Wonder – R.J. Palacio

Julie and Julia – Julia Powell

A Wrinkle In Time – Madeleine L’Engle

Call Me By Your Name – Andre Aciman

Soul Witness – William Costopoulos

Option B – Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

A Load of Hooey – Bob Odenkirk

Emma – Jane Austen

Cujo – Stephen King

Ann M. Martin – Margot Becker R.

The Last Dropout – Bill Milliken

How to Love the Empty Air – Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

Strangers – Nigel Gray

Notorious R.B.G. – Irin Carmon

One More Time – Carol Burnett

On Becoming Fearless – Arianna Huffington

The Art of Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein

Choose Your Own Autobiography – Neil Patrick Harris

10% Happier – Dan Harris

The Gene Guillotine – Kate Preskenis

You Are a Badass – Jen Sincero

Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan

The Lost Family – Jenna Blum

Sharp Objects – Gilian Flynn

A Simple Favor – Darcy Bell

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – Jenny Han

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers

The Day The World Came to Town – Jim DeFede

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Lara’s Top Picks of 2015

booksIt’s the most wonderful time of the year. For my blog. It’s that time where I post my personal “Best Of” list for 2015. And as I’ve done in years past, this is a list of the ten best books I personally read this year — NOT a list of books that were published this year. (For that, check out the New York Times.) Most of the books on my list are at least a few years old, and it just took me until now to get around to reading them. Anyway, keep reading for a pretty great list of books, and scroll to the bottom for the complete list of the 25 books I read this year.

10. Insurgent by Veronica Roth. A follow-up to the bestselling young adult Divergent series, Insurgent follows Tris and Four as they aim to take down the leader of a government gone wrong. While Divergent is mostly exposition and setup for the rest of the YA series, Insurgent is almost all action and continues to put Tris at the forefront of strong feminist characters. Buy it now.

9. Armada by Ernest Cline. A high schooler and video game junkie’s dreams and worst fears come true when he learns the video game he’s been playing is actually training for a real world alien battle he must help fight. The follow-up to Cline’s bestseller Ready Player One is not as innovative or good as Player, but it incorporates the pop culture references, adventure and heart that made his debut novel so special. Buy it now.

8. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling. A small town in the UK is turned upside down with a dark chain of events when an untimely death leads to an opening on the town’s parish council. This was the first adult novel Rowling wrote after her Harry Potter series came ended, and while some felt it was too dark and twisty, I felt it was perfect. That darkness Rowling writes with is what made her later Potter novels so great and what makes the events of this one so unexpected.Buy it now.

7. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. The death of Theo’s mother leads him to a strange world: the underworld of art, as he carries around a mysterious piece of art throughout all the highs and lows of his hard, inconsistent life. The Goldfinch is LONG, yes, but it’s beautifully written and tells an intriguing story of an intriguing boy and life. It won a Pulitzer Prize for a reason.Buy it now.

6. A Letter to My Mom by Lisa Erspamer. A collection of essays and anecdotes about mothers come together in this cute book that will make you laugh, smile and cry hysterically. It was a book that made me think of my mom, thank my mom and know exactly what I’m giving her next Mother’s Day. Buy it now.

5. The Martian by Andy Weir. Man goes to Mars; man gets stuck on Mars; NASA spends years effecting bringing him home, while he figures out a way to survive on his own. It’s an amazing story, which seems totally plausible — if someone as smart and amazing as Mark Watney were to ever get stuck up there. This bestseller-turned-book is not only powerful and intense, it’s also funny, funny, funny and incredibly enjoyable. Buy it now.

4. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Alternating narrators connects the stories of the drunken, depressed woman who rides the train, her ex and the couple whose house she passes everyday on the train. Dubbed “the next Gone Girl,” The Girl on the Train is a suspenseful murder mystery and thriller that keeps you turning pages in a classic whodunit story with a modern twist. Buy it now.

3. Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe. Rob Lowe narrates the story of his rise to fame on this audiobook memoir with stories of celebrity and scandal, work and success. Stories is great because it offers exactly what one wants from a celebrity memoir — behind-the-scenes secrets and details of some of his greatest films and TV shows and details of his scandals of the 1980s. Buy it now.

2. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. When Jacob goes to Wales to research more about this late grandfather, he learns that he and his grandpa share no only a special, sci-fi, fantastical connection, but also a whole other secret world. It’s a YA novel that feels more adult, and is filled with excitement, wonder, heart and bravery — the first in a series of Miss Peregrine books, the rest of which I can’t wait to read. Buy it now.

1.  Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream by H.G. Bissinger. A behind-the-scenes look at the real-life 1988 Permian Pantheers football team from Odessa, Texas, this is the book that started the FNL sensation. This nonfiction story is even more heart-wrenching and despairing than the story lines on the show, but it’s the detailed, beautifully written prose by Buzz Bissinger that makes this version exceptional. Buy it now.

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

I’m Glad I Did – Cynthia Weil

Amazon Burning – Victoria Griffith

Insurgent – Veronica Roth

The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins

At the Water’s Edge – Sara Gruen

Whip Smart: Lola Montez Starts a Revolution – Kit Brennan

Unorthodox – Deborah Feldman

The Casual Vacancy – J.K. Rowling

A Letter to My Mom – Lisa Erspamer

Then Again – Diane Keaton

The Storyteller – Jodi Picoult

Paper Towns – John Green

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs

Dark Places – Gillian Flynn

Alexander Hamilton – Ron Chernow

Stories I Only Tell My Friends – Rob Lowe

Bond Girl – Erin Duffy

The Martian – Andy Weir

The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman

Inconceivable! – Tegan Wren

Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins

Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream – H.G. Bissinger

Armada – Ernest Cline

Walking Distance – David Hlavsa

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Lara’s Top Picks of 2014

Well folks, it’s time for my favorite blog post of the year. It’s time for my personal “Best Of” list. I must reiterate that this is a list of the best books I’ve read this year — NOT the best books that came out in 2014. (If I’m being completely honest, of the 24 books I read this year, I think only two or three were actually released in 2014.) If you’d like a 2014 “Best Of” list, check out the New York Times’ 100 Notable Books of 2014. If you want to check out some really kick-ass books I loved this year, keep reading. And scroll to the bottom for a complete list of all the books I read this year! Bring on 2015!

10. Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick. An English teacher and Eagles football fanatic snaps and spends years in a rehab facility, only to return home and find that everything has changed, including himself. Moving on proves harder than he thought it would be. The bestseller-turned-Oscar-winning-movie is a showcase of mental illness and how devastating loss can be. Buy it now.

9. The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon. A haunting tale of murders and mysterious disappearances, this novel is chilling and twisted with lots of characters and deep, dark secrets as two young girls try to piece together what happened in their town and their home about 100 years ago that led to their mother’s recent disappearance. Buy it now.

8. Orange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman. After watching the Netflix series, I had to read the autobiography on which it was based, and I’m glad I did. Now that I know the true story about what happened to Piper, I feel a lot better. You will too. But don’t worry — both the painful and humorous anecdotes are included in this telling of a woman who serves a year in an all-female prison. Buy it now.

7. Divergent by Veronica Roth. The start to another YA dystopian series, this book is a bestseller for a reason. Once they reach a certain age, teenagers have to choose a “faction,” based on their personalities, behaviors and instincts. But when one girl fits into several different “factions,” she starts a much-needed, exciting, painful, and thrilling revolution. Buy it now.

6. 27 by Howard Sounes. You think you know everything about the deaths of Amy Winehouse, Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Kurt Cobain. But you don’t. The uncanny coincidence that they all died at the age of 27 gave biographer Howard Sounes enough of a reason to further investigate this in the nonfiction book simply and eerily titled 27.  Buy it now.

5. Dare Me by Megan Abbott. What a dark story, but what a good one. A cheerleading squad is busy enough doing drugs, skipping meals, and perfecting their bodies to realize that its coach, captain, and squad member are somehow caught up in a murder that appears to be a suicide. The mind games that go on in this novel were enough to make my head spin and my hands turn another page. Buy it now.

4. Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead. The second of Maggie Shipstead’s novels isn’t quite as good as her first, but its beautiful story about a dancer who gives up her life as a professional ballerina for family is rather…astonishing. It centers on a scandal, much like Shipstead’s first novel, but the focus on dance and the complex relationships it weaves adds a layer of intrigue. Buy it now.

3. Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead. This bestseller about the beach wedding of a pregnant bride, who comes from a prominent New England family is more than just a scandalous, juicy beach read. It feels like true literature, like an Edith Wharton novel written in the modern day. It’s a painful, but fun and interesting take on who people really are compared to who they seem to be or want to be. Buy it now.

2. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. it’s more than the bestselling YA novel about a girl with cancer who falls in love. It’s a coming-of-age story. it’s a beautiful statement about what young love can mean, and a display of how good young adult fiction can be, even if it’s not a sci-fi dystopian novel. Buy it now.

1. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. Bestselling author Laura Hillenbrand takes us on the journey of Louie Zamperini’s life — a true story of an Olympian and WWII POW and hero. What he endured is truly incredible. An inspiring read for anyone, especially as we head into the new year. Buy it now.

Tick to the Tock – Matthew Turner

The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker

The Fault in Our Stars – John Green

The Cabinetmaker – Alan Jones

Unbroken – Laura Hillenbrand

Orange Is the New Black – Piper Kerman

On Grace – Susie Orman Schnall

Committed – Elizabeth Gilbert

A Fool Among Fools – John Terracuso

The Lucky One – Nicholas Sparks

Divergent – Veronica Roth

Seating Arrangements – Maggie Shipstead

I Remember Nothing – Nora Ephron

The Never Never Sisters – L. Alison Heller

Silver Linings Playbook –Matthew Quick

27 – Howard Sounes

Astonish Me – Maggie Shipstead

Prep – Curtis Sittenfeld

The Killing Chase – Craig Hurren

The Winter People – Jennifer McMahon

Dare Me – Megan Abbott

In the Company of Educated Men – Leonce Gaiter

The Stupidest Angel – Christopher Moore

Blue Wicked –Alan Jones

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