November 2019 Book Reviews

Another month – another book review! (Side note: how is it already December!? Where was the year gone?)

You may remember that last month I declared I wanted to try jumping in to reading a book without reading the book jacket, and that’s just what I did this month. I really enjoyed all three books I read, and I do think some of that had to do with the “surprise” factor of not exactly knowing what I was about to read about. I think I’m going to keep this up!

1575384018366

The Conscious Closet by Elizabeth L. Cline

The Conscious Closet: The Revolutionary Guide to Looking Good While Doing Good by [Cline, Elizabeth L.]

“The fashion industry creates more carbon dioxide annually than all international flights and maritime shipping combined”. (p. 117-118) This book was full of information regarding the way fashion impacts our world. It was fascinating to me to read about where our clothing comes from, how it’s made, what it’s made of, and how all our decisions regarding clothing has lasting impacts. Some of it was downright shocking – did you know up to 2,168 gallons of water is used to grow the cotton to make a single t-shirt? What I love about this book is that the author isn’t trying to stop us from buying clothing or make us feel guilty for loving trendy clothes. She herself loves clothing and enjoys having a variety of clothes in her closet. But she is incredibly persuasive about being more conscious in our fashion choices. She gives great examples of ways to extend the life of clothes through resale, renting, shopping secondhand (this can extend the live of a garment by an average of 2.2 years!) or if you want to buy new, things to look for on the label or in the company you’re supporting. She also gives tips on how to make the clothing you do have last longer. It was super informative but digestible and not boring. I’d recommend it if you’re interested in making even the smallest of changes towards a more sustainable, conscious closet.

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

My sister read this young adult novel and kept telling me that I would love it so I checked it out and it did not disappoint! This novel follows four of high school students and their perspectives and experiences after all ending up in detention together one day.  I feel like a lot of books lately have had a “warm up” period where I have to read 50 or so pages before I get hooked but with this novel, I was hooked right away and couldn’t put it down. The characters are interesting, the plot is intriguing, and the pace is just right. I found myself quickly becoming heavily invested in the mystery surrounding what really happened in that detention and it honestly kept me guessing until the end. I loved it and highly recommend checking it out even if you’re well beyond your ‘young adult’ years! (If you’re a parent of a teen, I would warn that there is some language use that you might not want a young teen to read).

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

This book was – WOW! You all know my love of historical fiction, particularly when it comes to events and people I hadn’t previously known about. I had never heard of the Pack Horse Library Project in 1930s Kentucky and was absolutely fascinated by this take on it. It gave me the same vibes as Where the Crawdads Sing but I enjoyed the story so much more. I loved the strong female lead characters, each with different but complementary personalities. I felt like I knew them all and enjoyed seeing their individual growth throughout the story. There were also a couple very endearing supportive male characters – I got so invested in the mini storylines and relationships.  I thought it was spellbinding and I couldn’t put it down! My only complaints are it got a little long in places (I did skim read a bit when the story started to stall at one point) and there was one character storyline I wasn’t quite satisfied with how it wrapped up, as it seemed too abrupt. Overall I loved this book and would highly recommend it!

I’m so excited for December reading – something about reading by a Christmas tree, snuggling under a blanket, is just the coziest thing ever!

October 2019 Book Reviews

If I could subtitle this blog post, I would have called it “October Book Reviews: I’m going to stop reading book jackets”

This month, I only got through 2 books and both times, I felt like the book cover affected my reactions and experiences. It didn’t mean I hated the book, it just changed things for me in some way and made me wish I had read the book without any preconceived notions. Like, I wish I had just picked them up and started reading immediately!

The Golden Hour by Beatriz Williams

The Golden Hour: A Novel by [Williams, Beatriz]

Oh Beatriz Williams, how I (usually) adore thee. I have loved previous books of hers (A Hundred Summers, The Secret Life of Violet Grant) so I was excited to pick this one up, but overall it was somewhat disappointing. I mean, it was alright, but I didn’t love it like I wanted to. The novel is roughly 460 pages and while I loved the last 100ish pages, I was pretty bored for a lot of the book. If it wasn’t written by an author I love, I believe I would have stopped reading long before I got to the good stuff. I just wasn’t that interested in the stories and it took me so long to finish. And in this case, the book jacket was misleading because I feel like the inside cover doesn’t really describe what to expect from the majority of the book. The book toggles back and forth between the lives of two women in two separate eras (early 1900’s and WWII) who are connected by one man. It is historical fiction, so it was interesting to read this fictitious take on some events in history I hadn’t previously heard of. I very much enjoyed those parts! Once I decided that this book wasn’t going to be my favorite William’s book, I started skim reading a bit and not worrying too much about soaking up every detail and the book became more enjoyable. I also found the storylines picked up some speed as the book progressed and the last 100 pages were honestly great. Overall, this book falls solidly as a 3/5 stars – didn’t love it, didn’t hate it, and I wish it was about 75-100 pages shorter (or that some of those pages were reallocated towards a longer ending, as the final wrap-up actually felt really rushed). It was just an okay read. If you’re interested in Beatriz Williams, I’d definitely recommend her other books first.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

I love a good psychological thriller, and that’s what I thought this book would be. After reading, I would label it more as an intriguing mystery with psychological elements. Does that make sense? Typically when I read thrillers, I’m on the edge of my seat, my heart is pounding, I’m maybe even creeped out for the majority of the book. I wasn’t creeped out reading this book, but I was still very interested in the mystery!

Theo Faber is a psychotherapist working at a psychiatric unit with a patient named Alicia Berenson. Alicia is a former artist who shot her husband five times in the face and then never spoke another word. Theo is determined to work with Alicia and get her to open up about the murder and finally speak again. I was definitely intrigued by this premise and found the story to be fascinating and un-putdownable. I absolutely flew through it and loved it! That being said, I have one beef: the reviews! The book jacket is covered with reviews from those who read it saying things like “shocking twist,” “mind-blowing twist,” “a twist that will make even the most seasoned suspense reader break out in a cold sweat.” I wish the cover didn’t have these reviews because when I read a book expecting one huge, mind-blowing twist, then the whole time I read it I am coming up with possible explanations for the oncoming twist. I analyze every possible explanation and so when the shock comes, I often have guessed it as a possibility. So was the case with this book – the twist was one I had at least considered, so it wasn’t completely earth-shattering. I will say, there were many elements that I hadn’t guessed at all and I was considering SO many options that I was still surprised by much of the book and highly recommend this as a great read!

 

That’s that for this month! I think I’m going to start just picking up books based solely on recommendations and not read the covers at all. Have you ever done that? I’ll try if for the month of November and report back!

September 2019 Book Reviews

It’s that time of the month again – book review day!

It goes without saying that my life is pretty busy these days, so I’m not getting through as many books as I was before, although to be honest I’m just glad I’m able to read at all! I was kind of expecting to not be able to finish any books during this stage of two kids under the age of two years old. But then I discovered this:

20190926_155916.jpg

Turns out, there’s a lot of time I’m just sitting on the couch breastfeeding and the Boppy pillow makes a perfect book rest! I was able to get through two full books this month and they were both excellent so I’m excited to share them with you today. Here we go!

1570107041046.jpg

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

If you’ve been following my book reviews for a while, you know that I’m a bit of a historical fiction junkie. I love all types of historical fiction, but my favorite are the books that are based off of actual people or events that I haven’t known about before reading (books like The Alice Network, Before We Were Yours, etc.) This book falls into that category and I could not put it down. The book follows Lale, a young Jewish man from Slovakia who is taken to Auschwitz. Once there, he is given the role of tattooist and is made to mark all the new arrivals with their numbers. Since his role is so important, he has some special privileges and uses them to help out his fellow prisoners, particularly a woman named Gita. The author had interviewed Lale before his death and so the story was a re-creation of his experiences at the concentration camp, many of which were utterly horrifying. No matter how many times I read a novel about the Holocaust, I am still shocked and sickened by the depths of cruelty that occurred. There were parts that were very hard to read, but the story itself was gripping. Lale’s determination and courage are truly remarkable and I was inspired by the small acts of kindness that made such a huge difference to those they were bestowed upon. There were even moments that were romantic and sweet. It feels strange to say I enjoyed it, because it was difficult subject matter, so I will say that I was fascinated and highly recommend it.

Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok

Sylvie Lee is a smart, successful daughter of Chinese immigrants who travels to the Netherlands, the place where she spent seven years of her childhood, to visit her dying grandmother and afterwards . . . she disappears. Her younger sister Amy is distraught with worry and heads to the Netherlands in search of her sister. Her desperation only increases as she encounters a slew of unanswered questions and limited police help. The more people she meets, the more it seems like no one is telling her the full story. It’s hard for me to sum up this book without giving too much away because it touches on so much: family, cultural difference, racism, life as an immigrant family. I will say that the first half started out very slowly for me. It felt like I had only questions and no answers, and I wasn’t even sure I cared enough to find out. I was kind of annoyed by Amy and how sheltered and naive she was. BUT. Around the halfway point, things took a turn and got very interesting and I was hooked! It became a true mystery for me; I was intrigued and flew through the second half. Overall I really enjoyed this read and definitely recommend it!

What have you been reading lately?

August Book Reviews

Good morning friends!

Life with a toddler and newborn has been a bit hectic, so I’m just now getting around to my August book reviews even though we’re halfway through September already (how!?) Better late than never, right?

I got through two books last month before I had to put my reading on pause for last-minute baby prep and welcoming Vi into our family. Now that we’re settling into a *little* more of a routine around here, I’m hoping to get back into reading more! Might be wishful thinking, we’ll see how that goes… 😉 In the meantime, let’s look at what I read in August!

August Book Reviews.jpg

The House on Tradd Street by Karen White

In the last couple months I’ve read and loved The Forgotten Room and The Glass Ocean, both written by a trio of authors. I decided to check out the individual authors work and since I’ve already read a lot of Beatriz Williams, I tried out this book from Karen White.  In this novel, Melanie is a realtor who has been gifted a historic home in Charleston, SC by a man she barely knows. While she sets about fixing it up to hopefully re-sell, she receives help from Jack, who believes the house may be hiding something of incredible value. As they work together to restore the house, it becomes clear that the house holds many secrets, and not all the secrets are willing to rest in peace. At times, the pace of this book seemed to drag and it took a while for me to decide if I even liked what I was reading. I wanted to figure out the answers to some of the mysteries laid out early on, so I kept reading and did start to enjoy it more as revelations were made. There were things I liked and things I didn’t. I enjoyed the fact that a lot of historical elements were brought in and I wanted to learn the truth behind what happened in the house. I didn’t fall in love with most of the characters like I wanted to and I felt like I had to do a lot of reading to get to the “good” stuff in the latter part of the book. I also wanted a little more closure at the end, but I believe this book is part of a series so it makes sense that some strings were left untied. I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it. I’d read something else by Karen White but I’m not dying to. It just fell pretty middle-of-the-road, decent read territory for me.

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

Now THIS book is going to stick with me. It was recommended to me by Justin’s cousin and I didn’t know much about it other than the facts that she loved it and that it was set in India. I spent 3 1/2 months studying abroad in India in college and have maintained an interest in the beautiful, complicated country ever since, so I checked out the book.

Oh my.

I did not know what I was getting into. This story is about two girls, Poornima and Savitha, who form a close friendship in childhood, but due to a devastating event, are separated from one another. The story chronicles their individual stories and how they always keep the faith to try to find their way back to one another.

This story is gripping, tragic, hopeful, and heartbreaking. Each girl shows a strength and resilience that is remarkable and inspiring, and the author writes in a way that kept me absolutely captivated, even when the content dealt with horrific events. The girls experience some of the worst of humanity, and their stories were difficult to read at times. Even though this is a work of fiction, it’s written in a way that seems very realistic (and unfortunately, I know enough about life in India for low-socioeconomic girls to know that their stories could be true, which is hard to fathom and process while reading). The story still manages to uplift and I admired the grit and willpower of each girl to keep going even when their situations felt overwhelming. Overall, I think this book is a compelling read and I highly recommend, (with the caveat that it does deal with heavy topics like human trafficking, sexual abuse, and extreme gender inequality, so if those topics are triggering for you, you might want to choose another read). 

Whew! That’s a wrap on August’s books. What have you been reading and loving lately?

July 2019 Book Reviews

Book review day is here!

Even though we have one more day left in July, I’m already through all my books for the month so I’m sharing my book review a little early. I read some really good ones this month and I’m excited to share them with you!

July Book Reviews - Simplify the Chaos Blog.jpg

The Latte Factor by David Bach

I listened to a lot of podcasts on our babymoon and one I really enjoyed was an episode of the Rise podcast where Rachel Hollis interviewed David Bach about how anyone can be financially free by following a few simple principles and changes in daily habits. I really enjoyed the podcast, and one of my 19 for 19 goals is to learn more about finances, so I was eager to read this book. To be honest, I didn’t gain much new wisdom from it. It is set up like a little mini novel where protagonist Zoe, whose finances are a mess, learns some very simple lessons about investing, saving, and living the life she wants by making small changes in her spending habits from a man named Henry whom she meets with in a coffee shop. Having listened to the podcast, I felt like I had already heard the high points of Bach’s message and most of the book was Zoe’s “story” and not so much financial information. I think this book could be a great resource if you are coming into it with the desire to change your financial situation but don’t have a lot of knowledge in saving/investing/budgeting/etc. Personally I felt like it was a little oversimplified and didn’t give me much new information; however, the concept of “the latte factor” is one that Justin and I have discussed multiple times since I first told him about it after listening to the podcast and I think it’s a great concept to keep in mind when you think about daily spending habits!

The Banker’s Wife by Cristina Alger

Annabel is living in Switzerland where her husband, Matthew, works for Swiss United, a lucrative, offshore bank. After Matthew’s plane crashes in the Alps, Annabel is left with many questions and few answers and decides to investigate the crash herself. Meanwhile, journalist Marina gets a hot tip on a story from her mentor and just as she begins to dig . . . her mentor ends up dead. She begins to look into Swiss United and soon uncovers some dangerous information that powerful people are willing to do anything to protect. As the women’s stories progress two things become clear: their stories are intertwined and they are both in danger unless the truth comes out. This thriller was unique for me in that I’ve never read anything involving lucrative wealth and offshore financing, and it kept me on my toes throughout. I always love novels that alternate narrative perspectives and this one was fast-paced and exciting. I never knew which characters were trustworthy and that added to the suspense for sure. It was definitely a page-turner for me and I really enjoyed it!

The Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White

In June, I read The Forgotten Room by this trio of authors and really enjoyed it so I was excited to learn that they also co-authored another book together and quickly checked it out from the library. The Glass Ocean centers around the tragedy of the sinking of the Lusitania and is written from three different female perspectives: Caroline, a wealthy passenger traveling on the Lusitania with her husband, Tess, a con man’s daughter who is hoping to pull one more job aboard the ship and then start fresh in England once the ship docks, and Sarah, a historian and author in 2013 who has opened a trunk filled with everything that her great-grandfather, a steward on the ship, had on his possession when his body was recovered from the ship’s wreckage, including some items that may have a huge impact on history. If you’ve been reading my book reviews for any amount of time, you know by now that I am a big fan of historical fiction and this book did not disappoint! I enjoyed reading all three women’s stories and the possibilities of wartime espionage and deception kept things interesting as the plot twisted and turned until the end. There were plenty of surprises and revelations to keep me hooked. Once again, I was impressed by the writing of these three writers and highly recommend this one!

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I really enjoy Taylor Jenkins Reid’s books and had heard nothing but great things about this one so I was very excited to finally come off the waiting list at the library and dive into this one. This one might be my favorite of hers yet! Daisy Jones and the Six was one of the most prominent rock bands of the 1970s until they broke up inexplicably after a concert and never got together again. The book is set up as an interview-style oral history where members of the band and others who were associated with them are interviewed about their beginning, rise to fame, and eventual demise. At several points during the book I had to remind myself that this book is fiction and these weren’t real people – it is written in a way that just makes the whole thing seem so real! I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about the interview-style writing but I actually loved it and flew through the book. There were some surprising moments that I didn’t see coming and I found myself really invested in the band members. I will put in the disclaimer that it is about a 70’s rock band so sex, drug use, etc. is a big part of the band’s life. If that’s not your thing, well, be warned. Overall, I really enjoyed this read and highly recommend it!

My TBR list is currently very short, so if you have any recommendations for what I should read in August, send them my way! I’m going to try to get at least a couple read before baby comes and then . . . we’ll see. Ha!