April 2019 Book Reviews

It’s time for my favorite post of the month: BOOK REVIEW DAY!

This month I read three books and they were all very different from one another, but I enjoyed them all! If you’ve read any of them, I’d love to hear what your thoughts are so be sure to comment at the end. I think they are all goods ones for discussion!

April Book Reviews - Simplify The Chaos Blog

One Day in December by Josie Silver

With “December” in the title, this may seem like an odd choice to read in April, but it wasn’t! The story isn’t focused on Christmas at all and is enjoyable at any time of year. Laurie is riding the bus home from work one day in December (get it?) and at a bus stop, her eyes lock with a man waiting outside. She instantly feels an intense connection to him, but alas, he doesn’t get on the bus and they aren’t able to meet. She is certain she’s  fallen in love with this mystery man and spends the entire next year searching all over London hoping to run into him again. She does get to finally meet him the following December . . . when he is introduced to her as Jack, her best friend Sarah’s new boyfriend. The book follows both Jack and Laurie’s perspectives over the next decade as they navigate friendship, missed chances, new opportunities, and choices made along the way. Now that I’m finished, I can say I really loved this book, but there were a few points where I was worried I would end up highly dissatisfied. I don’t want to give too much away, but there were times when I really wanted the story to go one way or another and the end result I hoped for kept changing! This kept things interesting though; I wasn’t necessarily always rooting for one specific scenario and instead just hoped that however it wrapped up made sense to me. I did really enjoy this story and think it would make a great beach read this summer!

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Back in December, I reviewed The War that Saved My Life and loved it so I was excited to read that the author had written a sequel. This young adult story picks up more or less where the first leaves off with Ada undergoing surgery to fix her clubfoot. After the surgery, Ada struggles to reconcile all the ways in which her life has changed since she first left London to seek refuge in the country. World War II is now in full swing and she moves to a new cottage with her brother Jamie, her guardian Susan, and surprise of surprises, Lady Thornton herself. What none of them realize is they are about to get another house guest who won’t be very welcome. This story once again was incredibly well-written and so poignant. Maybe it’s the pregnancy hormones, but it made me feel all. the. feels. and I teared up several times throughout. You get so invested in the characters and their relationships: their struggles become your struggles and their triumphs become yours too. I really enjoyed this story and highly recommend it to both 5th graders and 50-year-olds. It is a story for all ages!

The Possible World by Liesle O’Halloran Schwarz

My friend Kaitlin read this book as part of her book club and she asked me to read it too to discuss my thoughts. I wasn’t sure what to expect so I dove in without much context and was immediately sucked in. This story follows three characters and alternates between their perspectives: Clare, a woman about to turn 100 years old in a nursing home and is reflecting on her life, Ben, a six-year-old boy who has just experienced an unimaginable trauma, and Lucy, the ER nurse who tends to Ben when he is brought to the hospital. As their stories unfurl, it becomes evident that their stories are inexplicably connected to one another. I don’t want to give too much away, so I will just say that a few chapters in I knew this would be a book that once I finished, I would need to go back and re-read parts of to see what clues I missed the first time around. I was right – I did do exactly that! I will also say that I thought one of the character’s backstory/current life wasn’t really necessary to include so much of. I felt like there was a lot of extra information in those chapters that didn’t really pertain to the rest of the story and could have been left out. I also wish the ending had a little more to it; I felt like it wrapped up really quickly and felt a little abrupt. All that being said, overall I did enjoy this read! It’s a unique premise and enchanting story.

Have you read any of these books? I’d love to know what you thought or what you read this month. I’m always looking for great recommendations so be sure to share if you have any good ones!

 

 

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March 2019 Book Reviews

It’s time for my favorite post of the month – my book reviews!

I read four books this month and they’re kind of all over the place. Two non-fiction and two fiction. One memoir and one self-help-ish. One about a plane crash and one that crashed in other ways for me. It was a fun mix of reads! Let’s dive in!

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Outer Order Inner Calm by Gretchen Rubin

It’s no secret that I love Gretchen Rubin so I’ve been anxiously awaiting her new book for months. It finally came out in March and I snapped up a copy (you know I’m excited when I actually buy the book instead of check out from the library) and flew through it.  This is a very quick read chuck full of inspiration for making small choices and changes towards clearing clutter to make more room in your life for order, calm, and happiness. In other words, pretty much all my favorite things in one place. 🙂  I started off underlining little nuggets of wisdom that particularly spoke to me, but I quickly realized that I would be underlining most of the book so I had to stop. It was just full of tips, tricks, and smart little hacks. I’ll stop gushing now because I think my inner nerd is showing  (ha!), but I really loved this book and will likely incorporate it into a full blog post at some point in the future. I highly recommend it if you need a little push in the right direction to make changes, big or small, towards a less cluttered life.

The Secret of the Irish Castle by Santa Montefiore

I happened to see this book on the shelf as I was checking out at the library and it peaked my interest but I had a lot of books already so I didn’t check it out. Then on another trip, I saw it again on a different shelf and took that as a sign I should read it. I’ll be honest, this book did not meet my expectations. It really seemed like it was going to be my jam: historical fiction, WWII Europe, family secrets and mysteries, what’s not to love? The Amazon blub even raves that it is “perfect for fans of Kate Morton and Beatriz Williams” and I adore both authors. So I was pretty disappointed when about 70 pages in I kind of just wanted to quit reading. This story just fell flat for me. There are SO many characters and plotlines and it feels really soap opera-y and hard to keep track of. I did find out afterwards that it’s part of a series, so maybe it wouldn’t have seemed so overwhelming and confusing if I had read the other books too? I don’t know. I kept reading because one storyline did interest me and I wanted to see how that particular one turned out. Overall, I felt like this book was just okay, but I really don’t have any interest in reading the rest of the series.

Inheritance by Dani Shapiro

I started this book because it was the first chosen book of the Happier Podcast book club and I was instantly intrigued. The author takes a DNA test without thinking much about it and is rocked to her core to find out that the father who raised her was not actually her biological father. Since both of her parents are deceased, she begins a journey of research and discovery to find out as much as she can about the truth of her origin. Her memoir is poignant and thought-provoking and touches on the deeply held beliefs we hold about ourselves. I could not stop talking to Justin about it as I was reading, and I’ve brought it up in several other conversations with other people since. It was just absolutely fascinating and I think it would make an excellent book club read! Highly recommend!

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

I wouldn’t say I have a fear of flying but I definitely have increased anxiety on planes so a book about a plane crash is not exactly my normal pick. I enjoyed this one though! The plane crash actually happens very early on in the book and the rest of the story jumps back and forth between the lives of the victims before the crash and the present day where a team of agents try to unravel the mystery of why the plane crashed. A media circus forms around the two survivors of the crash: a four-year-old boy who is now worth millions and a man who swam them both to safety. Controversies and theories form about the man who was an unexpected passenger in the first place and he alternates between victim and suspect throughout. This book is part mystery, part thriller and I got really into it! There are some characters you root for, some you despise, and there were enough surprises to keep me guessing until the end. Overall, this was a good read!

That’s a wrap on my March reads. What is on your reading list this month?

February 2019 Book Review

Today it’s time for one of my favorite posts each month: book review day!

I’m reviewing three books this month even though only two are pictured because the third book I read while on vacation in Florida. Overall, I enjoyed all three books so I’m excited to dive on in to the reviews!

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The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle

You know the game “if you could have dinner with any five people, dead or alive, who would you choose?” Well this book is a story of that actually happening. Sabrina thinks she is going to her birthday dinner with her longtime friend but when she shows up, it turns out the rest of her “list” of people are there too even though some of them are dead (oh hi, Audrey Hepburn). The plot jumps between the actual dinner and various times in Sabrina’s past that explain her connections to each person and why they are on her list. I was pretty intrigued by the premise and since this is the book I took on vacation to Florida, I flew through it in the hotel during LJ’s naps. There were sweet parts, surprising parts, sad parts, and downright shocking parts. While I did enjoy this book, to be honest, I got frustrated a few times due to some of the dynamics between the main characters. The more I thought about it though, I think that’s pretty indicative of life, right? Sometimes people are amazing, sometimes they are jerks. We all have our moments of triumph and weakness. This book gave me a lot to think about – it’s one that I can’t discuss too much more here for fear of spoilers, but I would love to discuss in person with someone who has read it because I have a lot of thoughts I’d like to work through!

 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Since I finished The Dinner List so quickly and still had a lot of vacation downtime left, I borrowed this book from my friend Kaitlin’s bookshelf to read poolside while in Florida. Christopher is a bright 15-year-old boy and though the book never explicitly states this, it’s pretty obvious that he has autism. One night he is walking through his neighborhood and discovers that his neighbor’s dog Wellington has been killed in her yard. He decides to become a detective and figure out who killed Wellington and his search leads him to a trail of discoveries and adventures. I loved that the whole story was told through Christopher’s point of view, which I felt the author did very well, particularly with his experiences of sensory overload. I enjoyed getting to know Christopher and all his quirks and preferences. I also enjoyed the little touches the author gave, like numbering the chapters in prime numbers, because this was very much something Christopher would have done. That being said, I did find the book to be fairly predictable. There are a couple “twists” in the story but I saw them coming, though this is because I can read between the lines where Christopher takes things literally. (Perhaps the author meant for it to be this way, showing the difference between the way the mind of the reader works and the way Christopher’s logical train of thought works? Hmm…)  I also got a little tired of all the unimportant/irrelevant details that Christopher gives and started to skim a lot in the second half of the book. Overall, I thought this was a good choice for an interesting, quirky, pretty easy read on vacation.

 

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Oh my gosh. This book! I had been on the library wait list for months and finally got my hands on a copy and it was worth the wait! Kya, known by locals as “The Marsh Girl,” has lived most of her life in solitude in the North Carolina marsh. She is remarkably in tune with nature and rarely interacts with the locals in the nearby town. One day, a murder occurs and suspicion is thrown to Kya. I don’t want to give away more of the plot so I’ll just say that while it took me a chapter or two to really get into the story, once I did I was absolutely swept away. This book is just beautiful and incredibly well written, a captivating tale of love, heartbreak, prejudice, and survival. The descriptions of the marsh life are vivid and enchanting. And the characters are expertly crafted and human, with flaws, mistakes, regrets. And Kya’s strength and resiliency despite the rejections of her life is remarkable and makes her endearing to the reader. As the book works its way towards solving the murder, my heart was pounding and I was just flying through chapters. I highly recommend this one!

 

I’ve got a lot of other books that just came off the library wait list so I’m extra excited for what’s coming up in March. What have you been loving reading lately?

January 2019 Book Reviews

My first book review of 2019 is finally here!

I have been so excited for this post because this month, I picked four absolute winners. We’ve got historical fiction, some lighter, fun reads, and one captivating survival story.  I really enjoyed each book this go round and I’m so eager to share them with you, so let’s do this!january 2019 book reviews

My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan

I’ve mentioned before that I enjoy following Shay’s blog Mix and Match Mama and I particularly like following her book reviews. I feel like we have pretty similar taste in what we enjoy reading so I often add a few of her suggestions to my To Be Read list. When she named this book as her very favorite book of 2018, I immediately put it on my list and it did not disappoint! It follows Ella, an American Rhodes scholar traveling to England to study literature at Oxford despite having a promising political career opportunity back home. While there, she takes missteps, develops friendships, and meets a handsome man. I don’t want to spoil to much, but this was such an enjoyable read! I loved the characters and got emotionally invested in the plot. It was the perfect blend of lighthearted fun and serious depth and made me want to ride around on a bike exploring all the charming, quaint little nooks around Oxford.

Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge

This was also a top read of 2018 for Shay so I put it on my list as well and OH. MY. GOSH. This book amazed me. Two strangers survive a plane crash on a remote, virtually unknown island in the South Pacific and have to work together to survive. I wasn’t really sure what all to expect here, but I absolutely loved how the author wove this story together. The story mostly centered on their life on the island but there were also chapters that included what I can only call “extra” information from other time periods that helped tie everything together. I thought this story was beautiful, heartbreaking, uplifting, complex, and captivating – I could not put it down and it gave me a week-long book hangover (you know, when you can’t even think about starting another book because the last one you read still weighs so heavily on your mind). I loved it!

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

It’s been a hot minute since I’ve read a book from cover to cover in one day, but I did it with this one. This book follows Rill Foss, a 12-year-old “river rat” living on a houseboat in the 1930s, and Avery Stafford, a well-connected lawyer with possible political ambitions in present day. These two women have seemingly nothing in common but as their individual stories unfold, connections are made and their stories begin to weave together in ways neither would have imagined. I had this book sitting on my couch one day when my mom was visiting and after reading the insert summary she promptly declared “I could never read this book!” While I personally loved it, it can be a very heavy read, as the fiction story is based off of a disturbing real-life scandal in Memphis from the 1920s to the 1950s (one I had previously known nothing about). There were times where it made my mama heart just break into pieces; however, despite the tragic and distressing events of the past, the author spun an emotional and moving tale of  family, identity, and belonging. I couldn’t put it down and flew through it.

Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan

In October, I read Crazy Rich Asians and really enjoyed it, then in December I read China Rich Girlfriend and thought it was just okay. This month, I finished the trilogy with Rich People Problems and oh my gosh I LOVED it! I think it helped that there was one really big central story line and just a few side plots that tied together. In this story, Nick Young’s incredibly wealthy grandmother is dying and all his wacky relatives are gathering together in her mansion in Singapore to pay their last respects (and make sure they’re in her will). I loved the characters, I loved the downright zany situations they find themselves in, I loved the way everything from the previous two books came together in just a perfect way. I was really satisfied with how this wrapped up the trilogy and didn’t leave any loose ends. This was definitely my favorite book in the series, but you really do need to read the whole series in order because the plot lines build off one another.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?

December 2018 Book Reviews

Good morning friends!

Today, I’m rounding out my 2018 book reviews with the books I read in December. I can’t believe that we’re in a new year now but I’m excited to dive into my reading list for 2019 now so if you have suggestions for books I need to add, please share them in the comments section. But first, let’s jump in to my December reads!

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China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan

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In October, I read Crazy Rich Asians and really enjoyed it so I was excited to read the sequel. To be completely honest, it didn’t quite meet my high expectations. If you read the synopsis, it seems like the story will mostly center around Rachel and Nick’s wedding and the search for Rachel’s birth father, but it took like 70 pages to even have a chapter with them. The plot didn’t focus nearly enough on Nick and Rachel but instead centered a lot more on other characters like Astrid (whom I love, so that was okay) and Kitty Pong (while I do find her character entertaining, I got annoyed by how much she dominated the book). That being said, this book had both new and returning larger-than-life characters and many zany mishaps throughout the chapters. It was a quirky, entertaining read and I did enjoy it, but I liked Crazy Rich Asians better. I’ll be reading the third installment, Rich People Problems, in January so I’m hoping it is more like the first book.

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

the war that saved my life

My sister teaches in a middle school and has seen this book circulated a lot lately so she suggested we each read it so we could discuss (like a mini sister book club – how great is that?!) This young adult read follows Ada, a young girl with a clubfoot deformity who has never been educated or allowed to leave the dismal little apartment she shares with her mother and younger brother. When the children of London are evacuated to the countryside for safety during WWII, she sneaks off with her brother and they are both placed in the care of a woman named Susan. As time goes on, the three learn to trust one another and find healing from their individual pasts. This book was SO GOOD. Even though it is a young adult novel, I absolutely think adult readers would love this book. I fell in love with all the characters and got invested in each of their stories. The author did such a great job of diving into Ada’s psychological state and how previous parental abuse and neglect played into how she reacted to and dealt with her new life where she was treated normally. I felt all. the. feels. and wholeheartedly recommend this read!

When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger

when life gives you lululemons

This book features Emily Charlton and is a follow-up to her character’s story in The Devil Wears Prada; however, I haven’t read that book and think this one stands alone. The plot follows Emily, a publicity manager for celebrities who is losing clients to a competitor left and right, Karolina, a former supermodel whose life and marriage are falling apart in the aftermath of a DUI, and Miriam, a lawyer turned stay-at-home mom who recently left New York for the suburbs of Connecticut. This eclectic trio bands together in Greenwich, CT to help one another with their individual problems. This book fell pretty middle-of-the-road for me. It may have been because I just read China Rich Girlfriend, but I was kind of turned off by the opulent wealth, over-the-top spending, and huge emphasis on superficial appearances displayed by the Greenwich crowd. There was also some rated-R-leaning content that felt unnecessary to the plot. However, there were some very entertaining elements  and I got particularly invested in Karolina’s storyline. Overall, I finished the book pretty satisfied!

Educated by Tara Westover

Educated.jpgTara Westover was raised in rural Idaho by an extremely religious, survivalist family. She received no formal education and had little contact with the outside world during her childhood because her father distrusted the government and constantly prepared his family for the End Days. Her childhood was often dangerous and reading about it was both frustrating and straight up distressing. It’s just mind-boggling to me that someone would actually experience a childhood like hers. It was absolutely heartbreaking to read about at times. That being said, I was blown away by how she rose above her circumstances and got herself into college and beyond with the little education she received as a child. Her resilience is commendable, but I appreciated how she also shared the inner conflicts she felt with trying to reconcile what the outside world is actually like with the way that she had been raised to believe the world worked, as well as the struggle she felt in still wanting to connect with her family even though they did not see eye to eye. She doesn’t sugarcoat things, she is honest with possible faults in her memories, and she is fair in her descriptions of relationships. I think this memoir would make for an awesome book club discussion and definitely recommend it.

And that’s a wrap on my 2018 reads. What should I add to my list for 2019?

November 2018 Book Reviews

Hi friends!

My original plan was to get this blog post up yesterday but life happened and you know what, you just gotta roll with it sometimes.

Over the last few months I’ve been reading a lot of books and for the month of November I slowed down a bit and read three books. I enjoyed them all immensely and am excited to share my reviews with you so let’s get going!

November Book Review.jpgThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca SklootHenrietta Lacks.jpgI don’t remember how this book landed on my list but I’d been waiting for it at the library for a quite a while and was excited when it finally was my turn to check it out! While the book is a work of nonfiction, it reads very much like a novel and I really enjoyed it. Henrietta was a poor black woman with cancer in the 1950s; a scraping of cancer cells from her cervix was used in scientific research without her knowledge or consent. Even after she passed away, her cells became “immortal” and are still living today. They have been instrumental in developing various vaccines, medications, and other medical discoveries. The book researches both Henrietta’s life and the life of her family, who didn’t know about her cells being used for decades. The author details not only what happened throughout her own journey to research Henrietta but also lots of information about Henrietta’s life, what was happening in the field of science at various times, what life has been like for Henrietta’s family, etc. This story could have easily become a dense, scientific read but the author did an amazing job of bringing each character to life on the page. The books brings up some thought-provoking questions about ethics in scientific research and was truly an interesting read that I wholeheartedly recommend.

The Book Thief by Markus ZusakThe Book ThiefThis book has been on my “to be read” list for a really long time and I finally got around to reading it. It was well worth the wait! It is categorized as a Young Adult novel but I honestly think it appeals just as much to older adults as well. The plot is unique: it set in Nazi Germany during World War II and is narrated by Death. Death is recalling a story of a young girl who has been sent away to a small town in Germany and his encounters with her life. I don’t want to give away too much so I’ll just say this book was fantastic. It was long but the short chapters make it seem like a quicker read and it kept my attention the whole time – I kept thinking “okay just one more chapter and then I’ll go get other work done” but just kept going! I have read a ton of WWII historical fiction but this may be the first book I’ve read about what life may have been like for small-town Germans, particularly those who didn’t whole-heartedly agree with Hitler. It was a fascinating read and I highly recommend it!

 

 

The Girl Before by JP Delaney

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If you know me in real life, you are probably surprised that I have been reading so many psychological thrillers lately because I’m a natural scaredy-cat. I don’t know why I’m on such a kick right now but my interest in them is showing no signs of slowing down and I’m okay with that. The Girl Before is set in an ultra-modern, techy, and minimalistic house with an eccentric owner and unusual lease agreement. Chapters alternate between Emma, a previous tenant, and Jane, the current tenant and their eerily similar experiences. This book had an interesting premise and was just creepy enough without being overly terrifying (it didn’t make me need to sleep with the lights on but it made my heartbeat rise at several points). There were several times where I thought I had figured out what had happened and then a new revelation made me question everything. Every character had a surprise or two up his or her sleeve, whether good or bad, and it kept me intrigued the whole way through! I really enjoyed this book!

Have you read any of these books? What were your thoughts?

October 2018 Book Review {Part Two}

Good morning friends!

Today I’m wrapping up the reviews for the books I read in October – if you missed Part One be sure to check it out here.

October 2018 Part Two

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

The Alice Network

Charlie St. Clair is a college girl in search of her cousin who went missing in France in WWII. Her search leads her to Eve Gardiner, a former WWI spy harboring bitterness and regret over long ago happenings within the spy organization known as The Alice Network. Charlie and Eve (along with Eve’s hired helper, a Scottish man named Finn) set off to France to try to discover the truth of what really happened to those they’ve known. The more information they learn, the more entwined their two separate stories and searches become.

So first off, I am a historical fiction junkie. Give me historical fiction about an obscure female heroine from WWI and I am ALL over it. I absolutely loved reading about The Alice Network and devoured information about the real Louise de Bettignies and her story on Wikipedia after finishing this novel. I enjoyed the dynamic between Charlie, Eve, and Finn and thought the characters came to life throughout. That being said, the stories alternated between Eve’s WWI experience and Charlie’s post-WWII quest and I often found myself hoping perspectives would shift so things picked up. Some parts went too slowly for me and the book seemed a bit long. I kept wanting to find out more information and the slow reveals and little hints were just tantalizing. Eve’s chapters were fascinating but I wasn’t as into Charlie’s stories. I found her equations (a strange mental game she plays) unnecessary and boring and her backstory wasn’t as interesting to me. However, I was eager to find out how Eve and Charlie’s stories were connected and as truths came to light I became very invested in how things would turn out. Overall, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it, but it probably could have been a little condensed.

The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams

The Summer Wives

In general, I love Beatriz Williams and I really enjoy her Schuyler family stories. Sometimes they connect with one another and have overlapping characters, but this book 100% stands on it’s own. This novel is set on Winthrop Island, a small New England island where the community is comprised of the wealthy summer Families and the working-class Portuguese population who live there year-round. The plot is divided into three different time periods (1930, 1951, and 1969) and events that happened over the course of the summers in each of those years. While the narrators and time periods change, I didn’t find it hard to keep the story lines straight and understand events and how everything connected. (In fact, I followed it almost too well and figured out where the plot was going around page 150, which was a little disappointing because I like to be surprised). I loved the characters, the setting, and most of the plot line, although I will say that there was a lot of unnecessary rated-R content that took away from the story for me. There were also a few times, particularly with the 1969 timeline, where I felt like the story dragged a little but for the most part I was drawn in and intrigued by how the individual stories were woven together. Overall, I thought this was a great read!

Force of Nature by Jane Harper
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Back in May, I read The Dry and was told that Harper had another book following the same main character so I immediately added it to my reading list. In this novel, Aaron Falk is working on a big money laundering case when his key contact within the company, Alice Russell, goes missing on a corporate retreat in the isolated Australian wilderness. The four other women she was in the woods with all return together and each remembers things that happened slightly differently. The story is told through Falk’s present investigations/the search for Alice and flashbacks alternating points of views from the women in the wilderness. One thing that Harper does really well in her books is to describe the scenery so well that it becomes like an actual character in her stories. I could feel the claustrophobia of being surrounded by thick bushland, I could imagine how turned around and scared I would have become had I been lost in this vast wilderness. I felt the paranoia of the women in the woods as their panic levels rose and feral instincts kicked in. As the story twisted and turned, Harper dropped enough small tidbits that I formed various ideas of how things might play out but I was still surprised by the final turn of events. I do wish the author would dive a little more into Falk’s personal life, because I love reading about his character and she doesn’t spend a lot of time on it; nonetheless, it was an exciting thriller without being too creepy and I flew through it. I recommend it, but I suggest reading The Dry first because there are a few tiny mentions of that plot in this story (plus it is just a fantastic read)!

Have you read any of these books? What were your thoughts?