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!

December 2018 Book Reviews.jpg

China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan

china rich girlfriend

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?

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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

The Girl Before.jpg

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
Force of Nature.jpg

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?

October 2018 Book Review {Part One}

A couple weeks ago, I finished up reviewing all the books I read over the summer and planned to do one monthly wrap-up from then on. However, this month I have been able to read a little more than I anticipated so rather than have one huge review, I’m breaking it up into two smaller reviews. So here goes Part One of my October reads!

October 2018 Book Reviews - Crazy Rich Asians, Surprise Me, Behind Closed Doors

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Crazy Rich Asians

New Yorkers Rachel and Nick have been dating for almost two years when Nick invites her to spend the summer holiday visiting his family and home in Singapore. What Nick does not prepare Rachel for is that his family is insanely wealthy and he is considered to be one of the country’s most eligible bachelors. A lot of family meddling and mishaps ensue and it’s all pretty amusing. This book alternates perspectives from a variety of characters – from Rachel and Nick to Nick’s cousins to Rachel’s friend’s dad and lots of others in between. There are so many perspectives but I actually think that makes it a super fun read. The way these characters live is larger than life and some chapters are downright zany. I thought this was a clever, charming, very entertaining story and I’m excited to read the next book in this trilogy, China Rich Girlfriend. If you’re looking for an amusing light read, I recommend checking this book out!

Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella

Surprise Me

Married couple Dan and Sylvie finish each other’s sentences and know everything there is to know about each other. When they find out they might be married another 68 years, they both panic at how long that seems and decide to add some fun to that time with project Surprise Me, where the goal is to surprise one another with out-of-the-box gifts and experiences. Obviously, not all surprises go smoothly and things start to spin a little out of control. While the premise seemed interesting enough, this book was not especially fun for me to read. I did not connect with the main character, Sylvie, who seemed neurotic, desperate, and annoying. Even though the author clearly tried to build interest by dropping hints that there were things going on around Sylvie that had yet to be fully revealed, it was hard to drum up enthusiasm for how things were going to play out. There were some boring parts and some cute parts. Overall it was an okay read – I didn’t hate it but I didn’t love it either.

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

Behind Closed Doors

Jack and Grace have a picture-perfect marriage. Jack is a successful lawyer and Grace is a charming homemaker. They throw delightful dinner parties, take exotic vacations, and live in a gorgeous mansion. They seem to have it all, but you never really know what goes on when the guests go home and the doors close. I have read a lot of psychological thrillers lately and I have to say, this was one of my favorites! The plot is intriguing, original, and hair-raising. I don’t want to give too much away, but I felt like I was reading someone’s nightmare and kept trying to find a way for them to “escape” – it was gripping and terrifying and so so good! This book made me turn on the lights at night, even days (weeks?) after I had finished reading it. It is just haunting. I highly recommend if you want a good thriller!

As always, let me know if you have a great suggestion for what I should read next!

September 2018 Book Reviews

Today is the final installment of catching up on book reviews from my summer reading list. After this, I will just have one book review each month. I’m currently working through my October reading stack so that review will likely come in a couple weeks.

September 2018 Book Review

Let’s jump in to what I read in September – I’ve got an eclectic mix this time around!

You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld

You Think It

I saw this collection on the featured shelf in the library and decided to give it a chance since I rarely read short stories. There is no doubt that this author is talented and the stories are well written; however, I just didn’t connect with or enjoy the majority of them. This is an unfortunate example of how sometimes it doesn’t pay off to start a book you know nothing about – from a manipulative one-night-stand to emotional/physical cheating to contemplation of extramarital affairs, there was subject material that was just not my cup of tea. After the first two stories fell flat for me, I considered stopping but ultimately kept plugging away since the book was short. I did like a few stories (like Bad Latch and Off the Record) but most just left me feeling sad or cynical for one reason or another. This is sadly not one I enjoyed or recommend.

Final Girls by Riley Sager

Final Girls.jpg

Three women, Lisa, Sam, and Quincy, have never met but are uniquely bonded together as “final girls” – they are each the sole survivor of a horrific mass murder. We primarily follow Quincy, who has no memory of how she survived a cabin weekend where all her friends were brutally killed. After Lisa is unexpectedly found dead, Sam shows up on Quincy’s door and forces Quincy to deal with the past she has blocked out, which leads to a heart-pumping race to figure out the truth of what really happened that horrible night in the cabin. I have to start by saying the first 40% of this book went slower than I expected; I could tell it was meant to build suspense but it just wasn’t really working for me.  But then, the first major twist/revelation occurs and my interest level completely changed. The pace picked up, the story became more intricate and suspenseful, my heart started beating faster – I could not put it down! There were some shocking twists that kept me guessing until the very end. I gasped. I shuddered. I turned on ALL the lights. Even now just writing this review, I have literally looked over my shoulder no less than five times. This book is the perfect blend of psychological thriller + slasher movie (and I say this as someone who flat out refuses to watch any even remotely scary movie, let alone a horror/slasher flick). I loved the unique premise, the flashbacks to the night in the cabin, and the surprising twists throughout. So even with the disappointingly slow start, I did enjoy this book and would recommend it!

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

The Great Alone

In 1974, a fairly unstable Vietnam War veteran tries to get a fresh start by moving to rural Alaska with his wife and teenage daughter, Leni. They are welcomed into the small, tight-knit community and things go really well at first. Leni even starts to believe that maybe life will really be different for their family in Alaska. But then, winter comes and it turns out, even Alaska isn’t far enough away for her father to escape his demons. This book was fantastic! In May, I reviewed Kristin Hannah’s book Summer Island and it just fell short of the standard I have for her books after her excellent novels The Nightingale and Winter Garden. I was hopeful that this book would redeem my high expectations for her and it did not disappoint! It is vibrant, poignant, and captivating. The descriptions of the Alaskan wild are so vivid I feel like I have actually seen it with my own eyes. I came to love (most of) the characters and became so invested in their stories. There are some pretty heavy mental health issues included that are heartbreaking to see play out but contribute to an intriguing, emotional plot. It’s not a light read by any means but gosh, I just loved it. Highly recommend!

Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle

Reclaiming Conversation

Sherry Turkle is a trained sociologist and psychologist who takes a deep dive into how the pull of technology has led us away from conversations. She examines how our departure from conversation affects relationships with our family, friends, work, and even our own self-awareness. People are losing the ability to be empathetic and connect with others beyond the surface level. While I did enjoy reading this book and feel everyone would benefit from its message, I realize not everyone wants to read a nonfiction, heavily researched book about the effects of technology and devices on our view of ourselves, our relationships, our work life, etc. This book did get a little long and dense at times which led to me skim some of the sections. In a nutshell: while it can be a great resource, there are limitations with what technology can provide. Use of a device simply cannot serve as a replacement for face-to-face conversation. Conversations bring creativity, deeper relationships, and change and it is important for us to turn outward to others rather than downward to our phones or other devices. Turkle makes some compelling arguments for conversation and overall, I was pretty fascinated and took a lot of notes. I feel like there will be a separate blog post in the future where I can expand more on what I took away from this book so stay tuned for that!

And that’s a wrap on my summer reading! Now what do I need to include on my fall reading list?