March 2020 Book Reviews

In the interest of total transparency, I’m trying something new this month. I’ve always provided a link to the books I’ve reviewed for your convenience (should you want to read that book too), but in this post, I started using affiliate links. This means if you purchase something through the link I provided, I may earn a small commission. I link these books because they are what I read, and none of my reading decisions were based on any commission I might receive from your purchases. The decision to buy a book is yours, and whether or not you decide to buy one through the link I provide is completely up to you. Thank you!

Starting off the month of April with my favorite type of post: book reviews!

I initially thought I would read like, 17 books, since the second half of March was spent almost exclusively at home; however, I got busy with a few home projects (making over a $15 dresser, giving our basement a quick refresh, and spending time with Justin on our DIY Date Night) so I wasn’t non-stop reading like I thought, although I did still finish several books. I’m very glad that I had checked out plenty of books from our library before it closed down (and that digital copies are still available to check out!) so I can continue to read while staying at home.

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The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa

The Worst Best Man: A Novel by [Sosa, Mia]

Lately I have been into romcoms in the haters-turned-lovers category (i.e. The Unhoneymooners and The Hating Game) so when this book happened to catch my eye at the library, I decided to check it out. Andrew and Lina are getting married, until Andrew decides to bail and asks his brother and best man Max to tell Lina he’s not going through with it. On their wedding day. Yikes. Flash forward three years, and Lina is vying for her dream job. The catch is, she needs to work with Max to land it. I’ll be honest, this book was just kind of “meh” for me. I thought the characters were pretty underdeveloped – I wanted to see more of what made each of them tick. I did not understand the different levels of animosity Lina showed Andrew vs. Max. The author was clearly trying to make their different cultures play into the story and incorporated a lot of Lina’s Brazilian heritage and family, but it kind of felt forced. I wanted to feel more of the spark between Lina and Max but I couldn’t get into their relationship and actually felt like their dynamic was awkward at times, even when they were supposedly falling for one another. Also, all the sudden, it got super steamy but with cringe-y dialogue and I just felt weird reading it, especially because I wasn’t even really feeling the characters’ connections. Overall, this one fell flat for me and I would say if you’re in the mood for a romcom, I have many suggestions to read before this one.

Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Maybe in Another Life: A Novel by [Reid, Taylor Jenkins]

Every time I start a book by Taylor Jenkins Reid, I have to mentally brace myself, as she tends to write doozies with complex characters and thought-provoking “how would I handle this in my own life?” situations. This book is no different. Hannah Martin moves back to her hometown of LA and celebrates her first night back by meeting up with some old friends at a bar. At the end of the night, she is presented with a choice: does she stay out and reconnect with her high school boyfriend Ethan? Or does she decide to pass on staying out and instead go home with her best friend Gabby? The rest of the book is split into two story lines and follows the effects of each decision. As with all the other work I’ve read from this author, I found this book to be incredibly compelling. I thought it would be hard to follow the alternating stories, but it really wasn’t hard to keep up with at all. Each story line was drastically different, and yet it was really intriguing to see the elements of each world that remained the same. I liked the characters, I liked the premise, and I was super invested in figuring out how it was all going to end (honestly, I had huge doubts that it would get wrapped up in a satisfying way, but I did feel like there was closure). I flew through this book and it gave me a lot to think about in terms of how every decision we makes has long-lasting consequences, whether good or bad. It’s a good middle ground fiction – not too fluffy, but not dark and heavy. I definitely recommend!

Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

This book is technically a young adult/middle school level read but I honestly think it’s a great choice for everyone. It’s written in short story format, and each chapter shows a look at what happens to various middle schoolers after a school day is over. The stories all take place on the same day at the same school, but each story stands on its own. It’s really interesting to see the different perspectives and even see some of the overlap between stories. I’m always impressed when an author can develop a whole story line and make you care about a character in just a few pages, but that’s just what this book did. I wouldn’t necessarily call this “light” reading; it’s quick and easy to read, but packs a punch. I even teared up at one of the stories! I thought this was a very unique, poignant look at how different kids deal with situations in their lives. It also made me think about how we can be so wrapped up in our own lives that we don’t really notice what is going on in with others around us. I recommend it!

Regretting You by Colleen Hoover

Regretting You by [Hoover, Colleen]

A couple years ago, I read Colleen Hoover’s book It Ends with Us and that book haunted me for a long time. I was excited to read another book by her and Regretting You did not disappoint! The book is told in alternating points of view between Morgan and her seventeen-year-old daughter Clara. Their mother-daughter dynamic is full of conflict and frustration, and when their husband/father Chris is involved in a tragic accident (that leaves a lot of unanswered questions), they start to drift apart even further. I could not put this book down! The writing is strong, the plot is multifaceted yet not overly complicated, the characters were complex but likable, and I adored the supporting characters.  It did get frustrating at times because Clara and Morgan keep secrets from each other that cause a lot of heartache and misunderstanding, but that just spurred me on to keep reading and see if/how things got resolved. This was a book that once I finished, I wanted to re-read my favorite parts over and over again.  I really enjoyed this one and highly recommend!

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by [Harms, Kelly]

I get this now. I get now that you can love what you have, love your kids and your life and your friends, and still want more. I get that it’s ok to go out and get more – more love, more friendship, more fulfillment – and still be a wonderful mom.”

Amy’s husband left her (and their two children) without warning three years ago, leaving her to scramble to make ends meet and support her family working as a school librarian. One day, her husband reappears out of the blue, apologizes profusely, and begs for a chance to be back in their kids’ lives. Against her better judgement, Amy agrees to give him one week with their children. She heads to a library conference in New York City and soon begins a journey towards rediscovery and redefining her identity and life.

I read this book on my kindle, so it sounds a little weird to say, but it needed like 20-30 fewer pages. In my opinion, there was too much time spent on Amy’s backstory/life as a librarian and mom; the beginning felt slow and a little too woe-is-me (which I get was the point, but it was overkill at times).  That being said, once Amy actually got to New York, the story picked up and I was hooked! Personally, I felt like I could relate to a lot of what she experienced – she sacrificed so much for her family and kids that she lost her own sense of self, then felt guilty for taking time away from them to have some fun on her own. I loved all the characters and enjoyed rooting for Amy as she began to let loose and realize that she is a mom, but she is also a woman and that woman is important too. This was a fun, cute, even empowering read!

 

Since the social distancing recommendations have now been extended through April, I have a feeling there will be a lot of books read next month. If you have any great suggestions, send them my way!

 

 

My Updated List of Book Recommendations

I have always loved to read and over the years, I’ve read many, many books. Friends and family frequently reach out to me to get recommendations, and it’s always a little tricky because there are so many books I’ve loved throughout the years that wouldn’t necessarily appeal to everyone. We all have different tastes and preferences and it can even depend on what kind of mood you’re in with whether or not you like a book.

Last year, I wrote up a post with all my top recommendations and it was super helpful to reference whenever people asked for a rec. I’ve been meaning to update the list with books I’ve read since then that I also highly recommend – since so many of us are social distancing at home these days, it felt like a great time to update the list!

I do want to reiterate the disclaimer that I think it’s also helpful to read my previous book reviews and see if you agree with my take on books that you have also read. If you find yourself nodding along to my reviews because you felt similarly when reading, we likely have similar taste. If you find yourself frequently saying “what was so great about that book? I thought it was boring” or “she’s crazy – how did she not enjoy that book? I thought it was brilliant” then maybe we just have different styles and you might not like my recommendations. Different strokes, different folks and all that 😉

With all that being said, here are my TOP recommendations!

MY VERY FAVORITES

Cancel the Wedding by Carolyn T. Dingman (easy to read yet captivating and meaningful. As my fellow book lover friend Kaitlin described – “a beach read with depth”)

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

-Basically anything written by Kate Morton. The Lake House, The Forgotten Garden, The House at Riverton, The Secret Keeper, The Distant Hours  – they are just phenomenal historical fiction! If I had to choose one to start, I’d say The Secret Keeper.

General Fiction

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams (read first)

The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams (read second; they aren’t technically sequels but I would still read them in that order)

Defending Jacob by William Landry

One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

The Dry by Jane Harper

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

-My Grandmother Asked me to Tell you She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge

The Violets of March by Sarah Jio (read first)

Morning Glory by Sarah Jio (read second)

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

“Beach” Reads + RomComs

– The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

If You Only Knew by Kristin Higgins

Crazy Rich Asians Trilogy by Kevin Kwan (the last one is my favorite!)

My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

One Day in December by Josie Silver

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

-The Haven Point Series by RaeAnne Thayne (Hallmark movies in book form – a little cheesy and predictable but sweet and fun)

Psychological Thriller/Mysteries

Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins (I feel like everyone has read it by now, but when it came out it blew my mind!)

The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond (creepy and cult-like)

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Final Girls by Riley Sager (part psychological thriller, part homage to campy-slasher movies)

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

The Girl Before by J. P. Delaney

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

-The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine

Historical Fiction

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Stella Bain by Anita Shreve

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

World War Two Historical Fiction

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly (this book does get very heavy and difficult to read at times)

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosay

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Young Adult

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth E. Wein

The Fault in our Stars by John Green

The War that Saved my Life (#1), The War I Finally Won (#2) by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko (this is a series!)

Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements

-Harry Potter (because it should be on every list)

Nonfiction: Self-Help

The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

-Outer Order, Inner Calm by Gretchen Rubin

-To Have and To Hold: Motherhood, Marriage, and the Modern Dilemma by Molly Millwood

Nonfiction: Memoirs and Biographies

Inheritance by Dani Shapiro

Becoming by Michelle Obama

-Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Educated by Tara Westover

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

 

Happy reading!

 

 

February 2020 Book Reviews

This month’s book review feels a little different than normal because while I normally try to vary the types of books I read, this month I read a lot of heavier novels. Novels that made me think. Novels that made me have to take time to process. Novels that stayed with me after I turned the last page and I won’t soon forget about. I feel like I limped across the finish line for February. My brain is exhausted!

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These reviews are just my thoughts written out, and I had a lot of them. Some thoughts I’m not sure I did a great job of putting into words. It feels a little scattered and word vomit-y, but that’s a pretty accurate depiction of how I feel after this marathon of reading so here we go!

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

“Our only chance at dismantling racial injustice is being more curious about its origins than we are worried about our comfort.”

More than any other book I read this month (and possibly ever), this memoir deeply challenged me. It is a fast, but powerful read. Austin Channing Brown writes poignantly about her experiences as a black woman in the largely white communities and organizations she’s been involved in throughout her life. She writes in a way that made me pause to think so many times.  It made me put a mirror up to myself and really look. It often made me uncomfortable. It made me realize I need to be uncomfortable because I am all too guilty of, as Brown puts it, trying to “live comfortably in ignorance of America’s racial history” and that extends to present day. Our country’s history of slavery and racism hurts my heart to think about. I can’t grasp it, I can’t understand it. So I often choose to not think about it, because it’s easier. But the fact is, it really happened. And racism, though it looks different than it did 200 years ago, still exists. It even exists in “nice” white people. This book helped to open my eyes to the lenses I use to view society.  I’m embarrassed to admit that I had never really realized how much white culture is embedded into American society – our workplaces, our school curriculum, etc and how this affects my way of thinking.  I have a lot to think about and process as I move forward to figure out where I go from here and how I live differently. I think this quote from the book speaks directly to my feelings: “I don’t know what to do with that I’ve learned . . . I can’t fix your pain, and I can’t take it away, but I can see it. And I can work for the rest of my life to make sure your children don’t have to experience the pain of racism . . . Doing nothing is no longer an option for me.” I highly, highly recommend this book.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Full disclosure: I was on the waiting list for this book for months. And anytime I’m on the waiting list for that long, my expectations for the book significantly rise. If this many people want to read it, it has to be amazing right? So I think I kind of unfairly expected a lot from this one and after the first few chapters, I wasn’t sure it was going to live up to the hype.  I kept going though and eventually this book really grew on me and I enjoyed reading it. This book revolves around the Dutch House, a very unique, grand estate in Pennsylvania (I wish it was real so I could visit it!), and is told through the perspective of Danny, a boy who spent his childhood there with his sister and father. What’s interesting about this book is that even though the narration throughout the decades is always Danny’s, the timelines shift back and forth, and there are a lot of spoilers/foreshadowing throughout. At times, that made me sad because I already knew what was going to happen even though I didn’t know how it was going to happen, but overall this narration really worked. It is more character-driven than plot-driven and it focuses on things like what motivates people to act the way they do and the close (maybe too close?) relationship between Danny and his sister Maeve. I had a lot to think about after finishing it – forgiveness, family bonds, regret, how our past experiences shape us. It’s described as a dark fairy tale and I completely agree with that label. I would say overall, I enjoyed it, but I wish I hadn’t had such high expectations going into it. (And as a complete side note: normally I prefer reading the physical book, but I found out that Tom Hanks narrated the audiobook and I wish I had gone that route instead. I think I would have loved it so much more!) 

A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

“But what had her grandparents expected when they came to this country? That their children and grandchildren would be fully Arab, too? That their culture would remain untouched? It wasn’t her fault she wasn’t Arab enough. She had lived her entire life straddled between two cultures. She was neither Arab nor American. She belonged nowhere. She didn’t know who she was.” (p.28)

This novel is told through the stories of three women related women: Isra, a Palestinian woman who moved to New York after her arranged marriage, her daughter Deya, and her mother-in-law Fareeda. The perspectives and timelines change depending on the chapter’s narrator, but I found the book surprisingly easy to follow along with.  The stories of Muslim immigrants living in Brooklyn and trying to keep their culture alive in a completely different country was about the farthest thing from my personal experience and I was really fascinated by how each woman chose to navigate her strict, oppressive, and conservative culture and family life. I know these stories do not portray what life is like for every Palestinian immigrant family, but it definitely broadened my worldview (even though it is a work of fiction). And the fact that it was told through three related women with different, yet similar experiences was interesting. I will say – Isra’s story was pretty repetitive and got hard for me to focus on. At the same time, I think the monotony was kind of the point of her story line and drove home her feelings and perspective to the reader. Deya’s story was the easiest to fly through and I always looked forward to her chapters. And when Fareeda’s story got brought in, much needed perspective was gained. Overall, this was a deep, complex novel and gave me so much to think about and process! This one will stay with me a long time.

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

I read this around Valentine’s Day and it was the perfect choice for a fun, engaging read not only for the holiday, but also to lighten up my reading load this month. Tiffy and Leon are flatmates . . . but due to opposite work schedules, they never need to be in the flat at the same time and or even meet each other. They start to leave each other notes around the apartment about house-related things and gradually develop a friendship of sorts as they start to share more and more of their lives with one another through these notes. Then one day, they unexpectedly meet, and their views towards one another dramatically shift. I seriously loved this book. It was cute, it was sweet, it had depth, it had likable characters, and it had a unique premise. I love a book where I can really root for the characters and this makes you just want the best for everyone. It was romantic but not cheesy or overly steamy. It just struck the perfect balance for me and I didn’t want it to end. I highly recommend it if you’re craving a fun read!

Beartown by Fredrick Backman

” …many of the best things people do for each other occur precisely because of loyalty. The only problem is that many of the very worst things we do to each other occur because of the same thing.”

Where to even begin with this one. I have so many thoughts and feelings about this and I’m going to try to do it justice. In simplest terms, this book is about life in a hockey town. Backman’s style is so unique and his writing is incredible, but what makes it a fascinating book also makes it a difficult one to get through. From the very first sentence, you know something horrible is going to happen. So there is always this sense of pervasive sadness and foreboding as you read. The narration keeps switching, sometimes from one sentence to another, and there are a ton of perspectives (I stopped counting when I got to 20 different people). It is extremely character-driven and as such, is very slow. Like, it took 112 pages to get through one. single. day. in the lives of these characters. And it’s a long book at 400+ pages! I even took to my Instagram stories and talked about how I wanted to stop reading even though I wasn’t even quite halfway through.

Instead of quitting, I took a little break and started reading another book for a while. I came back to Beartown to give it one more effort. After reading about 40 more pages, things started to shift for me. Suddenly, I had a grasp on all the characters. I was invested in their lives. I had my favorites, I had my least favorites. I was intrigued. I was frustrated. I had to see how it all played out. It made me feel a lot of emotions and I wanted to personally talk to so many of these characters – some I wanted to hug and others I wanted to smack in the face. I can honestly say the last 1/3 of the book flew by. And I absolutely cannot believe I am saying this, but it’s possible that I might want to read the sequel. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just running on the adrenaline of finishing, but I enjoyed the last part enough for it to at least make up for not liking the first part. That being said, would I recommend it? I’m honestly not sure. It’s a unique style of writing that is not for everyone, but for the right reader, it’s fantastic.

Whew – we made it! I think I’m going to need some lighter reads for March, so if you have any good suggestions, send them my way!

January 2020 Book Reviews

My 2020 reading list is off to a great start!

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This month I read five books (four physical and one on my Kindle). Genres are all across the board – from romcom to courtroom drama to self-help – but I enjoyed them all!

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

Olive’s sister and her new husband both get too sick to go on their non-refundable honeymoon so they offer the trip to Olive instead. There’s only one problem: the best man and Olive’s enemy, Ethan, is also going.

This fun romantic comedy reads a lot like The Hating Game so it felt a little cliche at first with the will-the-enemies-turn-to-lovers story line but this one had some extra swerves in the plot that made it less predictable. The themes of trust and honesty came up at several points throughout the story and I feel like it had a good amount of depth for a romcom. I  really enjoyed it and feel like it’s a perfect vacation beach read (although I read it in the Midwest in January so…I guess it’s enjoyable anytime ha!)

Fair Play by Eve Rodsky

I wasn’t entirely sure what this book was going to be about, but I knew it was going to address the unequal labor division between men and women regarding all the tasks that go into home and family life and I was very intrigued. The author goes into details of how she came to realize that she (and many other women that she talked to) were becoming the default parent in charge of almost all of the household tasks. She came up with a card system to divy up household responsibilities more fairly.

Many aspects of this book resonated with me, and made me realize how much of the “invisible” work falls to me. I like that her emphasis was not on divying up things equally into a true 50/50 split, because I feel like that is rarely realistic, but instead on finding a good balance where both partners contribute in ways that maintain their shared home. I also really loved the focus on finding “unicorn space” – things that give each partner passion and purpose beyond their career and role as a spouse and parent. Justin and I did talk through her “cards” and realized a few tasks are split between us and it does lead to things slipping through the cracks. For example, we both do things with our pets (he’ll pick up food, I’ll schedule vet appointments) but then vacation comes and neither of us remember to schedule a dog sitter. This game helped us to realize we need to have one point person to be in charge with this task. I think even if you don’t play the “game” (we aren’t really), it is a helpful way to look at the division of labor and find a balance that feels good to both partners.

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

“Good things and bad – every friendship and romance formed, every accident, every illness – resulted from the conspiracy of hundreds of little things, in and of themselves inconsequential.”

A hyperbaric oxygen chamber explodes while administering treatment, leaving multiple people injured and two people dead. A murder trial ensues. Secrets and lies are exposed. (Can you hear the “Law and Order” gavel bang?)

I cannot believe this is a debut novel. The author did an absolutely incredible job writing this highly addictive courtroom drama. Throughout the trial the story unfolds through the varying perspectives of each person involved with the explosion of the “miracle submarine.” There are so many layers to the characters and their stories: the struggles of an immigrant family, the toll of infertility on a marriage, the complex emotions involved with parenting a child with special needs. It took me a little while to get into the story and figure out the characters, but once I did, I was hooked. It made me think so much about perspective – how two people can view the exact same scenario in completely different lights – and how our perceptions of people influence how we react to them. It also made me think about how many little decisions we make throughout our life and how we may never know the full ripple effect that our actions cause. I think this would be a great choice for a book club! I found myself wanting to immediately discuss it once I finished. Highly recommend!

To Have and to Hold: Motherhood, Marriage, & the Modern Dilemma by Molly Millwood

This book is an intimate look at many of the challenges women face as they become mothers. This book is often recommended by one of my favorite bloggers and I’ve had it checked out since AUGUST 2. I finally reached my maximum amount of renewals so this month I  made time to sit down and read it. I think I put it off because I thought it would be dense, but honestly, it’s not at all. It could read quickly, but personally I had to stop frequently to process or reread something that struck me as profound. I have so many thoughts on this book that I’m likely going to devote an entire blog post to it (I also plan on buying the book so I have my own copy to highlight and underline) so I’ll just say this: I think this book applies to women in all stages of motherhood. I felt like it was written specifically for me, but I have a feeling many women would feel the exact same way. One line that especially struck me: “Other mothers, despite the smiles on their faces, are not free of the occasional thought that a life without children sounds much more appealing.” (p. 57) I can relate so much to that and I’m not sure I’ve ever said it out loud before. This book felt like a giant permission slip to talk about many topics that often seem taboo – that motherhood is beautiful and amazing but can also include some really complicated feelings like boredom, loss of identity, struggling with how this time is so short but also so dang long. It’s such an important read and I highly recommend it!

Season of Wonder by RaeAnne Thayne

I checked this book out from the library using my Kindle – it’s book 9 of the Haven Point Series (that I started in December and loved) and I have to say, it was probably my least favorite of the books so far. The characters were fine, the plot line was fine, it was all just fine. I think one issue for me was that the main characters had only each gotten one quick mention in previous stories so going into the book I wasn’t very invested in them. Then there were hardly any cameos from other Haven Point residents I’ve grown to love through the series. It just felt a little disconnected from the rest of the series and wasn’t my favorite. It was fine, and I’m glad I read it, but it’s not going to be one I go back and reread.

And lastly, it’s worth a mention that I started reading American Royals this month too. I got about 40 pages in and was really enjoying it, but then I discovered that this book is going to be part of a series. Book two is currently in the works and will be released in the fall, and just by reading 40 pages I could tell that the book was going to be binge-worthy and would likely leave me hanging at the end. I took a poll on Instagram and got some feedback from others who have read it, and ultimately decided to put off reading the rest until closer to book two’s release so I can read them back to back.

When it comes to books in a series, do you prefer to read them back-to-back or do you read other books in between?

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!

May 2019 Book Reviews

It’s book review day! Whoo hoo!

Because May was so chaotic with selling our house, packing, moving, and traveling, I only got through three books this month but I feel like that’s pretty good all things considered. Plus I had a good mix of genres so overall I was happy with this month’s choices. Let’s get to it, shall we?

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The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

Kate Morton is my all-time favorite author so I saved this book for a vacation read and took it along with me to the Bahamas. The plot all centers around a unique house in the English countryside that captivates everyone who encounters it. We follow along with several different characters and their experiences in and around the house from summer 1862, where a mysterious murder takes place, to 2017 London, where an archivist stumbles across some items linked to the house and that very summer. There are several characters and major events happening in between the two time periods and we jump back and forth between perspectives and see how some stories even overlap.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Kate Morton is my favorite. She writes historical fiction in an absolutely mesmerizing way and each book always hooks me in and then blows me away with reveals I never saw coming. There is always a moment where I’m reading and have a “OH MY GOSH” moment that forces me to go back and reread. Justin even joked after I finished this book that I was doing the “classic Sarah re-read” because about 20 minutes after finishing the book and processing the ending, I had to go back and start at the beginning and flip through to piece together things I missed the first time around. Have I sold her enough? I love, love LOVE Kate Morton. That being said, this book left me feeling unsettled. I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll just say that I was really hoping for a little more with the way everything got wrapped up and was loving the book until the last 40 or so pages (and the book clocks in at just under 500 pages, so that was a lot of enjoyable reading). It’s always disappointing to love a book and then be let down by the ending but I still remain loyal to Kate Morton and even still recommend this book because her writing is just so spellbinding. Just maybe use your imagination and change the ending a bit, or read one of her other books such as The Lake House or The Secret Keeper!

Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan

Saints for All Occasions

I’ve read a couple others books by this author in the past (my favorite was probably The Engagements) and when I saw this on another recommendation list I added it to my stack. This book follows two Irish Catholic sisters, Nora and Theresa, who immigrate to the United States from Ireland in the 1950s. While they initially have a very close bond, circumstances happen and choices are made that ultimately affect their relationship and lives. The plot is broken up into a few different time frames, beginning with their travels from Ireland to the US and ending in 2009, where Theresa now lives as a nun and Nora has four grown children. To be honest, after about 70 pages, I was pretty bored and wanted to quit. I pushed through a little bit longer and I’m glad I did, as the book picked up once it jumped to the present time frame and introduced Nora’s children. I enjoyed how the author wove together each story and unique perspective and while there were really no shocking plot twists, there were enough things happening to keep me engaged the rest of the way through.  I will say that while there was some closure at the end of the book, I wanted more. I finished it with a slightly dissatisfied feeling and wish there had been one more chapter at the end. Overall, this book fell in the “okay” range for me: not highly recommended but a solid read.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Becoming

I’ve tried to incorporate a little more nonfiction into my life and I really enjoyed this memoir (thankfully, because I was on the wait list for a long time). Every single life on this earth looks different and as a white girl raised on a farm in rural Ohio, it was fascinating to me to read about the experiences of someone whose childhood looked starkly different. I gained a lot of respect and admiration for Michelle and all she has accomplished in her lifetime so far. As for the political aspect, I do not engage in political discussions online but will say this: I enjoyed this book purely as a compelling look at the intricacies of one woman’s life. Politics is obviously a huge part of her life, but I felt like she spoke of all her experiences in an honest, relatable way.  The book is a pretty long and hefty read but I was interested and it kept my attention the whole way through! If you enjoy memoirs I definitely recommend adding this one to your list.

I feel like now that we’re really digging into summer, I need some great summer recommendations to add to my reading list. Let me know if you have any good ones!

 

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!