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?

 

 

 

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August 2018 Book Review

Hi friends!

It’s time for another summer reading list book review. Today I’m reviewing the books that I read in August – and without further ado, here we go!

August Book Review

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

Girl Wash Your Face

This book has certainly been making the rounds on social media lately and while I had never heard of Rachel Hollis before, I had a ton of people tell me how much they absolutely loved this book so I was excited to read it. I went in with really high expectations and while it wasn’t OMG-earth-shattering from start to finish for me, I did enjoy it. Each chapter in this book is dedicated to a lie the author used to believe that got in the way of her happiness (i.e. “I’ll start tomorrow,” “I’m not a good mom”) and how she worked through that lie to no longer believe it to be true. There were some amazing chapters that really spoke to me and gave me a lot to think about (one section in particular felt like it was written specifically for me) and there were other chapters that didn’t resonate much with me at all. I liked the author’s conversational writing style and I appreciated her insight on things like motherhood, self-worth and self-care. I feel like there are a lot of quote-worthy nuggets in there that are good for daily inspiration or a pick-me-up. I did think it was weird that it’s marketed as a Christian book but didn’t have much reference to how the author’s faith shaped her life and instead was a “you are in charge of you” message. Just something to be aware of if you’re thinking this book will read more like a devotional (it doesn’t).  Even so, I enjoyed this book, gained some wisdom and encouragement from it, and recommend it.

An American Marriage by Tayari JonesAn American Marriage

Celestial and Roy are recently married and starting their life out with big dreams for their future in Atlanta. Unfortunately, they travel to visit Roy’s family in Louisiana and while there, Roy is accused of a crime he did not commit and sentenced to 12 years in jail.  It is hard to put into words how I feel about this book. It is very well written; the characters are vividly described and you really feel for the them and the situation they find themselves in. It covers many thought-provoking topics: the injustice of racial profiling and prejudice in the criminal justice system, the impact of a wrongful conviction on the accused and everyone close to him, how fragile marriage can be if a couple is separated, what loyalty means and whether it’s fair to ask for (and if so, for how long). There are some really hard, heavy moments and tough choices made throughout the book that made it depressing for me to read at times. It just made me so sad and frustrated to think about how things “could have been” without this wrongful conviction. But then, isn’t that the point? The fact that I felt that way is because I was drawn deeply into the story and felt for each one of the characters and so wanted things to turn out well for them.  I do think it’s a remarkable piece of writing and worth checking out!

All the Beautiful Girls by Elizabeth J. Church

All the Beautiful Girls

Lily Decker is orphaned at eight years old and sent to live with her aunt and uncle. Life is less than ideal with them and she finds solace in dancing. When she is older, Lily leaves her tiny hometown with all the bad memories, changes her name to Ruby Wilde, and moves to Las Vegas in the 1960’s where she tries to make it as a dancer but instead becomes a showgirl. I happened to see this book on a shelf at the library and the premise sounded interesting so I checked it out. Honestly, this book wasn’t for me. Lily’s childhood circumstances are very disturbing to read about at times. I was so happy for her when she finally left her hometown and I became pretty interested in the story with Ruby’s transformation and efforts to make it in Vegas; however, as her story continues, things spiraled downhill for me again and I stopped enjoying the book once more. I really don’t want to say more for fear of spoiling something in the plot. The middle third of this book was about the only part I really enjoyed reading, so overall this is not a book I recommend.  (TRIGGER WARNING: I think it’s important to note that if you do decide to read this book, there are some pretty difficult moments with sexual abuse and assault.)

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Truly Madly Guilty

Ugh. I was SO disappointed by this book! I typically love Moriarty’s work but this one was a miss for me. The title makes it seem like it will be super dramatic and gripping but in reality, I felt like it was about 200 pages too long and went along at a snail’s pace. The story alternates between the perspectives of six different adults (three couples), some of whom are longtime friends and others mere acquaintances,  who were present at a barbecue where something happened . . . but you don’t find out what exactly happened for a l-o-n-g time. The chapters jump back and forth between the day of the barbecue and the present time to show the drastic difference in relationships then vs. now and how every character wishes the barbecue hadn’t happened. I think the intent was to build suspense and make you wonder what shocking thing could have possibly happened but it just made me feel impatient and disinterested. This story is not plot-driven so it hinges on character development and the reader connecting with and caring about the characters, and its redeeming qualities and bright spots just didn’t make up for the fact that I was mostly bored and just wanted it to be over. I recommend checking out one of Moriarty’s other works, Big Little Lies, The Husband’s Secret, The Hypnotist’s Love Story, instead.

It feels weird to end on such a dud of a book, but never fear, the September book review is only a week away and I have some fantastic reads to discuss! Stay tuned!

July 2018 Book Review {Part Two}

Happy Friday! It’s time for another round up of some of the books I finished this summer. Because I was able to get through so many books in July, I have broken up July’s review into two parts. If you missed Part One, be sure to check it out here.

July Book Review Pt 2

Let’s get started!

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant

Eleanor Oliphant is a quirky, lonely individual. She struggles with social interactions and has mysterious things in her past that have greatly impacted her, although we don’t initially know what those things are. The book journeys with her as she navigates new friendships and tries to find love.  Here’s the thing. I started this book knowing it was on the NYT Bestseller list and in Reese Witherspoon’s book club. My expectations before reading one single word were sky high for this to be a blow-me-away amazing book and it just fell short of that category. I felt that it started off pretty slow and even boring for the first several chapters. There is a ton of detail about really mundane parts of Eleanor’s life and I started to get annoyed with it all, particularly because I wasn’t connecting with, and therefore caring about, Eleanor. For those of you who read my review on The Rosie Project, you know how much I loved the protagonist Don and, despite their similar quirks, Eleanor is not as charming or funny as he is. However, around 40% of the way through, the tides turned and Eleanor began to endear herself to me. The story really picks up and I began to root for her. I thoroughly enjoyed the second half of the book and was especially satisfied with how everything wrapped up. I would say that despite the slow start in warming up to Eleanor, I did enjoy this book and would recommend it!

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

My Grandmother Asked Me

This was my first book by this author and I love his writing style! This story follows a little girl named Elsa and is primarily centered around the apartment building where she lives. It has a fascinating way of weaving in and out of a fairy tale world created for Elsa by her wonderfully kooky grandmother. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, so I’ll just say I found this book to be a charming little piece of literary magic and I am excited to read more by this author. I absolutely recommend it!

The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve

The Stars are Fire.jpg

I happened to see this novel on a shelf as I was walking to the checkout at my library and I knew it had to be added to my stack. I’ve read The Pilot’s Wife and Stella Bain by this author and both were so good! So knowing nothing but the fact that I love this author, this book came home with me. It follows a young mother, Grace, who has a fairly unhappy marriage in Maine in 1947. A devastating wildfire comes to her little town and Grace and her best friend Rosie are left to try to save themselves and their children as their husbands go off to fight the fire. In the aftermath of the fire, Grace has to rally every ounce of her inner strength to help her family survive and thrive even when some really tragic and frustrating events take place. I really liked this book! Grace is a character that you just want to cheer on as she finds strength and freedom that she never thought was possible. I recommend checking it out (as well as Shreve’s other books)!

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

The Wife Between Us

I don’t know how to give any sort of synopsis to this book without spoilers, so I will just say it’s about a woman and how she’s coping (or not coping) with her ex-husband’s new love. I love a good psychological thriller but this one felt a little less than thrilling. I think the overall story line is promising and there are several twists; however, I guessed the “major” twist about 20 pages before it happened which was disappointing. It made the big moment basically just a confirmation of what I already knew. I will say that there were some other twists that I did not see coming, so it was enough to keep me pretty engaged the whole way through. Overall I thought it tried too hard to be shocking and is not my favorite psychological thriller by any means, but it’s a good option if you’re looking for one that isn’t so creepy it’ll keep you up at night with the lights on.

And that’s a wrap on my July books! Have you read any of these books? What were your thoughts?