June 2019 Book Reviews

Good morning!

I can’t believe another month has come and gone. How is it already July!? Summer is absolutely flying by and I have mixed feelings about it. One the one hand, we get to meet baby at the end of summer! On the other hand, I don’t want to wish away any of this amazing warm weather. This week Justin, LJ, and I are vacationing with Justin’s family in Virginia so I’m just going to post my book reviews and get back to enjoying our week!

June 2019 Book Reviews - Simplify The Chaos Blog.jpg

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

The premise of this book was very intriguing to me: ten years ago, a girl went missing in a small town in North Carolina and she was never found. In present day, another girl goes missing and all the same suspects from ten years ago are still around. The story takes place over the course of two weeks, but the kicker is: it is told in reverse. We start at Day 15 and work backwards to Day 1.  I think I liked the concept of reverse story-telling better in theory than in reality. Typically, as things are revealed to characters, they are also revealed to readers; in this scenario, I knew that there was a lot of information that the characters obviously knew on Day 15 that was being withheld. It actually ended up making the first half of the story seem very slow and a little confusing. Around Day 7, I felt like more and more relevant information was being revealed and my interest level grew, although there were things that happened in “earlier” days that almost confused me further because nothing in the “later” days hinted that they had happened. It just wasn’t really my kind of storytelling, and I ended the book feeling like I needed to reread the story to really understand all the things I missed (but I honestly just didn’t even care enough to do that this time). That being said, there were some twists and turns that I did not at all see coming, so if you like unique storytelling you might want to give this one a shot.

The Forgotten Room by Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig

The Forgotten Room by [White, Karen, Williams, Beatriz, Willig, Lauren]

I love Beatriz Williams and have re-capped several of her books before, so I was excited to learn that she had co-authored a book with two other authors. This story centers around the Pratt Mansion, a glamorous house built in Manhattan in the late 1800’s and follows three women and their experiences in the house throughout history. In particular, each woman has unique encounters in a very special and mostly unknown attic room. So what was interesting about this story is that through the alternating stories of Olive (1890’s), Lucy (1920’s), and Kate (1940’s), you almost immediately start to form conclusions about how these women are connected. Even though their connections to one another weren’t very surprising, there were aspects of what exactly happened to each woman and her relationships and connections (with men in particular) that kept me guessing until the end. I thoroughly enjoyed this book as a great historical fiction but I will say that it left me a little heartbroken. These characters all became so real to me and I knew that they couldn’t all necessarily have happy endings; the story I connected with the most was not one that ended how I hoped. Nevertheless, I did really like the book and would recommend it to my fellow historical fiction lovers!

The Lost Man by Jane Harper

A man is found dead in the middle of nowhere in the Australian Outback. No one knows how he ended up stranded in the unforgiving, and ultimately deadly, heat with no shelter except a small gravestone. There are virtually no clues and only a bunch of questions. As his family tries to process his death and find an explanation, we find that things aren’t always as they initially appear. I took this book along with me on our Bahamian Babymoon, but since I dove into The Clockmaker’s Daughter first, Justin ended up reading it before I did. I thought it’d be fun to have him share his take on it before I give my thoughts. So here he is with his blogging debut! 😉

“Overall The Lost Man was a fun vacation read for me.  It kept me wanting more because the story began with little to no background and the death was revealed very early with again, little to no information or leads.  The author is apparently, so Sarah tells me, known for incorporating the environment/mother nature as a key element in her stories.  As someone who has never personally experienced the Australian Outback, I found her details quite exciting.  Anyway, as the story goes on, you are given more and more present time clues as well as important historical information about the atypical family and their atypical relationships. The book had a good pace and unlike a lot of other reads does not wait until the last 20 pages to drop bombs of the most exciting of details. Of course it has its ending that you wouldn’t have expected, but it wouldn’t have been a publishable story without that…am I right?  Thanks for having me on your blog today Sarah.  I’m sure this is just a one hit wonder type deal (or more like one and done, no hit or wonder about this…)”

Ha! Thanks babe! I honestly don’t have much to add. As with her other novels, Harper uses the environment like an actual character. It made me want to constantly have water next to me while reading because the hot, dry landscape just seemed so real and so very desolate. Throughout the story I formed a bunch of different thoughts about what happened, but I was still very surprised by the ending of the story. I was hooked from start to finish!

It’s Always the Husband by Michelle Campbell

I saw this book for sale in Costco several months ago and, after reading the synopsis inside, made a mental note to add it to my reading list. I recently saw it pop up on another blog’s book review and it inspired me to finally snag a copy from the library. IN this story three girls meet as roommates in college and become best friends/frenemies with complicated relationships. Twenty years later, one of them ends up dead under strange circumstances and their love/hate relationships with one another through the years may or may not have played a part in this death. I’ll be honest, this book was kind of disappointing for me. It had elements of psychological thriller, mystery, murder – all things that I normally am interested in reading about and I wanted to love it. I think my disappointment came down to one major hitch: I hated all the characters. To her credit, Campbell wrote each of the characters to be complex individuals with redeeming qualities and serious flaws. I just didn’t connect with or particularly like any of them. And without at least one person to root for, I kind of just wanted the book to be over.  I kept at it though because the actual death did intrigue me and I wanted to know whodunit – the last 20 pages were honestly my favorite. This book kept me guessing until the very end! So overall, I’d peg it as a middle-of-the-road murder mystery.

What have you been reading lately?

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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!

 

 

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

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?

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?