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?

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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?

 

 

 

July 2018 Book Review {Part One}

Hello and Happy Friday! I am still catching up on my summer book reviews and July was a BIG month for my reading list. Thanks to a road trip to Canada with my parents and grandparents (hello lots of willing baby-watchers!), I got through eight books. Rather than one huge mega post, I’ve broken up July into two posts.

July Book Review Part One

So here’s part one of my July book reviews!

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

Dear Ijeawele

This book is a short, quick read that my sister recommended to me. Just because it’s short doesn’t mean it doesn’t pack a big punch – this book makes several thought-provoking points and I found myself nodding along often. The author has so many wise words but is very relatable and never sounds overly preachy. The overarching message is: everyone deserves respect and equality and everyone matters. While it only took me 45 minutes to read, after I finished this book I called my sister and we spent an hour talking about it. Whether you are a parent or not, I think this is an important work that should be on your reading list.

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

Mudbound

This book was recommended to me by a fellow lover of historical fiction. In post-WWII Mississippi, Laura has moved to a farm with her husband and children and it is not at all what she expected. Chapters mainly alternate between Laura’s perspective and those of two men working on the farm, her brother-in-law and a black sharecropper’s son, who have both returned from the war to very different worlds. This book absolutely hooked me.  It covers such heavy topics that it feels weird to me to say it was a great book – in truth, it wasn’t always enjoyable to read and made me feel sick to my stomach at times. But it was a great book because the author writes in such a way that the characters come alive and you feel invested in their story so when tragic things happen, your heart breaks for them. This book was very well-written and gives a haunting glimpse into life in the harsh 1940’s South.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere

It feels like I have seen this book everywhere this summer and I can completely understand all the buzz. In this novel, the seemingly perfect suburb Shaker Heights is forever changed by the arrival of an artist and her daughter and before long, the community is divided over a very public custody battle involving the adoption of a Chinese-American baby. There are many little stories within this story and different characters find themselves in various intriguing situations. I often asked myself “what would I do if this were me?” and found no perfect answers. I wish I had read this as part of a book club or something where I could have discussed other perspectives of the different scenarios in detail as they played out. I really enjoyed this one and would highly recommend it!

On Second Thought by Kristan Higgins

On Second Thought

Two sisters find themselves with abrupt ends to their romantic relationships and they come to rely on each other in the aftermath and start to move on with their lives. I have read and enjoyed other books by Kristan Higgins so I was excited to dive into this one. Overall the book was entertaining but I did think it got a little slow at times. I enjoyed the alternating narration between the two sisters and I was delighted to find that there were some recurring minor characters from another Higgins book I loved (If You Only Knew). I came to love the characters (except one who absolutely drove me crazy but that was obviously Higgins’ intent) and I was satisfied with how everything wrapped up. While this isn’t my favorite Higgins book, I enjoyed it and would recommend it!

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

June 2018 Book Review

Before I get started, I want to say that if you are on the East Coast, my prayers are with you right now. We had planned to drive to Virginia Beach today for a family vacation but have obviously needed to change our plans for the weekend. We’re monitoring Florence closely and praying that everyone on the coast stays safe!

We’re still playing catch-up from my summer reading list and today I’m recapping books that I read in June. The theme was “books that start with ‘the'” – haha! Not really but it did work out that way. 🙂 Let’s dive in!

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The Four Tendencies – Gretchen Rubin

The Four Tendencies

Okay I just need to get this out there. I am a huge Gretchen Rubin fan girl. I have read all her books (some multiple times), I have listened to every episode of her podcast, and I have even paid to take her Four Tendencies online course. I think she is brilliant and I am absolutely fascinated by this framework she developed. The Four Tendencies are Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, and Rebel and your tendency is determined by how you respond to both inner and outer expectations. It is so interesting!

I found this book to be a game changer in my life. I am a Questioner (take the quiz here to find out what tendency you are) and this explains so much about how I respond to expectations that I put on myself (inner) and that others put on me (outer). My husband is an Obliger and honestly, just understanding this one little piece of our personalities has opened my eyes SO MUCH to how we interact and meet one another’s expectations within our marriage. I could go on and on about this all day but I’ll stop myself and just say – I think everyone could benefit from understanding what their tendency is. It has helped me understand others in my life and I wish I had known about it when I was still teaching because I think it would have made worlds of difference in how I presented expectations to different students. A must-read in my opinion.

The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Project

This book is about a genetics professor named Don who pretty clearly has Aspergers (though he doesn’t seem to realize it) and attempts to find the perfect wife for himself by creating a questionnaire that will essentially weed out any unfavorable candidates by eliminating qualities that have been problematic for him on previous dates. He gets a little sidetracked from this project when he decides to assist a graduate student named Rosie in search of her biological father. What follows is a quirky, cute, unconventional little adventure. I found the characters to be charming and easy to want to root for. I thought the author did a great job of creating a character like Don who quickly becomes endearing and funny but not in a way that makes you feel as though you are laughing at him. Overall I enjoyed this book! And I believe that it is currently being made into a movie? If so, I will definitely be watching!

The Woman in the Window – A.J. Finn

The Woman in the Window

This book follows an agoraphobic woman who spends her days in her house drinking, popping pills, and spying on the neighbors. One day she sees something shocking – or maybe she doesn’t? – in a neighbor’s house and struggles to figure out what really happened and if she is in danger.  I enjoy a good psychological thriller and had this been the first one I’ve ever read, I would have loved it. That being said, it read a lot like like other books in this genre I have already read (particularly Girl on a Train) and therefore was not quite as thrilling as it wanted to be. There were still elements of surprise and one big HOT DANG revelation that made me have to go back and reread passages (the best kind of revelation). The writing is really great and I felt that the plot struck a good balance with being just creepy enough that I had to turn all my lights on without being so creepy that I never want to be alone in my house again. I would definitely recommend it if you like this genre, but be forewarned that there may be stretches where it feels like something you’ve already read.

The Marriage Pact – Michelle Richmond

The Marriage Pact

This book was also a psychological thriller but I found the plot to be much more original and interesting. Newlyweds Alice and Jake are given a mysterious wedding gift by a new acquaintance – entrance into an exclusive group called The Pact whose sole goal is to keep marriages together. What at first feels fun and glamorous quickly becomes quite frightening and controlling. I don’t want to give too much away but I will say that I found this book to be both riveting and chilling. I loved it and hated it – I dreaded what might happen in the next chapter but regardless could not put it down. This book had several twists I didn’t see coming and I was on the edge of my seat until the last page. I definitely recommend this one!

And there you have it! Have you read any of these books? What else should I be reading?