November 2020 Book Reviews

After this past month’s reading, all I can say is “wow.” While they are all very different from one another, each of the three books I read was powerful in its own way, and each one was just so incredibly well written. I’m so excited to talk about them today!

Transcendant Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

The collaboration that the mice and I have going in this lab is, if not holy, then at least sacrosanct. . . I’m aware that the Christians in my life would find it blasphemous and the scientists would find it embarrassing, but the more I do this work the more I believe in a kind of holiness in our connection to everything on Earth. Holy is the mouse. Holy is the grain the mouse eats. Holy is the seed. Holy are we.

Gifty has seen struggle and suffering around her for most of her life. Her parents struggled to find good jobs in Alabama and provide for their children after immigrating from Ghana. Her brother struggled to cope with a sports injury in high school and became addicted to drugs. Her suicidal mother has battled depression while tightly clinging to her faith for much of her adult life. And Gifty is trying to use her talents in science to understand it all by studying reward-seeking behaviors in mice. This book is a slow burn, character-driven novel. There’s actually not much at all that happens in the overall plot, but the book poignantly journeys through Gifty’s thoughts and experiences, both past and present, and explores her times of deep spiritual belief and wavering faith. It’s definitely not the book to choose if you want to just zone out, as it jumps around in time too frequently and sometimes without warning so it’s easy to get confused. It’s also not the book to choose if you’re looking for a fast-paced plot. It’s one to choose if you’re desiring a rich, thought-provoking, beautifully written look at grief, faith, suffering, and the desire to find hope and meaning in it all.

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

What we need right now is more women who have detoxed themselves so completely from the world’s expectations that they are full of nothing by themselves. What we need are women who are full of themselves. A woman who is full of herself knows and trusts herself enough to say and do what must be done. She lets the rest burn.

This book has been circulating a ton on social media this year and I finally decided to check it out. I hadn’t read Glennon’s previous books or followed her on social media or known much beyond the basics of her life (namely, her somewhat recent marriage to soccer star Abby Wombach after divorcing her longtime husband). This book serves as part-memoir, part-motivational speaker and while much of it centers around the end of her first marriage and then relationship with Abby, it covers a wide range of topics. Glennon writes powerfully about her motherhood journey, addictions, feminism, depression and anxiety, discovering herself, racism, and so much more. There are over 50 chapters touching on so many things that it feels more like a collection of short stories that are connected, yet separate. As it is with most short story collections, I definitely resonated more deeply with some than others. There were some chapters that didn’t land for me, but then others that spoke to me so deeply I teared up. (In that sense, it reminded me of Girl, Wash Your Face, although Untamed is so much better written). Glennon is a gifted storyteller and I especially appreciated reading her takes on raising both boys and girls, navigating an anti-racist journey as a white women, learning to value herself as a woman and mother, and her journey as an activist for social and racial justice. It’s deep, it’s charming, it’s vulnerable, it’s funny, it’s well done.

The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer

By now it’s no secret that historical fiction is my favorite, so this dual-perspective novel seemed like it would be right up my alley and I was not disappointed! Alternating between Alina, a Roman Catholic teenager living in Nazi-occupied Poland, and Alice, a present-day wife and mother hoping to fulfil one last request for her dying grandmother, this gorgeously-written novel spins a tale of hope, resilience, and undying love in the face of an unimaginable war. The interesting thing about this book is that there aren’t shock factors so much as twists that are expected to happen, you’re just not sure exactly how they will unfold. Even when I thought I figured out how all the stories connected, I was so intrigued with the why they connected. I don’t know if that makes sense, but I can’t say more without giving things away. You’ll just have to read it and find out what I mean. šŸ˜‰ My one criticism would be that while I was absolutely captivated by Alina’s story, I didn’t feel like the first half of Alice’s was that interesting. There was a lot written about her life, marriage, and family that felt like it didn’t necessarily have to be included. That being said, I still could not put this book down! I was in full-fledged tears through several chapters and it will stay with me for quite a while. This is easily going to make it to my top recommendations – I loved it!

Honestly, I’m a little nervous for December reading now – this is quite the lineup to have to follow! As always, if you have any great recommendations, please send them my way!

September 2020 Book Reviews

While I can hardly believe tomorrow is going to be October, I am also excited because that means it’s book review day!

This month I read five books (one of which was actually a re-read from a few years ago) and as usual, genres were all over the place. Let’s dive in!

The Last Flight by Julie Clark

The Last Flight: A Novel by [Julie Clark]

Claire has been searching for a way to escape her abusive marriage, so when she meets Eva, who also seems desperate to escape her life, in the airport, switching tickets seems like the perfect solution. That is, until Eva’s plane crashes. With no money, no identity, and no one to ask for help, Claire decides to assume Eva’s identity until she can figure out her next steps, not realizing that Eva was keeping some dark and dangerous secrets of her own.

This book was fast-paced and heart-pumping! I was immediately hooked from the start and raced through this book. I loved the alternating perspectives and the fact that Claire’s story mostly happened in the present while Eva’s focused on the past. Knowing Eva’s secrets and history before Claire did made me that much more eager to keep reading and see how things would unravel for her. I wasn’t necessarily expecting twists, but there were definitely a few towards the end of the book that I did not see coming and that made things even more interesting. While this book definitely got my adrenaline going, it wasn’t downright scary and I was able to read it alone at night while Justin was away without needing to sleep with the lights on. It was thrilling without being creepy and I really enjoyed it – highly recommend!

Her Last Flight by Beatriz Williams

Her Last Flight: A Novel by [Beatriz Williams]

When I searched my library for The Last Flight, this book also came up in my search. As soon as I saw it was a Beatriz Williams book, I requested a hold. I’ve raved about past books of hers (A Hundred Summers, The Secret Life of Violet Grant) and books she’s co-authored (The Glass Ocean, The Forgotten Room) so I was excited for this one and it did not disappoint!

Janey Everett is a journalist in pursuit of a story: after finding the wreckage of legendary pilot Sam Mallory’s plane, she discovers that he may not have been alone in his final crash and sets off to find the groundbreaking female pilot Irene Foster, who famously disappeared a decade earlier. This reads like biographical fiction even though it isn’t – it feels like a loose adaptation of Amelia Earhart’s life. I loved this book! The alternating timelines were a fascinating way to watch Sam and Irene’s lives unfold and I liked that it wasn’t directly Irene’s first person perspective but read like a novel. The characters, the historical details, the mystery – Williams just nailed it. My one complaint is that one of the “twists” was too easy to guess (and was guessable waaaay too early) but since this isn’t a suspense novel, I’ll let it slide. Overall, this book was a really enjoyable read and I’m adding it to my list of highly recommended Beatriz Williams novels!

The Royal We by Heather Cooks and Jessica Morgan

The Royal We by [Heather Cocks, Jessica Morgan]

American college student Bex Porter sets off for a study abroad adventure at Oxford only to find herself dorm-mates with Nick, aka Prince Nicholas, third in line for the throne of England. While romance is the last thing on her mind, she can’t ignore the close bond she feels towards Nick or the way their friendship soon feels like something else.

I actually read this book several years ago and loved it, so much so that it landed on my Ultimate Book Recommendations list. It’s like a fan fiction re-imagining of Prince William and Kate (if Kate was an American) and there are a lot of obvious parallels to the real life royal family (like Nick’s younger, rebellious, redheaded brother). It’s binge-y, it’s fun, it’s got characters you fall in love with and want to be friends with. I had forgotten how long it is though – I’m not sure 450+ pages was necessary and there definitely could have been things edited out. The length keeps it from being a true easy, breezy, light beach read simply because it does take effort to get through the whole thing. But even so, I really enjoyed it the first time and it was fun to re-live it again the second time. I would wholeheartedly recommend it with one caveat . . .

The Heir Affair by Heather Cooks and Jessica Morgan

The Heir Affair (The Royal We Book 2) by [Heather Cocks, Jessica Morgan]

. . . I hated the sequel. So much so that I think it makes me like The Royal We a little less.

When I first read The Royal We, it read like a standalone book. Even though there were still a few loose strings at the end, it very much ended in a way that allowed you to draw your own conclusions and feel happy and hopeful about the way things played out. Only to turn to The Heir Affair and realize you got it all wrong. I wanted this book to be about so many things – I feel like the authors could have taken a sequel in a lot of directions – and honestly, I just hated the direction it took. It took away my happy hopeful feelings, it made me frustrated, and it made me angry at characters I had once loved.

There were still some fun, cute moments that felt reminiscent of The Royal We, but not nearly enough. I kept holding out for an ending that made things make sense, that made me feel that same sort of happy, hopeful, “complete” sense I felt after reading The Royal We and I not only didn’t get it, but was so unsatisfied by the ending. Again, this book was long (450+ pages) and that’s a lot of exasperated reading. I find myself torn with whether or not I want another installment of this series. Maybe a third book could redeem all the things that I felt went wrong here . . . but also maybe not. My suggestion is to read The Royal We, draw your own conclusions, and then just move on without this sequel. šŸ˜‰

The Whisper Network by Chandler Baker

After the death of Truviv’s CEO, all eyes are on the short list for his replacement. Ames Garrett is at the top of that list and while he appears to be a stellar candidate, there are a few women in the office who feel very differently. There are many secrets that have been buried, but with the impending nomination, it’s starting to feel like they need to come to light . . .

This book read like a murder (maybe?) mystery meets thriller meets expose of workplace sexual harrassment. To be honest, I’m not sure if I technically enjoyed it. It was really frustrating and hard to read, and I’ll never understand why women aren’t believed first, but at the same time, that was kind of the point. It shows just how hard it is to come forward with sexual harrassment or assault claims and how swift and severe the pushback can be. I think this would be an interesting book to discuss in a book club. It feels like a page straight out of the #metoo movement and I think it can be an important piece of the conversation. It’s certainly not a light, fun book but I flew through it even when it was frustrating.

As we’re entering fall, I’m really looking forward to lighting a candle and curling up under a blanket with a good book! Send all the cozy recommendations my way!