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 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?

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?

May 2018 Book Review

From a very young age, reading has been a huge passion of mine. It’s what I choose to do in my spare time; it’s what I want to do on vacations. Even as a first time mom without a lot of time on her hands, reading is something that I continue to make time for. It technically adds a ‘to-do’ to my life, but reading seems to simplify my life by helping me feel like myself even when I am frazzled, overwhelmed, and sleep deprived.  For me, it is a form of self-care so I make sure to prioritize it as much as I can. Every month I try to read at least a few books and this summer I started documenting what I read. I’ve decided to have monthly recaps/review of what I have read here on the blog. My reviews will be spoiler-free and give more of my feelings about the story/how much I enjoyed the book rather than detailed plot reviews.

That being said, I have a whole summer’s worth of reading that I want to recap so for the next few weeks we’ll be playing catch up and having more frequent review posts. If you’re also an avid reader, hit me up with suggestions for further reading in the comments! If reading is not your thing, feel free to just skip these blog posts. 🙂

So let’s get started, shall we? Here’s what I read starting in May 2018:

Phonto

Summer Island by Kristin Hannah

Summer Island

Summer Island follows a mother-daughter duo who have a mostly estranged relationship. After an exposed scandal and an accident involving mother Nora, daughter Ruby has her own reasons for choosing to care for her mother in their family’s memory-laden home on Summer Island, where they both have to face their respective pasts. Secrets are exposed, relationships are tested, and Ruby is faced with some big life decisions. I will say that I have read several books by Kristin Hannah and loved every single one so I was very excited to read this story. While I did enjoy this book, I did not feel like I was reading a novel written by the same author of The Nightingale or Winter Garden. This was an earlier work of hers and I just didn’t think the writing was *quite* as amazing as some of her more recent books. I did enjoy the book and would recommend it to someone looking for a good summer read but it is not quite on par with some of the other Hannah books I have read.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

This story follows a man who returns to his childhood home for a funeral and feels led to sit beside a pond on a neighboring farm. While there, he begins to recall memories from his childhood that are fantastically bizarre and frightening. We journey with him into memories of strange happenings and a neighbor girl who befriended him. Neil Gaiman writes in a style that is definitely outside of my usual scope of reading. He combines dark fantasy/science fiction in a very unique way and his books are truly unlike any others I have read. Previously, I read his book Neverwhere and had picked it up without any idea of the genre in which he writes so the book really threw me for a loop. This time, I felt like I was going into The Ocean at the End of the Lane with a better idea of what I was getting in to and I did enjoy it more. That being said, this story left me feeling a little sad, bewildered and, like Neverwhere, a little uncertain with how I felt about it. I didn’t hate it but I didn’t love it either. It fell somewhere in the middle.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

This novel is a tale of the glamorous, ambitious Evelyn Hugo. For reasons initially unknown, Evelyn chooses a relatively obscure writer to tell the intricate story of her life to, including everything she did to get to, and stay at, the top of celebrity in Hollywood from the 1950’s to 1980’s. I did not know what to expect with this book when I began reading. I knew nothing about the storyline prior to reading and picked it up mostly because I read Taylor Jenkin Reid’s One True Loves and loved her style of writing – not to mention the plot of that book stuck with me for a long time after reading. This book did not disappoint. There were several surprises that I did not see coming as Evelyn chronicled her life story and I absolutely flew through this book. Without spoiling anything, I will say that Evelyn Hugo is truly one of the most complex characters I’ve ever encountered and I was thoroughly engrossed by her story from start to finish.

The Dry by Jane Harper

The Dry

After a brutal murder-suicide occurs during a severe draught in a tiny Australian town, Aaron Fulk comes back to his hometown for the funeral of the victims and somewhat unwillingly gets involved with trying to figure out if everything that happened is really as it initially appeared. I found this whodunit to be very well written – I felt just as antsy and restless as the residents of the stir-crazy, dry town and I was so itchy to figure out what was really going on! I thought I had figured things out at several different points but this novel continued to deliver twists and turns that I did not see coming. I found this book to be very hard to put down.

And that’s a wrap on my first book review. Let me know if you’ve read any of these books too and what you thought of them!