Reading List: August 2018 – December 2018

marriage vacation review, the good liar review, to all the boys ive loved before review, social creature review

Marriage Vacation

I’m a fan of Younger. I think it’s a super charming show, I think that Sutton Foster is amazing, and I love that it’s set in the publishing world. So, the backstory behind this book is that it was a fictional book being published on the show. But then, in a brilliant marketing move, they hired a ghost writer and published the book IRL. As a fan of the show, I felt like I had to pick this up!

It’s about a woman named Kate, a stay-at-home mom, who’s feeling stuck and unfulfilled in her daily life. She books an impromptu vacation to Thailand in order to recharge and reset, but she doesn’t tell her husband until after she’s on the plane. She keeps extending what was supposed to be a brief vacation, and before she knows it, she’s been away from her family for a full year. When she finally decides to go back, she has no idea if she’ll be welcomed back or if her marriage is still alive.

The book mostly describes Kate’s life: how she used to be a writer, how she met her husband, and how they got married and had kids. The author shows us how Pauline ended taking a vacation from her family, even though she didn’t initially intend to. It paints a pretty sympathetic picture of Kate, but the whole time, I kept thinking that it’s one thing to abandon your husband, but it’s an entirely different thing to abandon your kids for a whole year. The kids, that’s the part that I couldn’t get over.

Kate is also very privileged, and while she acknowledges her privilege, there are still certain things that she says and does that make her sound very entitled.

It turns out that it was written by Jo Piazza and I do enjoy her writing. It’s engaging and accessible. Considering this as a standalone novel, I’m not sure if it’s strong enough to recommend. The story was a bit lacking and I was hoping the author would delve a bit deeper into Kate’s motivations. I didn’t think that I gained much insight on Kate that I hadn’t already gleaned from the show. However, I think other Younger fans like me will probably enjoy this. It was fun to see the book brought to life and to catch references to characters in the show.

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Good Liar

I always keep a close eye on Grace’s monthly book posts and this one sounded really intriguing to me. When I picked up a copy, I discovered that it was published by Lake Union, which is a subsidiary of Amazon. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book published by Amazon before.

In Chicago, one tragic day changes the course of three women’s lives forever. Our main characters are Cecily, Kate, and Franny, and the novel alternates between each of their perspectives. As the story unfolds, we begin to see how each of these woman is connected, and how the incident had drastic effects on their lives.

It was interesting to get to know these women. I think I felt the most connected to Cecily because I felt I would have reacted somewhat similarly if I were in her shoes. I also liked the relationship between Cecily and her kids, which felt very sweet and genuine.

I enjoyed the writing and the characters, but I think the plot was the strongest part of the book. The author revealed certain things bit by bit, like she was peeling back the layers of an onion, which constantly left me wanting to know more.

In this book, the author explores what motivates and drives people. Do people always have a reason or a justification for their actions? It’s a tricky question, but in this book, I believe the conclusion is that you can’t always know or fully understand a person’s motive.

There was one strange scene that left me questioning why it was included in the book. There were also a few moments that required a suspension of belief, but overall, this was a solid mystery read.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

If I’d known that this book would be this cute and heartwarming and adorable, I would have read it a long time ago! When the Netflix adaptation came out a couple weeks ago and everyone was buzzing about it, I had major fomo. So I went out and picked up a copy and read it in a few days.

Our narrator, Lara Jean, is the middle of three sisters. Her mom died when she was younger, so her older sister, Margot, became the de facto mom and looked after Lara Jean and her younger sister, Kitty.

Lara Jean is a romantic at heart and she’s formed a tradition of writing love letters to all the boys she’s ever loved. She uses the letters as a therapeutic way to pour out all her thoughts and feelings about these boys. No one else is ever supposed to see these letters, but one day, they somehow get mailed out to all the boys.

First of all, I would be absolutely mortified if I was Lara Jean in that situation. Imagine pouring out all of these private thoughts that one day become (somewhat) public?? Ack!!! Just thinking about it gives me anxiety. And she’s a teenager too. I feel like a catastrophe of that level would have been enough to finish me when I was that age! Ok, ok, I’m being dramatic, but the point is, what a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad situation to be in.

While I was reading this book, I just fell in love with the Song sisters and their whole family dynamic. Their dad sounds like such a good dad, and you know it’s not easy being a single dad raising three daughters on your own. You could just tell that there’s a lot of love in this family, which is so sweet.

The book is narrated by Lara Jean and one thing that bothered me was that I thought her voice sounded very young. She’s supposed to be about 16, but sounded more like she was 12 or 13. She’s also a bit dramatic in the way that teens tend to be, when they think every little incident is the end of the world. I couldn’t fault her too much for that though, because I remember what it was like to be that age.

Look, I’m a romantic too, so I love a love story. And I don’t mind a love triangle if it’s done well. Lara Jean is torn between Josh, the boy next door, and Peter, the secretly sensitive high school jock. Lara Jean has a really cute friendship with Josh since they were friends before she started developing feelings for him. Peter’s a bit full of himself, but also has a great heart underneath all the bravado. I have to say that I’m team Peter on this one. I’m a sucker for that type of character!

But this is not just a love story. Family plays a very important role in Lara Jean’s life. She cares what they think about her. She really values her family’s opinion, particular Margot’s, and she doesn’t want to let anyone down. I enjoyed how food was an important part of their family and of retaining their Korean heritage. And that’s another thing that I loved- that our main character was a mixed-race, Korean-American teenager.

In this novel, her Korean background is part of who Lara Jean is, but it’s not the only part. She’s a rich and nuanced character, and it’s a treat to have a well-rounded person of color as the protagonist.

This book had the depth that I feel like YA novels sometimes lack. It was such a delightful read and I was in such a good mood by the time I finished it (except for the fact that it ended and I need to know what happens next in Lara Jean’s life!). I do regret not immediately picking up the other two books in the trilogy when I bought the first because now my usual bookstores have been sold out of those books for the last week. I will eventually get my hands on the next book though, and I cannot wait to watch the Netflix movie.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Social Creature

Set in New York City, this novel follows Louise and Lavinia, two young women who form a fast and intense friendship. Lavinia’s life is full of glamorous parties, beautiful clothes, and swanky events, while Louise’s is the opposite. When Louise meets Lavinia, she’s desperate to become a part of that world, and will go to great lengths to hold on to her new lifestyle.

This book wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I did feel like the first half was a bit slow, and then the tension ramps up quite a bit in the second half. In terms of the characters, I thought Louise was well-formed, but Lavinia was rather insufferable. That trait does fit in with her character, but she did seem more like a caricature, rather than a real person. Louise as a twenty-something felt more realistic. I think many of us can relate to struggling to make ends meet and wanting to make something of your life, but not knowing how to.

Social media has a big presence in this book, as the author draws contrasts between the life that is curated and displayed online, versus reality. I don’t know if this is true, but I got the sense that the author has a very low opinion of social media, and in this book, you can see why that’s the case.

While this wasn’t thrilling in the way that I was expecting it to me, the writing was definitely taut and urgent at times, with a strong sense of foreboding. I liked this novel, and I would read more of Burton’s work.

Rating: 3/5 stars

the hazel wood review, third girl review, lethal white review, the banker's wife review

The Hazel Wood

This was a total cover buy for me. I was at the Brooklyn Book Festival a few months ago, when the sun glinted off this beautiful cover, making it sparkle, and I could not say no!

Happily, I liked what was behind the cover as well. Our main character is Alice, who’s spent most of her life moving around with her mom, running from something that she can’t really articulate. One day, her mom disappears and the thing she’s been running from all these years finally catches up to her.

This book has fairytale elements and was very atmospheric. I read this just as fall was starting to arrive, and it felt like the perfect season. There are fairytales within the novel that were dark and twisted, which I really enjoyed.

I think my main complaints are that it took so long for anything to happen, and that some of the fairytale elements were not as developed as I would have liked. The story was rooted more firmly in the real world than I was expecting, and I’d hoped more time would be spent in the fairytale world.

This book had a great premise and overall I enjoyed it, but I was left wanting a bit more. It gets a full 5 stars for that cover though!

Rating: 3/5 stars

Third Girl

A young woman visits Hercules Poirot because she thinks she may have committed a murder, but she’s not quite sure. Like me, you might be thinking at this point, how do you not know whether or not you’ve committed murder?! Poirot decides to investigate her case to determine if there was a murder, and if so, who the victim was.

This was not my favorite Agatha Christie novel. I don’t know if it was particularly strong in this book, or if I’m just more aware now, but I was very sensitive to the sexist comments made by Poirot. They really annoyed me and brought me out of the story.

Aside from that, the mystery was intriguing. I definitely did not have it figured it out before the truth was revealed. I still love Agatha Christie, but I found this book disappointing.

Rating: 2/5 stars

Lethal White

I was pretty excited to read the latest installment in the Cormoran Strike series. I love Robin and Cormoran as characters and I was excited to pick up where the last one left off.

Strike is visited by a mentally ill young man, who claims he witnessed a murder decades ago. Meanwhile, Strike is hired by a prominent politician to find out who’s been blackmailing him. Strike thinks that it’s unlikely that the young man actually saw a murder and that the blackmail case will be fairly straight forward, but of course, things are not always as they seem.

I’m definitely into this series for the mysteries, but perhaps even more so for the characters. We’ve seen so much development from Strike and Robin’s characters over the course of the series, and I’m pretty invested in their lives.

Lethal White wasn’t my favorite in the series, but I still throughly enjoyed it. I didn’t find the plot as interesting as some of the previous novels, likely due to my personal tastes. I was also a bit miffed by one of the reveals; I thought it would be much juicier than it actually was.

Regardless, I loved getting back into Strike and Robin’s lives, and seeing Robin’s detective skills grow stronger. I’m already looking forward to the next book in the series.

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Banker’s Wife

I can see this book making an excellent movie (and I believe that I read somewhere that the film/TV rights have already been optioned). It’s told in alternating chapters from the perspective of two women. There’s Marina, the journalist in New York City, and Annabel, a former art buyer, who’s married to a private banker in Geneva. One day, Annabel’s husband dies under mysterious circumstances. Meanwhile, Marina gets involved with a story that could be the biggest one of her career.

This is marketed as a “high-stakes thriller,” but for me, the stakes didn’t feel as high as I think they were meant to. I did feel some of the tension, but I also thought it could have been dialed up a couple notches.

I found our main characters to both be a bit lacking in personality. I know that they were both beautiful and smart, but not much beyond that. I did like that they both kept digging to find the truth, even as it became more and more dangerous.

I thought the story was a bit rushed at times, when a character’s feelings seemed to change drastically from one page to the next. However, it kept me engaged and turning the pages to find out what happened next. Overall, I enjoyed this read and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for the adaptation.

Rating: 3/5 stars

ps i still love you review, nine perfect strangers review, the proposal review, one day in december review

P.S. I Still Love You

The sequel to To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before was just as adorable as the first book. This one picks up right where the last one left off, so Lara Jean is still dealing with boy trouble.

One of the things that I love about this trilogy is the relationship between the sisters. I love that family is so important to Lara Jean. Also, the way that she takes care of Kitty, her younger sister, is so sweet. I love that Lara Jean loves to bake as well. It reminds me of me and my sister.

This book ends on another cliffhanger, so I definitely plan to read the last book to see how it all turns out. Oh, and I finally watched the movie adaption on Netflix and I loved it. The movie includes some elements from the second book, so if you prefer to read the book before the movie, I’d recommend you read the first two books before you watch the movie.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Nine Perfect Strangers

This was the first book I’ve read by Liane Moriarty. It was a long time coming! Originally I’d planned to read Big Little Lies before watching the TV series, but I couldn’t resist watching the show before reading the book. So I think subconsciously, I was comparing the TV adaptation of Big Little Lies to this book a little bit. Nine Perfect Strangers wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I kept waiting to get to the really exciting and juicy bits, but we never got there.

It follows nine people who meet at a health resort. This isn’t a conventional health resort though, and some of the treatments that the guests participate in are a bit… unorthodox. The experiences that these strangers have together will bond them together for life.

I thought the characters were well-written and I felt like I had a good sense of who they were as people. The book is written from multiple perspectives, so we’re able to get into each character’s head. However, I thought the plot was a little bit all over the place, especially in the second half. I wasn’t sure exactly what kind of book this was trying to be.

This being set at a health resort, there’s definitely some commentary on society’s obsession with health and wellness, and the lengths that people are willing to go to achieve peak health.

I was a bit unsure of my feelings when I finished this book, as it didn’t really match up to the idea of it I’d had in my head. I really want to read another one of Moriarty’s books though. Based on my conversations with others, it seems that Nine Perfect Strangers is quite a bit different from her other books, and it’s possible that I’d enjoy one of her previous novels more. If you’ve read this one and any other Moriarty books, I’d be really curious to hear your thoughts!

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Proposal

This was such a fun read! How do you deal with an unwanted proposal? That’s something that our main character, Nik, has to figure out when she finds herself the recipient of an unexpected proposal.

I loved that our two main characters were people of color. Nik is African-American, and her love interest, Carlos, is Latinx. The author definitely touched on issues that people of color face, which I appreciated. I also enjoyed that Nik is a self-professed feminist. She prides herself on being independent and on giving a voice to women of color in her work.

As a sucker for romcoms, I was totally into this story. Both Nik and Carlos are wary when it comes to love. Nik in particular, has had experiences in the past that hurt her and shaped the way she viewed relationships. Reading about her experiences made me feel bad about the heartache she had to go through. I was definitely rooting for her and hoping that she’d be able to open herself up to love again.

Overall, I thought this was a great lighter read with substance, and I can’t wait to go back and read her other novel soon.

Rating: 4/5 stars

One Day in December

Does this cover look familiar? I feel like this book was everywhere in December. It really did feel like every person and their mother was reading this book last month. So of course, I had to jump on the bandwagon and read it too.

I have to say, I really, really enjoyed it. There’s definitely some problematic elements, but they didn’t detract too much from my feelings about this book.

Laurie doesn’t really believe in love at first sight, until one day at a bus stop, she spots Jack. There’s an instant spark between them and it looks like he’s about to jump on the bus to come talk to her. But, he hesitates just a moment too long, misses it, and Laurie is left wondering about the identity of the handsome man at the bus stop.

A lot happens in this novel since it spans the course of about ten years. It’s written from both Laurie and Jack’s perspectives, so have the opportunity to see what each of our main characters is thinking. I feel like the author did a good job with the pacing of the plot.

I definitely got sucked into this story. While I didn’t approve of all of their choices or feelings (did anyone else think that Jack was a bit of a jerk?), I was pretty hooked on the story. There were points where I wanted to shake Laurie and Jack and tell them to grow up! I think that’s why I preferred the later years, when Laurie was a bit more mature and less naive.

A good chunk of the novel was set around the holidays, which I loved because I freakin’ love Christmas. This was the perfect December read and probably one of my favorites last month.

Rating: 4/5 stars

christmas camp review, seven days of us review, luckiest girl alive review, my favorite sister review

Christmas Camp

After I finished One Day in December, I was in the mood for more holiday reads. I went to Target while I was back home in CA, and there was a section of Christmas books calling my name. I thought this had a pretty inviting cover, but what really got me was the following note: “From the writer of the hit movie, A Christmas Prince.” Ding ding ding! I was sold. I was hoping this would be like a heartwarming Christmas movie, but in book form.

Haley, the main character, is a brand strategist at an ad agency and she’s rather lacking in Christmas spirit. She wants to win a big Christmas campaign for the agency, so her boss sends her to Christmas camp so that she can remember the true meaning of Christmas.

Sadly, this was wayyyyyy too cheesy for me. I thought Haley was a really flat character and that the writing was repetitive. I didn’t feel like there was any drama or tension or anything to make me feel like these were real people with real problems. What I’ve learned from this reading experience is that I much prefer watching a cheesy movie, over reading a cheesy book.

Rating: 1.5/5 stars

Seven Days of Us

Even though the last book was disappointing, I still felt like reading another holiday book afterwards. This one follows a family that is stuck together for seven days during the holidays, due to a quarantine. As you can imagine, things get a little bit crazy when they’re all cooped up in the same house for several days, and old family secrets start to rise to the surface.

I thought all of the characters were well done. They are a family that’s used to stuffing down their feelings, and that’s something I can relate to. We also see how feelings can fester for years and years, but eventually, they all come out into the open.

The family dynamics were interesting, especially the relationships between the parents and the children. You have a father that loves one daughter more than the other, because it’s easier, and a mother that tries to be everything for both daughters, to the point where she smothers them.

For me, there were some things in the book that stretched plausibility, but not to the point where it snapped. I really enjoyed this as a holiday read and I would recommend it.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Luckiest Girl Alive

I remember this being a popular read a few years ago, but I didn’t remember what it was about, so I went into this book blind, as I like to do with thrillers.

Ani has the perfect job, the perfect fiancée, and the perfect life. She’s left her troubled life behind and worked hard to achieve all that she has. However, the past never stays in the past; it’s inescapable.

This was a pretty dark read, which I liked. Ani is rough around the edges, as much as she tries to pretend she’s not. It’s pretty interesting to have a main character that’s not likable and not trying to be.

This book jumps between the past and the present, which I found a bit confusing to keep track of. There was also a large cast of characters, most of whom were on the periphery, so I had a little difficulty keeping them straight.

With Ani’s background, the author explores class differences. There’s the middle class, who are trying to keep up with the Jones’ and pretend they’re wealthy. As Ani grows up, she’s constantly seeking approval and trying to fit in with the cool, rich, popular crowd.

This book discusses the masks that people hide behind and ponders on whether it’s possible to truly reinvent yourself. The author really kept the tension up throughout because I definitely wanted to find out what exactly Ani was running away from in her past. I don’t think this book would be for everyone because of some difficult subject matter, but I thought it was a good read.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Favorite Sister

I liked this one a lot less than Luckiest Girl Alive. This book focuses on several women that are on a reality tv show. As you can imagine, these women are pretty cutthroat and every single one of them is lying about something. From the very beginning, we know that one of the women has died, but the questions are why and how?

I couldn’t tell if this was trying to be more of a mystery or a thriller, and I don’t think it hit the mark for either one. The characters in this book are motivated by greed, ambition, fame, and the allure or appearance of success. They are all miserable and trying so hard to hold on to the limelight.

It felt like the author was trying to say something about successful women, and if it’s possible for a woman to be successful without her success coming at the expense of another woman. But her message got lost between the despicable characters and twisted plot.

I think this premise had the potential to be juicy and entertaining, but instead, it fell flat for me. I didn’t enjoy these characters and thought the plot was pretty convoluted. All in all, it was a disappointment after reading Luckiest Girl Alive.

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Reading List: March 2018 – July 2018

the perfect nanny review, an american marriage review, circe review, the girl before review

An American Marriage

My goodness, this was a heartbreaking read. Roy and Celestial are young newlyweds with a bright future ahead of them, until Roy is wrongfully convicted of a crime. It’s told from multiple perspectives as the couple tries to grapple with this event that’s derailed their lives.

This looks at the disproportionate incarceration of black Americans, something that’s been a major problem for decades. Oooof, this was a bit tough to read at times. I felt bad for all of the main characters in this because it’s a terrible situation to be in. I was rooting for them so hard.

The story moves through time fairly quickly, but the best part was how well the author conveyed the emotion and heartbreak of the story. The writing and emotions felt raw and honest.

We all make mistakes and life may throw you a curveball, but sometimes you can rebuild and pick up the pieces. You can’t start over though because those previous experiences will always be there and they have shaped you into the person you are now.

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Perfect Nanny

This was one of those books that wasn’t quite what I thought it would be. It opens with the death of a child (side note: 5 points to this book for a super strong opening line that totally grabbed my attention). We know right away that the nanny murdered the child. The question is, why?

The book then jumps back in time to the events leading up to the death and shows how the nanny became involved in with this particular family.

I found the tone of this book interesting. It was a bit sparse and distant, somewhat matter-of-fact, and even abrupt at times. I don’t think that was a factor of this being a book in translation. I believe the author chose to tell the story in that manner, and I think that choice of tone helped maintain a sense of unease throughout the novel.

It explores society’s expectations of mothers and the concept of having someone else take care of your children. Since it did feel distant, I don’t think I ever truly connected to the story, but I felt it was an interesting and chilling read.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

I See You

I was hyped to read another Claire Mackintosh book after I Let You Go and I liked this one even more.

What if someone was watching you on your daily commute? What if they were tracking your every move? Zoe doesn’t realize that this is exactly what’s happening to her until she sees her photo in the classified ads of a newspaper.

I loved the premise of this one because it felt completely plausible. How much attention are we really paying on our daily commute? Not that much, probably.

I wanted Zoe to make it out of this creepy situation alive. She was a well-developed character, flawed but endearing. Also, when she first starts to suspect something is wrong and goes to the police department, she has a hard time getting people to take her seriously, which is awful. I just wanted to shake them and tell them to believe her, believe women!

There is one police officer that takes an interest in Zoe’s case, DC Kelly. I think she was one of the strongest characters in the book (in fact, I’d read a whole spinoff about her). When reading the author blurb, I found out that Mackintosh used to be a cop. Makes sense, given that her descriptions of the police and their procedures felt really solid and believable.

Mackintosh considers how justice has different definitions for different people. To some, it involves revenge, and others want nothing more than to put everything behind them.

Overall, this was a really solid and enjoyable read!

Rating: 4/5 stars

Behind Her Eyes

Tbh, I’m not even sure I fully understand what happened in this book. I think my mouth actually dropped open at the last couple pages.

But let’s back up a bit, and talk about Lousie, David, and Adele. Louise is a single mom, who meets David in a bar one day. She’s thrilled to meet a nice, attractive man that she actually gets along with, and they end up kissing at the bar. Soon after though, she find out that not only is David her new boss, he’s also married to Adele. David and Adele seem like the ultimate couple, except something is slightly off.

This one was pretty twisted, which I like. At any given time, it was hard to know who was actually telling the truth. I immediately disliked David because 1. he’s cheating on this wife, and 2. he’s so controlling of her. And I wanted Louise to find love, because it seemed like she worked really hard to take care of her son, which I’m sure is not easy as a single parent. Adele was a difficult nut to crack and it’s hard to tell what to make of her until her backstory is revealed.

The timeline in this book jumps around quite a bit, which was confusing at first. And again, I still have no idea what that ending was about (I mean, I think I understood, but does the author really expect us to believe it?!?), but it was an entertaining ride nonetheless.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Children of Blood and Bone

I wanted to looooove this book, but I simply liked it. That doesn’t mean I thought it was bad. I was just hoping it would be a 4 or 5 star read, but I ended up giving it 3.5 stars. Zélie is a maji, but she’s not allowed to use her magic because it’s banned throughout the land. There was a great purge several years ago, when they rounded up all the maji in the country, including Zélie’s mother. Zélie is strong and independent, but naturally she’s still haunted and traumatized by the loss of her mother. Soon, Zélie’s life changes forever when she gets the chance to restore magic throughout the land.

This book has a lot of potential, but it didn’t suck me in like I was hoping it would. It was predictable at points, and I also thought it was too long. Also, the love story made no sense. I could see these two characters coming together, but I couldn’t believe that they would ever be in love, given their backgrounds. One more thing that really bothered me was the way that the author altered animal names. I thought it was distracting and unnecessary.

There was a lot I liked about this though. The premise and magic system was interesting, as well as the social commentary. You have a group of people, the maji, who are persecuted and despised just because they’ve been born with special abilities. The book looks at the struggles that marginalized people have to go through and gives them a voice through Zélie.

I thought this was a good start to the series. Although there were some aspects that I struggled with, I want to read the next book in the series to see where this goes. And I believe they’ve already optioned the film rights. I’d love to see this turned into a movie- I think it could be really awesome!

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Lying Game

I’ve started gravitating toward Ruth Ware’s books because I know they’ll be decently written and relatively entertaining. This one’s about four girls who are friends in boarding school. They play a game called The Lying Game, where they tell lies and receive points based on how convincing they are. After an incident though, they are forced to leave school in disgrace. Years go by and they move on with their lives, until one day they get a text from their friend saying “I need you,” a text that brings them all back to the school where they first met.

I was hoping this story would be a lot juicier than it was. I tend to like stories that take place in a campus setting, so I enjoyed that aspect of this. However, I didn’t think any of the core characters were interesting, and I thought the narrator was particularly bland. While I was reading, I wished I had a better sense of who these characters were and what motivated them.

I tend to generally feel fine about Ruth Ware’s books. I’d rank this one towards the bottom of the list of her books that I’ve read as it just didn’t do it for me.

Rating: 2/5 stars

Good as Gone

Julie was kidnapped when she was 13 years old. Her family searched for her everywhere and held out a small nugget of hope that she’d return one day. And she does return eight years later. As you can imagine, her family is shocked and they’re not sure how to treat this person who disappeared as a young girl and returned as a woman.

My general feeling after finishing this book was meh. The writing was ok, the characters were flat, and the story lacked urgency. I can’t imagine what it’d be like to think someone was dead and gone, and then have them pop up on your doorstep eight years later. Of course you’d wish that you could see them again, but how do you cope when that wish comes true?

There are religious undertones in here that the author tried to weave into the story, but to me, they didn’t quite fit. Some disturbing events take place in this novel, but they didn’t have much impact on me since I wasn’t invested in the story. I finished this book because I am very bad at DNFing, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Girl Before

This follows two women who live in the same house in London at different times. It’s not just any house though. One Folgate Street is an architectural innovation, a home that responds to its owner and comes with its own set of rules. As their lives cross paths, all sorts of lies start to come to light.

I loved having the house as such a prominent setting. It makes you consider what makes a house a home and what possessions you actually need in life. The writing kept me hooked throughout and I really wanted to know what happened to these characters.

The ending felt a bit muddled as a few things were revealed at once, but overall, I enjoyed this thriller.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Circe

So good, so good! Definitely one of my favorite books that I’ve read this year. I absolutely loved all things mythology when I was younger, so I was immediately drawn to this retelling of Circe’s story. And then there was the treat of Madeline Miller’s writing! I definitely want to go back and read her earlier book, Song of Achilles.

This is the story of Circe, a lesser goddess, who is famous for turning Odysseus’s men into swine. But this is a much fuller story of Circe, from childhood to adulthood, not just the sliver we get in Odyssesus’s tale. Other characters are in and out of her life, but she is always the main focus.

Miller’s imagining of Circe’s life is fascinating and she’s made Circe such a compelling character here. She uses her powers for both good and evil. She is drawn to humans and repelled by the gods. She’s an utterly complicated woman. It is very, very interesting to have a main character who’s not exactly good and never claims to be. More characters like this please!

Circe is motivated by her desire to connect with people and to find her place in the world. She’s actually viewed as an odd duckling within her divine family, and I think many people can relate to that feeling of not belonging. The author also explores divinity and mortality. Does anyone deserve to be immortal? And what do you do with a life that will never end? How do you spend the time?

Miller’s writing is so rich and evocative and I felt transported back to ancient times. The way she captures Circe’s emotions and vulnerability is just beautiful.

I kind of wish I’d read this with someone because I think there are a lot of interesting things to discuss. If you have any interest in mythology or just enjoy a really compelling main character, then I definitely think you should read this book.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Our Kind of Cruelty

This is really all about one character, Mike. Mike’s always been in love with Verity, since they first met. They have a special relationship that sets them apart from other couples. That’s why Mike can’t accept it when he and Verity break up. He knows it’s just temporary, part of an elaborate game they like to play. He has no doubt in his mind that he and Verity will end up together forever.

How creepy does that description sound? This is about a man who’s obsessed with a woman. It’s told from Mike’s perspective and it’s completely focused on his thoughts, feelings, and emotions. I didn’t realize it was structured that way when I first started reading (I didn’t read a synopsis), so I kept hoping that we’d get to read from Verity’s point of view.

I was thinking about why the author chose to write from Mike’s point of view. I think it was perhaps to show how easy it is to be perceived as the nice guy, the good guy, even when that’s nowhere close to the truth. The society we live in gives the benefit of the doubt to guys like Mike.

It’s disturbing to read how Mike takes everything and twists it to fit into his own narrative. The author examines truth and how easily truths can be twisted into lies. It’s a story about love and obsession and lust and how those are three very different things.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Reading List: September 2017 – February 2018

The Likeness Review, Book Reviews, Heartless, Lie to Me, I Let You Go, The Woman in the Window Review, Since We Fell

The Likeness

I just love Tana French’s writing. Love it. I was excited to read this one because I knew it dived into the life of Cassie, who was one of my favorite characters in the first novel.

When a murder victim turns out to be her doppelganger, Cassie agrees to go undercover to determine who murdered the victim. This book definitely gave me Secret History vibes, since the four main suspects are university students.

French really does have a way with words. I always find myself immersed in her stories, and the setting and characters are so vivid to me. She foreshadows certain events, but doesn’t overuse that technique. When she dropped little clues, I was on the edge of my seat, dying to know how it all turned out.

In the book, she explores the subject of family, both the family you are born into and the family you create. Often the people you choose to surround yourself with are the most important people. And as Cassie dives into this case, she understands more potently how the lines between right and wrong can be blurred.

This was such a good read. Can’t wait to pick up the next one in the series!

Rating: 4/5 stars

Lie to Me

It’s about this couple, Sutton and Ethan, who seemingly have a picture-perfect life. That all starts to unravel when Sutton disappears. Suspicion immediately falls on Ethan, but as secrets are revealed, it’s difficult to tell who’s the victim and who’s the perpetrator.

I do like a good domestic thriller, but I found this one disappointing. The characters were so one-dimensional and cliché, and the plot felt scattered. The dialogue was also pretty cringey.

Right away, we know that the husband is no-good and mysogenistic. All signs are pointing to him, but it’s too obvious and you know he didn’t do it. Also, Ethan and Sutton are supposed to be writers, but I did not for one second believe that they were good writers. It seemed like Ethan was only a famous novelist because of his good looks and charm.

Back to the scattered plot. I felt like there was a lot happening in this book, but most of it was not purposeful. It seemed like the author just threw some things in because she could.

Ok, I’ll stop complaining now, but this wasn’t nearly as good as I was hoping it would be. On to the next one!

Rating: 2/5 stars

Heartless

I definitely enjoyed The Lunar Chronicles series. I thought they were fun, entertaining fairytale retellings. Heartless didn’t quite live up to The Lunar Chronicles for me, but I still thought it was a fun read.

It’s all about the Queen of Hearts, and shows the journey of how she went from a young girl with hopes and dreams, to the villain that we know from Alice in Wonderland. Our protagonist, Cath, is a bit annoying and privileged, but becomes more nuanced as her character develops.

I really like the way that Meyer writes her retellings. She has a great balance of putting her own spin on the story, while weaving in elements from the original story that are fun to spot.

Rating: 3/5 stars

I Let You Go

I love when a book surprises me and this one definitely did. The main character, Jenna Gray, is running away from a tragic accident. She moves to a remote seaside town, and starts to try to rebuild her life. She can’t run away forever though, and soon enough, her past starts to catch up with her.

This book was definitely engaging. There’s a lot of tension, as the author explores feelings of grief, guilt, and shame. The author was really skilled at capturing these emotions and making these characters feel really believable

People cope with grief differently. Jenna’s decision to leave it all behind and attempt to start fresh made sense to me. This book made me think about how the people we love can hurt us, how we learn to live with that hurt, and begin to believe we deserve it.it

As I write this review, I’m still thinking about how this book caught me off guard. It was a great thriller and put Mackintosh on my list of ones to watch.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Since We Fell

What a strange book. I think I liked it? No, I did like it, clearly, because I rated it 3.5 stars. The thing I liked most about it was the writing. It’s descriptive in a way that really captures the settings and emotions, but it doesn’t go overboard and become overly descriptive.

The story follows Rachel Child, and goes back to her teenage years, and then continues with her adult life. It really is a character study of Rachel. She doesn’t know who her father is, and the book explores what it’s like to grow up without a firm sense of identity. Rachel’s relationship with her mother is fraught and the book explores the notion that you can love someone deeply and hate them as well.

This one has a bit of a wacky plot though, and it’s a complicated blend of literary fiction, thriller, mystery, and more. There are definitely some things that happen that stretch the imagination. I paused a few times while I was reading to think, “What is this book???

Is it a book I’d read again? I’m not sure (not that I reread that many books). But, I am glad that I read it and was able to experience Lehane’s writing. I would definitely read another one of his books.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Woman in the Window

I’m always wary of buzzy books, but I did like this book. The main character, Anna, lives alone in NYC. She’s afraid to leave her home, and yep, she’s got a bit of a drinking problem too. She loves spying on her neighbors though, and there’s one picture-perfect family that she likes in particular. One day when she’s watching their house, she sees something terrible happen, and she doesn’t know what to do.

Now that I’m writing that out, it sounds an awful lot like the plot of The Girl on the Train, right? Another similarity: between Anna’s mental health issues and alcohol problems, she’s an unreliable narrator that can’t be trusted.

Regardless, I thought this was a good read. I do love books set in NYC, and this was set in a part of NYC that I don’t frequent, so that was interesting for me. Also, I loved all the references to old black-and-white movies, although I wished that I was more familiar with them so that it’d have deeper meaning for me. I felt for Anna too. She just seemed so lonely, and like she’d been dealt some rough situations in life.

I don’t know that this explored any new themes, and I was hoping for a bit more thrill and drama, but this was an enjoyable read.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

 

Book Reviews: January and February 2017

the mothers review, the snowman review, jo nesbo, closed casket review, january reads the thunder beneath us, grace review, nicola yoon, the sun is also a star review, the sellout review, february reads

The Mothers

I finally read one of the buzziest books of 2016 and I enjoyed it quite a bit. In fact, it wasn’t what I was expecting it to be, so I guess I did a decent job of avoiding spoilers!

The novel follows a black girl named Nadia, and begins soon after her mother’s suicide. As she grieves, Nadia searches for other relationships to fill the void her mother left, and starts seeing the pastor’s son, Luke. Nadia becomes pregnant with his child and has to make a decision that will have consequences throughout the rest of her life.

I thought the tone of this book was very well done. After her mother’s death, Nadia is changed forever, and there’s a sadness and sense of emptiness pervading the novel. Nadia meets another motherless girl, Aubrey, who is her opposite, but the two of them strike up an unlikely friendship. They are both constantly searching for something: for their mothers or the people they used to be, for happiness, for love.

There are lines in this book where Bennett really nails it. I applaud her ability to capture emotions and her development of characters who feel like real people. However, there’s a narrative device she used that I’m not sure I liked- the Mothers. The Mothers are a group of women in Nadia’s church and they also function as a chorus (similar to the chorus in Fates and Furies). Even though there are some great passages in these sections, I generally found The Mothers’ observations distracting. Though I see how The Mothers are connected to the rest of the characters and the story, I’m not certain that they were necessary.

This book was quieter than I expected it to be, and I really liked that. It’s about difficult decisions, life-changing events, and being disappointed by the people you love the most.

The Snowman

I’ve heard a lot of talk about Jo Nesbo and I think the sticker on the book says that over 22 million copies have been sold (!!). Well, I thought it was time to find out what everyone was raving about. My overall takeaway can be summarized in three words: it was fine.

On the first snow day of the year, a woman goes missing in Oslo. There’s one detail that strikes detective Harry Hole as odd- the snowman found outside her house. This clue ultimately leads him to connect this case with others and makes him realize that he’s dealing with a dangerous criminal who enjoys playing games.

I feel like most of the mysteries/thrillers I read are based in America, so it was nice to read one in a completely different setting. The writing was acceptable, although I found some of the sentences strange and a bit off (I’m not sure if that was intentional, or as a result of translation). On a random note, there were several references to American politics, albeit politics of the past. I wasn’t sure how these were relevant to the story. Honestly, anything political is a really sore subject right now, so I had to wonder, “Was the author trolling me?”

I will give this point to Nesbo: it was a dark and twisted story, just the way I like it. The author kept me guessing throughout and I was thrown off by red herrings. However, there’s a real misogynistic streak in this novel, which I did not like one bit and which made me feel queasy. I won’t go into the details in order to avoid spoilers, but just be warned.

So there was enough intrigue in this story to keep me flipping the pages, but I wasn’t really blown away. I might try another Nesbo novel sometime in the future, but I won’t be rushing to do so.

Closed Casket*

When I heard that Sophie Hannah would be continuing the Agatha Christie books, I was really curious about she’d handle it. If you’ve read any of the original Agatha Christie novels, and then one of the new ones, I feel like you can’t help but compare them. My ultimate verdict is that Hannah did a good job of carrying on Agatha Christie’s legacy. It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly not a disgrace either.

In this book, Poirot and his colleague Edward Catchpool, another detective, are invited a dinner party at the estate of a famous children’s novelist named Lady Playford. The guests consist of some of Lady Playford’s family and people who are complete strangers (sounds a bit like And Then There Were None, no?). Naturally, Poirot is suspicious about Lady Playford’s decision to randomly invite two detectives to her home. Lo and behold, he’s right to be suspicious since someone is murdered on their first night at the estate.

I loved the premise of this novel and thought that Hannah did a pretty decent job of capturing Christie’s tone. But the characters in this novel, you guys. They were insufferable! For me they were very one-note and I wished that there was a lot more nuance to their actions/words. I did love the portion at the end when Poirot launches into his spiel and explains who committed the murder. I think that section in particular gave me the strongest Agatha Christie feels.

Again, Christie is a very difficult name to live up to. If it were me, I’d be terrified to try to tackle another writer’s work! I think this is a solid effort from Hannah and I would read the other book she’s written as part of the new Hercule Poirot series.

The Thunder Beneath Us*

Best Lightburn (love that name, feels kind of like a superhero name) is a top writer at a women’s magazine. It’s not easy being a black, female writer trying to advance in her career, but Best is doing everything she can to move up the ladder (I’d written a terrible pun here, but I decided to spare you instead, so you’re welcome ;). It seems like she has a great boyfriend, job, friends, and life in general, but she’s haunted by a traumatic event from her past. Ten years ago, Best was in an accident with her two brothers and was the only person to survive. As her past starts to catch up to her, her present-day life begins to unravel, until it seems like nothing is under her control anymore.

My description above makes this book sound rather bleak and it does begin with the terrible event. But there are moments of humor and levity in here too. I really enjoyed the writing style, which was rather conversational. When Best narrates, it’s like you’re gabbing with your girlfriend.

As I was reading, I thought the plot and structure was a bit loose. There were scenes and characters that felt more like tangents, rather than additions to strengthen the story. In parts, I wanted more background. I felt like I was supposed to know and care more about certain characters, but I wasn’t shown enough to understand the relationships between these characters.

Still, I thought the underlying story was raw and real. There were moments that, for reasons, made me pause to catch my breath. The pain that Best felt resonated with me. In general, I really enjoyed this novel and I would definitely read more of the author’s work.

Grace

This book is excellent and I feel like there aren’t enough people talking about how good it is. The main character is Naomi, a slave in the South in the mid-1800s. The book begins with Naomi’s murder, hours after she’s given birth to a child. Naomi dies that night, but she doesn’t quite move on. Instead, she reflects on her experiences before her death, and those of her daughter after her death.

Deon wrote this story beautifully and Naomi was such a rich character. She has a heartbreaking life. I think the idea of having a dead narrator could easily go wrong, but it works really well in this novel. The helplessness and lack of control that Naomi experiences in her life is also reflected after her death. As she watches over her daughter, she wants to care and intervene for her, but she can’t.

This is an important story that’s beautifully written. Y’all should read this one!

The Sun is Also a Star

I enjoyed this even more than Everything, Everything, which I really liked. I had no idea what this novel was about before I started reading it, but I knew from the first few pages that I was going to love it. When the book begins, Natasha’s family is being deported back to Jamaica, and Daniel has a college interview that could decide his future. The novel follows Natasha’s and Daniel’s story as their lives intersect on this pivotal day.

First of all, let’s give a round of applause to this book for featuring a romance between a young black girl and Korean boy. More of this, please! Aside from interracial relationships, this book also explores other topics, such as immigration and identity. I wasn’t expecting the immigration aspect of the novel. It felt particularly timely and relevant since I was reading this right after He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named announced the Muslim ban. I learned some things about the deportation process. Natasha struggles with being forced to return to a country that she barely remembers and having to leave behind the place that she calls home. Daniel wonders if he can still live up to his parent’s strict expectations if he decides to follow his own path. I could certainly identify with Daniel’s story, but Natasha’s story was especially moving to me. I felt her pain and helplessness as she tries to do everything she can think of to avoid being deported.

Despite dealing with such heavy subjects, this book has many humorous and charming moments. It gave me similar feels to those I had while reading Eleanor & Park, which is one of my favorite books. I’m really enjoying what Nicola Yoon is doing in the world of YA and I’m definitely going to keep following her work!

The Sellout

Get ready to go for a wild ride when you read this book! It’s irreverent and incisive from the first few pages and it doesn’t really slow down. The narrator, whose first name we never learn, is a black man living in Dickens, California. He describes Dickens as the original ghetto and is distressed when Dickens is literally erased from the map. The narrator comes up with a plan to get Dickens noticed and put it back on the map- bring back segregation.

This novel is as wacky as that plot description sounds and it’s a satire on race relations in America. Beatty is not afraid to go there, and several times I was wincing at his accurate observations about race. The plot can be unbelievable, until you remind yourself of the current political climate. There’s a lot of truth in this book and a lot to digest. It’s certainly left me reevaluating and taking a hard look at the current state of affairs.

I’m really glad I got around to this one in February. As with all of my Black History Month reads, this story feels even more timely and necessary than ever.

*Disclaimer: These books were sent to me by the publisher or author for review purposes, but these are my honest thoughts and opinions.