The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker (NetGalley Review)

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
Publisher: Random House (January 15, 2019)
Description from the publisher:
One night in an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California, a first-year student stumbles into her dorm room, falls asleep—and doesn’t wake up. She sleeps through the morning, into the evening. Her roommate, Mei, cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital. When a second girl falls asleep, and then a third, Mei finds herself thrust together with an eccentric classmate as panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. A young couple tries to protect their newborn baby as the once-quiet streets descend into chaos. Two sisters turn to each other for comfort as their survivalist father prepares for disaster.
Those affected by the illness, doctors discover, are displaying unusual levels of brain activity, higher than has ever been recorded before. They are dreaming heightened dreams—but of what?

This book had me riveted from the first page and didn't let up until the final one. The premise of this story is so arresting, and in Walker's hands, it is transcendent. Her prose is lovely and straightforward, evoking a multitude of emotions. Early in the book, I was reminded of what it was like to be in high school getting a call from a boy, a girl in a coed college dorm, and most strongly what it was like to be a new parent. 
"Here is what he has learned about loving a baby: the time away from her is vital to the pleasure of being with her."
As the unthinkable events of this sleep plague unfold, various scenarios play out as through a prism with each character in a separate facet of life: the two school age girls stranded alone, the college students, the parents, and an elderly professor. There is so much to unpack about what gives our lives meaning at different stages in life, how love can mean something different for every individual, and many ethical dilemmas. I loved how she took a contagion story to illustrate the bonds between individuals and communities. I also cannot stop thinking about the concept of time, of our wakeful vs. dreaming life. How can we truly know which is real, what is the construct of time but a human invention?  
"Some dreamed of their youth. Some dreamed of old age. Some dreamed of days that might have been - all the lives they did not live. Or the lives that, in some other world, they did."
Oftentimes I was reminded of The Road by Cormac McCarthy, though it is much less harrowing. Yet there are similarly sweet and poignant moments alongside an unrelentingly ominous backdrop, and constant jaw dropping plot twists. I can't say enough about how much I admired, and was enchanted by, this novel.  
Many thanks to the folks at Random House and NetGalley for a complimentary digital copy in exchange for my honest review!


Favorite Books of 2018

Time to add my two cents to the many end of year lists out there! Now that I've read and reviewed all the books I read in 2019, I took a look back through my Goodreads and pulled out every book that I still think about, and think of fondly. As for those Goodreads stats...
Eighty books! Yay! Every year I think I won't try to increase my goal, but now I want to shoot for 100. I mean, if I'm not reading War and Peace, get back to regularly reading Newbery books and work on even less time wasted on the internet... Anyhoo. These are in no particular order, save for one. The first of the list:

CIRCE  by Madeline Miller was hands down my favorite. I was so surprised by how engaging, accessible and relatable a spin on Greek mythology could be. I was so invested in Circe's story and was fist pumping in solidarity with her throughout. Do not be intimidated by this book! (reviewed in September)

Heating & Cooling by Beth Ann Fennelly is such a slim volume that packs such a huge punch. Her short autobiographical essays are deeply hilarious and deeply moving. (reviewed in April)

Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery is technically a reread, but I had replaced my book memories with the amazing TV adaptation of my youth. This book holds up so well and I think EVERYONE should read it! (reviewed in January)

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is one that I read early on in the year, but think about Eleanor still. It's a book that deserved the hype. (reviewed in February

You Think It, I'll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld is a collection of stories, each more deliciously entertaining than the last. I just LOVE her writing and ability to make the mundane extraordinary. (e-galley review)

Still Me by Jojo Moyes was the perfect ending for one of my all time favorite characters. One might say that Still Me redeemed the lukewarm After You, but I actually enjoyed every book in this trilogy and I had such a ball being back inside Louisa Clark's head and loved her happy ending. (reviewed in May)

How to Be Famous by Caitlin Moran just bowled me over with her hilarious zingers, searing hot takes on feminism, and refreshingly sentimental observations of love and hope. (ARC review)

Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan was the second book I read of hers this year and it was tough deciding which one to put on my list of favorites. So, honorable mention to Glitter and Glue! Corrigan is so relatable and wise, I adore her and highly recommend listening to her read these on audiobook. (reviewed in September)

The Book of Essie by Meghan Maclean Weir was the book I read the FASTEST this year, and for that alone I think deserves a spot. It was predictable in parts, but I thought it was so unique and an excellent commentary on religion in society today. (reviewed in June)

The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand was my favorite of all her summer books so far and I just love her so much - my go to escapist reads, hands down. (reviewed in August)

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens probably comes as no shock to anyone, since this is on so many best of lists, deservedly so. I loved the beautiful prose about nature, the heartbreaking love story and the mystery that had me biting my nails until the bitter end. (reviewed in October)

A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne was SO completely different than his last book, The Hearts Invisible Furies which is an all time favorite. Yet this one landed on my yearly favorites for the absolutely crazy villainous plot that I could not put down. (e-galley review)

Previous years lists!
Favorite Books of 2017 

Favorite Books of 2016 

Favorite Books of 2015

Favorite Books of 2014

Favorite Books of 2013 

Favorite Books of 2012


Freefall by Jessica Barry (ARC Review)

Freefall by Jessica Barry
Publisher: Harper Books (January 8, 2019)
Description from the publisher:
When her fiancĂ©’s private plane crashes in the Colorado Rockies, Allison Carpenter miraculously survives. But the fight for her life is just beginning. For years, Allison has been living with a terrible secret, a shocking truth that powerful men will kill to keep buried. If they know she’s alive, they will come for her. She must make it home.
In the small community of Owl Creek, Maine, Maggie Carpenter learns that her only child is presumed dead. But authorities have not recovered her body—giving Maggie a shred of hope. She, too, harbors a shameful secret: she hasn’t communicated with her daughter in two years, since a family tragedy drove Allison away. Maggie doesn’t know anything about her daughter’s life now—not even that she was engaged to wealthy pharmaceutical CEO Ben Gardner, or why she was on a private plane.
As Allison struggles across the treacherous mountain wilderness, Maggie embarks on a desperate search for answers. Immersing herself in Allison’s life, she discovers a sleek socialite hiding dark secrets. What was Allison running from—and can Maggie uncover the truth in time to save her?

Thrillers are not normally my go-to genre, but the description and buzz around this debut novel had me intrigued. I'm really glad I picked it up, as it was a perfect way to kick off the year in books: engaging and fast paced!
The plane crash Allison survives hooked me into the book immediately, and Barry does an excellent job of 'show, don't tell' as we gain clues about her life, which become increasingly sinister and sordid, and the circumstances in which she finds herself. There is a good deal of food for thought on feminism, and how women often find their worth tied up in beauty that gave the story more heft.
Meanwhile, her mother Maggie's storyline stuttered a bit in the beginning. However, I am a sucker for a dual narration and I warmed to her as the author lent a good deal of authenticity with her inner thoughts on motherhood and grief.

"Being the mother of a grown child seemed to be a twinned experience, simultaneously loving the person she had become with all your soul while mourning everything she had not."

I turned the pages furiously to reach the conclusion of this story. Even though I was able to piece together a few twists, I was surprised at several turns and rather satisfied with how the ending came together. It was well plotted had a very cinematic feel. I wouldn't be surprised (and sorta hope) that this will inevitably become a film. Now I am thinking about perhaps picking up some more thrillers that I've noted had similar buzz, since I enjoyed this one a great deal - definitely recommend.
Many thanks to the folks at Harper Books for a complimentary advance copy in exchange for my honest review! 


Books I Read in December

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen
Sarah Addison Allen was a perfect start for my holiday reading: light and magical. The way she plays with magical realism is unique, as usual. I loved that one of the characters had books she needed in her life appear and seem to follow her around. The thread of family secrets had me hooked and the ending took me by surprise.

This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Philipps
I am invested enough in pop culture to know who Busy is - what shows she was on (none that I watched, though) and that she's Michelle Williams' BFF, which I always thought was super cute, how they went to events together. But I didn't really know much more about her until I, like everyone else, started following her on Instagram a year or so ago. I'm so glad that I've 'gotten to know her' on that platform for a decent amount of time before diving into her book. It felt like listening to a friend shoot the shit, as does her Instagram. She's just, as she'd very correctly put it, a sparkly human you just gravitate towards. There are so many funny bits, especially the bits related to her mom. (FYI, this is excellent on audio!) Much like Trevor Noah in his memoir, there's something about the author doing an impression of his or her mother that just SLAYS. Alongside the humor, there are a lot of in your face difficult truths she shares about her life. I just really want to give her a hug, and drink margs with her OBVI.

One Day in December by Josie Silver
Another perfect cozy winter read that EVERYONE on social media seemed to be reading in December! I was lucky to win a copy from the publisher and thought that it lived up to the hype. The beginning started off a little cliche and I was worried that I'd be doing a lot of eye rolling, but Silver takes these really vibrant characters in all sorts of unexpected directions. And the ending had me all verklempt. I also think this could be read in any season, despite the title.

Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
This wasn't a December read per se, but I finished it in early December with my older kiddo. We've been reading one Harry Potter a year every summer, but got started kinda late this year and the MIDDLE SCHOOL happened and there wasn't quite as much time to read together. We finally peppered in a few hours here and there and finished, though. This one was so much fun to read aloud because Umbridge was so fun to voice!

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Doooone! Thoughts on this here.

Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher
The Shell Seekers is one of the few books from my youth that I can definitively say I adored. I don't remember a great deal about the plot, but just that I loved it and I've been meaning to reread it for ages. Alas, I feel as if there are so many new books out there that rereads just never come to pass. I decided instead to read a new Pilcher book for the holidays and it was so, so perfect. It has such a wonderful sense of place and a cozy vibe with vivid descriptions of plush armchairs, crackling fires, and lots of food and drink. I'm also a fan of several character threads all coming together in a satisfying way. It might have been on the predictable side, but it was enjoyable, nonetheless. If you enjoy Louise Penny's Three Pines atmosphere, you will love this book!

Pax by Sarah Pennypacker
I read this one with my youngest and it was a lovely middle grade story of a boy separated from his domesticated fox and runs away to bring him back home. Along his journey he is helped by a hermit woman, Vola,  and he ends up helping her in turn. Although I think a lot of the nuances of the book were lost on my daughter. There is so much to unpack about Vola's life, her inner demons and the complexities of war. Also I felt as if the ending were rushed, while the middle of the book sort of sagged. 

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
I usually wait until closer to the release date to read advance copies, but I couldn't help myself with this one. My instincts were correct and it was a total FIVE STAR read. Review forthcoming!

I'd Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel
If you are the kind of person who listens to Anne's podcast, then this book will SPEAK TO YOU. So many bits about being a reader made me laugh out loud and nod my head. But I was also really impressed by some of her more personal anecdotes, especially the essay about her first home with her husband that was next door to the library. This was the perfect book to cap off my year of reading.

Now that I've thought through all of my books for the year, I'll start compiling my list of favorites...


Completing War and Peace and Looking Towards 2019

Done. FINALLY done. Can you tell I got a little resentful of War and Peace by the end of the year? Ha! There's something about year-end reading and the pull of the 'best of lists' (I'll add mine to the pile soon) or just wanting to get to all the holiday books on my shelf. For sure, throughout the year, sitting down with this doorstop did not feel burdensome and I was hopeful about the story's conclusion. However, in the final chapters and weeks of reading, I wasn't getting any emotional investment in the characters or their predicaments. You would think after 1400 or so pages I would have felt like I knew these people inside and out and been invested in their fates. Alas...  
I will say that it was totally accessible reading and not terribly complex - just long. There were certainly parts I enjoyed, mostly anything having to do with the women in the story, and Pierre. Sadly those parts were given short shrift to all of the incessant minutiae of the battle scenes. Which is ironic, because Tolstoy goes on at length about how the planning doesn't matter in war, just luck and circumstance. I'm glad to know the story. I'm glad that I learned a lot about my reading habits. I'm glad I did something new. I'm glad I saw it through. I'm glad I have this lovely Penguin Clothbound Classics edition to commemorate this task.
The thought did cross my mind to tackle another humongous classic, perhaps Les Miserables because I adore that story and definitely would be invested in the characters! But since I know the plot already, I don't think it would be an impactful reading experience. My other reading goals, reading from my unread shelf and books I've been meaning to read, really went by the wayside this year. I'd rather put my effort into that again, as well as reading more work by POC and own voices (fingers crossed for at least one a month and perhaps a dedicated review) rather than classics by old white dudes. 
So that's pretty much it for the yearly goals! Perhaps I'll do even more simplifying here - most of my interaction with publishers happens on Instagram and microblogging over there is way more fun. Although minimizing has already been a natural progression on this space, gradually going from 185 posts in 2012 (!) to 44 this year. I shall be back soon, though, with December books read, yearly favorites, and a review of the new Karen Thompson Walker book - The Dreamers. So, I hope you stay tuned and please do come join me on Instagram if you are so inclined!


Books I Read in November

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
With the new Netflix show of The Haunting of Hill House, I've been seeing so many of her books on social media, so I started reading this one on Halloween. I thought it was engaging at first, but I don't know if I have the patience for some of the classic Gothic novels (see also: Rebecca). The suspension of knowing that something is 'not quite right' as I try to piece it together can be a fun reading experience, but I felt as if the ending left me with more questions that it should have answered. Still, I could see how her work has set the precedent for current thrillers and admired the writing.

A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne
LOVED IT! Full review here!

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Have you ever read a beloved children's book for the first time as an adult? This was the top book recommended to me from my 'have been meaning to read' stack and... I didn't love it. It was a serviceable children's fantasy novel, maybe a little too steampunk for my taste. Or maybe it's because I don't gravitate towards fantasy as much anymore, or that I had to have a young mindset to fully immerse myself in these types of books? I remember when the film version of A Wrinkle in Time came out, many people were reading it for the first time as adults and... didn't love it, and believe me - I GET IT. Wrinkle is a freaking weird book. But it meant so much to me as a kid and I love it to this day. I brought this up on Instagram and felt like Anne of Green Gables is an exception to this rule: anyone, at any age, should enjoy L.M. Montgomery. Maybe it's realistic fiction vs. fantasy? BUT! Harry Potter! Those came out when I was already an adult and oh, how I love them so. I suppose there is not clear cut answer to this conundrum, so I shall stop blathering about it, except to say that I will still totally read kids books as an adult!

From the Corner of the Oval by Beck Dorey-Stein
Hoo boy, I could go ON AND ON about this one, too. I find myself having zero patience for characters that are 'sooooo confused' about their relationships and end up cheating on their significant others as a grown ass adult. I find it cowardly and gross. (See also, The Light We Lost.) I mean I FOR SURE had a lot of fun and made MANY questionable decisions when I was a single twenty-something living in the city. But never decisions that I knew would directly hurt someone else. And I have zero recollection of anyone in any of my friend circles acting this way. What's hard is that Beck is not a character, she's a real live human being who has made her mistakes and learned from them. I for sure give her credit for that, yet listening to her story just made me cringe. However, the fun behind the scenes of the Obama administration made up for it and kept me engaged until the very end. So split down the middle? Two and a half stars? 

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate
I loved The One and Only Ivan, so I was excited to steal this library book from my daughter after she was done with it. Alas, I don't think Crenshaw had the same clever, unique and heartfelt voice that Ivan did. I'm glad to have had conversations with my kids about the stigma of homelessness. But the story felt disjointed and the flashbacks didn't flow. The title character seems to have very infrequent appearances in the book and I didn't really like him. My girl thought it was sweet, so there's that! 

Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape by Peggy Orenstein
Oh man, this was a tough but necessary read. Reading Orenstein's research on how teens view sex nowadays was pretty terrifying in parts (oral sex is barely a handshake! since it's not ACTUAL sex!) and sadly familiar to all generations of women (defaulting to politeness over straightforwardness). I would argue that this book is a must read for the parents of boys as much as, or more than, girls and how we need to talk to them about consent and reciprocity. Definitely glad to have this information to add to my arsenal of the ongoing conversations with my kids.

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
This was a perfect cozy winter read and lived up to her work in The Thirteenth Tale. Full review here.

Winter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand
It was hard to say goodbye to the Quinn family of the Winter Street series last year, but I am ALL IN with the Steele family for the new winter series! This one grabbed me from the start with the juicy husband-was-leading-a-double-life storyline. As per her usual, Hilderbrand's characters all feel so very real and vividly drawn. And, like Nantucket, she absolutely brings the Virgin Islands to life. I feel extremely lucky to have taken a day trip many years ago from St. Thomas to St. John to snorkel Trunk Bay, and I'm loving being transported back there. I burned through this in 48 hours and can't wait for more frothy fun next winter.


Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield (NetGalley Review)

Once Upon a River: A Novel by Diane Setterfield
Publisher: Atria Books (December 4, 2018)
Description from the publisher:
A dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child.
Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.
Is it a miracle?
Is it magic?
Or can it be explained by science?
Replete with folklore, suspense and romance, as well as with the urgent scientific curiosity of the Darwinian age, Once Upon a River is as richly atmospheric as Setterfield’s bestseller The Thirteenth Tale.

My TLDR would be that Once Upon a River has lived up to the expectations that Setterfield set with The Thirteenth Tale. The arresting events that set the story in motion, a little girl thought dead that comes to life, completely grabbed me. And the page turning plot, plus magical, atmospheric writing kept me hooked until the satisfying conclusion.
"As is well-known, when the moon hours lengthen, human beings come adrift from the regularity of their mechanical clocks. They nod at noon, dream in waking hours, open their eyes wide to the pitch-black night. It is a time of magic."
Once the story of the girl gets around, at least three parties have a legitimate claim to her: a couple who's daughter was kidnapped years before, a father whose wife drowned herself and possibly their daughter, and a simple-minded girl with a long lost sister. Each of these families is drawn in rich detail, and the threads of how they intersect is masterfully plotted. It becomes increasingly evident that there is more than one mystery contained within the pages. One is left guessing for much of the book as to the girl's true identity, and the family secrets of each character. Setterfield keeps the idea of magic open while quietly laying the groundwork for both an engaging romance and a sinister denouement.
A few times I felt as if the pace lagged a bit in the middle of the book, but overall, I found it a perfect story to snuggle up with and get lost in on a gloomy day. If you are a fan of Kate Morton (intricately plotted and suspenseful), Hannah Kent (richly atmospheric), or Sarah Waters (Gothic and creepy) this novel hits every one of these notes, in addition to nuances of mythology or fairy tales. 
Thank you SO MUCH to the folks at Atria Books and NetGalley for the complimentary digital copy in exchange for my honest review!