4.08.2019

Books I Read in March

The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain
This book was peripherally on my radar for quite some time, but I never picked it up. Perhaps it was the (in my opinion) lackluster cover. It kinda screams cheesy women's fiction, not at ALL a time travel story. And though the writing is not to my taste, a little stilted and melodramatic, the story was super compelling. I am a sucker for a good time travel or alternate universe yarn. If you're looking for a quick sorta sci-fi read, definitely pick this one up!

The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton
Hinton's story about spending 30 years on death row as an innocent man is a MUST READ. It's infuriating, horrifying, devastating and an absolute call to action regarding our criminal justice system. That's really all there is to say, other than it made for an excellent audiobook.

My Sister, the Serial Killer Oyinkan Braithwaite
As the title probably implies, this book is crazy! But not in an overt way - it's written with a subtle, ominously slow build. I had constant simmering anger on the protagonist Korede's behalf, cleaning up after her almost criminally self-centered sister, on top of being a murderer. It's got suspense and originality in spades and I gobbled it up in two days - it's a rather slim volume, too. Yet it's packed with food for thought about gender power struggles and how far we'd go for our family.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
I am glad I finally checked this one off my list, but I didn’t love it like I hoped I would. It was a sweet and a lovely little story, but the comparisons to Anne of Green Gables fall FAR short in my opinion. I definitely see the similarities in the protagonists, but the language didn’t wow me and I maybe laughed aloud once or twice, unlike being inside the head of Anne Shirley. Alas, comparison is the thief of joy and perhaps I should have read this one before I heard anything about it!

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
The structure of the book, told as an oral history of a fictional rock band, was utterly absorbing. I am a fan of multiple narrators, and usually they alternate by entire chapters. Having each character voice their thoughts from one PARAGRAPH to the next really was impactful and amazing how we can see the same situation in such different ways - so much juicy drama! I loved all of the relationship dynamics - not just Daisy and Billy, but Daisy and Simone, and especially the back and forth between Karen and Warren. And Reid's depth of research into the music and culture of the time shows. So good! I also had the pleasure of meeting Taylor Jenkins Reid at an event for the book and she's a goddamn delight.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Sounds a bit out there, but I think this would make a great pairing with The Book of Essie by Meghan Maclean Weir in thinking about the relationship between modern youth and religion... Acevedo touches on other thought provoking subjects like immigration, sexuality, and family loyalty. It's equally heartbreaking and uplifting. I haven’t read a story written in verse since Brown Girl Dreaming and I think I need to rectify this - so gorgeous and immersive.

The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves
This was a sweet love story - full review here!

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
I think that one has to have been living under a rock to not have heard about Elizabeth Holmes and the massive scam she pulled upon creating Theranos. Unfortunately, I think that led to me not being as wholly captivated by the book as I could have been if I didn't already read the news pretty thoroughly. It's an excellent account by the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who broke the story, and the second part of the book told from his perspective was absolutely riveting. I wish it had been in that format from the start, but nonetheless, this is an insane story of wealth and privilege that is utterly shocking and we're all better off that it has come to light.

Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
I stole this graphic novel from my daughter's library stack because it's been getting a fair amount of buzz and is reportedly going to be made into a Netflix film. We both really enjoyed it, especially the power of the Pashmina which had me guessing until the end. It's a lovely juxtaposition of high fantasy and the struggles of the characters everyday lives. Chanani does not shy away from the harsher realities of her culture, nor the beauty. I definitely recommend for adults and kids alike.

I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott
This was was a bit of a disappointment for me. Full review here!

4.02.2019

I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott (NetGalley Review)

I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott
Publisher: Atria Books (April 2, 2019)
Description from the publisher: 
Mary Laura Philpott thought she’d cracked the code: Always be right, and you’ll always be happy. 
But once she’d completed her life’s to-do list (job, spouse, house, babies—check!), she found that instead of feeling content and successful, she felt anxious. Lost. Stuck in a daily grind of overflowing calendars, grueling small talk, and sprawling traffic. She’d done everything “right,” but she felt all wrong. What’s the worse failure, she wondered: smiling and staying the course, or blowing it all up and running away? And are those the only options?
In this memoir-in-essays full of spot-on observations about home, work, and creative life, Philpott takes on the conflicting pressures of modern adulthood with wit and heart. She offers up her own stories to show that identity crises don’t happen just once or only at midlife; reassures us that small, recurring personal re-inventions are both normal and necessary; and advises that if you’re going to faint, you should get low to the ground first. Most of all, Philpott shows that when you stop feeling satisfied with your life, you don’t have to burn it all down and set off on a transcontinental hike (unless you want to, of course). You can call upon your many selves to figure out who you are, who you’re not, and where you belong. Who among us isn’t trying to do that?

This collection of essays was super high on my to-be-read list. Two of my favorite books of 2018 could be described similarly (Heating & Cooling and Tell Me More). And on paper, this practically shouts YOU ARE THE TARGET AUDIENCE. I was born a year before the author and have checked all those boxes and, yes, can sometimes be type-A and a little anxious. Plus she works at Parnassus! It's blurbed by Ann Patchett! Although, while relatable in many ways, it didn't engage me like I hoped it would.
This is most likely boils down to a case of "it's not you, it's me" as I'm rather finicky about my nonfiction. If I'm going to read a memoir, I think it needs to be about someone already interesting I want to learn more about (Busy Philips), a fascinating subject I want to learn more about (any Bill Bryson book, Lab Girl) or really emotionally vulnerable, which I'd argue all of the examples I mentioned fit that bill. These essays, while revealing, felt like quick and fleeting anecdotes that were heavy on her personal philosophy and light on her life experiences. I mean, I feel as if I know Kelly Corrigan's entire network of friends and family and want to hug them all. I can't even remember Philpott's husband's name. Perhaps I should have taken the 'essays' in lieu of 'memoir' in the title to heart. 
I got the impression that the main thrust of the book is that we all have our struggles and we are still valid in feeling our pain, even though it may seem less than others people's pain. This message seemed to repeat in a variety of humorous ways, especially her metaphors: from DVF dresses to buckets of crabs or chocolate chip cookies are utilized in unlikely ways. Though very true, I often thought that she was stating the obvious. I think that's why this collection will resonate for those looking for a laugh. Good humor usually employs empathy, the old "funny because it's true" and we all laugh because we can relate. Witty, for sure, but I didn't feel moved or enlightened. The description also states 'you don't have to set of on a transcontinental hike' to feel satisfied with your life. Yet, essentially, she does run away and has the privilege to do so. Philpott absolutely calls out her privilege, at least, dedicating an entire chapter to the subject. But I am not sure she gets the extent of it, if she doesn't consider being able to flee her life (even if it's for a short time because of a house sitting gig) an enormous privilege that ends up affording her great opportunities. 
If you're a fan of humorously written essays about the everyday struggles of a white, middle aged mom balancing career and family, this would certainly fit the bill. I'd say it's a good read alike to Anna Quindlen's Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake. Definitely well written, just not to my taste.
Many thanks to Atria Books and NetGalley for the complimentary advance digital copy in exchange for my honest review!





3.26.2019

The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves (ARC Review)

The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves
Publisher: St. Martin's Press (April 2, 2019)
Description from the publisher:
Annika (rhymes with Monica) Rose is an English major at the University of Illinois. Anxious in social situations where she finds most people's behavior confusing, she'd rather be surrounded by the order and discipline of books or the quiet solitude of playing chess.
Jonathan Hoffman joined the chess club and lost his first game―and his heart―to the shy and awkward, yet brilliant and beautiful Annika. He admires her ability to be true to herself, quirks and all, and accepts the challenges involved in pursuing a relationship with her. Jonathan and Annika bring out the best in each other, finding the confidence and courage within themselves to plan a future together. What follows is a tumultuous yet tender love affair that withstands everything except the unforeseen tragedy that forces them apart, shattering their connection and leaving them to navigate their lives alone.
Now, a decade later, fate reunites Annika and Jonathan in Chicago. She's living the life she wanted as a librarian. He's a Wall Street whiz, recovering from a divorce and seeking a fresh start. The attraction and strong feelings they once shared are instantly rekindled, but until they confront the fears and anxieties that drove them apart, their second chance will end before it truly begins.

To be honest, I was initially drawn into the description of this story because I, too, attended the University of Illinois in the early 90s and lived in the city of Chicago after graduating. Although, save for the mention of a few establishments (Kams most notably), this wasn't a walk down memory lane! Thankfully, it didn't need to be in order for me to enjoy Annika's story. 
Romance isn't my go-to genre, but I enjoy the occasional book that seems to rise to the surface as something a little different, something with a little bit more going on. The last book that seemed to fit the bill was The Kiss Quotient and, funny enough, it has similar themes about a woman on the autism spectrum finding love and finding her place in the world. These disorders were definitely not widely know about back in the 90s, and I felt as if the journey Annika takes in figuring out what makes her unique rang true. 
This is the first novel by Graves that I've read and I thought that she imbued the characters with authenticity and heart. The romance was tender and sweet, sometimes a tad racy. But I especially loved the relationship between Annika and her best friend Janice. In fact, I think I would have liked more interaction between the two, or Annika and her parents. There was a lot to unpack there, yet we get the briefest glimpses into her childhood. The narrative is set in alternating timelines, 1991 and 2001, and didn't leave much room for what happened prior or between those years, which I think would have enhanced the story. Though it made for a fast paced read that I finished in two sittings. The last few chapters of the book flew by (maybe too fast?) and were nail-bitingly tense.
If you are a romance fan or not, I definitely give my endorsement to this novel. I am now intrigued by Graves other work and noticed that her bestseller On the Island is in development to become a film. Looks like it could make for a good summer read...
Thank you so much to St. Martin's Press for the complimentary copy in exchange for my honest review!

3.05.2019

Books I Read in February

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
This novel had been sitting on my shelves for so long and I finally got the impetus to read it as part of an Instagram buddy read with Read Fine Print, and I'm so very glad I did. Rules of Civility is such a great read and I had every intention of jumping into Towles latest right away. Alas, the description doesn't really scream CAPTIVATING: 500 pages mainly set in one hotel in early 1900s Russia. And yet... If you love witty and endearing, this book has those qualities in spades. I laughed and read passages aloud to my husband constantly. To wit:
"Surely, the span of time between the placing of an order and the arrival of appetizers is one of the most perilous in all human interaction. What young lovers have not found themselves at this juncture in a silence so sudden, so seemingly insurmountable that it threatens to cast doubt upon their chemistry as a couple? What husband and wife have not found themselves suddenly unnerved by the fear that they might not ever have something urgent, impassioned, or surprising to say to each other again? So it is with good reason that most of us meet this dangerous interstice with a sense of foreboding."
The count is a character for the ages and completely makes this book. There were a few instances where I got a little restless with passages that felt as if they were lifted from a textbook. But the story of Rostov's relationships and how they unfold into a bittersweet and nail-biting conclusion absolutely stole my heart. 

Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend
I've been meaning to get back to reading some middle grade fiction and the buzz around the Nevermoor series had me intrigued. This was an entirely engaging story with elements of many favorite fantasy reads, but still felt refreshingly new. Morrigan Crow is a heroine I loved rooting for and I'm definitely hooked for the remaining books!

Calypso by David Sedaris
It has been many years since I've read a Sedaris book, and how I missed him! I must admit that I did try Theft by Finding Diaries and ended up abandoning it, as if felt so scattered and, honestly, not that funny. Not the case with Calypso. This is peak Sedaris that had me breathless with laughter and heartache for the realities he faced about his family troubles. I can't recommend it enough, especially on audio - which should really be a requirement for all of his books.

A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti
I've already blasted this on my social media feeds, but it bears repeating. Stop what you are doing, and put this YA masterpiece on your TBR. I felt a little thrill that I was able to grab it from my local library branch the day after it was named a Printz honor book. I finished it yesterday, and it blew me away. I haven’t cried reading a book in a long time, but this one was so powerful and moving. I am definitely getting a copy to share with my daughter, and probably my son too, when they are a little older (maybe 13 or 14). It is a all-too-familiar look at how young girls carry so much on their shoulders, and the way boys can be wonderful allies but also so very toxic. I am also partial to a book about long distance running, gun reform, and beautiful scenes set in my two homes: Seattle and Chicago. It’s like it was made for me, but I think it’s required reading for EVERYONE.
“She closes her eyes now. Just for a second, she imagines it – letting go. Handing heavy stuff back to the people it belongs to. When she does, she gets the most peaceful feeling, as if there’s a cool and reassuring hand on her forehead. She is safe and OK and the storm is out there somewhere, but not here.”

A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum
Full review here!

Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren
After a few heavy reads, I grabbed this one off the paperback picks shelf at the library after having enjoyed Love and Other Words by the same authors (yes, they're written by two women). The romance was cute and enjoyable, although absolutely predictable. I didn't love it as much as the former, but it served it's purpose of a fun diversion.

2.26.2019

A Woman is no Man by Etaf Rum (ARC Review)

A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum
Publisher: Harper Books (March 5, 2019)
Description from the publisher:
In Brooklyn, eighteen-year-old Deya is starting to meet with suitors. Though she doesn’t want to get married, her grandparents give her no choice. History is repeating itself: Deya’s mother, Isra, also had no choice when she left Palestine as a teenager to marry Adam. Though Deya was raised to believe her parents died in a car accident, a secret note from a mysterious, yet familiar-looking woman makes Deya question everything she was told about her past. As the narrative alternates between the lives of Deya and Isra, she begins to understand the dark, complex secrets behind her fragile community.

A Woman is No Man is tour de force - Etaf Rum has written an absolute triumph of a novel, with such heart and bravery. 
One of the first things I loved about this novel is that it is about characters that love literature. Books about books or bookish people tend to resonate, and Rum brilliantly weaves the importance of reading into the story - how it connects us to others, to understand the world, to give us hope, and ultimately so we can understand ourselves. 
Given the author's background as a child of first generation Arab immigrants, I'm bowled over by her strength in telling this story without holding back many ugly truths about her culture. Not only for fear of blowback from her community, but the fear of reinforcing existing discrimination. Through her characters, I felt as if she struck an excellent balance of exposing the realities of their existence as well as their strength and potential.
"Too often being happy means being passive or playing it safe. There's no skill required in happiness, no strength of character, nothing extraordinary. Its discontent that drives creation the most--passion, desire, defiance. Revolutions don't come from a place of happiness. If anything, I think it's sadness, or discontent at least, that's at the root of everything beautiful."
I am partial to stories with multiple narrators and the author seamlessly pivots between Deya and Isra, and sometimes Fareeda, Deya's grandmother. They are written with such authenticity and empathy, I was so invested in how their lives would unfold. I also had so much righteous anger on their behalf, on behalf of all Arab women, that I read with such a sense of urgency. The plotting was totally on point, with Rum dropping absolutely shocking details as I pieced together Isra and Fareeda's past.
"Fareeda knew her granddaughter could never understand how shame could grow and morph and swallow someone until she has no choice but to pass it along so that she wasn't forced to bear it alone."
My only critique would be that I wanted MORE. The ending felt slightly rushed and I *think* I know what happened, but it felt nebulous. This is not the kind of book that I could see having a sequel, but I really, really, really would love to read one.
Thank you so much to the folks at Harper Books for a free advance copy for review!

2.07.2019

Books I Read in January

Freefall by Jessica Barry
This was a great thriller! Full review here.

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
I tend to limit the amount of WWII novels I read, since there are so many out there and I don't want to get them mixed up in my head! So, I usually wait to see what rises to the top. This novel was a clear favorite over the last year, and for good reason. Hunter started this book as an investigation into her grandfather's family experience during the war and it's EXTRAORDINARY. Their story of survival against all odds had me up until the wee hours of the night turning the pages. I even cheated a few times and looked a few pages ahead from time to time, which I never do, because I was so invested in the characters. I of course looked up more about them on the author's website - googling afterward is always the sign of an excellent book.

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
I didn’t know much about this book, other than I remembered hearing good things. I decided to jump in without reading the description and loved it so much. I am a sucker for a stranger in a strange land narrative, and Washington Black’s story is a heart palpitating one. The writing is sublime and filled with beautiful language, especially when Washington is immersed in the scientific world. It gets stranger by turns, until coming to a very surreal and thought-provoking ending. Definitely recommend. 

White Fur by Jardine Libaire
What a unique and crazy book! I decided to add this to a book of the month order after Elin Hilderbrand gave it a glowing review on Instagram. Jardine's writing is so oddly beautiful. The most mundane of things described in such perfect detail:
"His voice had a soothing, loving, everything-will-be-ok growl to it, like the favorite uncle who spends half the cocktail party in the kids' bedroom telling stories, lulling the children into dreams, capable of this magnanimous and lazy lavishing of his adult time in a nursery seeing as he has no hope for his own life, and can give it all away."
The boy meets girl from the wrong side of the tracks trope is done well. I was so anxious throughout the book, as their relationship would be tested in so many highly fraught ways. The middle sagged just a little bit, but the ending took my breath away! 

Becoming by Michelle Obama
What can I say about this that hasn't been said already? There's a reason this was the best selling book of 2018 - and it came out in NOVEMBER! I got the audio book and could have listened to the dulcet tones of her confident and soothing voice forever and ever. She is truly a gifted storyteller, in addition to the multitude of her impressive accomplishments in her own right. I loved the metaphor she used about learning to play the piano throughout the book, and feeling like I got to know some of my absolute favorite people just a little bit better. No matter your political persuasion, this was an inspiring and fascinating read.

P.S. I Still Love You Jenny Han and Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han
I thought To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before was a good book - a fun little read but not something I ever followed up on after reading it back in 2015. But with the sequel to the excellent Netflix adaptation coming up, and listening to so many people rave about the whole series, I decided to grab the two remaining books from the paperback picks shelf at the library. I’m so glad I did! I felt as if, in these two books, Jenny Han did an even better job of delving into such important topics in a young person’s life (family, changing friendships, college, the future) beyond the (still swoon worthy) YA romance. They’re perfect comfort reads that I gobbled up in just a few days.

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin
A beautiful family saga that I just loved! Full review here.

2.05.2019

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin (ARC Review)

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin
Publisher: William Morrow (February 5, 2019)
Description from the publisher:
When the renowned poet Fiona Skinner is asked about the inspiration behind her iconic work, The Love Poem, she tells her audience a story about her family and a betrayal that reverberates through time.
It begins in a big yellow house with a funeral, an iron poker, and a brief variation forever known as the Pause: a free and feral summer in a middle-class Connecticut town. Caught between the predictable life they once led and an uncertain future that stretches before them, the Skinner siblings—fierce Renee, sensitive Caroline, golden boy Joe and watchful Fiona—emerge from the Pause staunchly loyal and deeply connected.  Two decades later, the siblings find themselves once again confronted with a family crisis that tests the strength of these bonds and forces them to question the life choices they’ve made and ask what, exactly, they will do for love.

I went into this one blind, as it was an unexpected advance copy that showed up at my door that I don't remember requesting! I think I might have won it in a giveaway and I didn't remember much about the description, other than it sounded intriguing and I thought The House Girl was a solid read. This family drama swept me up and pulled on my heartstrings from the first pages to the last, and I was so glad I had no idea as to what might happen next. 
The entire book is told from Fiona's perspective, which totally works and I really want to learn more about why Conklin chose the youngest Skinner sibling. Perhaps it's because it's the most probable that she is still alive in 2079, the year in which the first chapter tantalizingly opens in the distant future. Though she is also the poet, the archivist, of her and her sibling's story. It begins in their early childhood, 1981, when Fiona is just four years old and their father has died. I was personally ensnared by the narrative because my own father died in the same year, in the same manner, and I was the same age as Joe. It was so easy to place myself emotionally with each of these characters, as well identify with their time of life. 
Conklin writing also easily put me in the psyche of the sisters and their mother Noni. It is the enigma that is Joe, the lone boy of the Skinner siblings, that relentlessly drives the story forward as each sister desperately tries to unravel his psyche and straighten out his life. In the process they unravel their own inner demons in profound and startling ways. If you enjoyed The Immortalists or Commonwealth, as I did, this would be a fantastic pick. It also felt reminiscent of Six Feet Under, one of the best television shows ever, which is also centered around a family that is trying to put themselves together after the loss of their father. And in the end, both are concluded from the very distant future in a tear jerking, hopeful and lovely way. 
Thank you so much to the folks at William Morrow for sending a copy my way, I adored it!