5.06.2020

April Book Reviews

Godshot by Chelsea Bieker
Thanks to the folks at Catapult, I was able to get a complimentary early digital copy of Godshot. This story of a girl coming of age, while stuck in a dead-end town and being brainwashed by a cult was a WILD ride. Lacey May is an utterly authentic and compelling character, whom I wanted to hug and smack upside the head in equal measure. The same goes for her mother, the town beauty who is the focus of the evil pastor’s designs. Godshot offered up a lot to think about when it comes to the relationship between mothers and daughters, what makes a family, and what it means to forgive.
I flew through this book wanting to know how things would end up for Lacey May. I find books about cults rather fascinating, even though this was fictitious. One might wonder where the author drew her inspiration, as some of the details were pretty horrific (Lots of trigger warnings - definitely research before reading, or shoot me a DM.) but she grabbed my attention in a visceral way. Bieker certainly nails the inherent misogyny of cults.
“But my body did exist and was only growing bigger. I would only keep existing more and more, and then when the baby came she too would exist, angering men and boys all on her own. When did this end? I wondered.”
If you think a sinister, and also weirdly charming story about a young girl in throes of a cult sounds fascinating, for sure grab this singular debut!

The Blue Bistro by Elin Hilderbrand
I normally save Elin Hilderbrand books for the summer. However, with my waning attention span and anxiety these days, I decided that getting to some unread backlist might be a good idea! The Blue Bistro wasn’t my favorite narrative of her novels, but the food writing sure was! If you know Hilderbrand’s work, you know that the love she puts into talking about food is such a huge part of her appeal. That, and being so vividly transported to beautiful Nantucket, which was SO NICE RIGHT NOW.
If you haven’t read any of her novels, hit me up and I can try to recommend one that might be perfect for you! I especially like to recommend her to fans of Louise Penny, because they have many of the same enchanting elements.

Here for It by R. Eric Thomas
 I’m really glad that I had R. Eric Thomas to keep me company in the last few weeks at home doing the thousands of dishes and loads of laundry that come with going absolutely nowhere. Anyway! Anyone that can tie in my favorite childhood read aloud (The Monster at the End of This Book) from the beginning of their memoir, to the heartwarming ending is TOPS in my book! This was an astute, eye opening, and obviously good humored collection of essays on his coming of age and confronting issues of race, class, LGBTQ, and religion. Highly, highly recommend!

Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny
I hadn’t planned on reading the next winter-y installment of Inspector Gamache in April, but here I am craving those comfort reads. Bury Your Dead was excellent, of course, and each book just compounds upon the last. I rather enjoyed the tied up loose ends from the previous novel, while also taking in Québéc through Penny’s eyes in this volume. It’s like being given the gift of travel right now.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
I finally CAVED to this series that is all over Bookstagram. I dabble in fantasy books a few times a year, but many of the hyped series didn’t suck me in past the first book - Six of Crows, Caraval, A Darker Shade of Magic... All great, just didn’t have that something that made me want to devour them. (Sorry! I know how beloved those titles are!) ACOTAR is reminding me of my reading experience with The Selection or Twilight series: kind of ridiculous, but so ADDICTIVE. It’s like Katniss mashed up with Cinderella whilst being rather sexy (PSA: not all fantasy written by women is YA). I have already ordered the next book!

The Whisper Man by Alex North
This was the first fiction novel I have ever listened to on audiobook! I tried to when I first started listening to audiobooks, but learned quickly that nonfiction holds my attention best, preferably memoir. But I had a complimentary advance copy sitting in my Libro.fm account and thought that I'd give this thriller a go. I listen to books at normal speed (or sometimes 1.1 speed, which is so awesome this is available on Libro.fm), but I pushed this one up to 1.25 in the final chapters, absolutely riveted. The ending was downright unsettling. If you are into creepy thrillers, I would definitely recommend this story about a child killer who whispers in victim's bedroom windows, complete with a scary rhyme about 'The Whisper Man.' *shudder*

4.09.2020

March Book Reviews

Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore
This novel, reminiscent of Kingsolver, will definitely go down as one of my favorite books this year! Full review here

Middle School Matters by Phyllis L.  Fagell
Well, I guess I don't need to worry so much about school dynamics for awhile now... ANYWAY. This book was pretty dry, and there was a lot of information within that I have taken in from various articles and books. But, it does contain a lot of good information. Funny enough, there were many gems that I had already gleaned YEARS ago from Connecting Boys with Books, which is a great read.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman
It’s been a RULL LONG time since I dipped my toes into YA dystopian fiction. But, my 7th grader chose is for his book club in English class, so I figured it was time to pick it up - especially after hearing so many of y’all singing it’s praises. I must say that I found it very entertaining, and cinematic in tone. Is there a screen version in the works? I can’t imagine there not being one. It definitely evokes excellent philosophical discussions about life, death (obviously), and purpose. Though I felt the pace sag in the middle, it comes to a heart pounding end that is equally satisfying and tantalizing. I for sure plan to finish the series.

The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez
I didn’t burn through it very quickly, and I thought it sagged in the middle. But would I have felt that way when reading it a month ago, pre-covid 19?? Overall, I’d say Jimenez drew me in immediately with his eerie, somber and vivid world building. I was reminded a bit of A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. Though the tone of Vanished Birds is much more introspective and dark, I’d definitely recommend it as another example of thought provoking literary sci-fi.

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
I felt ambivalent about Perfect Little World, but Catherine at Gilmore Guide to Books convinced me to give this a try. I appreciated Wilson’s fantastical story, his take on class and power, and completely unique and convincing characters. How an author can make spontaneously combustible children seem like a plausible storyline, while balancing a sweet as well as sinister tone, I can't quite articulate. It has to be read to be believed, which I'd certainly recommend.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
This one definitely lived up to all of the hype! Gottlieb gives a fascinating glimpse into the work of a therapist, some excellent nuggets of wisdom through which we can look at our struggles in a more constructive manner, and a string of excellent narratives that propel the book forward. I was so invested, not only in her life story, but those of her patients Rita, Julie and of course JOHN. The raw humanity she shares in herself and others instills such empathy - just a lovely book.

3.30.2020

Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore (ARC Review)

Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore
Publisher: Harper Books (March 31, 2020)
Description from the publisher:
Mercy is hard in a place like this . . .
It’s February 1976, and Odessa, Texas, stands on the cusp of the next great oil boom. While the town’s men embrace the coming prosperity, its women intimately know and fear the violence that always seems to follow.
In the early hours of the morning after Valentine’s Day, fourteen-year-old Gloria Ramírez appears on the front porch of Mary Rose Whitehead’s ranch house, broken and barely alive. The teenager had been viciously attacked in a nearby oil field—an act of brutality that is tried in the churches and barrooms of Odessa before it can reach a court of law. When justice is evasive, the stage is set for a showdown with potentially devastating consequences.

So many feminist books of late center on the harrowing 'what-if' of a potential dystopian future. Yet this story of amazing and powerful women needs only to look into our very recent history: west Texas in 1976... What a phenomenal debut by Elizabeth Wetmore - I went into this novel blind, and was completely blown away: the lush prose, vivid sense of place, powerful storytelling, and authentic characters all culminated in such an emotionally moving way.
The plot begins with heart pounding scenes from Gloria's perspective as she escapes from attack, then bounces to Mary Rose as she answers the door, and eventually to a kaleidoscope of different women who each have a compelling narrative in their own right. The brutal crime and the way it's repercussions unfold certainly propels the story forward, but it almost feels secondary after getting caught up in these fantastic characters’ lives. I felt so much sadness, rage (oh the RAGE), and ultimately hope on their behalf.
The comparisons to Kingsolver are completely legit, and I felt echoes of The Poisonwood Bible while reading Valentine. I'd say her writing is also comparable to Ann Patchett, with such perfect unique and compelling character studies that punch you in the gut - but in the best way!
Thanks to Harper Books for gifting me a review copy! This indelible novel is definitely going on my yearly favorites list. It comes out tomorrow - March 31st, and I would recommend preordering and getting those library holds in!

3.05.2020

February Book Reviews

Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore
Oona is definitely making the rounds on social media right now, and I was lucky to be one of the folks to receive an advance copy in a promotion from Flatiron Books.
This was a fun and fluffy take on the idea of time travel/alternative realities, wherein the main character switches into a different year of her life at the stroke of midnight every January 1st. I think we can all agree is no longer a unique concept in fiction nowadays, and it needs to be done exceptionally well to stand out. I think this one will stand out because it is the first I’ve noticed that has popped up in the women’s fiction/contemporary fiction genre in a long time. 
The plot kept my attention, wanting to know what lay ahead for Oona and how she would handle the year she was given. There’s also an emotionally manipulative plot twist later in the book that gave it some heft, but I was left wanting more. It is nowhere near the epic level of literature it is being compared to, like Life After Life or The Time Travelers Wife, which are two of my all time favorite books. If you are intrigued by the premise and are looking for something quick and light, definitely give this a read. If you are looking for epic and indelible, read the latter two - you won’t be disappointed!

Something New by Lucy Knisley
I’m officially out of new Lucy Knisley content and I’m so sad! Luckily, she has TWO new books out this year. I adored Something New. It had personal, heartfelt vulnerability paired with insightful anthropology that all of Knisley’s books share. I loved the fascinating cultural tidbits (and hot takes) on matrimony, as well as the nitty gritty details of her wedding planning. It, obviously, made me nostalgic for our wedding almost 18 years ago... I’m also a sucker for Chicago nostalgia, and felt as if I took a rocket ship back in time at the mention of Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind!! Any of my fellow Chi-town peeps remember that show?? Anyhoo! Pick up Knisley’s books - they’re fantastic

How to Be Alone by Lane More
This memoir was an overwhelmingly sad listening experience. I was certainly moved by Moore's account of how her broken family and upbringing shaped her life. And it helps to explain where so many people are coming from who have difficulty with relationships. Given her humor writing background, I was just hoping for a bit more levity than this book offered. However, if you are someone who's had a freakout over whom to put as an emergency contact on forms (which is highly relatable) and find holidays difficult, this will definitely make you feel less alone.

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Being a fourth grader, my younger kiddo was so excited to finally be able to participate in King County Library Global Reading Challenge! Her team didn’t win her school competition, but they came in third place despite being down two teammates. She had so much fun and can’t wait to do it again next year. Of the books in the challenge I decided to read Fish in a Tree and thought it was a perfect middle grade book about all the things kids grapple with: learning differences, new teachers, feeling alone, bullying, and making new friends. I loved the endearing characters in this book, especially the way Ally sees the world, and would definitely recommend for elementary/middle schoolers.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
I don’t know how much more I can add to the conversation about Such a Fun Age, since it is everywhere (most notably, Reese Witherspoon's book club pick). But, I think it’s for good reason. As many have noted, it takes on difficult topics like race, class, and feminism. Yet it doesn’t feel heavy or didactic. It’s fast paced, topical, and the characters are expertly nuanced - they each have CRINGE WORTHY moments (some more than others..) and empathetic ones. I was really impressed by this debut and highly recommend!

Open Book by Jessica Simpson
It seems as if Open Book is THE audiobook that everyone I know is listening to, and I’m just going to add my praise to the pile! I was a little too old to be caught up in her music and the boy band craze. But, my husband and I totally watched Newlyweds! I love that she has taken control of, and rewritten, her narrative. This was definitely emotional, juicy and entertaining, as a good celebrity memoir should be - it was also very well written, and I love that she gives credit to her ghostwriter Kevin Carr O'Leary, which is NOT usual for a celebrity memoir. Kudos to her all around, this was fantastic.

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
I had mixed feelings about this one: full review here.

The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams
I thoroughly enjoyed The Bromance Book Club! I was dubious at first, because it starts at the ‘boy loses girl’ portion of the story and I wondered how I would be moved to care about the fate of a relationship between characters I didn’t know. But the humor and patriarchy-smashing themes made me smile and pulled me in as I got to know these, ultimately, complex characters. Definitely steamy in parts, if that is or isn’t your thing - would highly recommend if you’re looking for a refreshing take on romance. 

2.27.2020

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle (ARC Review)

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
Publisher: Atria Books (March 10, 2020)
Description from the publisher:

When Type-A Manhattan lawyer Dannie Cohan is asked this question at the most important interview of her career, she has a meticulously crafted answer at the ready. Later, after nailing her interview and accepting her boyfriend’s marriage proposal, Dannie goes to sleep knowing she is right on track to achieve her five-year plan.
But when she wakes up, she’s suddenly in a different apartment, with a different ring on her finger, and beside a very different man. The television news is on in the background, and she can just make out the scrolling date. It’s the same night—December 15—but 2025, five years in the future.
After a very intense, shocking hour, Dannie wakes again, at the brink of midnight, back in 2020. She can’t shake what has happened. It certainly felt much more than merely a dream, but she isn’t the kind of person who believes in visions. That nonsense is only charming coming from free-spirited types, like her lifelong best friend, Bella. Determined to ignore the Todd experience, she files it away in the back of her mind.

That is, until four-and-a-half years later, when by chance Dannie meets the very same man from her long-ago vision.

This novel is getting alllll the buzz right now and was recently chosen for the GMA book club. I can see the wide appeal of the story, but I have conflicting feelings overall...
On one hand, I flew through the story of a woman who gets a fleeting vision of her life five years into the future. I love a little fantastical element in novels, and I kept wanting to know how it would unfold. The chemistry with Dannie and Aaron was compelling, which also kept me hooked. Are they destined to be together? 
There also were many aspects of Dannie and her best friend Bella’s lives with which I could identify. But it’s also where things started to break down for me. Much of their personalities seemed cliché, the type-A lawyer (Dannie is totally Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle) and Bella is an ‘adventurous free spirit’ of the spoilt trust fund variety. There wasn’t much beyond flashbacks of sleepovers or post grad trips abroad to reinforce their bond. 
I’m all for some misdirection and a ‘big twist’ ending – but I felt as if there wasn’t a foundation there to support it, and it didn’t pay off emotionally for me. It’s definitely worth a read if you are looking for fast paced and thought provoking - I just wouldn’t go so far as prepping the tissues for an ugly cry. Though, it definitely seems as if I'm in the minority on this one - so your mileage may vary!
Many thanks to Atria Books and Netgalley for an advance copy for my honest review!



2.07.2020

January Book Reviews

Just a little housekeeping note: you may have noticed from the photo above that I changed the title overlay. I recently decided to change my Instagram and Twitter handles to be less confusing about the fact that I don't live in Chicago anymore - and haven't for over 15 years, which is WILD. Anyhoo, it was getting a little confusing in social media land, and that's where I primarily talk books! The new IG is @EvergreensAndBookishThings and Twitter is @EvrgrnBookThing.

The Better Liar by Taneen Jones
This was a solid thriller! Full review here.

Displacement by Lucy Knisley
Another fantastic graphic memoir from an absolute go-to author. In Displacement, Knisley tells the story of chaperoning her very old and frail grandparents on a cruise. It's equal parts hilarious and bittersweet. She doesn't hold back on all the gritty details of life with the elderly. I especially loved her incorporating her grandfather's book about WWII into her writing. The complicated love she has for them and her family is beautifully evident through the pages.

Long Bright River by Liz Moore
I can already say that this book is going on my favorites for the year. I thought The Unseen World was great, but Moore's latest was phenomenal. This story of two sisters, one a cop and the other befallen by addiction and crime, kept me on the edge of my seat with each page. Suspenseful, yes, but also a visceral and emotional look at humanity in all of it’s frailty. I cannot recommend it enough.

Monsoon Mansion by Cinelle Barnes
This was a riveting and lushly told memoir of Cinelle's coming of age in her parent's opulent Manilla mansion, that goes from riches to terrible rags. It shed a light on the politics of the Philippines during the 90s that I had little knowledge about, while telling a captivating story of her resilience, strength and hope.

Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton
“If you are alive - whether of blood or bark - you will be struck by pain, love, longing, fear, anger, and the particular ache of sadness. There will be joys that quiver your leaves and betrayals that will sever your roots, poisoning the water you pull. These are the varying notes in the music of living. Look up, to close your eyes is to stagnate. To rot and stop the song.”
I’ve seen Hollow Kingdom here and there on social media and it sounded so unique and intriguing. And this story of the apocalypse narrated by a domesticated crow was definitely that, hella hilarious (NSFW), and rather touching. I also appreciated that it felt like a love letter to the city of Seattle, and the inside jokes made me cackle even more.

Heavyby Kiese Laymon
This is probably the most apt title of a memoir ever written. It was indeed heavy reading, Laymon's personal essays written in a sort of epistolary way to his mother. Eye opening and heartbreaking with themes of racism, male feminism, addiction and family bonds, I found it profoundly moving and sad.

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes
“In the months without him, she’d forgotten and somehow not forgotten at the same time; it was like hearing the first lyrics of a song and realizing you can sing all the rest.”
I’m so glad I finally read Evvie! This book was full of so many excellent nuggets, like the quote above. It’s a compelling romance that seems wildly unrealistic (superstar baseball player finds love in a small town) but is grounded in very real relationships. It covers the gamut: emotional abuse, single parenting, friendships with the opposite sex, complicated parent dynamics and the relationship we have with our own head - and the importance of getting that sorted before anything else.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
I am so glad that I finally made time for this back list title that has been on my radar for so long. It has also been a long time since I read sci-fi, which is not my go to genre. Yet, when it’s done in a more literary way, I really love it - definitely the case for The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. It is not very plot driven, and kind of meanders a bit in the middle, it's more character driven - oh, the cast of characters captured my heart. I love that it is full of thought provoking scenarios on humanity and our place in the universe.


1.14.2020

My Favorite Books of the Year: 2019

Every year it's hard to narrow down a list, but this one felt REALLY hard. I always think I should be able to keep it to a top ten, but inevitably add a couple more. Perhaps this year was tougher because I tackled the most books ever in one year - 92! 
I am surprised by this because I can't think of anything that I did differently, and I even did some binge television viewing early in the year, which is not normally my thing - I finally caved to the screen version of OUTLANDER! This summer I also had a hard time getting through books while our lives were in flux weighing the option of a cross country move. I thought it might be the fair amount of middle grade books and graphic novels I read pushing up the numbers (Lucy Knisley was my favorite discovery of 2019), yet I still managed an average of 340 pages per book. Either way, I'm pleased, because it was a well rated year - the highest since 2011 when my average rating was 4.1 stars. Of all the excellent books, here are my favorite from the year, in no particular order:

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
I got this one in my Book of the Month subscription ages ago, and even though I loved Rules of Civility, I just never felt the call to pick this one up. Obviously, I was glad I finally did! If you, too, think this sounds boring or not up your alley - I'd urge you to give it a chance.
Original review here.

A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti
This was such a gut punch of a book, and one of the few that I put on blast from my personal social feeds as well as the blog. It's an important story for young adults/middle grade readers. But, I think it's SO worthwhile for all ages.
Original review here.

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
Like A Gentleman in Moscow, the praise for this book finally inspired me to give it a read, even though the description did not really grab me. Riveting and full of heart, I adored this adventurous coming of age story set during the Great Depression.
Original review here.

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
I do love a good family drama, and Keane's book is in a category above most others. It's thought provoking and achingly beautiful.
Original review here.

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim
A courtroom drama that was so engrossing, I uncharacteristically stayed up past my bedtime to read on several occasions. It reminded me of when I used to mainline Jodi Picoult books, but Kim's work feels much less didactic.
Original review here.

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
I love how Taylor Jenkins Reid keeps changing things up, and writing fresh and unexpected stories. This fictional oral history of a rock band was so fun, dishy and unique and I fell into the 'love it' camp.
Original review here.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
This was my favorite book of the year, for sure. And no one was more surprised than me! I was not a fan of Eat, Pray, Love, mainly because I was irked by her privilege. Although, now I'm starting to rethink my perspective on that, thanks to this great article: I love Elizabeth Gilbert, and you can, too. "Gilbert and her work possess a female power our culture and society are just beginning to recognize."
Regardless! City of Girls is EVERYTHING I love in a novel.
Original review here.

Sounds Like Titanic by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman
A sleeper hit from my favorite audiobooks of the year, I feel as if more people need to know about the brilliance of this fantastically told story - not just about the craziness of a fraudulent orchestra (playing to prerecorded music), but her own crazy coming of age from Appalachia to the big city.
Original review here.

Kid Gloves by Lucy Knisley
Lucy Knisley was my greatest discovery in 2019! Reading her graphic memoirs has been such a treat, and I only have one left before I'm out of new material, WAH! Kid Gloves is a story about her pregnancy, but on the whole it's about the history of women's health and sexual discrimination. I strong armed my husband into reading it, and he really enjoyed it, too!
Original review here.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Will there ever be a year that Patchett writes a book that DOESN'T end up on my favorites list? I sure hope not! This nuanced and authentic story of siblings Danny and Maeve is one of her best. 
Original review here.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
Probably the most polarizing of books on the list, this was definitely a book that doesn't leave readers feeling lukewarm. Yes, I was confused for large swaths of this fever dream of a novel. But, I adored the unforgettable journey.
Original review here.

Know My Name by Chanel Miller
Another favorite audiobook of the year, but also one of the best books I've read in years. A must read for all audiences about the realities of our justice system for victims, and brilliantly written. I look forward to her future work.
Original review here.


Links to previous best of lists below!
Favorite Books of 2018

Favorite Books of 2017 

Favorite Books of 2016 

Favorite Books of 2015

Favorite Books of 2014


Favorite Books of 2013 


Favorite Books of 2012