Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver (ARC Review)

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
Publisher: Harper Books (October 16, 2018)
Description from the publisher:
How could two hardworking people do everything right in life, a woman asks, and end up destitute? Willa Knox and her husband followed all the rules as responsible parents and professionals, and have nothing to show for it but debts and an inherited brick house that is falling apart. The magazine where Willa worked has folded; the college where her husband had tenure has closed. Their dubious shelter is also the only option for a disabled father-in-law and an exasperating, free-spirited daughter. When the family’s one success story, an Ivy-educated son, is uprooted by tragedy he seems likely to join them, with dark complications of his own.
In another time, a troubled husband and public servant asks, How can a man tell the truth, and be reviled for it? A science teacher with a passion for honest investigation, Thatcher Greenwood finds himself under siege: his employer forbids him to speak of the exciting work just published by Charles Darwin. His young bride and social-climbing mother-in-law bristle at the risk of scandal, and dismiss his worries that their elegant house is unsound. In a village ostensibly founded as a benevolent Utopia, Thatcher wants only to honor his duties, but his friendships with a woman scientist and a renegade newspaper editor threaten to draw him into a vendetta with the town’s powerful men.
Unsheltered is the compulsively readable story of two families, in two centuries, who live at the corner of Sixth and Plum in Vineland, New Jersey, navigating what seems to be the end of the world as they know it. With history as their tantalizing canvas, these characters paint a startlingly relevant portrait of life in precarious times when the foundations of the past have failed to prepare us for the future.

I adore Barbara Kingsolver, and was ecstatic to get a complimentary advance copy to review. Although, it is been many years since I’ve read one of her books. I think the last one was Prodigal Summer, which is one of my favorites, and The Poisonwood Bible is an all-time favorite. I think that perhaps I had her up on a pedestal and my expectations were very high going into this book. 
As with most dual timeline narratives (of which I am a fan) one edges out the other and begins to feel like the primary story that grabs my attention. In this novel I found the fictional Thatcher Greenwood meeting the naturalist, Mary Treat, in the 1880s the more compelling of the two. Perhaps because she was a real historical figure, and many of the incidents that Kingsolver describes during that time frame actually happened. I find it enlightening to look at events in history and see how they reflect our present. Thatcher's attempts to teach Darwin and the backlash of the town leaders held a perfect mirror up to current issues around the fact of climate change (and apparent disregard for facts in general).
I had a hard time with the present day timeline, mainly because much of it felt like an op-ed and her supporting characters were vessels for each viewpoint. When Willa's son and daughter went on about economic disparity, it felt so cumbersome. Though Willa's story was engaging, as she navigated the ups and downs of the 'sandwich generation' - taking care of children (in addition to a grandchild in this case) as well as an aging parent. It felt very chaotic and messy, like a very real family in this day and age. 
Overall, I would say it was on the didactic side, even for Kingsolver. Although I agree with what she was trying to get across, I didn’t get as swept up in her storytelling like I normally do because of all the obvious messages, of which there were A LOT. It felt like the news these days: a little exhausting. It plodded in parts for me because she didn't focus on a single theme, but what felt like all of them - racism, healthcare, income inequality, climate change, and our current political climate. Current real life figures also play a part, and yes, a Donald Trump character is very thinly veiled as 'The Bullhorn' who makes that infamously loathsome comment about being able to shoot someone on 5th Avenue. The comparisons to the Vineland town leader Charles Landis (another real historical figure) are evident. 
“Somehow he gets them to side against their own.”
“They are happier to think of themselves as soon to be rich, than irreversibly poor.”
It’s all the more striking that the 19th century trial at the end of the book truly happened, and I’ll leave it at that!  
In the end, the various themes can be wrapped up in the fact that they are indeed all heightened right now and can also be distilled to the dichotomy of the struggle between the younger versus older generation: how we can keep progressing forward, unsheltered, and not cling to the past, be open to continual change. My favorite part, when Willa watches her grandson try to walk:
“He fell down on his pad bottom. But he went right back to it, trying again. He would do this over and over until he had it, and today or tomorrow he would walk. Will remembered all this. She’d watched her kids master these first small tasks with an application of effort that seemed superhuman, but of course it only amounted to being human, a story written in genes. First they would stagger, then grow competent, and then forget the difficulty altogether while thinking of other things, and that was survival.”
Many thanks to the folks at Harper Books for an advance copy in exchange for my honest review!


Summer Recipe Roundup

It's been quite awhile since I did any kind of recipe roundup - since JUNE! The cookbooks I've been perusing over the last few months just haven't wowed me like Healthyish. Most of the recipes seem to be ones we already have in a regular rotation or a variation on the same old stuff. Any suggestions are appreciated, please and thank you. 
I did try a smattering of cooking blog recipes, only to have most of them come up short, too. This Veggie Packed Buddha Bowl from Tasty looks so lovely, right?

Alas, it wasn't to my liking. The dressing was too mustard-y and I didn't enjoy the clash of cold uncooked vegetables with warm chicken. Since I do enjoy a good Buddha bowl recipe, I moved on to try these Beef and Broccoli Buddha Bowls from The Kitchn. I love a good miso dressing, but this was a weird tasting combo...
Not bad, but not so great we'd cook it again. 
There was one hit with the whole family, this Pasta with No-Cook Tomato Sauce from Erica Julson was a perfect meal in the summer months, easy, and tasty!
And I have been loving this Curried Tofu Salad from Budget Bytes that has been an easy and filling lunch staple.
We did fair amount of dining out over the summer, especially with our fun family Fridays and road tripping, so I have to give a shout out to the best fish n' chips I've ever had at Front Street Grill in Coupeville.
And the Mac n' Cheese Logs (YES) with spicy ketchup from Aslan Brewery in Bellingham. Drool.
I have a few cookbooks on hold at the library, so hopefully I'll have one worth reviewing soon! 


Books I Read in September

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
This was a unique little volume written from the perspective of a character who has Asperger's and how her life revolves around her dedication to her work at a convenience store. It's fascinating food for thought on our actions, the life we lead, and how it relates to societal expectations. How different is someone who intentionally imitates others in order to fit in, versus those of us that just do so subconsciously? The cover is somewhat deceiving, as it conveys light and happy and this was more of a stark and contemplative read.

Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I'm Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan
Kelly Corrigan is my new auto-read author. I have read (on audiobook) two of her books this year and are both absolutely five star worthy. (You can find my review for Glitter and Glue here.) I highly recommend her stuff on audio to process the full range of emotions. I feel like Corrigan can see right into my heart. It’s as if she has a manual for LIFE and is translating it for us all in the most relatable stories. Tell Me More is good reminder to listen, to give yourself grace, to show up for those you love, and cherish them in the short time that we have. In a recent episode of the What Should I Read Next podcast, Anne Bogel included it in a very short list of books she would want everyone to read. I echo this sentiment tenfold.

The Fourteenth of September by Rita Dragonette
I was excited to receive this complimentary review copy from JKS Communications and She Writes Press, and to try a debut author with an independent publisher. Alas, this was not the book for me. I felt ambivalent about the main character and there weren't any relatable moments for me to connect with her. I can't imagine the pressure and the situation for college students during the Vietnam War, so perhaps it's a generational gap. Indeed, the Goodreads reviews on this one are off the charts - so your mileage may vary! 

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
This young neurosurgeon's account (published posthumously) of being diagnosed with cancer was a tearjerker, obviously, but ultimately hopeful. I loved the crossover of faith and science. Sort of supporting my own personal feeling that the belief in miracles of science, of our biology, is a type of spirituality. It would seem that Kalanithi's decision to become a neurosurgeon had more to do with humanity and exploring the soul than just being a doctor and helping others. Thinking about what makes us who we are, and how amazing the human brain is, was absolutely fascinating and gave me so much food for thought.
I wrote a bit more about it here.

The Book of Joy by Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu
I listened to this audiobook after reading When Breath Becomes Air, and it felt serendipitous. I'm not usually a fan of self-help like books, but the former made me more open to the teachings of Tutu and the Dalai Lama. They are obviously of different faiths, are welcoming of all religions, and agree that science is intertwined with our spirituality. The ways in which they support the '8 pillars of joy' with such intriguing scientific facts is so compelling. For example, people who have a more self-centered perspective and use mostly personal pronouns ( I/me/mine instead of we/us/ours) run more risk of heart attack, and fatal ones. Apparently it's more of an indicator than smoking, high blood pressure or high cholesterol! Or that holding grudges increases stress, and that even just THINKING about forgiving someone lowers stress levels. So much good stuff. Also, the pair are adorable and entertaining, always joking with each other, and they have the funniest of idiosyncrasies (Tutu loving rum and Coke, and switching to Coke Zero to ingest less sugar made me smile). Again, I wrote a bit more about this here.

CIRCE by Madeline Miller
This book sat on my shelves unread for many months. I kept pushing it down the list because I was afraid that despite the awesome reviews that it might not be my kind of book. Oh, man, how wrong I was! If the descriptor 'for fans of Greek mythology' might have signaled 'stuffy and cerebral' to you as well, fear not. Miller's prose is indeed smartly written, but in an accessible way. It reminded me that I did indeed enjoy my college Freshman year lecture class and the ol' book: Mythology and You. The stories have stood the test of time for good reason: they are gripping material! Miller takes it further with her simple and powerful prose, yes. But she also made me empathize and identify with the struggles of a fiercely independent goddess, especially once Circe becomes a mother. From the incessant crying of babyhood, to letting her baby fly the nest, her story felt so deeply human and real. A favorite quote:
"You dare to threaten me?"
These gods, I thought. They always say the same thing.
"I do."
My father's skin flared blinding bright. His voice seared at my bones. "You would start a war." 
"I hope so. For I will see you torn down, Father, before I will be jailed for your convenience any longer."
It for sure will be on my favorites of the year list. 

News of Our Loved Ones by Abigail DeWitt
This was a lovely character driven WWII historical fiction and you can read my full review here


News of Our Loved Ones by Abigail DeWitt (ARC Review)

News of Our Loved Ones by Abigail DeWitt
Publisher: Harper Books (October 2, 2018)
Description from the publisher:
What if your family’s fate could be traced back to one indelible summer?
Over four long years, the Delasalle family has struggled to live in their Nazi occupied village in Normandy. Maman, Oncle Henri, Yvonne, and Françoise silently watched as their Jewish neighbors were arrested or wordlessly disappeared. Now in June 1944, when the sirens wail each day, warning of approaching bombers, the family wonders if rumors of the coming Allied invasion are true—and if they will survive to see their country liberated.
For sixteen-year-old Yvonne, thoughts of the war recede when she sees the red-haired boy bicycle past her window each afternoon. Murmuring to herself I love you, I love you, I love you, she wills herself to hear the whisper of his bicycle tires over the screech of Allied bombs falling from the sky.
Yvonne’s sister, Geneviève, is in Paris to audition for the National Conservatory. Pausing to consider the shadow of a passing cloud as she raises her bow, she does not know that her family’s home in Normandy lies in the path of British and American bombers. While Geneviève plays, her brother Simon and Tante Chouchotte, anxiously await news from their loved ones in Normandy.
Decades later, Geneviève, the wife of an American musician, lives in the United States. Each summer she returns to her homeland with her children, so that they may know their French family. Geneviève’s youngest daughter, Polly, becomes obsessed with the stories she hears about the war, believing they are the key to understanding her mother and the conflicting cultures shaping her life.
Moving back and forth in time, told from varying points of view, News of Our Loved Ones explores the way family histories are shared and illuminates the power of storytelling to understand the past and who we are.

It has been awhile since I read a WWII novel, as I do try to limit how often I pick them up. The time period is a popular one and I don't want to become inured to the stories, and I also want to mitigate the amount of melancholy in my reading, as I tend to get this way when reading about the war. I barely skimmed the blurb on this when I requested it last month and just dove in without expectations. News of Our Loved Ones was a lovely, quiet and yet powerful book.
I enjoy novels with multiple narrators, and DeWitt employed the voices of the many characters to great effect. Each time the point of view was changed, I had a satisfying moment of clarity about one or more of the other character's motivations, each more enlightening than the last. Sometimes it became a little confusing, especially the chapter written in alternating second person narrative of a Nazi German and French Resistance operative. Yet, by the end of this short volume, I felt as if I connected with each of their inner lives. Her economy of words at setting a scene, conveying a feeling, and describing a character was impressive.
"More discussion would have struck her as ridiculous..." "She was so averse to waste of any kind- of words, time, money- that even the slenderness of her bones was a measure of her thrift."
I couldn't help but feel as if the author had some sort of personal connection to the war, because the families and situations felt so unique and vivid. Alas, upon doing some research, I found that her own mother's home on the coast of Normandy was bombed on D-Day and her sister (the author's aunt) was killed, at only 16 years old. This connection absolutely comes through in her writing.
If you are a fan of WWII historical fiction, and methinks there are a few of you out there, I would highly recommend this quiet and beautiful character driven book. I found it a refreshing take on a subject written about often.
Many, many thanks to the lovely folks at Harper for a complimentary advance copy in exchange for my honest review!


Book Pairing: When Breath Becomes Air and The Book of Joy (with bonus kid recommendation)

Confession time: I have a really hard time with 'self help' sort of books, or books with some message that I am supposed to learn in the process of a story (see also The Shack, The Alchemist). I tend to feel like these books are just common sense in a pretty package and often underestimate the reader. The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World seemed dangerously close to falling into this camp, but I thought I could use some extra joy, since the world at large is giving me a little anxiety these days and I was looking for a new audiobook.
Just before I started listening, I finished reading Paul Kalanithi's book, When Breath Becomes Air, a young neurosurgeon's account (published posthumously) of being diagnosed with cancer. As I was listening, so much of Paul's message seemed to echo in the words of The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. What I loved about both books was the crossover of faith and science. Sort of supporting my own personal feeling that the miracles of science, of our biology, is it's own type of spirituality and it informs all the world's religions. It would seem that Kalanithi's decision to become a neurosurgeon had more to do with humanity and exploring the soul than just being a doctor and helping others. Thinking about what makes us who we are, and how amazing the human brain is, was absolutely fascinating and gave me so much food for thought.
In this way, I think When Breath Becomes Air made me more open to the teachings of Tutu and the Dalai Lama. They are obviously of different faiths, are welcoming of all religions, and agree that science is intertwined with our spirituality. The ways in which they support the '8 pillars of joy' with such intriguing scientific facts is so compelling. For example, people who have a more self-centered perspective and use mostly personal pronouns ( I/me/mine instead of we/us/ours) run more risk of heart attack, and fatal ones. Apparently it's more of an indicator than smoking, high blood pressure or high cholesterol! Or that holding grudges increases stress, and that even just THINKING about forgiving someone lowers stress levels. So much good stuff. Also, the pair are adorable and entertaining, always joking with each other, and they have the funniest of idiosyncrasies (Tutu loving rum and Coke, and switching to Coke Zero to ingest less sugar made me smile).  
After listening to The Book of Joy I quite literally went back to see if it was published before Kalanithi's book. It was not, but I wonder if he followed the work of these two great spiritual leaders. Much of the way he dealt with his cancer and diagnosis seemed informed by the pillars of joy, despite suffering. The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu talked often of joy through suffering and one of my favorite passages from When Breath Becomes Air is when Paul and his wife decide to have a child.
“Will having a newborn distract from the time we have together?" she asked. "Don't you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?"
"Wouldn't it be great if it did?" I said. Lucy and I both felt that life wasn't about avoiding suffering.” 
Speaking of kids, I highly recommend a book about the world's religions for very young readers called The Golden Rule
I picked it up one Christmas and it outlines how all religion and spirituality are centered around the same general beliefs, which is reflected in The Book of Joy. If you, too, are a little hesitant about 'woo woo' spiritual type books, I'd still definitely recommend these two (three!) great books that read great together.


Scoring the Summer Bucket List 2018

Another summer break has come to a close, and another year of school has begun, which means time for the annual scoring of the summer bucket list. Things are a little crazy around here, since my oldest started middle school! I am slowly getting into the groove of juggling between two schools and, so far, my boy is having a great experience (my daughter is, too, but she's still in elementary and loves school no matter what). The responsibility, multiple teachers and the school itself really seems to suit him. I rather hated middle school, although it was junior high (just 7th and 8th) for me, and I think my anxiety is for my former self and not this kid, especially in this day and age. Even if/when, he runs into any issues, there are as many school counselors on staff as when I was in HIGH SCHOOL! One of his electives right now is Yoga/Mindfulness/Meditation and the teacher is a buff young dude with a man bun and a beard! I would like a do-over please! ANYWAY...
We had a really great summer and this year my husband took off every Friday, which was excellent - highly recommend. This enabled us to check off a lot of bucket list items and we're hopeful that summer 'fun family Fridays' will be a yearly thing. Without further ado, here's what we managed to accomplish besides slothing in the backyard, hitting up the pool and beach.
Blueberry picking
An easy one to check off the list, and I highly recommend these Smitten Kitchen muffins.
Mini Golf
Another gimme for the summer! 
Go to the Movies
Christopher Robin was the consensus this year, and it did not disappoint. I have a huge crush on Ewan McGregor, so this was a win win for me!
We ended up enrolling in the national Kids Bowl Free program and went at least once a week, which was pretty fun! It doesn't end up being free, exactly, because I paid $30 for my husband and I to have unlimited bowling with them, and I spend $12 on shoes each time we go. But, all in all, it's a pretty good deal for keeping entertained during the summer months and it's still good through September.
Point Defiance Zoo 
My husband checked this one off with the kids, while I had a day of relaxation for my birthday. Ahhhh.
Visit Paradise at Mount Rainier 
Another year, another successful and strenuous hike for the kids! We finally hiked the skyline trail after a 12 year hiatus, waiting for the kids to be old enough to handle it. They had some setbacks, there were bouts of whining, but when they were done with over 8 miles of walking for the day, and well over 1500 feet of elevation gain, they were really proud - as were we! 
Having pool time post hike is also a great incentive, we love staying over at Alta Crystal Resort!
Hike Big Four Ice Caves trail and Wallace Falls 
We did Big Four and happened upon a hike and sketch program which was really awesome! Additionally, my husband took the eldest on his first Rattlesnake Ledge hike.
Wallace Falls fell off the schedule, but we hit up Snow Lake just before school started. It was a little overcast, but it's always beautiful there.
Go to an Outdoor Concert 
Nope. Just as with the school year, and even more so in the summer, I am stick-a-fork-in-me DONE by the time evening rolls around and am not super motivated to leave the house. Oh well, I'll put it on the list again next year, I'm sure!
Annual Car Show
My daughter had a birthday party on this particular day, but my boys went and enjoyed!
Art Project 
Well, we didn't do an art project per se, but the kids did their Amazon STEM kits, as well as National Geographic fossil kits and they discovered paint by sticker books - which were a HUGE HIT this summer!
New to us Museum 
Our first visit to MoPOP was so much fun, and we are now working our way through all of the Marvel movies with the kids (they had only seen the Guardians films and Black Panther). They mostly geeked out over that, while my husband and I also enjoyed a lot of old school sci-fi memorabilia  - Aliens, The Fifth Element, Battlestar Galactica, the list goes on!
Deep Clean/Purge and Rearrange Kid's Rooms 
We did this the last week of summer and my boy actually said it was FUN. I mean I enjoy a good game of keep, toss or donate, so the apple must not fall far from the tree.
Complete Library Summer Reading Challenge and Read Harry Potter Books
My son and I are nearly done with The Order of the Phoenix, but I got a late start on Prisoner of Azkaban with my daughter, since we spent the first part of summer reading Anne of Green Gables! YAY! She really enjoyed it and that makes my heart so HAPPY. And, of course they completed their summer reading challenge!
Visit Wild Waves
NOPE. Another thing that I keep telling myself I'll do with the kids that I'll put on the list year after year. One day, when I'm feeling brave...
Yoga Breaks
Cosmic Kids Yoga is so darn cute and I highly recommend! We even did some in the backyard! 
Have Each Kiddo Pick a Meal to Make for the Family 
This didn't happen, but since it's not necessary for warm weather/an outdoor activity, I'm hopeful that we will do this sometime during the school year!
Theo Chocolate Tour 
The day that I chose to do this, the tickets were sold out online! Boo! Again, something that could be done during the school year, so maybe we'll try again and plan well in advance.
Redmond Night Bazaar 
See above re: outdoor concert.
Ferry to Bainbridge 
We've had bad timing in the past with ferries, so we didn't feel up to Bainbridge. Instead, we hit up Whidbey Island, visiting Coupeville and Fort Casey avoiding the ferries. Thumbs up for this as a day trip!
Try a New Cocktail Recipe
I tried this Escape From Alcatraz  and made quite a few Aperol spritzes, but I kept coming back to last year's Gold Rush cocktail of bourbon, lemon juice, honey syrup and mint: so easy and delicious!
Try a New Restaurant for Dinner
We tried two new restaurants in Enumclaw during our summer road trip and both were excellent! The Historic Mint Restaurant and Ale House was really trendy and cute with tasty food and wikki stix for the kids! Il Siciliano also had excellent atmosphere, delicious pasta and pizza, as well as a nicely done Aperol Spritz. I wish we had a similar neighborhood Italian joint!
Unexpected bonus summer accomplishment number one:
My husband and son do a twenty mile supported bike ride every year, and this year I got a great pic:
But the real accomplishment was getting my daughter up and running on her bike! She was really determined and proud of finally hitting this milestone, and we are, too.
Unexpected bonus summer accomplishment number two: enroll my son in joining me for my boot camp class! He asked to come with me and I thought maybe he'd try it a time or two. And, lo, he loved it and dutifully came with me every Tuesday without fail this summer! 
He's already looking forward to classes during winter break! And yes, I'm already counting down the days to Thanksgiving and Christmas...


Hot Chocolate 15K and 5K Seattle Coupon Code for 2019

Hey all! Just a little housekeeping post here for this year's Seattle Hot Chocolate extra race swag with the code: SEAANDREA19 This year, for the first time, the freebie is an arm band to hold all types of phones:

And of course, that's in addition to the awesome hoodie with every registration, 5K or 15K. 
I'm a HUGE fan of the understated colors this year. A lot of times, I get the men's in a smaller size, but I may got for the women's this year!
And if you run the 15K, you'll earn this awesome city specific medal with lovely Rainier views:
And, don't forget about the legacy program - if you're running the race for a third year in a row (or 5th, or 10th) you'll earn yourself some PERKS: a specialized race bib, commemorative pin, discounts and more. Check out the details here.
The race is Sunday, March 3rd 2019, the perfect time of year for some really excellent hot chocolate. 
Hopefully I've tempted you to join in the fun and for some extra incentive, here are my recaps from Seattle, Seattle AND Chicago. If you are not in the Seattle area, check out a Hot Chocolate race near you in the following cities:
  • Atlanta
  • Chicago
  • Dallas
  • Denver
  • Minneapolis
  • Philadelphia
  • San Diego
  • Seattle
  • St. Louis
  • Nashville
  • Charlotte
  • Tampa
  • Scottsdale
  • Columbus
  • Indianapolis
  • San Francisco
  • Houston
  • Mexico City


Books I Read in August 2018

Tap, tap... Is this thing still on?! Yes, it’s been awhile since I’ve been on this space. Unlike previous summers where I took a purposeful break, I just ended up feeling 'meh' about books I planned to write reviews for, and just took them off the schedule. One DNF: I just couldn’t get into Ohio by Stephen Markley, a little too much forced intellectual rambling. And one that I thought was okay, but didn’t really have much to say about: The Simple Wild, reviewed below. I also abandoned Still Lives, the Reese Witherspoon book club pick. So, I had more duds than I've had in years last month. HOWEVER! There were also some excellent books and one favorite of the year, for sure...

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
Jumping on the bandwagon, because I was so excited for the film and it did not disappoint, neither did the book! I had put it off for a long time, because reviews are definitely mixed. I LOVED the prologue of this book, as I am a sucker for some sweet, sweet schadenfreude and was hooked. After the initial window into Nick's family life at a young age, it took me a little bit to get into a rhythm of the story with so very many family members and connections to puzzle out. But once his unwitting girlfriend Rachel joins him in Singapore I felt like it picked up steam. I loved being on this ridiculous roller coaster with her and seeing the sights through her eyes. I loved all of the hilarious and lack of self-awareness juxtapositions of these crazy rich characters and found Kwan's footnotes about this society fascinating. That he grew up in this bubble then moved to Texas, giving him perspective and an outsider's view, is also fascinating. I totally have wanderlust and want to go to Singapore now! 

The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand
Reading a Hilderbrand novel every summer is a favorite tradition of mine and, as always, this was the perfect immersive Nantucket experience in book form, with another cast of vivid characters that interconnect in an utterly seamless way. I love feeling like I'm getting to know all of the people on the island and I thought it was fun that she took a crack at a mystery. I was guessing until the shocking and unsettling end. She left some room for future hi jinks, in which I hope she indulges. Her work is often considered fluff, but I find that she is masterful at creating atmosphere (expertly setting a scene and putting Nantucket on many a reader's bucket list) and character development. Her novels all seem to have a large cast of characters, but I never find this to be unwieldy. As soon as a name is mentioned, I know who she’s talking about because in a few paragraphs she can give even the smallest bit player unique traits and a rich, memorable back story. If it wasn't immediately clear, I just love her work and look forward to every winter and summer for a fix!

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center
I gobbled up this story about a woman navigating her life after a tragic accident in record time. Some of the characters felt hyperbolic: it was clear how we were to feel about her overbearing mother and fiancé Chip, a total cad. There were quite a few side plots, but all were rather  thoughtful and engrossing. There are very similar themes, and I would definitely suggest How to Walk away for fans of Me Before You.

The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker
I am thankful for the folks at Atria for a complimentary digital galley for review. Yet, this was a hard one for me to get into, as the main character seems so purposely unlikeable. I understand that Calla is a city girl who falls for a Alaskan bush pilot when going to visit her estranged father, and the two need to be complete opposites for the tension of the narrative to unfold. But, being overly vapid and entitled doesn't seem necessary - ANYONE who has lived in a major city would have a hard time adjusting to middle-of-nowhere Alaska. Must she be coddled and still living with her parents? Addicted to makeup? Just DIE without soy for her latte? Also, within the first pages there is an editorial error which kind of put me off, because I'm a stickler for such things (deep SEEDED instead of the correct term, deep SEATED) and I chalked it up to being an ARC that is hopefully rectified in the published copy. I'm glad I decided to stick with it, because I had heard so very many good things. Her father and the community of people she encounters in Alaska are lovingly drawn characters that I found rather compelling, and was moved by their plights. The romance was fun, and I thought it ended in a well thought out and satisfying way. 

Less by Andrew Sean Greer
I was a little wary going into this book, as there are many mixed reviews. I think that the Pulitzer win threw readers off and the book wasn't necessarily judged on it's own, but rather it's worthiness of the prize. I found it absolutely delightful and sweet, with amazing wordplay, wit and self deprecating humor. I didn’t always rush to pick it up, but when I did, I couldn't put it down. I loved the characters, laughed out loud A LOT and, oh my heart, I adored the ending. I must share my favorite quote, as someone who moved away from a big city and doesn't visit often:
"New York is a city of 8 million people, approximately 7 million of them will be furious when they hear you were in town and didn’t meet them for an expensive dinner, 5 million furious you didn’t visit their new baby, 3 million furious you didn’t see their new show, 1 million furious you didn’t call for sex, but only five actually available to meet you."

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
As I mentioned, I had started the Reese Witherspoon book club pick and just couldn’t get into it. Sharp Objects had been sitting on my shelf for awhile and figured it would fill the thriller void that Still Lives left behind. It has been YEARS since I read Flynn, and dang, she’s really great at what she does. Her writing is perfectly nuanced and pitch perfect in the creepiness, dread and tension infused into the smallest turns of phrase, like when she's describing one of the many moment's of panic Camille faces: 
"I could feel my limbs disconnecting, floating nearby like driftwood on an oily lake." 
*SHUDDER* I also thought the ending wasn’t terribly shocking, but then the other shoe drops in the prologue and ZOMG. I’m running to watch the show now...