Search Results for: the nest

Read Both…for Different Reasons: The Nest and The Tsar of Love and Techno

April 7, 2016 Mini Book Reviews 31

I thoroughly enjoyed both of these books, but they couldn’t be more different. One is light, while the other is heavy. One is an “easy” read, while the other takes some concentration to catch all the brilliant connections. And one is plot driven, while the other relies more on the writing and social commentary. Pick your poison!

The Nest, Cynthia D'Aprix SweeneyThe Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
Fiction (Released March 22, 2016)
368 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Ecco) 

Plot Summary: After an accident leaves the four adult Plumb siblings’ (Melody the suburban mom, Bea the washed-up author, Leo the ex-media titan and current party boy, and Jack the struggling antique dealer) shared inheritance decimated, they’re forced to re-examine their lives.

My Thoughts: I love that The Nest is a debut novel by a 55 year old woman AND she got a $1 million advance! Unlike last year’s advance winner (City on Fire at $2 million), I think this book might actually sell. I’m a sucker for novels about dysfunctional families and wealthy people behaving badly and The Nest delivered both on a silver platter! I was immediately sucked into the lives of all four siblings and how each one responds to the news of their decimated trust fund (i.e. by maneuvering against each other based on their individual agendas). And, as the story continues, it becomes somewhat of a cautionary tale of why not to spend money that you don’t yet have!

Let’s come right out and say it…The Nest is not the pinnacle of literary fiction and will likely not be receiving any major literary awards. But, it’s a satisfying indulgence if you’re looking for something on the lighter side or that reads quickly…and, it will make an appearance on my 2016 Summer Reading List (coming in May).

Tsar of Love and Techno, Anthony MarraThe Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra
Fiction (Released October 6, 2015)
352 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Hogarth) 

Plot Summary: A collection of linked short stories spotlighting life in the USSR/Russian Federation/Russia from 1937 to present day (including life under Stalin, Brezhnev, Gorbachev, and Putin).

My Thoughts: My somewhat bizarre fascination with life behind the Iron Curtain (which started while watching those ‘roided up he-women win almost every swimming gold medal in the 1988 Seoul Olympics) and The Tsar of Love and Techno‘s performance in the 2016 Tournament of Books got me to finally read this much-lauded collection. It doesn’t read like most short story collections, as its linked nature makes it feel more like a novel told from different perspectives and time periods. And, the way Marra used characters and events to link each story perfectly rode the line of being brilliantly intricate, yet not too confusing to follow.

What really shined for me was Marra’s portrayal of the more quirky/screwed up aspects of Soviet life under Communist rule, wartime, Glasnost, and the rise of the oligarchs and organized crime (i.e. a professional censor of art and official photographs, music records made with old Cancer x-rays, a forest of metal trees with plastic leaves to trick people into thinking an area of Siberia wasn’t as polluted as it really was). His writing, especially when handling this type of social commentary, is delightfully subversive with occasional dry, fatalistic humor.

A little cropping, editing, adjusting of margins can rule out many undesirable elements. This has obvious limitations. Stalin’s pitted cheeks, for instance. To fix them you’d have to crop his entire head, a crime for which your own head would soon follow. For such sensitive work, I am brought in. During one bleak four-month stretch, I did nothing but airbrush his cheeks.

However, two stories (The Grozney Tourist Bureau and A Prisoner of Caucasus) focused more on the war with Chechnya and less on life under Communism for regular people…and therefore weren’t as successful for me (and are the reason I’m giving it 4 rather than 5 stars on Goodreads). Even so, The Tsar of Love and Techno would make an excellent book club selection.

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Book Turn-Offs: Ten Things That Will Instantly Make Me Want to Run Away from a Book

April 25, 2017 Book Lists 21

Things That Will Instantly Make Me Want to Run Away From a Book
Today’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by the Broke and the Bookish) topic is Ten Things That Will Instantly Make Me Want to NOT Read A Book.

This topic is the flip side of last week’s Ten Things That Will Instantly Make Me Want to Read A Book. And, I actually prefer this version because the snark can come out!

This post contains affiliate links.

Ten Things That Will Instantly Make Me Want to Read A Book

Cheesy Romance…
I love a good love triangle on TV (Hart of Dixie, One Tree Hill…yep, I admit to watching the ridiculous CW network shows) and in movies (Sweet Home Alabama), but I just can’t stomach it in my reading. Something about the cheesy banter. However, I’m not against a good hate/love storyline (The Roanoke Girls, Dead Letters).

Comparisons to Gone Girl and/or The Girl on the Train
Publishers need to just stop this already! It’s completely overdone and regularly slapped on books that don’t remotely resemble the two gigantic Girl books (A Separation is the most recent egregious example).

Magical Realism
I just have trouble buying into stuff like this. And, I’ve skipped some recent hit novels (The Underground Railroad, Exit West) because of it.

Mommy Politics
UGH! I try to run far away from this in my daily life…why would I want it invading my precious, peaceful reading time?! It’s why I can’t abide Liane Moriarty and hated Cutting Teeth (my review).

Overly Formal or Flowery Writing
I wrote a whole post about the kind of writing I adore and it boils down to simple, spare, and hard-hitting. The formal writing is why I couldn’t get onboard with A Gentleman in Moscow (my review).

Endings That Are Too Neatly Tied Up
I like some sort of closure that leaves me satisfied (which can be an open ending that make sense with the story), but I can’t stand when every single tiny thing is answered in the last chapter. The worst offenders are those epilogues that skip forward a decade to tell you where each character ended up ten years later (i.e. The Nest).

Series
I just can’t commit to three, four, or more books about the same story. I recently read the first two books in Greg Iles’s Natchez Burning (my review) series and have no urge to pick up the final book (Mississippi Blood) that just came out. 

Certain Covers
Like the ones you typically find on romance or fantasy books.

“Beautiful” War Novels
I used to love these, but am just kind of burned out. This one may be temporary…we’ll see.

Celebrity Comedian Memoirs
I don’t generally find these as funny as I think I’m supposed to (Bossypants, Yes PleaseDad Is Fat). I think I prefer more subtle, unexpected humor.

What are your biggest book turn-offs?

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It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? (3/27/17)

March 27, 2017 It's Monday! What are you reading? 30

After the stumbling block of two weeks ago, my reading is now back on track in a big way. I absolutely adored the book I read last week and have had back-to-back fantastic audiobooks. I never talk much about the audiobooks I listen to because I find that listening to them with the intent to review makes me enjoy them less, but I do occasionally mention them if they really wow me. So, you’re getting a couple of those this week.

My son’s and my March Madness brackets fell apart a bit yesterday. The only team we have left alive is Gonzaga. It was a good run while it lasted!

Hosted by The Book Date.

This post contains affiliate links.

I finished reading…

The Wanderers, The Strange in the Woods

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey (March 14, 2017)
I absolutely loved this book…it’s one of my favorites so far this year. It’s been compared to Station Eleven and The Martian, but I think it’s closest to being a much more subtle and philosophical version of The Martian. Review to come.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel (March 7, 2017)
This is story of “the last true hermit” is the best audiobook I’ve listened to this year. It’s strange, yet captivating and is perfect for fans of Jon Krakauer (particularly Into the Wild) and Quiet by Susan Cain (yes, I realize this is an odd pair of comparisons). It will make an appearance on my 2017 Summer Reading Guide for sure!

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti (March 28, 2017)
I’m about 25% through this literary thriller/coming of age novel and I like it, but it’s not blowing my mind at this point. I do feel invested in the characters, though, so am looking forward to seeing what happens to them.

What I Talk about When I Talk about Running by Haruki Murakami (July 29, 2008)
I’d been hearing about this memoir from the Japanese literary sensation (author of 1Q84) for years, but a chapter in Will Schwalbe’s Books for Living was what really got me interested in it. It’s about long distance running (duh), writing, solitude, triathlons, and changing the way you live your life. I adore it.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Upcoming reading plans…

I should probably get started on April releases, but this book I’ve had my eye on for months just came in from the library!

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, Kathleen Rooney


Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
 by Kathleen Rooney (January 17, 2017)
I’m hoping this story about an 85 year-old woman who reflects on her life as she takes a walk around Manhattan in 1984 will be a new addition to my badass ladies reading category.

I was reading…

One Year Ago: I’d just finished The Nest and was starting a couple blah books.

Two Years Ago: I was reading potential books for my 2015 Summer Reading Guide.

How was your reading week?

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Book of the Month Club February 2017 Selections: What Would I Choose?

February 1, 2017 Book Recommendations 25

Book of the Month Club February 2017 selections

This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.


Do you want help choosing from the five Book of the Month Club selections each month?

Welcome to my new monthly feature “Book of the Month Club Selections: What Would I Choose?”! Every month, I’ll provide commentary on the books that are chosen as that month’s Book of the Month Club selections and tell you which book(s) I would choose.

Book of the Month Club February 2017 Selections

Pachinko, Min Jin LeePachinko by Min Jin Lee (Release Date: February 7, 2017)
496 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.32
Selected By: Alexander Chee (author of  The Queen of the Night)

For readers of The Kite Runner and Cutting for Stone.

Pachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan.

My Thoughts:
I’ve seen this book around (by around, I mean I’ve seen other bloggers I follow mention that they’re interested in reading it), but I haven’t seen that any of them have actually read it yet. It doesn’t sound like my cup of tea, mainly due to its length and heavy subject matter (just not what I have the mental space for at the moment).

Update: A little more information about Pachinko from Beth Fish Reads.

The Animators, Kayla Rae WhitakerThe Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker (Released: January 31, 2017)
384 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.18
Selected By: Cynthia Sweeney D’Aprix (author of The Nest)

At a private East Coast college, two young women meet in art class. […] A decade later, Sharon and Mel are an award-winning animation duo, and with the release of their first full-length feature, a fearless look at Mel’s childhood, they stand at the cusp of success. […] When unexpected tragedy strikes, long-buried resentments rise to the surface, threatening their partnership—and hastening a reckoning no one sees coming.

My Thoughts:
Susie at Novel Visits, a blogger who has similar taste to mine, said this debut novel was her favorite book of the year so far and wrote this glowing review. Consequently, I added it to my “must at least try before the end of the year” TBR list.

Update: Here’s one more review from a blogger I follow (52 Books or Bust)…it’s not as positive as Susie’s and will give you a different perspective. Also, Liberty Hardy mentioned on today’s All the Books podcast that this book has a chance to be one of her favorites of the year.

Behind Her Eyes, Sarah PinboroughBehind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough (Released: January 31, 2017)
320 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.06
Selected By: Cristina Arreola (Bustle Books Editor)

Louise is a single mom, a secretary, stuck in a modern-day rut. On a rare night out, she meets a man in a bar and sparks fly. […] As Louise is drawn into David and Adele’s orbit, she uncovers more puzzling questions than answers. The only thing that is crystal clear is that something in this marriage is very, very wrong, but Louise can’t guess how wrong―and how far a person might go to protect their marriage’s secrets.

My Thoughts:
This twisty psychological thriller has been compared to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train (seriously, when will publishers get sick of these comparisons?!) and apparently has a controversial ending that people will be talking about. Beth Fish Reads, a blogger I follow, shared these thoughts on it. If you like psychological thrillers and/or want to be a part of the conversation about that ending, this one might be a good choice for you.

Perfect Little World, Kevin WilsonPerfect Little World by Kevin Wilson (Released: January 24, 2017)
352 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.81
Selected By: Maris Kreizman (Book of the Month Club Editorial Director)

When Isabelle Poole meets Dr. Preston Grind, she’s just about out of options. […] So when Dr. Grind offers her a space in The Infinite Family Project, she accepts. Housed in a spacious compound in Tennessee, she joins nine other couples, all with children the same age as her newborn son, to raise their children as one extended family. Grind’s theory is that the more parental love a child receives, the better off they are.

My Thoughts:
Perfect Little World has gotten starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist and the premise sounds intriguing. Catherine at Gilmore Guide to Books, a blogger whose taste I trust implicitly, thinks I would like it. So, it’s joined The Animators on my “must at least try before the end of the year” TBR list.

The Possessions, Sara Flannery MurphyThe Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy (Released: February 7, 2017)
368 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.82
Selected By: Liberty Hardy (co-host of Book Riot‘s All the Books podcast)

In this electrifying literary debut, a young woman who channels the dead for a living crosses a dangerous line when she falls in love with one of her clients, whose wife died under mysterious circumstances.

My Thoughts:
This is another psychological thriller with the obligatory comparisons to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, BUT is also being compared to Station Eleven (review) and Margaret Atwood, which is definitely a combination I’ve never seen before. Another blogger I follow (Michelle at That’s What She Read) shared her brief thoughts about it on Monday. I’m sort of burned out on psychological thrillers and am generally skeptical of comparisons to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, so I probably wouldn’t choose this one.

Update: Michelle at That’s What She Read has now posted her full review.

What Book of the Month Club February 2017 selection(s) would I choose?

My choices this month would be The Animators and Perfect Little World!

Make your Book of the Month Club selections by Monday, February 6th.

For anyone unfamiliar with Book of the Month Club…

Book of the Month Club is a subscription service for people who like to try new books from a curated selection and like to read in hardcover format. Through Book of the Month Club, you can get a hardcover book for $9.99, which is generally significantly less than you’d pay in a bookstore or through Amazon. And, you get to try something new that has been vetted by one of Book of the Month Club’s well-read judges!

Sign up for any of the subscription plans below and you get to choose one of five books selected by Book of the Month Club’s panel of judges (including a surprise guest judge) for $9.99 per month. Book of the Month Club will then mail your chosen book to your house with a cute note. You also have the option to purchase additional books for $9.99 each and to skip a month if you want.

Sign up for a 1-month, 3-month, 6-month, or 12-month Book of the Month membership!
(Special February Deal: get a free BOTM tote when you sign up for a 3 month membership)

Book of the Month Club


*All book descriptions are from Goodreads.

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Books that Make Perfect Holiday Gifts 2016

November 28, 2016 0

Books that make perfect holiday gifts 2016


A specially selected book…or a Kindle with a few books pre-loaded (see Amazon’s Guide to Giving / Receiving Books on a Kindle for instructions on gifting Kindle e-books) can be an incredibly thoughtful, personal holiday gift! Each year, I compile a list of the books I came across that year that I think make perfect holiday gifts. If you can’t find anything on this year’s list that’s the right match for your friend or loved one, check out my previous lists (2015, 2014, 2013, 2012).

Go-To Literary Fiction Recommendations

These books have broad appeal and are all-around great selections for most anyone who loves literary fiction.

Commonwealth, Ann PatchettCommonwealth by Ann Patchett
Fiction (Released September 13, 2016)
336 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: An ill fated christening party is the catalyst that ruins the Keating and Cousins marriages…and creates a blended family trying to navigate their new world.

My Thoughts: Commonwealth is a simply and perfectly told story of a cobbled together family…and is one of my favorite books of 2016! Every member of the blended Keating/Cousins family behaves dreadfully, but I was somewhat sympathetic towards all of them. Continue Reading…

Only Love Can Break Your HeartOnly Love Can Break Your Heart by Ed Tarkington
Fiction – Southern (Released January 5, 2016)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary:
When Richard (aka “Rocky”) was eight years old, his rebellious older half-brother, Paul, disappears without explanation, setting off a chain of events that impact their family and community in rural Spencerville, Virginia.
My Thoughts:
The awkward and innocent, yet calculating voice of Rocky made this Southern coming of age story sparkle…and reminded me a bit of My Sunshine Away, one of my favorite books of 2015. While I wouldn’t call this debut novel “Grit Lit”, it is a top-notch Southern coming of age story. And like My Sunshine Away, there is “action” and suspense in this story, but it really serves as a vehicle for Rocky’s coming of age, not the other way around. Continue Reading…

The Girls, Emma ClineThe Girls by Emma Cline
Fiction – Historical (Release Date: June 14, 2016)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
Inspired by the 1960’s California cult led by Charles Manson, the story of fourteen year old Evie Boyd involvement with an older teenager named Suzanne and her fellow cohorts living a cultish life on a dilapidated ranch.
My Thoughts: This novel, along with The Nest, was one of the most hotly anticipated debuts of the year. I knew the story was inspired by the Manson cult, but I expected it to focus on the murders. Instead, The Girls is a much more subtle book about teen angst and the context and culture surrounding the Manson cult. Continue Reading…

Edgy Literary Fiction

These books are a bit darker and/or tackle more fraught issues than my go-to literary fiction recommendations. Read the publishers’ summaries carefully before choosing one of them for your prim and proper grandmother!  

Dear Fang With Love, Rufi ThorpeDear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
Fiction (Released May 24, 2016)
303 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: After a psychotic break at a party, seventeen year-old Vera accompanies her father (who has been absent for most of her life) on an European history tour to Lithuania, where her paternal grandmother grew up.

My Thoughts: It’s difficult to pinpoint what this book is truly about because it’s about teen angst, mental illness, and family history and relationships without being overly about any one of those things. They all kind of balance each other out into a story that ends up being about the people (mainly Vera and her father). I adored Vera. She’s precocious, insightful, quirky, troubled, yet sometimes comes across as the surprising voice of reason. Continue Reading…

Mudbound, Hillary JordanMudbound by Hillary Jordan
Southern Fiction (Released March 4, 2008)
354 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: 
Shortly after Laura McAllen’s husband (Henry) moves their family to an isolated farm in the Mississippi Delta, her brother-in-law (Jamie) and the son of one of their tenant families (Ronsel Jackson) return from fighting in World War II to the Jim Crow era South.
My Thoughts: This award-winning 2008 debut reminiscent of Pat Conroy (the story itself more than the writing style), begins with a city girl trying to adjust to a spartan life of backbreaking farm work and becomes unputdownable by the end. A sense of foreboding hangs over everything and I could feel the tension…in Laura and Henry’s marriage, between the McAllens and the Jacksons, between Laura and her hateful father-in-law (Pappy), and within Jamie and Ronsel upon their returns from World War II. Continue Reading…

Sweetbitter, Stephanie DanlerSweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
Fiction (Released May 24, 2016)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: When twenty two year-old Tess comes to New York City looking to start her adult life, she lands a job as a “backwaiter” at a fictional Union Square restaurant that sounds a lot like Union Square Cafe…and experiences an unimaginable education in food, wine, life, and love.

My Thoughts: Sweetbitter was my fourth 5 star book of the year! This is one of those books where the cover and premise could deceive you into thinking you’re getting “brain candy”. What you’re actually getting is a smart, exquisitely written coming of age story set in the rough and tumble world of top-notch restaurantsContinue Reading…

The Mothers, Brit BennettThe Mothers by Brit Bennett
Fiction (Released October 11, 2016)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: While seventeen year-old Nadia Turner is mourning the shocking loss of her mother, she starts a relationship with Luke Sheppard, her pastor’s son, resulting in an unwanted pregnancy.

My Thoughts: The Mothers was one of the most hyped books and the big debut novel of this Fall (author Brit Bennet is only 25 years old and was named to the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35). And, it completely lived up to the hype! The first page is one of the best first pages I’ve ever read and I highlighted three passages before moving on to Page 2. Continue Reading…

Introspective Books

These books are quiet, calm, and comforting…and might lead you to ponder your life.

Dinner with Edward, Isabel VincentDinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released May 24, 2016)
224 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: As a favor to her friend, Valerie, Isabel begins having dinner with Valerie’s elderly father, which turns into far more than just dinner and far more than just helping out Valerie.

My Thoughts: New York Post reporter Isabel Vincent’s memoir is short, sweet and hopeful…and focused on food, an innocuous and comforting topic. It’s a weird mix of food memoir and self-help book, with a splash of New York City history (particularly about Roosevelt Island, where Isabel and Edward live), but it miraculously works. Continue Reading…

My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth StroutMy Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Fiction (Released January 5, 2016)
208 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: During a long hospital stay, Lucy Barton has a heartfelt conversation with her mother spanning topics from her difficult childhood to gossip from her hometown to her marriage and motherhood.

My Thoughts: My Name is Lucy Barton was an unexpected winner for me. The story focuses on Lucy’s relationship with her mother, but it feels more about Lucy’s own life: her childhood, what it was like to grow up poor and never quite fit in, and her adult life. This is one of those books that has all the intangibles. Continue Reading…

Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl StrayedTiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
Nonfiction – Essays (Released July 10, 2012)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: A collection of the best of The RumpusDear Sugar advice columns, authored by Cheryl Strayed (anonymously at the time).

My Thoughts: I usually find advice columns cheesy and not particularly relevant to my own life. Trust me when I tell you these advice columns are nothing like that. Strayed is warm, relatable, and non-judgmental in her counsel and most people will find something in this book that pertains to their own life past or present. If you have friends or family members who have had tough years, this is the book for them (as long as they don’t mind a few F bombs).

Page Turners

These books are pretty much the opposite of the last bunch.

Guest Room, Chris BohjalianThe Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian
Fiction (Released January 5, 2016)
336 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: The aftermath of a bachelor party that married Westchester investment banker Richard Chapman hosted for his younger brother upends the lives of all the attendees and their families.

My Thoughts: Chris Bohjalian is one of my go-to authors and The Double Bind is one of my all-time favorite books, so I was ecstatic to hear he had a new novel out this year! The topic of this one sounds frivolous and sleazy (and parts of it are sleazy by necessity), but he deals with the ripple effects of the consequences of this bachelor party in a very serious and thoughtful way. Continue Reading…

Siracusa, Delia EphronSiracusa by Delia Ephron
Fiction (Released July 12, 2016)
304 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Relationships are put to the test when two couples (and one couple’s somewhat odd daughter) vacation together in Italy.

My Thoughts: Siracusa might be my favorite vacation-type read so far this year! It’s light and fast-moving, but also smartly written. The story is told from each of the four adults’ perspectives and the writing style shifts with each voice. Going into the trip, both marriages had their own issues, with each spouse frequently mocking his/her partner. As the trip takes on a somewhat surreal quality, everyone starts acting out…refusing to hide their pent-up resentments any longer. Continue Reading…

You Will Know Me, Megan AbbottYou Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
Fiction (Released July 26, 2016)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: A tragic accident throws fifteen year-old gymnastics prodigy Devon Knox and her family’s carefully constructed training plans into chaos.
My Thoughts: If you’re looking for a book that you can fly through, this is it. Megan Abbott writes young girls in the most deliciously demented way (see The Fever and Dare Me) and what better world for characters like that to inhabit than elite gymnastics. Only this time Abbott throws in a pack of overly zealous parents to deepen the appeal. Continue Reading…

Something Fun

These books are your brain candy.

The Expatriates, Janice Y.K. LeeThe Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee
Fiction (Released January 12, 2016)
336 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
A story about life as an American expat in Hong Kong told through the eyes of three women: Margaret (a married mother of three recovering from a tragedy), Mercy (a twenty-something Korean American Columbia grad trying to get her life on track), and Hilary (a housewife struggling with fertility).

My Thoughts: The Expatriates hit a couple of my “what makes a book work for me” buttons: a good balance between plot and style, dark undertones, and social commentary. I was expecting a light novel about wealthy, successful expats living it up in Hong Kong and I was delighted to find the story also had surprising depth. Yes, many of the characters’ lives sparkle on the surface, but darkness lurks just underneath as it becomes apparent that reality is quite different from appearances. Continue Reading…

The Hopefuls, Jennifer CloseThe Hopefuls by Jennifer Close
Fiction (Released July 19, 2016)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: 
When young couple Matt and Beth Kelly move from New York City to Washington, D.C. for Matt’s job, they must navigate marriage and friendship in the political world.
My Thoughts: While The Hopefuls is set in the political world, it’s not a book about politics. Rather, it’s a book about marriage and friendship set against the backdrop of politics. Continue Reading…

Swans of Fifth Avenue, Melanie BenjaminThe Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin
Historical Fiction (Released: January 26, 2016)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
A novel (wink, wink) based on the friendship between author Truman Capote and his New York City socialite “swans” (i.e. Babe Paley, Slim Keith, Marella Agnelli, Gloria Guinness, etc) and his eventual betrayal of them via the short story, “La Cote Basque, 1965”.
My Thoughts: 
The Swans of Fifth Avenue is one of those deliciously scandalous guilty pleasures…wealthy people behaving badly at its best…with the added bonuses of the right amount of depth and writing that strikes the perfect tone. While this book is technically fiction, the major events and timelines are real with dialogue, emotions, and details imagined by the author. Continue Reading…

For the Hobbyist

Books for people that are into specific things…in this case, restaurants, entrepreneurship, running, and global travel.

Generation Chef, Karen StabinerGeneration Chef by Karen Stabiner
Nonfiction – Cooking / Food (Released September 13, 2016)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Journalist Karen Stabiner follows you chef Jonah Miller as he opens his first New York City restaurant, the East Village Spanish spot, Huertas.

My Thoughts: Generation Chef‘s look into a new restaurant’s first year of life is equal parts food and business book. I particularly loved getting a behind the scenes look at the ups and downs of an entrepreneurial restaurant venture.

Originals, Adam M. GrantOriginals by Adam M. Grant
Nonfiction – Business / Social Analysis (Released February 2, 2016)
326 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: An analysis of how to get ahead by being a non-conformist…using real-life examples from the worlds of business, politics, sports, and Hollywood.

My Thoughts: This combination economic / social analysis, business how-to guide, and “life lessons” book is a must-read for anyone interested in entrepreneurship and contains tons of Malcolm Gladwell-esque data analysis. In that sense, it’s far more engaging than your average business book. It also has a strangely motivating quality, which left me wanting to try out a new idea for the blog…and having a better understanding of how to go about it. Plus, it’s great on audio!

Run the World, Becky WadeRun the World by Becky Wade
Nonfiction – Running (Released July 5, 2016)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Following a successful career at Rice University, elite runner Becky Wade used her Watson Fellowship to travel the world learning about running cultures in nine different countries.

My Thoughts: Run the World is part travel memoir, part sports memoir…with a bit of practical advice for recreational and competitive runners mixed in. I loved learning about different countries’s widely varied approaches to training and about the local “athletes’s” diet in each of them. An excellent choice for friends with the running bug or general wanderlust.

Investigative Journalism

Uncovering the secrets behind major news stories.

American Heiress, Jeffrey Toobin, Patty HearstAmerican Heiress by Jeffrey Toobin
Nonfiction – Crime/Biogossip (Released August 2, 2016)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: The true story of Patricia Hearst’s kidnapping by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) and her subsequent trial for bank robbery.

My Thoughts: As it turns out, I knew way less about this saga than I thought I did! It’s a truly fascinating story that goes far beyond kidnapping and bank robbery. It covers the political climate of the 1970’s, class warfare, race, Stockholm’s Syndrome, and the media, among other themes. This thing was basically the OJ Simpson debacle of the 1970’s.

Five Days at Memorial, Sheri FinkFive Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink
Nonfiction (Released September 10, 2013)
558 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: An investigative report into what happened during and immediately after Hurricane Katrina at New Orleans’ Memorial Medical Center…including allegations that doctors intentionally sped up death for some of the hospital’s sickest patients that they thought wouldn’t survive an evacuation.

My Thoughts: Part portrait of a hospital trying to survive in the wake of disaster and part exploration of end-of-life care and euthanasia in the U.S., Five Days at Memorial reads like a thriller and is the first nonfiction book I’ve included on this list. Continue Reading…

Something Outside of the Box

For the reader that’s looking for something a little different.

Grunt, Mary RoachGrunt by Mary Roach
Nonfiction (Released June 7, 2016)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Grunt tackles the science behind some of a soldier’s most challenging adversaries—panic, exhaustion, heat, noise—and introduces us to the scientists who seek to conquer them.” (Goodreads)

My Thoughts: Mary Roach is known for delving deep into an odd topic (like what happens to cadavers in Stiff) and using her dry (and frequently morbid) humor to share her findings in a relatable way. In Grunt, she focuses on seemingly minor issues (many of which civilians encounter in their daily lives) that wreck havoc with the military and military issues that don’t get a lot of media attention, including bird strikes, hearing loss, diarrhea prevention, flies and sleep. Continue Reading…

Hillbilly Elegy, J. D. VanceHillbilly Elegy by J.D.Vance
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released June 28, 2016)
272 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Vance’s hybrid memoir of his childhood growing up poor in an Ohio town (Middletown) / social analysis of the plight of poor Appalachians.

My Thoughts: Before reading Hillbilly Elegy, I’d heard it compared to Jeanette Walls’ The Glass Castle (which I loved) and I agree that the memoir portion does bear some resemblance. But, Vance takes Hillbilly Elegy to the next level (5 star level for me!) by seamlessly blending in social analysis of why the poor, white working class is failing to achieve upward mobilityContinue Reading…

Love Loss and What We Ate, Padma LakshmiLove, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released March 8, 2016)
324 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Model and Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi shares the story of her global upbringing, her love of food, her career as a model and television host, and her personal life.

My Thoughts: This memoir has a little of everything: celebrity gossip (including the literary kind), behind-the-scenes Top Chef scoop, her struggle with finding a balance between her Indian upbringing and her American life, her struggle with weight (believe it or not, she actually had one), and her struggle with fertility and endometriosis. This lady is not just a pretty face!

Why They Run the Way They Do, Susan PeraboWhy They Run the Way They Do by Susan Perabo
Fiction – Short Stories (Released February 16, 2016)
208 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: A collection of short stories featuring the darker undertones of daily life.

My Thoughts: Short stories have historically been a tough sell for me, but I’m trying to be more open to them after loving Nickolas Butler’s Beneath the Bonfire last year. I’m so glad I gave Why They Run the Way They Do a shot because it’s now only the second short story collection I’ve truly enjoyed from start to finish. On the surface, these stories are about mundane daily life…a harmless middle school prank, a child’s toy, spending time with your mother after some bad news…but, they have a darkness simmering just underneath. Continue Reading…

Gift-y Books

A Lowcountry Heart, Pat ConroyA Lowcountry Heart by Pat Conroy
Nonfiction – Memoir/Essays (Released October 25, 2016)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: A collection of Pat Conroy’s writing on a range of topics (including letters to readers and thoughts on reading, writing, and beloved friends and family) and his most popular speeches and interviews.

My Thoughts: This entire book feels like an homage to Conroy, his career, and the most important people in his life…even though most of the pieces are written by Conroy himself. You feel like you’re reading his final words and thoughts…though he couldn’t have known that when he was writing these pieces. As I was reading, I kept marveling at the new things I was learning about Conroy…despite having already read everything there is to read about his life. Continue Reading…

Natgeo Instagram Photos@NatGeo: The Most Popular Instagram Photographs by National Geographic
Released October 25, 2016
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: A collection of the most “liked, commented on, and favorite photos” from the @Natgeo Instagram account.

My Thoughts: This coffee table-type book would make a fabulous gift for travel, nature and/or animal lovers…big or small (we’re getting it for our 5 year old animal fanatic son).

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Books that Make Perfect Holiday Gifts 2016

November 28, 2016 Gift Guides 29

Books that make perfect holiday gifts 2016
A specially selected book…or a Kindle with a few books pre-loaded (see Amazon’s Guide to Giving / Receiving Books on a Kindle for instructions on gifting Kindle e-books) can be an incredibly thoughtful, personal holiday gift! Each year, I compile a list of the books I came across that year that I think make perfect holiday gifts. If you can’t find anything on this year’s list that’s the right match for your friend or loved one, check out my previous lists (2015, 2014, 2013, 2012).

Go-To Literary Fiction Recommendations

These books have broad appeal and are all-around great selections for most anyone who loves literary fiction.

Commonwealth, Ann PatchettCommonwealth by Ann Patchett
Fiction (Released September 13, 2016)
336 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: An ill fated christening party is the catalyst that ruins the Keating and Cousins marriages…and creates a blended family trying to navigate their new world.

My Thoughts: Commonwealth is a simply and perfectly told story of a cobbled together family…and is one of my favorite books of 2016! Every member of the blended Keating/Cousins family behaves dreadfully, but I was somewhat sympathetic towards all of them. Continue Reading…

Only Love Can Break Your HeartOnly Love Can Break Your Heart by Ed Tarkington
Fiction – Southern (Released January 5, 2016)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary:
When Richard (aka “Rocky”) was eight years old, his rebellious older half-brother, Paul, disappears without explanation, setting off a chain of events that impact their family and community in rural Spencerville, Virginia.
My Thoughts:
The awkward and innocent, yet calculating voice of Rocky made this Southern coming of age story sparkle…and reminded me a bit of My Sunshine Away, one of my favorite books of 2015. While I wouldn’t call this debut novel “Grit Lit”, it is a top-notch Southern coming of age story. And like My Sunshine Away, there is “action” and suspense in this story, but it really serves as a vehicle for Rocky’s coming of age, not the other way around. Continue Reading…

The Girls, Emma ClineThe Girls by Emma Cline
Fiction – Historical (Release Date: June 14, 2016)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
Inspired by the 1960’s California cult led by Charles Manson, the story of fourteen year old Evie Boyd involvement with an older teenager named Suzanne and her fellow cohorts living a cultish life on a dilapidated ranch.
My Thoughts: This novel, along with The Nest, was one of the most hotly anticipated debuts of the year. I knew the story was inspired by the Manson cult, but I expected it to focus on the murders. Instead, The Girls is a much more subtle book about teen angst and the context and culture surrounding the Manson cult. Continue Reading…

Edgy Literary Fiction

These books are a bit darker and/or tackle more fraught issues than my go-to literary fiction recommendations. Read the publishers’ summaries carefully before choosing one of them for your prim and proper grandmother!  

Dear Fang With Love, Rufi ThorpeDear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
Fiction (Released May 24, 2016)
303 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: After a psychotic break at a party, seventeen year-old Vera accompanies her father (who has been absent for most of her life) on an European history tour to Lithuania, where her paternal grandmother grew up.

My Thoughts: It’s difficult to pinpoint what this book is truly about because it’s about teen angst, mental illness, and family history and relationships without being overly about any one of those things. They all kind of balance each other out into a story that ends up being about the people (mainly Vera and her father). I adored Vera. She’s precocious, insightful, quirky, troubled, yet sometimes comes across as the surprising voice of reason. Continue Reading…

Mudbound, Hillary JordanMudbound by Hillary Jordan
Southern Fiction (Released March 4, 2008)
354 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: 
Shortly after Laura McAllen’s husband (Henry) moves their family to an isolated farm in the Mississippi Delta, her brother-in-law (Jamie) and the son of one of their tenant families (Ronsel Jackson) return from fighting in World War II to the Jim Crow era South.
My Thoughts: This award-winning 2008 debut reminiscent of Pat Conroy (the story itself more than the writing style), begins with a city girl trying to adjust to a spartan life of backbreaking farm work and becomes unputdownable by the end. A sense of foreboding hangs over everything and I could feel the tension…in Laura and Henry’s marriage, between the McAllens and the Jacksons, between Laura and her hateful father-in-law (Pappy), and within Jamie and Ronsel upon their returns from World War II. Continue Reading…

Sweetbitter, Stephanie DanlerSweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
Fiction (Released May 24, 2016)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: When twenty two year-old Tess comes to New York City looking to start her adult life, she lands a job as a “backwaiter” at a fictional Union Square restaurant that sounds a lot like Union Square Cafe…and experiences an unimaginable education in food, wine, life, and love.

My Thoughts: Sweetbitter was my fourth 5 star book of the year! This is one of those books where the cover and premise could deceive you into thinking you’re getting “brain candy”. What you’re actually getting is a smart, exquisitely written coming of age story set in the rough and tumble world of top-notch restaurantsContinue Reading…

The Mothers, Brit BennettThe Mothers by Brit Bennett
Fiction (Released October 11, 2016)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: While seventeen year-old Nadia Turner is mourning the shocking loss of her mother, she starts a relationship with Luke Sheppard, her pastor’s son, resulting in an unwanted pregnancy.

My Thoughts: The Mothers was one of the most hyped books and the big debut novel of this Fall (author Brit Bennet is only 25 years old and was named to the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35). And, it completely lived up to the hype! The first page is one of the best first pages I’ve ever read and I highlighted three passages before moving on to Page 2. Continue Reading…

Introspective Books

These books are quiet, calm, and comforting…and might lead you to ponder your life.

Dinner with Edward, Isabel VincentDinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released May 24, 2016)
224 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: As a favor to her friend, Valerie, Isabel begins having dinner with Valerie’s elderly father, which turns into far more than just dinner and far more than just helping out Valerie.

My Thoughts: New York Post reporter Isabel Vincent’s memoir is short, sweet and hopeful…and focused on food, an innocuous and comforting topic. It’s a weird mix of food memoir and self-help book, with a splash of New York City history (particularly about Roosevelt Island, where Isabel and Edward live), but it miraculously works. Continue Reading…

My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth StroutMy Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Fiction (Released January 5, 2016)
208 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: During a long hospital stay, Lucy Barton has a heartfelt conversation with her mother spanning topics from her difficult childhood to gossip from her hometown to her marriage and motherhood.

My Thoughts: My Name is Lucy Barton was an unexpected winner for me. The story focuses on Lucy’s relationship with her mother, but it feels more about Lucy’s own life: her childhood, what it was like to grow up poor and never quite fit in, and her adult life. This is one of those books that has all the intangibles. Continue Reading…

Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl StrayedTiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
Nonfiction – Essays (Released July 10, 2012)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: A collection of the best of The RumpusDear Sugar advice columns, authored by Cheryl Strayed (anonymously at the time).

My Thoughts: I usually find advice columns cheesy and not particularly relevant to my own life. Trust me when I tell you these advice columns are nothing like that. Strayed is warm, relatable, and non-judgmental in her counsel and most people will find something in this book that pertains to their own life past or present. If you have friends or family members who have had tough years, this is the book for them (as long as they don’t mind a few F bombs).

Page Turners

These books are pretty much the opposite of the last bunch.

Guest Room, Chris BohjalianThe Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian
Fiction (Released January 5, 2016)
336 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: The aftermath of a bachelor party that married Westchester investment banker Richard Chapman hosted for his younger brother upends the lives of all the attendees and their families.

My Thoughts: Chris Bohjalian is one of my go-to authors and The Double Bind is one of my all-time favorite books, so I was ecstatic to hear he had a new novel out this year! The topic of this one sounds frivolous and sleazy (and parts of it are sleazy by necessity), but he deals with the ripple effects of the consequences of this bachelor party in a very serious and thoughtful way. Continue Reading…

Siracusa, Delia EphronSiracusa by Delia Ephron
Fiction (Released July 12, 2016)
304 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Relationships are put to the test when two couples (and one couple’s somewhat odd daughter) vacation together in Italy.

My Thoughts: Siracusa might be my favorite vacation-type read so far this year! It’s light and fast-moving, but also smartly written. The story is told from each of the four adults’ perspectives and the writing style shifts with each voice. Going into the trip, both marriages had their own issues, with each spouse frequently mocking his/her partner. As the trip takes on a somewhat surreal quality, everyone starts acting out…refusing to hide their pent-up resentments any longer. Continue Reading…

You Will Know Me, Megan AbbottYou Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
Fiction (Released July 26, 2016)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: A tragic accident throws fifteen year-old gymnastics prodigy Devon Knox and her family’s carefully constructed training plans into chaos.
My Thoughts: If you’re looking for a book that you can fly through, this is it. Megan Abbott writes young girls in the most deliciously demented way (see The Fever and Dare Me) and what better world for characters like that to inhabit than elite gymnastics. Only this time Abbott throws in a pack of overly zealous parents to deepen the appeal. Continue Reading…

Something Fun

These books are your brain candy.

The Expatriates, Janice Y.K. LeeThe Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee
Fiction (Released January 12, 2016)
336 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
A story about life as an American expat in Hong Kong told through the eyes of three women: Margaret (a married mother of three recovering from a tragedy), Mercy (a twenty-something Korean American Columbia grad trying to get her life on track), and Hilary (a housewife struggling with fertility).

My Thoughts: The Expatriates hit a couple of my “what makes a book work for me” buttons: a good balance between plot and style, dark undertones, and social commentary. I was expecting a light novel about wealthy, successful expats living it up in Hong Kong and I was delighted to find the story also had surprising depth. Yes, many of the characters’ lives sparkle on the surface, but darkness lurks just underneath as it becomes apparent that reality is quite different from appearances. Continue Reading…

The Hopefuls, Jennifer CloseThe Hopefuls by Jennifer Close
Fiction (Released July 19, 2016)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: 
When young couple Matt and Beth Kelly move from New York City to Washington, D.C. for Matt’s job, they must navigate marriage and friendship in the political world.
My Thoughts: While The Hopefuls is set in the political world, it’s not a book about politics. Rather, it’s a book about marriage and friendship set against the backdrop of politics. Continue Reading…

Swans of Fifth Avenue, Melanie BenjaminThe Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin
Historical Fiction (Released: January 26, 2016)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
A novel (wink, wink) based on the friendship between author Truman Capote and his New York City socialite “swans” (i.e. Babe Paley, Slim Keith, Marella Agnelli, Gloria Guinness, etc) and his eventual betrayal of them via the short story, “La Cote Basque, 1965”.
My Thoughts: 
The Swans of Fifth Avenue is one of those deliciously scandalous guilty pleasures…wealthy people behaving badly at its best…with the added bonuses of the right amount of depth and writing that strikes the perfect tone. While this book is technically fiction, the major events and timelines are real with dialogue, emotions, and details imagined by the author. Continue Reading…

For the Hobbyist

Books for people that are into specific things…in this case, restaurants, entrepreneurship, running, and global travel.

Generation Chef, Karen StabinerGeneration Chef by Karen Stabiner
Nonfiction – Cooking / Food (Released September 13, 2016)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Journalist Karen Stabiner follows you chef Jonah Miller as he opens his first New York City restaurant, the East Village Spanish spot, Huertas.

My Thoughts: Generation Chef‘s look into a new restaurant’s first year of life is equal parts food and business book. I particularly loved getting a behind the scenes look at the ups and downs of an entrepreneurial restaurant venture.

Originals, Adam M. GrantOriginals by Adam M. Grant
Nonfiction – Business / Social Analysis (Released February 2, 2016)
326 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: An analysis of how to get ahead by being a non-conformist…using real-life examples from the worlds of business, politics, sports, and Hollywood.

My Thoughts: This combination economic / social analysis, business how-to guide, and “life lessons” book is a must-read for anyone interested in entrepreneurship and contains tons of Malcolm Gladwell-esque data analysis. In that sense, it’s far more engaging than your average business book. It also has a strangely motivating quality, which left me wanting to try out a new idea for the blog…and having a better understanding of how to go about it. Plus, it’s great on audio!

Run the World, Becky WadeRun the World by Becky Wade
Nonfiction – Running (Released July 5, 2016)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Following a successful career at Rice University, elite runner Becky Wade used her Watson Fellowship to travel the world learning about running cultures in nine different countries.

My Thoughts: Run the World is part travel memoir, part sports memoir…with a bit of practical advice for recreational and competitive runners mixed in. I loved learning about different countries’s widely varied approaches to training and about the local “athletes’s” diet in each of them. An excellent choice for friends with the running bug or general wanderlust.

Investigative Journalism

Uncovering the secrets behind major news stories.

American Heiress, Jeffrey Toobin, Patty HearstAmerican Heiress by Jeffrey Toobin
Nonfiction – Crime/Biogossip (Released August 2, 2016)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: The true story of Patricia Hearst’s kidnapping by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) and her subsequent trial for bank robbery.

My Thoughts: As it turns out, I knew way less about this saga than I thought I did! It’s a truly fascinating story that goes far beyond kidnapping and bank robbery. It covers the political climate of the 1970’s, class warfare, race, Stockholm’s Syndrome, and the media, among other themes. This thing was basically the OJ Simpson debacle of the 1970’s.

Five Days at Memorial, Sheri FinkFive Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink
Nonfiction (Released September 10, 2013)
558 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: An investigative report into what happened during and immediately after Hurricane Katrina at New Orleans’ Memorial Medical Center…including allegations that doctors intentionally sped up death for some of the hospital’s sickest patients that they thought wouldn’t survive an evacuation.

My Thoughts: Part portrait of a hospital trying to survive in the wake of disaster and part exploration of end-of-life care and euthanasia in the U.S., Five Days at Memorial reads like a thriller and is the first nonfiction book I’ve included on this list. Continue Reading…

Something Outside of the Box

For the reader that’s looking for something a little different.

Grunt, Mary RoachGrunt by Mary Roach
Nonfiction (Released June 7, 2016)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Grunt tackles the science behind some of a soldier’s most challenging adversaries—panic, exhaustion, heat, noise—and introduces us to the scientists who seek to conquer them.” (Goodreads)

My Thoughts: Mary Roach is known for delving deep into an odd topic (like what happens to cadavers in Stiff) and using her dry (and frequently morbid) humor to share her findings in a relatable way. In Grunt, she focuses on seemingly minor issues (many of which civilians encounter in their daily lives) that wreck havoc with the military and military issues that don’t get a lot of media attention, including bird strikes, hearing loss, diarrhea prevention, flies and sleep. Continue Reading…

Hillbilly Elegy, J. D. VanceHillbilly Elegy by J.D.Vance
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released June 28, 2016)
272 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Vance’s hybrid memoir of his childhood growing up poor in an Ohio town (Middletown) / social analysis of the plight of poor Appalachians.

My Thoughts: Before reading Hillbilly Elegy, I’d heard it compared to Jeanette Walls’ The Glass Castle (which I loved) and I agree that the memoir portion does bear some resemblance. But, Vance takes Hillbilly Elegy to the next level (5 star level for me!) by seamlessly blending in social analysis of why the poor, white working class is failing to achieve upward mobilityContinue Reading…

Love Loss and What We Ate, Padma LakshmiLove, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released March 8, 2016)
324 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Model and Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi shares the story of her global upbringing, her love of food, her career as a model and television host, and her personal life.

My Thoughts: This memoir has a little of everything: celebrity gossip (including the literary kind), behind-the-scenes Top Chef scoop, her struggle with finding a balance between her Indian upbringing and her American life, her struggle with weight (believe it or not, she actually had one), and her struggle with fertility and endometriosis. This lady is not just a pretty face!

Why They Run the Way They Do, Susan PeraboWhy They Run the Way They Do by Susan Perabo
Fiction – Short Stories (Released February 16, 2016)
208 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: A collection of short stories featuring the darker undertones of daily life.

My Thoughts: Short stories have historically been a tough sell for me, but I’m trying to be more open to them after loving Nickolas Butler’s Beneath the Bonfire last year. I’m so glad I gave Why They Run the Way They Do a shot because it’s now only the second short story collection I’ve truly enjoyed from start to finish. On the surface, these stories are about mundane daily life…a harmless middle school prank, a child’s toy, spending time with your mother after some bad news…but, they have a darkness simmering just underneath. Continue Reading…

Gift-y Books

A Lowcountry Heart, Pat ConroyA Lowcountry Heart by Pat Conroy
Nonfiction – Memoir/Essays (Released October 25, 2016)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: A collection of Pat Conroy’s writing on a range of topics (including letters to readers and thoughts on reading, writing, and beloved friends and family) and his most popular speeches and interviews.

My Thoughts: This entire book feels like an homage to Conroy, his career, and the most important people in his life…even though most of the pieces are written by Conroy himself. You feel like you’re reading his final words and thoughts…though he couldn’t have known that when he was writing these pieces. As I was reading, I kept marveling at the new things I was learning about Conroy…despite having already read everything there is to read about his life. Continue Reading…

Natgeo Instagram Photos@NatGeo: The Most Popular Instagram Photographs by National Geographic
Released October 25, 2016
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: A collection of the most “liked, commented on, and favorite photos” from the @Natgeo Instagram account.

My Thoughts: This coffee table-type book would make a fabulous gift for travel, nature and/or animal lovers…big or small (we’re getting it for our 5 year old animal fanatic son).

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Koch’s Distinct Style Makes Dear Mr. M A Winner, Despite Plot Inconsistencies

September 6, 2016 Fiction 18

Dear Mr. M, Herman KochFiction
Released September 6, 2016
416 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Hogarth) via NetGalley

Headline

While Dear Mr. M‘s politically incorrect social commentary, dislikable characters, and somewhat meandering nature mean it’s not for everyone, Koch’s distinctive writing style make it a winner for me despite some plot inconsistencies. And, its divisive nature would make it a fantastic book club selection.

Plot Summary

M, an aging writer riding on the long-ago success of his bestselling novel based on the true story of a teacher’s murder involving two of his students (Payback) piques the stalker-ish interest of his neighbor, leading to a revisit of the crime at the center of M’s novel.

Why I Read It

I loved Koch’s breakthrough novel, The Dinner. While I didn’t love his follow-up (Summer House With Swimming Pool) nearly as much, Koch is an author whose distinct writing style will make me at least try every book he writes.

What I Liked

  • While I didn’t love Dear Mr. M quite as much as The Dinner, it came dang close. And I thought it ran circles around Summer House With Swimming Pool.
  • Dear Mr. M employs one of my favorite literary devices: the mystery or crime that provides suspense, but is not at the center of the story. The prospect of finding out what happened to the teacher at the center of Payback certainly kept me turning the pages, but it’s more of a catalyst to explore human behavior and emotions.
  • Dear Mr. M is a style book…and Koch’s style is odd and often uncomfortable, but it is incredibly distinct. I adore his writing (and particularly his social commentary), but he’s certainly not for everyone. He’s a master at putting uncomfortable thoughts that the average reader would likely keep hidden front and center.

When someone has been ill for a long time, there’s always a sense of relief when it’s over. Relief on behalf of the sick person who no longer has to suffer, but above all on your own behalf. It’s difficult to admit, especially at the age I was then, but I felt an enormous relief because everything could finally be cleared out of the house. The curtains could be opened again to let in the light. This is where my life begins, I thought to myself. My new life. My life free of sickbeds.

  • Sometimes that commentary is tinged with political incorrectness (i.e. sexism and ageism make appearances in Dear Mr. M). But, it’s refreshing that Koch isn’t afraid to allow his characters to be politically incorrect on the page, even if I don’t agree with the specific viewpoints. 

A writer doesn’t have to do anything, of course. All a writer has to do is write books. But a lovely, young wife can help him do that. Especially when that wife is completely self-effacing; the kind who spreads her wings over his talent like a mother hen and chases away anyone who comes too close to the nest; who tiptoes around the house when he’s working in his study and only slides a cup of tea or a plate of chocolates through a crack in the doorway at fixed times; […] because his mind, after all, is brimming over with things that she, with her limited body of thought – her limited feminine body of thought – could never fathom anyway.

  • The story is told through multiple perspectives and shifting timelines. You see flashbacks to the long-ago lives of the two students involved in the teacher’s murder and their friends, which some reviewers thought distracted from the real story. I liked these sections as they painted vivid pictures of the personalities and dynamics of the group, which better enabled me to understand how the crime ends up playing out. Plus, these sections reminded me a bit of Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings!

What I Didn’t Like

  • Parts of the book meander a bit and it takes awhile for the story to find its direction…it could’ve been shorter and tighter.
  • I’m still scratching my head over why exactly M’s neighbor felt compelled to stalk M. There is lots of ambiguity here, as the most logical explanations can be eliminated based on details provided in the book or just seem too farfetched.

Good for People Who Like…

Social commentary, dislikable characters, writer’s life, crime that’s not the center of the story, gorgeous writing, dark stories, creepiness

Other Books You May Like

Contains a mystery or crime, which is not the center of the story:
Shelter by Jung Yun

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

Uncomfortable Social Commentary:
The Dinner by Herman Koch

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It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? (6/20/16)

June 20, 2016 It's Monday! What are you reading? 29

Hosted by The Book Date.

Last week felt a bit frantic…my daughter finished up her pre-school year on Wednesday, my son “graduated” (with a ceremony and all!) from pre-school on Thursday, I had lots to do to get ready to leave for vacation later this week, and we worked in a Bronx Zoo trip on Friday. However, I did manage to get in some good chunks of reading.

We’re heading South to visit family later this week, so next week will be quiet on the blog. There’s spotty Internet where we’re going and no TV for part of the week, so I’ll get lots of reading done! BUT…next week is also the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha and I’m having major heartburn about how I’m going to watch the coverage (I almost love the trials more than the actual Olympics…such high stakes!). Fingers crossed we get a good Internet connection so I can live stream it. 

I finished reading…

Dear Fang With Love, Listen to Me


Dear Fang, With Love
 by Rufi Thorpe (May 24, 2016)
Vera (the main character) totally won my heart. Review to come.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Listen to Me by Hannah Pittard (July 5, 2016)
This was not what I expected…and Pittard used a very different voice/writing style than in Reunion. I’m still processing it.

I’m currently reading…

Never Leave Your Dead, Diane Cameron


Never Leave Your Dead
 by Diane Cameron (May 16, 2016)
I figured I’d just take a quick peek at this true story of a WWII veteran (the author’s stepfather) who murdered his wife and mother-in-law long after returning from war. But, I just can’t stop reading…it’s a mind-blowing story.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Vacation reading plans…

Here’s what I’m considering taking along for my vacation reading. This is way more books than I’ll end up getting through, but I need to have options! Let me know if you’ve read any of these…

Here Comes the Sun, Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty, The Heavenly Table, Salvage the Bones, Dinner with Edward


Here Comes the Sun
 by Nicole Dennis-Benn (July 5, 2016)
This debut novel about a Jamaican resort community and the people who work at the hotels was on Redbook’s 21 Books by Women You Have to Read This Summer list and Shaina at Shaina Reads had good things to say about it.

Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty by Ramona Ausubel (June 14, 2016)
I’ve heard great things about this novel with a plot similar to The Nest from a couple bloggers I trust.

The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock (July 12, 2016)
My first foray into Pollock, who I’ve heard writes amazing gritty fiction.

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (August 30, 2010)
This National Book Award winning novel about a poor family in Mississippi battling a massive hurricane has been on my backlist TBR forever.

Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent (May 24, 2016)
This is my “something that sounds comforting”/nonfiction option.




Read One, Skip One (Girls Edition): The Girls by Emma Cline and Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

June 16, 2016 Mini Book Reviews 28

I’m sure you’ve noticed the overwhelming number of books from the last few years with the word “girl(s)” in the title. Here are two more…

The Girls, Emma ClineThe Girls by Emma Cline
Historical Fiction (Released June 14, 2016)
368 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Random House) via NetGalley

Plot Summary: Inspired by the 1960’s California cult led by Charles Manson, The Girls is the story of fourteen year-old Evie Boyd’s involvement with an older teenage girl (Suzanne) and her fellow cohorts living a cultish life under the thrall of their leader (Russell) on a dilapidated ranch.

My Thoughts: This novel, along with The Nest, is one of the most hotly anticipated debuts of the year and I’d been waiting for exactly the right time to start reading it (turns out it was on Mother’s Day). I knew the story was inspired by the Manson cult, but I expected it to focus on the murders. Instead, The Girls is a much more subtle book about teen angst and the context and culture surrounding the Manson cult. Through her gorgeous writing, Cline perfectly captures how an average teen girl living in a somewhat kooky time and place could get sucked into the aura of Manson and his disciples. And, that, rather than the murders themselves, is the crux of the novel.

I couldn’t help my pleasure at being the focus of their attention. Inexplicably, they seemed to like me, and the thought was foreign and cheering, a mysterious gift I didn’t want to probe too much.

That being said, the story does eventually get to the murders and I appreciated it’s slow build to the inevitable climax. Along the way, Cline keeps the reader hooked by dropping tantalizing hints about seemingly innocuous moments that became meaningful in hindsight.

If you like coming of age stories involving teen angst (My Sunshine Away) and/or fiction based on true crime (The Wife, The Maid, and The Mistress), this might be the summer book for you. And, it’s sure to have you Googling the Manson murders to guess the real-life inspiration for each fictional character!

Girls on Fire, Robin WassermanGirls on Fire by Robin Wasserman
Fiction (Released May 17, 2016)
368 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it.
Affiliate Link: Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Harper)

Plot Summary: When golden boy classmate Craig Ellison is found dead in the woods, Hannah (aka “Dex”) and Lacey embark on an unlikely and “obsessive” friendship with far-reaching ramifications.

My Thoughts: When I first started this novel, I thought I’d found the follow-up to The Fever and The Unraveling of Mercy Louis I’d been looking for forever (aka the smart, but intense book about high school that doesn’t read like YA). Girls on Fire showcases the demented and vicious girls of The Fever and the religious zealotry of Mercy Louis. And, in the beginning, the writing sparkled…

The thought of the corpse wasn’t what disturbed me most, not even close. What disturbed me most was the revelation that someone like Craig Ellison had secrets – that he had actual, human emotions not altogether dissimilar from mine. Deeper, apparently, because when I had a bad day, I watched cartoons and hoovered up a bag of Doritos whereas Craig took his father’s gun into the woods and blew a hole through the back of his head.

But, as the story went on, an increasing focus on the devil and Satanic cults added a sense of hokeyness that I couldn’t get past. And that hokeyness took the bite right out of the completely F’d up antics of these high school girls. Cline tells the story from various perspectives and it especially suffered when it got stuck in Lacey’s Kurt Cobain-obsessed, misfit brain. If I had to sum up my main issue with this book in a few words, they would be “more Dex, less Lacey.” So, I’m sadly still on the hunt (and taking recommendations!) for my next dark, smart book about demented high school students.

How Do You Feel About Epilogues?

June 14, 2016 Discussions 45

How Do You Feel About Epilogues


Prior to this year, I rarely noticed Epilogues and much less thought critically about them. But, this year, a few of my more successful reads (and their Epilogues) have gotten my wheels turning. In each of these examples, an unsatisfying Epilogue marred an otherwise enjoyable read. The silver lining is that, since Epilogues are tacked on at the end, it’s easy to just mentally lop them off your memory of the book! Let’s talk about a few of the specific types of Epilogues that rub me the wrong way…

The “Where Are They Now?” Epilogue

In this type of Epilogue, the story comes to a satisfying end…then, the Epilogue kindly offers an US Weekly “Where Are They Now?”-style rundown of where each character ends up decades later. Do we really need to know this? What if you end up hating a particular character’s outcome? Why mess with that satisfying ending in the first place?

Recent Example: Only Love Can Break Your Heart 

The Neat and Tidy Epilogue

This type of Epilogue ties the story up in an overly neat and tidy bow…leaving no room for interpreting the ending. I used to like books that tied everything up in this way, but have moved away from that over the past couple of years.

Recent Example: The Nest 

The “I Don’t Buy It” Epilogue

This type of Epilogue takes the story in a direction that rational thinking makes it hard to buy into…leading to lots of “oh please, that would never happen in real life” types of things floating around my brain.

Recent Example: The Expatriates 

What about successful Epilogues? Are there any? I had a very hard time coming up with any examples other than the Afterward (it’s called Historical Notes in the book, but I think it can count as an Epilogue for our purposes) in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. That Epilogue served a clear purpose and added another dimension to the story.

How do you feel about Epilogues in general? Can you share any examples of Epilogues that worked for you?