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

March 1, 2017 Book Recommendations 27

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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.

This month, I’ve already read (and loved) two of the selections! And if you’re considering adding on one of last month’s selections, check out my thoughts on those.

Book of the Month Club March 2017 Selections

Exit West, Mohsin HamidExit West by Mohsin Hamid (Release Date: March 7, 2017)
240 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.29
Selected By: Leigh Haber (Books Editor, O Magazine)

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city.

Exit West follows these characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are.

My Thoughts:
Amanda Nelson from Book Riot has been excited about this “important” book about a refugee crisis and Derek Attig (also from Book Riot) said it was “a beautiful, humane, strange book about refugees.” Kirkus gave it a starred review and it snagged a New York Times review as well. This book seems to contain some magical realism, which tends to be a turn-off for me. I’ve also had trouble lately with the super heavy “issue” books…just haven’t had the headspace for them. So, I probably wouldn’t go this route.

Update: Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best just posted her her full review and was underwhelmed by Exit West.

Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach (Released: February 21, 2017)Dead Letters, Caite Dolan-Leach
353 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.79
Selected By: Sarah Weinman (writer, editor and “Crime Lady”)

A missing woman leads her twin sister on a twisted scavenger hunt in this clever debut novel of suspense for readers of Luckiest Girl Alive and Reconstructing Amelia.

Featuring a colorful, raucous cast of characters, Caite Dolan-Leach’s debut thriller takes readers on a literary scavenger hunt for clues concealed throughout the seemingly idyllic wine country, hidden in plain sight on social media, and buried at the heart of one tremendously dysfunctional, utterly unforgettable family.

My Thoughts:
I’ve read this book already! And it’s absolutely fantastic…unquestionably 5 stars for me and one of my favorites of 2017 so far. It has everything – a great plot, a dysfunctional family, a mystery, great writing, and depth. It’s one of those rare novels that I can see myself recommending to absolutely everyone…and could satisfy a “literary” urge AND be at home in your beach bag. I’ll also say this book is far better than Reconstructing Amelia (mentioned above). If you’re planning to read it, I’d avoid reading the full publisher’s blurb…it gives away far too many details.

I haven’t posted my review yet, but check out Catherine at Gilmore Guide‘s (whose reading taste I trust implicitly) review. I’ll also add that this book deserves far more hype than its been getting, so I’m thrilled to see it’s a Book of the Month Club selection!

Marlena, Julie BuntinMarlena by Julie Buntin (Release Date: April 4, 2017)
288 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.36
Selected By: Steph Opitz (Book Reviewer at Marie Claire)

An electric debut novel about love, addiction, and loss; the story of two girls and the feral year that will cost one her life, and define the other’s for decades.

Everything about fifteen-year-old Cat’s new town in rural Michigan is lonely and off-kilter, until she meets her neighbor, the manic, beautiful, pill-popping Marlena.

Within the year, Marlena is dead, drowned in six inches of icy water in the woods nearby. Now, decades later, when a ghost from that pivotal year surfaces unexpectedly, Cat must try to forgive herself and move on, even as the memory of Marlena keeps her tangled in the past.

My Thoughts:
This novel caught my eye when I reviewed the Henry Holt Spring Catalog and The Millions called it “an important story about addiction and poverty in middle America” in their 2017 Great Book Preview. But, the fact that Stephanie Danler (author of Sweetbitter, one of my favorite books of 2016) said this about it sealed the deal:

I binge-read Marlena – sick to my stomach, with equal parts fear and nostalgia- stunned that any of us made it out of our adolescence alive.

I’m pretty excited about this one, but I did recently see Gabby from 500 Books say it was similar to, but not quite as effective as, The Girls by Emma Cline (my review). Special bonus: this is a sneak peek since Marlena doesn’t officially come out until April.

All Grown Up, Jami AttenbergAll Grown Up by Jami Attenberg (Released: March 7, 2017)
208 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.21
Selected By: Laia Garcia (Deputy Editor, Lenny Letter)

From the New York Times best-selling author of The Middlesteins comes a wickedly funny novel about a thirty-nine-year-old single, childfree woman (Andrea) who defies convention as she seeks connection.

My Thoughts:
I’ve also read All Grown Up! It’s a style book through and through…the story is told through snapshots of Andrea’s life and doesn’t have a super propulsive plot. What made me love it (I rated it 5 stars) is the “yes, that’s exactly how it is” commentary about how society treats single ladies in their thirties, the unexpectedly funny writing (it’s snarky and filled with the type of dry, morbid humor that’s not for everyone, but is for me), and the book’s brutal honesty. If style/writing can carry a book for you and you like snarky humor, I highly recommend this one. If you need a high powered plot, I’d choose Dead Letters instead.

The Stranger in the Woods, David FinkelThe Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel (Released: March 7, 2017)
224 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.19
Selected By: Liberty Hardy (co-host of Book Riot‘s All the Books podcast)

Many people dream of escaping modern life, but most will never act on it. This is the remarkable true story of a man who lived alone in the woods of Maine for 27 years, making this dream a reality–not out of anger at the world, but simply because he preferred to live on his own.

My Thoughts:
At first glance this book did not interest me at all (and I hadn’t heard of it before it was chosen for Book of the Month Club), but now that I’ve researched it a little, I think I’ll be adding it to my TBR list! It’s been compared to Wild and Born to Run, both books I loved. It’s been reviewed by Publisher’s Weekly and it was a Bookpage Nonfiction Top Pick. If you think you might be interested in this one, read Michael Finkel’s article (The Strange & Curious Tale of the Last True Hermit) in GQ Magazine to get a taste of the story.

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

My choice for any reader would be Dead Letters, hands down!

But, if you like style books and snarky humor, I recommend trying All Grown Up.

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

Join 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 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). 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 Book of the Month Club membership (pricing below)!

1-month: $5 for first month, $14.99/month if you choose to continue
3-month: $9.99 for first 3 months, $14.99/month if you choose to continue
6-month: only available as a gift
12-month: $11.99/month
(Special March Deal: get a free BOTM tote when you sign up for a 3 month membership)



*All book descriptions are from Goodreads.

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It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? (2/27/17)

February 27, 2017 It's Monday! What are you reading? 43

Hosted by The Book Date.

Last week’s reading was filled with super high highs and frustrating lows. I loved the one book I finished and am LOVING my current read. But, I also had two DNF’s, one of which was The Barrowfields, which I mentioned in last week’s update that I had put down, but was considering revisiting. Well, I didn’t and have now moved on.

I was also visiting family last week since my kids were off from school and we had a lot going on, so I didn’t fit in as much time with my current book as I would’ve liked. Back to our routine this week.

This post contains affiliate links.

I finished reading…

All Grown Up, Jami Attenberg


All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg (March 7, 2017)
I loved this tiny novel about a single woman in her upper thirties living in NYC for it’s truth-telling, salty writing, and gallows humor, but I don’t think it’s necessarily for everyone. It’s really different from her last novel, Saint Mazie (my review). More to come in an upcoming post.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

Dead Letters, Caite Dolan-Leach


Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach (February 21, 2017)
Ya’ll, read this book ASAP!! Or save it for your beach trip because it’s perfect for that too! I’m not quite done yet (75%), but am absolutely loving Dead Letters. It has everything – a great plot, a dysfunctional family, a mystery, great writing, and depth. It’s one of those rare novels that I can see myself recommending to absolutely everyone! And a huge thanks to Catherine at Gilmore Guide for putting this novel on my radar…because I hadn’t heard a thing about it before she told me I must read it.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I tried, but wasn’t feeling…

What You Don't Know, Joann Chaney


What You Don’t Know
 by Joann Chaney (March 7, 2017)
I took a chance on this thriller because Liberty Hardy recommended it on a recent All the Books podcast episode. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get past the cheesy writing and dynamic between the two members of the detective team.

Upcoming reading plans…

The Roanoke Girls, Amy Engel


The Roanoke Girls
 by Amy Engel (March 7, 2017)
I heard this dysfunctional family story possibly takes dysfunction to an entirely new level. Which is hard to do with me. We’ll see.

I was reading…

One Year Ago: I was having a reading hangover following Tender.

Two Years Ago: I was reading one of my favorite books of 2015 (and a massive critical darling).

How was your reading week?

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This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel Made Me Feel All the Emotions

February 23, 2017 Fiction 18

This Is How It Always Is, Laurie FrankelFiction
Released January 24, 2017
336 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (published by Flatiron Books)

Headline

This Is How It Always Is is an accessible story about a weighty topic that had me feeling a whole range of emotions…it’s the kind of book many people will enjoy, yet will also provide excellent discussion for book clubs.

Plot Summary

When Claude, the youngest son of a family of five boys, starts to realize he wants to be a girl, the family must learn how to best support Claude and adjust to the situation.

Why I Read It

Susan Perabo, author of the fantastic short story collection Why They Run the Way They Do (my review), tweeted this about This Is How It Always Is:

Major Themes

Gender Dysphoria, Family, Bullying

What I Loved

  • One of the most important things a book needs to do to really draw me in is to make me feel…something. It doesn’t have to be positive all the time, but I have to become emotionally involved with the story and characters in some way. This Is How It Always Is had me feeling a full range of emotions. It’s heart-warming, but also heart-breaking. It’s unexpectedly funny, sad, inspirational, and made me angry at times.
  • While this story obviously centers around Claude and his struggle with gender dysphoria, it’s also very much a story about an unconventional and complicated family. Frankel explores the family dynamics, the impacts of Claude’s struggle on each sibling and both parents, and the more run-of-the-mill struggles of a family (work/life balance, teen angst, sibling disagreements, etc) and how Claude fits into that.
  • While gender dysphoria is a weighty issue and many people have not personally experienced, the Walsh-Adams family as a whole is incredibly relatable. Rosie (the mother) is someone I could imagine being friends with and the family’s reactions to and decision-making involving Claude felt decidedly normal to me.
  • In addition to handling the “big” issues and decisions relating to Claude’s gender dysphoria, Frankel poignantly works through the small moments that become minefields when you’re dealing with someone like Claude (i.e. meeting your new neighbors, the first sleepover).
  • The writing isn’t what I’d call “gorgeous,” but I loved the voice and tone. I felt like I was hearing my relatable friend talk about family life while phrasing things in the most amusing way possible. 

But Roo followed by Ben followed by Rigel and Orion had put a stop to that plan too, children being the enemies of plans and also the enemies of anything new besides themselves.

  • Plus, there’s a bad@ss grandmother, a character type that generally adds a little something extra to a story for me!

What I Didn’t Like

  • I’m generally not a fan of stories within stories and one (a fairy tale, in this case) figures prominently into This Is How It Always Is. It makes sense within the larger context and Frankel executed it well, but I personally found it distracting and unnecessary. It felt a little too cutes-y to me.
  • I’m getting really nit-picky, but some of the things Claude was doing at age five (i.e. designing and constructing a complicated Halloween costume by himself) seemed like a developmental stretch to me, even though his character is quite precocious. I have a six year old son and he could no more design and construct his own Halloween costume than fly to the moon; however, he could name 25 obscure animals you’ve never heard of. So, maybe this criticism isn’t entirely fair.

A Defining Quote

You never know. You only guess. This is how it always is. You have to make these huge decisions on behalf of your kid, this tiny human whose fate and future is entirely in your hands, who trusts you to know what’s good and right and then to be able to make that happen. You never have enough information. You don’t get to see the future. And if you screw up, if with your incomplete, contradictory information you make the wrong call, well, nothing less than your child’s entire future and happiness is at stake. It’s impossible. It’s heartbreaking. It’s maddening. But there’s no alternative.

Good for People Who Like…

Family, unconventional families, secrets / betrayal, marriage, motherhood, emotional gut-wrenchers, debate starters, accessible writing

Other Books You May Like

A memoir dealing with gender dysphoria:
Darling Days by iO Tillett-Wright

Another book centered around a large family with hoards of children:
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

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12 Books That Aren’t For Everyone…But WERE For Me!

February 21, 2017 Book Lists 39

Books That Aren't For Everyone
Today’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by the Broke and the Bookish) topic is Ten Books I Loved Less/More Than I Thought I Would.

Well, I’m going to spin this one…possibly so much that it doesn’t much resemble the original topic because I got inspired by a book I read last week (A Separation)

You’ll notice some running themes here…in both the “isn’t for everyone” and “was for me” categories. Namely, writing, dislikable characters, long books, and the lack of a propulsive plot.

12 Books That Aren’t For Everyone…But WERE For Me!

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
Why isn’t it for everyone?
 It’s over 900 pages. It’s full of odd, fantasy / magical realism – type elements.

Why was it for me? Despite not usually buying into magical realism, Murakami made me believe in the world he created. Plus, back when I read this, chunksters didn’t scare me.

A Separation by Katie Mitamura
Why isn’t it for everyone? It’s a 100% style book. Not much happens plot-wise.

Why was it for me? That style completely worked for me. I could read the narrator’s observations about life, marriage, grief, etc all day long. Plus, she created emotional tension despite the lack of action.

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood (my review)
Why isn’t it for everyone? One particular story element gets super creepy and icky.

Why was it for me? By the end of the book, Greenwood had forced me to see how this situation could be more gray than I initially thought. She talked me out of my initial revulsion.

Always Happy Hour by Mary Miller (my review)
Why isn’t it for everyone? It’s a short story collection. The stories and characters are dark, depressing, and maddening in their inaction.

Why was it for me? Miller’s writing was filled with “yes, that’s exactly how it is” statements.

Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch (my review)
Why isn’t it for everyone? The plot meanders and fails to explain a major element of the story. Also, the narrator is dislikable.

Why was it for me? I’m a diehard fan of Koch’s distinct writing style…particularly his social commentary.

Home Is Burning by Dan Marshall (my review)
Why isn’t it for everyone? This memoir is an emotional gut-wrencher (it’s about a father suffering from ALS)…and also chock full of crass and inappropriate humor.

Why was it for me? I love books that make me feel a range of emotions and this one made me laugh, cry, cringe, and everything in between. And, crass humor definitely doesn’t offend me.

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler (my review)
Why isn’t it for everyone? Plot has been called boring and nonexistent. Tess (the main character) isn’t particularly likable.

Why was it for me? The writing…especially the food writing. It’s just incredible. Plus, I lived in NYC when I was the same age as Tess (the main character) and have worked in restaurants, so I could identify with the setting.

Tender by Belinda McKeon (my review)
Why isn’t it for everyone? Parts of this story are utterly cringe-worthy and uncomfortable to read. Catherine’s (a main character) terrible decision-making makes the reader want to shake her many times.

Why was it for me? Another book that took me on an emotional roller-coaster and created extreme tension without much action. Plus, the writing.

The Dinner by Herman Koch (my review)
Why isn’t it for everyone? See Dear Mr. M. Plus, there isn’t much action in the beginning of the book.

Why was it for me? See Dear Mr. M.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (my review)
Why isn’t it for everyone? It’s looong. And, the Las Vegas section of the book is a massive departure from the rest of the story…and isn’t appealing to everyone.

Why was it for me? The writing. And that Las Vegas section introduced the character that stole the show (Boris, of course).

The Shore by Sara Taylor (my review)
Why isn’t it for everyone? It takes a lot of concentration to read…there are a gazillion family members to keep track of and the timeline jumps around randomly. Plus, the last chapter was either love it or hate it.

Why was it for me? Again, the writing. Also, the raw focus on the terrible treatment of the women in this story and the soulful setting.

The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder (my review)
Why isn’t it for everyone? Non-sports fans are put off by the apparent football premise. Plus, there’s not much of a plot.

Why was it for me? I actually am a football fan (but you don’t have to be to love this book). Also, the spot-on social commentary about all aspects of life and the darkness running just under the surface of the seemingly mundane.

What are some books that you loved, but you don’t necessarily think would appeal to lots of people? And, what books on this list worked for you too?

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? (2/20/17)

February 20, 2017 It's Monday! What are you reading? 33

Hosted by The Book Date.

Last week was a busy one! I attended Georgia Hunter’s launch event in NYC for her gorgeous debut novel, We Were the Lucky Ones. She discussed the book with Thomas Kail, the director of Hamilton, and tons of her family members were in attendance. I met the son of Genek, who was the Kurc brother that spent time in a Siberian labor camp. And, he was charming!

On the reading front, I’m already digging into March releases, because there are a gazillion March books I’m dying to read. I also posted my spoiler discussion of Behind Her Eyes, specifically focusing on the ending (#WTFthatending).

Finally, I threw out my back last Sunday and have been in physical therapy all week. I’m not able to work out normally and won’t be for at least another two weeks. My regular blog readers can probably guess this is driving me crazy! Luckily, my PT does involve some things that can be called “working out” and I was psyched to wake up on Saturday morning a bit sore from Friday’s PT. Needless to say, my foam roller is coming in quite handy! 

The silver lining of this injury is that’s it’s made me truly appreciate having the ability to stay active and particularly to do that outdoors whenever possible. Sometimes it takes (temporarily) losing something to truly appreciate the joy it brings you.

This post contains affiliate links.

I finished reading…

A Separation, Katie Mitamura


A Separation
 by Katie Kitamura (February 7, 2017)
I really loved this dark story about a marriage. However, I don’t think it’s for everyone. Despite The Millions saying it’s “poised to be the literary Gone Girl of 2017,” it is not a plot-based story. In fact, this might be the most egregious Gone Girl comparison I’ve seen yet…which does nothing but turn off this book’s ideal reader and attract, but ultimately disappoint, the wrong one! If you love dark stories driven by the writing and emotional tension, then I highly recommend you give this one a try.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

All Grown Up, The Barrowfields


All Grown Up
 by Jami Attenberg (March 7, 2017)
I’m 70% through this story of a single woman in her upper thirties living in NYC is one of the winter 2017 books I was most anticipating. It’s darkly humorous and I can somewhat relate to Andrea’s situation of being single in NYC (something I was in my mid-upper twenties). It’s really different from her last novel, Saint Mazie (my review).

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis (March 7, 2017)
I was hoping this debut Southern coming of age story would be this year’s My Sunshine Away (my review) or Only Love Can Break Your Heart (my review), but I was a bit bored through the first 40%. I’ve temporarily put it aside to read All Grown Up, but plan to give it one more shot (since the reviews are generally positive) before moving on for good.

I tried, but wasn’t feeling…

Everything Belongs to Us, Yoojin Grace Wuertz


Everything Belongs to Us by Yoojin Grace Wuertz (February 28, 2017)
I honestly didn’t make it very far with this one (5%). I kept zoning out and had heard some less than stellar reviews recently, which didn’t give me much motivation to keep pushing.

Upcoming reading plans…

What You Don't Know, Joann Chaney


What You Don’t Know
 by Joann Chaney (March 7, 2017)
I’m really craving a fantastic thriller (Behind Her Eyes did not fill this void), so I paid attention when Liberty Hardy recommended this debut about a Denver serial killer on a recent All the Books podcast episode.

I was reading…

One Year Ago: One of my favorite books of 2016!

Two Years Ago: The only Erik Larson book I’ve ever been disappointed with.

How was your reading week?

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Behind Her Eyes and THAT Ending: Spoiler Discussion (#WTFthatending)

February 16, 2017 Mysteries/Thrillers 39

This post is full of spoilers, so STOP HERE if you don’t want to know the ending (or other details).

Behind Her Eyes, Sarah PinboroughFiction – Mystery/Thriller
Released January 31, 2016
320 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it…unless you just want to participate in the discussion.
Affiliate Link: Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Flatiron Books)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This post contains affiliate links.

I’ve been somewhat burned out of psychological thrillers lately, especially those that are billed as “the next Gone Girl and/or The Girl on the Train.” I generally find that the big twist is either entirely predictable or completely outlandish…and neither one of those situations leaves me feeling satisfied.

My mystery/thriller dream is to find an ending that is surprising, yet with some hindsight, makes sense in the context of the story. Gone Girl did that for me, while I guessed The Girl on the Train‘s ending halfway through the book.

Despite this burnout, I couldn’t resist Flatiron Books’ admittedly brilliant marketing ploy of highlighting Behind Her Eyes‘ crazy ending…even creating a hashtag for it (#WTFthatending). I wondered if maybe this thriller could pull me out of my slump…plus, I wanted to be a part of the discussion about that ending.

Alas…it was not to be.

What did you think of Behind Her Eyes’ ending (aka #WTFthatending)?

In a nutshell: I DESPISED that ending. It absolutely left me saying “WTF,” so I guess it technically lived up to the publisher’s hashtag hype, but it did not work for me. at. all.

Why? Because it fell squarely in the outlandish category I mentioned earlier and it relied entirely on a gimmick (I’ll discuss this a bit more below). When Louise and Adele switched bodies during the fire at the Martin’s house, I rolled my eyes at the fact that the entire ending hinged on two people switching bodies through a door that appears in their “lucid dreams.”

Then, I find out that the entire story from start to finish hinged on Rob inhabiting Adele’s body via the same “lucid dream door” from the get-go?!! I wanted to throw the book across the room.

Did you see the ending coming?

No, I definitely didn’t see it coming. But, I don’t consider that a win for all the reasons I talked about above.

However, I did spend literally the entire book trying to guess what would happen. For your amusement, here are all my guesses:

7%: David burned down Adele’s parents’ house…with them in it. (Wrong)
10%: David drugs Adele on a daily basis…switching out her medication. (Wrong)
18%: Louise will unknowingly be Adele’s puppet. (Right)
30% Adele bugged Louise’s apartment and David’s office. (Wrong)
42%: Adele is trying to orchestrate it so she can leave David (so she can regain control of her parents’ estate) and he will take the fall because of his cheating and “abuse.” (Wrong)
78% Adele can spy on Louise and David because of the second dream door. (Right)
51%: Adele faked the dream notebook she gave to Louise. (Wrong)
51%: Adele will have Louise kill David. (Wrong)
52%: Adele will trick David or Louise into killing her. She wants to die anyway and she’ll get revenge on either of them by letting them live with the guilt of killing her. (Wrong)
69%: Adele and David killed Rob. (Wrong)
88%: Louise is seriously mentally ill too. (Wrong)
93% Adele frames Louise for killing her, but will actually commit suicide. Louise will watch all this go down through the second dream door. (Kind of right, kind of wrong)

How do you feel about knowing in advance that an ending will be crazy or controversial?

I normally like to go into plot-centric books fairly blind.

I read Gone Girl before all the hype and one of the reasons it was so successful for me was that I didn’t even know there was a massive twist in the book. I was just reading along and BAM…there it was.

That being said, I admit I never would have picked up Behind Her Eyes without all the hype surrounding #WTFthatending. It made me want to be a part of the conversation.

Is lucid dreaming a real thing?

Prior to reading Behind Her Eyes, I’d never heard of lucid dreaming. So, I naturally had to investigate.

World of Lucid Dreaming lends credence to the concept of lucid dreaming existing in real life…down to the dream door. Controlling your dreams through lucid dreaming has been written about in Psychology Today, The Atlantic, and Scientific American. My Google search for “can you inhabit someone else’s body through lucid dreaming” revealed far less scientific results and more discussion threads between people that sounded like quacks.

Being somewhat of a realist, it’s difficult to wrap my head around the entire concept of controlling your dreams. And throw the “inhabiting someone else’s body” on top and it sounds outlandish to me…despite what I found on the Internet. However, knowing at least some level of lucid dreaming could possibly happen in real life makes me give that plot gimmick a tad (but just a tad) more leeway than I did before my research.

Did any other aspects of the book bother you?

Two things stood out to me:

  • I thought it was a total stretch that Louise also happened to suffer from night terrors. It was somewhat believable that Adele and Rob both suffered from them since they met in a treatment facility. But, Louise was a coincidence that felt too random to me…and it’s more unforgivable since the entire story hinges on this coincidence.
  • I questioned Louise’s motivation to take numerous drastic steps to uncover the truth behind the Martins’ marriage (i.e. breaking into her old office), investigate the fire that killed Adele’s parents, and to go after Adele following her “suicide text.” Why would she take these kinds of risks especially given she was putting her young son in danger…and/or risking leaving him motherless if something should happen to her? As a mother, I just didn’t buy it.

Let’s discuss! What did you think of Behind Her Eyes overall and the ending in particular?

Behind Her Eyes was a February 2017 Book of the Month Club selection.
Sign up for a 1-month, 3-month, 6-month, or 12-month Book of the Month membership and get your first month for only $5!
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We Were the Lucky Ones: Q&A with Author Georgia Hunter

February 14, 2017 Historical Fiction 17

We Were the Lucky Ones, Georgia HunterHistorical Fiction
Released February 14, 2017
416 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Author (Publisher: Viking)

I’m thrilled to welcome debut novelist, researcher, and friend, Georgia Hunter, to the blog today! We Were the Lucky Ones has been getting fantastic advance buzz from Publisher’s Weekly, Audible, Penguin Random House, Harper’s Bazaar, and Glamour Magazine and I loved it as well!

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My Thoughts about We Were the Lucky Ones

World War II “annihilated over 90% of Poland’s Jews and […] all but about 300 of the 30,000 Jews from Radom,” Georgia Hunter’s ancestors’ home. Yet, her entire family survived. We Were the Lucky Ones is based on the story of how they did it.

The Kurc family’s experience during World War II, beginning in Poland and stretching to Siberia, Italy, and Brazil is nothing short of a harrowing odyssey, the outcome of which defies statistics, explanation, and imagination. Despite the many horrific details of their experience, this is a story of hope, inspiration, and true grit.

I’ve historically had a tendency to get bogged down in World War II books, but I never felt that way while reading We Were the Lucky Ones. Hunter did a masterful job at keeping the story moving along, making it feel like a “quick read” in a page-turning sense, even though it’s not a short or light book. Rather than the war itself, the story is more about what life was like during the war for a Polish Jewish family and Hunter’s caring attention to detail made the backdrop come alive. We Were the Lucky Ones would be a fantastic choice for anyone who enjoyed The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.

PS – I always love Author’s Notes section in historical fiction…and this one is not to be missed!

Q&A with Georgia Hunter

We Were the Lucky Ones is based on your family’s real-life experience during WWII and you used their real names in the book. What made you decide to make the book fiction?

When I began writing We Were the Lucky Ones, I didn’t have a sense of what the finished product would look like – my goal was simply to convey the story in a way that did my family justice, and that felt less like a history lesson, and more like a novel: visceral and immersive. I wanted readers to understand, through the eyes of the Kurcs, what it meant to be Jewish and on the run during the Second World War.

I thought hard about penning the book as non-fiction, as each of my storylines is based on facts uncovered in oral histories or through outside research. (I did change a couple of names, but only for the sake of clarity.) I realized in early drafts, however, that I’d stuck so closely to what I’d been told in my interviews that my characters came across as a touch too perfect (most of my relatives were depicted to me – rightfully so – as heroes). The Kurcs were courageous, resilient, and ingenious, yes. But they were also human. They were falling in love (even making babies!), and they must have also been confused and angry and at times racked with fear.

And so, I decided in the end to write the book as fiction, in the present tense, allowing myself the creative license to dive deep into my characters’ psyches, imagining to the best of my ability what was running through the Kurcs’ hearts and minds. It’s my hope that in doing so, I was able to bring the story even closer to the truth.

Tell us a little bit about your research and writing. How long did you spend researching the Kurc family story and how long did you spend doing the actual writing?

I began researching my book nine years ago when I set off with a digital voice recorder and an empty notebook to interview a relative in Paris. From there I flew to Rio de Janeiro and across the States, meeting with cousins and friends – anyone with a story to share. My family’s narrative took shape, at first, in the form of a timeline, which I peppered with historical details and color-coded by relative to help keep track of who was where/when.

Where there were gaps in my timeline, I looked to outside resources – to archives, museums, ministries, and magistrates around the world, in hopes of tracking down relevant information.

I began actually writing my book in bits and pieces, and probably sooner than I should have! I’d come home from an interview so excited about a story I’d been told that I’d write it down and save it. By the time I put some serious thought into how the book should unfold, I had dozens of one-off scenes already crafted. Each would make it into the book eventually, but my most productive writing came when I sat down in 2011 to plot an outline and chapter summaries.

Your research involved extensive global travel. What was the most impactful destination you visited?

Great question! Of all of the places I visited in South America and in Europe, I’d have to say my trip to Radom, the city in central Poland where my grandfather was raised, was the most moving. 

My husband and I explored Radom with a guide, a young man named Jakub whom I’d contacted through the city’s Culture Center. Jakub showed us the old Jewish cemetery, which I was shocked to learn was still being restored, as the tombstones had been repurposed by the Nazis for a military airport runway. We visited the apartment building where my family lived, and I got chills running my fingers along a rusted mezuzah still adhered to the cement arched entranceway (only one of two remaining mezuzahs in the entire city, Jakub said).

I left Radom understanding why my great-grandparents had felt at home raising a family there – the city was quaint, livable; I appreciated its understated, small-town vibe. But I couldn’t help but also feel the presence of the 30,000 Jews who had once inhabited the city (a community that was reduced to fewer than 300 by war’s end), who had enjoyed it for what it was before their worlds were shattered.

Reading some of the more gruesome details hit me more than usual knowing they actually happened to a friend’s family. What was it like to learn some of the more horrific things your family went through?

It was tough, as it meant trying to put myself in my relatives’ shoes, imagining what it must have been like to experience the things they did (talk about putting my own “problems” in perspective!). It was also hard because the stories I uncovered in my interviews (e.g., what it was like to lose a sister, or to run through the streets of Warsaw during an uprising, or to give birth to a child in the thick of a Siberian winter) were conveyed with stoicism, the gruesome details glossed over. Even in the first-hand Shoah interviews I had access to, I was amazed at the matter-of-fact manner in which the Kurcs relayed their wartime experiences. It took a great deal of research to capture these stories on paper in a way that felt accurate to what my relatives might have been thinking/feeling at the time.

What was the most mind-blowing thing you learned about your family during the course of your research?

One of the pieces of my family’s narrative that felt the fuzziest going into my research concerned my great-uncle Genek (my grandfather’s older brother). I knew through interviews with his children that Genek had been sent to Siberia, and had ended up fighting for the Allies in the Battle of Monte Casino…but that was it – I had no idea when or why he’d been sent to Siberia, when or why he’d been released, or how he eventually ended up in uniform on Italian soil.

Through the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, I discovered a nine-page, hand-written account of Genek’s, which answered all of these questions, and then some. I was also able, through the Ministry of Defense in the U.K., to track down Genek’s detailed military records, including Medals of Honor he’d never collected. It was a real joy to hand over these discoveries to Genek’s sons.

How has your family reacted to the book?

Thankfully, those who have read an early copy of the book have loved it! I can’t tell you how great that feels. Getting feedback from the family, hearing how much the book has taught them or moved them, has been the most uplifting and gratifying feeling in the world.

What’s the best book you read in 2016?

Hmm…it would have to be a toss up between Paula McLain’s Circling the Sun or Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things (which were released before 2016, but I read them last year and adored them both).

And, your top 3 all-time favorites? I know this is a ridiculously hard question to answer! 

Yes, nearly impossible to answer! I will say, however, that the three books I recommend the most to friends are:

City of Thieves by David Benioff (a WWII survival account based on stories passed down by Benioff’s grandfather – the book unfolds like a film and was an early inspiration for my own novel)

Wonder by R. J. Palacio (a Y/A novel about a young 5th grade boy with a facial deformity, struggling to fit in)

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott (insightful, funny, and provocative, for writers and non-writers alike)

What’s the best WWII book you’ve ever read (other than your own, of course)?

Another tough one! But if I had to pick, the one at the very top of my WWII list would be Julie Orringer’s historical novel, The Invisible Bridge. The book is nearly 800 pages long – and for that very reason it took me a while to pick it up – but when I did, I grew so consumed with the fates of Orringer’s characters, and so lost in her gorgeous prose, that I couldn’t put it down.

I see many similarities between Orringer’s protagonist, Andras (who is based on her grandfather), and Addy, my own grandfather, who were both young Jews living in Paris, separated from their families at the start of the Second World War. 

Finally…are you doing any writing now and do you have plans for a second book?

Most of my recent writing has been devoted to interviews and essays in preparation for the launch of We Were the Lucky Ones (Viking is keeping me busy!), so I haven’t had much time to think about book #2. That said I’ve got a running list of ideas that I’ll flush out when the time comes. I’m inspired (as you may have gathered) by stories based on truth, and I love an underdog protagonist – someone faced with terrible odds, whom you can really cheer for, and whose story offers a big-picture understanding of a place or time with which you might be unfamiliar. I just saw the film Lion and left the theater teary-eyed and thinking WOW – now that’s exactly the kind of story I want to write about next.

About Georgia Hunter

Georgia Hunter, We Were the Lucky OnesFor as long as I can remember, I’ve loved to write. I penned my first “novel” when I was four years old, and titled it Charlie Walks the Beast after my father’s recently published sci-fi novel, Softly Walks the Beast. When I was eleven, I pitched an article—an Opinion piece on how I’d spend my last day if the world were about to come to an end—to the local newspaper. Since that debut in the Attleboro Sun Chronicle, my personal essays and photos have been featured in places like the New York Times “Why We Travel,” in travelgirl magazine, and on Equitrekking.com. I’ve also taken on the role of freelance copywriter in the world of adventure travel, crafting marketing materials for outfitters such as Austin Adventures and The Explorer’s Passage.

In 2000, a family reunion opened my eyes to the astounding war stories of my grandfather and his family. Eight years later, armed with a digital voice recorder and a moleskin notebook, I set off to unearth and record my family’s story. I spent nearly a decade traversing the globe, interviewing family and digging up records from every possible source I could think of, eventually piecing together the bones of what would become my novel, We Were the Lucky Ones.

I kept a blog as my research unfolded, which you are welcome to peruse. I’ve also created a list of ancestry search tips, should you consider embarking on a journey to uncover your own roots.

Learn more about Hunter on her Author Website, FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Purchase We Were the Lucky Ones from Amazon (affiliate link)!

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It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? (2/13/17)

February 13, 2017 It's Monday! What are you reading? 56

Hosted by The Book Date.

I think I’m getting my reading mojo back! I branched way out of my comfort zone last week with two genres I don’t normally read: psychological thrillers and sci-fi. Both were page turners and set me up nicely to return to something more in my comfort zone. I guess it pays to shake things up sometimes!

Also, my husband and I took a night away from the kids last weekend, which is always much appreciated and provided some good reading time in the hotel spa’s relaxation room.

This post contains affiliate links.

I finished reading…

Behind Her Eyes, Dark Matter


Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough (January 31, 2017)

I’ve been somewhat burned out by the psychological thriller genre and this book reminded me why. And – #WTFthatending is definitely a love it or hate it kind of thing. I’ll be sharing all my thoughts in an upcoming Spoiler Discussion post.
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Dark Matter by Black Crouch (July 26, 2016)
This was a library hold that unexpectedly came in…which is proving to be a good way to force myself to read the 2016 Books I Missed (this is the 4th book I’ve read from that list so far). Man, was this a page turner. It was completely out of my usual wheelhouse (I guess it’s technically sci-fi, but in the same accessible way The Martian is) and I had no idea what was going on for awhile, but not one bone in my body wanted to stop turning the pages.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

A Separation, Katie Mitamura


A Separation
 by Katie Kitamura (February 7, 2017)
I’m about 25% through this one and had lowered my expectations after reading some underwhelming Amazon reviews. But, I immediately loved the writing style and tone. I think this one will work for me…despite those haters on Amazon.

Upcoming reading plans…

Everything Belongs to Us, Yoojin Grace Wuertz


Everything Belongs to Us by Yoojin Grace Wuertz (February 28, 2017)
This debut novel about two South Korean women navigating their country’s economic revolution has been recommended for readers of Anthony Marra (author of The Tsar of Love and Techno).

I was reading…

One Year Ago: I was trying desperately to get out of a reading slump.

Two Years Ago: I was reading some just-OK books, but was about to pick up a massive winner!

How was your reading week?

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Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller: Slowly Revealing the Truth of a Marriage

February 9, 2017 Fiction 23

Swimming Lessons, Claire FullerFiction
Released February 7, 2017
356 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Tin House Books)

Headline

Though Swimming Lessons didn’t immediately grab me, its steady revelations about the Coleman marriage and increasing complexity eventually pulled me in.

Plot Summary

Swimming Lessons tells the story of the volatile marriage between famous author Gil Coleman and Ingrid…through letters Ingrid hid in Gil’s books prior to her disappearance and their daughters’ returns home to care for their ailing father.

Why I Read It

Claire Fuller’s debut novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, was one of my Best Debuts of 2015.

Major Themes

Marriage, family dysfunction, the writer’s life, motherhood, maintaining your identity through motherhood

What I Liked

  • The publisher’s blurb makes Swimming Lessons sound like it will be a mystery, but it’s actually an exploration of a troubled marriage. The “mystery” part of the story is somewhat ancillary and, once I wrapped my head around that, I enjoyed the book much more.
  • Swimming Lessons tackles a topic that is taboo even today and was even more frowned upon in the 70’s when Gil and Ingrid’s story began: not wanting and/or loving motherhood with every cell of your being and the conflicting feelings that come along with that.
  • I truly sunk into the second half of this book. As more layers of the Coleman’s marriage were peeled back, the story’s complexity grew, intriguing me more and more.
  • While not particularly surprising, the ending made sense and fit with the characters in the story, a type of ending that is becoming more and more appealing to me. And, it struck a perfect balance between tidying things up and leaving some questions unresolved / open to interpretation.
  • The potential discussion topics of marriage and motherhood and various interpretations of the ending make Swimming Lessons a compelling choice for book clubs.

What I Didn’t Like

  • Swimming Lessons did not immediately grab me. It’s a book that slowly peels back the layers of a marriage and it took lots of those layers being revealed for me to really get invested in the story.
  • Some of the revelations (yes, they are more revelations than twists) were not surprising, but their inevitability fit with the story.
  • One element of this story has been told before and I kind of rolled my eyes that this particular trope was popping up yet again.
  • I didn’t love Swimming Lessons quite as much as Our Endless Numbered Days…the writing sparkled a tad less and the plot was a touch more predictable.

A Defining Quote

I tried to tell you that I didn’t want it, wasn’t ready, might never be ready, but you put your finger on my lips and said, “Marry me’, and all those plans of creating my own category and giving you up after the summer disappeared like a wisp of sea mist under the relentless energy of your sun.

Good for People Who Like…

Dysfunctional families, marriage, dislikable characters, motherhood, secrets / betrayal, fathers and daughters, character-driven stories, gradual revelations of characters’ backgrounds

Other Books You May Like

Other books that untangle the truth behind a marriage:
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (review)

The Wife by Meg Wolitzer (review)

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January 2017 Monthly Round-Up

February 7, 2017 Monthly Round-Ups 18

January 2017 Monthly Round-Up
This post contains affiliate links and I will make a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

January Reading / Life

  • And…we have a very late January round-up! I changed up last week’s posting schedule at the last minute, so the round-up got pushed to this week. I promise there will be better planning next month.
  • My 2017 reading kicked off with a bit of a lackluster month…even though I read 11 books, which is more than I usually finish. Quantity rather than quality in general.
  • I liked many of my 2017 reads (The SleepwalkerThe Most Dangerous Place on Earth, Always Happy Hour, and Swimming Lessons), but none of them completely blew my mind. And, The Futures was just a flat out dud.
  • I read/listened to 3 books from my Ten 2016 Books I Missed list (Imagine Me Gone, Adnan’s Story, and Mothering Sunday) and liked them all. Plus, one was this month’s Best Book of the Month!
  • Two of my audiobooks were misses: The Almost Nearly Perfect People, which I think might have been more successful in book form, and Relentless Spirit (Olympic gold medal swimmer Missy Franklin’s memoir), which just shouldn’t have been written in the first place (at least at this point in her life).
  • I also got all introspective about the state of this blog (here and here) and shared that I’d be trying some new things in the coming months. The first “new thing” is a monthly feature commenting on the Book of the Month Club selections…and sharing which book(s) I would choose. Check out my commentary on the February selections!

Best Book of the Month

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift (April 19, 2016)
Fiction, 192 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

February Releases I’m Excited About

A Separation by Katie Kitamura (February 7)
Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller (February 7)
We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter (February 14)
The Brain Defense by Kevin Davis (February 28)

Most Popular January Posts

Eight Underrated Gems of 2016
My Most Anticipated DEBUTS of Winter 2017
Ten 2016 Books I Missed

Favorite Posts by Fellow Bloggers

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