If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio: The Dark Campus Novel I’ve Been Craving

April 27, 2017 Fiction 16

If We Were Villains, ML RioFiction – Debut
Released April 11, 2017
352 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (published by G.P. Putnam)


If We Were Villains is the dark campus novel I’ve been craving ever since loving Christopher J. Yates’s Black Chalk three years ago…and is one of my favorite books of 2017 so far.

Plot Summary

After spending ten years in prison, Oliver Marks is ready to tell the story of the tragedy that happened to his seven best friends and fellow Shakespeare theatre students during their fourth year at Dellecher, an intense Conservatory for the arts. 

Why I Read It

Susie at Novel Visits recommended this book and compared it to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History (which I loved). Plus, I’m a complete sucker for campus novels, especially dark ones.

Major Themes

Friendship, Shakespeare, Secrets / Betrayal

What I Loved

  • If We Were Villains is a dark, sinister, Gothic campus novel jam-packed with emotional tension. The dynamics between Oliver and his group of friends are incredibly complicated and constantly shifting, resulting in nail-biting suspense. After the 20% mark, I could not put this book down!
  • The story kicks off with a Prologue that made me think A) I’m dying to know what happened to this group of friends ten years ago and B) I’m pretty sure it’s going to be really messed up.
  • Though I have mixed feelings about all the Shakespeare in this book (see “What I Didn’t Like” below), I do think the general theme contributed to much of the book’s Gothic feel and made what could be interpreted as mundane friendship dynamics feel much more sinister. I just knew that one of these people was going to become believably capable of doing something monstrous.
  • What ended up happening with the Dellecher fourth years was surprising (particularly how it went down), but absolutely made sense within the context of the story. I could see how each player ended up in the role (obligatory acting pun!) they did.

What I Didn’t Like

  • References to and excerpts from Shakespeare’s plays are incorporated throughout this book. The students pepper their own conversations with Shakespeare one-liners, discuss the plays in class, and refer to themes from the plays in their daily lives. I admit I’m not a fan of Shakespeare and find his language kind of unintelligible, so this initially annoyed me. Just before the 20% mark, I actually considered putting the book down. However, I’m so relieved I kept going. I realized that you don’t have to pay close attention to the Shakespeare excerpts or really understand them to get invested in the story. So, don’t let a wariness of Shakespeare deter you from reading this!

A Defining Quote

Actors are by nature volatile – alchemic creatures composed of incendiary elements, emotion and ego and envy. Heat them up, stir them together, and sometimes you get gold. Sometimes disaster.

Good for People Who Like…

Campus Novels, Friendship, Shakespeare, Secrets / Betrayal, Dark Stories

Other Books You May Like

More dark, sinister campus novels:
Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates
The Secret History by Donna Tartt

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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 28

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!

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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).

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? (4/24/17)

April 24, 2017 It's Monday! What are you reading? 25

The limited time free trial of Personalized Book Recommendations from Sarah’s Book Shelves is now OPEN! I’ve been cranking out personalized recommendations for the past few days…turns out this is fun! I’ve got you covered for Mother’s or Father’s Day gifts, book club recommendations, or the perfect book for yourself! Sign-up here!

Last week, I dug into May releases…with some hits and misses. I also read my first hardcover book (Startup) in at least a year and was reminded that reading hardcovers is completely cumbersome and doesn’t fit my current read-on-the-go lifestyle! Miraculously, I still really enjoyed the book.

And, I’ve apparently become so disenchanted by American thrillers (I’ve been craving a great one and keep getting disappointed) that I’ve now gone abroad. I’m attempting French and Australian thrillers this week. If these work, I might never come home…

Hosted by The Book Date.

This post contains affiliate links.

I finished reading…

The Takedown, Startup

The Takedown by Corrie Wang (April 11, 2017)
This is the first YA novel I’ve enjoyed in years…it’s unique, fun, juicy, and provides an interesting/terrifying look at where technology and social media could go! Look for it on my 2017 Summer Reading Guide (coming in mid-May).
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Startup by Doree Shafrir (April 25, 2017)
Startup was my second book in a row involving the technology world and was a fun, easy read with biting social commentary, which I always love.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

Based on a True Story, Delphine de Vigan

Based on a True Story
 by Delphine de Vigan (May 9, 2017)
I’m about halfway through this French (it’s sold 500,000 copies in France!) psychological thriller about an author and a toxic friendship that is, like the title says, based on a true story. Man, is it creepy! I’m dying to know how this all plays out.
Affiliate Link: Pre-Order from Amazon

I tried, but wasn’t feeling…

The Leavers, No One Can Pronounce my Name
The Goodreads reviews for both these books are generally positive, so there’s a chance I could go back to them if someone I trust raves about them. But, based on their openings, I decided not to be the guinea pig.

The Leavers by Lisa Ko (May 2, 2017)
I thought I would enjoy this highly anticipated debut about a boy who grows up with white parents after his biological mother (an undocumented Chinese immigrant) goes missing, but I had a hard time connecting with the characters and kept zoning out. DNF at 13%.

No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal (May 2, 2017)
This novel about a community of Indian Americans living in Cleveland was billed as being funny, but I didn’t get that at all. Granted, I didn’t make it very far, but I also kept zoning out as I was reading…never a good sign.

Upcoming reading plans…

The Dry, Jane Harper

The Dry
 by Jane Harper (January 10, 2017)
After months and months, my library hold finally came in for this Australian mystery that’s gotten tons of buzz…just in time to possibly be included in my Summer Reading Guide!

I was reading…

One Year Ago: Yikes! A bunch of blah books and general flailing!

Two Years Ago: Read what might end up being one of my all-time favorite books!

How was your reading week?

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Get Free Personalized Book Recommendations For A Limited Time Only!

April 20, 2017 Book Recommendations 3

Personalized Book Recommendations

Get free personalized book recommendations from an actual human. 
Read however you want (i.e. e-books, audiobooks, etc).
Purchase or borrow from any store or library you want.
Save time.

Are you looking for the perfect book to give as a Mother’s or Father’s Day gift? Or just the perfect book for yourself?

Do you want personalized book recommendations, but don’t have the time to visit an independent bookstore, the library or browse the bookish Internet/social media?

I’ve got you covered!

I’ve been an avid reader for most of my life and have been writing about books for over four years. I’ve read hundreds of books that are just waiting to be recommended to the right people.

Sarah’s Book Shelves is offering free personalized book recommendations for a limited time.

How does it work?

I provide book recommendations (not the actual books) based on your personal taste. You purchase or borrow the book(s) in whatever format (e-book, audiobook, hardcover, etc) you choose from the store of your choice.

All you need to do is fill out a brief questionnaire to submit your recommendation request and I’ll get back to with 2-3 fantastic books that fit your criteria!

Full Disclosure

I’m offering this service at no charge as a trial for a paid personalized book recommendation service. 

Anyone who participates in this free trial will receive a special discount if you sign-up for the eventual paid service.


I’m A Sucker: Ten Things That Will Instantly Make Me Want to Read A Book

April 18, 2017 Top Ten Tuesday 36

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

There are definitely certain book characteristics that I’m a total sucker for. Sometimes with glorious results and sometimes not so much. Regardless of the results, when it comes to these ten things, I’m that girl that continues “doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.” (Albert Einstein)

This post contains affiliate links.

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

It’s a campus novel…
Years ago, I had great success with these (The Secret HistoryBlack Chalk)…then I went through a major dry spell (The Half Brother). Thankfully, my latest attempt was a winner (If We Were Villains).

It’s described as “irreverent”…
I love me some snarky, irreverent humor (in real life and in my reading). ReunionDead Letters, and Home Is Burning are somewhat recent winners in this category!

It’s a novel involving sports…
I love reading underdog sports stories and athlete’s memoirs, but the holy grail is a substantial novel that seamlessly includes sports in its plot (think The Unraveling of Mercy Louis, You Will Know Me, The Art of Fielding).

And one notch better, the main character is a badass female athlete…
Sadly, these novels are fewer and farther between than I’d like, but You Will Know Me, My Sunshine Away, and The Unraveling of Mercy Louis currently take the cake.

It involves a dysfunctional family…
I know you’re all shocked to find this one here! There are too many scandalous dysfunctional family novels to list here, but the last one I loved was Dead Letters.

It involves wealthy people behaving badly…
This category is hit and miss for me…and the key to hitting is having a character that’s somewhat outside the wealthy bubble that can provide biting social commentary on the antics of the wealthy (Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, Truman Capote in The Swans of Fifth Avenue, and Mabel Dagmar in Bittersweet).

It features demented high school students…
Another hit (The Fever, You Will Know Me, Reconstructing Amelia) and miss (Girls on Fire) category that thankfully has hit more than missed this year with The Most Dangerous Place on Earth, The Takedown, and The Fall of Lisa Bellow). 

It’s compared to Pat Conroy…
This is pretty rare, but if I saw one I’d grab it immediately!

It’s described as having great writing and being a page turner…
Another rare find. But, Shelter hit the spot for me on this front last year.

It explores the themes of marriage and/or motherhood…
These are “stage of life” timely themes for me. 

What will sucker you into instantly wanting to read a particular book?

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It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? (4/17/17)

April 17, 2017 It's Monday! What are you reading? 18

I was visiting family last week in Virginia and we got some gloriously warm weather! It reminded me how much I miss Spring (we haven’t really had a true Spring the last few years where I live). We did some Easter egg hunting, my son played a ton of basketball (his new obsession) and I got some good reading in.

Right now, I’m trying to cram in a final few possibilities for the Summer Reading Guide (which will be coming out in mid-May), so I’m focused on lighter books.

And, the limited time free trial of Personalized Book Recommendations from Sarah’s Book Shelves will launch this Thursday! If you’re looking for a fantastic book to give to your mom or dad for Mother’s / Father’s Day, I can help you with that! If you’re just looking for the perfect book for yourself, I can help with that too! Look for a blog post on Thursday with sign-up information.

Hosted by The Book Date.

This post contains affiliate links.

I finished reading…

If We Were Villains, Anything is Possible

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio (April 11, 2017)

If you loved The Secret History and/or Black Chalk, buy this book immediately! It’s the dark campus novel I’ve been craving ever since reading Black Chalk a couple years ago (bonus if you love Shakespeare, but not necessary at all to love this book). Review to come.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout (April 25, 2017)
This companion book to My Name Is Lucy Barton grew on me the farther I read and reminded me how much I enjoy the beautiful simplicity of Strout’s writing. A great pick for fan’s of Lucy Barton, but you do not need to have read Lucy Barton to enjoy these stories! Also a great choice for someone who is new to short stories.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

The Takedown, Corrie Wang

The Takedown by Corrie Wang (April 11, 2017)
This is the first YA novel I’ve read in ages and it’s totally addictive! I’d categorize it as demented high school students set in the near future with a focus on social media and technology.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Upcoming reading plans…

Startup, Doree Shafrir

 by Doree Shafrir (April 25, 2017)
This tech world satire was my April Book of the Month selection and I’m hoping it will make a good addition to my 2017 Summer Reading Guide.

I was reading…

One Year Ago: I was smack in the middle of a reading slump.

Two Years Ago: I’d just finished the very looong sequel to Greg Iles’ Natchez Burning.

How was your reading week?

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The Wanderers by Meg Howrey: The Most Unique Book I’ve Read This Year

April 13, 2017 Fiction 27

The Wanderers, Meg HowreyFiction
Released March 14, 2017
384 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (published by G.P. Putnam)


The Wanderers will appeal to fans of Andy Weir’s The Martian (my review), but manages to be its own thing entirely in a more psychological, less page-turnery way…and is the most unique book I’ve read all year.

Plot Summary

Prime Space (a private space exploration company) puts Helen, Sergei, and Yoshi (the meticulously selected crew for Prime’s first manned mission to Mars) through an incredibly life-like, seventeen months-long simulation (called Eidolon) of the mission.

Why I Read It

I really liked The Martian and Station Eleven (two books The Wanderers has been compared to) and heard good reports from Rebecca Schinsky on Book Riot’s All the Books podcast and from Michelle at That’s What She Read.

Major Themes

Space travel, psychological implications of long separations from family, how people behave when they’re being monitored 24/7, extreme stress

What I Loved

  • The Wanderers is first and foremost a story about getting the astronauts psychologically ready for a Mission to Mars, which takes years. They must get used to isolation from the world, living in cramped quarters for long periods of time with their 3-person crew, the physical affects of the mission, and the extreme pressure to perform perfectly or risk death.
  • Early on, you get glimpses of the tiny ways each astronaut is hiding personality deficiencies that, if really explored, could possibly compromise their spots on the crew. And, part of the suspense of the story is wondering if and/or how these will eventually blow up.
  • I loved getting the perspectives of each astronaut’s family and the impact of the astronauts’ stature and long absences on the families left behind. Each family deals with this in a different way…from a daughter who finds it difficult to live in her successful mother’s shadow to a son who starts acting out to a wife who questions whether she misses her husband at all.

If her mother goes to Mars, then that will be the only story of Mireille’s life. It will wipe out everything. Mireille wants to stay with that thought a little, but promises herself she will return to it later, when she has more time to savor how awful it is.

  • I’ve realized lately that I love snarky humor, especially when it’s somewhat unexpected. Let me stress that The Wanderers is not a funny book. But, there is very subtle humor and I especially appreciated what I’ll call the “corporate snark” (i.e. making fun of the “drink the Koolaid” vibe of Prime Space).

Nobody is allowed to say the words crash or explosion within a ten-kilometer radius of Prime Space. Suggested alternatives are: RUSE (Rapid Unplanned Separation Event) and learning experience.

  • I’d be remiss not to address the comparison to The Martian. What The Wanderers is and what it isn’t. It’s less scientific, there is far less on-the-edge-of-your-seat action (after all, this crew is in a simulator…they’re not actually risking death), it’s far more psychological, and you will recognize terms and some of the science from The Martian (“sol”, anyone?). It also as some weird Mary Roach-style scientific anecdotes about space (i.e. they recycle poop into the lining of the spacecraft as a barrier against cosmic radiation).
  • I’m not particularly interested in space or Mars, but Howrey made it fascinating for me by focusing on the psychology (how to pick the team, personality traits that are valuable, how those traits translate into good or bad things in the real world, and how people behave when monitored 24/7).  She truly made me appreciate the wonder of being in space even though this crew never left the ground.

What I Didn’t Like

  • The Wanderers has been knocked in reviews for moving at a glacial pace and lacking action. It’s true, there isn’t a ton of action and certainly nothing like the pace of The Martian. But, I disagree that nothing happens. These astronauts and their families go on a psychological journey, coming out different people than they were going in. There are definitely some slow points and times where the story veers off onto philosophical tangents, but they didn’t dampen my love for this book.

A Defining Quote

There are many things that can go wrong in the first minutes of leaving Earth and most of them come with a decision-making window of less than five seconds. If you are an astronaut it means that you are someone who can assess and react quickly. If you are a great astronaut it means that while your mental and physical reactions operate at top speed, your emotional reactions are stately and glacial. The combination that works best is someone who only needs four seconds to get to: This is what we need to do, and four months to get to: Gee, I’m a little bit uncomfortable.

Good for People Who Like…

Space, Mars, stories about mothers and daughters, stories about fathers and sons, unconventional families, gorgeous writing, unexpected humor, snarky humor, style books.

Other Books You May Like

Another novel about humans on Mars:
The Martian by Andy Weir

A nonfiction book about the scientific oddities of space:
Packing for Mars by Mary Roach

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How to Ask for Book Recommendations…So You Find Books You’ll Love

April 11, 2017 Book Recommendations 14

How to Ask for Book Recommendations

Last week, I announced that I would be trying out a personalized book recommendations service for a limited time.

While creating this service, I’ve thought a lot about how to give the best book recommendations possible…which in turn got me thinking about how to ask for book recommendations so you’ll have the best chance of finding a book that fits your personal taste. So, I thought I’d share my thoughts!

Most importantly, know yourself and your reading taste.

The clearer you can be about your reading tastes and preferences, the better book recommendations you will get!

Beyond what books and authors you like and don’t like, pay attention to why you like (or don’t like) a particular book or author. You’ll be surprised at the patterns you’ll find! Beyond knowing you like a certain genre, think about what you like or don’t like about books in that genre. These revelations can then be applied across all genres and help you expand your reading horizons in a more purposeful way.

For example, I’ve had trouble with mysteries and thrillers lately. I’ve figured out it’s because they can seem formulaic after awhile, rely more on plot than writing or style, and generally have “shocking” twists and/or endings that are either A) not surprising or B) so surprising that I roll my eyes at the ridiculousness.

Consider how you feel about key literary elements.

I’ve found that certain characteristics of books are much more important than a book’s topic in determining the right fit.

  • Length
    Are you open to chunky books (more than 400 pages) or do you prefer something short?
  • Plot vs. Style
    Do you need a propulsive plot to love a book or can you also enjoy quieter books that have gorgeous writing? Obviously, it’s ideal to have both, but many books don’t.
  • Likable / Relatable Characters
    Can you enjoy a book that has predominantly dislikable characters or do dislikable characters kill a book for you? Do you have to relate to at least one character to love the book?
  • The Happiness Factor
    Do you like to read books that are light and happy? Or at least end up that way? Do you mind emotional gut-wrenchers and/or books with dark storylines?
  • Humor
    Humor is a tough one, as it’s such a personal thing. Everyone finds different things funny and what one person finds funny, another could find offensive. How do you feel about inappropriate humor? Morbid humor? Gross-out humor? Snarky humor?
  • Endings
    Do you like your endings to resolve all the big questions (or, as I like to call it, “tied up neatly with a bow”)? Or, can you still be satisfied with an ending that leaves things somewhat unresolved?

Figure out what types of “outside of your comfort zone” books you might be willing to try.

I’ve had some good luck venturing outside of my literary fiction comfort zone lately. I’ve read a couple fascinating Science Fiction books and some gorgeous short story collections, both of which are outside of my wheelhouse. I know that I can carefully venture into these two genres for books that come recommended from trusted sources.

I’m also pretty comfortable in the fact that romance novels, fantasy series, and cozy mysteries are probably not going to work for me.

And, the answer to this question for you could very well be none, which is completely fine. But, at least you’ll know the answer!

Keep a record of your reading.

Some readers may know exactly what types of books they like and how they feel about the key literary elements I mentioned above. But, it’s perfectly fine if you don’t!

To get a handle on your personal reading taste, try keeping a record (spreadsheet, journal, scrap paper, whatever works for you!) of the books you like and why you liked them (and do the same for books you don’t like) for a month or two. Look for patterns in your likes and dislikes across books.

Now it’s time to put this to the test!
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It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? (4/10/17)

April 10, 2017 It's Monday! What are you reading? 35

Oh my gosh, what a frustrating reading week! I DNF’d two books and one audiobook (Anna Kendrick’s memoir, Scrappy Little Nobody) and have just found myself generally distracted and unable to find books that actually stick. Thankfully, I finally got my act together towards the end of the week, but only after feeling like I spun my wheels during days of precious reading time!

I did finish S-Town (the new podcast from the producers of Serial) and, man, was that good! It turned out to be quite different than I expected, but no less captivating. I also watched the first episode of HBO’s Big Little Lies. I resisted because I hated the book, but was assured the series was darker and more focused on the parents’ deeply messed up personal issues (rather than mommy politics). And, the first episode definitely stood up to this description! I’m in for the duration!

I also saw Ariel Levy, author of the memoir The Rules Do Not Apply (which I loved), speak at our local library this weekend. I met her and of course chickened out on asking her for a picture. I need some serious lessons on how to attend author events! She was a super engaging speaker and her personality was exactly what you would expect based on her book.

Hosted by The Book Date.

This post contains affiliate links.

I finished reading…

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, Kathleen Rooney

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney (January 17, 2017)
Delightful, playful, whimsical, and nostalgic. It’s a very New York book and Lillian is quite a New York character. One of those unique kinds of historical fiction novels that I really enjoy!
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

If We Were Villains, ML Rio

If We Were Villains
 by M.L. Rio (April 11, 2017)
Finally…campus novel that I’m loving (thank you, Susie at Novel Visits, for the recommendation)! I’m about over three quarters of the way through this debut and, after a rocky beginning with an overload of Shakespeare excerpts, I now can’t put it down. Think The Secret History and Black Chalk
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I tried, but wasn’t feeling…

Marlena, Julie Buntin

Marlena by Julie Buntin (April 4, 2017)
Though I really loved the first chapter of this debut, I kept zoning out after that point and put it aside around 30%. Yet another recent book I’m in the minority on…

Upcoming reading plans…

Anything is Possible, Elizabeth Strout

Anything Is Possible
 by Elizabeth Strout (April 25, 2017)
I’ve been long awaiting this companion book to My Name Is Lucy Barton (one of my favorite books of 2016). Fingers crossed it lives up to Lucy Barton!

I was reading…

One Year Ago: I was reading a book that everyone but me loved.

Two Years Ago: I was reading the very long sequel to Natchez Burning.

How was your reading week?

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Read One, Skip One: The Fall of Lisa Bellow and The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley

April 6, 2017 Mini Book Reviews 17

Fall of Lisa Bellow, Susan PeraboThe Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo
Fiction – Debut (
Released March 14, 2017)
352 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link:
Source: Publisher (Simon & Schuster)

Plot Summary: After Meredith Oliver witnesses the abduction of a her classmate (but not necessarily friend), Lisa Bellow, she and her entire family struggle to process the impact of being the one left behind.

My Thoughts: I adored Susan Perabo’s short story collection, Why They Run the Way They Do (my review), so was thrilled to hear her first full length novel was coming out this year. While I still prefer Why They Run the Way They Do, The Fall of Lisa Bellow is a psychologically suspenseful novel that gets to the nasty little heart of things (thank you, Catherine!), a type of story I’m always game for. This story is not about what happened to Lisa Bellow, but about the survivors and survivor’s guilt. It’s about the often ungenerous, but brutally honest thoughts, of those who escaped the worst. And, it’s about the minefield of life as a middle school girl. Perabo’s biting portrayal of middle school made me alternately chuckle and cringe…just like actual middle school.

Lisa looked at her. There was the look. This was why everyone hated her. This was why middle school girls had stomachaches when they woke up in the morning. This was why girls were afraid to read the next text, or turn the corner into the cafeteria. This was why Jules could think, why they all could think, all the girls who were not her friends, why they could all secretly think: Good riddance.

My major gripe lies with the publisher’s blurb, which calls The Fall of Lisa Bellow “gripping” and “suspenseful,” leading readers to expect a page turner. The suspense here is the emotional type rather than “what happens next” type, and readers going in expecting the latter will likely be disappointed. I’d call it more of a coming of age novel with a crime in the background than a page turning mystery.

Twelve Lives of Samuel HawleyThe Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti
Fiction (
Released March 28, 2017)
400 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it.
Affiliate Link: Amazon
Source: Publisher (The Dial Press)

Plot Summary: Following a life of crime, Samuel Hawley and his daughter (Loo) move back to Loo’s mother’s hometown of Olympus, Massachusetts, where Loo begins to unravel her father’s past and how her mother died.

My Thoughts: This novel has gotten a ton of pre-publication hype and two fellow bloggers whose tastes I usually agree with loved it (Novel Visits, It’s Tara Leigh). It was also marketed as a coming of age novel / thriller, which sounded right up my alley. Unfortunately, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley was just okay for me and I’m having trouble understanding all the hype.

The story alternates between Loo and Samuel navigating life in Olympus (the “coming of age” portion of the story) and chapters explaining each one of Samuel’s twelve bullet scars (the “thriller” portion of the story), with the two threads converging towards the end. I enjoyed the coming of age aspect (Loo/Samuel sections) of this structure, but after multiple “thriller” chapters (i.e. the bullet sections), I started to get bored with all the violence. With an exception or two, these chapters seemed senseless and the stories began to run together in my head. By the 75% mark, I began skimming just to find out how things would end.

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