Sarah’s Book Shelves Turns 4…and How My Reading Habits Have Changed Since

March 10, 2017 Discussions 55

how my reading habits have changed

I’ve never paid much attention to my blog “anniversary” before, but there’s always a first time for everything! I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for four years now. Some days I still feel like the new kid on the block (and I am compared to some bloggers).

I’ve been reflecting lately on how my reading taste and habits have changed since starting this blog and thought the anniversary of Sarah’s Book Shelves was an appropriate time to share how becoming immersed in the book world has broadened my horizons considerably…making my reading habits fairly unrecognizable compared to my pre-blogging days.

I never anticipated how much I would enjoy being a part of the book world, talking and writing about books, interacting with so many fellow reading nerds, recommending the right book to the right people at the right time, thinking creatively about where to take the blog next, and helping all of you solve your book and reading problems!

Thank you all for hanging with me all this time!

How my reading habits have changed since starting this blog

I read much more widely and diversely…
I’m now willing to give most any type of book a try. I’ve added short stories to my repertoire and have had some successful forays into dystopian (Station Eleven, my review) and science fiction (The Martian, Dark Matter). I’ve also ventured into more esoteric literary fiction that I never would have touched before starting this blog and become more aware of reading stories that are different from my own life.

I’m more focused on a book’s writing and intangibles…
A book’s style has become more important to me at the expense of plot. Nothing feels better than realizing a book’s style is for you within the first few pages. But, on the flip side, it’s harder to use publisher’s blurbs (which are generally focused on plot) to predict which books you will connect with.

I’m reading more new releases than ever before…
The buzz surrounding a hotly anticipated new release is intoxicating. And it’s fun to be in the know about all the shiny, new books (and to be able to recommend them to people). But, it also means I’m reading less backlist than I used to. I’m working on finding a balance that includes lots of new releases, but also leaves room for backlist books (putting those backlist books on hold at the library is helping!).

I’ve started quitting (aka DNFing) books that aren’t holding my attention…
I’m a “check-the-box” kind of girl, so prior to blogging I finished every single book I started. What a waste of time this was! I wish I could go back and start DNFing books years earlier. There are just too many great books out there to waste time on books that aren’t satisfying you in some way.

I now greatly appreciate short, tight books…
I used to love those massive chunksters that can double as doorstops (I even have a whole recommendation list devoted to them). I didn’t care if it took me a month to read one book. Now I feel like I’m missing out on so many other books by devoting that much time to just one. It has to really knock my socks off to be worth it. The last book that did that was A Little Life (my review). 

I now read with an eye towards recommending books…
I’m not just reading for me anymore. I’m constantly thinking about who else might like the book I’m reading and what other books are similar to it. This shift in thinking recently led to a list of Books That Aren’t For Everyone…But WERE For Me.

I’m more conscious of fitting reading in every single chance I get…
If I have a free minute (and I mean a literal minute), I try to pull out my Kindle. While stretching at the gym, while waiting in line at the grocery store, if I’m a few minutes early to pick my children up from school, etc. 

How have your reading habits changed over time?

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Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach: The Book I’ll Be Recommending to Absolutely Everyone

March 7, 2017 Fiction 24

Dead Letters, Caite Dolan-LeachFiction – Debut
Released February 21, 2017
353 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (published by Random House)


This debut novel has absolutely everything and is one I’ll be recommending to just about everyone I know for a long time.

Plot Summary

When Ava Antipova gets word that her wild twin sister (Zelda) is dead, she leaves her Paris graduate program to return to her family’s vineyard in upstate New York…only to find circumstances surrounding her sister’s death that are a bit off and a message from Zelda.

Why I Read It

I never would have picked up this book on my own (I’m not a fan of the title or the cover and the premise of the story is not particularly appealing)…but Catherine at Gilmore Guide (whose reading taste I trust implicitly) said I absolutely must read it.

Major Themes

Dysfunctional families, alcoholism, degenerative illness, twins

What I Loved

  • It’s rare that I find a book I can comfortably categorize as “literary” AND “brain candy.” These are my favorite kinds of books to discover and are the ones I feel like I can recommend to anyone at any time. Dead Letters is the first book I’ve read in awhile that fits this description.
  • I knew within the first two paragraphs that I would love this book. Ava’s voice spoke to me immediately and I would later discover the crackling dialogue and snarky, occasionally morbid humor that’s right up my alley.

He has rented a flashy convertible, of course. My dad likes to travel in style, regardless of finances, seemliness, tact. He tends to think of any economic restriction as a dead-letter issue, a rule that does not apply to him.

  • It’s a mystery and a dysfunctional family novel (two of my favorite things) all wrapped up into one ball of alcohol-soaked perfection. There is a crime, but it’s not the center of the story. Rather, it’s a device that helps unravel the twisted dynamics of Zelda and Ava’s relationship (and their relationship with their parents), which is what this book is truly about. And I can add it to my list of winning novels that have a “crime that is not the center of the story” (My Sunshine Away, Every Last One, and Only Love Can Break Your Heart).
  • Dead Letters has almost all of my favorite fiction elements: a perfectly paced plot, a dysfunctional family, a mystery, great writing, snarky humor, and depth. I don’t think I’ve come across a novel as jam packed with elements that are so firmly in my wheelhouse in quite a while.
  • It’s a book that is fun, yet dark and morbid at the same time. There is a delightfully demented scavenger hunt that strings the reader right along for the ride, yet death and loss permeates the entire story.
  • There’s a sly Friday Night Lights reference!
  • This is a book that you just need to pick up and read. Don’t bother learning a ton about the plot beforehand…going in blind adds to the fun.

What I Didn’t Like

  • I HATE the cover and am not a huge fan of the title. Both make Dead Letters look like it will be type of book that’s compared to Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train, then inevitably doesn’t live up to either. Though Dead Letters does have some similarities, it’s it’s own kind of wonderful.
  • I also think the publisher’s blurb gives away far too much information about the plot.

A Defining Quote

Maybe because we were twins, we sought a way to differentiate, to oh so rigorously sketch out our borders. You needed to say, to speak the ways you were different. I’m Ava, I’m the ambitious one; that’s Zelda, she’s the messy one. As though you could determine your own story, secure the ending you wanted through obsessive narration.

Good for People Who Like…

Stories about sisters (particularly twins), stories about mothers and daughters, dysfunctional families, accessible writing, unexpectedly funny, snarky humor.

Other Books You May Like

Another deeply dysfunctional family novel that involves a family member returning home:
The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

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It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? (3/6/17)

March 6, 2017 It's Monday! What are you reading? 18

Hosted by The Book Date.

I followed up one dysfunctional family with an even more dysfunctional one in last week’s reading…then moved on to dysfunctional neighbors. But, my sizzling reading streak is still going strong…fingers crossed it continues!

If you’re interested in signing up for Book of the Month Club, the March selections are fantastic (they include 2 of my favorite books I read in February)! Selections are due TODAY at 7 pm EST.

This post contains affiliate links.

I finished reading…

The Roanoke Girls, Amy Engel

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel (March 7, 2017)
This is the kind of book that I was almost embarrassed to be reading, but also could not put down. The premise is a bit preposterous, but I had to find out what was going to happen with quite possibly the most demented family I’ve come across in fiction (and that’s saying a lot). PS – that premise is super creepy and could be a huge turn-off for some people.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

Woman Next Door, Yewande Omotoso

The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso (February 7, 2017)
I’m 65% through this U.S. debut novel about two next door neighbors in South Africa that hate each other and it’s full of the snarky humor I love.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Upcoming reading plans…

Fall of Lisa Bellow, Susan Perabo

The Fall of Lisa Bellow
 by Susan Perabo (March 14, 2017)
I loved Susan Perabo’s short story collection, Why They Run the Way They Do (my review), and have been anticipating her debut novel. It’s about the girl who is left behind when a classmate is abducted.

I was reading…

One Year Ago: Pat Conroy had just passed away and I’d fittingly just finished reading another Southern novel.

Two Years Ago: I was trying to cover from A Little Life with a YA novel (it didn’t work).

How was your reading week?

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February 2017 Monthly Round-Up

March 3, 2017 Monthly Round-Ups 18

February 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.

February Reading / Life

  • My 2017 reading kicked into gear in February with a number of super high quality books! Literally four of my February books could have been my Best Book of January.
  • I adored the writing and emotional tension of A Separation and All Grown Up, but they are the kind of books that I realize won’t appeal to everyone…consequently inspiring my 12 Books That Aren’t For Everyone…But WERE For Me list.
  • I read two page turners in February; one was a winner (Dark Matter, enabling me to check 4 books off my 2016 Books I Missed list!) and one not so much (Behind Her Eyes, but I did get a Spoiler Discussion post out of it).
  • My audiobooks were so-so: The Unwinding by George Packer didn’t offer much new insight, Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There by David Brooks was mildly entertaining, and The Valley of the Gods: A Silicon Valley Story (about Silicon Valley culture) was fairly interesting, but didn’t leave a lasting impression.
  • And, I think I’ll be recommending This Is How It Always Is and Dead Letters to many people for the foreseeable future.
  • I attended my first author event (I know, that’s kind of ridiculous) for my friend, Georgia Hunter and her astounding novel, We Were the Lucky Ones. It was fantastic to hear Georgia discuss her novel with Thomas Kail (director of Hamilton) and meet some of her family members whose stories she told in her novel.
  • Book of the Month Club selections are due on Monday…don’t forget to get yours in or sign up for a subscription if you want to get in for March (and you should because this month’s selections are particularly awesome)! Check out my commentary on the this month’s selections, including which book I’d choose.
  • Finally, I spent a big chunk of February trying to heal my thrown out back. After a couple weeks of physical therapy, massage, and rest, I’m finally starting to feel better! I’m still not back to running or intense workouts, but will hopefully be there soon.

Best Books of the Month

My Favorite Book of the Month

Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach (February 21, 2017)
Fiction, 353 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

PS – last year’s Best Book of February was Tender by Belinda McKeon (my review)…also one of my favorites of 2016!

Best Selling Book of the Month (via my affiliate links)

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter (author Q&A)

March Releases I’m Excited About

All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg (March 7)
The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler (March 7)
The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo (March 14)
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti (March 28)

Most Popular February Posts

Behind Her Eyes and THAT Ending: Spoiler Discussion
12 Books That Aren’t For Everyone…But WERE For Me
Book of the Month Club February 2017 Selections: What Would I Choose? (my commentary on the March selections is also up)

Favorite Posts by Fellow Bloggers

How was your reading month?

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

March 1, 2017 Book Recommendations 27

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.

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 20

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)


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 68

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.
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