Tag: Fiction

Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid: Don’t Skip It Just Because You’re Not a Music Fan

March 19, 2019 Fiction 14

Daisy Jones and the SixFiction – Literary
Released March 5, 2019
368 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Book of the Month (Ballantine Books)

Headline

I almost didn’t read Daisy Jones & the Six because I’m not that interested in music, but I couldn’t put it down and it will absolutely be one of my top books of 2019.

Plot Summary

Daisy Jones & the Six, a hot 1970’s rock n’ roll band, mysteriously broke up after a Chicago concert. This is the story of their rise and fall, told in an oral history format.

Why I Read It

I almost didn’t read it…because music isn’t really my thing. What a mistake that would’ve been! But, so many people I trust (Gilmore Guide to Books, Novel Visits, Annie Jones and Ashley Spivey) loved it that I decided to give it a shot. I also like the oral history format.

Major Themes

Music industry, love, addiction, creativity, group dynamics, life on the road.

What I Loved

  • I almost didn’t read this book because music is not my thing at all. But, Reid made the process of making music and the industry dynamics fascinating. In my opinion, the mark of a brilliant author is one who can make almost any topic exciting to the reader…whether or not the reader is interested in that topic (other examples for me are classical music in The Ensemble, rowing in The Boys in the Boat, and ice hockey in Beartown).
  • The book opens with a segment from an interview with Daisy’s biographer and I don’t think I’ve ever read another snippet that made a character come so alive. I texted a blogger friend right after reading it and said “I’m a goner.”
  • The oral history format made this book. It made the story seem incredibly fast-paced. There’s a quick ricochet between multiple perspectives of the same events that felt like watching a tennis match. And, it clearly illuminated how multiple people can have completely different interpretations of the same events.
  • I thought I knew where this story was headed. There was an easy and obvious reason for the band to break up, but Reid takes the more complicated path, making for a far richer story.
  • Daisy Jones & the Six is not, on the surface, a badass lady book, but that theme kept bubbling up for me in subtle ways. The women in the story (Daisy, Karen, and Camila) all showed immense strength in their own ways and I thought each was her own version of badass lady by the end of the story.
  • There are the rare books that burrow their way into your heart and Daisy Jones & the Six is one of those. The characters are all flawed (some more than others), but incredibly human and nuanced. Reid repeatedly comes up with perfect turns of phrase, and there is an immense rawness to the entire story.
  • I felt the whole range of emotions, which is another mark of a great book for me. I laughed, I felt like my heart was getting ripped out, and I cried.
  • Like many other readers have said, even though I knew it was fiction, Reid made all of it seem so real that I desperately wanted to hear their music, see that iconic album cover for Aurora, watch a video of Daisy and Billy singing together, etc.
  • I’ve only read Taylor Jenkins Reid’s latest two books (the other one is The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo), but they both blew me away even though they couldn’t have been more different. She’s now an auto-buy author for me and I’d like to read some of her earlier work (ex: One True Loves and After I Do).

What I Didn’t Like

  • There was one thing about the ending that I thought was unnecessary and felt like the publisher tacked it on for drama’s sake. It didn’t take anything away from the story, but it didn’t add to it either.

A Defining Quote

Daisy doesn’t value anything that comes easy to her. Money, looks, even her voice. She wanted people to listen to her.

Good for People Who Like…

Oral histories, stories focusing on group dynamics, stories that hit all your emotions, rawness, the music industry (but, not a requirement!)

Other Books You May Like

Two other oral histories (nonfiction):
Live From New York: An Oral History of Saturday Night Live by James A. Miller and Tom Shales
These Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN by James A. Miller and Tom Shales

Another book about musical group dynamics:
The Ensemble by Aja Gabel (my review)

Get Weekly Email Updates!

12 Memorable Villains of Fiction

October 23, 2018 Book Lists 21

Villains of Fiction

 

I love to read dark fiction, so not surprisingly, I encounter lots of villains in my reading. Putting together my 12 most memorable villains of fiction was disturbingly fun! 

Many on this list are adept manipulators, some are well known among readers, and some are not. And, the main character in the book I just finished (A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne) could possibly top this list. But, I felt weird about including him since the book isn’t coming out until November.

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link).
Linking up with Top Ten Tuesday hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

12 Memorable Villains of Fiction

Dr. Alan Forrester
All is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker (Spoiler Discussion)
Why are psychiatrists so often creepy villains in fiction? This one was arrogant and diabolical, too.

Amy Dunne
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Possibly the most manipulative character I’ve ever read. But, her husband almost deserved her. Almost.

Annie Wilkes
Misery by Stephen King
A terrifying version of fangirl-ing. More power to you if you can get that vision of Annie hammering Paul’s ankles out of your head.

Bull Meacham
The Great Santini by Pat Conroy (my review)
Maybe the worst Dad in literature. But, he also had a sense of humor that made reading him slightly less traumatic.

Double Eagles
Natchez Burning by Greg Isles (my review)
A group rather than a person, but this is a dangerous splinter group of the KKK that reigned in the 1960’s and was even more ruthless than the regular KKK. The fictional Double Eagles is based on the real life “Silver Dollar Group.”

Jake the Bartender
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler (my review)
The first of two sociopathic boyfriends on this list.

Joseph Castleman
The Wife by Meg Wolitzer (my review)
A bit of a different type of villain than the others on this list. He’s not downright evil, just completely self-centered, oblivious, and expects to be coddled. His poor wife…  

Miranda Priestley
The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger
The boss from hell. Except also thoroughly entertaining for readers…

Nate Piven 
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman (my review)

Again, not as evil as some of the other villains on this list. But, a pretty unabashed and callous manipulator of women. I remember thinking when I read this, “this perfectly portrays dating in NYC!” 

Oliver Ryan
Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent
Here’s the first line of Unraveling Oliver, told from Oliver’s perspective:

I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.

Olivia Foxworth (aka the Grandmother)
Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews
Locked her grandchildren in her attic for years. I should probably include Corrine Dollanganger (the mother) on this list as well, seeing as she agreed to her mother’s diabolical plan.

Stephen DeMarco
Tell Me Lies by Carola Lovering
The second sociopathic boyfriend on this list. But, definitely worse than the first one (Jake the Bartender from Sweetbitter).

What villains of fiction do you love to hate?

Get Weekly Email Updates!
Privacy Policy

Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens: A 5-Star Coming of Age Story Set in Marsh Country

August 16, 2018 Southern Fiction 15

Where the Crawdads SingFiction – Literary
Released August 14, 2018
384 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Putnam)

Headline

I was worried Where the Crawdads Sing would be a beautiful, but boring book, but I couldn’t be more wrong. The writing is gorgeous, the story is propulsive, and it’s 5-star immersive.

Plot Summary

When local star quarterback Chase Matthews is found dead, suspicion falls on Kya Clark (the “Marsh Girl”), who is not at all who the town residents think she is.

Why I Read It

This book came to me unsolicited from the publisher and it’s North Carolina marsh setting intrigued me (i.e. made me think of Pat Conroy just a bit).

Major Themes

The marsh, nature, living outside the grid, love, prejudice

What I Liked

  • Where the Crawdads Sing is a bit of a genre mash-up. There’s a coming of age element, a mystery, and a bit of romance that I did not expect from this book, but that totally worked for me.
  • I was completely immersed in this story from start to finish. I read it quickly and looked for every opportunity in the day to pick it up.
  • There’s a bit of a Sweet Home Alabama (the movie) feel to certain parts of the story.
  • The story is told in dual timelines…one starting in the past and working forwards and one in present day. I love how this structure kept the story moving by keeping you wondering how the characters got from point A to point Z.
  • I had somewhat muted expectations going into Where the Crawdads Sing and it defied everything I thought it would be. I knew Owens was known for her nature writing, which I thought would be beautiful, but boring. She did write beautifully about nature, animals, and marsh life, but it wasn’t boring at all. It fit with the story, conveyed what the marsh meant to Kya, and how it shaped her into who she was. And, the story was much faster-paced than I expected.

    As always, the ocean seemed angrier than the marsh. Deeper, it had more to say.

  • Not surprisingly, the marsh setting comes alive and feels like it’s own character in the story.
  • I also expected Kya to be a weird and unrelatable character…eccentric and “woo-woo.” But, Owens does a great job of letting her have thoughts and feelings that most regular teenage girls have. She just had some different layers over top as a result of her background and living alone in the marsh. She’s dealing with feeling like an outsider, prejudice from the town residents, surviving on her own, love, and heart-break. She’s incredibly likable and I was rooting for her.
  • Some plot elements should have felt cliche (they’re out of a rom-com), but they didn’t. I was totally sucked in.
  • I waited a week after finishing this book to write my review and I’m still thinking about this story. More layers keep materializing.

What I Didn’t Like

  • There were a couple plot choices at the very end that I thought were overkill. The story didn’t need them and I almost felt like the publisher might have pushed the author to add them to make the plot even more intricate.

A Defining Quote

She feels the pulse of life, he thought, because there are no layers between her and her planet.

Good for People Who Like…

Southern fiction, books with a strong sense of place, unconventional love stories, great writing, a fast-moving plot

Other Books You May Like

Another book with a fast-moving plot about a girl with a close relationship with nature:
Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller (my review)

Get Weekly Email Updates!

March 2018 Books to Read (and Skip)

March 15, 2018 Mini Book Reviews 39

March 2018 Books to Read

 

My March reading has so far been pretty similar to February! I’ve liked most of what I’ve read, but there isn’t a runaway standout. I did get let down by two trusted authors, which always makes me a special kind of sad, but overall a solid month!

In addition to my March 2018 Books to Read, stay tuned for my full review of Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen (coming a week from today).

Hosted by Modern Mrs. Darcy.
This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link).

Read These

Bachelor NationBachelor Nation by Amy Kaufman
Nonfiction (Released March 6, 2018)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Publisher: Dutton Books)

Plot Summary: Kaufman, a L.A. Times reporter who covered The Bachelor franchise until ABC shut down her access because they weren’t pleased with what she was writing about the show, exposes the inner workings of The Bachelor franchise.

My Thoughts: I’m an unapologetic fan of The Bachelor and am fascinated by all the behind-the-scenes drama. So, I’m almost the perfect reader for this book (my downfall is that I already know a lot of this stuff from reading Reality Steve). Kaufman investigates The Bachelor‘s cultural place in America, how producers get contestants to give them good TV, how and why contestants think they fall in love over such a short period of time, what happens to the couples after the show ends…and, a history of dating shows (which should have been edited out). This best part of the book are the excepts from contestant Sharleen Joynt‘s journal she kept during filming…she clinically picks apart the psychology of the show while she’s in the middle of it. She’s brilliant and her take is articulate and well thought-out. Kaufman doesn’t really dish on contestant-specific gossip (who’s hooking up with whom, etc), but raises the overall curtain to reveal Oz. Beware if you want to preserve the fairytale because you’ll for sure be watching the show differently after reading it.

Everything is just so designed for romance, I can see how if you were single, didn’t necessarily know what you were looking for, couldn’t tell a deep connection from a superficial one, and were somewhat naive, hopelessly naive and not very cautious, you could fall in love. The focus is so on it all the time. You’re constantly prompted to talk about him, what you two share, how it makes you feel, how seeing him with the other girls makes you feel. There is no escape. – from Sharleen Joynt‘s journal

Laura and EmmaLaura & Emma by Kate Greathead
Fiction – Literary (Released March 13, 2018)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Publisher: Simon & Schuster)

Plot Summary: Laura, the somewhat quirky daughter of a blue-blood Upper East Side family, becomes pregnant after a one-night stand and wrestles with how to raise her daughter.

My Thoughts: The key to loving Laura & Emma is loving Laura’s voice and the writing style (which I did)…because there isn’t a ton of action to propel the story. It’s been compared to the TV show Gilmore Girls and I’d say that’s true with the story’s premise (single mother from a wealthy family trying to raise her daughter differently than how she grew up, but not totally disconnecting), but not at all in character or style. Laura is offbeat, but likable and funny in an awkward way (she reminded me of a less damaged version of Eleanor Oliphant). She’s uncomfortable with her family’s wealth, but her guilt doesn’t stop her from taking advantage of the benefits that come with it. The story is told in vignettes both momentous and mundane, which might turn some people off, but these hung together quite well to form a cohesive story (e.g. similar to Goodbye, Vitamin). However, the ending is perplexing to say the least. I’m still not sure what happened and it will probably annoy readers who don’t like things left open-ended. P.S. – there’s an entertaining, kooky grandmother…always a plus in my reading!

As she sat across the table from this Republican lobbyist lunatic, she thought of what her mother had said of marriage: Anything, anything, anything would be better than this. That’s how others viewed her current situation as a single mother, she realized. How else to explain their rationale in matching her with such maniacs? They saw her and Emma as incomplete, stray people, a free-floating fragment; the goal was to make them whole and anyone, anyone, anyone would be better than no one.

Tangerine by Christine ManganTangerine by Christine Mangan
Fiction – Literary (Released March 20, 2018)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Publisher: Ecco Books)

Plot Summary: Alice Shipley can’t figure out whether to be relieved or unsettled when her college roommate (Lucy Mason), who she hasn’t spoken to in over a year after a deeply disturbing incident, shows up on her doorstep in Tangier, Morocco, where she’s living with her new husband (John).

My Thoughts: Told in dual perspectives, Mangan’s debut novel is the story of a fraught, obsessive friendship and all the wreckage it leaves behind. Tangerine is a very specific type of book that I generally adore (and I did in this case!), but that probably isn’t for everyone. It’s kind of a page turner, but not in the traditional sense. It’s taut with emotional and psychological tension, but doesn’t have much action until the second half. Mangan generates all this tension through her writing style, which reminded me of Tender (my review), Sunburn (my review), and Based on a True Story (Spoiler Discussion). For virtually the entire book, I questioned who to trust, which kept me turning the pages, and the Moroccan setting makes the story even more enigmatic. P.S. – Don’t be fooled by this cover. It reminds me of Paula McClain’s Circling the Sun, which is straight-up historical fiction, but Tangerine does not read like historical fiction at all despite the 1950’s time period. 

Tangier and Lucy were the same, I thought. Both unsolvable riddles that refused to leave me in peace. And I had tired of it – of the not knowing, of always feeling as though I were on the outside of things, just on the periphery.

Skip These

Flight Attendant by Chris BohjalianThe Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian
Fiction – Mystery / Thriller (Released March 13, 2018)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Amazon
Source: Publisher (Publisher: Doubleday)

Plot Summary: When Cassie, an alcoholic flight attendant, finds her hook-up (Alex Sokolov) from the night before dead in a Dubai hotel, she questions whether she killed him during a blackout and, if not, wonders who did.

My Thoughts: Chris Bohjalian has been a reliable standby for me in the thriller department for the past few years (The Guest RoomThe Sleepwalker), but I think he stumbled with The Flight Attendant. I was initially interested in finding out what happened to Alex and what would happen to Cassie. How would she handle being questioned about Alex’s murder (given she makes terrible decisions most of the time)? Would she be charged with murdering him? But, as Alex’s story is gradually revealed, I became incredibly confused. Why he might have been killed is convoluted, yet it felt like white noise to me. That side of the story isn’t developed well at all…to the point that I didn’t really care. However, Bohjalian did a great job bringing the life of a flight attendant alive, which I enjoyed. Bohjalian has written a book a year for the past few years, which is a lot. I feel like he might’ve churned this one out too quickly…at the expense of quality.

She hoped her small joke would make him smile, but the truth of it made her cringe. It wasn’t merely the acknowledgment of her drinking; it was the reality that she was poisonous; she always risked diminishing the people she loved or might someday love. Too often she forced them to make the same bad choices she did or forced them from her life. Best case, she forced them to care for her.

Girls Burn BrighterGirls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao (March 6, 2018)
DNF at 13%

This novel about female friendship set in India got a decent amount of publisher hype. I had trouble getting into the characters initially and my mind kept wandering. I felt like I was viewing the story from an airplane window at 50,000 feet instead of feeling immersed in it. Since then, I’ve heard it’s an incredibly brutal story, which I just don’t have in me right now.

What’s the best book you’ve read so far this month?

Get Weekly Email Updates!

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones: My Favorite Novel of 2018 So Far

February 8, 2018 Southern Fiction 27

An American Marriage by Tayari JonesFiction
Released February 6, 2018
320 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Algonquin Books)

Headline

An American Marriage is an intimately written novel that tackles a number of weighty current issues in an organic way…and is my favorite novel of 2018 so far!

Plot Summary

When Roy goes to prison for a crime he didn’t commit only a year and a half into their new marriage, Celestial must figure out how to cope with his absence and shape her life in the face of this massive upheaval.

Why I Read It

This year, I’m trying to select books that come highly recommended by people whose recommendations I trust and that have already read the book (rather than are just excited to read it). An American Marriage came with a 5 star review from Nicole Bonia of The Readerly Report Podcast. Since then, it’s been chosen as an Oprah Book Club pick and a Book of the Month February selection.

Major Themes

Marriage (obviously), race, class, incarceration, love, friendship, family, grief, fidelity, recovery

What I Liked

  • You see how many major themes An American Marriage tackles? You’d think the story would feel cluttered with all that, but it doesn’t. It’s about so many things, but not overwhelmingly about any one of them (kind of like The Mothers). And, Jones handles them in a completely organic way that doesn’t make the book feel overwhelmingly like “an issue book.”
  • I loved the writing. It’s not “gorgeous” in the traditional sense, rather it’s casual, intimate, and has personality. I felt like I was hanging out in the backyard with each character (the story is told through multiple perspectives) as he/she told me his/her side of a crazy story.

    I hate using that word, career. It always feels like the word bitch is hiding out between the letters.

  • Roy and Celestial’s story digs deeper into race to the class divisions within the African American community. Roy comes from poverty and is driven to improve his station in the world, while Celestial comes from an upper class family. The ripple effects of these different mentalities has a large impact on their marriage.
  • The last quarter of the book is absolutely riveting. You want action? You’ll get it here.
  • With all the issues addressed in An American Marriage, it’s not surprising that it would make a great book club selection. There’s a ton to discuss here including a big “what would you do in their shoes?” question.

What I Didn’t Like

  • When I heard Nicole talk about this book on The Readerly Report Podcast, she advised to go in blind and I’m so glad I did. The publisher’s blurb gives away far too many plot details and I’d advise you to avoid it if you’re interested in reading this one! Sadly, I feel like I’ve had to list this item under “What I Didn’t Like” for far too many books over the past couple years…
  • I’m not a fan of Epilogues in general and this one didn’t drive me crazy, but it didn’t add much to the story.

A Defining Quote

We were properly married for a year and a half, and we were happy for that time, at least I was. Maybe we didn’t do happy like other people, but we’re not your garden-variety bourgeois Atlanta Negroes where the husband goes to bed with his laptop under his pillow and the wife dreams about her blue-box jewelry. I was young, hungry, and on the come-up. Celestial was an artist, intense and gorgeous. We were like Love Jones, but grown. What can I say? I always had a weakness for shooting-star women.

Good for People Who Like…

Southern fiction, marriage, hard-hitting writing, books about “issues” that don’t feel like “issue books”

Other Books You May Like

Another book that tackles weighty issues, but isn’t overwhelmingly about any one of them:
The Mothers by Brit Bennett (my review)

Get Weekly Email Updates!

January Read It, Skip It: Grist Mill Road, Tell Me More, The Immortalists, Anatomy of a Scandal

January 18, 2018 Mini Book Reviews 24

Grist Mill Road, Tell Me More, The Immortalists, Anatomy of a Scandal


You may be familiar with my Read It, Skip It posts where I normally cover two books. I’m trying something different this month by rounding up all my January releases into one big Read It, Skip It post. What could give you a clearer picture of the January releases than that?!

Plus, if you’re thinking about tracking your reading this year, check out my “Rock Your Reading” Tracker! It automatically compiles all your reading stats into pretty Summary Charts and enables you choose better books by helping you track your recommendation sources.

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link).

Read These

Grist Mill Road by Christopher J YatesGrist Mill Road by Christopher J. Yates
Fiction (Released January 9, 2018)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Publisher: Picador)

Plot Summary: Two and a half decades after Patrick, Hannah, and Matthew were involved in a childhood crime in their hometown of Roseborn, NY, they meet again in New York City and have to grapple with what happened years ago.

My Thoughts: Yates’ debut novel, Black Chalk, was one of my favorite books of 2014 and I had high expectations for his sophomore effort. Though Grist Mill Road wasn’t perfect and I didn’t love it as much as Black Chalk, I couldn’t put it down. It’s the kind of book I could’ve read in one sitting if I had the time. It’s part coming of age story (reminiscent of My Sunshine Away) and part psychological thriller, while managing to remain literary (well…until the overly thriller-y ending). The opening Prologue reveals the big “what” of the story and will take your breath away, but the intensity doesn’t let up as you start to learn the “how” and “why.” I do wish Matthew’s backstory had been introduced earlier in the book and that certain storylines hadn’t been told in letter format. Nevertheless, Grist Mill Road is a solid choice if you like dark, twisty, literary thrillers about extremely complicated friendships (a la If We Were Villains).

That there must have been a thousand and one different ways I could have saved her that day. But what did I do? I did nothing.

Tell Me More by Kelly CorriganTell Me More by Kelly Corrigan
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released January 9, 2018)
256 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Random House)

Plot Summary: Corrigan’s memoir is organized around the “12 hardest things she’s learning to say,” including “No,” “I don’t know,” and “I Was Wrong.”

My Thoughts: I absolutely adored (it’s my favorite 2018 release I’ve read so far!) this memoir that spoke to me in a “yes, that’s exactly how it is” way. She kicks things off with an essay that will touch the conflicted hearts of overtaxed moms everywhere and moves on to cover many big life issues (marriage, motherhood, illness, religion, friendship, grief, and loss) in a relatable and irreverently funny way. And, the second to last essay might even make you cry. Corrigan is a welcome addition to my “women who get women” club (current members include Anna Quindlen, Ann Patchett, and Cheryl Strayed) and I’d highly recommend Tell Me More to anyone who loved Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake or This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.

What Will didn’t point out, because he wanted me to arrive there on my own, was that his brand of acceptance wasn’t grim compromise or gritted-teeth tolerance. He was not suggesting that we roll over, but rather that we keep rolling, onward.

Skip These

The Immortalists by Chloe BenjaminThe Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
Fiction (Released January 9, 2018)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Putnam)

Plot Summary: When a psychic in 1969 NYC tells the four Gold children the dates of their respective deaths, the information drives their choices for the rest of their lives.

My Thoughts: I’m definitely in the minority in not loving this debut novel. It’s getting lots of attention from the bookish media and love from some bloggers I normally agree with (Ann Marie at Lit Wit Wine Dine and Renee at It’s Book Talk). The beginning felt like The Rules of Magic: 1960’s/70’s NYC, a bit of magic, and young siblings trying to slide things by their parents. From that point on, the story is told in sections, one focusing on each of the four Gold children’s lives. These were hit and miss…I was engrossed in some parts (Simon’s and parts of Daniel’s) and kept tuning out during others (Klara’s and Varya’s). I didn’t care much about the sibling in the final section because he/she had been virtually absent for much of the book. That being said, the writing was great, so I would consider reading whatever Chloe Benjamin does next.

For so long, he hated the woman, too. How, he wondered, could she give such a terrible fortune to a child? But now he thinks of her differently, like a second mother or a god, she who showed him the door and said: Go.

Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah VaughanAnatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan
Fiction (Release Date January 23, 2018)
400 Pages
Affiliate Link: Pre-Order from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Atria Books)

Plot Summary: When charismatic politician James is accused of a serious crime, his wife (Sophie) is forced to confront who he might be under his smooth veneer while the prosecutor (Kate) wrestles with her own past.

My Thoughts: Anatomy of a Scandal is a timely book (privilege, abuse of power, scandal, ego) and got a fair amount of pre-publication hype. While I expected the story to be fascinating, the telling of it fell flat. It reads easily, but is predictable and lacks subtlety and nuance in the serious issues it addresses. Every character is a cliche. By the second half, I was skimming just to see what would happen (nothing particularly interesting did).

She feels like laughing. James will be fine because he is the right type, he has done nothing illegal, and he has the prime minister’s patronage. She glances past him to the bookshelves on which Hilary Mantel’s pair of Cromwell novels sit: stories of an era in which a mercurial king’s favour was everything. More than four centuries have passed, and yet, in Tom’s party, there is still a flavor of life at court.

What are some of your favorite January 2018 releases?

Get Weekly Email Updates!

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng Has Broader Appeal Than Everything I Never Told You

September 14, 2017 Fiction 27

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste NgFiction
Released September 12, 2017
384 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Complimentary from Publisher (Penguin Press)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Headline

Little Fires Everywhere is an engrossing story about a family and a community that you can sink right into…and may have even broader appeal than Everything I Never Told You.

Plot Summary

When nomadic artist Mia Warren and her daughter (Pearl) rent an apartment from Elena Richardson in Shaker Heights, Elena’s entire family becomes enmeshed in the Warrens’ lives, resulting in uncovered secrets, unanticipated consequences, and a raging debate about what it means to be a mother.

Why I Read It

Ng’s debut, Everything I Never Told You, was a smash hit with me and others (it was Amazon’s Best Book of 2014), so Little Fires Everywhere might be the 2017 book I’ve been anticipating the most!

Major Themes

Family Life, Secrets / Betrayal, Motherhood, Teen Angst, Art, Suburbia

What I Liked

  • Little Fires Everywhere‘s premise didn’t jump out at me initially. It’s not entirely clear what this book is about. Yet…the way Ng told this story had me engrossed immediately. It’s the kind of story where you sink right into the community and the characters’ lives. I’m a bit hard-pressed to pick out specific things I loved about it…yet, I loved the book as a whole. Little Fires Everywhere is greater than the sum of its parts.
  • The set-up for this story reminded me a bit of the tv show The O.C. – an outsider sort of infiltrates a wealthy family and supposedly idyllic community with far-reaching consequences (Pearl Warren = Ryan Atwood).
  • It starts out as a story of a family and a community…and then takes an interesting turn. Ng presented a Jodi Picoult-esque situation (i.e. one with valid arguments for both sides and where there is no clear right answer) and forced me to think about what I’d do in a similar situation
  • Ng painted a vivid picture of the Shaker Heights community while making you feel that it was the only place this story could play out the way it did:

    In fact, the city’s motto was – literally, as Lexie would have said – “Most communities just happen; the best are planned”: the underlying philosophy being that everything could – and should – be planned out, and that by doing so you could avoid the unseemly, the unpleasant, and the disastrous.

  • Little Fires Everywhere is more action-packed than Everything I Never Told You and, I believe, has the potential for even broader appeal.
  • And, the debate-starting issues it deals with make it a great book club selection!

What I Didn’t Like

  • I had to suspend belief and just roll with some of the plot points…the coincidences were a little too big. But, while I recognized this as I was reading, it didn’t bother me or influence my opinion of the book as a whole.

A Defining Quote

Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too. They start over. They find a way.

Good for People Who Like…

Dysfunctional families, Secrets/Betrayal, Motherhood, Engrossing Plot & Characters, Suburban Life

Other Books You May Like

More stories about families facing unconventional situations:
Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (my review)

Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen

Another story about what it means to be a mother:
The Mothers by Brit Bennett (my review)

And, of course, Celeste Ng’s debut novel:
Everything I Never Told You (my review)

Get Weekly Email Updates!

Am I the Only One Who Didn’t Love Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine?

July 20, 2017 Fiction 56

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail HoneymanFiction – Debut
Released May 9, 2017
336 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it…if you like heart-warming stories with tidy endings. Otherwise, Skip it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (published by Pamela Dorman Books)

Headline

I liked Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine alright, but I’m not on the bandwagon with the level of hype it’s getting.

Plot Summary

Quirky and broken Eleanor Oliphant is living a solitary life when she strikes up a friendship with Raymond, the IT guy at her office, which opens her eyes to a different way of living.

Why I Read It

This book has been getting tons of buzz and two book bloggers whose taste I generally agree with recently loved it (Susie at Novel Visits and Tara at Running N Reading).

Major Themes

Childhood Trauma, Abuse, Family Secrets, Friendship, Redemption

What I Liked

  • I loved Eleanor…and I suspect she is why this book is getting such high praise from some. She’s quirky, solitary, and doesn’t fit in well with the world, but she makes no bones about who she is and is completely endearing. And, with her tragic childhood, I was rooting for her to figure out how to actually participate in the world rather than just skim the surface of life.
  • I was super curious about Eleanor’s past. How did she get her scars? How did she end up in foster care? What happened with her mother? What was the big incident that blew up her life? These questions kept me reading, but I wish the book had delved deeper into them.
  • Eleanor went on some spectacular rants about things that irked her about everyday life. They were salty and funny and I completely agreed with most of them. Here’s one:

    On wedding gifts/registries:
    Of all the compulsory financial contributions, that is the one that irks me most. Two people wander around John Lewis picking out lovely items for themselves, and then they make other people pay for them. It’s bare-faced effrontery. They choose things like plates, bowls and cutlery—I mean, what are they doing at the moment: shoveling food from packets into their mouths with their bare hands? I simply fail to see how the act of legally formalizing a human relationship necessitates friends, family and coworkers upgrading the contents of their kitchen for them.

What I Didn’t Like

  • While I can see appeal of this book for some people (it’s a heart-warming, feel-good story), it didn’t live up to the hype for me. I liked it fine, but I expected to like it much more based on the reviews and the hype. That being said, I am still recommending it for a certain type of reader (those that like heart-warming stories that are neatly tied up) because I know there are lots of this type of reader out there…it’s just not me.
  • I was so curious about Eleanor’s childhood and her relationship with her mother. Those issues were one of the main hooks that kept me reading. But, I felt like the story focused more on Eleanor’s friendship with Raymond and learning how to interact with the world again. I wish Honeyman had gone darker and delved deeper into Eleanor’s childhood and the nitty, gritty of what went down. I kept thinking it would happen, but it never really did.
  • While the story is certainly heart-warming, it felt a little cliche to me…in a bit of a rom-com way.
  • The ending was too neat and tidy. And, there was one particular element that is often used in novels that absolutely drives me crazy every time I see it. It feels like a cop out. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t say anymore.

A Defining Quote

My life, I realized, had gone wrong. Very, very wrong. I wasn’t supposed to live like this. No one was supposed to live like this. The problem was that I simply didn’t know how to make it right. Mummy’s way was wrong, I knew that. But no one had ever shown me the right way to live a life, and although I’d tried my best over the years, I simply didn’t know how to make things better. I could not solve the puzzle of me.

Good for People Who Like…

Dysfunctional childhoods, heart-warming stories, neat and tidy endings, quirky characters

Other Books You May Like

Another heart-warming story about people facing an unconventional situation:
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel (my review)

Get Weekly Email Updates!

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

April 27, 2017 Fiction 20

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)

Headline

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

Looking for a specific book recommendation? I’ve got you covered!
Participate in a limited time, free trial of my
new PERSONALIZED BOOK RECOMMENDATION service!


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)

Get Weekly Email Updates!