Tag: Style Books

3 More Books That Are Perfect for Summer Reading: Beartown, Standard Deviation, Since We Fell

June 22, 2017 Book Lists 19

When I originally posted my 2017 Summer Reading Guide, I said I’d be adding more books that are perfect for summer reading to that list throughout the summer. Well, here’s the first installment of add-ons! And, they are GOOD.

BeartownBeartown by Fredrik Backman by Fredrick Backman
Fiction – Sports (
Released April 25, 2017)
432 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Simon & Schuster)

Plot Summary: While small, down and out Beartown goes crazy over its youth ice hockey team’s run in the Swedish national tournament, something explosive happens to throw the town’s and team’s hopes into jeopardy.

My Thoughts: I was hesitant to read Beartown because I abandoned Backman’s smash hit, A Man Called Ove, pretty early on. But, Beartown is an entirely different story and is one of my favorite books of the year so far! Beartown has been compared to Friday Night Lights, which is accurate in that this is a story of a town who’s hopes are declining every day and whose youth sports team is really the only thing it’s residents have to be proud of. Backman makes you feel the core emotions of sports…what makes something that can seem frivolous mean so much to some people.

It’s only a game. It only resolves tiny, insignificant things. Such as who gets validation. Who gets listened to. It allocates power and draws boundaries and turns some people into stars and others into spectators. That’s all.

Like Friday Night LightsBeartown is far more than just sports fiction. It’s about high school, marriage, intense pressure on young children, bullying, class, and violence. The first paragraph smacked me in the face and I was fully engrossed until the very end. It’s a book you can fly through…I couldn’t stop turning the pages even though I easily guessed the what and who of what happened (thanks to a super spoiler-y comparison a major book blogger made to another book…GRR). Beartown would make a fantastic summer reading book and is jam packed with discussion material for book clubs.

Since We Fell by Dennis LehaneSince We Fell by Dennis Lehane
Fiction – Thriller (
Released May 9, 2017)
432 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Ecco)

Plot Summary: After a traumatic experience as a broadcast journalist covering the earthquake in Haiti, Rachel becomes a recluse despite her happy marriage…until she begins to question everything about her life and is sucked into something far bigger than she ever imagined.

My Thoughts: Since We Fell is the first psychological thriller I’ve enjoyed in ages! Maybe that’s because it reads more like character-driven fiction, especially in the first half. The twists do hit like an avalanche eventually…there’s just a solid set-up to make you care about the characters first. And, those twists all surprised me, yet made sense with the story, which is the number one criteria that a thriller must have for me to enjoy it…and where most thrillers fall apart for me. Since We Fell is a thriller for people who have been frustrated with psychological thrillers lately…and, if this isn’t enough, check out this first line:

On a Tuesday in May, in her thirty-fifth year, Rachel shot her husband dead. He stumbled backward with an odd look of confirmation on his face, as if some part of him had always known she’d do it.

Standard Deviation by Katherine HeinyStandard Deviation by Katherine Heiny
Fiction (
Released May 23, 2017)
336 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Knopf)

Plot Summary: When Graham and his bubbly second wife (Audra) become friends with Graham’s introverted first wife (Elspeth), Graham begins to ponder the state of his marriage and his family (including a ten year old son with Asberger’s).

My Thoughts: Standard Deviation is one of those novels where not a ton happens, but the “yes, that’s exactly how it is” writing and spot-on commentary about marriage, introverts and extraverts, and parenting carry the story. It’s an honest rumination on a not perfect, but not completely dysfunctional marriage. Though Graham and Audra certainly have their issues, there is a clear love for each other that was a nice change of pace from my usual fare of stratospherically dysfunctional marriages/families. I loved Graham’s (who narrated the book) salty, dry sense of humor and the way he honestly addressed the aspects of marriage and parenting that it’s socially expected of people to always portray as unicorns and rainbows.

Graham didn’t admit this to anyone, even Audra, but part of him was secretly pleased that Matthew had been caught looking at porn on a school computer. Wasn’t that—wasn’t that something normal kids did?

Audra is a massive chatterbox and someone who I don’t think I could be friends with in real life, but her total lack of filter made her amusing to read about. The collision between Audra’s extraversion (she constantly invites random people over for dinner and to stay as houseguests in their NY apartment) and Graham’s introversion, as well as Matthew’s Asberger’s, added a bit more intrigue to the story. My only complaint was an overly abrupt ending that will probably irritate some people. If you like straight talk about marriage, this book is for you!

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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

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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)

Headline

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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