Tag: Unconventional Love Story

April 2019 Books to Read (and Skip)

April 12, 2019 Mini Book Reviews 11

April 2019 Books to Read

 

Y’all, I was really excited about my April releases (and I had a lot of them on my radar) and they actually exceeded my already high expectations! And, my 2019 Summer Reading Guide (coming in late May) will thank April for bringing it so many great books!

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Favorite Books of April 2019

Normal PeopleNormal Peopleby Sally Rooney
Fiction (Release Date: April 16, 2019)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Book of the Month (Publisher: Hogarth)

Plot Summary: Irish teenagers Connell and Marianne are first drawn to each other in high school when Connell’s mother works as Marianne’s parents’ housekeeper…and, their relationship becomes confusing as they navigate the social dynamics of both high school and college.

My Thoughts: Normal People (which has been long-listed for the 2018 Man Booker Prize) is my first experience with Sally Rooney, but many readers loved her previous novel, Conversations with Friends. This is the kind of relationship book that is utterly riveting, but also made me feel a little uncomfortable in the best way possible (like White Fur and Tender). Connell and Marianne’s relationship is far from straightforward and is downright maddening at times, but I was rooting hard for them and completely engrossed in their story. Rooney made their story feel incredibly intimate, to the point where I almost felt like I was invading their privacy. I also loved the exploration of social and class dynamics in high school and college (when the story begins in high school, Connell is working class, but popular and Marianne is wealthy, but an outcast) and how those can change over time. There’s a bit of a coming of age element as they both wrestle with their identities and they face challenges stemming from Marianne’s family life. This is an unconventional love story and a character-driven novel I couldn’t put down…I could’ve read it in one sitting if I’d had a good chunk of time! 5 stars! PS – I should tell you this story involves a fair amount of sex and also does not use quotation marks for dialogue (neither of those things bothered me, but they might bother some people).

He can’t help Marianne, no matter what he does. There’s something frightening about her, some huge emptiness in the pit of her being. […] Still, he would lie down and die for her at any minute, which is the only thing he knows about himself that makes him feel like a worthwhile person.

Miracle CreekMiracle Creek by Angie Kim
Mystery / Thriller (Release Date: April 16, 2019)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Book of the Month (Publisher: Sarah Crichton Books)

Miracle Creek is absolutely one of my favorite books of the month (5 stars!), so I wanted to include it in this round-up. But, it’s also perfect for an Alcohol & Advil pairing, so stay tuned for that next week!

 

 

 

Also Read These

I Miss You When I BlinkI Miss You When I Blinkby Mary Laura Philpott
Nonfiction – Memoir / Essays (Release Date: April 2, 2019)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Atria Books)

Plot Summary: Mary Laura Philpott had an enviable life by conventional standards (i.e. happy marriage, children, career, house, etc), yet she still felt unsettled and unsatisfied. These essays are about her experience trying to navigate that.

My Thoughts: I’ve been on a kick with “women who get women” memoirs over the past few years (i.e. maybe because I’m in the marriage / kids and “who am I through all that” stage?) and Mary Laura Philpott is an excellent addition to my club of go-to authors (also including Anna Quindlen and Kelly Corrigan). Philpott writes about this unsettling stage of life with openness, humor, and relatability. She’s got spunk and she’s someone I could imagine grabbing a glass of wine with. She’s a Type A personality who got satisfaction from achieving each “success” rung on a clearly defined ladder (ex: grades in her youth, job promotions post college)…when adult life hit and there was no clearly defined success ladder, she struggled with feeling satisfied. I can totally relate to her in this respect (I also relate to her dislike of habitual lateness!) and it’s one of the reasons I started the blog and the podcast. She nails very specific experiences…handling your children’s holiday gift lists, volunteering at your children’s school and/or on charity boards, and motherhood in general. If you enjoy “maintaining your identity through marriage and motherhood” books, I Miss You When I Blink should be next on your list! And, it would be an excellent book club pick. PS – Philpott works at Parnassus Bookstore in Nashville (author Ann Patchettt is co-owner!) and is a hilarious follow on Instagram!

The to-do list was supposed to get smaller and smaller as you checked off everything you meant to do and approached the finish line of bona fide adulthood. Instead, you got to the end of the list and didn’t feel like you’d arrived anywhere.

Better SisterThe Better Sisterby Alafair Burke
Mystery / Thriller (Release Date: April 16, 2019)
336 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Harper)

Plot Summary: When uber-successful Chloe Taylor’s lawyer husband (Adam) is murdered in their East Hampton home, her sister Nicky (who is Adam’s ex-wife) re-enters the picture to help Chloe navigate the investigation and support Adam and Nicky’s son (Ethan).

My Thoughts: The Better Sister is my second Alafair Burke thriller (my first was The Wife) and she’s becoming a go-to mystery / thriller author for me. She’s a former prosecutor and it shows in her thrillers. They’re marketed as psychological thrillers and do have certain elements of those, but there’s also excellent legal / courtroom drama…and that’s what sets Burke apart for me. The Better Sister is actually more courtroom drama than psychological thriller, but it’s also a dysfunctional family story. It’s about marriage, divorce, keeping up appearances, sisters, and teenage angst. And, Burke does not resort to gimmicks to shock the reader. She just uses straight-up suspense without all the outlandish twists. If you’re sick of all the ridiculous gimmicks in psychological thrillers these days, The Better Sister (and Alafair Burke in general) is for you! PS – the cover is terrible and has nothing to do with the actual story.

“When girls feel lost, they hurt themselves. Boys hurt others.”

The Editor by Steven RowleyThe Editorby Steven Rowley
Fiction – Brain Candy (Release Date: April 2, 2019)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Putnam)

Plot Summary: When debut novelist James Smale sells his semi-autobiographical novel to Doubleday (his editor turns out to be Jacqueline Onassis), he is forced to address his frayed relationship with his mother.

My Thoughts: The Editor is a marriage of a dysfunctional family novel and a publishing world / literary life novel…with some fun celebrity allure sprinkled on top. The premise of having Jackie O be Smale’s fictional book editor could have been preposterous and silly, but she really was an editor at Doubleday during her “third act” of life and James Smale’s experience probably did happen to multiple authors, so it came across as whimsical and poignant to me. Plus, Rowley didn’t have Jackie overtake the story…he worked in just the right amount of Kennedy anecdotes in a way that didn’t feel forced. Rowley’s real life family is intimately intertwined with his novel and I loved seeing how events with his family played out as he tried to work out the next step with his novel. The Editor is a delightful (but, not annoyingly so) book if you’re looking for a fun, light read.

“May I say,” Jackie begins before pausing. “Without knowing the circumstances. Women like your mother and me, from our generation, we were duty bound. Things were expected of us, marriage and motherhood. But we were girls once, with dreams and aspirations of our own. When we see our children succeed, of course part of their accomplishments are our own. But it also reminds us that life doesn’t turn out for everyone the way they dreamed.”

The DNF’s

Cape May by Chip CheekCape Mayby Chip Cheek (April 30, 2019)
DNF at 11%
This debut novel about a newlywed couple from Georgia honeymooning in Cape May, New Jersey in the 1950’s and falling in with a group of cosmopolitan socialites was fine, but kind of boring. Not good enough to make my 2019 Summer Reading Guide, so I put it down.

 

 

Like Lions by Brian PanowichLike Lionsby Brian Panowich (April 30, 2019)
DNF at 35%
I loved Panowich’s 2015 Grit Lit thriller Bull Mountain and was excited for the sequel. Sadly, there were just too many new characters I didn’t really care about and too much violence without a purpose for me.

 

 

Trust ExerciseTrust Exercise by Susan Choi (April 9, 2019)
DNF at 3%
This one is getting lots of hype from the critics, but I don’t think it will catch on with regular readers. The writing was virtually indecipherable for me…very stream of consciousness, which is not my thing. I knew very quickly this one wasn’t for me because of the writing.

 

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April 2019 Books to Read

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

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More Unconventional Love Stories for Readers Who Don’t Like Romance

February 5, 2019 Book Lists 42

More Unconventional Love Stories

 

So…Valentine’s Day is actually one of my least favorite holidays. I feel pressure to participate in the cheesiness even though cheesy feels so uncomfortable to me. Luckily, my husband isn’t really into Valentine’s Day either.

Since it’s almost the big red day, you’re probably seeing lots of lists of “the best romances, etc” around the bookish internet. Here’s what bugs me about traditional “romances.” The predictable (no matter how unrealistic) happy endings, the cheesy dialogue, the equally cheesily written love scenes. Shall I go on? I promise, you won’t find those elements in these unconventional love stories. Most readers probably wouldn’t even call these love stories. But, I do and they’re the kind I prefer.

Last year, I shared a list of 12 unconventional loves stories for people who don’t like traditional romances. As I thought about Valentine’s Day 2019, I realized I had a lot of new books to add to this list. So, I bring you 10 new love stories…a few of the more conventional variety, but most unconventional.

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Linking up with Top Ten Tuesday hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

10 MORE Love Stories (2019 Additions)

Forever is the Worst Long Time by Camille Pagan
You’ll start out thinking this is a run-of-the-mill love triangle, but it goes in a direction you probably wouldn’t guess.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center (my review)
This love story is more traditional and feels like a rom-com…but, for some reason all that didn’t turn me off!

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
Based on the real-life affair between the architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney, Wright’s married client. Beyond the tempestuous love affair, this is a story about Mamah finding her own identity outside of love.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

One Day in December by Josie Silver
Another more traditional love story featuring a love triangle, but its intriguing premise kept me interested.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Otherwise Engaged by Lindsey J. Palmer
Yet another more traditional love story with an intriguing premise. Mini review coming next week.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Tell Me Lies by Carola Lovering
A sociopathic love story…and I can’t say this one is happy. It’s more of a cautionary tale.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Age of Lightby Whitney Scharer
Similar to Loving Frank, a novel based on the real-life love affair between former Vogue model Lee Miller and artist Man Ray. It’s out coming out today and I’ll have a mini review for you next week!

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
Are you wondering why I have a thriller on this list? There’s a bit of a love story mixed in here too…a really messed up one.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell
A family drama / love story…involving a Hollywood actress that the world had presumed missing and an American divorcee on the run from his problems.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Where the Crawdads Singby Delia Owens (my review)
A coming of age story, a murder mystery, and a love story wrapped up into one…with some beautiful nature writing thrown in.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

12 Unconventional Love Stories for Readers Who Don’t Like Romance (Original List, 2018)

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood (my review)
Some would call this love story horrifying. I definitely did at times. But, it’s also different than anything I’ve ever read and Greenwood makes you question what you thought were your rock solid convictions.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (my review)
What happens to a love story when a husband of only a year and a half goes to prison? Oprah sure wants her book club members to find out!

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch (my review)
Most people probably wouldn’t consider this sci-fi page turner a love story. But, ultimately, Jason is fighting tooth and nail to be with his wife and child…his idea of home.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift (my review)
An illicit affair between a British heir and his neighbor’s maid. It definitely doesn’t have a happy ending, but I finished the book completely satisfied.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (my review)
Two older people (Louis and Addie) stop caring what everyone else thinks and do what they need to do to be happy. It’s sort of like they read The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck by Sarah Knight.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Sunburn by Laura Lippman
A love story where the two lovebirds are totally messing with each other and you have no idea who will come out on top.

Affiliate Link: Pre-Order from Amazon

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler (my review)
This is the kind of love story that many of us had in our youth (especially if you lived in NYC) and look back on with horror. We wish we would’ve been stronger, smarter, and valued ourselves more. It’s raw and most definitely not sweet.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Tender by Belinda McKeon (my review)
A story of friendship, unrequited love, desperation and obsession. This one will make you uncomfortable…I was cringing often.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel (my review)
Probably the most F’d up love story you’ll ever read (with a love story you can actually root for buried amid the horror)…starring a supremely dysfunctional family.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Rules of Magicby Alice Hoffman
Love permeates this story about family and magic. Can the Owens children find love? Should they? 

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugoby Taylor Jenkins Reid (my review)
The true love story of this book isn’t the one you think it will be.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

White Fur by Jardine Libaire (my review)
A classic “wrong side of the tracks” love story…told in a raw, gritty, edgy, and uncomfortable way.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon 

How do you feel about romances? Do you prefer the traditional or unconventional type?

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More Unconventional Love Stories

 

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

August 16, 2018 Southern Fiction 14

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)

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

February 8, 2018 Southern Fiction 25

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)

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