Tag: Unputdownable Books

Backlist Beauties: The Best Backlist Books I’ve Read in 2017 So Far

October 10, 2017 Book Lists 21

Since my Fall reading has been so lackluster, I thought it would be a good time to share some of the best backlist books I’ve read in 2017 so far. When new releases aren’t working for you…dive into the backlist for some relief!

I always say I’m going to make more time for backlist titles and, every year, I don’t follow through. My goal is to read enough additional backlist titles by the end of the year to warrant another Backlist Beauties post!

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The Best Backlist Books I’ve Read in 2017 So Far

Books for Living by Will SchwalbeBooks for Living by Will Schwalbe
Nonfiction – Essays (Released December 27, 2016)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Knopf)

Plot Summary: The author of The End of Your Life Book Club‘s collection of essays featuring individual books and how they impacted his life.

My Thoughts: Each chapter of this introspective collection focuses on one book and how it impacted and contributed to Schwalbe’s life. He covers classics (Stuart Little), nonfiction (The Importance Of Living), serious books (A Little Life), and lighter fare (The Girl on the Train). I certainly hadn’t read all the books he discusses, but I related to many of his points about life. And, I’m now in the process of reading a couple books Schwalbe talked about in Books for Living (What I Talk about When I Talk about Running by Haruki Murakami, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott). This book would be a fantastic gift for serious readers or someone who is reflecting a bit on life. 

Reading is a respite from the relentlessness of technology, but it’s not only that. It’s how I reset and recharge. It’s how I escape, but it’s also how I engage. And reading should spur further engagement.

Dark Matter by Blake CrouchDark Matter by Blake Crouch
Fiction – Thriller / Sci-Fi (Released July 26, 2016)
354 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Crown)

Plot Summary: After college physics professor Jason Dessen is abducted at gunpoint one night, he awakens in another world.

My Thoughts: Despite the hype, I avoided this book for quite awhile because I’m decidedly NOT into sci-fi. But, Dark Matter is sci-fi like The Martian (my review) is sci-fi (i.e. it has broad appeal). There’s definitely some science in it, but the story is deeply human and is more about life choices than the science. The story begins with a “WTF is going on here” vibe reminiscent of The Beautiful Bureaucrat (my review). I had no idea what was going on for awhile, but could not stop reading. Dark Matter is a page-turner in the purest sense…with an action-level on par with an episode of 24

No one tells you it’s all about to change, to be taken away. There’s no proximity alert, no indication that you’re standing on the precipice. And maybe that’s what makes tragedy so tragic. Not just what happens, but how it happens: a sucker punch that comes at you out of nowhere, when you’re least expecting it. No time to flinch or brace.

Imagine Me Gone by Adam HaslettImagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett
Fiction (Released May 3, 2016)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Little, Brown)

Plot Summary: A multi-generational family saga of the impact of depression and mental illness on a family.

My Thoughts: Incredibly sad, but poignant, this 2016 National Book Award Long-Lister is beautifully written and captures the frustration, resentment, and crushing sense of responsibility and worry that come with having a family member who suffers from mental illness. While extended sections from Michael’s perspective are hard to read and nonsensical at times with long tangents on esoteric music, they serve a distinct purpose (allowing the reader inside mind of someone suffering from depression). And, the second half flows beautifully toward the inevitable, yet still drama-filled conclusion.

There is no getting better. There is love I cannot bear, which has kept me from drifting entirely loose. There are the medicines I can take that flood my mind without discrimination, slowing the monster, moving the struggle underwater, where I then must live in the murk. But there is no killing the beast. Since I was a young man, it has hunted me. And it will hunt me until I am dead. The older I become, the closer it gets.

Lots of Candles Plenty of Cake by Anna QuindlenLots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released April 24, 2012)
182 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Random House)

Plot Summary: A combination memoir/essay collection covering marriage, girlfriends, motherhood, faith, loss, work, and much more!

My Thoughts: Listening to Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake was like seeing a therapist and falls into the same category as Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things. Quindlen just has such a grounded, practical outlook on life that really puts things in perspective for me. Highly recommend for anyone craving a “life wisdom” type read!

Being a parent is not transactional. We do not get what we give. It is the ultimate pay-it-forward: We are good parents, not so they will be loving enough to stay with us, but so they will be strong enough to leave us.

Mothering Sunday by Graham SwiftMothering Sunday by Graham Swift
Historical Fiction (Released April 26, 2016)
177 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Knopf)

Plot Summary: While the staff of British estates has time off for Mothering Sunday of 1924 (a Protestant and Catholic religious holiday that was somewhat of a precursor to our current secular Mother’s Day), Jane (a maid) and Paul (an heir to the neighboring estate) meet to continue their illicit affair.

My Thoughts: Mothering Sunday is a technically a romance, but is so unconventional that I hesitate to call it a romance at all (maybe also because I’m not a romance fan). It’s a quiet, gorgeously written story about the evolution of a woman (Jane) from the Mothering Sunday tryst with her illicit lover to late in her life. The story is unique, yet not weird and I could say the same about Swift’s writing style. Mothering Sunday reminded me a bit of Brian Morton’s Florence Gordon (my review) and would be an excellent choice for fans of Downton Abbey.

It was called “relaxation,” she thought, a word that did not commonly enter a maid’s vocabulary. She had many words, by now, that did not enter a maid’s vocabulary. Even the word “vocabulary.” She gathered them up like one of those nest-building birds outside. And was she even a maid any more, stretched here on his bed? And was he even a “master”? It was the magic, the perfect politics of nakedness. More than relaxation: peace.

One True Thing by Anna QuindlenOne True Thing by Anna Quindlen
Fiction (August 30, 1994)
315 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Random House)

Plot Summary: Ellen Gulden returns home from her prestigious job as a New York City journalist to care for her mother as she’s dying of cancer…only to be accused her mercy killing.

My Thoughts: I’m a bit late to the Anna Quindlen party, but she’s fast becoming a go-to author for me whenever I’m craving some “life lessons/perspective” in my reading. She just gets life…especially marriage, motherhood, and women’s work/life balance. One True Thing explores the relationship between Ellen (an ambitious career woman) and her mother (a Stepford-style stay-at-home mother) and their efforts to understand each other as people before it’s too late. This novel is heartfelt, sad, moving, and thought-provoking and reminded me a bit of My Name is Lucy Barton (a novel about a mother and daughter getting to know each other during a hospital stay) and Home is Burning (a memoir about children serving as caregivers for their parents). 

But in the end what was important was not that we had so misunderstood one another, but that we had so misunderstood her, this woman who had made us who we were while we barely noticed it.

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Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker: The Best Psychological Thriller I’ve Read Since Gone Girl

August 10, 2017 Mysteries/Thrillers 20

Emma in the night by Wendy WalkerFiction – Mystery / Thriller
Released August 8, 2017
320 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (St. Martin’s Press)

Headline

Emma in the Night‘s ending has the rare perfect balance between being surprising, yet still fitting with the story and it’s the first 5 star thriller I’ve read since Gone Girl.

Plot Summary

Three years after teenage sisters Emma and Cass disappeared from their home, Cass returns home without Emma and forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winters returns to help Cass find Emma.

Why I Read It

This was a lucky read. I’d read Walker’s debut thriller (All is Not Forgotten), but wasn’t a huge fan. St. Martin’s Press sent me an e-galley of Emma in the Night (thank you!) and I almost wasn’t motivated to pick it up. Then, Michelle at That’s What She Read said she read it in a day while floating in a pool…so, I decided to give it a try.

Major Themes

Childhood Trauma, Abuse, Family Secrets, Sisters, Narcissist Personality Disorder

What I Liked

  • I could not put this book down! And, I liked it so much better than All is Not Forgotten! If I had the kind of life where I could devote a whole day to reading, I could’ve read this book in one day. It’s the first 5 star thriller I’ve read since Gone Girl. If you’re looking for an immersive, edge-of-your-seat page turner for your last vacation of the summer, Emma in the Night is your book!
  • It’s a bit of a cross between a psychological thriller and a dysfunctional family novel. Both paths are extremely well-developed.
  • I was fascinated by the focus on Narcissistic Personality Disorder and the psychology of how this affects a family. I love how Walker went deep with the psychology angle throughout the whole book and explored how this disorder can be passed down through generations.
  • This novel is full of ambiguity. I spent most of my time reading wondering who was telling the truth, who was the real manipulator, and how and why everything played out like it did. I literally changed my mind on these questions dozens of times throughout the story.
  • Finally…a thriller with an ending that is surprising, yet absolutely makes sense with the story!! This is the number one characteristic I look for in thrillers and the number one thing that often goes wrong (hence why I’ve been turned off by thrillers lately). Kudos, Wendy Walker, for getting this exactly right!

What I Didn’t Like

Not one thing.

A Defining Quote

And so they were fierce competitors in their secret club, for each other’s love, for the love of everyone around them. And all I could do was watch from a distance, one short enough that I could see the escalation. Two nation-states in a constant battle for power and control. It was unsustainable. And so it continued, this war between my mother and my sister, until the night we were gone.

Good for People Who Like…

Psychological thrillers, dysfunctional family novels, secrets / betrayal, unputdownable books

Other Books You May Like

The only other psychological thriller that left me the highest level of satisfied:
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (my review)

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3 Gripping New Crime Books…Both Fiction and Nonfiction

July 27, 2017 Book Lists 22

I used to love books about crime…especially true crime. But until the last few months, it had been awhile since I’d read any memorable ones. I read Killers of the Flower Moon back in April and was excited to see that I had a number of books about crime coming up later in the year…enough to do a crime books round-up. And then, one by one, each crime book fell flat…until the past month, when I had two unexpected winners that weren’t even on my radar back in April when I first decided to do this post.

3 Gripping New Crime Books…Both Fiction and Nonfiction

American Fire by Monica HesseAmerican Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land by Monica Hesse
Nonfiction (Released July 11, 2017)
259 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Liveright

In the small, rural community of Accomack County on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, a serial arsonist (to the eventual tune of 67 fires in five months) was on the loose. The story behind the hunt for this arsonist (actually, arsonists), who they were, and why they couldn’t stop burning down abandoned buildings is ultimately about a unique community and a love affair gone very wrong. American Fire is a portrait of a declining town similar to Hillbilly Elegy (but without the social analysis element). It’s a well-told and engrossing story with a broad appeal beyond the true crime genre and is a perfect “gateway book” for those interested in dipping their toes into the true crime genre for the first time. It’s going on my 2017 Summer Reading Guide

I spent the next two years trying to understand why he did it. The answer, inasmuch as there is an answer for these things, involved hope, poverty, pride, Walmart, erectile dysfunction, Steak-umms (the chopped meat sold in the frozen foods aisle), intrigue, and America. America: the way it’s disappointing sometimes, the way it’s never what it used to be. But it also involved love. The kind of love that is vaguely crazy and then completely crazy and then collapses in on itself in a way that leaves the participants bewildered and telling very different stories about what actually happened.

Killers of the Flower Moon by David GrannKillers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
Nonfiction (Released April 18, 2017)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Doubleday

This true story of the systematic murder of many members of the Osage Indian Nation for their oil rights and the subsequent investigation into the killings is a flawless blend of history and mystery. It’s about the history of the Osage Indian Nation, oil drilling in America in the 1920’s, 1920’s law enforcement and the FBI’s first homicide case. Then, overlay all that with a murder mystery involving a stunning level of corruption that captivated the public interest at the time, but that I sure didn’t hear about in any history class. Though the early details occasionally get a little dry, the story picks up steam once the FBI starts to investigate and, just when you think it’s over, things become even more unbelievable. Killers of the Flower Moon would be a great choice for fans of narrative nonfiction and Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City.

The world’s richest people per capita were becoming the world’s most murdered.

Quicksand by Malin Persson GiolitoQuicksand by Malin Persson Giolito
Fiction (Released March 7, 2017)
513 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Other Press

I “5 star adored” this Swedish “courtroom thriller” and am amazed it hasn’t gotten more buzz in the U.S. since its March release! In a nutshell, Quicksand is the movie Cruel Intentions (elite prep school, lots of money, partying, drugs, neglected high schoolers, and an intense love affair), if Sebastian (PS – Quicksand‘s main character is also named Sebastian…it’s almost too perfect!) had shot up his school and Annette had gone to trial for helping him. The story shifts back and forth between Maja’s (Sebastian’s girlfriend and the “Annette” character in Quicksand) trial and time in jail and the lead-up to the shooting, including Maja and Sebastian’s love affair and Sebastian’s tumultuous relationship with his billionaire father. This story is about far more than just a school shooting…it’s about friendship, family, a wealthy community, the complicated entanglement of young love, the law, and a slight bit of politics. I couldn’t put it down. If you like dark, twisty high school books, this is one of the best I’ve ever read! It’s also going on my 2017 Summer Reading Guide!

The prosecutor said I did what I did because I loved Sebastian. That my love for him was the greatest thing in my life. That nothing else was more important. But it’s not true. Because the greatest of all is fear, the terror of dying. Love means nothing when you believe you’re going to die.

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Read One, Skip One: The Sleepwalker and The Futures

January 12, 2017 Mini Book Reviews 23

The Sleepwalker, Chris BohjalianThe Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian
Fiction – Thriller (Released January 10, 2017)
304 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Doubleday)

Plot Summary: When Annalee Ahlberg, a notorious sleepwalker, disappears from her home in the middle of the night, her husband and two daughters try to piece together what happened.

My Thoughts: Chris Bohjalian’s most recent books are giving him quite a reputation for coming up with mysteries…with more. They have the who-done-it/why-done-it elements of your run-of-the-mill mystery, but he layers on something deeper. In 2016’s The Guest Room, it was sex-trafficking, and in The Sleepwalker, it’s parasomnia. I found the parasomnia angle fascinating…it’s much more than the book’s title suggests. It’s a real thing (thank you, Google) and can cause shame for the sufferer, so Bohjalian’s exploration of an extreme example of parasomnia’s potential disastrous consequences had real-life appeal for me beyond this particular story. And, I liked the psychological exploration of the impact of parasomnia on a marriage and a family.

They both felt shame, but different reasons: he because of what people saw and she because of what she could not control.

All this being said, I would have liked to see the book go in a slightly different direction. I can’t share too many details without ruining the ending, but I would’ve liked the story to explore the legal implications of parasomnia a bit more. Still, The Sleepwalker is a book you can fly through (which I need sometimes) and is going on my Page Turners list.

The Futures, Anna PitoniakThe Futures by Anna Pitoniak
Fiction – Debut (Release Date: January 17, 2017)
320 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it.
Affiliate Link: Amazon
Source: Publisher (Lee Boudreaux Books)

Plot Summary: When college sweethearts Evan and Julia move to New York City after graduating from Yale, they face a tougher road than they imagined finding their place in the post-college world.

My Thoughts: I quite honestly don’t have a lot to say about The Futures. It’s the story of a quarter life crisis…something I certainly went through and could identify with. The “coming of age in your twenties in the big city” storyline always seems to suck me in, yet has proved disappointing the past few rounds (also Why We Came to the City).

Julia and Evan’s college and immediate post-college experience resembled my own to a certain extent (minus the Ivy League tag). Despite or (possibly because of?) this relatability, the plot was predictable and not particularly memorable. I was disappointed with the lack of “yes, that’s exactly how it is” writing, which could have upped the memorability factor for me. On the plus side, it was a nice, easy Brain Candy book that I never had to force myself to pick up.  

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Spoiler Discussion: All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker

July 21, 2016 Mysteries/Thrillers 17

All Is Not Forgotten is a book I really don’t have that much to say about without discussing spoilers. So, I’m going to talk about all the nitty gritty details! Stop reading here if you don’t want to know…

All is Not Forgotten, Wendy WalkerFiction – Mystery/Thriller
Released July 12, 2016
320 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (St. Martin’s Press) via NetGalley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before I get into all the spoiler-y details, I should say that I could not put this book down. I wasn’t sure I actually liked it…and am still not sure to some extent, but I could. not. stop. reading. It’s incredibly twisty, dark, and deeply unsettling. And, I was fascinated by all the psychology/science about how the brain processes memory and trauma, especially given this Author’s Note:

[…] the altering of both factual and emotional memories of trauma is at the forefront of emerging research and technology in memory science. Scientists have successfully altered factual memories and mitigated the emotional impact of memories with the drugs and therapies described in this book, and they continue to search for a drug to target and erase those memories completely.

What is All Is Not Forgotten actually about?

The publisher’s blurb would have you believe it’s about Jenny, her rape, the controversial treatment she receives and the effects on her family and community:

Now, after reading it, I think Dr. Alan Forrester (the narrator and Jenny’s psychiatrist) is the center of the story. Jenny and her family end up as merely cogs in his wheel of deception and personal issues. So much so that a more apt title for the book could have been The Puppeteer…if it wasn’t somewhat of a spoiler.

What did you think of the narrator/psychiatrist (Dr. Alan Forrester)?

  • At first, I thought the narrator was just a random father of one of the other kids in town. This gave the book a creepy feeling and I couldn’t figure out why a random father would be narrating this story. It actually made me dislike the book at first. Thankfully, someone told me the narrator was Jenny’s psychiatrist well before it was revealed in the book and knowing that immediately improved my reading experience. That being said, the book itself didn’t reveal the narrator’s full identity until Chapter 7 (the 19% mark). I don’t understand what waiting that late added to the story.
  • Dr. Forrester comes off as creepy, arrogant, and manipulative…even before the extent of his machinations are fully revealed. He goes on long tangents about his views on life, his patients, and his own family and is willing to say things most regular people probably wouldn’t…which reminded me a bit of Dr. Marc Schlosser in Herman Koch’s Summer House with Swimming Pool (review). I was never a fan of Dr. Forrester, but I truly hated him by the end (which I suppose was the author’s intent).
  • I also didn’t buy his final justification for his actions:

    I am guilty. Hate me if you must. I have tried to show you the mitigating facts. Charlotte, Tom, Sean. I gave them back their lives, and none of that would have been possible if we had not had the collision. If I had not told my story to an unstable patient. If Jenny had not been in those woods with him. If I had confessed the moment I learned the truth. Hate me. Despise me. But know that I have weighed everything on the scales. And know that every night I fall asleep. And every morning I wake up and look in the mirror without any problem whatsoever.

  • The only person who truly benefited (without incredible cost) from all this was Sean because he was the ONLY person whose trauma was not set in motion by something Dr. Forrester did. Tom and Charlotte may have gotten their marriage back on track (and Charlotte was able to reconcile her two internal identities), but at the cost of their daughter’s rape and attempted suicide. 
  • Finally, the entire fact that the Kramers chose Dr. Forrester as Jenny’s psychiatrist is unrealistic. I think it’s highly unlikely that a teenage rape victim would feel comfortable seeking treatment from the FATHER OF A CLASSMATE for such a personal trauma, regardless of the doctor’s particular expertise.

How far should parents go to protect their children?

  • First, Dr. Forrester’s dilemma reminded me of the choices the Lohmans faced in Herman Koch’s The Dinner (review). And, it astounds me that I just compared parts of All Is Not Forgotten to not one, but two Herman Koch books! I want to be clear that I’m not saying All Is Not Forgotten is a great choice for fans of Herman Koch…I’m just comparing small pieces of each book here.
  • I understand how the Forresters would want to protect Jason if a truly unfortunate coincidence tied him to a high-profile crime he didn’t commit…and the subsequent media storm and damage to his reputation that could result. Even if he is innocent, his name and reputation could get dragged through the mud (i.e. the Duke lacrosse case). 
  • But, Dr. Forrester went down an incredibly intricate path to protect Jason that harmed Sean and all the Kramers (not to mention Bob Sullivan!) while a part of him believed Jason was guilty. 
  • It’s easy to label Forrester as evil because of all this, but do we truly know how far we would go to protect our own children? I hope I never have to find out.

What did you think of the ending?

  • Were you surprised that Glenn Shelby had raped Jenny? I guessed it when Forrester mentioned that Shelby’s post-prison apartment was in nearby Cranston. What I couldn’t figure out was the how or why.
  • That ending was quite an intricate web! It certainly went far beyond just who raped Jenny and I appreciated the more complicated layers. However, I think some plot points were too farfetched.
  • I didn’t buy the crux of the ending…
    A) that Forrester would tell the personal story of his own rape to a prison inmate who is also a patient. 
    B) that Glenn would then try to recreate Forrester’s experience by raping Forrester’s own son as revenge for “abandoning” him.
    C) that substituting Jenny for Jason at the last minute would fulfill Glenn’s weird fantasy (assuming you bought B). Why not find another opportunity to go after Jason?
    D) that Forrester would’ve kept his own scar and/or experience a secret from “the reader” until the very end given how much he revealed along the way about his own life.
  • And, I HATED the part about the killing of Bob Sullivan. It was way too farfetched that not one, not two, but three men (Sean Logan, Tom Kramer, and Lila’s father) reacted to their individual beefs with him by seriously considering killing him and that two of them took action/attempted action at the same time.

All that being said, are thrillers farfetched by nature?

  • There has to be some level of outlandishness to ensure a thriller’s plot is sufficiently surprising. But, I think there’s a fine line between “delightfully surprising, yet still makes sense” and “so over the top it leaves you rolling your eyes.” 
  • This ending leaned toward “so over the top it leaves you rolling your eyes” for me. There were too many fantastic coincidences and unrealistic elements. 
  • I always maintain that Gone Girl has the perfect ending (totally shocking, but fit all the pieces together perfectly)…and yet it does have elements that are completely unrealistic. So, it’s possible I’m being overly critical of the unrealistic elements in All Is Not Forgotten. Sometimes maybe it’s better to suspend reality for a bit and just enjoy the story!

Let’s talk! What did you think about all this?

If you enjoy these types of spoiler discussions, check similar ones on the following books:

After the Crash by Michel Bussi
Behind her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Where They Found Her
by Kimberly McCreight

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