July Rundown

July was a great month – for reading and otherwise!

I started the month by reading In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware. I read it in three days flat – finishing it right before our Fourth of July barbecue. I loved it as an easy summer read and would highly reccomend it! Review here. 5 Stars.

Right after that I picked up The Return by Hisham Matar. It took me a while to get in to this, so I assumed that I wouldn’t finish it on my plane rides to and from Denver. Well, I finished my book on my first flight and thought to myself, now what? So as I walked through the Denver airport I found a bookstore and dropped it for some impulse buys. I told myself I could get one book that had been on my list for a long time – and ended up walking out with Modern Lovers by Emma Straub and The Circle by Dave Eggers. Review for The Return here. 5 Stars.

As my travels continued, on a train from the airport to the city, I had such an awesome experience. I wrote about it on Instagram, but I was reading The Circle on the train and a construction worker on his way home from a 16 hour shift, started to ask me about my book. I told him what is was and that I just got it and we ended up chatting about books and bookstores for the rest of the ride. When we got to the station, I was a little lost trying to find my connecting train and he happened to be headed in the same direction as me, so before I knew it the two of us were running for the train and chatting about our favorite football players and other mutual interests. It was so amazing to get out of my comfort zone and talk to a stranger about books and life, all because he recognized the cover of my book.

I spent the following week reading The Circle by Dave Eggers and having some serious internal debates about the state of data collection in the world today.  I didn’t end up loving The Circle, but I’m excited to watch the movie and it definitely gave me a lot to think about! Review here.

And now as the month comes to a close, I’m (per usual) rushing to finish my August Book of the Month pick – American Fire by Monica Hesse.

Looking Ahead – My August TBR:

I went on a bit of a book buying binge in the last month, so I actually have a lot of books ready to be read!

  1. The Secret Hisotry by Donna Tartt
  2. Where the Water Goes by David Owen
  3. Modern Lovers by Emma Straub
  4. Per Usual – My August Book of the Month Club Pick

Happy end of July and here’s to ringing in the last month of Summer 😀 (although now that I live in San Diego that’s not stressing me out nearly as much!)

Your Turn: What did you read this month? Anything you’d reccomend?!

 

Five Fe-nomenal Female [Thriller] Writers

There’s truly nothing like summer to put me on a thriller kick. Other times of year I find I prefer deeper, more thought-provoking styles, but in the heat of July, give me a murder mystery I can devour in three days, and I’m a very happy camper. Over the years I’ve read a variety of authors and with Ruth Ware’s The Lying Game coming out tomorrow, I wanted to make a quick list of my Five Favorite Female Thriller Writers (I lost the F trend after a while..)

Tana French

French is the author that got me back in to reading. I borrowed Into the Woods from my mom in high school and fell back in love with reading.  I didn’t read much through college or grad school, but every time a new Tana French book was released, I ran across the street to Barnes and Noble and picked it up.

Tana French’s style is character driven. It focuses as much on the detectives as on the mystery they are solving. It’s also very procedural. I didn’t totally pick up on it for the first few books, but each book has a main detective and a secondary detective, and in the next book, the secondary detective becomes the main and a new detective is introduced. This gives these books some cohesion, but you by no means need to read them in order.

My Favorites:

Paula Hawkins

I’ll admit it. I’m a total fan! I was hesitant after The Girl on the Train, because it felt like every book with the word “girl” in the title was an instant bestseller, but just last month I read and loved Into the Water.

Hawkins’ style tells the story through the point of view of many characters. The suspense is built through a scene told in one voice, which will take place up to the action, and then stop. While the narration switches to someone who is uninformed or uninvolved but speculating about the primary scene, you start to engage in their speculation too. And when you just about can’t take it anymore, the narrator switches again and the scene is revealed. I couldn’t put Into the Water down, and if we’re being honest, I read The Girl on the Train in just a few days too.

Books to Check Out:

Ruth Ware

If you missed my recent review of In a Dark Dark Wood, check it out here!

Ruth Ware’s books focus on writers (at least in the first two books) a little bit out of their league and in the fight of their lives.

Her books are fast paced and pure joy. Since I like to dissect books, I often find that when I read a book that’s too light, I get bored. I never felt that way with these. In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10 are unrelenting in suspense. Be sure to clear your plans before picking one up!

Ware’s Tales (that doesn’t even rhyme):

Susie Steiner

Susie Steiner may be the most unknown on this list. Her first in the D.S. Manon series came out last summer, and number two was just released this week. I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

D. S. Manon is the female detective who serves as the protagonist in this mystery series. I heard mixed reviews when the book came out – a lot of people really didn’t like Manon and it ruined the book for them, and others were lauding it as a great debut. I picked it as my Book of the Month selection last July and thoroughly enjoyed it! The style was definitely similar to Tana French, and I’m looking forward to Steiner’s next book, so I can continue to get a feel for her writing style!

Check these out:

Gillian Flynn

… who’s name may as well be Gone Girl. Who hasn’t read this book? I believe that I read this one the best way — totally blind. I had no idea what to expect, which is seriously the only way to do this book, so I won’t spoil it for new readers.

Since Gone Girl, I read Dark Places, and her short story The Grownup. What I find to be both Flynn’s strength and weakness, is her ability to write a creepy story. Dark Places made me uncomfortable by the end of it, and while the plot of that book has stayed with me even two years later, I kind of wish it would go away. The Grownup really solidified this for me. It was amazing how Flynn could spin a tale so creepy in so few pages. But hey, I’ve never been one to enjoy a scary movie or a haunted house. If that sounds like you – this may be for you as well.

Flynn is clearly supremely talented as a writer, and if you’re looking for something to make your spine tingle, look no further. 

The Best of the Best:

Book Review: The Circle

This book came with some serious hype.

One reading friend said “The Circle is the book that got me in to reading.”

Another, who I normally agree with said, “I LOVED The Circle” (high praise)

On Goodreads, six friends read it, and four of them gave it five stars, including one review stating simply, “scary good.”

Then two weekends ago when I was describing my old job in New York, I was told “You really need to read The Circle”

So last weekend, I was in an airport bookshop, allowing myself ONE book that made me think, ‘Oh I’ve been wanting to read that’, and I saw The Circle. So of course I had to buy it and quickly got to reading it.

And I kept reading it, and I kept reading it, and I kept thinking ‘I wonder where this is going.’ Semi-spoiler: It never really went anywhere. It kind of beat the point in to the ground (I’m horrible at metaphors) until you figured out that the point was dangerous. But despite all the directions it could have gone, the drama never came to a head.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency.

As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO.

Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in America – even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge

What I liked:

The pace was nice. It was a fast read. Probably the first 500 pager I’ve finished in under a week. It also made me think. It took some things that I’ve personally said (i.e. that i wished my job had more transparency) to the extreme and made me consider why things are under wraps in the world. This book really focuses on transparency and the danger of secrets and it was kind of interesting to see what would happen if everyone was “transparent”.

What I didn’t like: A lot of things to be real with you.

I didn’t like that there were no chapters. There was also no table of contents, but basically Book One is Pages 1-300, Book Two is Pages 301-495. And Book Three is Pages 495 – 500. There really is no other structure to this book.

I didn’t like listening to all the pitches of products. I think this day in age (which is four years after the book came out), the world is saturated with ‘startup bro ideas’. This book had a lot of fully formed ideas that I explained over the course of 5-10 pages as a pitch. It was a bit much for me, and I often found myself thinking ‘the person pitching this is really annoying’ or ‘i don’t care about this fake pitch’. Those sections just really got to me. It slowed the action down way too much for very little advancement in plot.

(Interestingly, I liked the book Startup by Dorree Shafrir because even though it is all about startup bro ideas, it takes them lightly and explores a lot of other issues around startup culture — definitely recommend!)

I really didn’t like the lack of personal repercussions for the Mae – her family kind of drops off the radar and you don’t see her react to that fact, or see their opinion of anything. I guess how they feel is ultimately implied in their lack of presence in the book, but regardless, I would have liked that to be more of a focus.

Conclusions (but really discussion):

I think that the book brings up a lot of issues. About secrets and transparency and about the option to opt out.

The secrets and transparency one is interesting.  I am definitely a fan of keeping classified information classified. I know there has been a lot debate in recent years – when Snowden leaked documents from Booze Allen Hamilton, and when Trump handed over classified information to the Russians (and trust me I know there are several things to debate in between.) The book does a good job in showing how nuts too much transparency is. Even Mae who was totally in to it, took three-minute audio-free breaks in the bathroom to talk to people. I think we would all like to strive for transparency, and to know that we’re getting the whole story, but this book definitely sheds light on why some things should remain secret.

And in regards to the option to opt out, a lot of this book reminded me of Facebook or Google. I obviously enjoy social media, and am ok, for the most part, with them collecting and selling out data, but one point that the book made is that before things went too far, there was the option to opt out. I thought that was really important in how things today are kind of kept in check. You don’t HAVE to have a facebook account. You don’t have to give them data. Sure it’s a huge part of life for many people today and you may feel forced in to it, but there are limits of how intrusive facebook or google can be.

DISCUSS WITH ME!

What did you think about 1. The book and 2. The issues that it brought up? Agree, disagree, I welcome it all!

 

 

Book Review: The Return

Ah a nonfiction read! Why don’t I read more of these?

The Return: Fathers, Sons, and The Land in Between by Hisham Matar caught my eye late last year, but I didn’t see a lot of press about it after its release. When I saw it won a Pulitzer Prize this year I quickly put it back on my list, and finally a couple weeks ago I cracked it open.

This book wasn’t what I expected – I expected a face paced story of returning to a war torn country and being shocked at the condition; interviews and being chased by authorities for getting to close to the truth; or really just some sort of action. Instead I found a peacefully retold story of closure.

Synopsis From The Back Cover:

When Hisham Matar was a nineteen-year-old university student in England, his father was kidnapped. One of the Qaddafi regime’s most prominent opponents in exile, he was help in a secret prison in Libra. Hisham would never see him again. But he never gave up hope that his father might still be alive. Twenty-two years later and after the fall of Qaddafi, Hisham returns with his other and wife to the homeland he never thought he’d go back to again, in search of hte truth behind his father’s disappearance. The Return is the story of what he found there. It is a brilliant portrait of a national and a peope on the cusp of change, a disquieting depiction of the brutal legacy of absolute power, and a universal tale of loss and love and of one family’s life.

What I liked:

The writing was powerful, along the line of what you would expect from a Pulitzer Prize winner, I suppose. Just take in this passage about fathers and sons.

They are men, like all men, who have come into the world through another man, a sponsor, opening the gate and, if they are lucky, doing so gently, perhaps with a reassuring smile and an encouraging nudge on the shoulder. And the fathers must have known, having once themselves been sons, that the ghostly presence of their hand will remain throughout the years to the end of time, and that no matter what burdens are laid on that shoulder or the number of kisses a lower plants there, perhaps knowingly driven by the secret wish the erase the claim of another, the shoulder will remain forever faithful, remembering that good man’s hand that had usher them into the world. To be a man is to be part of this chain of gratitude and remembering, of blame and forgetting, of surrender and rebellion, until a son’s gaze is made so wounded and keen that, on looking back, he sees nothing but shadows.

Hisham talks in depth about his love of poetry, and that comes across in this book. However, and this is important, the book is very readable. I took the first half slowly because I wanted to soak in the new geography and the new lessons of history that I had never learned before – either in a classroom or from the news, but once I understood the context, I found the language and writing very easy to read (above paragraph excluded).

I also really enjoyed learning. I learned so much about the politics and history of Libya – I had no idea that Libya was an Italian colony for 37 YEARS. And there’s so much other knowledge in this book, that that’s merely the tip of the iceberg.

What I Didn’t Like:

To be completely honest, I found the book a little selfserving. I’ve found this in a few books that I’ve read, where an author popular for fiction decides to write a non-fiction memoir – but I haven’t actually read their fiction – and they mention how famous or well known they are. For some reason is really makes me cringe. At any rate, there were sections in this book, that I didn’t think contributed to the plot, about how well known of an author he was in England. This seems to be popular in books like this, so maybe it’s just what you do.

I also, at first, really was thrown off by all the history and the slow speed of the story. There was a moment when I considered putting it down and not picking it back up. I was on a reading roll with a lot of light summer reads, and this one felt like slamming on the brakes. But once I readjusted my expectations, and committed to absorbing as of much of the knowledge as I could, I found I really settled in.

Conclusions:

Definitely pick up this book. But be prepared for a thoughtful history lesson, not a fast paced mystery. Sometimes our reactions to things are all about out expectations – and one of the biggest lessons I learned from this book is that good things come in slow and thoughtful package. 🙂

Enjoy! And comment below if you read this book and let me know what you thought!

It’s Amazon Prime Day!

So lets talk everything Amazon and Books….

BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING ELSE, use the offer code PRIMEBOOKS17 to get $5 off any book over $15 (which is most books!!).

My choices — Where the Water Goes: Life and Death of the Colorado River and The Confusion of Languages. I cannot wait for them to get here on Thursday!

 

Last year on Amazon Prime day I finally recognized the lack of a kindle in my life and bought a Kindle Paperwhite. It wasn’t my first ereader – I bought a Nook Color in high school the day it came out, and later on I used my iPad mini, but seriously the battery life on those for using the kindle app in insanely weak. So I thought long and hard and then hit ‘purchase’ on a brand new Kindle Paperwhite.

Given the choice between a real book and a kindle book, I always choose a real book; but sometimes you need a kindle, or – dare I say it- the kindle is actually the better choice. So, I decided to outline some of my favorite things about my Kindle Paperwhite and a few of my top recs for kindle books. 

Size – the kindle is SO portable, especially the paperwhite. While a case definitely bulks it up, I still love being able to throw it in my bag incase I find a quiet spot to read.

Highlights – Honestly, if real books could get this function, I’d never look back. The kindle gives you the ability to highlight sections, and when the book is finished you can email yourself a PDF or excel spreadsheet of all your notes. Your highlights also sync with Goodreads, so you can share your favorite quotes with your friends. Have you ever read a nonfiction book and wanted to back up your claim when trying to tell your friends the craziest thing you read? Highlights is there for you.

XRAY – I really love this tool. A lot of times in a novel I’ll overloook certain characters in the first couple chapters and when they come back in later, I feel a little lost. XRAY will find the defining paragraph of that character and show it to you to jog your memory. The also updated this feature to block out pages you havent read. In previous editions it would show you all mentions of a characters name, and so you could tell if someone makes it to the very last page. I found that very upsetting when I was trying to read Game of Thrones! XRAY also will give you defitions of terms that youre unsure of, with more context than a dictionary. Not sure why you should remember a certain Civil War general mentioned in passing in the text? XRAY’s got you covered.

Book Club – Book Club is three fold. 1. You either want to start reading immediately and download the book instantly, or maybe you procrastinated and with one day left you need to get access to the book and read it. 2. When you’re discussing the book, you so need to find that paragraph you highlighted half way through. No chance you’re finding that in a hard copy. 3. You may just not want to own every book your book club picks. This way it can live in digital form forever and not take up space on your bookshelf.

You’ll never run out of books on a trip – I know we’re all trying to pack more lightly when we go on vacation, but there’s always that feeling of “what if I finish my book?” My go-to travel move is to take the book I’m reading (usually a hardcover), and then throw my kindle in my carry on. If I do finish my book, I have about 10 books waiting on my kindle for me. It’s happened a couple times and I’m always so glad I threw my kindle in my bag — and that it’s battery is still running!

There are always deals! – seriously. There are multiple kindle deal websites (that I had to unfollow because I found too many books I wanted for $2 and I couldn’t NOT buy them.) Also look out for sales around Christmas/New Years-  Amazon often does a day of Goodreads Best Books of the Year and another day of New York Times Bestsellers. Caution: These are dangerous – but only moderately so because they’re so cheap!)

So if you’re convinced, and you just bought yourself a brand new kindle, here are a few of my recommendations for good kindle reads!

  1. Dead Wake by Erik Larson – amazing writing and amazing research you’ll want to remember
  2. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson – definitely highlight worthy
  3. Sweetbitter – this book may not be at the top of everyone’s list, but there are some amazing passages I enjoyed going back to
  4. Eleanor & Park – such a sweet sweet book. Reading it on the kindle felt like I was keeping it light. I also sneakily read this one on my iPad at work because I couldn’t put it down! ❤

Book Review: In A Dark, Dark Wood

Happy Fourth of July!

After almost two months of reluctant reading, I am feeling back in the game. The last three books I’ve read, I’ve read in about three days flat. The most recent of those being – In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware.

The Woman in Cabin 10, also by Ware, was a very popular Book of the Month selection last August. Unfortunately it was right after I had selected a different thriller and during the SAME month as All the Ugly and Wonderful Things (to date, one of my most favorite books). After continuing to hear amazing reviews about The Woman in Cabin 10, I finally was able to check it out from the library and enjoy it for myself. I was absolutely taken by the writing style and the suspense, and swore I would read whatever else Ware had published.

It took me six months, but I finally got around to opening Ware’s debut novel, In a Dark Dark Wood, and from the moment I opened it, I couldn’t put it down. I don’t pride myself on being a fast reader, but I couldn’t believe how fast the pages were turning; how quickly the book was progressing; how I felt like I couldn’t start the next chapter fast enough. This book was nothing like I expected and truly a thrilling experience.

Synopsis:

Leonora, known to some as Lee and others as Nora, is a reclusive crime writer, unwilling to leave her “nest” of an apartment unless it is absolutely necessary. When a friend she hasn’t seen or spoken to in years unexpectedly invites Nora (Lee?) to a weekend away in an eerie glass house deep in the English countryside, she reluctantly agrees to make the trip. Forty-eight hours later, she wakes up in a hospital bed injured but alive, with the knowledge that someone is dead. Wondering not “what happened?” but “what have I done?”, Nora (Lee?) tries to piece together the events of the past weekend. Working to uncover secrets, reveal motives, and find answers, Nora (Lee?) must revisit parts of herself that she would much rather leave buried where they belong: in the past.

I [shockingly] don’t have a ton to say about this book, except it was one of my favorite binge-thriller-mystery-suspense reads in recent history, but for tradition sake let’s go through the rundown briefly.

What I Liked:

The pace. This mystery was 100% feel good. It wasn’t heavy or deep and there wasn’t that much to figure out. It all unfolded in front of you on the page as you read it, at a pace that felt fast but easy to keep up with.

One thing that I noticed in Ware’s writing is the use of dramatic irony, in that you know what a bad situation the protagonist is in and you know they don’t deserve to be there. Yet you can’t imagine a way out, and that feeling keeps you on the edge of your seat.

What I Didn’t Like:

This may have been extra apparent because I read it so fast, but there were a couple things that happened twice and Ware used the same language both times without acknowledging that second time was the second time. I.e. Nora’s phone goes missing twice, and Nora reacts the same way both times without acknowledging how weird it is that this happened twice. There was no exclamation of ‘Why am I so bad at keeping track of my things?’ or ‘Who the hell is taking my phone?’ This definitely confused me and for the first time in the novel made me feel like maybe I was the one who was losing it.

A couple of the characters felt under developed for me. Tom in particular. What was his deal? Was he just there to add to the suspect list? That confused me.

Conclusion:

Overall, I am so happy I picked this one up right before a holiday weekend and was able to absolutely devour it. I HIGHLY recommend it if you’re in the mood to not overthink things and go for a wild ride. It was truly an adventure. Enjoy!!

June Rundown

And all of a sudden it was June and we were on the road.

On the final day in May,  my boyfriend and I left on a two week road trip from New York to San Diego.  We passed through Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Kansas, Denver, several of the Utah National Parks, and then smashed out a drive to San Diego on the last day. It was an amazing trip, but I almost never got alone time and was always so exhausted at the end of a day!
I had my two May Book of the Month selections to read – since clearly I didn’t get to them in May. Of the two titles, Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood and Into the Water by Paula Hawkins, I went with Into the Water for the roadtrip, as it seemed like it would raise less eyebrows at all of our stops along the way. As I mentioned in the review, I cracked open the book in Pittsburgh, PA, at my parents house, didn’t open it again until we got to Denver. And then read the majority of the book when we got to San Diego, and I had a laid back reading environment once again. The full review is here, but spoiler: I LOVED it (the actual review has no spoilers).
As soon as I put it down I was on to Priestdaddy, and I was loving it – enjoying the tone of the writing, but feeling shocked and sympathetic at their misfortune. And then…. I searched for ‘book club’ on meetup, found one, only had three days to read the book, downloaded Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel and read it in three days. As happens, I got too busy to go to the book club that Sunday, but I read and enjoyed the book, and posted my review here. I gave it three stars out of five.
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And now as the month ends, I’m looking forward to finishing Priestdaddy, picking my July Book of the Month, and reading the three paperbacks I got from Barnes and Noble. (I almost never buy books, but I got $30 from Barnes and Noble through their class action lawsuit! Free books please!)
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Hope you’re all enjoying summer and especially that summer reading! Happy July!!