What you should pick for your BOTM Extra

It’s January 24th, so naturally I’m already gearing up for next month’s Book of the Month selections.

I bought my mom a Book of the Month membership for Christmas, and got a free book credit in the deal, so I’ve been trying to figure out what book I should get. Whenever I go diving through the BOTM archives, I’m just reminded of all the books I’ve loved so far!

Since I’m doing The Unread Shelf Project, I think I’m going to buy a book I’ve already read to have on my shelf (Tossing up The Woman in Cabin 10 or Into Thin Air) But, if you have found yourself in a similar situation – or just want to add an extra to your box here are my top five suggestions!

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If you’re looking for a well researched, slow-burning, character rich, historical fiction novel: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (my review)

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If you’re looking for a book that will destroy you and put you back together again, while making you consider different types of relationships from your own: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood (my review)

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If you want to experience life on the Galapagos Islands, with a touch of WWII espionage intrigue: Enchanted Islands by Allison Ahmed

 

If you’re looking for the quintessential unputdownable thriller: The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware (Confession: I don’t own The Woman in Cabin 10, yet, but these are her other two that I read this past summer!)

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If you want a new [fictional] best friend: The Hearts Invisible Furies by John Boyne

 

Honorable Mention: The Animators, The Couple Next Door, and The Profiteers.

 

 

I cannot recommend any of these enough and I’m so grateful for BOTM for bringing them in to my life!

(If you’ve been considering Book of the Month but haven’t taken the plunge, use my referral code! You’ll get a sweet deal, and I’ll get a free book)

Review: The Woman in the Window

Author: A.J. Finn
Published: January 2018
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Book of the Month January 2018 Selection
FLW Rating: 5/5

“You’re having trouble breathing. Is the book that good?”, my boyfriend asked me as I was trying to read the last 30 pages of The Woman in the Window. Yes, it is. The suspense truly had me that frozen in the moment.

The Woman in the Window tells the story of Anna Fox, a former psychologist who is now suffering from agoraphobia and has not left her house in eleven months. She has lots to do inside her house, including watching old black and white movies, helping fellow agoraphobes online through the username ‘thedoctorisin’, and watching her neighbors through the window. And one night, as she’s spying, she accidentally observes a very violent scene. The story that follows captures Anna’s desperate pursuit for answers as she fights her inability to leave her house and her reliability as a witness. It’s an uphill battle, but when you’ve seen what Anna has, it’s hard to let it go.

This book surprised me over and over again – later in the book the surprises came from the plot twists, but the initial surprise was how much narrative there was before Anna saw the aforementioned violent act. In the past, I’ve found that in thrillers like this, the crime is normally pretty close to the start. I appreciated the depth that Finn brought to the plot before he dropped any twists. I enjoyed following Anna around her house as she did her daily tasks, and I think building this side of the plot allowed the action to ebb and flow later in the book without any dragging.

I don’t read too many thrillers these days, but I would highly recommend this one. Besides the fact that it will be a blockbuster in the near future, you don’t want to miss the action that had me literally holding my breath.

Review: Pachinko

Author: Min Jin Lee
Published: January 2017
Genre: Historical Fiction
New York Times 10 Best Books 2017
FLW Rating: 4/5

Pachinko is a book that I will always remember, maybe not for the story, but for the history lessons I learned from it. This may just be me, but I feel like when it comes to history I tend to stick to similar cultures – American, European, maybe Russian or African at times, but very rarely do I study Asian history. Almost two years ago, I went to the Chinese American museum in New York City, and was blown away at how that population suffered upon immigrating to the US. It’s with this self awareness, that I’m so happy that I read Pachinko and that it is a New York Times Top 10 Notable Book for 2017. But I digress, Pachinko is a wonderful story set in Korea and Japan that spans almost the entire 20th century.

The story begins with a teenage girl, Sunja, who is living in the Bansu peninsula of Korea. The country has been largely oppressed by Japan who is beginning its quest to take over the region, using Korea as a stepping stone to China. Sunja lives with her mother, who, as a recent widow, provides for her family by running an inn full of interesting characters. But as Sunja grows up and moves away from the inn, she is forced to persevere – through hunger and poverty and segregation of many types. Sunja is an inspiring protagonist and as her family grows and moves, you feel yourself growing with them.

My favorite thing about this book, is of course the history, but beyond that I loved the writing. When I finished reading, I felt like I was going to mourn the loss of a dear friend (not a spoiler of the ending, just a reflection of my connection to this book), and so I kept turning the pages to the authors note. What I learned is that Min Jin Lee moved to Japan when her husband accepted a job, and she spent a lot of her time interviewing locals to prepare for this book. She had been working on the story for so many years, and wanted to make sure that it was exactly right. I think this anecdote is the purest example of what makes this book so moving and personal – the time and attention and care for the people it portrays just reflects how genuine Lee’s writing was.

While the plot may come in second to the characters and the history, it moves at the just the right pace, with just enough action to keep you turning the page. I would recommend it to someone looking for a heavier-novel or a lighter-nonfiction.

#theUnreadShelfProject2018

Yes.. I know that a week ago I was pretty anti-bookstagram trends and cliques and giveaways (still kinda against those things…) but can’t deny that I said it here first – I will read books from my own shelf this year!

So when I allowed myself to go back on Bookstagram after a holiday break, I was so happy to see The Unread Shelf Project of 2018. If you haven’t heard of it, head over to @theunreadshelf and check out her highlighted stories! I’ll highlight the challenges so far below

Challenge 1: Count and make a list of all your unread books!

My total is 16! That’s a lot for me to read in a year since I’m sure I’ll also want to read a whole bunch of new books, but I think I can aim for one per month.

Challenge 2: Feature one unread book every day!
Where you got it? Why you got it? Do you still want to read it?

I shared three on my stories, but then thought a post would be even better! So here we go!

My top seven unread books are… drum role please!

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1. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Where I got it
Book of the Month!

Why I got it
I wanted it as soon as it came out as a BOTM (January 2017) but was intimidated by the length, but then, the desire to read it never went away so I added it to my box in December 2017.

Do I still want to read it?
Yes! In fact, as I’m writing this I’m 250 pages in. Can’t wait to get back to it after I finish this post!

2. Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Where I got it
My mom!

Why I got it
This one was also a BOTM that I never hit “Add to my box” on. I saw it from one of my first months in 2016. I saw that my Granny was reading it and she got it from my cousin Patty, who often shares book recs with my mom. I reccomended to my mom that she ask my Granny to borrow the book and she did and loved it — so when she visited me in San Diego she gave it to me to read!

Do I still want to read it?
Yes! It was my idea in the first place right 😉 . Only joking – it actually sounds like a great book and I know a lot of people who loved her other book The Paris Wife.

3. The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon

Where I got it
Amazon Prime

Why I got it
I saw this on Bookstagram once and thought the plot sounded amazing – and the cover was beautiful! Then it was Amazon Prime Day and books were on sale and I had no self control

Do I still want to read it?
Yes! I was nervous because I didn’t like The Alice Network at all and thought I was not a historical person anymore. But reading Pachinko is restoring my faith in historical fiction. I also read Behold The Dreamers in November 2017 and loved it! I think I’m ready to dive back in to the historical fiction pool

4. What Happened by Hillary Clinton

Where I got it
Amazon Prime

Why I got it
Honestly, Bethany at @bethanyslibrary posted excerpts in her instagram story and I loved the writing she was showing! Also my birthday was coming up so….

Do I still want to read it?
Yes! I love owning this book and I don’t think I should continuing owning it without reading it – plus I already have a strong indication that I’ll love the writing!

5. Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo

How I got it
The @ardentbiblio holiday book exhchange!

Why I got it
Well this one wasn’t my choice, but Chelsey at @hereadsshereads stalked my instagram feed and mailed me a book she thought I’d like! (I think she nailed it!)

Do I still want to read it?
Yes! I’m not sure if Chelsey saw on my instagram story, but I actually got Stay with Me from the library but didn’t have time to read it and had to return it! I saw Rachael at @booksforbrunch raving about it no more than a week later and was kicking myself for returning it.

6. Playing Through the Whistle by S.L. Price

How I got it
This one was a Christmas gift from my sister and brother-in-law. They are the biggest non-fiction readers I know!

Why I got it
Playing through the Whistle is set in Alliquippa, Pennsylvania — on the other side of the river from where I grew up, and a huge football school. A lot of the students who go through Alliquippa High School play for Pitt or even the Pittsburgh Stelers. I am a Pittsburgh football lover so after my sister and brother in law loved it they got it for me (and my dad)!

Do I still want to read it?
Yes! I do love football and Pittsburgh, so this is sounds like a perfect pick for me. It’s not screaming my name at this EXACT minute, but I think I’ll get in to it as the year moves on — maybe once the steelers win the superbowl and I’m missing football in my life!

7. Modern Lovers by Emma Straub

Where I got it
The Denver Airport! 

Why I got it
I finished my book on the way to Denver and still had a train ride and flight back to worry about, so I grabbed a couple books in the airport to read on my trip! 

Do I still want to read it?
Yes! Picking it up and feeling it in my hands still brings me joy – I love the weight of it, and the colors on the cover, and the memory of the weekend before I left New York City going to Books are Magic, which is owned and curated by Emma Straub. I’m waiting for a warm month and a nice vacation to read it! In my mind, I think I’ll read it on my June trip to Savannah, GA for a bachelorette party!

So there we have it — My goal is to read these 7 [and review them all] and post an #unreadshelfproject2018 recap post in the end of the year! Here’s to a great year of reading!

 

Review: Missoula

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer
Published: 2015
Genre: Non-fiction
FLW Rating: 5/5

A couple months ago, I had a conversation with a coworker about some of our favorite narrative non-fiction authors and Jon Krakauer was at the top of that list. So the next time I found myself in a bookstore, I decided to check out out what books he had written aside from Into Thin Air. I posted a photo of his book Missoula and that photo became my most popular post by far in terms of comments. So many people said that they read it, were so affected by it, and that I should absolutely read it next. I requested it from the library and read it in two days over Christmas break – not exactly cheery Christmas reading, but when the writing is as good as this was, it’s easy to make an exception.

In Missoula, Krakauer tackles the tough issue of rape on a college campus. Most rapes that occur in the US today happen in private homes between acquaintances, making the cases notoriously difficult to prosecute, causing even more trauma for the victim.

Krakauer follows the cases of two women who decide to pursue charges against their alleged rapists. He documents their stories from the first friendly interaction, all the way through the justice system proceedings. For brevity, some sections of the court proceedings were left out, but the latter half of the book feels as though the reader is a fly on the wall in the court room, so crudely exposed to the arguments of both the prosecution and the defense. The language used is blunt because it is factual – no euphemisms are used to soften the blow of accused actions. I think this language and the unrelenting use of it throughout the court proceedings are what cause many readers to cringe and warn others about the challenges associated with reading this book.

However, as Krakauer is so famous for, he masterfully weaves together the experiences of these two women to tell their stories in a way that isn’t dry nor boring. I felt captivated and invested in the outcome of the cases, which kept me flying through the pages the whole time.

Missoula is thoroughly researched and rich in statistics – statistics that I wish more people knew. One of the facts often cited about rape is that 45% of rape accusations are fabricated. Krakauer, through his research, discovered that the two papers which cited for this statistic were debunked soon after publication. The true statistic of false accusations ranges from 2-10%. Similarly, a DOJ study found that 2% of women in America experienced rape, however a more inclusive study conducted by the CDC found that the number is a much more staggering 19.3%. And worst of all, if someone is raped in this country, the rapist has a 90% chance of getting away with no penalty while the victim will suffer from a lifetime of psychological effects.

There are many dimensions of this book worth exploring – from the role of the local prosecutors, to the varying obligations of the prosecution and defense in the court room, to the role of the universities, but it would take too much time to dive in to them here. While these topics may seem very technical, Krakauer makes them a part of the story, so that they are both understandable and interesting to the reader.

I would highly suggest Missoula to another reading looking for a social justice narrative non-fiction read – or really anything to make you feel engaged and fired up.

Have you read it? Let me know below in the comments!

Review: The Ninth Hour

Author: Alice McDermott
Published: September 2017
Genre: Historical Fiction
NPR Concierge Staff Pick 2017
FLW Rating: 2/5

This book feels like a book from another age – like when you read an excerpt from an older book in a new nonfiction, and you have to reread the text a few times because the writing style feels so foreign. As much as most readers appreciate the philosophy of ‘show, don’t tell’ this book felt like it could use a little more telling.

The book opens with the suicide of a married man who was recently let go from his job, while his wife, Annie, is out at the shops. Several Sisters of the Poor, respond to the death and bring Annie, who is expecting their first child, in to the nunnery. The story thereafter is told second-hand by the couple’s grandchildren as they discover the history of their parents and grandparents.

The writing just didn’t work for me, and while the book was only 247 pages long, I felt like I was putting in a lot of extra effort to get through each page. Part of my distance may have been how unfamiliar I am with nunneries of the early 1900s, but I just felt constantly like I was missing the plot despite my best efforts to understand it.

I may still recommend the book so someone a bit older, with more of an interest in nunneries and the Catholic Church, but to me, the plot, the characters, and the writing all fell flat. If you’re someone who prefers fast pace literary fiction, this is one I’d skip.

Moving in to 2018 with Intentions Set

One thing I regret about 2017 is that I can summarize the year in to the following: four months of studying and stressing for my Professional Engineering licensing exam, six weeks of being ready to get the hell out of New York City, and six months of “adjusting” to San Diego. I feel like I let this whole year slip by as a road block to get over. So my goal for 2018, bookish and non, is to be intentional. Be present, be relaxed, be myself, and DO NOT OVERBOOK.

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This will hopefully involve less travel – or less travel due solely to the feeling of obligation. The people and events that were a part of my life on the east coast are still very very important to me, but it’s time that I start living my life in California. There’s so much to discover here and I’m ready to start trying a little bit harder.

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Our first San Diego 4th of July! Here’s to staying put on holidays to come!

On a bookish note, I want to be more intentional with my book selections. I learned in the past year that I get so fired up about non-fiction, and am pretty apathetic about historical fiction and novels. I think it’s good to challenge your reading patterns, but I can only read 30-40 books in a year, so I want them to be good ones. Books that make me feel, learn, and wonder about the world. Specifically, I want to read more about science – biographies about scientists, microhistories of different fields, and just books about nature. One thing about being a structural engineer, is that I find myself solely focused on buildings, when I got in to the field of engineering because of a much broader interest in science.

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One of the great nonfictions I read in 2017!

In terms of #bookstagram, I want to be more intentional with my posts. I think it was Rachael at @booksforbrunch, who wrote that she wants her bookstagram account to reflect more of her opinions and reviews than just ‘look at this book I just got in the mail!’. I think it’s a challenge to curate your feed in that way (Let’s face it – the peak desire to post is usually when you first open the package), but I think it will make my content more worthwhile and allow me to contribute more to the community.

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This was a fun picture to take – and ended up being my #bookstagram profile picture! I’ve never again gotten anything to balance on that ledge.

In terms of book buying, Kate at @katereadsbooks_ is the QUEEN (of many things but especially) of claiming she’s going on a book buying ban, but I think I’m going to declare 2018 a year of buying ZERO books. I want to continue my Book of the Month subscription, but otherwise I want to stick to the library. I’m heading in to 2017 with seven unread books on my shelf (and many more on my kindle) that I’ve had sitting there for the last six months.  It’s time to read them, people! So in keeping with the theme, I want to be more intentional about buying books.

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Here’s a book I bought in July and haven’t read yet! I will read this in 2018!

And in terms of this blog, I want to be more intentional about writing. This doesn’t mean posting less because, let’s face it, I haven’t written since September, but it means planning posts and writing them; reviewing books that I read; revising posts before posting them.

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2018 will be the year that I read the books I have stored on my kindle! Hopefully with some of this delicious banana bread cold brew.

Basically I want to be better, and I think that by slowing down I can achieve my goals.