Book Review: The Secret History

When we really look at it, there are only two ways for us to predict if we will like a book – the description and the hype. I normally only read half of the description, because I hate spoilers, and focus more on the hype. For this book – the hype was real. Besides the current obsession with Castle of Water, the book I have seen posted about the most on bookish social media is The Secret History. It seems like everyone has read it and everyone has LOVED it.

When I received credit from Barnes and Noble, I immediately knew this would be one of the books I bought. A modern classic that will fit in well on the bookshelf. And while its definitely challenging to review a modern classic, I’m going to try.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last – inexorably – into evil.

What I enjoyed about this book, was that it felt like a saga. It wasn’t skimming the surface or only telling the climax of the story, but it told the story from the beginning – when Richard, the protagonist, met his group of classmates, and everything was kicked in to motion. It followed in great detail, the life of Richard over the following year, through the climax of the story, and then through the aftermath.

If you compare this book to some of the other murder-mystery-thriller’s I’ve read this summer, (i.e. Into the Water or even In a Dark Dark Wood) you can recognize how [relatively] incomplete those types of books can be. You come in to the story after the event, and retroactively search for clues. The Secret History was a different experience, while following the same general plot.  (BTW the fact that TSH is a murder mystery is revealed in the first sentence, so no spoilers here!) It was something different, and while I felt like pages 400-475 would never end, I will advise you to stick around to the end because the end will draw you right back in!

So, to loop back to the beginning of this post, while the hype was real, and I truly enjoyed the book, for me the description was not. Corruption, Betrayal, and Evil are meaningful and dark words, and I didn’t find this book to be as dark as those descriptors would suggest.

Your turn!

Have you read The Secret History? What did you think?

What’s your favorite murder-mystery-thriller author?

Looking for a Book Club? Look no further

I’ve been a fan of Reese Witherspoon -who isn’t?- back to the Legally Blonde days. I recently LOVED her in Big Little Lies (Seriously considering a rewatch). But one of my favorite things about Reese Witherspoon is how much she loves to read! Fun fact: I picked up Girl on The Train solely because Reese Witherspoon was spotted reading it.

I follow the RW book club on instagram, and saw that their July pick was The Alice Network. The description was so enticing I immediately requested it from the library, and I finally received it on my kindle today!

The votes are in y’all… #TheAliceNetwork won as our next selection! I think you’ll really enjoy this exciting and fast-paced story about a pregnant American socialite who teams up with a female ex-spy and a hot-tempered young soldier in the aftermath of WWII. A story of courage and redemption. Happy reading! – RW

About a month later, I saw that herAugust pick was the Lying Game and was thrilled that I had already ordered it with my Book of the Month selection.

And with these two shaping up to be my next two reads, I realized that I am definitibely a participating member of the RW book club. And by the transitive property, that means Reese and I are best friends. #math.

Since this realization, I started to think about the other online bookclubs I always swore I’d join. So here’s a quick rundown of other online book clubs you can participate in:

  • Reese Witherspoon Book Club (Instagram)
  • Emma Watson’s Feminist Book Club (Goodreads)
  • Emma Robert’s Belletrist Babes (Instagram). While you’re add it, follow Emma herself. She’s the best. (Instagram)
  • Modern Mrs Darcy’s Book Club — This was was so talked about by Top Shelf Text I had to look it up. Modern Mrs. Darcy creates a FLIGHT of books each month. One month I desperately want to clear my TBR and just read them all. This sounds like too much of a commitment for me because I tend to only read 3-4 books a month anyway and I have so many others I want to read, but maybe when my BOTM subscription runs out I’ll give it a try. Have you tried it? Is it worth ditching my TBR? Let me know! (Website)
  • Book of the Month Club – this one isn’t as traditional, but Book of the Month provides discussion boards for you to share your thoughts, and a ton of bookstagrammers are reading the same book, so there’s always a platform for discussion for these great reads! (Interested: Use my discount code!)
  • Hello Book Lover – this is one subscription book I really want to try. You choose from two books on a theme and they send you an adorable book box with theme related trinkets. And as a bonus, they post discussion points on their instagram and during the month that you can reply to. Even if you don’t subscribe, follow their instagram for beautiful book photos! (Instagram)
  • Meetup – if you’re looking for something a little more in person, search meetup for local book clubs. I was blown away by how many were in my area and up my alley when I searched! And sure, I’ve been too shy (and/or busy) to go, but there’s still one I’m “following” along with!

 

And with that I’m off to read my RW Book Club Pics!

 

Your Turn:

Have you participated in an online book club?

Have you read The Alice Network or The Lying Game? Tell me your spoiler-free thoughts!

 

#ThrowbackThursday – Backlist Bumps

I’ve been on a huge backlist trend recently.

For the last couple years, my reading has been very New Releases oriented. Each month went something like this: one Book of the Month book, one Book Club pick, and usually one library book, whatever finally came up as available from my list of requests.

But this June I recieved $30 in credit to Barnes and Noble (class action lawsuit for the win), and instead of spending it all on a $27 hardback book, I decided to go for three different paperback books! …Then I flew to Denver, finished my book on the way, and decided to treat myself to another paperback and of course – walked away with two backlist bumps.

I’m making my way through them, but here’s my list of recent backlist buys!

  • In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware (5 STARS, Review here)
  • The Return by Moshin Hamid (5 STARS, Review here)
  • The Secret History (SO FAR 5 STARS, Currently Page 240/550)
  • The Circle by David Eggers (3 STARS, Review here)
  • Modern Lovers (Not Started, Will make for a great September read)

Clearly I’m enjoying my backlist reads. I think there are a couple reasons for this.

  1. These are books that stuck out to me and never went away. They are books that I was reminded of over and over again, so clearly they’ve survived the test of time and aren’t just a case of good advertising.
  2. I’m having so much fun talking to friends about these books because most of my friends have already read them! Sometimes when I read New Releases I feel a little isolated because noone else wants to discuss them quite as much as I do.

So if you’re thinking of going through a Backlist phase I totally reccomend it!

 

Your Turn:

Are you typically a new releases or a backlist kind of reader? 

Do you read every book you buy?

Book Review: American Fire

Peeking my head up from The Secret History to bring you this review of American Fire by Monica Hesse. 🙂

LOVE IS A WEIRD ACT. An Optimistic delusion. A leap of faith and foolishness. Sometimes when it is tested, imperfections that were there from the beginning, lurking deep, can begin to work their way to the surface. Even two people who love each other deeply will always be two people, two souls. You can’t ever completely get in someone else’s head, or in someone else’s heart. It is the greatest tragedy and the greatest beauty of a relationship: that at some level, the person you are closest to will always be a total friggin’ mystery. Maybe the real mystery is why we ever do it at all. It must be something incredible.” – Monica Hesse, American Fire

I normally never start a review with a quote, but maybe I’ve been writing these wrong, because I think that quote serves as quite an intro.

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American Fire is a book I stumbled upon over the winter through a fit of boredom  – either browsing through Goodreads or Netgalley, I can’t remember, but I do remember setting a mental note for July when it would come out. So July 1st, when I saw it as a Book of the Month selection and I chose it immediately. I love when Book of the Month selects nonfiction!

The synopsis of American Fire is that two people living on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, decide to set fires to abandoned houses throughout their county, and reaked havoc on their community. Monica Hesse, the author of this book, was a journalist with (admittedly) nothing to write about and asked her boss if she could go down to Virginia to cover this story.

What Hesse brings is a compelling narrative non fiction, sprinkled with chapters that take a step back from the story and explain the context. This context ranges from the psychology behind arson, to the history of the economy of the Eastern Shore (who knew that Doritos were part of the downfall?), to different state laws which could influence the trial and sentencing for arson.

The overarching story line was told through the lives of the arsonists as well as the firefighters fighting each fire, to give you the full picture of the crime and the damage to the community.

I felt like a learned so much from the story, and enjoyed it all the while.

I find that even though I shouldn’t, I tend to compare books. The comparisons I would make for this is that it was somewhere between The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot and Deadwake (or any of the others) by Eric Larson. It reminds me of Rebecca Skloot because it truly was the story of a journalist who stumbled upon a story and invested the time and effort to develop a book, and of Eric Larson because, in my opinion, nobody writes narrative non-fiction better.

At the end of the day, I was drawn in to this story, but I was never obsessed the way I was with a Larson book. I learned so much, and those facts and feelings will stay with me – which is kind of the best that you can hope for!

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I hope you give this book a shot and let me know what you thought!

Feel Learn Wonder Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Title: American Fire
Author: Monica Hesse
Genre: Narrative Nonfiction

 

 

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!