My Favorite Love Stories

I really wanted to do a post on love stories this week, and yes, that is what this post is about, but going through my Goodreads shelf, I realized I don’t really read many love stories. It surprised me because a good love story is pretty much my #1 criteria for tv shows, movies, and even songs sometimes, but I did some digging and here’s what I came up with — unconventional love stories, which definitely cannot be classified as romance 😉 . (If you don’t get the wink check out my Who I Am as A Reader post.)

My favorite love story 😉 My boyfriend and I on our cross country road trip last year

Presidents

Ignoring our current president (because that makes me want to throw this topic out the window), a presidential love story is one of my favorites. Non-book related, I loved the romance with Fitz in Scandal, and one of my favorite movies growing up was The American President. Now I need to watch that again.

Deadwake by Erik Larson

Deadwake is my number one nonfiction book suggestion when anyone asks for a narrative nonfiction reccomendation. One of the things that stands out to me about it, is the way Larson was able to describe Lyndon B. Johnson’s love story as part of the overarching WWI and Lusitania storyline. It’s a love story for the ages, so if you enjoy narrative nonfiction with a hint of love, this one is for you!

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Another nonfiction choice, this one of our 44th president, Barack Obama. Becoming is Michelle Obama’s memoir that I absolutely adored (you can find my review for that here), but one of the great parts about it is how she talks about her love story with Barack. I love so many things about it – from the way they met, to how they communicated throughout their time apart, to the sacrifices that were made behind the scenes on both sides. One of the best parts about this book is that it is Michelle’s story, and I don’t want to take that away from her at all, but I love their love and wanted to share that here.

Love When You Need it the Most

You guys know I am a sucker for these next two titles. There’s nothing more satisfying to read about than someone getting exactly what they need to be happy in life. That’s not always a relationship, but in this case the love stories told are really special and I think so important for the people involved.

All The Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

This one is certainly controversial – it involves the daughter of a drug dealer and an employee of said drug dealer. The age difference is huge, and some (most) may say inappropriate. But a love story has never hit me to the core like this one did. This one made me want to scream LOVE IS LOVE (and not at all in the usual context for that statement). This book is an all time favorite of mine.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

There are many relationships in this book – not all of them healthy and loving – but there is one that really sticks out to me, and that is between Leni and her classmate Matthew. Leni’s home life is complicated and precarious at best, and her finding a supportive and loving companion is one of the most beautiful parts of this story. I highly recommend it!

Friendly Love

Enchanted Islands by Allison Ahmend

This book is truly unique, and in my opinion, beautiful. Set in World War II in the Galapagos Islands, Frances is hired by the military to be Ainslie’s wife and act as a spy on the Germans who they suspect are also using the island as a military base. Their set up requires them to live off the land and depend so heavily on each other for so many aspects of life. What develops is a beautiful friendship and relationship. This book is a bit of a slow burn, but if you can’t tell I think it’s one of the most well done books, and this is a relationship not to be missed!

That’s it for now — as promised, these books are not your traditional feel good rom coms, but they’re all wonderful romances within even better books. If you’re looking for a love story to round out your February TBR, I hope you’ll give one of these a try!

Book Review: My Absolute Darling

Author: Gabriel Tallent
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pub Date: April 29, 2018
Feel Learn Wonder Rating: 5/5

This has to be one of the harder books for me to review because I absolutely ( 😉 ) loved it, but it is so not for everyone. I already recommended it to the one person I knew could handle it, and except for here on the internet, am done recommending it to friends. Not because it’s not amazing, but because it is seriously not for the feint of heart.

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My Absolute Darling is the story of Turtle, a girl living with her father on a massive ranch in Mendocino, California. Her father, an alcoholic and survivalist, is adamant about the importance of preparing for the apocalypse, which he takes to the extreme. His relationship with Turtle is both physically and emotionally abusive, and as other people enter their lives, Turtle must do her best to navigate and compartmentalize all of the relationships. 

There are several things I wanted to highlight but I’ll start with the writing. I was so blown away by the writing in this book. What really stood out to me was the suspense that could be felt when just reading a paragraph about a spider that Turtle saw in the woods. When I realized that I was holding my breath while reading about something that could have otherwise been an extremely mundane topic, I knew I was in for something extraordinary. The danger comes when this writing style is used to describe extreme child abuse, the result is extreme discomfort. I really want to make it clear that if domestic abuse is a trigger for you, this book should be avoided. That being said, the writing is so so good.

As with any story about abuse, you’re always hoping that the abused will be able to escape. I’ve found that it can sometimes be hard to understand why the victim won’t get away, but there was something in this book that made me feel like I kind of understood Turtle’s hesitancy. It is such a complex issue and something I (luckily) will never truly understand, but I thought that this book did a really great job at exposing the reader to the complexities of the situation, as heartbreaking as they are.

Ultimately I thought everything about this book was well done – from start to finish, the plot was well developed, the characters were impeccable, and the writing was some of the best I’ve read recently. While the book is not for the feint of heart, I would encourage you to give it a shot if you think you can handle it. It’s a five star read for me, and not one I will forget any time soon.

 

Book Review: Becoming

Newest hero: Michele Obama. I always knew I liked her – her clothes, her affinity for health and fitness, her strength –  but I didn’t really know her. That changed entirely while listnening (I highly recommend audio!) to Becoming over the last couple months. I came to know and understand Michelle and her values, and I think I’m a better person for it. Truly, this book is GOOD.

Becoming is the memoir of Michele Obama: former first lady of the United Sates. She’s a Princeton grad, Harvard law school grad, successful lawyer, wonderful mom, supportive husband, and a baller health and fitness advocate. Her story starts and ends in Chicago and her whole life is one wild ride.

I think what stands out to me the most in this book is the tone. This book came across as honest, self aware, satisfied, and humble. I find that a lot of celebrity memoirs try to be funny, witty, or sarcastic, but this book was never that. This truly felt like a desire of Michelle to be understood on her own terms. She never had to write this book – the public opinion of her was already extremely high – but the bravery and self understanding that it took to write a book as beautiful as this stood out on every page.

I also loved the themes – and to me two stood out. The first is the never ending question of ‘am I good enough?’ While it pains me to hear someone explain how they’ve asked themselves this question throughout their life, there is so much honesty in it. I think this is something and everyone should hear:even someone who is perceived as confident, beautiful, and successful struggled with her self worth from time to time. And while this theme is a great equalizer among all the readers, it also allowed me to feel like I was getting to know Michelle on a friend level, really really getting to know her.

The other theme I really liked was that is OK to love children and make that your number one priority. I feel like so often in my life, I’m putting that to the side – whether its due to the desire to not act like I’m ready for children in my relationship, or trying to live up to this persona of an engineer that I have in my brain, or to trying to distinguish myself from the teenage babysitter of years past; I loved that Michelle babysat her way through college, considered leaving the law profession to run a day care and pursue her true passion, and devoted herself to her children without another thought. There wasn’t a huge struggle between her keeping her job and taking care of her children, she just decided to take care of her children because that was her number one priority in life. I just love so much that that was enough for her — and that we all see her as strong, driven, and successful for that.

I could go on for hours about the things that I respect about Michelle, but I’ll leave you with this. This memoir is one of a kind and you should read it. You’ll be better for it and maybe even a little happier too. And if your hold line at the library is 353 people long, I’d reccomend you buy this one. It is one you’ll never regret keeping on your shelf.

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Book Review: The Nightingale

We made it! Thanks for hanging in there for four reviews this week! Back to Nonfiction November next week!


Author: Kristin Hannah
Published: February 3, 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction
FLW Rating: 5/5

If I’ve learned anything this year it’s that Kristin Hannah books are hard to pick up, but are so so worth it. They’re tough for two reason – the expectations are high and the page count feels astronomical. I’m so happy to say that The Nightingale lived up to the hype and the pages flew by, as I couldn’t get enough of the story.

The Nightingale is the story of two sisters during the German occupation of France in WWII. Each has different experiences, coming from completely different places in life.  Isabelle, the younger sister, has to flee from Paris and develops a great interest in joining the resistance, whereas Vianne, the older sister whose husband is off fighting in the war, would prefer to keep her head down and stay safe until the war is over. Their individual struggles during the war illustrate the heartbreaking and, honestly, terrifying years of WWII in France.

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Part of the hesitation for me in picking up this book is that I just feel so. damn. saturated on WWII historical fiction. I’ll do a post on all that I’ve read and my recommendations on that another time, but in general I’m enjoying learning about other periods of history and parts of the world. This book, however, was better than I could have hoped for a WWII historical fiction read. The characters were so compelling and the plot moved quickly through the time period, not leaving you time to dwell on the already known facts. There was love, there was loss, and I loved both the intensity of the scenes and the way the book was able to move on to keep spirits relatively high.

One of my favorite things about this book is that there is a twist in the end. Don’t worry, these reviews are always spoiler free, but I didn’t expect to enjoy the ending quite so much (I can get bored of tidy endings to historical fiction novels), and this one kept me tied in to the story until the final minute.

If you’ve read The Great Alone and aren’t sure you can handle another experience that’s quite so emotional, I would say this one is less emotional.  I teared up a little at certain parts, but it wasn’t like The Great Alone where I straight up bawled for the last 100 pages.

Overall, I would suggest you cast all doubts aside and pick up The Nightingale. This book was truly readable and compelling despite all my greatest reading fears! I’m glad I finally bit the bullet, so to speak, and went for it.

Book Review: Where The Crawdad’s Sing

It’s happening! Four reviews in four days to finally catch up on my October reviews. Starting with… Where The Crawdad’s Sing!


Author: Delia Owens
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pub Date: July 10, 2018
FLW Rating: 4.5/5

Where the Crawdad’s Sing is a beautiful atmospheric novel demonstrating the strength of a young girl- the novel’s proagonist, Kya. Before reading it all I knew was that ‘people liked it’ as a general statement. Ultimately I enjoyed this novel and all of its complexities, but something about the writing held me more at bay than I’ve felt in similar novels.

Where the Crawdads Sing is the story of Kya, a young girl at the outset of the novel living in the marshlands in coastal North Carolina. As the story continues, Kya grows older, and is left by her family to fend for herself and make her way in life. When a man from the town is found dead, Kya becomes a suspect and her whole life is analyzed through the lens of those living in town, invoking an strong emotional response from everyone involved in the case.

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What I think most defines this book is its subtlety. In a recent post I compared Kya to Wavy of All The Ugly and Wonderful Things and Leni of The Great Alonebut the biggest difference to me is that the other two novels were a bit in your face with emotions and tragedies, whereas Kya’s strength always felt understated.  I enjoyed this aspect and think this was the strength of the book. I felt like “clues” were slowly being conveyed throughout the course of the book, so I kept having quiet “aha” moments. Nothing dramatic, but I was frequently feeling the emotion of “oh that makes sense in the context” and I kept being amazed at how beautifully these details were being conveyed. Everything about the story felt authentic and real.

To that end, I find that there’s something so powerful in a story about the fate of the helpless laying in the hands of someone who may not understand. While this can be a relatively common theme in modern day literature, I felt like this book was particularly well done.

I won’t spoil the ending for you, except to say that it stays true to both the tone and the theme of subtlety to the past page. There’s nothing worse than an unexpected change of tone, and I thought this book did an amazing job of maintaining the tone while still going out with a bang.

Overall, I highly highly recommend this book. I recommend it to anyone, whether you’re looking for a tear-jerker, a feminist novel, beautiful descriptive scenic writing, or a murder mystery. This truly has it all in perfect balance.

Fiction/Nonfiction Book Pairing

One of the bookstagrammers/book bloggers I enjoy following is Simone and Her Books, and earlier this year (maybe January) and I remember her asking, “Do you ever get in periods of reading where you just stay in one part of the world for a while?” As I considered the question, I realized I was in my third book set in North-East Asia and that reading them in sequence was enhancing my experience so much more. So for this pairing challenge, I want to talk about the two book told about Koreans — both in North Korea and Japan throughout the 20th century. The third book I read during this period was The Leavers by Lisa Ko, which is a favorite of mine, but I think the other two mesh better for  cohesive pairing.

We’ll start with the fiction choice: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.

Pachinko tells the story of a Korean family living in Japan during World War II. As the war progresses through the attack on Pearl Harbor and on through the bombing of Hiroshima, the book showcases Korean values, why a family would choose to relocate from Korea to Japan, and how Koreans are treated as Japan starts to close their borders. It was incredibly compelling and emotional to read and I absolutely loved it. One of my favorite things about this book was the authors note, in which Lee wrote about the time she spent in Japan and how the book was influenced by hundreds of interviews over the course of her time living there.

And now, the nonfiction: Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick.

Nothing to Envy is the work of an investigative journalist living in South Korea who connected with defectors from North Korea. Through her relationships, she’s able to tell a horrifying story about the conditions in North Korea in the 1990s. These stories are truly beyond belief – imagine being so hungry that you blend grass in a blender to try to drink it. I won’t ruin any more of the shock but its fascinating to not only understand how bad it really was, but how they got there.

I hope you enjoy these two books and learn about a side of history not always taught in the West! Happy reading!

 

A Look Back on 12 Months of Nonfiction

Last week I shared with you some of my all time favorite non-fiction books, but I for the first “challenge” of Nonfiction November I’m going to take a closer look back on the nonfiction reads I’ve read over the past year.

When I look through my list of non-fiction reads since last November, the things that jump out to me are a) a lot of them are backlist titles with pub dates backing back 1999, and b) these are some of the best books I’ve read in the last twelve months!

In total, I’ve read fifteen nonfiction books, which I’m stoked about! I’ve talked about them a lot recently so I’m just going to organize them by mood here. I’ll link to another blog post if I’ve raved about it recently!

If you’re looking for….

A peek in to military culture, coming from a place of love: Ranger Games by Ben Blum

A book that will change your views on rape culture forever: Missoula by Jon Krakauer

A way to understand what goes on behind closed doors in North Korea: Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick

Nightmares for days (seriously though), but via an incredibly compelling tale: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

A way to indulge your inner whale lover: Spying on Whales by Nick Pyenson

A story about a city, that’s really about a team, and will warm your heart forever: Boomtown by Sam Anderson

A cautionary tale that teaches you to respect the danger of backpacking: Into Thin Air by John Krakauer

A way to understand the side of America who’s voting for Trump: Janesville by Amy Goldstein

An escape in to the middle of the ocean: Love with a Chance of Drowning by Toree DeRoche

A front seat to the 2016 election: Unbelieveable by Katy Tur

A coming-of-age slash fundamentalist mormon memoir: Educated by Tara Westover

History with a side of comedy along the Apalachian Trail: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

A calm and collected version of the 2016 craziness: What Happened by Hillary Clinton

An irreverant memoir of the military and christianity all at once: A Girl’s Guide to Missiles by Karen Piper

An often untold history of the largest city in America: The Mirage Factory by Gary Krist

Let me know if you’ve read and enjoyed any of these titles! I truly recommend them all!

Book Review: Bad Blood

Author: John Carreyrou
Published: May 21, 2018
Genre: Nonfiction
FLW Rating: 4.5/5

If you’re ready for a book to stun you and teach you so much about the world we live in, I highly recommend Bad Blood. I expect a lot out of the books I read, and with all the positive reviews surrounding this one, I went in to it very skeptical. It took a little while to hook me, but after that, I was done. I absolutely needed to know what happened. And you bet I’m going to spend the next week reading articles and listening to podcasts on what has happened since pub day!

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in Silicon Valley is an exposee on the blood testing startup, Theranos and how they got from conception to breaking the law. Elizabeth Holmes, a Stanford drop out, founded a company with the intention of creating a device that could run multiple blood tests on  a single drop of blood. While the criminal trial is still unfolding, Bad Blood tells the story of the start up from its creation, to the point when it toed the line of questionable morality, to when it absolutely lost sight of that line. 

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One of the things I was skeptical about with this book was the layout. How was a book about a failed start-up going to keep my attention for three hundred pages? Through a narrative style arch is how! I was truly impressed with the suspense that was able to be conveyed, even though based on the fact that this book has been written, you know generally what “happened”. I was engaged and amazed as every stunt Holmes pulled was revealed to the reader.

What I believe I learned from the book is a) how far manipulation and closed doors can get you, and b) to never use a product that may impact my health of decisions about my health without an FDA certification. I’ll start with the first one — Holmes was a master of loopholes, and of only showing certain people what they need to see, so that they could never start to put the pieces together. It was truly astounding how many people started to see that there was a problem, but the problem they saw was out of their jurisdiction or a certain fear they had was being exploited to prevent them from raising the issue.

Along that note is the point of the FDA certification. That was really the sticking point for Theranos – their products were never FDA approved through a certain loophole. Legal loophole or not, I think that’s one thing that we as consumers are able to look out for and able to question, when it comes to medical devices and tests. It’s terrifying that their products avoided FDA regulation, but at least the FDA standards weren’t compromised even though so many other things were.

I highly recommend this book, and I hope I’ve piqued your interest! It’s an entertaining, well-crafted, and immensely well researched book. The stakes were high in this one with a criminal investigation ongoing, and Carreyrou certainly produced a winner.

Top Five Favorites: Nonfiction

It’s November! And I’m excited to be participating in Nonfiction November, so to kick that off, I wanted to share some of my favorite nonfiction reads. There are so many others I could mention, but I’ll leave you with five for now, and hopefully talk about more over the course of the upcoming month!

Each of the books below opened my eyes to a world I hadn’t known before and that is why I love reading. I’ll just write a few notes on the books here, but I’ll link to their Goodreads Page so if you’re interested, you can check them out there!

A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

My high school had truly amazing history classes for a high school, and I read this one for a class called African Issues. This is probably the only book I read in high school that I read every page of on the day it was assigned, and enjoyed it. I was obsessed with this book and wanted to get Beah to come talk at our high school. Unfortunately Beah was in high demand and couldn’t make it, but the fact remains that learning about the Boy Soldiers and the Sudanese Civil War was life changing to someone growing up in Western Pennsylvania. Can’t recommend this book enough!

Dead Wake by Erik Larson

Erik Larson was a go to author for me after reading Devil in the White City in high school (it was a required summer reading selection!). I found Dead Wake to be insanely readable and eye opening. Larson is able to share intimate details from both a presidential romance and the experience of being in a German U-boat in WWI. It was a truly remarkable work of narrative nonfiction and I didn’t want it to end.

The Profiteers by Sally Denton

This book is the definition of an eye opener. In my senior year of college I took a course called “History and the Environment”. It was an absolutely fascinating class that tied things going on in nature, with those going on in politics. One major topic we focused on was the oil and the Iraq War. As an engineering major, some of this was over my head, but all the holes were filled in when I read The Profiteers. I read this right around the 2016 election and it felt so timely — and when the CEO of Exxon was appointed as Secretary of State, I felt that I understood the motives completely and knew exactly why I was not OK with it. If you want to be clued in to the financial motives spearheading politics, check this book out.

Ranger Games by Ben Blum

I haven’t read a slew of military nonfiction, but I imagine this is one of the most open and honest books in the genre out there. Written by a close cousin of Alex Blum, a former golden boy turned criminal by way of the army, the answer at the heart is what happened to Alex when he left home to become a U.S. Army Ranger. While this book is not for the feint of heart, its dives incredibly deep in to the psyche of our soldiers going through this intense training process. I really enjoyed it and recommend it to everyone I know.

Missoula by Jon Krakauer

I posted about this recently, but I’ll just repeat a bit of that here: This book is a nonfiction account of a town in Montana that had way too many rapes of high school and college students. Be prepared for a brutal read – this book takes you through trials where no details are spared, but if you want to know the facts about rape, read this book. I mean, let’s be honest, you don’t want to hear the facts necessarily (because they’re hard to hear), but they’re so important. I learned so much and my life has never been the same.

Do you read much nonfiction? Do you have any recommendations for me?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nevertheless She Persisted: Stories of Strong Young Women

This week I read/listened to Where The Crawdad’s Sing — the hottest book of the moment (it was already a hot book of the moment and then Reese choose it as her September Book Club selection). I absolutely loved this story, and while it’s very unique, it is also reminiscent of two of my other most favorite books –  All The Ugly and Wonderful Things and The Great Alone. Even saying them out loud makes me want to hug the books close to my heart!

So since last week, I shared some books that reflect on the more negative sides of society, today I wanted to share some characters that left me full of hope!

For any who may not be familiar with these books, I’ll give you a quick synopsis.

All The Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood is the story of Wavy, the daughter of a drug dealer, who is growing up essentially without parents, or at least without any parents of influence over her life and well being. She develops a relationship with an older man, Kellen, who is both mixed up in the drug business and a shining light in Wavy’s life. It’s a story of Wavy acting well above her years, and fighting for herself even though society and logic try to keep her away from Kellen.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah is the story of Leni, a spunky young girl with a dad who’s a Vietnam war POW, struggling to fit in in regular society– with a dangerous and violent side to his personality. Given the opportunity to move to a small town in Alaska, Leni’s family seizes the opportunity, but so much of the burden is left on Leni’s shoulders to prepare the family for winter when the family can’t do it themselves.

Where the Crawdad Sings by Delia Owen is the story of Kya, a young girl left to fend for herself after both of her parents have abandoned her for another life. Uneducated and left to starve, Kya fights for herself using her wit and unwillingness to fail. This book has the added element of a murder of someone in the town where Kya grew up — a boy who was in Kya’s class for the one day that she went to school — but this story is primarily the story of Kya’s strength in getting through her misfortune.

Wavy. Leni. Kya.

What you’re getting in these book isn’t just a young strong female — each of these books shows you a side of life you wouldn’t otherwise see, paired with beautiful writing, wonderfully crafted to describe the scenery so perfectly, a few guardian angels (in various forms — because though these girls are strong, we all get by with a little help from our friends), and of course the strength of the young female protagonist.

So I just wanted to share that – This week in particular, reading about the strength of young women with zero privilege whatsoever, is pulling on my heartstrings and bringing me back to all the strong young female protagonists I’ve loved before.