Book Review: The Favorite Sister

My summer reading list this year has included some seriously hard hitting books. I wanted to lighten things up, so this week I’m bringing you three great beach reads. So pack your bags with these selections, and get ready to be drawn in to the drama!


Author: Jessica Knoll
Published: May 15, 2018
Genre: Mystery
FLW Rating: 4/5

Confession: I love the Bachelor franchise, including the spin-off show Unreal. So when my book club was deciding on a fun summer read and I heard the description for this one, I was ready to say yes – except for one thing: the opinions I’d seen on bookstagram for this book were atrocious. I’d like to set the record straight and use this as an example that you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet (but always believe my posts 😉 ). I totally understand why people didn’t like it in the beginning (we’ll get to that), but this book was so worth sticking it out and actually made for a great read and a great book club discussion!

The Favorite Sister is about a group of women who make up the cast of a TV show called Goaldiggers (get it, they go after goals as strong independent women who don’t need men in their lives). The book opens at present day where you find out that one of the women from the cast has died – and there is a mystery surrounding the circumstances of her death. The book then jumps back a few seasons and tells the story from the perspective of three of the women, who explain events in their perspective and slowly reveal the whole truth. This book is full of drama, twists, turns, and surprises — which makes is fun to read and fun to discuss!

I just want to say out of the gates that I understand why people didn’t like it. Most of the negative reviews I read stated that they strongly disliked it early on, and decided to stop reading it. I hear you, I’m definitely a proponent putting down a book if you’re not enjoying it, but in this case I would encourage you to continue. The drama at the outset of the book is stupid. It feels below the reader – like something you just don’t need in your life and a weird premise for a book. The women are treating each other poorly and overall the vibe just isn’t great. But YOU GUYS, this is all setting you up for the first twist. I think it’s risky for an author to start a book like this – putting the worst part first in such a long book can clearly rub people the wrong way.

From that point on, I truly enjoyed this book. I listened to it on audiobook and enjoyed the narration from each of the different perspectives. There were some great twists and turns and the plot kept me engaged until the very last second!

The rocky start makes it a 4/5 for me, but I definitely want to encourage you to read this book! And BONUS it’s been picked up for a TV series. No word yet on when or where but the producer of Wild and Big Little Lies has purchased the rights!

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.

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!

 

Book Club Recap – The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

My book club met twice in March! Such a treat for me. In our discussion of All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks came up and most of the people at book club were really intrigued by the sound of the book, so we decided on that for our next book.

I had heard of the book before, because in addition to attending the Johns Hopkins University, where the book take place,  my family is also from Baltimore. My mom was even neighbors with one of the characters in the book as she was growing up! I knew that she had read and loved the book, and also that a number of my friends had read and loved it. A bunch of my college friends actually read it for their DC based book club a couple years ago!

I’ll get to the synopsis shortly, but I thought I should state my bias ahead of time – I love Hopkins and don’t find most of the book too ethically objectionable. I thought most of the Hopkins representatives including Dr. Howard Jones, the PhD candidate, and former President Brody acted with respect for the Lacks family. Taking the cells without consent is not something that would happen there today, but they are a research institute and I’m sure that with consent, they are testing a lot of cells/organs that we don’t know about or may not be comfortable with if we did know.

So with that, here’s a quick synopsis and then we’ll get right in to the discussion:

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Henrietta Lacks, as HeLa, is known to present-day scientists for her cells from cervical cancer. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells were taken without her knowledge and still live decades after her death. Cells descended from her may weigh more than 50M metric tons.

HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks was buried in an unmarked grave.

The journey starts in the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s, her small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia — wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo. Today are stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells, East Baltimore children and grandchildren live in obscurity, see no profits, and feel violated. The dark history of experimentation on African Americans helped lead to the birth of bioethics, and legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.

Discussion:

Q: Let’s start with the elephant in the room – was this ethical?

To be honest, most of us were actually kind of OK with the book. Several of us have higher ed degrees in a scientific field, and understand how research facilities function. To us, it was similar to being an organ donor. So we started to talk about ‘What are some bigger ethics questions that have come up in science?’

Here are a few – Do doctors have to tell you if they find something wrong with your baby while you are pregnant? That question led us down the path of do you want to know if your baby may only live to be a toddler? And the question of how widely autism is being diagnosed in recent years. We eventually started talking about how one member of our group worked on early detection of autism through hearing tests! I learned that research is being done to be able to diagnose Autism by a hearing test that determines if there’s a lag in brainwaves between ears – down to the millisecond.

Q: One of our group members began this question with “this may be heartless, but” and finished with the question at hand: How much was the family really affected?

Were they more affected by the hype? Was the real issue not as much the taking of them, but the revealing of the name b/c then they started to be contacted? I think they were affected by the idea that so much knowledge about their mother was out there, but all they had were the medical records. I think it brought their grief back to the surface, and gave them the ability to track down some answers to grieve differently than they had before.

The real issue for me was the health care and the lack of health care that black people had access to. This wasn’t’ even that long ago, but it felt like this book was more about black people in Baltimore than the Lacks family in particular

Q: Thoughts on Henrietta marrying her cousin?

It was funny to see how all the group members reacted to this and we all thought the concept was funny. I also brought up the irony that Johns Hopkins married his cousin, but they never had children, and that’s how Hopkins University and Hospital came to be! When Johns Hopkins died, he had no heirs, so he donated $7 million to start a hospital and research university.

 

Q: More of a statement — The description of the cancer sounded horrible!

To be honest, we were all amazed at the description of Henrietta’s cancer and her treatment. I don’t want to go in to too much here, because a) it was pretty grewsome and b) this was some of the best writing in the book, so you should hear it from Skloot herself.

Q: (Another Statement) I kind of liked that Skloot wasn’t religious – not because I have anything against religion, but that her disagreeing with the family showed her objectivity.

Rebecca Skloot was SO different from the Lacks family and so we started to think about her as a journalist. We had two thoughts on that. 1) Her differences from the Lacks made the book so much better b/c it showed how hard she had to work to gain trust and 2) how cool would it be to just find a story and run with it. One of my friends, Lauren, said she would love to do it, and Megan, my friend with a recent doctorate degree, said she’d never do it again.

 

Overall we thought Rebecca Skloot did an amazing job with this one – it could’ve been really boring but she wrote it so well. Chime in in the comments if you have anything to add! And definitely add this one to your TBR list 🙂

Book Club – All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

The Club

I’m sure most of you out there would say the same, but I love my book club!

We’ve been meeting for about 14 months now, so I’d say we’re in a pretty serious relationship.

Our book club started at the beginning of 2016 when my now-friend, Lianna, came up with the idea and ask a slew of her girlfriends join and invite anyone who they thought may be interested. I was finally coming home from living abroad, and my friend Melissa invited me!

After the first two months of reading best sellers, we quickly took a leap. One member, Brianna, suggested the book Old Souls: Compelling Evidence from Children Who Remember Past Lives. We all read the book separately and headed over to Brianna’s for a boozy-bookish-brunch to discuss.

I’m saying this without hyperbole– the conversation blew me away. Everyone in the group had so much [life experience, personal values, intelligent insights] to share and everyone in the group was so open minded. Between all the girls there, we had a range of religions and spiritualities represented and everyone was given a fair chance to contribute without judgement. I left that day slightly under the influence of mimosas and so happy that I had been invited to join this small group in the big city.

Since then we’ve met as-monthly-as-possible. I’ve loved the topics we’ve gotten in to –from addiction, to solitary confinement prison sentences, to cults (Yes, we read The Girls), to being young in your twenties in New York City.  Here’s a link to my goodreads bookshelf for our picks.

I love the books we pick and the discussions we have, and I certainly think we’re unique in the way we look at books. I hope you enjoy reading some of the recaps!

The Book – All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

Do you ever have a book that just grows and grows until you can’t believe what fortune you’ve had to sit down with this masterpiece? This was how I experienced All the Ugly and Wonderful Things.

Quick Synopsis (From Goodreads):

As the daughter of a meth dealer, Wavy knows not to trust people, not even her own parents. Struggling to raise her little brother, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible “adult” around. She finds peace in the starry Midwestern night sky above the fields behind her house. One night everything changes when she witnesses one of her father’s thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold, wreck his motorcycle. What follows is a powerful and shocking love story between two unlikely people that asks tough questions, reminding us of all the ugly and wonderful things that life has to offer

I read most of this book in one sitting and have been raving about this book ever since. At the end of our last book club, I suggested it to the group. Below are some of our Questions and Answers.

Discussion

1. Who was the dad? Was he based on someone real?

First and foremost, we were wondering how personal  the book was. Luckily, I had recently read this answer from Bryn Greenwoods BOTM interview. It turns out Wavy’s dad is a combination of a bunch of people Bryn Greenwood has known in her life.

Liam isn’t my father; he’s an ex-boyfriend, an old drug dealer of mine, a homeless guy who used to mow my lawn, and a professor I hated.

2. Did we see Kellen through rose colored glasses? It was crazy how an outside saw him vs. how wavy saw him. Should we have trusted Wavy’s view of Kellen? Did the meeting with the judge chage your mind? Can you imagine being Wavy’s roommate and going to meet him?

The members of my book club picked up on the contrast between Wavy’s section of the book –  that lets be real, had all of us under her spell – and anyone outside of the relationships. You have to consider that of course Wavy saw what she was doing as right, while all the external people – particularly the Judge who we’re supposed to understand is an impartial outsider- do not. It makes you consider if you’re getting biased information or if you the reader are really the most imformed-impartial-well reasoned participant.

3. Kellen killed people but was he a killer? Did he lack the mental capacity to understand what killing meant?

Continuing in the above discussion of “Was Kellen a good guy?” we touched on the fact that Kellen had previously killed people. None of us thought that made him a crazy killer, but it is something that a normal person wouldn’t do. Then we had to consider ‘OK.. if he doesn’t fully comprehend what he’s doing (our own conclusion), is he lacking some mental capacity? … Does that mean that he and Wavy were similar in maturity/intelligence?’ Would that  make their relationship more acceptable? Interesting questions

I know that I’m answering questions with more questions, but I thought the best part of the discussion were the questions that came up in discussion. I don’t want to post answers because WHO KNOWS? Maybe Bryn Greenwood. All we kept saying was we need Part 2!!

4. Was it pedophillia? Was it wrong? How did you feel about it? How did you feel telling other people about the book you were reading?

This book has gotten a whole bunch of 5 stars on the internet… and whole lot of 1 stars. People are divided on the topic of their relationship. As you read the book, I felt like you started to understand their relationship (see discussions above as to if this is right). By the end of the book , I didn’t feel like it was pedophilia… or wrong, but I know I’m in the minority of the internet.

The other interesting question was how did you feel telling other people about it. REALLY FREAKING WEIRD.

So does that make it a construct of societal expectations that age matters? I think if both participants can understand what they are consenting to, then it makes sense. We pointed out that someone in Wavy’s situation would have grown up so fast, being left to fend for herself so young. So maybe she was mature enough for the relationship? It’s so hard to make that decision though.

5. I had another friend who read the book and she thought the whole thing was sad. My reaction was that yes it is sad that Wavy was in this situation to begin with, but Wavy needed this person. She didn’t have anyone else. So I saw it as a positive.

Book club’s reaction was Wavy would have gotten out anyway. Then the question becomes what does “getting out mean”.  What do we think happened to Wavy? Does she graduate? I brought up the connection to Hillbilly Elegy – Hillbilly Elegy seems like the real life version of this book. The people in the Hill Country are striving for the American Dream – meaning that a generation should always be better off than the one before it. Do you agree? Do  you think Wavy would have broken the cycle with or without Kellen? (We need Part 2!)

6. Pickles!

I hosted this meeting of book club and we always try to have themed food, so this time, I tried to have a Kansas spread.I heard the big foods in Kansas were fried chicken and barbecue ribs….. So i bought chicken nuggets, barbecue chips, spicy pickles, and some standard cheese and crackers. Not to mention wine 🙂 . The spicy pickles were hands down the biggest hit. I posted my spread to instagram (follow me at feel.learn.wonder!) and while we were all talking about how delicious pickles were, I checked my instagram and saw that Bryn Greenwood herself had commented “mmm pickles”. !!!!

Bryn, if you’re reading this, we have so many questions and will have spicy pickles at our next book club so you’re 100% invited if you wanna come. We’re reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and meeting on March 27th, 2017! Hope to see you then 🙂

 

I hope you enjoyed our discussions and feel free to chime in!

Overall I thought All the Ugly and Wonderful Things was a great choice for book club and I had so much fun with my book club!