Book Review: Beartown

Author: Fredrik Backman
Published: April 25, 2017
Genre: Fiction
FLW Rating: 5/5

First things first: I’m currently participating in the Unread Shelf Project 2018, hosted by Whitney at @theunreadshelf. This post reflects on the May Challenge, but you can look back at all the posts here

The challenge for May was to pick the book that you most recently acquired and read it before the end of the month or get rid of it! I bought Beartown in the end of April after renting it and not finishing it from the library TWICE. I knew it was a book I wanted to read and would want to keep, I just couldn’t seem to get through it in the time allotted by the library. Ironically, once I started it this time, I couldn’t put it down and finished all 415 pages of it in four days.

My COMPLETED Unread Shelf Challenges

Beartown tells the story of a small hockey town on the edge of a forest. As the book frequently says, “Bears shit in the forest. Everyone else shits on Beartown.” The only thing that keeps Beartown going is the hockey club. And when all the work that was put in to the club by each member of the community is about to come to fruition, something happens to put everything they’ve worked so hard for in jeopardy. The community response is, understandably, very strong. And as the drama unfolds, the few who choose to risk it all for what’s right face losing their entire support system.

The character development in this book is strong. In my opinion, this is both its strength and its weakness. The first time I picked it up, I found the narration to be a little heavy handed. The tone was almost prophetic in its third person omniscient style. There was a lot of foreshadowing of how a character would act based on their pure and unchangeable personal definition — which irked me since I tend to favor more dynamic characters. At first I found this to be on the telling-not-showing side of things, and was a little frustrated by the style. Honestly, that is why, after only reading forty pages, I returned it to the library without a second thought.

However, all the character development in the exposition, comes full circle after the main event, because faced with such strong personal dilemmas, each person is forced to look inside themselves to pick a side. As the reader, you’re already inside of each character’s head, and are able to dive even deeper in to the conflict with that knowledge in tow.

Without getting in to any of the details, I thought the ending was really well done —  for a trilogy. I have SO many questions, but got enough closure to wait a month for the next installment to be released! (Us Against You comes out on June 5th!)



Book Review: Emma in the Night

Author: Wendy Walker
Published: August 8th 2017
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
FLW Rating: 4/5

“Cass Tanner was taking them all on a journey, and the only way they would find Emma was to go along for the ride.”

As soon as I read this line, I knew it had to be the start of my review. Emma in The Night was a wild ride. That is truly the best way to describe this book. But buckle up and enjoy it because there’s no point digging and guessing. Cass has it all planned out, and she’s going to take you to the answer.


But let me back up.

Emma in the Night is the story of two sisters, Cass and Emma, and the mystery of their disappearance. When one of the girls returns alone after being missing for three years, she immediately shares her story with detectives to help them find her sister, Emma. Every line of Cass’ story was scrutinized – inserting doubt to the reader and adding a level of mystery to the explanation being presented.

The book alternates it’s points of view between Cass Tanner and one of the detectives working the case. So after each segment of Cass’s story, you’ll get the reaction from Dr. Winter, who has been working the case for three years and knows they are so so close to the answer. It’s not always a strict back and forth, but there is enough direct scrutiny of Cass’s statements to feel like you’re getting the whole picture, the facts and the fiction.


For me, the beginning gripped me from page one – I was dying to hear the revelation of the case that had stumped everyone from the beginning. Similarly, the end was incredible. The reveal was well constructed and so well done. However, the middle dragged and lost my attention as I wondered where this was all heading. For that reason, I can’t list this mystery among the greats, but still very strongly encourage you to read and enjoy it! Just promise me you won’t wonder where it’s all going, because that ruins the fun. Just pick your feet up, and get read to be pulled in!

Book Review: Unbelievable

Author: Katy Tur
Published: September 2017
Genre: Celebrity Memoir
FLW Rating: 3/5
Format: Audiobook

Unbelieveable was a lot of things – a walk down a very outrageous memory lane, a look at recent history now that it’s offically in the historybooks, a family history (probably my favorite part), and an inside look at how NBC operates during election times – and also probably all the time.  It is, first and foremost, a memoir of Katy Tur’s experience on the Trump campaign from the very beginning to the very end – a story she never asked to be on with twists she could have never expected.

Let’s break that down.

A Walk Down A Very Outrageous Memory Lane

As we can all remember, the Trump campaign was full of outrageous twist and turns, that seemed to just keep getting crazier and crazier. Everything he said was the craziest thing that had ever been said, and as a result our brain moved past the prior offense to focus on the present. Rehearing each scandal through this book gave me two emotions – 90% of the time I thought, “Oh my god, remember that?”, and the other 10% had me thinking “Oh gosh I never want to think about this again.” One thing I found interesting was that we now had context. When he said things along the lines of lets destroy our enemies, at the time people were wondering what he meant, and now we know. [This isn’t a political blog, so in a n effort to keep politics out, I’m not going to elaborate here]

A Look at Recent History now that it’s Officially in the History Books

I think this was what drew me in to the book so much – we rarely get to read about historical events of the past two years. I should also note that I tend to stay away from those books because of the obvious bias that they have by just being too close to the event. This one seemed like a great option because it wasn’t a book about the campaign during the campaign, with the ability to change minds, it was just a historical recounting of events.

A Family History

As I mentioned above, this was my favorite part. Totally unexpected to me, Katy took a couple chapters to talk about her family and how she got in to journalism. Did you know that Katy’s parents were pioneers in live TV news from helicopters? They were the first helicopter to find O.J. Simpson in his white bronco – several MINUTES before the rest of the new agencies could mobilize their crew. It was really cool to hear how that affected Katy’s childhood and family dynamics. It also helped break up the in-your-face trump quotes that the book was based on.

An Inside Look at How NBC Operates During Elections – but also probably all the time

This was very surpringly my least favorite part of the book. I’ve grown up LOVING NBC. The Today Show, NBC Nightly News, the Thanksgiving Day Parade… you name it, if it had NBC anchors involved, I was there. When I lived in New York I always said that to me 30 Rock was the most quintessential part of New York City, because growing up that was all I saw of it. I was drawn to this book in large part because of my interest in NBC but ended up hating all of the sections about how they decided assignments, how short term they were thinking, how Katy had to sacrifice so much for an organization that seemed to value her so little. This may have been how the story was told – Katy was often snarky and self depracating, but as someone who recently left New York City and left behind a bad job that treated me badly, I did not want to hear about the disorganization of NBC News.  I felt myself wanting to scream back at her WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS!?


So all things considered, I enjoyed the book. I felt like the writing was as unbiased as it could have been coming from an NBC News anchor, and it felt very historical and factual, which I appreciated. It may have been too much too soon from an I’m-still-recovering-from-the-2016-election perspective, and I could have used less office politics, but I totally understand that this was Katy’s story and the office politics played a large role in how it developed.

If you’re interested in reliving the craziness of the 2016 Election now that it’s kind of/sort of behind us, give this a try! And if you’ve read it, leave me a comment and let me know what you thought!

The Unread Shelf Project 2018: April Update!

First things first: I’m currently participating in the Unread Shelf Project 2018, hosted by Whitney at @theunreadshelf. You can look back at all the posts here!

Squeaking this one in under the wire! The challenge for April was to pick the book that had been on your unread shelf for the longest and read it before the end of the month or get rid of it! I finished my April selection yesterday and am here to talk about it before we head in to May!

For this challenge, some of the other participants read books they’ve had on their shelves for ELEVEN years! Given the fact that I moved across the country last year, I haven’t had any on my books for a crazy long time, but Circling the Sun by Paula McLain had been weighing on my mind for the longest. I considered getting it for my Book of the Month selection in May 2016, and have considered adding it to my box most months after that! I finally borrowed a copy from my mom, who borrowed it from her mom, so combining all of that, it felt right to read it during this month.


Overall, I’d give the book four out of five stars – the plot didn’t blow me away, but I will say that Beryl was one of the most compelling characters I’ve read about recently.

Circling the Sun follows Beryl through her life as she becomes and independent from her family and tries her hardest to forge a path to success – or at least happiness. Without giving too much away, Beryl didn’t live an easy life. There were physical struggles – such as a few unfortunate incidents with African wildlife, but there was also so much grief, turbulence, and necessity to make risky decisions, with very little support from friends or family. It would have been an immense struggle just to continue, and I enjoyed watching Beryl power onward from each individual setback.

The strongest theme I noticed in the book was the conflict between the idea of freedom and the reality of independence.

“I have fought for independence here, and freedom too. More and more I find they are not at all the same thing.” – Paula McLain, Circling the Sun

The first time I read that quote, I had to do a double take because I didn’t really understand it. But that quote remained a theme throughout the rest of the novel and made the book even more profound to me.

Being an Unread Shelf post, it’s only appropriate to address the question, “Why did this book become the oldest book on my shelf?” I think the answer goes hand in hand with why I chose to read it when giving it away became the only other option – Once a book has been on your shelf long enough, it looses the urgency and excitement of those new ones! The person you borrowed it from isn’t expecting it back anytime soon, you’ve talked yourself over it so many times that it’s become second nature to look past it on your shelf again, and you lost the guilt of not reading that book you bought a couple years ago, that you’re still harboring over the book you bought six months ago.

So I think this was a great exercise and I encourage you to try it too! This book never felt “old” or anything like that, and I’m really glad I read it!

On to May! — I’m going to wait to hear about the challenge from Whitney before I decide on a book, but we’re getting closer to finishing the hardcopies I have! My final three are What Happened by Hillary Clinton, Playing Through the Whistle by S.L. Price, and Modern Lovers by Emma Straub! But these posts will continue, as I make progress on my kindle and netgalley TBR! Stay tuned 🙂

Book Review: I’ll be Gone in the Dark

This past weekend I listened to the new hot book of the moment on a long solo road trip I was taking – keep in mind that at the time, only five days ago, this was a book almost noone had heard of. I had a long drive after a long first week of work at a new job, and thought I needed something really gripping to keep me awake in the car. I started browsing my Scribd app for options and I’ll Be Gone in the Dark came up. I had seen a few positive reviews on #bookstagram, so I gave it a shot. Six hours later, after driving through Pheonix-area traffic and arriving at a friends house, I should have been racing out of my car- but honestly, I didn’t want to stop listening to this book! And thus began my relationship with this book that has come to take over all of my thoughts.

I would normally skip to the synopsis and my thoughts on the writing at this stage, and we’ll get to that, but I need to state the elephant in the room first. I was so haunted by this book for days, and now that the Golden State Killer has been caught, I am full of so much relief and am ready to talk about it.

 I’ll be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer is a true crime memoir retracing the steps of the posthumous author, Michelle McNamara. McNamama passed away in her sleep in 2016, before completing the book. Luckily for us, her husband pushed through and got the book finished and published to help raise awareness of the Golden State Killer and publish the findings Michele had pulled together. The book tells the stories of each of the attacks – it tracks their escalation in nature, and pinpoints the defining traits that link each one to the GSK. It explains criminology tactics like profiling, using DNA, fingerprinting, and geolocating. It takes you right along with McNamara through all her false leads and innocent suspects and also successes.

Truthfully, I felt every attack when I was reading this book. I cringed and tried to close my eyes (but I was driving, so I didn’t). I wanted it to stop but I had to get to the next clue. After arriving back home from my weekend away, I didn’t rush to finish the last 30 minutes of the book because, being back in the comfort of my Golden State home, I couldn’t stand thinking about this creep who may still be out there. I didn’t sleep well for the my first two nights back home. The first night I just kept imagining being woken up with a flashlight. Can you think of anything worse? Except of course what would come next. The second night a dog in a neighboring house barked for over an hour – an annoyance on a normal night, but enough to cause serious concern when you remember that the Golden State Killer wasn’t deterred by barking dogs. I told myself to forget the facts, that he probably died long ago, and while I’m sure my brain would have listened over time, the extreme relief I felt when he was caught the next day was so real. Last night, I slept like a baby.

I would like to say THANK GOD THEY FOUND HIM TWO DAYS AFTER I READ THE BOOK, but that doesn’t give McNamara enough credit. What she did in contributing to the knowledge in this case shouldn’t be understated and I don’t think the timing is really that coincidental.

So my takeaway – this is a real true crime book. The descriptions are not sugar coated so if you pick this up, you will be reading about murder and sexual assault. McNamara does it tactfully though, and while I felt the fear, I never found her writing to be over the top gruesome. So, my advice is that if you are a true crime lover, read this book and prepare to be blown away. AND BONUS: the killer is caught so you should hopefully be able to sleep well at night!



Book Review: The Female Persuasion

Author: Meg Wolitzer
Published: April 2018
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
FLW Rating: 4.5/5

One of my friends in San Diego is as in to reading as I am, which I didn’t think was possible! We’ve been trading books back and forth throughout our almost-a-year-old friendship, and last month she brought me The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer. If you have been keeping an eye on upcoming books, I’m sure you’ve seen this cover because it is just so unforgettably beautiful! I read this one as soon as it came out and it as so fun to read it without being influenced by other reviews. I was able to form my own opinions and enjoy it purely for myself.


The Female Persuasion is a work of contemporary fiction that explores the lives of Greer, a college freshman discovering her way in the world, and the lives of those around her. Throughout the book the characters handle the tough issues of grief, loyalty, purpose, love, friendship, and so much more!

I loved the way this story developed – each character was given a very thorough section of the book in which their background and life choices were examined and worked through. I loved the use of multiple narrators without really doing alternating narrators. Sometimes the depth of a character can get lost when the point of view changes too quickly, so I loved the length of the chapters and the way that allowed the reader to connect to the story on another level.

My major criticism was that some parts – including the end – felt a little cheesy to me. I LOVE a cheesy story line when it works, and it worked here, so I take nothing away from the story in that regard, but feel the need to warn you if you are a non-cheese lover. (Which is totally ok!)

I hope you pick this book up and enjoy it the way I did!

Book Review: An American Marriage

Author: Tayari Jones
Published: February 2017
Genre: Literary Fiction
FLW Rating: 5/5

I went in to my February Book of the Month selection thinking I should skip the month, and would ONLY get a book of The Great Alone was an option. Fast forward to reviewing the choices, and I couldn’t turn down An American Marriage once I read the description. It sounded like a story that I needed to read if I was going to understand the America we live in today. This may sound dramatic but incarceration and racism, particularly in the South, is a topic that has gotten me fired up in the past few years. For more on that topic you should definitely read Hell is a Very Small Place by Jean Casella. Anyway, I read the following description and decided I had to have this book:

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined.

Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.

This stirring love story is a profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look deep into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward—with hope and pain—into the future.

From the description, I gathered that the book would probably be heavy, but I couldn’t have anticipated how hard hitting it would be. It may be my age (28 to the characters’ early 30s) and relationship status (living with my boyfriend of a few years 🙂 ), but this book hit home so hard. At my stage in life I spend a lot of time dreaming of my future – the house I’ll hopefully own and the children I’ll hopefully raise. I can only imagine being a few years down the line – a newlywed couple with a house they bought together and kids on the horizon – and then having the rug ripped out from under you and told to put everything on pause for 12 years because of a false accusation.

The writing structure was unique, but it really worked for this book. The first hundred pages or so are written as an exchange of letters between the newlyweds, and then it transitions to a multiple narrator style for the rest of the book. This change could have been abrupt but I found it worked really well in this case!

Honestly, I don’t have anything negative to say about this book, except only read it if you’re willing to experience all the unfairness of today’s world.

If you want to join BOTM  and experience great books like this that may otherwise not be on your radar, use my referral link for a discount on your first month!

March Speed Reviews!

March was a busy reading month for me! I read 6 books! This may be a record – and I have to say, my reading pace was strongly assisted by embracing my Scribd audiobook subscription (more on that in a later post!). None of these books totally jumped out at me as amazing reads, so my average rating for March is 3.7. My quick reviews are below!

Janesville by Amy Goldstein

Genre: Nonfiction
Feel Learn Wonder Review: 4 Stars
Review: I read this book for my new San Diego book club. Correction: I listened to this book for my new San Diego book club. This was my very first audiobook! Janesville tells the stories of several people living and working in Janesville, Wisconsin. A huge GM plant shut down in the city in 2008/2009, and left the population devastated – both those who worked for GM and those who did not. The unexpected twist in this book (although not a spoiler) is that Janesville is also the hometown of Paul Ryan, the current Speaker of the House. During the book he was a successful congressman and also pursued a vice presidential bid. Weaving Paul Ryan’s story in to the story lines of the other citizens, added a layer of depth to the story, but I also felt like it overshadowed and politicized the stories of the Janesville residents. Nonetheless, I learned a lot about what happens in midwestern cities when the major industry ceases to exist, and I would recommend it to someone interested in broadening their awareness of some underlying factors influencing the current political climate. Needless to say, this book lead to a lively discussion!

Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo

Genre: Historical Fiction
Feel Learn Wonder Review: 3 Stars
Review: Stay with Me was a book I wanted to love, but unfortunately just didn’t. The story covers the life of a woman in Nigeria, a society practicing polygamy. She and her husband decide to remain monogamous for life, but they are unable to have children, which introduces an unbearable amount of outside critique and pressure for the husband to take more wives in the hopes of having children. The consequences of living through this situation take its toll on everyone involved, and while many of the plot points were big and deserved attention, the book was on to the next before the reader could process. As I talked about in my Unread Shelf post for February, since the writing was rushed and didn’t provide the context I needed, I felt ostracized and ignorant, which felt a little unfair since I was interested in learning.

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

Genre: Literary Fiction
Feel Learn Wonder Review: 4 Stars
Review: The Leavers was a understated and very real portrayal of the personal impacts of illegal immigration policy. I wish I could say that The Leavers was “heartwrenching” but to me that implies an event, or a singular moment when my heart was pulled out of chest. Instead, The Leavers slowly demonstrated the life long impacts of a family being pulled apart. Based on the way I felt closing the book, I’d say that style was even more effective. I highly recommend the book, but I will say you may not always want to pick it up and continue following along with Demi’s story.

The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon

Genre: Mystery
Feel Learn Wonder Review: 3.5 Stars
Review: The Confusion of Languages is a book I bought last summer and then couldn’t bring myself to pick up. I ended up listening to the first 100 pages on audio since I had several hours of driving by myself for a work trip. I have to say, I was very surprised by this book – not necessarily “pleasantly surprised” but just surprised. It was not the literary fiction novel that would teach me about life in Jordan, but rather a fast paced mystery novel set in Jordan, which added an element of danger to the plot. While this wasn’t an ideal genre for me, I think it was a fun genre-bending story that I was able to rush through and was thoroughly entertained by.  I wrote a little more about this one in my Unread Shelf post for March.

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Cline

Genre: Art History/ Historical Fiction
Feel Learn Wonder Review: 4 Stars
Review: A Piece of the World was an impromptu library pick for me! I went to pick up a library hold, saw this in the New Books section, and fell in love with the cover (#duh its a famous painting for a reason). Then I read the description, which boasted an interesting look at an often untold time in American history and knew I had to take it home. This book was very much a novel – it told a story without too much suspense or intrigue, and had a tidy ending that pulled it all together. So often today, we read books that push us or thrill us and this was an excellent read in between all of those. It was slow and thoughtful and in the end I really liked it! I would recommend it to anyone, especially someone willing to slow down and smell the roses.

Still Life by Louise Penny

Genre: Mystery
Feel Learn Wonder Review: 3.5 Stars
Review: Still Life is the first of a 13 (and still going) part series following a detective, Inspector Gamache, in a small Quebec town, Three Pines. While this is a detective novel, don’t be fooled in to thinking it is a thriller. While there are twists and turns, this is one that is totally okay to read after dark and won’t keep you up all night (unlike some Ruth Wares!). That said, it was an enjoyable read with great character development and some fun mystery components. I will definitely be picking up the second book (probably in May because my April TBR is already packed!)


The Unread Shelf Project: March Update!


You guys, we are THREE months in to this challenge. I challenged myself to read these seven books this year so that I can go in to 2019 with a blank slate of unread books on my shelf! So far I’ve been keeping up with the Unread Shelf Challenge 2018 and each of their monthly prompts — See my posts here and here for my January and February updates!

I should declare up front that I did have a slight digression in March and I bought ONE book. However, it was a book about civil engineering which I want to own and keep on my shelf (and plan to read in April) so I’m not feeling too upset about it.

So now on to the March update!

March Challenge: Choose a book to read from your unread shelf. If you don’t finish it by the end of the month, you have to get rid of it.

Confusion of Languages_1.jpg

WOAH. This was exactly what I needed to get me to read The Confusion of Languages. I had been telling myself I’d read it one day for almost nine months, and simultaneously feeling guilty about my impulsive purchase of this book just because it was Amazon Prime day and books were 20% off.

I bought The Confusion of Languages because I loved the cover design and I hardly ever read books about the Middle East, so this seemed like a good one to start with. And as a former ex-pat the idea of reading about two women who were living the ex-pat life drew me in.

The Confusion of Languages ended up being more mystery than literary fiction, so it turns out all my preconceptions were completely wrong. I ended up enjoying the mystery aspect, being entertained throughout the plot, and found myself needing to know how it ended!

Confusion of Languages_2.jpg

The Unread Shelf Project definitely helped me get through this one – I considered putting it down a couple times (mostly in the first 50 pages), but pushed through because I didn’t want to give it away without finishing it!

As Whitney at The Unread Shelf pointed out, books lent from friends have this sort of urgency, and the same applies to library books.

What if we applied this logic to all of our unread shelf books? Would it push us to pick them up more quickly? It definitely did for me!

Let me know if you’re participating in this challenge and what you read in March!

The Unread Shelf Project: January/February Update!

Hi All!

I want to jump on and talk about my progress with my Unread Shelf. I set a goal in my first post to read AT LEAST the seven books I photographed, but also hopefully one per month because I have 16 unread books! Here’s a quick recap of the challenges I’ve participated in so far.


January Challenge: Count up your books and GET READING!

In January, I read Pachinko! (Review here) I absolutely fell in love with it, and my sparked interest in East Asian history lead me to pick up Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick and The Leavers by Lisa Ko. I highly recommend all three!

February Challenge: Consider if you have any/many books on your unread shelf by a person of color and why you’ve let those books stay on your shelf. If you do, read one of those this month!

In February, I read Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo. I received this book through a Christmas book exchange from Chelsey at @hereadsshereads. I really wanted to love it, but honestly, it was a 3 star read for me.

The challenge was explicitly and intentionally not “read a book by a person of color” because that is a short term experience, and not a lesson. Instead the challenge was “consider why that book in particular has been sitting on your shelf”. If you understand your resistance to pick it up, you can try to change that and diversify your reading. After reading Stay with Me and considering this, I would say that I definitely subconsciously stay away (no pun intended) from books written by authors of color, particularly females of color.

In the past few years I’ve read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, and now, Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo. My issue with the books, and this is not an insult to the author, but an observation of my own habits, is that a lot of foreign words and expressions are used and the assumption seems to be that the reader either understands them or can pick them up in context. I struggle with this and more often than not end up feeling guilty that I don’t understand the context and that it must be due to my own ignorance. It turns the book in to a less enjoyable experience for me than other books.

To counter this, I think I’ll change my tone/selections. I want to read more authors like Roxanne Gay and memoir/social justice styles than historical fictions. On my list:

Have you been participating? Let me know how you’re meeting your goals!