Book Review: For Better And Worse

Author: Margot Hunt
Genre: Thriller
Pub Date: December 11, 2018
Feel Learn Wonder Rating: 4/5

I’m going to start this post with a correction that I feel should really be made, and may impact your interest level in this book: The tagline on the front cover reads, “It was the perfect marriage, until everything went perfectly wrong”, but that’s not the intrigue of this book. In my opinion, the way it should be phrased is, “It was the perfect murder, until everything went perfectly wrong.” Now if that’s not intriguing…..

For Better and Worse is the story of Natalie and Will – two lawyers who bonded on their first date over how being a lawyer would allow them to literally get away with murder. They understood the system, the loopholes, and the paths detectives would take, and therefore it would be easy for them. It was all hypothetical until something happened to make them consider the what ifs. What if they did pull off a murder? Could they really get away with it?

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What drew me to this book was the feeling that the story would keep me on the edge of my seat through the complexity of the situation, not just the risk of violence. I’ve noticed that while I’m reading less thrillers than I used to, sensing a psychological element can often push me to pick one up. This book had it all in that regard – family drama, a murder, and strong vibes of a police procedural.

Similar to The Husband’s Secret this book was engaging and relatable — even though I don’t expect to ever wind up in their position. And what I think this book did well is how calm the plot was kept despite how not calm the plot was. Here we are with our protagonist considering murder and I, the reader, was thinking, “you know, that’s really not a horrible idea.” How did this book get me to that point? But I could feel the ethical debate and even though through the law and society, and really all concepts of right and wrong, I knew murder was the wrong choice, I found myself conflicted.

While this book may still be classified as more of a thriller than a work of literary fiction, I love that it allowed me to feel that internal conflict, and let me learn in and embrace it. I felt so connected to this book in a way I haven’t with other books of this style, and for that reason I would strongly recommend this book.

One final caveat: Without dwelling on it too much, I did find the ending a bit frustrating. It was disconnected from the rest of the plot and an end that didn’t need to be added. Again, similarly to The Husband’s Secret, I’m going to pretend that the ending didn’t exist, because honestly the rest of the book was just great without it.

So that’s it – if you’re looking for some domestic/familial drama in your reading life, look no further!

Book Review:The Husband’s Secret

Author: Liane Moriarty
Genre: General Fiction
Pub Date: July 30, 2013
Feel Learn Wonder Rating: 4/5

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t read a “beach read” in years. The last two books I’ve read on the beach were Beartown and A Place for Us, which both made me awkwardly sob in public. All this to say, The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty was not a book I ever would have chosen on my own, but when I friend dropped it off with the note of “in case you need a beach read,” I felt like I should give it a try.  True to form, it did feel like an indulgent vacation read, and I might even have to admit that I liked it.

The Husband’s Secret tells the story of three separate families in Sydney, Australia. Rachel is an employee at a local Sydney school, and the mother of a girl who was murdered when she was 17; Tess is the mother of a young boy, and the wife of a man who’s having an affair; and Cecilia is the mother of three children, and married to the husband with a secret. When Cecilia discovers her husband’s secret, these three families become united in a way that none of them will soon forget, and the decision of if everyone should be informed hangs heavily throughout the story.

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One thing I see a lot in the book review world is the importance of rating books within their genre – and I think for me it’s particularly important to do that with this book. It didn’t blow my socks off or really teach me anything but it entertained me and kept me engaged wondering what each character would do. In fact, I finished it a few weeks ago, and I’m still thinking about the characters, so to me that’s the sign of a good read.

You may have recognized the author’s name from the best seller and HBO mini series title Big Little Lies – I have to say that going in to this book, I had extremely high expectations for both the complexity of the plot and the size of the twist or revelation at the end based on watching and enjoying that series. After reading this, I can say that I found this book to be similarly complex, but to contain a lot less of the dark undertones that Big Little Lies had. While there were adultery and lies abounding in this novel, nothing as severe as the domestic violence of Big Little Lies occurred in this one. So, on the plus, if you didn’t appreciate that aspect of BLL, this book may be a better alternative for you.

On the whole, I really did enjoy this book. It was fun and light and exciting, and as I mentioned, kept me entertained. I did listen to most of it on audio, and since Moriarty is Australian (and the book is set in Melbourne/Sydney) the narration was done with an Australian accent. That was a big shock to me at first but ultimately I liked it and felt like it added to the atmosphere to hear the characters speaking in the accent they were written to speak in. That may be an odd comment, but definitely something that stuck out to me about the audio version of this title.

If you’re looking for a light “beach read” I’d definitely recommend this one, and if you’ve read it I’d love to hear what you thought! Do you think everyone did the right thing?!

 

BONUS: I JUST READ THAT THE HUSBAND’S SECRET IS BEING TURNED IN TO A MOVIE, STARRING NONE OTHER THAN BLAKE LIVELY. I CAN’T WAIT!

Book Review: When Death Becomes Life

Thanks to Harper Books for the free review copy – as always all opinions are my own!

Author: Dr. Joshua D. Mezrich
Genre: Medical memoir
Pub Date: January 15, 2019
Feel Learn Wonder Rating: 5/5

For what it’s worth, I thought this book was incredible. For context, I’m an engineer and science lover, but have no knowledge of medicine outside of what I garnered from Grey’s Anatomy. Nonetheless, this book managed to keep me engaged while talking about totally new-to-me topics, and taught me so much valuable information that I’ll take forward with me in life.

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When Death Becomes Life is an anecdotal memoir of a transplant surgeon who became fascinated in the (surprisingly short) history of transplant surgery. He explains both the technical and social developments of the field and addresses many of the debates surrounding it, through a compelling and thoughtful narrative.

One of my favorite things about this book is the structure of it. I felt like Mezrich did a really great job laying out the story. You first learn about each of the commonly transplanted organs – in chronological order based on time of advancement, then you will move in to specific stories of surgeries: those of living and deceased donors and their recipients. I thought the layout was perfect because going in to the personal stories, you are equipped with the knowledge to make your own judgement on the stories.

Another thing that I liked about this story was how honest Mezrich was about his failures. Mezrich takes his failures both extremely seriously and totally in stride. I was impressed by both how much each surgery affected him, and also the way he was able to compartmentalize the failures to both show respect for those impacted and give the next patient the best care. He was also extremely honest, in my opinion, about how many things go wrong in routine surgery. At this point a kidney transplant is pretty low risk, but even in some of those cases, something out of the ordinary could happen and you have to immediately be ready for Plans B-Z. I had never really heard that side of surgery before, but it makes a lot of sense to me. Now I’ll just try to forget before myself or a loved one goes through it next!

In a few other reviews that I read, I heard a sense of disappointment at how much of the initial story is set in the past. As a history lover, I was totally fine with that and didn’t find it dry or overbearing at all. But, since I did see that a few times,  I wanted to include that here as fair warning that this book contains both entertaining surgical anecdotes as well as a lot of technical history.

Overall, this book is one of the best nonfiction memoirs I’ve read in a long time. It was informative, personal, entertaining, and engaging – all the things I look for in a memoir. I already sent my copy off to a doctor-friend, and I know I’ll be buying this book for friends and relatives for years to come!

P.S. If you want a preview check out this episode on NPR’s Fresh Air podcast!

 

 

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: When You Read This

Happy Belated (yesterday!) Pub Day to WHEN YOU READ THIS! And thanks to Harper Books for the free review copy – as always all opinions are my own.

Author: Mary Adkins
Genre: Fiction
Pub Date: February 5, 2019
Feel Learn Wonder Rating: 4/5

This book a cornucopia of contradictions that develop in to a lightly dark, quirky, unique, and entertaining book. To get us started: it’s 400 pages but easily read in 2-3 sittings, and light in writing style but heavy in topics. While the contradictions can lead it at some points to feel disjointed, this is one book that will keep you entertained from start to finish.

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When You Read This is a story told through emails, texts, and blog posts to tell the story of the people in Iris’s life after she has passed away from cancer, leaving a manuscript of her blog for her former boss to publish. What starts as casual communication between Iris’ boss and sister, turns in to a relationship that forms over the internet.

As I mentioned, the meat of the story is quite dark – Smith and Jade (Iris’ boss and sister, respectively), both have complicated lives and past relationships. Additionally, there’s the obvious: Iris has recently passed away. Naturally, the grieving of her death dominates this storyline. To lighten this up some comedic characters are added in – like Smith’s overeager intern and outrageous rapper-turned-country-singer client. (LOL)

In a way, the story felt disjointed because it was both funny and sad. The comedic parts felt thrown in a little haphazardly, without much of their own development, and the epistolary style leads to a non-straightforward approach to telling the more serious parts of the story, which can limit its impact at times. But part of the joy of this story, is that it’s scattered and you have to think a little. At the end of the day, while the story isn’t life changing by any means, you got to laugh and cry and get to know some characters in a short form book.

I’d recommend this book either as a lighthearted vacation read, or a book to read between some other heavier ones. It won’t blow you away, but you’ll definitely enjoy it for a short time it takes you go get through it.

 

 

Book Review: The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls

Happy Pub Day to THE CARE AND FEEDING OF RAVENOUSLY HUNGRY GIRLS! And thank you to Berkley Pub for sending me a free copy to review – as always, all opinions are my own.

Author: Anissa Gray
Genre: Fiction
Pub Date: February 5th, 2019
Feel Learn Wonder Rating: 3.5/5

“An American Marriage crossed with The Mothers” is how this book is being blurbed. This was the perfect bait for me – since I loved An American Marriage when I read it last year, I knew I had to read to read it. There are undoubtedly similarities between the books, but I don’t think the comparison did this book any favors. Overall, I liked this book, but particularly given the comparisons, I really wanted more.

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The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls is the story of three adult sisters – Althea, Lillian and Viola. As the book opens, Althea and her husband have recently been convicted of a crime and and are awaiting the sentencing. Lillian and Viola, not entirely stable themselves, are left to deal with the shock as well as Althea’s two children. The days and weeks unfold as the details of each character’s complicated lives are revealed to the reader.

My primary comment on this book is that I wanted more. I wanted more details on the crime that Althea and Proctor had commited. I wanted more details on the length of their sentence. I wanted to know more about Kim’s relationship with Althea, her mother. I felt like there were topics that the book could have explored so much more, but didn’t. And to my point in the intro, I felt the same way when I read The Mothers — so perhaps that was an apt comparison?

As a positive note, the writing in this book was extraordinary – particularly in the beginning. I started the book in a cafe with a friend and after holding my breath for the first ten pages, I declared the book “crazy good.” You could just tell that there was going to be something special there.

Overall, despite really enjoying the writing, I found a lot of the plot a little too surface level for the potential that this story had. I could go from tearing up on one page, to feeling lost and devoid of emotions at the next, but I wanted to feel more consistently engaged, like I have with some other recent favorites.

 

Book Review: Hungover

Author: Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall
Genre: Microhistory
Pub Date: November 20, 2018
FLW Rating: 3/5
Goodreads Link

Hungover was a total impulse buy (which is super rare for me these days!) There was something that really drew me to this micro-history when I saw it in the bookstore over the winter holiday. And so as to not let the attraction dwindle I decided to read it right away! It was satisfying, as far as impulse buys go, but probably not something to write home about (unless you have a blog like me 😉 ).

Hungover, as the subtitle explains, is one man’s quest for the cure to the modern hangover. Shaugnessy takes you on a journey of not only his hangovers but his life – his family, his relationships, and his career as a freelance journalist – all while getting drunk and talking about it how it feels.

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One thing that caught me by surprise is that, while the subtitle implies a global journey, Bishop-Stall’s journey is limited to a very small part of the world – primarily the US, Canada, England, and Ireland. To be fair, this is stated on the first page. Apparently I’m not a very good impulse buyer, because I didn’t read any of the book before purchasing it, just the front and back cover. One of the things I was most interested in was how they deal with hangovers in Asia because their medicine is so different from Western medicine, but alas this wasn’t what the book was about.

While I really appreciated a lot of the humor and the book as a whole, in general, I had some problems with the structure of the book. For one, there are “notes” at the end of each chapter, which stood on their own and I never quite understood the flow of them. And secondly, at times the book felt like it was written more for the author than the reader. He often talked about other writing assignments that were unrelated to the book, or other experiences in his life without giving the reader any context. This was particularly present in one of the middle chapters on England. There was a part where Bishop-Stall is recreating an old movie, and having not seen the movie, this overly long chapter did nothing for me, and instead made me question why I was reading this book in the first place and who, if not me, the target audience was meant to be.

I almost put the book down then, but I’m glad I didn’t because after that point, it started to delve more in to the hangover solution and the central conflict of is the best hangover cure, to abstain from drinking excessive amounts?

By the end of the book I found myself surprisingly invested in Bishop-Stall’s quest, and also really feeling for the guy as he dealt with the repercussions of this heavy drinking. While I wasn’t blown away, I was glad I read this book. I learned a bit and was entertained and, importantly, also fulfilled my curiosity that was sparked that day in the bookstore. I have a feeling if I hadn’t taken it home with me, I’d still be wondering about the outcome of his story.

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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: Calypso

When this book was first released last summer, many of the reviews included the words “different”, “darker”, or “more serious” in describing it in comparison to his other work. I am a huge David Sedaris fan so these words were major turnoffs to me in deciding to pick it up, but finally I threw it on on audio and I’ve been laughing ever since. What words would I use, you ask? Maybe “same old Sedaris humor, with a little less outrageousness, a little more timely political commentary, but definitely DEFINITELY the same amount of laugh out loud jokes.”

Calypso is the latest short story collection from David Sedaris – a true comic genius in my opinion. These stories are primarily autobiographical and range from conversations with family to observations on his travels. But knowing Sedaris, they’re never just straightforward stories. Each one will have you laughing out loud at the hilarity that can ensue when you view every day situations with the mind of David Sedaris.

In his previous works, Sedaris has let it be known that he’s very liberal, but he’s never totally come out right and talked about the present political climate. This book is different in that regard, and instead of using negative words like “dark” or “serious”, I want to highlight that this is one of the parts of the book I enjoyed the most. The chapter on the 2016 election titled “A Number of Reasons I’ve Been Depressed Lately”, and the chapter on the supreme court decision to legalize gay marriage (A Modest Proposal) are easily two of my favorites in this book — along with the nonpolitical US Travel Guide (Your English is So Good) and story of a man pooping on a plane (I’m Still Standing).


While we’re here, now seems as good a time as any to did a quick review of Holidays on Ice, David Sedaris’s Christmas collection. I was given this for Christmas and I quickly tore through it. The stories have all appeared previously in other collections, but luckily I didn’t remember any of them.  The stories aren’t specifically holiday themed, but they all mention Christmas at least once. These stories definitely contrast to the ones mentioned above. The ones in Calypso are kind of “haha” funny, but the ones in this collection struck me more as “holy crap, did you just say that?” funny. They’re hilarious in their outrageousness and inappropriate nature. I highly recommend them – especially “Season’s Greetings to Our Friends and Family!!!”, “Based Upon a True Story”, and “Jesus Shaves”- but please approach this book with your best not-easily-offended sense of humor, or this one may just rub you the wrong way. 🙂


Clearly I’ve been on  a bit of a David Sedaris trend recently, but I have to say I’ve really enjoyed them all. I listened to a lot of the stories in Calypso on audio (which I  highly recommend!), but flipping through the book to find some of the titles, made me want to reread it print sometime soon! I just can’t get enough!

Book Review: The Friend

Books that win awards are notoriously hit or miss for me. Anyone else? It feels like the people who decide on literary awards and I just may not be on the same page. Best seller lists and I, well that’s another story. I’ve recently ruled out reading anything from the Man Booker Prize list, but The National Book Award is still one I keep my eye on. All that to say, I picked up this book because it was nominated for the National Book Award, didn’t love it, and then had to ask myself, ‘why did you do that again?’

The Friend is a stream of consciousness letter from a grieving friend to the friend who passed away. While the narrator inherits his dog and deals with her and the dog’s emotions, she writes down all of her thoughts in the form of a letter to her lost friend.

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The first page was great. It’s quirky its weird, it sets up some intrigue, and it makes you feel excited about the epistolary novel to come. But to be honest, it goes downhill from  there. The plot never takes off, and neither, in my opinion does the character development. I was almost holding my breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop and twist to occur. I had some theories! I figured this is either a book within a book or at the end you’ll find out there never was a dog or a friend and the person’s actually a mental patient in a psych ward of a hospital. And for a second it looked like I was going to be correct — but then I wasn’t. And there wasn’t anything else to explain this frankly boring stream of consciousness.

Going back to my point of not being super literary in my reviews of Fun Home AND Circe (Man, I’m really on a roll right now), I think this book would have improved for me had I been a student of literature. When the narrator wasn’t talking about the dog, she was typically talking about writing in literally all forms: what it’s like to be an English teacher, to study English, to write a novel, to read famous works of literature. I think if I understood the references, I would have enjoyed it ten fold, but unfortunately I’m not.

So at the end of all this where are we? Still sitting here, scratching my head, and wondering who the heck decides on literary awards? Yes.