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!

 

Enjoy!

12 Days of Bookstagram! (Recap)

I recently participated in the 12 Days of Bookstagram hosted by Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy, and it was a really fun challenge to join in on! I thought 12 days was long enough to feel challenged without getting bored, and the variety of prompts pushed me out of my comfort zone, which is fun to do sometimes as a budding bookstagrammer!

The results are in and I wanted to share my photos by style and how I feel about them going forward on my feed!

1. The Single Book

Posting a photo of a single book is my favorite style! I like to set up the backgrounds to help tell my story, but let the cover steal the show. I find it important to show my followers the whole cover, including the author so they could look up the book if my caption piques their interest. For five of the twelve days I was able to use my personal style, which I was happy about!

2. Multiple Books!

I always love a good book stack photo – and so do the people on bookstagram. I used these photos for the days Shelfie and Book Stack and got a positive response to both photos! I think bookstacks give the viewer extra chances to connect with one of the books in the photo – especially in the case of the thriller stack, a lot of bookstagrammers were excitedly commenting about which book they loved and asking about others they hadn’t read yet.  I love when posts get a lot of interaction so book stack day was one of my favorites!

3. House photos!

I had so much fun taking photos of my apartment during this challenge! I don’t usually share photos of my house, mostly for the reason that this is a book account and not an interior design blog! I love following blogs like Apartment Therapy, and as much as I love my space, it doesn’t totally feel instaworthy. That being said, I loved the excuse to post pictures of my home because my space does interact with my reading life and it makes me so happy. I posted these photos for Bibliophile Life, My Reading Spot, and On My Nightstand day. These photos got less likes than my typical style, but it was fun to put them out there and have people say that they enjoyed seeing my space!

4. Busy Busy

My two least favorite days of this challenge were Bookstore and Flat Lay. These aren’t styles that I typically share on my account, because to me they end up looking busy. There are people on #bookstagram who totally nail this style, but they just don’t work for me – and that’s ok! At the end of the day this is my account and I can do what I want 🙂 .

 

I hope you enjoyed reviewing the 12 days of bookstagram with me! Let me know if you have a favorite style of book photo!

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.

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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!

What I Learned with my First Month of Unlimited Audiobooks

Over the course of the past month I’ve taken my first steps in to the world of audiobooks! I won the Scribd giveway that was all over my instagram and now have unlimited audiobooks for a year!

I’ve listened to (at least parts of) four audiobooks and I wanted to share my experiences with you and some of the things I’ve learned.

So here we go…

  1. Janesville by Amy Goldstein

This was my first ever audiobook – I needed to read it for book club in a week and couldn’t get a library copy so just played it on audio. I learned…

  • Following six+ story lines on audio is hard. There are characters popping up from here and there and you don’t have the benefit of seeing large paragraph breaks to know the story is changing or being able to flip backwards to find the name in a previous chapter (or better yet use x-ray on your kindle paperwhite)
  • I really enjoyed listening to the intro and more factual parts on audio. Those parts can drag on when reading through it, but on audio it felt like a news report or a podcast, and that kept me engaged. I also enjoyed being able to increase the speed to 1.2 or 1.5 if the content was really slow.

2. The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon

The last time I drove to LA and back I listened to all the episodes of Ponzi Supernova. This time I decided I would listen to a book. I started driving early in the morning so ended up listening to news for most of the time until I had had my coffee and was able to focus on a book without falling asleep. I listened to the first 100 pages on audio and then finished the book in the written format. I learned…

  • I really like starting books I own/may want to finish in hardcopy on audio when I’m driving or otherwise unable to read. My current TBR feels out of control right now and having a side audiobook when I have so many other books to read isn’t relaxing or satisfying. This was a great use of my time in the car and got me past a lot of the plot build up, so I could boost through the book when I got home.
  • It took me a minute to adjust to reading the names and associating them with the character I had been hearing about. For some reason reading Margaret and hearing Margaret felt different for me and I had to pay attention for the first bit to associate written names with voices. I also totally heard the narrators voices throughout the rest of the book as I was reading the hardcopy.

3. A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

I borrowed A Piece of the World from the library. Since it was an Express Book, I only had it for two weeks with no renewals available, so I used Scribd to speed up my reading. This was a great book and one that I LOVED listening to on audio. I learned…

  • With a slow book, I focused on the story so much better on audio while doing household chores than when trying to just sit down and read. As I wrote in my review, this book was a little slower than others that I’ve read and I struggled to keep my concentration when reading it.  I really loved the story and still felt engaged with it, even though I was listening while doing other things.
  • I don’t have to do something with my hands when I’m listening. While I mentioned above that I was able to keep my attention while doing household chores, I also found that I could lay on the couch and look out the window and have the same attention. I always thought that I should be coloring in a coloring book or doing a chore while listening to audiobooks, but sometimes you can just listen.

4. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

I recently quit my job and as a result my last week of work was really slow. While all I wanted to be doing was reading Still Life at home, I was stuck at my desk. So I decided to start my next book on audio while I sat there. I learned…

  • Good narration can totally bring a story to life. This book is powerful and the feelings are so intense. Reading sometimes allows you to be an observer, but listening to it brought me in. I have to admit that I didn’t read the pages in print so it is possible that the writing would have sucked me in as well, but in this case I was so satisfied with the power of the narration
  • Audiobooks are great for alternating narrators. As I noticed in The Confusion of Languages, each character had their own voice and it felt totally different from reading their names. Particularly in this case when the two voices (for the first 100 pages) were a male and a female, it was so easy to keep track of and worked really well.

So what does this all mean for picking out a great audiobook?

So far I have loved fast paced fiction that I already own with alternating narrators (2-3 … not 6). I also love having the option of unlimited audiobooks for that time you want to start a book on a long car ride, or when a book just isn’t keeping your attention in its written format!

When my Book of the Month subscription runs out later this year, I think I’ll trade it for an unlimited audiobook membership. It has been a great way to enhance my reading without adding books to my unread shelf!

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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

Let’s Talk Secret History and Still Life

If there are two books that I read exclusively because I saw them over and over again on #bookstagram, Secret History and Still Life are them.

Secret History by Donna Tartt is a murder novel (not a murder mystery because there isn’t really a big reveal in the end) about a group of students who commit a murder and have to live the rest of their lives with that fact. The book gave me huge existential vibes because the students are part of a small select group who are studying greek mythology and the beginning of the book focuses strongly on their work. I really enjoyed this aspect and thought it brought so much depth to the book. Months after reading it, I still find myself repeating ONE quote to myself and thinking how interesting it is that I can’t clearly remember the ending, but this quote won’t seem to leave my mind.

“We think we have many desires, but in fact we have only one. What is it?”

“To live,” said Camilla.

“To live forever,” said Bunny, chin cupped in palm.

I don’t know why, but of every line in the 550 page novel, I cannot shake that line. It just rings true.

Months later I picked up Still Life by Louise Penny and was shocked at how much it brought me back to The Secret History. I expected Louise Penny’s writing to remind me of Tana French, because they are both so beloved and as a result often compared. However, Still Life gave me major existential vibes with passages like this,

“Something drove them to ask for help and to look deep inside themselves. And the catalyst was often change and loss.”

“Are they the same thing?”

“For someone not well skilled at adapting they can be”

“Loss of control?”

“That’s a huge one, of course. Most of us are great with change, as long as it was our idea. But change imposed from the outside can send some people in to a tailspin. I think Brother Albert hit it on the head. Life is loss. But out of that, as the book stresses, comes freedom. If we can accept that nothing is permanent, and change is inevitable, if we can adapt, then we’re going to be happier people.”

Overall, I found that the Still Life had more character development, longer chapters, and more existentialism than a typical thriller, and I was really pleasantly surprised with the way the book ran.

If you’ve read either of these, let me know if you agree with me!

How to Read About Conflict in Foreign Countries

This year (and it’s only been 2.5 months!) I read two books that completely blew my mind. I relearned the fundamental fact that “I don’t know what I don’t know.”

The first of those books was Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, a fictional memoir about the Japanese occupation of Korea throughout the 20th century. The second was Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick, a non-fiction account of “ordinary lives” in North Korea. I learned SO much.

I found out about Nothing to Envy on an Instagram post, suggesting that someone participating in the #harpiesreadtheworld reading challenge may use this for the category of Read a Book About A Country the US is in Conflict With. Which got me thinking, What do I look for in a book, if I want to learn about another country and their history?

I’ve learned through past reading experiences that when I’m reading about a place I don’t know too much about, I really love feeling like 1) the book is well researched, 2) the book is fully set in reality, and 3) I need significant context to feel like I understand the entire story.

Pachinko and Nothing to Envy squarely worked for me and while they covered both genres of fiction, and non-fiction, I learned so much from both of them.

To illustrate, some recent books that have been popular but hasn’t worked for me are Exit West by Mohsin Hamid and The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Both books had moments of magical realism in them, that lost me, made me feel like I wasn’t learning because the story wasn’t real. And speaking of context, Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo and The Alice Network didn’t dive quite deep enough for me or provide me with enough information that I can feel like I really learned a lot.

So, getting back to the positives, here are books that I would recommend to get serious context in to conflict in other countries.

Happy reading – and happy learning!

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.

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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!