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!

Book Review: Educated

Author: Tara Westover
Published: February 20, 2018
Genre: Memoir
FLW Rating: 3.5/5

Educated was one of those books that came on to my radar suddenly, and then never really went away. When I first heard about the general premise – a self taught girl who later graduated from Harvard with a PhD, I made the thoughtless assumption that said girl was probably from an underdeveloped country. It was when I found out that she grew up in Idaho, that my interest was piqued. Really? Idaho? IN the United States? I don’t usually think myself very ignorant to what can happen in the US, but still this book surprised me. While Tara’s story is interesting, I found myself constantly wanting to pull lessons and explanations from her story, and that’s where it fell short for me.

Educated tells the story of Tara Westover, a young girl brought up in a survivalist family in Idaho. While her family members are practicing mormons, she makes it clear on Page 1 that this is not a story about mormonism, but a story of the small sect of Fundamentalist/ Survivalists Mormonism that her father believes in. Her father distrsuts  the government, the public education system, and the medicial institution (to name a few..) and believes that it would be a tragedy to partake in anything sponsored by any of the above. He subjects his family to these theories, so that, as a kid growing up in that environment, you wouldn’t know much better. What results are a series of accidents, close encounters with the outside world, and eventually, self discovery and rebellion.

As with any memoir, the most interesting parts come through the mishaps and adventures, of which there were many. Some seemed too shocking to be believable, which I suppose is a testament to the circumstances of Tara’s upbringing. The other highlight of course, are the successes. With each step that Tara took away from her parents’ home, I found myself happily rooting for her.

The final piece of the memoir puzzle, to me, is a conclusion– Lessons learned, reflection, etc. After finishing Educated, I began Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer without realizing the similiarities — UtBoH discusses (at least in the first few chapters), a sect of fundamentalist mormons in Arizona and the lives they live. Even just starting this book shed so much light on Educated and also showed me how much of the story had been missing. My takeaway is that Educated is not a stand alone story, and Tara’s family is not as individual a case as the book had led me to believe. There is a lot to be learned, but Educated is not a standalone nonfiction. Instead it offers a peek inside, and is most effective when coupled with other knowledge.

Overall, I’m happy for Tara that she was able to find her own way in life, and ultimately this was a story of great triumph over a restricted childhood (to say the least). I didn’t feel like I learned a lot from it, and for that I don’t think I would recommend it to a friend.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

10 Things I’ve Learned About Audiobooks

If you’re new around here, I recently won a one year subscription to Scribd Unlimited and am trying to make the most of it!

I wrote my first month thoughts here, but have continued to learn more and thought I would share my overall thoughts in one concise post! A couple items are repeats/updates but overall they are all new thoughts!

  1. My favorite audiobook styles have become are narrative nonfiction and alternating narrator fiction.  Narrative Nonfiction (such as I’ll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamara) can feel like a long form podcast, and Alternating Narrator Fiction (such as The Confusion of Languages or An American Marriage) can keep things interesting with varying voices and perspectives.
  2. I love listening to parts of books I’m reading in hardcopy while I’m doing chores around the house. I genuinely don’t mind cooking dinner or washing dishes as much anymore because I’m still getting in quality reading time! I thought switching between audio and text would throw me off but as long as you finish either medium at the end of a chapter it hasn’t been an issue for me.
  3. I love having unlimited audiobooks through Scribd so I can listen to books I already have on hardcopy without spending more money for the audiobook too.
  4. I was able to listen to a book without falling asleep on a solo roadtrip!
    I recently drove from San Diego to Phoenix and I listened to a book for most of my driving time! This was new to me and something I was nervous about. I’ve never been an audiobook person before so used to fall asleep when I tried, but it worked surpringly well on my last road trip! I made sure to pick a book with a ton of suspense so there was no way I would fall asleep in the car. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (before he was caught) was perfect for that.
  5. A good way to finish the book you’re not loving? Use the strategy of “I’m not loving this in text, I’m going to put it on 1.5x audio to finish it”.
    It works sometimes – such as when I was listening to A Piece of The World and just having a hard time focusing but enjoyed the story, but I tried the strategy for The Immortalists, it didn’t change anything and I just had to stop listening at a certain stage.
  6. I’m having a hard time finishing audiobooks!
    The last two audiobooks I’ve listened to, I’ve stopped both with about 35 minutes to go, with no real desire to start listening again. Does this happen to you? I think there’s just such a lack of finality with audiobooks that I just kind of gave up. I will add they were both nonfiction so the end would have just been wrap up etc, with no big reveal or conclusion and I just never didn’t feel compelled to finish it! (is that bad?!)
  7. I can listen to audiobooks on my walk to work with bluetooth earbuds!
    They are the Otium T2 Wireless Earbuds, and for only $30 they are SUCH a steal! The major negative review for them on amazon is that the battery life is horrendous, and I have to agree – it’s not great – but that’s just where technology is for a device this small! They’ve been fine for my walk to work and also for cooking dinner, and the sound quality has been great so far! Highly reccomend.
  8. Scribd gets so many new titles each month!
    For May, they got new titles from some of my FAVORITE authors, such as Paula McLain and Jon Krakauer, and they also got some brand new releases such as A Higher Loyalty by James Comey and Educated by Tara Westover. Very cool!
  9. I still desperately wish the Scribd app had a cast funtion.
    I would love to listen to my audiobooks on my google home speakers but it doesnt have the functionality to do that yet. Major bummer! I can listen as I cook by using my wireless earbuds, but trust me I’ll be so stoked the day I can listen to audiobooks on my google home.
  10. And finally can I love audiobooks and reading? YES!
    Audiobooks are not replacing my love for reading on paper but they are totally enhancing it! They’re giving me another option and a way to maximize my reading efficiency 🙂

If this hasn’t been enough to convince you to sign up, I’ve had multiple friends sign up and tell me how lifechanging it has been. Take the plunge and sign up with my referral code for 2 free months! (Also this is totally not sponsored, just pure love for my scribd subscription)

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!

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!

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!