Book Review: Silence of the Girls

Author: Pat Barker
Genre: Greek Mythology Retelling
Pub Date: September 4, 2018
FLW Rating: 4/5

When I was first introduced to Greek mythology in the eighth, I loved Greek Mythology, but I remember finding it more difficult to read in high school. For that reason Greek mythology retellings have seemed daunting to me, so when others such as Michelle Miller’s Circe first came out, I avoided them. For whatever reason, I decided to select this book as my Book of the Month and luckily, it was so well written that the story was incredibly readable without losing historical accuracy (not that I would know, but I’ve read some positive reviews in that light online!).

The Silence of the Girls is a retelling of the Illiad from the perspective of one of the female slaves captured by the Greeks. When the Greeks take a city, they kill all the men (including pregnant women who may be carrying a male baby) and take all the women home as slaves or prizes. This is the story of one of those women, from the battle that destroyed her city, through a large portion of the war.

This book was a step outside of my comfort zone, but I’m all about that right now. If you’re hesitant about this book because you don’t know much about greek mythology – don’t be, Barker writes this book for everyone! – or because you don’t like magical realism – rest assured, all of the characters are humans who pray to gods, but they don’t have any actual magical powers – or because you’re nervous about sexual abuse of the women – there is some discussion of sexual abuse, but I didn’t find anything cringeworthy and I can be sensitive –  I say forget your fears and go for it. This is a beautiful unique book that is 100% worth reading!

Have you read this? Let me know what you thought!

Book Review: Sweet Little Lies

Author: Caz Frear
Published: August 14, 2018
Genre: Mystery
FLW Rating: 3.5/5
Goodreads Link

This book is one of those books that both bingeworthy and slow – when you know you need to get to the end of the story, but also feel like there’s no direction. Sweet Little Lies is my favorite kind of police procedural, in which the murder that’s being investigated has so much more to do with the detectives than the victim. And sometimes, say late summer when life is stressful, it’s exactly what you need.

Sweet Little Lies is a murder mystery/police procedural in which a woman is found dead, but the person she’s identified to be only existed for a short time. The mystery starts there – who was this woman? and why did she recreate herself? And as this story is unraveled, and connections start to be uncovered, a dark truth emerges.

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I personally have always been a fan of this type of story, so I’ve read my fair share. Trust me when I say that Sweet Little Lies is totally original! The story it uncovers is truly unique and complex, which makes devouring this book very entertaining. And that’s all I’ll say! I want you to enjoy for yourself!

HOWEVER, to pull off a book as complex as this, based on a mystery — which is to say the reader is scouring each word for clues — the details need to be clear. I have some questions — and I’m going to pose them here as questions, so if you’ve read this book and can answer them, please do, and if you’re considering reading this book maybe read for these details extra closely so you don’t end up confused like me!

GEOGRAPHY

Can someone explain to me geographically where the body was found vs. where her dad’s pub is located vs. where she grew up?

The geography of this book was very important to the story and, maybe I should have googled more of the locations, but sometimes when I’m so deep in a story, I don’t want to be taken out of it to use the internet. My issue was that I couldn’t fully picture where they were as they were bouncing around the United Kingdom. Her dad seemed to always be a 10 minute walk from one location, a 90 drive from another, and a flight from a third. I was always confused about the distances covered, which was a large part of the story.  The misunderstanding  is definitely due to my lack of knowledge of the region, but that shouldn’t play that big a role in understanding the story.

Conflict of Interest

Why was Cat “kept at arms length” but still allowed to work on the case a little bit? It seems like it should be an all or nothing deal.

It’s no secret, by this point in my review at least, that Cat Kinsella – the detective/ protagonist of our story –  was involved (by association) with the mystery she’s trying to solve. I would have expected that this would be uncovered by her coworkers and she would be removed from the case, but noone seems to acknowledge that fact. At the same time, Cat admits to being kept at arms length, possibly due to some psych issue she has. I was a) a little upset that the former psych issue was never really discussed, and b) so confused about her being kept at arms length but also not really stopped from doing any digging.

Overall, I loved reading an entertaining police procedural – they are just such comfort reads for me – and I really liked the direction Frear took this one in, allowing it to feel truly unique, but I was too distracted by the disconnect of certain details to fully appreciate this book to its potential. 3.5 Stars for me!

Book Review: The Great Alone

Author: Kristin Hannah
Published: January 30, 2018
Genre: Literary Fiction
FLW Rating: 5/5

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Wow – I cannot say enough good things about this book. I ordered it back in February from Book of the Month and it took me until now to read it because I really wanted to be able to savor it. I still wasn’t sure the time was right, so I created a poll on Instagram, asking my followers to vote on The Great Alone or The Mars Room. The result was almost unanimously in favor of The Great Alone, which was just the kind of kick in the butt I needed! However, the best outcome of that poll was that my new friend Chelsea messaged me asking if I would be interested in a buddy read! I said yes, and the back and forth discussion with Chelsea ended up being so much fun and a great way to unpack this book in which SO much happens! (I will talk a lot more about that buddy read in a future post because it was such a great experience – but we’re here to talk about the book!)

The Great Alone tells Leni’s story. Leni, of course is a fictional character, but she felt so real and to me and she had such a powerful story to tell. Her mom was 16 when she got pregnant with Leni and married Leni’s father, who shortly thereafter was deployed to Vietnam where he unfortunately was taken as a POW. Years after his return, the family was gifted property in Alaska through the will of a fellow POW, and Leni, her mom, and her dad decide to take the offer and move up north. What they don’t anticipate is that while living far from the rest of society may have its perks, it also has some serious consequences. Leni’s father’s mental health struggles in the cold dark winters, and being so far from family and resources makes it hard for for Leni and her mom to find a way to survive in his company.

What I liked so much about this book wasn’t necessarily the story, but the characters. Each character was so well developed and was fighting their own battle. In life when we, and those around us, are all going through something, it can be hard for us to a) help each other and b) sort out our emotions. I thought the author gave Leni so much maturity in her ability to sift through her emotions – sadness, guilt, anger, and fear – as four distinct feelings, and also consider what others were going through as well. I can be picky about character emotional intelligence, and the author giving young characters more emotional intelligence than they would really possess, but this felt right. It made Leni a strong character, and helped the reader process the events as they were happening to Leni too.

Overall, the writing in this book was extremely readable – which is something I love, especially in a long book. I don’t want to be struggling through uniquely structured sentences for 440 pages. That has its place and time, but I was glad that I found this book to be easy reading.

The one warning I will give with this book is that it is trigger HEAVY. I know triggers are discussed a lot these days so I’ll let you know that there is a lot of domestic violence and a lot of grief. For as wonderful as this story is, it carries a heavy plotline and I felt sad for most of the book. To me, that speaks to the power of the book, but for some I know it may be too much to handle.

But back to the positives, when I closed this book, I knew I’d never forget Leni, her mother, or any of the other characters in this book. I truly spent most of a weekend reading this book – and to me it was a weekend well spent!

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.

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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.

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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: 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 you should pick for your BOTM Extra

It’s January 24th, so naturally I’m already gearing up for next month’s Book of the Month selections.

I bought my mom a Book of the Month membership for Christmas, and got a free book credit in the deal, so I’ve been trying to figure out what book I should get. Whenever I go diving through the BOTM archives, I’m just reminded of all the books I’ve loved so far!

Since I’m doing The Unread Shelf Project, I think I’m going to buy a book I’ve already read to have on my shelf (Tossing up The Woman in Cabin 10 or Into Thin Air) But, if you have found yourself in a similar situation – or just want to add an extra to your box here are my top five suggestions!

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If you’re looking for a well researched, slow-burning, character rich, historical fiction novel: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (my review)

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If you’re looking for a book that will destroy you and put you back together again, while making you consider different types of relationships from your own: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood (my review)

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If you want to experience life on the Galapagos Islands, with a touch of WWII espionage intrigue: Enchanted Islands by Allison Ahmed

 

If you’re looking for the quintessential unputdownable thriller: The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware (Confession: I don’t own The Woman in Cabin 10, yet, but these are her other two that I read this past summer!)

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If you want a new [fictional] best friend: The Hearts Invisible Furies by John Boyne

 

Honorable Mention: The Animators, The Couple Next Door, and The Profiteers.

 

 

I cannot recommend any of these enough and I’m so grateful for BOTM for bringing them in to my life!

(If you’ve been considering Book of the Month but haven’t taken the plunge, use my referral code! You’ll get a sweet deal, and I’ll get a free book)

Review: Pachinko

Author: Min Jin Lee
Published: January 2017
Genre: Historical Fiction
New York Times 10 Best Books 2017
FLW Rating: 4/5

Pachinko is a book that I will always remember, maybe not for the story, but for the history lessons I learned from it. This may just be me, but I feel like when it comes to history I tend to stick to similar cultures – American, European, maybe Russian or African at times, but very rarely do I study Asian history. Almost two years ago, I went to the Chinese American museum in New York City, and was blown away at how that population suffered upon immigrating to the US. It’s with this self awareness, that I’m so happy that I read Pachinko and that it is a New York Times Top 10 Notable Book for 2017. But I digress, Pachinko is a wonderful story set in Korea and Japan that spans almost the entire 20th century.

The story begins with a teenage girl, Sunja, who is living in the Bansu peninsula of Korea. The country has been largely oppressed by Japan who is beginning its quest to take over the region, using Korea as a stepping stone to China. Sunja lives with her mother, who, as a recent widow, provides for her family by running an inn full of interesting characters. But as Sunja grows up and moves away from the inn, she is forced to persevere – through hunger and poverty and segregation of many types. Sunja is an inspiring protagonist and as her family grows and moves, you feel yourself growing with them.

My favorite thing about this book, is of course the history, but beyond that I loved the writing. When I finished reading, I felt like I was going to mourn the loss of a dear friend (not a spoiler of the ending, just a reflection of my connection to this book), and so I kept turning the pages to the authors note. What I learned is that Min Jin Lee moved to Japan when her husband accepted a job, and she spent a lot of her time interviewing locals to prepare for this book. She had been working on the story for so many years, and wanted to make sure that it was exactly right. I think this anecdote is the purest example of what makes this book so moving and personal – the time and attention and care for the people it portrays just reflects how genuine Lee’s writing was.

While the plot may come in second to the characters and the history, it moves at the just the right pace, with just enough action to keep you turning the page. I would recommend it to someone looking for a heavier-novel or a lighter-nonfiction.

Book Review: The Lying Game

Hello Bookish Friends! It’s been a little since my last post – mostly because I am currently SO immersed in The Hearts Invisible Furies! A review should be coming pretty soon because I finally crossed the 500 page mark. But I digress…

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware was one of my most anticipated reads of the summer! When I first heard that Ruth Ware was coming out with another thriller, I added it to my Goodreads so I wouldn’t forget, texted my best reading friend, and waited patiently.

The wait for The Woman in Cabin 10 from the library was literally several MONTHS long, so I expected this to be the same situation, until I saw that Book of the Month was offering it for $9.99 with my August box! Sold!

In addition to The Woman in Cabin 10, I also read In a Dark Dark Wood by Ware, and I came to expect that a Ware thriller can be an unputdownable experience where you care deeply for the characters and truly question their survival. I set my expectations very high and I  was, honestly, disappointed.

The Lying Game is the story of four friends who witnessed a crime during their boarding school days, did not immediately realize the guilt they assumed by association, but refused to speak a word of it for the rest of their days. Until it became relevant again nearly seventeen years after they had all parted ways. 

For me, the character development fell through on this one. I felt in the dark throughout a lot of the story, without being given enough to keep me hanging on, but rather scratching my head and thinking ‘Am I missing something?’.

I felt that the plot could have been resolved easily by just saying HEY something happened when we were younger and we made some mistakes. The fact that noone in the story tried to do that, but let this lying game continue, really frustrated me.

So in the end, this was probably just a 3 Star read for me. I’ll probably read the next book Ware come out with, but I think I’ll borrow it from the library next time.

Your Turn:

Did you read this book? What did you think?

Do you think it’s hard for a writer to continue to produce great books after great books?

My mom had a saying in high school regarding high school sports, in which she said ‘It’s hard to win three times?’ Do you agree in the context of books?

Book Review: American Fire

Peeking my head up from The Secret History to bring you this review of American Fire by Monica Hesse. 🙂

LOVE IS A WEIRD ACT. An Optimistic delusion. A leap of faith and foolishness. Sometimes when it is tested, imperfections that were there from the beginning, lurking deep, can begin to work their way to the surface. Even two people who love each other deeply will always be two people, two souls. You can’t ever completely get in someone else’s head, or in someone else’s heart. It is the greatest tragedy and the greatest beauty of a relationship: that at some level, the person you are closest to will always be a total friggin’ mystery. Maybe the real mystery is why we ever do it at all. It must be something incredible.” – Monica Hesse, American Fire

I normally never start a review with a quote, but maybe I’ve been writing these wrong, because I think that quote serves as quite an intro.

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American Fire is a book I stumbled upon over the winter through a fit of boredom  – either browsing through Goodreads or Netgalley, I can’t remember, but I do remember setting a mental note for July when it would come out. So July 1st, when I saw it as a Book of the Month selection and I chose it immediately. I love when Book of the Month selects nonfiction!

The synopsis of American Fire is that two people living on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, decide to set fires to abandoned houses throughout their county, and reaked havoc on their community. Monica Hesse, the author of this book, was a journalist with (admittedly) nothing to write about and asked her boss if she could go down to Virginia to cover this story.

What Hesse brings is a compelling narrative non fiction, sprinkled with chapters that take a step back from the story and explain the context. This context ranges from the psychology behind arson, to the history of the economy of the Eastern Shore (who knew that Doritos were part of the downfall?), to different state laws which could influence the trial and sentencing for arson.

The overarching story line was told through the lives of the arsonists as well as the firefighters fighting each fire, to give you the full picture of the crime and the damage to the community.

I felt like a learned so much from the story, and enjoyed it all the while.

I find that even though I shouldn’t, I tend to compare books. The comparisons I would make for this is that it was somewhere between The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot and Deadwake (or any of the others) by Eric Larson. It reminds me of Rebecca Skloot because it truly was the story of a journalist who stumbled upon a story and invested the time and effort to develop a book, and of Eric Larson because, in my opinion, nobody writes narrative non-fiction better.

At the end of the day, I was drawn in to this story, but I was never obsessed the way I was with a Larson book. I learned so much, and those facts and feelings will stay with me – which is kind of the best that you can hope for!

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I hope you give this book a shot and let me know what you thought!

Feel Learn Wonder Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Title: American Fire
Author: Monica Hesse
Genre: Narrative Nonfiction

 

 

Book Review: Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

When a writer has one crazy successful book, do you automatically read the next one she comes out with?

I felt conflicted about picking up a copy of Into the Water by Paula Hawkins. I truly enjoyed Girl on the Train when I read it in 2015, but it wasn’t my favorite book ever. To be honest, I’d only half-heartedly recommend GotT to friends. But I knew that with all the hype around Into the Water, including already purchased movie rights, I’d feel the urge to read it at some point. Then with Book of the Month Club offering it as an add on to my box, the answer became even simpler. Add it to my Box!

Before I even opened the book, I was seeing crazy mixed reviews. Loved it, hated it, everyone had a STRONG opinion. My opinion: I really enjoyed this book, so much more than I anticipated. At the end I couldn’t put it down, and without giving too many spoilers, I read the final sentence three times. If you read my recaps, you know I hate when an ending drags on. None of that here!

In a few words – this book was eerie and engaging until the final punch. Go get a copy! Or if you live in San Diego, come be my friend and you can borrow mine! 😉

Synopsis from Goodreads:

“A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother’s sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she’d never return.”

 

What I liked:

That Paula Hawkins writing style. I remember learning about the phrase “Dramatic Irony” in my high school English class, and realizing how much of a rush it can give the reader. (Dramatic Irony is when the reader knows more than the characters.) Paula Hawkins writes in an almost ‘elevated dramatic irony’ (totally making that phrase up). A typical trio of chapters in a Hawkins book would include:

  1. The action is building until the scene you are anticipating is about to occur;
  2. Other characters, not at the scene speculating about the action;
  3. One of the characters involved in the action recounting the scene in the aftermath.

This style is SO compelling, leads you to turning the pages to find out what happened while also feeling a sense of dramatic irony throughout. And despite feeling like the writing was slightly calculated, it truly never bothered me because it worked so well.

What I didn’t like:

To be honest with you, I had a HARD time putting the characters together at the start. This is definitely a product of how I read it, but still – I could’ve used some family trees at the start! I read the first ten pages in Pittsburgh, PA. Then then next thirty in a park in Denver, CO. And then didn’t pick it up again until I got to San Diego, CA. I forgot some characters along the way and had to do some flipping back to get caught up. Minor gripe, but I had to have one, right?

Food for Thought:

1 – It’s interesting that this book came out so close after the Netflix series,  13 Reasons Why, which experienced so much backlash for its graphic suicide scene. Many are claiming (backed by scientific research) that having that exposure to suicide would push someone considering it in to doing it.

In this book, the mother of the teenage girl who committed suicide, claims that Nel Abbott’s research of the “suicide spot”, which created a sense of hype around it, may have tipped her daughter over the edge in to going through with it.

I found it interesting to see this concept reinforced in another piece of literature, because this was not a phenomenon I had even heard of previously. It makes me wonder, while this book doesn’t glorify suicide, and I would argue neither does “13 Reasons Why”, should we all stop writing about suicide?

“Her daughter made a senseless choice, but pockets filled with stones and hands grasping flowers, the choice had context. The context was provided by Nel Abbott”

2 – More lighthearted, but does anyone else feel like it takes a solid 100 pages (almost EXACTLY) to get in to a good book? I’ve experienced this so much over the past year, to the point where I used to get my Book of the Month box, and sit down and commit to reading 100 pages straight. If I don’t boost through the first 100, I feel like the rest of the book doesn’t resonate as much with me. In this case, I read the first 100 slowly, and while I still clearly really liked it, the second I thought to myself “wow this book is really good”, I looked down and noticed I was on page 101.

That’s all from me! I hope you pick up a copy of Into the Water by Paula Hawkins and immerse yourself in this crazy world. I’m giving this one a 5/5!