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: Circe

Author: Madeline Miller
Published: April 10, 2018
Genre: Greek Mythology Retelling
FLW Rating: 3/5

I’ve never seen a more polarizing book gain so much popularity. I feel like that’s all I need to say about this book, but of course it’s not. Circe is a Greek mythology retelling, and I’ve gotten the feeling that people who know and like Greek mythology love this book and those who took a risk, hoping they’d be able to learn some things along the way hate it. I didn’t like it. I found glimmers of hope when I would recognize a character from my middle school English class, but overall I felt a little lost.

Circe is a greek mythology retelling from the perspective of the nymph/witch/enchantress, Circe. (I literally had to google that to make sure I got it right.) After Circe is banished from her home city for using her witchly powers, she sets up a home on a deserted island. The story unfolds as she lives there for millenia and recieves several visitors – some who bring her fortune, and some who do not.

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I have some very strong feelings about this book.

  1. Nostalgia is key. I literally only enjoyed the parts where I recognized a character from my middle school Greek Mythology classes. I don’t think  enough context is given for the unfamiliar reader to feel comfortable in reading this book.
  2. Knowing there is a glossary in the back is very important. There should seriously be this disclaimer on page one! It took me until about 2/3 of the way through, when I decided to check how many pages were left, to discover that there’s a glossary in the end. By that point I had gotten by with my google home or context clues, but had felt pretty frustrated.
  3. The first one hundred fifty pages is world building. If you’ve made it this far in keeping up with the characters, I would advise you not to be too discouraged that nothing has really happened, despite centuries passing like seconds. The action is still to come! BUT if by this point you’re not bonding with the characters, I think at this point it’s ok to DNF.

I know this review was a little more straightforward than normal (and really more of advisory), but as I said in the beginning, I’ve never seen such a polarizing book before and I have a lot of strong feelings about it! I think knowing the above would have helped me to enjoy this book more, so I just wanted to make sure you have the best experience possible.

As a final take, I’d say that I don’t think this book did a good enough job with providing me the context I needed to understand the characters or the story. If that was going to be the case, I think either the glossary should be more available (at least mentioned at the beginning) or readers who don’t know a lot about Odysseus should be warned to stay away from this book. The hype for this one was a little too contagious, so I think a lot of people who probably shouldn’t read this book decided to pick it up, and, I being one of them, were a little dissapointed.

P.S. If you feel like you want to dip your toe in the Greek Mythology pool, but this one doesn’t sound like it’s for you, try Silence of the Girls! I found that one a lot more approachable

What I’m Reading: December

While November was full of nonfiction books for me, I’m looking forward to an entertaining (fiction filled) December. I had been holding off on getting new Book of the Month books until I read the two I had, but I was eager to get two selections this month! So I’m thinking of doing a bit of a Book of the Month Readathon this month with titles I’m really excited about —

Circe by Madeline Miller

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I got this from Book of the Month when I got The Silence of the Girls. Apparently I was feeling the Greek Mythology Retelling genre that seems to have sprung up recently!

Calypso by David Sedaris

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I got this one back in July I think! I was so excited to see it as a selection and immediately added it to my box. David Sedaris is a favorite author of mine, I find all of this work absolutely hilarious and am excited for this new collection, which I hear is a little more serious than his others.

Severance by Ling Ma

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This one was a December pick for Book of the Month, but not a recent release. When they took this strategy last year, I ended up with Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and I’m so glad I did. I’ve been seeing Severance around #bookstagram and decided to give it a go despite not always totally loving the distopian thing. I hear great things about this one!

For Better or Worse by Margot Hunt

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This was a November selection for Book of the Month that I passed up on mostly because I hadn’t heard anything about it and wanted to read a few reviews first. The reviews were great and now I’m excited to add it to my library, and a marital thriller sounds like an entertaining way to end the year!

Have you read any of these? Let me know what you’re planning to read next month!

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.