Book Review: Modern Lovers

Author: Emma Straub
Published: May 31, 2016
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
FLW Rating: 3/5

I read a review of this book recently that said something along the lines of ‘Emma Straub’s books always appear to bright and happy, but when you read them you realize that they are anything but’. After reading this book, I couldn’t agree more. I bought Modern Lovers mostly because I loved the bookstore, Books Are Magic, in New York City, which was founded by Emma Straub, but also because I love bright colors and love stories. The content of this book didn’t match the cover, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, I think the biggest warning sign I want to share with you is that this book is more about falling out of love than falling in love and that can be dark, sad, and messy.

Modern Lovers is the story of three very different couples – one heterosexual couple in the midst of a midlife crisis instigated by some ghosts of the past, one homosexual couple who has hit a bump in the road, and one teenage couple trying to figure out life and where they fit. These stories feel real and full of despair, as each character waivers between hopeful and hopeless with so much of their life left to live.

The book is extremely character driven and at first I was truly surprised by this. I expected more action, partially due to the bright and exciting cover, and at first was a bit bored with the story.  I think the key to enjoying this book is to try to put yourselves in the shoes of each character and see how much they are hurting. The writing in this book was well done, to the point that while I identified with noone, I could empathize with everyone.

If we’re being honest here, I don’t think the book was meant for me right now. I’m going through a stage of life full of hope and love and excitement for the future – I’m in a new city, with a new job, living with a boyfriend who I hope to marry soon(ish). A love story about falling out of love isn’t really the kind of book I’m here for right now. I guess my critique is that the cover should reflect the content of the book more than it did, but also if a book isn’t right for you right now, there’s really nothing you (or the author) can do, so I can’t knock it too much on that account.

Overall, this book was good. Not great, but also very much not bad. I enjoyed it and I felt for the characters, but man, a book full of hopeless situations isn’t quite what I wanted at the end of summer!

Have you read this book? What did you think?

 

Book Review: Ohio

Author: Stephen Markley
Published: August 21, 2018
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
FLW Rating: 2/5

I was so drawn to this book as a mash up of murder and social commentary — but I’m here to tell you it was neither. What I got out of this book was a very long and very wordy diatribe on modern America. To make it worse the pacing was uneven and the loose ends that made the plot intriguing never came together. Let me explain.

Ohio is the story of one night in the small town of New Canaan, Ohio, when four former classmates have returned home and somewhat accidentally run in to eachother. Told from the perspective of four distinct voices, each protagonist revists their past, while building up to the night of reunion, to form the full story of life today in America’s midwest.

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This story covered it all — 9/11, terrorism, the opioid crisis, domestic violence, gay rights, and honestly probably even more than this. Basically – this book tried to do it all (hence the length of almost 500 pages). My issue is that it didn’t do any of them well. Most topics were both skimmed over and brutalized. The story didn’t dig in to any topic in particular, but instead just created a sort of chaos of negativity. In the end I didn’t finish the book with a heightened sense of awareness on any given topic and that truly disappointed me.

In a book like this, I like to trace the story through the perspectives and guess as to how they will all come together. Near the end of the prologue, Markley established that there was an accident on the far end of town where, as it foreshadowed, all four story lines would unite. The first three stories got there, but the fourth never did. I wasn’t sure if I had missed it, but I discussed the book with a few other reviewers and they agreed, the plot never looped back to the accident at the end — which left me extremely confused and unsatisfied as the reader. In rereading the book description, it appears that the connection between each story was meant to be Rick, a classmate who died in Iraq, but even that didn’t feel like a common thread, more a random coincidence.

The pacing of the book followed a similar pattern — three first stories were slow, but led you to believe that they were headed towards a common climax. On the contrary, the fourth book was INSANE, fast paced, and went in a different direction. I’ll admit that in other books I’ve read recently, I’ve forgiven a slow start for an action packed and rewarding finish, but since the pieces didn’t come together in this case the action packed finish never paid off and was just a greater reminder of the uneven pacing in this book.

My advice to you (since we all interpret books differently so I wouldn’t say don’t read it), is to really prepare yourself. This book is dark, heavy, intricate, and complicated with a ton of sex, violence, politics, and drugs. It may be for you, but it is not for everybody.

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: What Happened

Author: Hillary Clinton
Published: September 12, 2018
Genre: Memoir (Political)
FLW Rating: 4/5

As I’ve mentioned on here before, I don’t usually read books about recent history. If we’re being honest, I bought What Happened mostly as a coffee table book – something to display on my shelf for eternity as a sign of who I voted for in 2016. I kind of intended to read it, but after a few months I resigned to my fate of not reading it. But then I started The Unread Shelf Project and made it a goal to finish all books purchased before 1/1/2018 this year – so here we are.

I ended up listening to this book on audio, and I have to admit, I teared up in the first chapter. I almost stopped listening because it still felt too soon, but I powered through and the rest of the book was matter of fact – which to me is the strength of this book. It’s a non emotional explanation of intents and mistakes of the 2016 Presidential Election. No antics, no tears, no need to respond to attacks. I found it really helpful for me to have it all laid out in a civilized manner, so I can finally put the election behind me and focus on the future.

What Happened is the story of the 2016 Presidential Election, from the perspective of Hillary Clinton. It feels like an attempt from Hillary to be open with her supporters and let us know the background of many scandals that didn’t get proper coverage, focus, or explanation during the campaign. She discusses what she’s doing now, what it’s like to be a female in politics, Russia and why it matters, and those damn emails. It’s a must read for anyone looking for closure from the craziness of 2016!

While there no denying that this is an “agenda pushing campaign book”, I found that it had a lot more than that to offer. I enjoyed learning more about Clinton’s research in to females in politics and her perspectives on being a working mom. I also really enjoyed learning more about the email scandal because the reporting on that was all over the place during the campaign. And while I had been warned that the book was all about Comey, I found his role in the book to be considerable but not to the point of annoyance. There were times when I agreed with Hilary, but also times that I disagreed, and I would encourage everyone to read or listen to this book with a grain of salt.

I listened to this book on audio – which I thought was a great way to do it. The obvious perk is that the book is read by Hillary Clinton herself. You can hear where she gets exasperated or excited or any various emotion you may miss in print. It felt very personal to hear her expressing her confusion over why people didn’t find her to be an open book when she was as open as she possibly could be. The other perk is that in a long book about politics, there are times when you may want to zone out – audio was perfect for this 😊. The downside is that this book is very uniquely structured in hardcopy. There are sub chapters and sub sections separated by a boldly formatted quotes. When these are read in audio, it can seem confusing since they don’t explicitly tell you the chapter is changing, but once you get used to it, it starts to make sense.

Overall, I’m glad I read this book. It was great for me for reflecting on the election and moving past it – the last section of the book focuses on where do we go know. The answer: always forward.

Book Review: The Book of Essie

Author: Meghan MacLean Weir
Published: June 18, 2018
Genre: Fiction/ YA
FLW Rating: 2.5/5

The Book of Essie is extremely popular right now – but it rubbed me the wrong way. The plot was simply too unoriginal for my taste, and all of the characters were too immature to enjoy reading about. I tried – I really did – but this one just didn’t do it for me.

The Book of Essie book is centered on Esther (Essie) Hicks, the youngest child in a religious family who stars in a reality series all about their life. Essie’s father is a pastor, so when Essie gets pregnant unexpectedly, the stakes are high as she works out what to do and what to tell the public.

The book was structured as three separate stories told by different characters- Essie, Liberty, and Rourke. Essie, as I mentioned, is the star of this show – the teenager who gets pregnant unexpectedly and has to figure out how to handle it. (She doesn’t have to, but if she wants things done on her terms, she does.) Liberty is an entertainment journalist who is interested in helping Essie, but also has a story of her own, which presents her with her own biased approach. Rourke, a classmate of Essie’s, may just be her way out. He has a secrets and hidden motivations as well, which make his side of the story enjoyable to read. Through Essie’s pregnancy, the three characters are forced to consider what they stand to gain, what they stand to lose, and what they truly want. There is no straightforward solution for any character, and therein lies the drama.

Beyond that, there is an underlying story of how did Essie get pregnant. It is clear that the answer is a secret for a reason, and as the details emerge each character is again faced with difficult decisions on what to do with the information they’ve obtained.

But herein lies my issue – each character acted with such short sightedness, naivite, and immaturity that I could hardly stand to continue reading this book. While Rourke was my clear favorite character, I just couldn’t stand watching him go along with the plans that were made. I know people have different pet peeves with characters, but mine is definitely characters who make immature decisions when honesty and maturity could solve the situation. That’s not a spoiler, just a general feeling.

This book had elements of scandal, reality television, and overbearing religious families, so I totally get the appeal and found this book entertaining. But ultimately I felt so disappointed by the lack of depth of this book. I felt like there could have been so much there, and somehow there just wasn’t.

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

Book Review: My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry

First things first: I’m currently participating in the Unread Shelf Project 2018, hosted by Whitney at @theunreadshelf. This post reflects on the July Challenge, but you can look back at all the posts here

The July Challenge for The Unread Shelf Project was to “finish that series!” I don’t usually read series — the only series I’m in the middle of is Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache mysteries and in that case middle is a generous term. (I still have eleven of the twelve books to go..) So I decided to interpret the challenge as “finish that collection” and for me that meant read the last Fredrick Backman book that I own but haven’t read yet – My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry.


Author: Fredrik Backman
Published: June 16, 2015
Genre: Fiction
FLW Rating: 3/5

I’m just going to be up front about it – This book didn’t totally work for me. I’m not sure if it was me, or the book, or the timing and the circumstance, but this book felt flat for the first 300 pages, and finished with a big finish that still left me a little unsatisfied.

Fredrick Backman is (still) hands down a favorite author of mine. When I met him last month, he told me personally (while signing my copies of Us Against You and A Man Called Ove), that My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry is his personal favorite of his own books. I wanted to love it and run off in to the sunset with my feelings towards this author’s work, but I just can’t. However, I still plan to read Britt Marie was Here, and I plan to like it… and I’m here to tell you why.

My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry is a story about Elsa, her crazy grandmother, his unconventional family, and her quirky set of neighbors. Elsa is an eight year old girl who likes to describe herself as “different”, and struggles repeatedly with bullies at school. Her grandmother is Elsa’s only friend and helps her escape reality by introducing her to an imaginary world called “The-Land-of-Almost-Awake”. But when her grandmother dies somewhat unexpectedly, Elsa is left with nothing but unexplained sadness and a letter she must deliver to a particular person. This letter takes her on a journey to discover the personalities and personal histories of those around her, leading her to make one big decision.

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When we spoke, Backman said that he felt offended when people disliked Elsa — and I didn’t dislike Elsa but I think the faults I found with the book, stem from the book being narrated by an eight year old.

Throughout the book, I struggled to find consistency in her voice, which made identifying the tone and rhythm of the book more difficult. Particularly early on, there were moments of extreme sadness in the middle of an otherwise comedic story, and the surprise I felt at the change in tone pulled me out of the story more than it pulled me in to the characters. As I reflect on this, I noticed that this is somewhat typical of Backman’s books – to counter extreme sadness with an element of humor or hope, but it just didn’t work for me in this case.

Similarly, I found that I was having a hard time following all of the characters. Again, with Elsa being eight, not only was she learning along with the reader, but she just wasn’t the best story teller. She also used names, nicknames, and descriptions interchangably which felt very on brand for the character, but confused me as the reader. My advice for you reading this book: There was one page in which Elsa ran through who everyone in her building was – bookmark that page. I didn’t, and the rest of the book I spent wondering how people were connected. Serious suggestion for if this book gets reprintedPUT A MAP OF THE UNITS IN THE FRONT OF THE BOOK.  Again, having many characters seems typical in Backman’s work, but it just didn’t quite work here.

Once I made my way through the confusion, I did truly enjoy the plot. I think this book embodies the spirit of young adventure we all had as kids. I used to love scavenger hunts and this book certainly felt like I was back in the game! I mean really, is there a more satisfying arch than that? The end, as is the case in all good scavenger hunts, was both rewarding and eventful as well. It was action packed and full of emotion. While I wish Backman had spread those elements out over the course of the book, at least the book wasn’t completely lacking the action I was searching for.

One more thing – I liked that while this book was about Elsa, it also wasn’t about Elsa at all. It was about all what Elsa came to understand about those around her, including her mother, grandmother, and one very complicated chracter – Britt Marie. Which brings me back to my intro – despite not loving this book,  I am so excited to read another book about Britt Marie. To me, she felt like the understated point of this book, and I’m excited to see how Backman develops her in another book.

Overall, I think this book would make a fantastic movie. Putting faces to names would immensely help with the issue of losing track of the characters, and following Elsa around on her journey would bring me a lot of joy on the big screen. If you’re ready to enjoy the journey, I would definitely recommend this book, but take me as an example and don’t read it when all you really want to do is re-read your favorite police procedural.

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

Book Review: Boomtown

Author: Sam Anderson
Published: August 21, 2018
Genre: American History
FLW Rating: 4.5/5

Boomtown was one of the best nonfiction books I’ve read in the last few years. While I must admit, I struggled with getting in to it, the second half picked up so much speed that I was smiling ear to ear while reading all three epilogues. I often say that I’m a lover of non-fiction, but I’ve realized recently that I’m a lover of non-fiction until it comes to the epilogue. I normally get bored with the “lessons learned” and “where do we go from here” sections, so staying engaged to until the last word brought me true joy. I finished it at a cafe during lunch and walked back to work with an extra little pep in my step!

Boomtown is, simply, a history of Oklahoma City. From it’s crazy founding, to its attempted renaissance in the 1970s, Oklahoma City has never stopped trying to become a world class city. Boomtown tells the story of Oklahoma City from the founding, to the energy industry boom, and from the 1995 bombing to the 2012 NBA finals, and it does it so well. Oklahoma City is a city that trusts in the process, and rolls with the booms and the busts.

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First of all, I want to make one thing clear – you do not need to have any prior knowledge or interest in Oklahoma City or even basketball to like this book. Sure, it would definitely help, but I’ve never been to Oklahoma City or seen a single OKC basketball game and I loved this book.

This book has so many themes, which is exactly how I wanted it to be written. I wanted to learn the full history of Oklahoma City through a series of stories. I say this mostly to admit that at one point in reading this book, I did stall and lose some hope in it (as can happen when you’re reading an ARC!). After the initial comedy of the Land Run wore off (yes, Oklahoma was literally founded by people running in from the borders and claiming a plot of land), I felt like the book lingered a little too long in this time period. Since the pattern of switching between stories hadn’t been established, I wondered if the point of the book was the founding of the city and it would just stay there for the rest of the book – well I was wrong, and soon after I had that thought, the book jumped ahead to focus on the ’50s, ’70s, ’90s, and 2010s – a much more relateable period. As it turned out, the true structure of the book was to alternate between the present and the past, where the historical stories continued to progress through time and the “present” was told as the 2012 season of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Speaking of the Thunder… Sports – they get me every time. 🙂 . This story, the story of Oklahoma City, would be nothing without a focus on sports. So many of their failures and successes as a city have a tie to sports. This book walks through the entire 2012-2013 season from preseason to the Finals, through all the ups, downs, and injuries. If you’ve ever loved Remember The Titans, The Blindside, Beartown (wink  wink), or any other sports narrative, consider checking this book out. This may look like a history of a city, but it’s also a story of a sports team, and the city that needed them.

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And finally, this book (or review) would not be complete without adressing the 1995 bombing, which killed 168 people and was the deadliest terrorist attack in the United States until 9/11.  As this event has such a strong association with the city, I expected the bombing to be a primary focus of the story. Instead the book was told with hardly a mention of it for the first seventy-five percent or so. By the middle of the book I had all but forgotten that there was a deadly bombing in the city. But as Anderson started to describe the day, I could feel my heart beating out of my chest. I love in a nonfiction when you know what is going to happen, and the suspense still gets to you. I felt this brewing and was so moved. I loved that by the time the bombing was adressed you had come to know so many characters in Oklahoma City and Anderson let you know where each of them was. It gave you an eerie sense of being there and a strong concern for these people you had gotten to know. It was, in my opinion, the strongest way this story could have been told. (Seriously, getting chills writing this.)

In closing, I just want to say that, with all nonfiction, it’s the writing that really makes or breaks it. This book was well researched and artfully compiled with so much affection for the city and particularly it’s people. There was one chapter in particular in this book that left my jaw open with admiration of the writing. It’s called Buffalo. I truly believe that if you read one thing from this book, it should be this chapter. I read it, re-read it, and then read it outloud to my boyfriend. It’s that good. I’ll leave you with this passage.

“I’m not saying that Timothy McVeigh bombed Oklahoma City in 1995 because the Buffalo Bills lost four Super Bowls in a row. […] Such a claim would be absurd. Human motives are incalcuably complex. But that Buffalo heartbreak was one of the many shadows that fell across McVeigh’s life between his unstable childhood and his perpetration of mass murder in Oklahoma City. The almost unbelieveable failure of the Bills, and the civic pain it caused, amplified his native pain.
[…]
It’s easy to pretend that sports doesn’t matter in real life, but for many millions of people it does. It matters profoundly, every day. After Super Bowl XXVII, Timothy McVeigh went looking for somewhere else to be, something else to do – something bigger, more meaningful, more real. Reality had failed him, in so many ways, so he went off to pursue his own fantasy of justice, very far from Buffalo.”

 

This book comes out on August 21st, so keep an eye out for it in the next few months!

Thanks to Crown Publishing for the free copy of this book. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: The Death of Mrs. Westaway

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: Ruth Ware
Published: May 29, 2018
Genre: Mystery
FLW Rating: 3.5/5

If you have come here looking for a repeat of the action of The Woman in Cabin 10,  I need to let you know you have come to the wrong place. The Death of Mrs. Westaway is fundamentally different from the rest of Ware’s mysteries, in that the main character in this book goes looking for trouble. And not only that, but the tone of this book is different too. I didn’t feel the same kind of raw fear and suspense that I felt in her first two, but I found this to be a truly unique and almost “cozy” mystery.

The protagonist of this book, Hal is a tarot card reader in London, who runs in to financial trouble. With no known living relatives and no way to increase profitability of her business, she feels like she doesn’t have any way to get herself out of that hole. As the situation starts to look more and more bleak, Hal receives a letter letting her know that her grandmother (who she didn’t know was still alive) had passed away and she was named in the will. Seeing this as a potential solution to her financial woes, Hal decides to go to the reading of the will and accept what she is to be given. However, when she gets there she has to introduce herself to the family and while getting herself caught in a tangle of lies, she also discovers a lot about this family that they did not necessarily want to come out.

I really enjoyed seeing this side of Ware’s imagination and hearing a bit of a different story from her. While a little on the long side, this book kept me engaged, entertained, and busy postulating my hypothesis.

My biggest qualm for this book is really a need to readjust Ware’s genre in my head.

After reading her previous works, I put her squarely in the “thriller” category, but I would have to classify this one more as a cozy mystery than a suspense, which is what I have come to know Ware for. The plot was never fear inducing or exciting, but always quietly convoluted. I think the expectation of suspense led me to feel let down at anything else, including this moody mystery that developed in its place. That being said, I definitely think this would make a great book to read on the beach if you’re looking for a unique and interesting mystery.

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

 

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: The Great Believers

Author: Rebecca Makkai
Published: June 19, 2018
Genre: LGBTQ Fiction
FLW Rating: 4/5
amazon link

The Great Believers has all the makings of an extremely compelling work of fiction – centered on the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, a missing person, a cult, a trip to Paris, love, betrayal– the list goes on. As soon as I read the description, I knew I needed to read it, and as far as the plot goes, it did not dissapoint! It was readable and interesting, andI looked forward to every spare moment when I could pick it up again. What it missed for me was the strong emotional connection to the characters, that connection that would leave me punched in the gut at the end of this book. With all the components listed above, I expected this book to be hard hitting, and while it was very entertaining and enjoyable, I didn’t feel as much raw emotion as I had been expecting.

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The Great Believers is told across two timeframes and two continents – one in 1980s Chicago, and the other in Paris 2015. The story opens in the 80s, at the memorial service for Fiona’s brother, Nico. He was the first in his circle of friends to pass away from AIDS and as can be expected, his death brings a lot of grief and also fear to his close friends. The story follows Yale, one of Nico’s close friends, as he continues with his job and his relationship through this tough time. When the story skips ahead to 2015, Fiona is flying to France to begin the search for her daughter, Claire, who she lost touch with when Claire joined a cult several years prior.

What I loved in this book was the unexpected art history plot line. Yale works for a university art gallery that is trying to gain prestige through donations of incredible pieces, and through that role, he gets himself in to a few compromising situations. I used to love the tv show White Collar, and this felt similar, although less criminal. But there were deals to be made, people to be deceived (or at least left in the dark) and this plotline really propelled the book along!

What didn’t totally work for me was the character development. Quite frankly, I never felt the emotional roller coaster with any of the characters, since I had a hard time feeling a strong connection to any of them. To me, the issue was that even after all I went through with these characters, I didn’t feel like I had gotten to know them. I had more gotten to know their fears and insecurities without really knowing them.

I would recommend this book to someone who has an interest in the AIDS crisis in Chicago, or just looking for an entertaining and compelling work of fiction! I don’t anticipate the characters will stay with me for a long time, but I enjoyed reading this book and will definitely read another book by Makkai in the future!

[Thank you to Viking Books for supplying me with a free copy of this book in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.]