7/11/17

July Book Reviews

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Welcome to my July Book Reviews! These are becoming some of my very favorite posts to write and one of my favorite ways to connect with you all! I read some excellent books this month so if you need a great book to read you've come to the right place. Also, if you didn't know today is Amazon Prime Day! There are tons of amazing deals on a huge variety of products and services. I've become a huge fan of Audible, Amazon's audiobook service and that's how I "read" all of my non-fiction book selections. They are offering 40% off 6-month Audible Gold memberships (and Kindle Unlimited!) through today only! That's a major savings, so if you're considering getting into Audibooks, now is the best time! Also, Kindle e-readers are $30 off today! I read all of my books on this version and my kids have this more affordable option. If you don't have an e-reader I highly recommend taking advantage of these deals today and both of those options have been great for our family! Alright, enough sales promo talk on with the books!

Fiction:

Sting by Sandra Brown
In May I read Mean Streak by Sandra Brown and loved it (full review here). I immediately wanted to read another book by the same author, but unfortunately this was a letdown. The story involves two hit men hired to take out a woman (a beautiful, wealthy, successful woman, natch). It takes quite awhile for the story to develop enough for us to understand why she was being targeted and that's one aspect of the story that frustrated me. But it was a pattern throughout the book where I felt like too many secrets were being kept from the readers for no good reason. (e.g. knowing her backstory sooner wouldn't have spoiled the ending or plot twists at all.) Also, I just didn't connect with the main characters in this book the way I did with the main characters in Mean Streak. They weren't terribly likable or unlikable...just one-dimensional. The Bad Boy. The Pretty Girl. I finished the book but just to finish it and see if there was something in the ending that helped me make more sense of it all. But that didn't really happen. I will give this author another chance on a different book, but I don't recommend this one.

Hidden by Kendra Elliot
This book wins the dubious honor of Worst Book I Have Read This Year! Why did I keep reading it? I tried to stop. Twice. I purchased two other books and those were worse! (See Abandoned Books at the end of this post.)  So I went back to it because the storyline itself was interesting enough: a dentist who examines skeletal remains to help identify bodies (there's a fancy name for that profession but let's be honest, only 1% of us would know it), is called to a case where she identifies the victim as her own friend from college. This friend went missing ten years ago as part of a crime spree, and the killer seems to be striking again with new victims, except the person who went to jail for the crimes is already dead. The problem for me was that the book read like a Lifetime movie. The characters were too cliché and some of the scenes were just too dramatic (semi-spoiler, but there was a scene where a woman is carried out of a burning building in the arms of the sexy bad boy that had me rolling my eyes).  In the end, there were a lot of loose ends and random characters thrown in that made absolutely no sense. Luckily, this was a free book from the Kindle library otherwise I'd want my money back. But I don't recommend this one.

Confessions by Kanae Minato
I will go ahead say that this is my favorite fiction book of the month and the one I would recommend the most if you want a page-turner to put on your reading list right now. It was fairly short and went by so quickly. It captured my interest immediately and held it through the end. In this story, the child of a middle school teacher is found dead in a swimming pool at the middle school. Each section of the book narrated by a different person, all of whom were involved in or affected by the child's death. It was unique and compelling with lots of interesting twists. It was translated from Japanese so that fact alone added to my interest (I love books that can teach me about different cultures via interesting plots!) Thanks to Jana for recommending this one!

The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
Typically I don't pay a lot of attention to the cover of the book, so as silly as this seems, I didn't realize until almost the end of the book that this was a memoir, even though it is clearly stated on the cover. I wish I had paid attention to that detail because I think I would have stopped reading it much sooner. I was expecting more plot, more resolution, more twists or more something  that would connect me to the story and characters. I would have had different expectations from a memoir, and as it was I just didn't connect with this. In short, it's the story of a woman who becomes particularly fascinated with a death penalty case in Louisiana because she can draw parallels between that case and her own life. What I did know going into it was that it dealt with some heavy, upsetting subject matter but after reading the glowing reviews on Amazon I hoped maybe it wouldn't be that much of a downer and that there would be enough other plot to interest me. That was another mistake on my part. I kept reading with the hope of resolution or a tie-in that just didn't happen...because real life doesn't always wrap things up in a concise story. This just wasn't my cup of tea, but the fault is on me for even ordering it in the first place without proper due diligence.

The Guise of Another by Allen Eskens
A lot of the reviewers who read this book had read Eskens' previous book, The Life We Bury. Most said that this one wasn't quite as good as the first, but it was still good, and ultimately I found myself in that camp as well. In and of itself, it was an entertaining plot that moved along and had an action/adventure vibe. It was an interesting enough story and easy read, and I would rate it a solid 4/5 stars. However this is something I'd be more likely to recommend to my husband than to my girlfriends! For me, the reason that I didn't like it quite as much as The Life We Bury was that I felt it lacked the deeper meaning, character development and interesting relationships that TWLB had.

Beartown by Fredrick Backman
This book came highly recommended by a couple of bloggers in last month's book link-up, and if not for that I think I might have given up on this one because it wasn't the type to grab you right away. A few reviewers on Amazon mentioned the slow-build as well so I was prepared to give it some extra time before giving up.  For me it was around Chapter 18 that I was completely into the story and eager to keep going. While the story is essentially about a town that lives and breathes hockey (whether the people want to be involved in the sport or not it will affect their lives one way or another), you don't need to like sports or hockey (I'm definitely not a hockey fan) to enjoy the book. You just need to like human dynamics, strong character development and thought-provoking, carefully built storylines (which I do!). This is most similar to a Kristin Hannah novel to me, so if you like her books (e.g. The Nightingale and Night Road) I recommend this as well, but be prepared to invest some time at first before you get hooked. I did really like this book but I would rate it 4 out of 5 stars, only because of the slow start (which was somewhat confusing for me, too) and the fact that the ending was a bit confusing in parts and just didn't give me the complete resolution that I wanted.

Non-Fiction/Audio Books:
I always listen to my non-fiction books on Audible,  which is Amazon's audio book app and service. My phone goes everywhere with me, so this is how I "read" books while driving in my car (via Bluetooth) or just set my phone next to my laundry basket as I fold and put away clothes, and in the kitchen while I put away dishes, groceries, make lunches etc. The Audible app is free in the App Store, but you do have to purchase the books and download them from your computer. (You cannot purchase books in the mobile app itself.) You can either buy books individually or get a monthly plan of Book Credits. I find Book Credits to be a cheaper way to go since audio books are generally more expensive than Kindle or physical books. And of course, this is especially true with the Prime Day deal on Audible that's ending today.

So with that explanation, here are the books I listened to on Audible this month...

Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin.
With some books I have an easy time forming an opinion (e.g. Confessions reviewed above), and other times my feelings are complicated. This book falls into the "complicated" category. This book is all about habit formation and how to create and change our habits to make us "better than before." The author has developed a theory that there are four different types of people when it comes to habit formation, and depending on which type you are, different habit strategies will work for you. In general, it was well thought-out and had some great suggestions. It gave me some a few helpful, practical ideas. For instance I talked specifically in this post about the Moderator vs. Abstainer Concept (one of my favorites from this book) and how I applied it to my social media use. So for all of those reasons, it is something I would recommend if you're on a quest to make or break some habits because it will certainly give you a lot of ideas for where to start and where you may have gone wrong in the past. On the negative side, there were times I thought the author got into too much detail of with her anecdotes of experiences with friends and family. And frankly, a lot of times she came across as a know-it-all in how she described her personal interactions. If she were my friend I think I would get a little annoyed if she were treating me that way, which made it difficult for me to enjoy her as an author. I also wasn't sold on her four categories of people (I guess because I didn't strongly identify with just one category), and it seemed like she tried too hard to make the evidence and experiences fit those categories. Overall, it was worth the read for the good information and new ideas I gleaned, but not my favorite book on habits. (Mini Habits is still a favorite for this topic.) Thanks to Megan for this recommendation!

David & Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
I'm on a mission to read every book by Malcolm Gladwell because I really enjoy his research and entertaining way he presents information. All of his books have been very enlightening and worth the read. Malcolm also narrates his own books and he does such a great job at it. The way he speaks is very soothing but also very conversational and believable. Some audiobook narrators can be too dramatic or too robotic (see below), but Malcolm gets it just right. In this book, Malcolm examines how some disadvantages in life (e.g. dyslexia or the loss of a parent at a young age) can actually become an advantage. As with his book Outliers, I found this really insightful and helpful as a parent, especially his section on choosing top universities vs. a less renowned school and the effect that has on the students. I didn't like this one quite as much as Outliers, probably because I just couldn't relate to as many of the sections, but it was still excellent and worth it for what I did learn.

Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens- Davidowitz
I apologize if I get a little redundant with the terms I use in my social science book reviews because there are only so many ways for me to say they are so fascinating! That was absolutely the case here. The author of this book mentions that he was inspired to go into his field of study because of the book Freakonomics, and I think he's done a great job of taking that field of study in a new direction. The premise of the book is that we are all more honest with our internet searches and studies than we are with our friends, our social media accounts, ourselves and even anonymous polls we may take. And he posits that we can learn a lot more about humanity by studying this data. Just imagine if your Google search history from the last ten years was made public...would your friends and family be surprised by some of the things you've searched? I'm sure the answer for all of us yes! The author studied and analyzed copious amounts of data from Google searches, Google trends, and even adult websites to come up with compelling theories and facts about humans. One thing to note is there is quite a lot of time in this book devoted to sex and sexuality, but I suppose that's largely because it's an area where the author feels there is the largest discrepancy between what people say vs. what they really think and desire. My biggest critique for this book was the narrator of the audiobook. I found him very dry and robotic. Because it's a very data-heavy book, it was easy to get distracted or bored in segments when the narrator was just reading through lists of statistics. I do recommend this if you're into social science, and I wish more people would read it since it's one I found myself wanting to discuss more with others!

Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status Obsessed World by Mitch Prinstein
Okay, if I can't use the word fascinating, how about intriguing? Compelling? Both words would accurately describe this book. If you have ever wondered why some people in life are more popular than others, this book will give you some very scientific answers about that and go on to examine just how much our popularity in our childhood and teen years can affect us for the rest of our lives. It also compares the the two forms of popularity: status vs. likability, and analyzes their prominence in the culture of the United States and even offers research data on how the U.S. views popularity vs. people in other countries. This book wasn't written as a parenting help book by any means, but I found it very beneficial as a parent and pre-teen mom, since it explains many of the changes in the brain that take place in the transition from childhood to teen years. For parents of younger children, it will give you some solid research data on just how involved you should be in setting up playdates for your children at different ages and stages of their life. The author narrated the audiobook version of this and I didn't have any complaints about his performance. This one gets a strong recommendation from me for parents in particular and overall it's my top non-fiction book of the month.

Abandoned Books:

I didn't even like these enough to make a collage out of them, but in case either of these are on your reading list, here's a little explanation of why I couldn't finish them and don't recommend them!

The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda
I didn't get very far with this because I couldn't tolerate the clueless narrative of the main character. Her roommate has been missing several days, but she doesn't see the need to report it to the police. She doesn't know the last name of her roommates or where she works or her boyfriend's name. And this roommate is supposedly her good friend who they chose to move away from the city and out to the country together to start over. I just found all of that too annoying and unbelievable to keep going.

Water Under the Bridge by Britney King
This book started hinting at a controlling, potentially abusive spouse and I am just not into that. I have read a few books with that plot element lately and I end up not enjoying them most of the time. There didn't seem to be any other compelling part of the story to redeem the book in the first few chapters so I just called it quits.

Current Reads:
If you want to read along with me and check back in for my August book reviews, I'm currently reading The Alice Network. This is Reese Witherspoon's current Book Club selection and I thought I'd read along to see how my taste in books compare to hers! I'm also listening to Heavier than Heaven, the biography of Kurt Cobain.


In Case You Missed It....
Two weeks ago I posted my Favorite Page Turners so far this year, with reviews on some books I really loved, including....
Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
The Passenger by Lisa Lutz
You are a Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero

And that does it for this month! As always I love hearing what you loved or didn't love from this list and any recommendations you think I might enjoy!


Linking up with:

CONVERSATION

17 comments:

  1. I just finished you are a badass at making money, so this review came right on time. I'm trying to decide between everybody lies and popular.

    xo
    Pinksole

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  2. Confessions sounds like a great read and I've been wanting to read Beartown. I'm glad you said it takes awhile to get hooked on this one so I don't give up on it!

    Jill
    Doused In Pink

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  3. I keep hearing about The Fact of a Body and am really intrigued by it, but I could see how it would be hard to connect with if you were expecting something else. It sounds like you read some great non-fiction books this month-- Popular sounds like it would be interesting, and I've only read one of Gladwell's books, but I really enjoyed it too.

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  4. Loved Beartown and I know what you mean about the slight confusion at the beginning and the end. I had to re-read parts of the ending again after hearing someone else discuss something that I think I had missed the first time. Weird. Better than Before is one of my favourites :)

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    1. I'm glad I wasn't the only one who had some confusion! I also had to go back and re-read some of the beginning. And there were some parts I still might need to talk to someone about IRL! LOL.

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  5. I get so many ideas from your book reviews and recommendations. So Gretchen Rubin got on your nerves? I haven't read The Happiness Project by her (yet), but I know the biggest criticisms of it echo your general feelings. I'm still a big fan, but I think I'm the type of person that does need help with habit breaking. I need to read Bear Town. You're the fifth person to recommend it. I think I have one to recommend to you in our mutually loved suspense-thriller genre. I'm only an hour in to listening to it, but The Memory Watcher has me hooked and I think the subject matter of social media is what's getting me. All of the reviews say that the ending is a complete surprise. I'm only an hour in, but I think this may be a good one. Oh, and thanks for the Insta Story heads up on the Amazon Prime deals. I picked up the first in the Neanderthal series.

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  6. Count me as a member of the Life We Bury fan club with none of the other books in the series reaching that high, although Heavens May Fall (the latest one) is better than book 2. Fortunately I heard books 5 and 6 will be about Joe and Jeremy. I have not read Better than Before but I did read The Happiness Project. And while it had some helpful information, I really don't connect with Rubin. And to me that's critical in self-help books.

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    1. I hadn't thought about that singular aspect before but I think you're right...I do really need to connect with an author on some level to want to take their advice!

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  7. I am not a huge fan of Fredrick Backman because of how slow his books are. I might have to try Beartown, though.

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    1. It definitely picked up around the 20-25% mark.

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  8. I saw a couple of these at the airport! I was looking for the new Jen Sincero book but couldn't find it so I'll order on Amazon :) I did buy a book called the power of habit. Didn't you review that one? I can't remember now but I swear you mentioned it! So far I like it.

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    1. I did read that one! Glad you are liking it! Some of my non-fiction book reviews have been scattered because I included them as part of my Monday Motivation series and didn't want to be redundant in my Book Review post, but I'm starting to repeat the review anyway just to make it easier to find a given book review. (Aside from searching for the title on my blog home page!) I talked about it in This Post!

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  9. I really liked The Life We Bury, I'm not sure this new one is my speed!

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  10. I'm so glad you enjoyed Confessions. It's definitely on the list for my favorites of the year so far.

    I agree 100% with your comments about Gretchen Rubin. I had a hard time reading the book without letting my opinion of her influencing my opinions of her ideas.

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  11. I just added a few of these to my reading list! Beartown sounds really good, because you mentioned the character development. Poor character development is a pet peeve of mine. I can't stand one dimensional characters!

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  12. I just recently read Penance by the author of Confessions. It was good, and I've wanted to read Confessions for a long time. I'm really curious about The Facts of a Body, but sorry to hear it didn't work for you.

    I really like Better Than Before, and Gretchen's happiness books.

    -Lauren
    www.shootingstarsmag.net

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  13. i am absolutely kicking myself that i didn't get audible on prime day! i bought other stuff but didn't even think of audible. rage! such a bummer about Sting! I totally think she has a formula so I will space her books out. Womp womp. I loved Mean Streak so much, wish they were all as good. I read Lethal, didn't hate it, definitely not as good as Mean Streak.
    I am not good with an abusive spouse/father in books, so skipping that one. Skipping Hidden, definitely adding Confessions and Everybody Lies. Bummer about The Perfect Stranger, it is on my netgalley/kindle to get to soon. I know I already said it, but glad you liked Beartown overall!

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