3/13/18

March Book Reviews

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It's another second Tuesday of the month and I have another round of book reviews for you all today! As usual, I had a few I really loved, some in the "meh" department, and some that were a complete waste of time, so read on for my thoughts on each of the titles below:

Take Me With You by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Basic Plot: A school teacher grieving the loss of his son ends up with some unlikely companions for a summer on the road in his RV.
My Verdict: Highly Recommend. This is sure to make my list of favorites for 2018! Based on the subject matter I would never have expected to like it, so I'm glad I took Kristen's recommendation and went for it. The second half seemed just a bit slower than the first, but it didn't ruin the overall experience of the book for me. I was ultimately pleased with the resolution and all of the character development, so I could forgive the few minor things I disliked. This book also gets bonus points for me because I had my ten year old son read it after I finished it and he loved it! This is the first book we've both read and enjoyed, and I think it's impressive that it could reach across the age and gender gap. He ranked this in his top five books of all time, and also liked that, "it didn't try to teach you a lesson, it was just a good adventure."

Hidden by Catherine Mackenzie
Basic Plot: A man is killed in an accident and in the aftermath of his death, we learn (through alternating perspectives and time periods) that he may have been keeping some secrets from his wife. This sounds exactly like the plot of another book I just read (Every Last Lie by Mary Kubica), but thankfully it played out in an entirely different way.
My Verdict: Do Not Recommend. Meh. The book held my interested and was fairly entertaining throughout, but the ending fizzled and I didn't feel the story was resolved very well. Also, the author switched narrators with each chapter but wouldn't identify which character was narrating. It became easier to figure out as the story went along, but in the beginning it was confusing. It didn't add to the suspense, only to my frustration with the book.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
Basic Plot: A troubled man (former Vietnam POW) moves his family to Alaska in the 1970s to get a fresh start in life. The story is mainly told from the perspective of the 13 year old daughter who has to learn to survive not only coming-of-age and life in the wild, but her parents unstable relationship.
My Verdict: Highly Recommend, especially if you have enjoyed Kristin Hannah's other books. I've only read The Nightingale and Night Road by Hannah and thought this lived up to my expectations. I wouldn't expect to enjoy a book about surviving in the wilds of Alaska, but this book transported me and made me feel like I lived in this village and knew the people myself. I was invested in their lives and survival. There was romance and heartbreak along the way, but life is like that so it felt very natural and real. After I finished the book, I read some reviews and a few people thought the ending was rushed. I can definitely see that, but it didn't bother me personally because it seemed time for the story to wrap up anyway.

Nemesis by Brendan Reichs
Basic Plot: Every two years, Min is murdered on her birthday. But the next day, she wakes up in the woods without a scratch on her body and makes her way home as if nothing happened. She's determined to figure out why this is happening to her and who is behind it.
My Verdict: Do Not Recommend. This was the book Kristen and I chose to read together this month and UGH, did we ever regret this choice. The premise sounded it interesting, but it was a mess and I did not enjoy it at all. It started off decent, but halfway through it became a terrible mix of Hunger Games meets Matrix meets Lord of the Flies. There was so much pointless dialogue and so many pointless characters. I think there were 64 sophomores in Min's high school class and the author made sure to name them all and tell us where they lived and what their parents did, even if they had zero purpose in the story at all and were only there to say, "Yeah, come on guys! This isn't fair!" (Not an exact quote, but you get the idea.) Even worse, it turns out this is going to be a series. So the ending wasn't really an ending at all, but I assure you I will not be reading Book 2.

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
Basic Plot: An agoraphobic woman has a hobby (hm, maybe "bad habit" is a better description here) of spying on her neighbors. Through her her spying she witnessing a crime, but as an alcoholic on a number of other medications to boot, we can't tell whether to trust what she saw, and neither can she or anyone else.
My Verdict: Recommend. When I finished this book, I was thinking a solid 4 out of 5 stars. But after chatting with a couple of other people who read it and analyzing my thoughts a little more, I am bumping my rating up to 4.5 stars. The key detail I didn't like was the unreliable narrator. It just felt too "Girl on the Train" and I'm a bit tired of books trying to be the next Girl on the Train. But aside from that detail, the narrator had a witty sense of humor, which I really like and I think it's hard to find in suspense novels. (The Passenger also had this type of narrator and I loved that book.) There was a really good twist I never suspected, and even though I did figure out the criminal, there was a mystery about the victim that I didn't guess and I thought was well played. So yes, definitely recommend for suspense lovers and thanks to Tracy for the recommendation!

The Stranger Inside by Jennifer Jaynes
Basic Plot: A murder mystery writer (Diane) moves to a new town for a fresh start with her two kids after the death of her husband. Her daughter goes to college in a nearby town, and a serial killer begins taking victims around campus and leaving hints for Diane.
My Verdict: Do Not Recommend. When I finished this book, I slammed my Kindle shut and shoved it aside. I hated the ending. It was absurd and so frustrating. Up that point, the story was pretty okay, albeit predictable. I guessed the killer by halfway through and didn't connect with any of the characters so it wasn't going to be my favorite. But the ending took it all the way down to a one star rating for me. I didn't think an ending could be worse than Nemesis this month, but this one managed to do it.

Dear Aaron by Mariana Zapata
Basic Plot: Ruby signs up for the Help a Soldier program, which requires her to regularly email an enlisted soldier stationed overseas. Ruby is assigned to Aaron, and they develop a friendship and feelings for each other through their written communication.
My Verdict: Recommend if you like cute romantic stories. Which I do as long as they're not too cliché. The majority of the book is back and forth email (then later Instant Messenger or Text) conversations between Ruby and Aaron, and I thought it was a fun, entertaining and unique way to develop a relationship. I almost felt like I was violating someone's privacy and reading through their private email conversations. Which of course, is very enjoyable when there's no guilt involved! I've enjoyed most of Zapata's books and this was no exception.

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
Basic Plot: Handsome Boy who works at a competitive gymnastics gym is killed in a hit and run. Mom of the Star Gymnast finds the circumstances of his death suspicious and as expected, things are not what they seem.
My Verdict: Do Not Recommend. First, this book is billed as a look inside the world of competitive women's gymnastics. Gymnastics was part of the story, sure, but that was happening on the sidelines and it was really just a murder mystery. The story was interesting enough but the writing style was just not my cup of tea. Coincidentally, there was a line in the book that perfectly described how I felt about the narrative: "...it all felt cryptic, the whisper of a story rather than a story." The characters and the writing kept me feeling like an outsider, and I want to be drawn in. Compare this with something like The Great Alone (see above) where I felt completely there, involved and invested, which is what I want from a book and didn't get here.

Nonfiction

Alone Together by Sherry Turkle
This book looks in depth at the way technology is affecting human-to-human interaction and how humans use technology in place of interpersonal relationships. First off, I did not like the narrator. Her voice grated my nerves so that made it hard to enjoy the book at all. Second, the first half of the book was all about human/robot interactions and I listened to one or two chapters and was completely bored. So I skipped ahead to the second half, which was more about our relationships with our mobile devices and how social media affects our interactions, etc. This was a bit more interesting, but not enough so to make it one that I'd recommend often. Irresistible covers a similar subject matter and was far more interesting, entertaining, and relevant.

Attached by Amir Levine, MD
This was a Valentine's Day Audible bargain so I decided to try it since it had good reviews. Well, that'll teach me to impulse shop for books! This book posits that humans fall into three different attachment types when it comes to relationships: Secure, Avoidant, and Anxious. While the theory was interesting in general, I lost interest once they started to go into detail about how to date and deal with people of the different attachment types. I'm not in the dating game so after about four hours of this book I decided to quit because I wasn't learning anything particularly fascinating or useful to me. There was nothing bad about the narrator or the writing, though, so if you're in the dating pool or generally interested in the subject matter you might enjoy this.

Natural Disaster by Ginger Zee
After a couple of duds, I decided to go with this one thanks to Kristi's recommendation. I only watch snippets of Good Morning America on occasion, so I'm more familiar with Ginger Zee from her stint on Dancing with the Stars than from her role as Chief Meteorologist on GMA, but I still really enjoyed this book. She tells the story of her life from a young girl up through everything she went through personally and professionally to advance her career to the point of landing her current job on GMA. It's very easy to see these pretty, talking heads on the news and think their job is easy and glamorous, and then to assume the rest of their life is just as picture perfect. It was a good reminder of just how much we don't know about what's going on in anyone else's life, and it really made me respect and admire how hard she worked and what she had to go through to get to this point in her career.

The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz
This was a pretty short audiobook (4 hours vs. roughly 6-12 hours for most books I read) and for such a short time investment it was worth the listen. It talks about how modern day humans are working 24/7, on the go and on call all of the time with professional, personal, and family demands pulling us in every direction. The authors offer tips on how to be more effective and manage your energy (not your time, as they say) for peak performance based on what they've learned from years of coaching professional athletes and business professionals alike. For me, this was a good reminder to make time for things that really renew my energy, like going for a walk or taking a dance class, rather than always thinking "but I could be getting X amount of things done at home/on the blog, etc."

The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman
A couple of weeks ago, I was in a bit of a negative funk, so I thought maybe a book could help. I searched up "Positive Thinking" on Audible and this came up. The title made me laugh and the ratings looked good, so I went for it. The author is a skeptic on all things related to positive thinking and our generally goal-obsessed society, and he did a good job of logically picking apart some of the common mantras and clichés of the popular self-help "experts" and beliefs. I enjoyed this one and do recommend it, even if you are a positive, goal oriented person. I think you'll find it less negative and more enjoyable than you might expect!

Current Reads + Up Next:
On the fiction side, I just started "The Opposite of You" (seems like a rom-com so far) and I'm about to start Seriously, I'm Kidding by Ellen Degeneres.

Sometime this month Kristen and I will both be reading Homegoing by Yaa Kyasi and we sincerely hope it will be better than our last couple of joint choices! Also on my mile-long "want to read soon" list are: The Dry by Jane Harper, The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin, Fitness Junkie by Lucy Sykes, and One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus...just to name a few!

Hope you found a couple of titles that sound like something you might enjoy, and as always, if you have something you think I might enjoy, let me know in the comments!


Linking up with: Steph & Jana | Stephanie

CONVERSATION

38 comments:

  1. I loved the Wall of Winnipeg so I may pick this Zapata book. Great round up I need to finish my current books before I pick any new ones though.

    xo
    Pinksole

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    1. Oh! I didn't know you had read Wall of Winnipeg and Me so I'm so glad to hear you liked it! :)

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  2. I'm pinning this so I'll know what to read next! I enjoy your book reviews, you save me a lot of time because I totally would have gone for a few of the books that were just sort of "meh" for you, so I appreciate it. I really like Nightingale by Kristin Hannah - I'm excited to read more by her!
    Great round up!
    xo,
    Kellyann

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    1. Glad you enjoyed, Kellyann! The Great Alone is totally different from the Nightingale, but similar in that the characters and stories are soooo well developed and engaging!

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  3. I read Take Me With You last year. I remember being more frustrated in the 2nd half about how it dragged on, and ultimately just really desperate for the story to be over, but at the same time I enjoyed it and was rooting for everyone. A lot of books like this are disappointing in the end, but I liked how this story wrapped up. I would not have thought to have my 11 year old son read it, but now I am going to and see what he thinks!!

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    1. I can totally understand how the second half dragged for you. It did seem a little repetitive. I guess when my overall feeling of a book is positive, I overlook the stuff I didn't like. But when my overall feeling was negative (or I hated the ending) suddenly ever minor detail REALLY irritates me. LOL!

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  4. You give the best book reviews and I'm always so impressed by not only how much you read, but how thorough your descriptions are. Maybe they should have just called it the "Girl in the Window." I'm getting through books so slowly these days, but I put the Kristin Hannah book in my 'next listen' list. I get sucked into those Audible Deals of the Day all of the time and sometimes they're winners. Sometimes not so much. Thanks for the reviews!

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    1. Thank you so much Megan! I feel like my reviews are so long (I want them to be easily skimmable), but argh. I just feel like I have to say certain things to give a proper opinion! Glad they are worth your time, and I really hope you enjoy The Great Alone!

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  5. You read a lot! That's awesome. I started Nemesis but never got very far, and it sounds like I'm not really missing out. haha I'm curious about The Woman in the Window, but it would be nice to have less books similar to Girl on the Train (which I didn't really like anyway).

    -Lauren
    www.shootingstarsmag.net

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    1. Yeah, if you read the first few chapters of Nemesis, you already read all the best parts. Ha! If you didn't really like Girl on the Train...I'd probably say to skip Woman in the Window. They are different, but it's a good litmus test!

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  6. Wow!! You read some books, Sister!! I read The Great Alone this month, too, and really liked it. Not as much as I did The Nightingale, tho!

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    1. A couple of people have said that they would rank The Nightingale above The Great Alone, but they were evenly tied for me. :) Or maybe it's just been so long since I read The Nightingale that my feelings aren't as strong anymore? Either way, both were excellent in my opinion!

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  7. I think I might read the Kristin Hannah. I passed on The Nightingale because I don't like historical fiction but with this taking place in the 70s, it seems like I can handle it.

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    1. Yeah, The Great Alone is definitely NOT historical fiction. It could have easily taken place in current day, really.

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  8. i am so so so so happy you liked Take Me With You! so cool that your son liked it too. good lord nemesis was awful and let's never talk about it again. The Woman in the Window is on my list, i have the book somewhere at home. i'm a little over unreliable narrators but i'll try to ignore it. i haven't read dear aaron yet, i'm glad you liked it. i've heard mixed things! which sucks. but oh well i am sure i will love it because i am blinded by my love for her. i will remove you will know me from my list. fingers crossed for homegoing!

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    1. Oh gosh, if you're over unreliable narrators...take your time getting to Woman in the Window! LOL. It might annoy you. I would be very surprised if you didn't like Dear Aaron! It might not be a favorite but it's cute! And eek... someone else commented that they didn't like Homegoing so now I'm scared! LOL!

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  9. Wow how fun that you get to enjoy a book with your son after both reading it! I am looking forward to those days with my daughters in the future :) I haven't read Dear Aaron yet but I own it so I will sometime!! I have really loved all of her books so far. I hope you and Kristen enjoy Homegoing more than I did...I think it will help to have someone to chat with about it. I found the unreliable narrator in Woman in the Window to be much more likeable than other unreliable narrators, haha. I liked that book a lot too :) And the Great Alone - SUCH an amazing book. Is Night Road good? I've only read the Nightingale and Winter Garden and loved both.

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    1. Oh no...now I'm scared about Homegoing! LOL! And I'm glad someone else enjoyed Woman in the Window! She was a pretty likeable narrator and reminded me a little of someone I know, so maybe that helped. I liked Night Road! But it was a heavy book. Very intense, and kind of sad and depressing. It's my least favorite of the three Hannahs I've read but still an excellent book. Just go into it expecting it to be an engaging story but overall a downer.

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  10. I really want to read The Great Alone. I loved the Nightingale, but didn't really like another one by her that I read (The Magic Hour, I think). I've heard good things about this one though! And The Power of Full Engagement sounds fascinating, I am going to add that to my list! I always love your book reviews.

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    1. Thanks so much, Shea! If you liked The Nightingale I think you'll enjoy The Great Alone, although maybe not quite as much judging by what others are saying. :) I'm in the minority in liking them equally.

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  11. Ooo! There are a couple of these that really caught my eye! I like romantic novels for easy reads. They are much easier to not get completely engrossed in and put down when I need to. The Dear Aaron book sounds perfect! But I will definitely be putting Take Me With You and The Great Alone on my reading list too!

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    1. I so agree...if I'm not in the mood to really focus on an intense story...romance all the way. :)

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  12. I can't wait to read "The Great Alone"! The only reason I want to read The Woman in the Window is because of the author. I hated Girl on the Train, so I'm a bit nervous to read it because of all the comparisons I see. I have Dear Aaron on my kindle and I'm interested to see how I like it. As a military spouse, I usually feel strongly one way or the other about those kinds of books.

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    1. Ooh, that will be a very interesting perspective to take for Dear Aaron! They really didn't go much into his military life, but still, I imagine you will have a different perspective about the reality of it all than the average civilian.

      And eek. If you didn't like Girl on the Train...I don't know if you will like Woman in the Window much better! They aren't exactly similar but I would definitely not tell you to push it to the top of your list!

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  13. I loved Take Me With You and The Great Alone in a profound way.

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  14. I'm on hold for The Great Alone, and it sounds like it's going to be a good one!

    I hope you enjoy Homegoing, just think of each story as its own. I made the mistake of trying to reconnect them through their ancestors.

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    1. OOh, thank you! That's a good warning regarding Homegoing! Sometimes my expectations can really make or break a book for me.

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  15. I am a Zapata fan so I will defintely check out Dear Aaron. I tried to read Homegoing and DNF. I may try again since I keep seeing good reviews.

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    1. I would be surprised if any Zapata fans *don't* like Dear Aaron! Maybe it won't be your favorite but it's cute. :) And eek...the comments coming in here on Homegoing are not making me excited for this book anymore!

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  16. Take Me With You, The Great Alone and The Woman in the Window are already on my TBR but it's always nice to see another positive review for them. Oh, I added Nemesis to my TBR after you and Kristin mentioned that you were reading it together. And now I will go take it off my TBR! I've grown tired of unreliable narrators too because it seems like now every book must have one versus whether or not it fits the book. And sometimes it does not.

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    1. Ha, yes. Definitely scratch Nemesis off the list! And if you're tired of unreliable narrators...maybe put The Woman in the Window Last on your list. Kristen is reading that one right now so I'm interested to see what she thinks since she said the same thing about narrators. :)

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  17. I enjoyed You Will Know Me enough. I am waiting for The Great Alone and the Woman in the Window from the library!

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    1. Yeah, it was not terrible. I had no trouble finishing it, I just wanted something more I suppose. And I hope you enjoy the other two! :)

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  18. Love your book reviews! I'll have to check out your Kristin Hannah rec. I've also only read Night Road and Nightengale. I'm currently reading She's Not There period your recommendation and enjoying it so far! I just finished The Light We Lost...have you read it? I seriously couldn't put it down!

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    1. So glad to hear you're enjoying She's Not There. It was a solid page turner for me. I have not read The Light We Lost but I have heard a few good recommendations for it. Will definitely add it to my list!

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  19. Wow, you had another solid reading month! I must confess that I'm one of the few people who really didn't care for Kristin Hanna's The Nightingale, so I was hesitant about her new one, but I really have been seeing so many positive reviews - might have to give her another shot... And I was debating putting The Woman in the Window on my to read list, but I think you pushed it on :)

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  20. I haven't read any of these, but you are one of a few people to really recommend The Great Alone. I'll have to add it to my TBR. :) XO - Alexandra

    Simply Alexandra: My Favorite Things

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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment! I sincerely appreciate each and every one and always do my best to answer questions promptly!