5/8/18

May Book Reviews 5/8/18

|
Another month down and another round of book reviews to share today! As usual I had some hits and misses so read on for my thoughts on each of the books displayed below:


FICTION:
Ask Him Why by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Basic Plot: A soldier is dishonorably discharged and sent home from a tour of duty. His actions spark national interest and have a dire impact on his entire family. The story is told from the perspective of his younger siblings whose worlds fall apart in the aftermath.
My Verdict: Do Not Recommend. I'm sad to say I really did not enjoy this book. I loved Take Me With You by the same author, but I guess that set the bar too high for this because it came up short in every way. It was very slow paced, and I struggled to connect with any of the characters. Without spoiling, there was also a character who had "magical" (my interpretation) breakfast making skills that just seemed corny, far-fetched, and out of place with the rest of the story and relationships. I enjoyed some of the family dynamic aspects and could relate to the concept that one family member's actions can affect everyone else, but it all came across more like "After School Special: Don't Judge a Soldier" than an engaging, realistic story.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Basic Plot: Several generations of a Korean family attempt to survive through love and loss in the 20th century. Korea endured very political changes during this period and it had devastating and complicated effects on many generations of their people.
My Verdict: Recommend. This book held my interest very well with each of the well-developed lives and stories of the family. I became very invested in the characters and their experiences. I learned so much about recent Korean history and especially the particular challenges of Koreans in Japan. I wish I had read this book before I read "Go" (last month) because it all makes more sense now. This book has parallels to "Homegoing" (also reviewed last month) in that it's a multi-generational family saga that deeply explores the history of a specific area of the world and how Major World Events (wars, colonization, etc.) truly impacted the ordinary citizens for years beyond the conflict. What's different with this vs. Homegoing was that each character's story was far more developed. It also didn't span quite as many generations nor have as many characters so it was much easier for me to follow. If you liked Homegoing, you might enjoy this as well. I personally liked this one much better (because of the greater time spent on each character) but I'm sure many will be the opposite! Overall I really loved this book, but I think I raved about it prematurely on social media because I had quite a few complaints about the final third of the book. Some characters stories (despite being well developed throughout the book) had very unsatisfying endings. There was also some more graphic sexual content near the end of the book, which just seemed out of place with the rest of the book since to that point sexual encounters were handled in a more PG-13 way. I also didn't love the ending, but it didn't ruin the book. Overall I liked/loved a lot more about the book than I disliked so I still highly recommend it. If you have a book club this would be an excellent book to select because there was so much to discuss! I practically begged Rachelle to read it after I finished it and once she finished it we had lengthy text discussions about it because there's just so much to say.

Rhythm, Chord and Malykhin by Mariana Zapata
Basic Plot: Gaby goes out on tour with her brother's rock band, the opening act for a more established band. Gaby and one of the fellow tour members hit it off as friends, but he's in a relationship so she does her best to manage the platonic friendship.
My Verdict: Recommend! I've read quite a few books by Mariana Zapata and have liked them all except one (From Lukov with Love was the exception if you're wondering). This one was perfectly enjoyable from start to finish. Sure it's somewhat predictable, especially if you've read any of Zapata's other books. But I read these for pure fun entertainment, not groundbreaking prose or shocking plot twists, and that's exactly what I get. Many of the lead male and female characters in her other books have all been very interchangeable to me, but with this one at least the male character was different from the usual strong, silent type she favors. I also enjoyed reading about the experience of the band on tour and imagining what that lifestyle might be like. For more reviews on this one check out Kristen, Rachelle, and Alexandra's posts since they all read this last month as well.

The Last Thing She Ever Did by Gregg Olsen
Basic Plot: A little boy from Bend, OR goes missing when his mom turns her eyes from him for mere seconds. As readers, we know what happened to the boy...sort of. But there are plenty surprises along the way as we wait for the truth to come out.
My Verdict: Recommend. This was an entertaining read. The suspense started building fairly quickly and I was eager to turn the pages and see what would happen next and how it would all be resolved. If I had a minor critique it's that I didn't think certain character actions and reactions were 100% believable...but it was never so far fetched or ridiculous that I was annoyed and frustrated. This is my third book by this author and I enjoy his direct writing style. If you're a mystery/suspense fan and have never read one of his books this would be a good one to try!

I've Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella
Basic Plot: Poppy's phone gets stolen and she finds another one in the trash to use because she's in dire need of it to find her lost engagement ring. She gets familiar with the phone's owner by reading emails and text messages on the phone, then comedy and romance ensue when the phone owner gets in touch with Poppy and wants the phone back.
My Verdict: Recommend! This was so cute and funny. I actually laughed out loud at a couple of parts (not a spoiler, but one in particular was the engagement ring shop confusion) and found the main characters endearing and entertaining. Not much else to say on this other than if you want fun, fluffy, chick lit that's easy to get into and entertaining throughout, this should hit the spot!

Lie to Me by JT Ellison
Basic Plot: Husband comes home to a note from his wife saying she's leaving and please don't look for her. Husband doubts the authenticity of the note and fears the worst for his wife because too many things regarding her departure just don't make sense.
My Verdict. Meh. The description for this book calls it a "fast paced psychological thriller," which I thought was inaccurate on all counts. I found the pacing a bit slow and overall it wasn't very thrilling. It held my interest okay most of the time, but I wasn't staying up at night turning pages. The characters weren't very engaging or likeable for me...they were just okay. Actually that sums up all of my feelings on this one: it was just okay. I've read better but I've read much worse!

NONFICTION:
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
After some not-so-subtle nudging from Rachelle, I decided to give this book a listen. I wouldn't have chosen it on my own because I figured I've taken plenty of history courses throughout my life, don't I have the gist human history? Well, it turns out maybe I had the gist of it, but there was a lot to learn. This books presents the history of the human (and pre-human) race in a linear, factual way and highlights some of the major events (whether by intention or pure chance) that have completely changed the way we are and the way we all live. It's a very long book and I won't lie, I got bored in parts. But it held my interest 90% of the time and gave me a lot of enlightenment and food for thought along the way, so I'm a fan. It's hard to explain what makes it so fascinating, but my 12 year old is currently reading it and he finds it interesting too, so there's just something about it! It's the #4 Most Read Book on Amazon's Charts and has over 4,700 reviews with an average rating of 4.75 stars. When I see a book with stats like that, my curiosity gets the best of me and in this case my curiosity paid off with a very informative book.

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr
This book was somewhat interesting, but overall a bit of a disappointment for me. It goes way back into human history as it relates to technology: how the development of writing changed humanity and even further how each medium of writing we develop and use (from tablets to paper to printing press to PC) has then shaped us. As they said in the book many times (and I'm paraphrasing), "we build technology then technology builds us." There was also a lot of background information about how the brain works, which wasn't the most engaging explanation (very scientific) but relevant to understanding what changes the Internet causes to our brains. This book was published in 2011, and I think I am finally understanding that I should not read books about technology that are more than two years old. Things have changed so quickly that there were parts about "current" technology that already sound out of date. Obviously the history hasn't changed, so that part of the book was interesting to consider. But I went into this wanting more info about what's happening now, and didn't get quite as much of that as I hoped. Overall I wouldn't recommend this unless you're particularly interested in a history of human communication, which is more what I would consider the central focus of the book. Also, Rachelle recommended this TED Talk and I think it summarized the negative effects explained in this book a lot more succinctly.

My Story by Elizabeth Smart
This review is a little difficult to write because I don't want to come across as criticizing Elizabeth herself. I have the utmost respect for her and the fact that she survived a horrible, traumatic ordeal and has managed go forward in her life with a positive outlook and as an advocate for others. I'm also impressed that she was willing to open up and share her painful experiences in this book. (If you are unfamiliar with her case, she was kidnapped from her bedroom at knifepoint at age 14 and lived with her captors for nine months before she was "found.") That said, this is a book review, so I will try to be as (respectfully) honest as I can about the book itself. In short: I think it could have used a great deal of editing. Elizabeth wrote the book in her early 20s, but it sounded like it was written when she was still fourteen. I suppose that's fine since it captured her naiveté at the time of her kidnapping, but I didn't expect that sort of narrative and it made the book seem...less professional at best, awkward at worst. e.g. Elizabeth commented that she had to ride a Greyhound bus from Salt Lake City to San Diego with her captors, and she realized that, "only poor people ride the Greyhound bus. Rich and Middle Class Americans do not." (That's a paraphrased quote since I listened on Audiobook, but her own words conveyed that particular message.) I didn't feel that sort of commentary was necessary since she could have made her point about her discomfort through the other anecdote she shared about the bus station. (Elizabeth was wearing a veil and stared at a woman for a long time trying to communicate her identity/fear, but the woman just yelled back at her, "What are you staring at? Don't you know that's rude?") The beginning of the book dragged for me. I felt she went on too many tangents of stories in her family life unrelated to the kidnapping. Once Elizabeth and her captors moved to San Diego the story picked up a bit, and towards the end when she was found, I was riveted and emotional. Elizabeth really wanted to defend herself in this book and spent a good amount of time trying to help readers understand her paralyzing fear and how that kept her from behaving the way they think she should have. She was adamant that she did not suffer from Stockholm Syndrome in any form, despite the fact that she never revealed her true identity to any of the many, many people she interacted with during captivity. (Including a police officer who suspected she was indeed Elizabeth Smart!) This is such a long review but it was hard to explain my opinion and feelings without giving some specific reasons and examples here. Overall...despite my critiques, I did gain a better understanding of her experience from this book, which was what I wanted from it in the first place. So it was worth my time, and if you followed her case and want more details from her side of the story, this will provide that albeit not in the most compelling or professional format.

Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha
I bet a lot of you are skipping straight to this review because of the sexy title, right? Well, make no mistake, this is indeed a very science-y book with unsexy words for sexual terms like copulatory vocalizations. A couple of people have recommended this to me knowing my tastes in nonfiction for human history/behavior/psychology and that's truly what this book covers from a sexual angle. The book/e-book description on Amazon simply calls this a "controversial book about sex, monogamy etc." which is a weak explanation so I'll try to add a little more detail. The basis of this book is to compare the Standard Narrative of human sexuality (i.e. "men and women were designed for monogamy and nuclear family life from the beginning of time") with all of the scientific and anthropological information available regarding the true prehistoric origins of sexual anatomy and behavior.  The authors examine the possible evolutionary purposes and functions of every human sexual organ, and they compare human sexual behavior to that of our nearest primate relatives. I wasn't sure what to expect going into this, but ultimately I really found it quite interesting. I got lost during a lot of their discussion on primate behavior vs human behavior (which happened in the earlier parts of the book) so I wasn't sure I'd make it to the end, but once they started focusing more on human anatomy and sexual practices of different groups of humans through history, it was easier to follow and more interesting to me. I was also glad I read Sapiens in the same month since it gave me a bigger picture look at the impact of things that came up here as well (e.g. the Agricultural Revolution). Amazon also recommended Sex at Dusk as a follow up for me to this book, and after reading the description for that, it sounds like it refutes a lot of the statements and research analysis from this book, so I may need to get that one eventually to better understand both sides.

Current Reads + Up Next
Kristen and I like picking a book to read together each month and this month it will be This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel. We'd love to have you read along with us, so if you're planning to do so just let one of us know in the comments so we can tag you in the reviews next month. Aside from that, I have a fiction backlog thanks to purchasing quite a few book deals: Bright Side by Kim Holden; In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware; and Between Sisters by Kristin Hannah. My next Nonfiction pick is Siblings without Rivalry. Shea recommended this one, and I'm all for learning and doing what I can to promote a healthy relationship between my kids.

And that brings us to the end of this month's reviews! Can't wait to hear which ones of these you all have read or plan to read in the future or if you've read any books recently that you would recommend for me!



Linking up with: Steph & Jana

CONVERSATION

24 comments:

  1. I always look forward to your reviews, they are so thorough and I know exactly what I'm getting myself into when I choose one of the books. There are a few I will definitely read here - I am still trying hard to get myself to read something other than fiction but I haven't found the right one yet! Thanks for such a great round up of reviews!
    xo,
    Kellyann

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Kellyann! I wish I could be more succinct in my reviews but I just get more opinionated! And no shame in only reading fiction! If not for Audible I wouldn't read as much nonfiction as I do by any means.

      Delete
  2. I've always had some interest in human evolution and how our race has changed over time. I definitely am putting Sapiens on my reading list!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's a great book! I don't know if it would have held my interest as will in print version but I enjoyed the audiobook a lot.

      Delete
  3. Oh, I hope you enjoy This Is How It Always Is! One of my top reads for 2017. And Pachinko is a contender for one of my top reads for 2018. I totally agree that with how well developed the characters are, I became very involved. Even though it doesn't move super fast, it never felt too slow or too long (though your thoughts about the end are interesting - I do agree that there were some weak spots there).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh I'm glad to know you liked Pachinko too! I think there's a good chance it will be on my Best of 2018 list too. I'm probably being too picky, but I feel like I have to state a few imperfections so people don't expect a book that's perfect from start to finish!

      Delete
  4. I've heard so many good things about Pachinko. I feel like it's on my TBR already and should probably get around to reading it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You definitely should! IIRC you loved Homegoing so this should be a similar experience!

      Delete
  5. I am halfway through Pachinko, and waiting to get it back from the library. I was really enjoying it as well!!

    I am very intrigued by the sexuality book, I'm going to look into it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh good, glad to know you were liking Pachinko so far!

      Delete
  6. Somehow I have never heard of Pachinko, which really bothers me because I am Korean! It's most definitely going on my TBR.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh definitely add it to your list! If you have living relatives who lived during this era it would be interesting to ask them about some of the issues that come up in the book!

      Delete
  7. i am glad we both liked Rhythm (i love MZ as you know but lordy i think that's a stupid title, but whatever). i really liked I've Got Your Number, i'm glad you did too. very cute, and not annoying like her books can be. elizabeth smart's book does not sound like my jam at all, so thank you for being honest.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's true about Kinsella's books. While I enjoyed the Shopaholic series, the main character made me crazy. Not so with this one! And yes...MZ should reconsider a few of her book titles!! LOL.

      Delete
  8. Another amazing review, I'm so happy you enjoyed Sapiens, I recently found out Obama highly recommended it as well. I read sex at dawn a while ago, and enjoyed it didn't know they had a sequel. Might have to pick that up.

    xo
    Pinksole

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's not actually a sequel - more of an Opposing Viewpoint book. I always like to hear both sides of an argument. :)

      Delete
  9. LOL @ unsexy words in your sexy title book.

    I couldn't read Elizabeth Smart's book.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Although they were unsexy, I will for sure use them in conversation now. LOL.

      Delete
  10. I loved This is How it Always Is so much!! So hopeful that you all like it too :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm a few chapters in and it started a little disjointed for me but now it's starting to pick up the pace and hold my interest!

      Delete
  11. Oh I'm glad you're going to read Siblings! (And thank you for the shout-out :)) Same with This Is How it Always Is... that one was my very favorite book from last year. I'll be so curious to hear what you think.
    I have Pachinko on my TBR so I'm glad that it's one you recommend--I did love Homegoing but wished that the stories were more developed, so this one sounds like one I'll enjoy. I don't read a ton of mysteries/thrillers but The Last Thing She Ever Did sounds like a fun one to try, especially now that we're entering summer reading territory.
    Finally, I appreciate your honest review of the Elizabeth Smart book. I think she is obviously a very brave person who has been through a lot, but that doesn't necessarily make her a writer, and I think that's okay.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I really think you'd enjoy Pachinko! Can't wait to hear your thoughts on that. I'm just getting started on This is How it Always Is so I'll keep you posted no later than June 12. :)

      Delete
  12. I want to read Pachinko, I am so glad that you enjoyed it. I liked Rhythm, Chord, ... I thought it was cute. I liked it better than Lukov by some because there wasn't so much animosity between the characters. I am excited to keep reading Zapata's books though! :) I'll see if I can get the next book from the library in time! Shea has fantastic book recommendations, I hope you enjoy Siblings without rivalry! I am intrigued, but don't have kiddos, so I'll save it for later! XO - Alexandra

    Simply Alexandra: My Favorite Things

    ReplyDelete
  13. I read The Last Thing She Ever Did and I thought that it was really good. Definitely a page turner!! I will check out the other books that you mentioned on here too. :-)

    ReplyDelete

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!