November Book Reviews 11/13/18 | On the Daily EXPRESS

11/13/18

November Book Reviews 11/13/18

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Welcome to my November Book Reviews! As usual I have a mix of fiction and nonfiction, and all reviews are free of any major spoilers (well, unless you count "The Titanic Sinks" as a spoiler). My nonfiction selections were audiobooks via Audible, which does affect my experience with the book. With all that in mind, I read quite a lot (for me) in the last month so let's get on with the reviews!
OneErotic Stories | The Westing Game | All the Beautiful Lies | The Girl with a Clock for a Heart
Two:  The Butterfly Garden | Then She Was Gone | On a Cold Dark Sea
Three: Ten Arguments for Deleting Social Media | The Elephant in the Brain | I'll Be Gone in the Dark | Who Can You Trust | Antisocial Media | The Actor's Life | The Year of Living Danishly

Fiction:
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal
Basic Plot: Mystery, romance and cultural complexities abound for Punjabi families living in Britain.
My Verdict: Recommend! This was the selection of the month for my book club and I doubt I would have chosen it myself otherwise. The title kind of threw me and it didn't sound like anything that would be my cup of (chai) tea. But I was very pleasantly surprised! If you like great character development, rich plot and multi-dimensional stories, this is a great read! If you're wondering about possible graphic content in the "erotic stories" portion- those are very small portions of the book and not key to any of the actual plot points in the book. After finishing this I read a few reviews and some people complained that there were too many plot points. I understand where they're coming from. There was a lot going on and that bothers me in some books, but I really enjoyed each plot point and storyline so I didn't mind that with this book at all.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
Basic Plot: A rich man is found dead in his home and the tenants of the apartment complex he owns are all called in as possible heirs to his fortune. The catch is that they must solve the mystery of his murder in order to inherit the fortune.
My Verdict: Meh. This would be about 3/5 stars for me. I didn't connect with the characters as I didn't think any of them were especially well developed. As for solving the mystery...that didn't really keep me guessing or engaged either. The clues were presented in a way that wouldn't make them solvable to the average reader (in my opinion), so it wasn't like I was trying to solve this on my own and waiting to see if I was right. It was all just a bit far-fetched for me so not one I'll recommend.

All the Beautiful Lies by Peter Swanson
Basic Plot: Harry has just finished his final exams in college when his stepmom informs him that his father died in an accident. He returns to his hometown and starts suspecting that maybe his father's death wasn't an accident.
My Verdict: Recommend! This hooked me from the start and had me turning pages in no time. That said, be warned: this isn't going to be for everyone! Without spoiling too much, some of the relationships in this book are inappropriate, there's no doubt about it. But I loved the way the author carefully developed each character and made them all seem so normal, except flawed and with some darker parts. If you read The Kind Worth Killing by this author, this book is similarly dark so that's a good litmus test as to whether you'll like this. Also, when I say it was a page turner for me, it wasn't a fast paced book. It's just that I was totally intrigued by the backstory of each character (the story alternates from past to present narratives) and finding out where it was all going to end. Peter Swanson has a really deliberate, plainspoken writing style that just draws me in, and this book left me wanting more by him ASAP.

The Girl with a Clock for a Heart by Peter Swanson
Basic Plot: George is bored with his middle aged life until one night he runs into his long lost college girlfriend (Liana) in a bar. He knows she's trouble and he should avoid her...but he just can't resist getting involved.
My Verdict: Recommend *Except* the Ending. I don't want to spoil this but I know the ending will frustrate most people. And as with the previous Peter Swanson book, even though I'm saying I recommend it and I really liked it, I'm quite sure a lot of people will not. That said, it was a page turner for me and I zipped right through it! I couldn't wait to see what would happen next and I couldn't wait to learn Liana's secret past. I will say I typically can't stand it when a female character is a moron who does everything a man asks no matter how he treats her. But this time it was the man behaving like a love fool, and it was equally frustrating! I wanted to talk some sense into him! The only thing that made his behavior tolerable was that he acknowledged that he knew he was being stupid and following his nether-regions instead of his head. Otherwise, this was an action-adventure, dark and twisty suspense from beginning to end and I'm a fan!

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell
Basic Plot: Laurel's teenage daughter disappeared one day after school and her life fell apart. As she tries to move on years later we get some insight into the mystery of her daughter's disappearance.
My Verdict: Recommend!! Unlike the Peter Swanson books, I think this will be more appealing to anyone who likes suspense in general. Honestly, when I read the description it sounded like a dozen other books I've read so I didn't expect to like it much, but it was really well done! I haven't typically done a lot of fiction in the audiobook format, but I got this because it was an Audible deal of the day and I needed a new audiobook. So I took a chance and was very pleasantly surprised. The narrator was phenomenal. While as readers we learn the truth about the missing daughter much sooner than the main character (because we get multiple perspectives from different characters), it's done in such a way that you are still in suspense as to how and when Laurel will figure it out, and what will happen when she does! It's not done in the annoying way where the answers are in front of the main character's face any they seem to ignore the obvious. I'll definitely read more by this author.

The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison
Basic Plot: The FBI is interviewing a young woman who was just rescued from "The Butterfly Garden." Said garden is an elaborate place where a (mostly gentle and loving except when raping or killing) madman stores a group of young women he has kidnapped for his pleasure.
My Verdict: Do Not Recommend. At all. I do not understand the 5 star reviews for this one. I just couldn't suspend belief enough to buy the basic plot (how he could possibly have built such an elaborate, immense hidden garden on his own property with his wife and family nearby, for one), and all of the characters were cliché and one-dimensional. The story went on way too long and gave too much detailed backstory for irrelevant characters. I listened to this on audiobook (it was free with my Kindle Unlimited membership and I was desperate for a book) and the narrators weren't my favorite either.

On a Cold Dark Sea by Elizabeth Blackwell
Basic Plot: Three women from very different backgrounds board the Titanic carrying their secrets and dreams along with them. The ship sinks and this has a huge impact on each of their lives.
My Verdict: Recommend. This started just a bit slow for me, but I think it was necessary to carefully build each woman's backstory in order for readers to invest in their outcome on the ship and in the aftermath. The story is told in alternating perspectives, and by the time each character's initial segment was complete, I was invested in their story and wanting to know what would happen to them. It was well done and enjoyable, and it definitely brought the tragedy to life in an engaging way for me.

Nonfiction:
Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier
This book is exactly what the title says! Each argument is well-researched and well presented. Even though I knew a lot of this information from other similar books I've read, this was written in a more persuasive way. If social media frustrates you or makes you feel down or if you're questioning how much time you spend there, read this book. If you're content with your relationship with Social Media...skip this for now.

The Elephant in the Brain by Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson
I couldn't stand the narrator of this book, so it's amazing that I finished it. But again, audiobooks are expensive (theme for the month I guess!) so when I have one I usually finish it to save money. Plus I had hope that it would have some good content. I was intrigued by the topic, which is a look at the hidden motives that we can't even admit to ourselves, much less to others. Honestly, 90% of it was not worth my time. There were three chapters that were engaging enough to make me forget that I didn't like the narrator: Religion, Education and Conspicuous Consumption. Art was pretty good too but not as compelling as the other three. I wouldn't recommend this to most people but it might be better to get the regular book and just read the good chapters!

I'll be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
Even though I knew what this book was generally about (thanks to the clear subtitle: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer), I wasn't really sure what to expect since the author died just before the killer was captured. It's partly a memoir: Michelle shares about her childhood and how she became so fascinated by true crime, and how her obsession plays a huge role in her life. And it's also storytelling by weaving together a narrative of many of the victim's experiences: explaining who they were, what was happening in their lives just prior to the attack, even including conversations they had with their friends and acquaintances in the time leading up to the attacks. And finally it discusses much of the investigation by law enforcement and how/why he was never captured. Michelle was an incredibly engaging writer, there's no doubt about that. Many of the chapters were vivid and haunting, though not horribly gruesome despite the graphic subject matter. I can't say I loved this, and I think it's because it was incomplete and that is the most frustrating ending for someone who pursued this so passionately. The author died before she finished the book (some sections were pieced together through her notes) and just before the killer was captured. I felt like I needed a follow up book to understand how all the clues she discusses throughout the book ultimately came together to capture the killer.

Who Can You Trust by Rachel Bostman
We live in a time when people are shifting all of their trust from institutions (church, government, news media, banks) directly to other people. This book examines the cultural shift that is taking place to allow us to do things that were once completely taboo, like getting a ride from a stranger (a.k.a. Uber) or spending the night at a stranger's house in a strange town (a.k.a. Air BnB). We are used to a lot of this stuff now, but it really has been a major and rapid shift in human interaction! I really enjoyed this one more than I expected. The last section was about cryptocurrency, and it lost me for a lot of that content because I still really couldn't understand or explain how it works! But it made the point that if you think back to the early 90s, almost none of us understood The Internet but everyone was saying it was the future and we'd all be using it. Now Cryptocurrency is poised to be the next Internet, so even though I still couldn't really explain how the internet works, I know I use it every day and why! So hopefully I'll get to that point with cryptocurrency! Ha! Anyway, this was a pretty entertaining read throughout with good food for thought. And the narrator was great, too.

Antisocial Media by Siva Vaidhyanathan
Okay. Let me save you all the ten hours it took me to get through this book and just summarize it for you right here: If you are unhappy with the current President or still not sure how he pulled off the election, blame Mark Zuckerberg. I mean honestly, this was 95% of the book. How the data that Facebook mines and uses for advertising purposes and any other purpose they wish without our explicit consent can result in things such as the election of Donald Trump. This book could have been about eight hours shorter and made the same points. There were interesting and frankly very upsetting details about the data Facebook maintains, the way it purchases our credit card purchase history from other firms to learn and store even more data about each of us, and so much more. But the narrator was boring and most of the content was so unbearably repetitive. I only finished the book because I didn't have more credits or a better option at the time! Surely this same information is available in a more concise format somewhere!

The Actor's Life: A Survival Guide by Jenna Fischer
I picked this book because it was an Audible 2-for-1 deal of the day (along with the book below). I have zero interest in being an actor, but I did enjoy Jenna on The Office and hoped this would be equal parts memoir and inside look at Hollywood life. And that's exactly what it was! This was really fun and entertaining! Jenna narrated it herself, and naturally she was great. Even if you're like me with zero Hollywood dreams, it was an interesting look at her years of struggle that lead to finally getting her big break and being cast for The Office. She did give really specific, candid and detailed advice for anyone wanting to pursue a career in acting, too, so it does live up to the title. But it was engaging and fun even for a non-actor like me.

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell
This was my other 2-for-1 selection, and I don't know if I would have chosen it on my own otherwise, but I really enjoyed this book! It was kind of like Bridget Jones goes to Denmark.The author and her husband live in London but agree to move to Denmark for a year for him to take a job with LEGO. It was witty and funny and thoroughly entertaining throughout. Plus I really liked the cultural analysis and comparisons of how people do life in Denmark vs. elsewhere. Although the author is British, she would often offer comparisons and statistics from the U.S. as well as the U.K. since I'm sure she wanted to the book to be relevant for as many people as possible. Danish people are often rated among the happiest in the world, so this was a fun look at why that might be and what the rest of us can learn from them.

Quick Picks
If you just want a quick recommendation without the specifics of what I did/didn't like, here are the books from this month that I'm most likely to recommend to friends and family in real life:

FictionThen She Was GoneErotic Stories for Punjabi WidowsOn a Cold Dark Sea. If you don't mind a little dark and twisty then I'd add All the Beautiful Lies and The Girl with a Clock for a Heart to this list.

NonfictionTen ArgumentsWho Can You TrustThe Actor's Life: A Survival Guide (for fans of The Office or aspiring actors), The Year of Living Danishly

Current Reads/Up Next:
I'm just getting started on Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty. I've heard it's not her best so my expectations are low. My next Nonfiction was another 2-for-1 special, When the Air Hits Your Brain (Tales of Neurosurgery). It gets great reviews so I'm hoping for the best on this!

It's amazing how much more reading I can get done when I make good selections! It's so often the luck of the draw, and this month I think I was pretty lucky. Hope you all had some good reads this month too and found a couple of books here to add to your To Be Read list!



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46 comments:

  1. Yes!! I love these reviews. Then she was Gone was sooo good. I have been wondering about All The Beautiful Lies and I think I would like it as I like the development of character back stories!!I'll check out several of these. Have a super day beautiful!

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    1. Oh I didn't know you had read that one too! It really was SO good. Definitely checkout All the Beautiful Lies.

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  2. I envy how much you read. I'm finding that this blog is sucking up all my free time. The Year Of Living Danishly sounds interesting and fun to read. I'm reading "All We Ever Wanted" right now. Just started it though so don't know if it's good or not.
    X, Julie

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    1. Oh yeah, blogging is definitely a very time consuming hobby. I didn't read any books for the first 2-3 YEARS after starting my blog. It took awhile to find some balance.

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  3. you had an amazing reading month, I already picked out a new book. I may check living danishly next.

    xo
    Pinksole

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  4. Well thank you! I just purchased three of these books and I can't wait to start reading. I'm going to pin this for later because there are still a few more I'll check out but I couldn't help myself and had to get 3 right now! I have never listened to an audible book but it sounds like a great way to get more books in and could be enjoyable. I have to make myself check one out. I love your reviews and you really read some good ones this month! Thanks for all the hardwork Gina, I know these posts take some time but they are so worth it!
    xo,
    Kellyann
    www.thisblondesshoppingbag.com

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    1. I cannot recommend Audible enough! It doubles the amount of books I can read and is a really enjoyable way to pass the time during other mundane tasks.

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  5. Always love your honest reviews! I'll be interested in your opinion of Truly, Madly, Guilty since you are a much more avid reader than me...it was meh in my opinion.

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    1. Ack, I've not heard any glowing reviews for it! It's off to a slow start for sure. I may regret this choice!

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  6. I can't believe how many books you get through each month and always look forward to your reviews! I'm adding All the Beautiful Lies, Living Danishly and Who Can You Trust to my read list.

    Jill - Doused in Pink

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    1. I really haven't been getting through as many the past few months, but this month I just had some good picks and I was amazed at how much easier it was to get through them.

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  7. I looooooved Then She Was Gone, too. It was crazy suspenseful, and I loved the ending. Also really liked the Life of Living Danishly!

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    1. I'm so glad to hear you liked those too! I'm with you- I really loved Then She Was Gone! So good!

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  8. Looks like you had a great reading month, which is awesome. I really loved I'll Be Gone in the Dark, though it was sad the author died before the Golden State Killer was captures. I really want to read Then She Was Gone!

    -Lauren
    www.shootingstarsmag.net

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    1. I know!! It made me so frustrated for her (and her family).

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  9. Erotic Stories & Cold Dark Sea are on my TBR from other SUYB-ers, looking forward to them!

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    1. Yay, highly recommend both! (And both were Book Club picks I don't think I would have chosen on my own.)

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  10. Your book reviews are always spot on- and you make me feel like suuuuch a reading slacker, lol. ;) I need to get back into reading!

    -Ashley
    Le Stylo Rouge

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    1. LOL, well, it can be hard to get back into it when you're out of the groove but start with an easy-to-get into type and that helps a lot!

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  11. Bummer about The Butterfly Garden! I've had that on my TBR for a while. Definitely won't make it a priority now. I absolutely loved The Kind Worth Killing, so I'll definitely check out these others by the same author!

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    1. YES! Definitely check out Swansons other books. I also read Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson awhile back and it was good, but I like the other three better for sure.

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  12. okay, you've sold me on Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, adding it to my list. I really liked All the Beautiful Lies, but yeah there was some weird stuff in it relationship wise lol. bummer about the butterfly garden! i really liked it, but i don't read a whole lot from that genre so i think sometimes i am more easily pleased or less critical than the normal reader of that genre, if that makes sense (it's not a bad thing, i am way more critical of romance books because i read more of them). i'm sure you know this, but did you know you can return any audiobook to audible, no matter what, whether you finished it or not, whether you bought it yesterday or a year ago? the only thing you need is your account active, like right now mine is not active so i can't return anything. but i've returned books i've listened to (and hated) or books i bought years ago and changed my mind about. i hope you like Truly Madly Guilty, i really did but i love her writing. most people don't like it because it takes you a long time to find out what happened and everyone is talking about it, so it's frustrating... but i still liked it. i'm curious to see what you think.

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    1. Luckily Butterfly Garden was free! So it was no money lost. And I might possibly have liked it better (or just thought it was more okay) if I had read the physical book. I did not like either of the narrators. They annoyed me, so that didn't help! I hope you try Erotic Stories! It was better than I expected.

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  13. I love Peter Swanson books but they are not for everyone. I agree the Lisa Jewell has broader appeal.

    I liked the Butterfly Garden - quick, psycho, and in books like that I am not as critical as I am with literary or general fiction books.

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    1. I honestly think I might have liked it better if it weren't on Audibook. The narrators just weren't my favorite. The voice acting was too "Lifetime movie" for me!

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  14. I'm always impressed by how much non-fiction you read, about a range of topics. I've heard a lot about I'll Be Gone in the Dark and hesitated to pick it up because I'm kind of a weenie--I was afraid I'd be sleeping with the light on every night! I also enjoyed The Year of Living Danishly, it was such a fun one! I read I Found You by Lisa Jewell but I'd like to read that one as well, it sounds good!

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    1. Ha, "I'll be Gone" actually wasn't too spooky since a lot of it focused on Michelle's life or the investigation rather than the actual crime. Glad to hear you liked "Danishly!" That was a pleasant surprise!

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  15. Oh girl you killed it this month. I have Then she was Gone on my kindle but Ive seen a few mixed reviews. I love your recs tho so Ill push it up the list!

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    1. Set your expectations low just in case it's not your thing...but try it! :)

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  16. I enjoyed Then She Was Gone, but I've liked everything I've read by Jewell. I'm one of the ones who really liked The Butterfly Garden. Not a 5 star read but I really enjoyed it. Agree that there's definitely elements of disbelief though. Someone else in the link up read and recommended On A Cold Dark Sea, which I've added to my to read list. Erotic Stories was already on my to read list as well.

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    1. I feel like Butterfly Garden is one of those polarizing books. Behind Closed Doors was this way for me too. Everyone else liked it (or loved it!)...I didn't care for it at all. Now I can't wait to read another book by Jewell!

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  17. I'll Be Gone in the Dark is one of my favorite nonfiction books of the year

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  18. There are so many that look like ones I'd like to read on this list! I am a stickler for good characters and plots and it sounds like there are quite a few that you read this past month that have exactly that!

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    1. I really got lucky this month! It's definitely not always that way!

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  19. Ok, you and everyone else have convinced me to read Then She was Gone ASAP! It's on audio on hoopla so I really have no excuse!!! It sounds suspenseful and I want it!

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  20. Wow! So Many books to talk about! Hahah good job on all your reading! I did enjoy Peter Swanson's The Kind Worth Killing, so I'm thinking of checking out some of his other works. On a Cold Dark Sea also sounds super interesting to me; the story of the Titanic has always fascinated me. I also read I'll be Gone in the Dark this past month and pretty much had the same feelings as you did. I will say that I enjoyed being able to look it up online and know that he had been caught, but I wanted to read about it, not just watch a Youtube clip about it!

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    1. Oh good! I am glad you felt the same way about "I'll be Gone". It's not that it wasn't good. Just...unsatisfying because it was unresolved. If you like Titanic stuff then On a Cold Dark Sea is a must!

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  21. I realllllly didn't like the end of Clock for a Heart so I don't know if I'd read another by him.

    Lisa Jewell is always reliable for a good thriller!

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    1. Well...some of his books have more satisfying endings but I won't recommend them to you unless you liked the overall style of clock...just not the ending! I can't wait to read another by Jewell and see how it measures up!

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