New Book Titles!


Though summer is drawing ever closer, I’m trying not to neglect my reading duties (duties! ha!), though I’ve gotten bogged down in a few titles lately. Still and all, lots of good things to review, so let’s do it!

–Marissa

A Gathering of Secrets by Linda Castillo is the 10th in the Kate Burkholder series, and is another winner! I really love this series about a formerly Amish woman who is now the chief of police in her town. Picking up another Castillo is getting to spend time with old friends. 🙂 This is due for release on July 10th.

Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One by Raphaelle Giordano was apparently an “international bestseller”, but in my opinion was just… wretched. Trite and silly, a lecture disguised as prose, this was just… ugh. NOT what I was expecting!

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center was another winner from a writer I’ve grown to really enjoy for her straightforward, easy-to-devour women’s fiction titles. In this one, after a freak accident Maggie is in the hospital, and wondering if anything will be the same. Judging from the absence of her fiance, she’s guessing not… this is just a good, solid, positive, refreshing story that I tore right through!

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang has been getting rave reviews pre-release (it comes out June 5th) and for good reason – it’s unique and refreshing! Stella, who has Asperger’s, find dating (and in particular, sex) challenging, so she solves this in the most straightforward way possible: my hiring a male escort to teach her how to be dateable. What follows is by turns sweet, sexy, tender and fun – I flew through it!

Tin Man by Sarah Winman has been lauded as being just the “bestest book ev-ER”, but when I looked closer, I saw reviews were either glowing… or not. I’m a not. I didn’t feel like I was “in” the story, but instead being held at a remove by the writing, the jumps in timeline, the massive gaps left, and the oddness of the storytelling. What could have been a beautiful love story, or a story about a life lived, or about friendship… just didn’t resonate with me AT ALL. Bummer.

Rust and Stardust by T. Greenwood (due out August 7th) is a fictionalized account of the kidnapping and exploitation of Sally Horner, who was the real-life inspiration for Nabokov’s Lolita. I loved all the different voices and points of view in the short chapters, and kept finally myself marveling that this really happened (albeit this is a fiction retelling). Difficult but fascinating…

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward is a 2017 fiction National Book Award winner – so of course I should read it. But to say I *enjoyed* this book would be completely false. This raw, difficult, stilted, in-your-face-with-icky-details novel is about a 13 year boy struggling to find male role models… about what prison does to a man… about a mother who can’t kick drugs for her family… about ghosts and stories that form a family. I’m not going to lie… I REALLY struggled to get through this one, even though I can appreciate it.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara has been such a buzzy book, since it was published mere weeks before the featured subject was finally arrested (the Golden State Killer). Though McNamara died of cancer in 2016, she left behind a legacy of research, devotion and dedication to piecing together the story of scores and scores of rapes and murders in California, all finally linking to one man. This is a dual story: the story of the GSK, and the story of one woman’s dogged research. Recommended!

Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter (due out August 21) was a perfect palate cleanser after a couple of difficult reads, because I started reading and could NOT put it down! The first section of the book left me absolutely BREATHLESS and I had to get reading to find out WTF just happened! Andrea and her mother are eating lunch in a mall food court when “violence erupts”, and Mom reacts in a… very surprising way. No spoilers, but this is a twisty, fast-paced, “say WHAT?” kind of read, and I dug it! I definitely need to read more Karin Slaughter!

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Gettin’ My Read On


I’ve been trying to turn and burn through the titles lately, and here’s what I’ve read…

–Marissa

Rocket Men by Robert Kurson was just SO FANTASTIC. I love all of Kurson’s nonfiction books (which totally read like fiction) including Shadow Divers and Pirate Hunters, but this was my JAM. I love Kurson and I’ve always been absolutely enamored with the space race of the 1960s. This was about the daring – I didn’t realize HOW daring! – mission to send Apollo 8 around the dark side of the moon in preparation for the moon landing. Kurson just weaves in the science, the men’s personalities and lives, and the impact the mission had on the space program – and the world. I’m not kidding… I started this in the morning, intending to read one chapter, and had it done by that late afternoon. SO good.

Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence was just… if ever a book could be written just for me, this is it. Spence writes “love letters” (and some not-so-lovey ones!) to the books in her life as a public librarian. I howled with laughter, I nodded emphatically, I wanted to write her my own letter to tell her I agree about Nicholas Sparks, The Time Traveler’s Wife and Fifty Shades of Grey. This is an obvious choice for any librarian, but anyone who loves books – and libraries! – will dig this too!

Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall was a Book of the Month last month (yes, of course I’m a subscriber!), so I bumped it up my “digital galley” list. This is a perfect recommendation for folks who enjoyed You by Caroline Kepnes, as the books are similar. An unreliable narrator, a twisted view of a relationship, and the aftermath when things go too far. A serviceable psychological read that was easy to zip through.

I also read So Close to Bein’ the Sh*t Y’all Don’t Even Know by Retta, which was just a fresh, funny, honest memoir from a famous Hollywood face who happens to be ridiculously down to earth like the rest of us! I also read Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser, which was a fine enough novel, but not a terrible memorable “mommy lit” story for me, and just seemed to drag on a bit in the reading. I also just finished Intermission by Elyssa Friedland, about a couple who take a six month hiatus before deciding whether to proceed with becoming parents or separating forever. I like the premise very much, but found the story a bit cloying and boring-ish in parts.

 

A Trio of Titles


Time for some fresh new book reviews!

–Marissa

Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan is such a quiet, quiet novel, and I absolutely fell into it. Ren is a graduate student in Japan who learns his much older sister has been murdered in her small town in Japan. He goes to settle her estate, and falls into a part of her life as he tries to unravel the mystery of her – and of himself. This is just a quiet, contemplative, slice-of-life

Ghosted by Rosie Walsh was just such a great setup for a story: a forty-something woman falls hard for a man she met while home in England visiting family, but when he goes on holiday after their week together, he completely disappears. Was she ghosted or is there something more at work? A bit clunky in spots, but overall I really loved the gentle mystery and tender love story at the center of this novel.

The Hour of Land by Terry Tempest Williams is just such a thoughtful, well-written, timely collection of essays as Williams visits 20 of our National Parks and talks about the parks, environmental concerns, family memories, and much more. Some I connected with more than others (either the setting – one I’ve visited – or her insights and thoughts), but all of them were just quiet and thought-provoking and beautifully written.

I also read Providence by Caroline Kepnes. Now, I loved her debut novel, You, but, this one is a TRAIN WRECK. By far the WORST book I’ve read this year, or possibly in any year. This was beyond stupid, had no resolution, and made no sense. I ABHORRED it. Seriously.

Don’t Keep Me in…

…suspense! Unless it’s one of these recently read books…

–Marissa

The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian was an infuriating read! A great premise, though..a female flight attendant with a drinking problem wakes up next to a fare the morning after arriving in Dubai… except that things are very wrong when she awakes. This was infuriating because she kept making TERRIBLE DECISIONS. Another thought provoking Bohjalian novel, though!

I was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon is told in a really unique way. One chapter is from present day backwards from the perspective of Anna Anderson (who claimed to be Anastasia Romanov… was she?), and one chapter is told from the past forwards to the terrible moment of the execution of the Romanovs. A really interesting storytelling style, and it keeps the reader guessing until the last few pages. Great for historical fiction fans!

Let Me Lie by Clare Macintosh was so evocative for me, since the main geographic location is Beachy Head in Eastbourne – just a few minutes from where my grandmother lived my whole life. 🙂 This is another great omigod-the-twist! novel from Macintosh, though it felt a bit draggy in parts, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it. Anna’s parents committed suicide by jumping of Beachy Head exactly one year apart… but when Anna receives a note, she’s not sure suicide was involved at all… what a great set up!

Tangerine by Christine Mangan didn’t hit the mark for me, despite all the advanced hype and movie optioning. Morocco in the 1950s: Alice has just moved here with her husband when her estranged college roommate Lucy shows up out of nowhere and everyone gets super twitchy. Mangan was clearly trying for a Hitchcock/Highsmith kind of vibe, but it felt so telegraphed and drawn out and frankly… boring. Not worth the read at all – and I HATE the cover. :-/ Maybe it will be better as a movie…

All the Beautiful Lies by Peter Swanson wasn’t his strongest (go back to The Kind Worth Killing!) but was another serviceable suspense novel with a few twists for fun at the end. Admittedly, though, I didn’t retain much of this title’s spark after I put it away…

I also read Every Breath You Take by Mary Higgins Clark (it was a serviceable enough audiobook listen) as well as The Elizas by Sara Shepard (it was “eh” at best) and The Neighbors by Hannah Mary McKinnon (fine, but forgettable).

New NonFiction Noodlings


I’ve actually read some non-fiction titles lately! Gasp! While it’s true that most of my reading is fiction, about 20% of my reading (on average year over year) is non-fiction or memoirs. Here’s what I’ve checked out lately…

–Marissa

Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies by Michael Ausiello (whom I have followed forEVER for his television reporting!) is just heartbreaking and gutting and funny and sweet and sad. Michael finally found his soulmate in Kit, and they had settled into life together when Kit was diagnosed with terminal cancer. This is just… I couldn’t stop reading it, and still find myself looking tenderly at Ausiello whenever his name is in my inbox. SUCH a good memoir!

The Year of Less by Cait Flanders was not actually what I thought it was. I was intrigued by the premise – feeling overwhelmed, Flanders vows not to shop for a year and to pare down her life. I was hoping for a Marie Kondo-type transformation read with fun tips and tricks, but instead, this is really just a memoir of her job hunting, failed relationships and impending parental divorced. I sympathized, it just wasn’t what I wanted or what I thought it would be about. :-/

The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein was another “not what I expected” memoir… Sandra, the star of this memoir, is a trauma cleaner in Australia. Crime scenes, hoarders, suicides… Sandra cleans them all. But this novel focuses much more heavily on Sandra’s past – she was born a male but identifies as female, and details all the trauma from her own past she endured to get to where she is today. Interested, but unexpected.

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson is a total one-sitting read, all about the Swedish practicality of paring down belongings and downsizing long before your families have to do it after you’ve passed. Practical but sweet, this is a unique view on a dreaded task.

You Need A Budget by Jesse Mecham made such an impact on me, I read it, began the program, then read it AGAIN. Yes, it’s yet another budgeting book but in all my years of reading various financial guides, it’s the first one that CLICKED – and that really is about budgeting, not *forecasting*. I dig YNAB, I’m a paid subscriber now because of this book, and it’s helped me a TON. I’m a full fan!

I also reread The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman (because really… who hasn’t?!) as well as We’re Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union (a really interesting celebrity memoir) and finally The Little Book of Lykke by Meik Wiking, the author of The Little Book of Hygge. I preferred the Hygge book, but enjoyed this as well!

Holy Cats, I’m Behind!


So, I swear I’ve been reading oodles… I just haven’t been very faithful about writing up reviews of all I’m reading! So, let’s play catch-up, shall we?

–Marissa

We Own the Sky by Luke Allnutt is a character-driven drama featuring Rob, devoted Londoner father and husband, but when tragic strikes his family, will he be able to go on as before? This was a super easy, “cotton candy” kind of read. Pleasant but forgettable…

Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi is a darling new young adult novel, perfect for later teens or emerging adults. Penny has just moved to college, and through happenstance, meets her roommate’s ex-step-uncle having a really bad day, and they form a “text only” relationship. Filled with snappy dialogue, humor and heart – loved it!

I’ll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa de los Santos was a must-read since I love de los Santos stories and writing, and this was another absorbing fiction read from her. Clare is struggling with whether to go through with her wedding when she meets Edith, an older woman who offers wisdom – and much more – at just the right time. This is a great two-person perspective novel, telling two stories that end up merging together in a lovely way. I loved this gentle read…

The Ever After by Sarah Pekkanen is a super quick, super easy read about what happens when a wife reads a text message on her husband’s phone, and is derails their entire relationship and life they’ve built together. Pekkanen is a writer of really accessible women’s fiction, and this is another winner to add to her shelf!

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao takes place in India, and features two female characters who have to shoulder a lot more ugliness and strife in this world than any teenage girl should. When Poornima and Savitha are separated by circumstance, they each vow to find their way back to each other – and the getting there can be harrowing. This is an absorbing, difficult but ultimately hopeful women’s fiction work.

The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani is almost a suspense novel, except that you know from page one that every mother’s nightmare has come true. Louise is the perfect nanny for Parisian wife and mother Myriam, and the family barely notices just has ensconced Louise becomes in their lives… until it’s too late. Quick and eerie…

Everybody’s Son by Thirty Umrigar was actually a title chosen for our book discussion, and it definitely sparked discussion! A young black boy is taken into foster care as his mother descends into drugs, and is taken in by a wealthy white couple. His progress through life is meteoric – but which family should have been his real family? Lots to chew on with this one…

Other People’s Houses by Abbi Waxman was just the perfect “palate cleanser” novel – fast, fun, and at times, laugh-out-loud funny! Frances is the typical soccer mom, ferrying kids here and there from the neighborhood, until one day she walks in on a friend sleeping with a man who is NOT her husband. This is definitely mommy lit but done at it’s best!

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer has been EVERYWHERE, and reviews abound. While I enjoyed it, and liked the writing style, I thought at 450+ pages, it was just… too long for what Wolitzer was trying to achieve. It felt a bit overwrought to me, but I still enjoyed it…

A Little Life by Hanya Yanigihara was a book that came out a couple of years ago I promised to get to… someday. Finally, I have tackled this 800+ page book, and it’s taken a while to recover from this sprawling, emotional, difficult novel that takes on issues of sexuality, art, childhood horrors, love and loss, depression, and life in New York City. Well worth the accolades, but make no mistake: this is a difficult novel, and it took TIME to get through.

I also read Bingo Love by Tee Franklin (a great graphic novel featuring minority, LGBT, female characters) as well as Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai (a romance novel that’s been hitting all kinds of “best of” lists!), and Space Battle Lunchtime by Natalie Riess, another fun graphic novel for young adults!

Can’t Forget ‘Em Books

You know how there are some titles that you just can’t forget about for days after you close the page? Maybe the characters stuck with you, or the setting, or the story itself? Those books are hard for me to find, but I’ve had a few lately that have stuck with me in one way or another…

–Marissa

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore by Kim Fu (due out February 13th) was definitely a memorable read, more for the way Fu wove the story together (present day chapters and in-the-past chapters)… she kept the reader trying to find all the connections, the reasons for why the girls were the way they were as adults, and what really happened when five young girls took a kayaking trip with their instructor at Camp Forevermore. I thought about this one a lot after I finished it…

Every Note Played by Lisa Genova (due out March 20th) has stuck with me more than any book in recent history, both because in the hands of Genova, illnesses and human struggles are made real, and also because of personal connections to degenerative illnesses. In this one, ALS takes the stage when a 45-year-old concert pianist is diagnosed… and realizes he has no one to rely on as his muscles deteriorate one by one and in quick succession. Seriously… this novel is one I can’t get out of my head. So, so good.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (due out February 6th) is classic Hannah – rich and well developed characters struggling against what life has thrown at them. In the case of this novel, teenager Leni is uprooted by her somewhat unstable father and doormat mother to the wilderness of Alaska to live off the grid. I love an “against the elements” story, and this one fits the bill, while also weaving in romance, growing up, and unhappy endings for some of the characters. Highly recommended!

Force of Nature by Jane Harper (due out February 6th) is her follow-up to the smash debut The Dry, and I really liked this one much better. Five women go into the Australian wilderness as part of a corporate team building exercise, but only four come out. What happened in the woods, and who is to blame? Again… wilderness elements, suspense, and well developed characters. I really dug it!

Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella (due out February 13th) seems like an odd “stuck with me” pick, but it really did! Adam and Sylvie have been married for ten years, and seem like the perfect couple. But when a well-meaning doctor tells them they have – potentially – another 68 years together, they feel a bit panicked. The story then combines hilarity, real couple struggles, past grief, and coming to terms with your life. I really enjoyed spending time with Adam and Sylvie!

I also read The Scot Beds His Wife by Kerrigan Byrne, who is always a reliable source for feisty, sexy Regency romances! I read Heather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner, and the nicest thing I can say is that it was TERRIBLE. Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney was definitely a page turner, though I felt a bit cheated at the end after some super “holy cow!” twists. We read The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti for our book discussion, and it certainly led to lively discussion and changed my perception of the book a bit. A good one for discussion!