book review

Writers and Lovers by Lily King

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Blindsided by her mother's sudden death, and wrecked by a recent love affair, Casey Peabody has arrived in Massachusetts in the summer of 1997 without a plan. Her mail consists of wedding invitations and final notices from debt collectors. A former child golf prodigy, she now waits tables in Harvard Square and rents a tiny, moldy room at the side of a garage where she works on the novel she's been writing for six years. At thirty-one, Casey is still clutching onto something nearly all her old friends have let go of: the determination to live a creative life. When she falls for two very different men at the same time, her world fractures even more. Casey's fight to fulfill her creative ambitions and balance the conflicting demands of art and life is challenged in ways that push her to the brink.

Writers & Lovers follows Casey--a smart and achingly vulnerable protagonist--in the last days of a long youth, a time when every element of her life comes to a crisis. Written with King's trademark humor, heart, and intelligence, Writers & Lovers is a transfixing novel that explores the terrifying and exhilarating leap between the end of one phase of life and the beginning of another.

I mentioned this book in the review I posted yesterday, specifically about the section of the book where Casey talks about teaching her students to write their emotions about the books they read in her class instead of focusing on other, more technical aspects of the book. I mentioned in my review last night that that affected me. Out of everything else that happened in the book, that one small scene overtook everything else in the book and it will affect the way that I write about the books that I have read rather than a more standard book review. That’s how much I was moved by that section.

Writers and Lovers reminded a great deal of another book I read and enjoyed this past year, Goodbye, Vitamin. I can’t really decide why the two books felt the same to me but it elevated the experience for me. I wasn’t even sure if I was going to be able to get into Writers and Lovers at first as the first chapter was a little confusing and I felt as though I was walking into a movie halfway through the most important scene…but then the second chapter stepped back and I was finally able to get my bearings.

Casey’s healing from the grief from losing her mother was something that drew me in. Anytime there is a sudden change in a relationship like this fasinates me as it’s the ultimate type of change anyone can go through and anytime I come across a character like Casey who’s on the verge between completely dropping out of her life and finding a new normal.

The novel overall wasn’t a hugely great book. In a lot of ways, I felt fairly underwhelmed but there were enough little moments throughout this book that stuck with me and sometimes those are the best books to read as those little moments stay with you for much longer than a book that was fantastic throughout the book. In those cases there are too many good parts that they all blend together into one thought.

book review

I’m Fine and Neither Are You by Camille Pagan

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Wife. Mother. Breadwinner. Penelope Ruiz-Kar is doing it all—and barely keeping it together. Meanwhile, her best friend, Jenny Sweet, appears to be sailing through life. As close as the two women are, Jenny’s passionate marriage, pristine house, and ultra-polite child stand in stark contrast to Penelope’s underemployed husband, Sanjay, their unruly brood, and the daily grind she calls a career.
Then a shocking tragedy reveals that Jenny’s life is far from perfect. Reeling, Penelope vows to stop keeping the peace and finally deal with the issues in her relationship. So she and Sanjay agree to a radical proposal: both will write a list of changes they want each other to make—then commit to complete and total honesty.
What seems like a smart idea quickly spirals out of control, revealing new rifts and even deeper secrets. As Penelope stares down the possible implosion of her marriage, she must ask herself: When it comes to love, is honesty really the best policy?

Last night was my insomnia night (at least once a week I end up staying up until about 5am) so I ended up finishing the two ebooks I was reading. Even if I wasn’t having a sleepless night, I would have probably stayed up past my bedtime finishing these books up because they were both enjoyable and thought provoking in both similar and different ways. Now here I am only going to focus on I’m Fine and Neither Are You, but I might also end up touching on the other book I finished, Lovers and Writers by Lily King, as they both involve grief and using that grief period to reevaluate the direction their life has been going. I also want to mention Lovers and Writers because towards the end of the book, the protagonist, Casey, is being interviewed for a teaching job and she goes into this explanation that if she was teaching the class she would have her students journal what the books they read makes them feel and what the book meant to them on a personal level. And that really stood out to me. For months I have been reading books and writing reviews that sometimes feel genuine but often feel forced into marking off boxes of plot development, character arcs, setting…etc. that I often fail to capture how the book made me feel and how it fit into my life at the current moment.

I’m Fine and Neither Are You hit a nerve with me. Penelope is grieving the death of her best friend, which has never (thankfully) happened to me but Jenny’s death causes Penelope to realize that Jenny was not able to be truthful about her problems and Penelope decided that she does not want to hide from her own problems anymore.

The truth is a theme that runs through this novel, and it made me wonder what parts of my own life I’m not being truthful about. I know that some of the issues that Penolope deals with in this novel are things that I also struggle with. My husband vaguely reminds me of Sanjay, I’m good at my job but often feel like i don’t get credit for what I do. And like Penelope, I don’t take time for myself very often. Though, right now I’m drinking wine in bed, writing this and watching The Soprano’s while the toddler runs around like crazy because my husband is in charge of bedtime tonight.

This book taught me to be truthful, to ask for help and to make sure I am being kind to myself.

I gave this book four out of five stars.

book review

Unspeakable Things by Jess Lourey

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Cassie McDowell’s life in 1980s Minnesota seems perfectly wholesome. She lives on a farm, loves school, and has a crush on the nicest boy in class. Yes, there are her parents’ strange parties and their parade of deviant guests, but she’s grown accustomed to them.

All that changes when someone comes hunting in Lilydale.

One by one, local boys go missing. One by one, they return changed—violent, moody, and withdrawn. What happened to them becomes the stuff of shocking rumors. The accusations of who’s responsible grow just as wild, and dangerous town secrets start to surface. Then Cassie’s own sister undergoes the dark change. If she is to survive, Cassie must find her way in an adult world where every sin is justified, and only the truth is unforgivable. 

The review almost never happened. I finished reading this today at work, added it onto Goodreads but it didn’t save properly. So fast forward to tonight, sat down with my laptop and realize that my book was nowhere to be found on Goodreads. I had deleted it off my Kindle app. I couldn’t remember the author or title. So I almost decided to skip…but I found it in my Amazon archive so you’re welcome.

I struggled with this novel. It was a horror story, so I guess I should have been prepared for it to be creepy but honestly…this book was creepy on a much different way then I anticipated. The plot wasn’t all that bad, especially as not much happens on that front until the very last 10% of the book. The real creep factor took place right in Cassie’s own home. I honestly don’t want to get into it too much as if you do want to read it I don’t want to spoil it for you but be forewarned, it can be triggering for some people.

I gave this a rating of three stars as I thought some aspects of this book were really well done (characters were well written for example) but I felt it dragged all the way until the end so there was a conclusion for one aspect of this book but not closure for the most important parts of this book.

book review

Sins of Silence by Sadie Gordon Richmond

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When the body of a teenage rugby star is found in the grounds of an exclusive private school, life at the privileged institution comes under scrutiny.

Who might have wanted the seventeen-year-old pupil dead? How did he get out of a secure boarding house in the middle of the night? And what was he doing in the woods around the playing fields at that hour?

DCI Lawrence Forrester and DS Rebecca Palmer’s initial enquiries reveal little more than the perennial schoolyard problems of bullying and less-than-friendly rivalries, but, digging deeper, they begin to suspect some of the six formers’ extracurricular activities involve more than the usual high jinks.

And, as the week wears on and the victim’s friends spin one version of events after another, evidence mounts to suggest that the boy’s murder is only one of several shocking crimes committed on school grounds.

I won this book on Goodreads. Opinions are entirely my own.

This was the second book of a series, but thankfully, aside from having a bit more insight on the main characters, there wasn’t an issue jumping in at the second installment.

I don’t read a lot of mysteries because to be honest, I suck at solving them. I’m not very good at picking up on subtle clues and tend to get distracted by secondary stories and usually by the time I get to the end I realize that I have reached the conclusion and hadn’t even thought about that angle.

Sins of Silence was kind of like that. There were a lot of characters, between the two detectives investigating the murder and the subjects. I admit that a lot of the suspects kind of blended in together.

Overall I thought it was an okay story. While it wasn’t my favorite genre, it was executed well enough, especially as it was part of a series. I tend to avoid series unless I can read them all in order but this was was one of the few where it wasn’t necessary.

Rating: three stars

book review

Relatively Normal by Witney Dineen

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Catriona Masterton's fiancé, Ethan, is Normal.

He plans trips six months in advance and arrives at the airport a minimum of three hours early. He purchases life insurance, luggage insurance, and always opts for the extended warranty. He's responsible, reliable, and would make any woman a wonderful life partner.

In other words, he's the exact opposite of the Masterton clan.

Cat's mother has a kitchen gadget fetish, a father whose best friends are taxidermied field mice, and a super stoner man-child brother who lives--where else?--in the basement. Then there's Nan, her proud Scottish grandmother with a proclivity for profanity and mischief.

What on earth will Catriona's Normal fiancé think when he comes home with her to meet her parents? What will he think when he discovers his soon-to-be in-laws invited Cat's ex to join them for a holiday dinner?

I read the Kindle edition of this book which was (I think) a Kindle freebie.

This was a cute romance. When I started reading it I didn’t have very many expectations for it as it seemed to be one of those overly formulatic romances that are cute and fun but don’t have a lot of substance to it. I was happy to see that this book, though it had plenty of cute and funny moments, also contained some more unconventional characters and situations that I truly was not expecting.

Of course this book wasn’t without flaws. I thought that Cat’s family was really over the top…they are funny and fun but the extreme difference between Cat’s family and Ethan’s family is so extreme that instead of being funny it’s more cringey then anything. It just seems odd that Cat and Ethan have been in a relationship for so long yet they seem like they don’t know each other at all and Cat seemed to know Ethan’s family pretty well, but this was the first time Ethan is meeting anyone in Cat’s family.

But of course the story wouldn’t have been plausible without those factors in place, I just think there should be a more plausible explanation of why these things happened.

Overall, I really enjoyed having something fun and light to read, as so often I read heavier type novels and nonfiction books so this was a welcomed change.

I gave this a four star rating.

book review

Putting Makeup on Dead People by Jen Violi

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In the spring of her senior year, Donna Parisi finds new life in an unexpected place: a coffin.

Since her father's death four years ago, Donna has gone through the motions of living: her friendships are empty, she's clueless about what to do after high school graduation, and her grief keeps her isolated, cut off even from the one parent she has left. That is until she's standing in front of the dead body of a classmate at Brighton Brothers' Funeral Home. At that moment, Donna realizes what might just give her life purpose is comforting others in death. That maybe who she really wants to be is a mortician.

This discovery sets in motion a life Donna never imagined was possible. She befriends a charismatic new student, Liz, notices a boy, Charlie, and realizes that maybe he's been noticing her, too, and finds herself trying things she hadn't dreamed of trying before. By taking risks, Donna comes into her own, diving into her mortuary studies with a passion and skill she didn't know she had in her. And she finally understands that moving forward doesn't mean forgetting someone you love.

Jen Violi's heartfelt and funny debut novel is a story of transformation-how one girl learns to grieve and say goodbye, turn loss into a gift, and let herself be exceptional...at loving, applying lipstick to corpses, and finding life in the wake of death.

I picked this up at one of my favorite used book stores, I had never heard of it and honestly, I thought it was a memoir (I wasn’t paying too much attention that day I guess). It wasn’t until I actually sat down to read it that I realized that it was a novel, not a memoir.

This was an okay book. I mostly liked it, though at times I felt annoyed at the characters. Donna was an odd narrator at times. She seemed uneven, though as she’s only 18 it does make the novel seem believable. What 18 year old is so secure that she never changes. I did find Donna’s mom and family in general to be unlikable and not quite as developed as I would have liked but it wasn’t a huge problem as a lot of this story is seen between Donna and her mother and those characters were well written.

I gave this a rating of three stars. It was a solid story that was good, but not great.

book review

Who Do You Love by Jennifer Weiner

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Rachel Blum and Andy Landis are eight years old when they meet late one night in an ER waiting room. Born with a congenital heart defect, Rachel is a veteran of hospitals, and she's intrigued by the boy who shows up all alone with a broken arm. He tells her his name. She tells him a story. After Andy's taken back to the emergency room and Rachel's sent back to her bed, they think they'll never see each other again.

Rachel, the beloved, popular, and protected daughter of two doting parents, grows up wanting for nothing in a fancy Florida suburb. Andy grows up poor in Philadelphia with a single mom and a rare talent that will let him become one of the best runners of his generation.

Over the course of three decades, through high school and college, marriages and divorces, from the pinnacles of victory and the heartbreak of defeat, Andy and Rachel will find each other again and again, until they are finally given a chance to decide whether love can surmount difference and distance and if they've been running toward each other all along.

With honesty, wit, and clear-eyed observations about men and women, love and fate, and the truth about happy endings, Jennifer Weiner delivers two of her most memorable characters, and a love story you'll never forget.

I started reading Jennifer Weiner in my twenties and while I might not love everyone of her novels, I have definitely had fun reading most of them. What I usually enjoy about her novels is that romance is generally not the main focus of the novel and it’s something that I really appreciate about her novels.

Who Do You Love? is the exception, this is a quasi romance novel, though true to form, the romance aspect isn’t quite front and center. Andy and Rachel are each their own characters and their own stories. The time they spend together in this book is actually very minimal, so their romance is slow building and allows the reader to get to know each character independently.

I enjoyed the premise of this story, how can you not appreciate a story about two people who are orbiting one another over the space of thirty years. The two characters are from two different worlds, growing up in two different parts of the country and still they manage to appear in one another’s life over and over again.

I felt like this was a little too slow moving and I am not sure how much I actually enjoyed Rachel and Andy. There were things about each character that didn’t really enjoy. Not enough to say I didn’t enjoy this, but it was enough that I felt this was only a three star read instead of a four star read.

book review

A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

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In Brooklyn, eighteen-year-old Deya is starting to meet with suitors. Though she doesn’t want to get married, her grandparents give her no choice. History is repeating itself: Deya’s mother, Isra, also had no choice when she left Palestine as a teenager to marry Adam. Though Deya was raised to believe her parents died in a car accident, a secret note from a mysterious, yet familiar-looking woman makes Deya question everything she was told about her past. As the narrative alternates between the lives of Deya and Isra, she begins to understand the dark, complex secrets behind her community.

Over all, 2020 has been a good year for reading. Everything else is pretty crappy but I have been introduced to a lot of new to me authors and have read some truly memorable books. This book is probably the best example of this. This book not only introduced me to a new author but it introduced me to a brand new culture that, to be honest, is severely under represented.

Now, I am going to make a confession here. Sometimes (often) the best books I read are the hardest to write reviews for. When I write reviews I do try to review in a space away from the book so that I try not to let my emotions take over…usually taking a few days away from finishing the book is enough to disengage enough but with this book…I think the scars this left me will always be with me, just below the surface.

This book was brutal and although I’d love to buy like 1000 copies of this and just hand them out to random women I see, I will be the first to say that this book is brutal. It does not shy away from the mistreatment that women in this culture are often subject to. Arranged marriages are the norm. Domestic violence is all to often ignored. It is not graphic, but I found myself having to take a palate cleanser (aka switch to another book) fairly often because it upset and angered me.

It is also claustaphobic. A lot of this book takes place in an apartment in Brooklyn, and in so many ways, the apartment served as a prison, first for Isla and then for Isla’s oldest daughter, Deya. So when and if you choose to read this, make sure you do have something fun to do during breaks and try to get some sunshine. And the ending especially is brutal so definitely plan for that.

I know based on this review it sounds like this is the most depressing misery porn you can read, but I promise you that it doesn’t seem that way when you are reading it. There is hope in this book. There’s characters that you will love and want to fight for and the writing is flawless.

book review

The Pandemic Century by Mark Honigsbaum

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Ever since the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic, scientists have dreamed of preventing catastrophic outbreaks of infectious disease. Yet despite a century of medical progress, viral and bacterial disasters continue to take us by surprise, inciting panic and dominating news cycles. From the Spanish flu to the 1924 outbreak of pneumonic plague in Los Angeles to the 1930 “parrot fever” pandemic, through the more recent SARS, Ebola, and Zika epidemics, the last one hundred years have been marked by a succession of unanticipated pandemic alarms.


In The Pandemic Century, a lively account of scares both infamous and less known, Mark Honigsbaum combines reportage with the history of science and medical sociology to artfully reconstruct epidemiological mysteries and the ecology of infectious diseases. We meet dedicated disease detectives, obstructive or incompetent public health officials, and brilliant scientists often blinded by their own knowledge of bacteria and viruses. We also see how fear of disease often exacerbates racial, religious, and ethnic tensions—even though, as the epidemiologists Malik Peiris and Yi Guan write, “‘nature’ remains the greatest bioterrorist threat of all.”


Like man-eating sharks, predatory pathogens are always present in nature, waiting to strike; when one is seemingly vanquished, others appear in its place. These pandemics remind us of the limits of scientific knowledge, as well as the role that human behavior and technologies play in the emergence and spread of microbial diseases.

The best way to go into this book is to go in blind and with no expectations. I hadn’t heard of this book before I spotted it on Libby and if there’s any good time to read a book titled Pandemic Century, it’s during an actual pandemic.

I found this an okay book. It was on the longish side, and it was dry reading at times so despite my interest in the subject, I found myself skimming over parts without processing it. I am aware that not every book is meant to be entertaining, especially when the subject is a non fiction book that is dealing with a serious subject but I would have gotten more out of this title if it had been written in a more narrative style, especially as this was more of a general history of pandemics and wasn’t focused on the science side of things.

This is an okay starting point if you are really interested in the subject of modern pandemics as it’s a decent overview but I am sure there are better books on the subject.

Personal

Red, White, & Royal Blue

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First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.

The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?

I am on the fence about this book. I think I was on the fence about it sense it was published, hence it took me awhile to get around to reading it. I was able to pick it up for my Kindle for cheap, and then it was a pick for a group read on a Discord server I’m a member so I finally ran out of excuses to avoid it.

The first thing I will say is that I enjoyed the romance aspect of it. It was definitely a shake up on the normal royal romance troupe. I also completely appreciated the entire escapism of the story as the presidency went from Obama to the Claremont presidency. (Sorry, I know that last sentence was clunky). As I was reading it, it was definitely nice to be able to escape into the story and pretend that Donald Trump didn’t exist, a deadly pandemic wasn’t killing people at an alarming rate and we weren’t having almost daily police shootings and race protests going on every single day. So it had that going for it.

Escapism only really goes so far though. I don’t know a huge amount of the inner workings of the White House and First Family but it seemed way too lax from the bit I do know. I’m aware that this story is 100% fiction, and there is license to bend things to make them fit into the narrative of the story but I found it kind of annoying (and hence the reason I don’t often read books involving characters that are based on real people or have high profile roles). These are the kind of details that, personally, take me out of the story a bit too much.

The biggest thing however was the writing style. I was never able to put my finger on what was off about it, I even pointed it out to the other people in the group and they agreed but they couldn’t point to it either. It just felt off reading at times, and I found myself skimming over entire sections and then realizing I had no recollection of what I had read and then having to reread it…and then there was the profanity. Now, I’m not a prude. I am perfectly fine to let loose with a eff bomb when the situation requires, but there was one character in particular who did nothing except curse. This was suppose to be a character who was well educated, had a job in the White House working directly with the First Family and all she did was curse. It was excessive, exhausting and completely ruined a character that may have actually been interesting.

I gave this book a three stars, with in my rating system basically means that I liked the book, but I probably won’t recommend it nor will I read a sequel if one is released. If this turns into a movie/series I “might” consider watching it as I think that might be a fun watch.