What She Left by T.R. Richmond

What She Left: A NovelWhat She Left by T.R. Richmond
Published by Simon & Schuster
Review copy provided by the publisher

From the publisher:

On a snowy February morning, the body of twenty-five-year-old journalist Alice Salmon washes up on a riverbank south of London. The sudden, shocking death of this beloved local girl becomes a media sensation, and those who knew her struggle to understand what happened to lively, smart, and savvy Alice Salmon. Was it suicide? A tragic accident? Or…murder?

Professor Jeremy Cooke, known around campus as Old Cookie, is an anthropologist nearing the end of his unremarkable academic career. Alice is his former student, and the object of his unhealthy obsession. After her death, he embarks on a final project—a book documenting Alice’s life through the digital and paper trails that survive her: her diaries, letters, Facebook posts, Tweets, and text messages. He collects news articles by and about her; he transcribes old voicemails; he interviews her friends, family, and boyfriends.

Bit by bit, the real Alice—a complicated and vulnerable young woman—springs fully formed from the pages of Cookie’s book…along with a labyrinth of misunderstandings, lies, and secrets that cast suspicion on everyone in her circle—including Jeremy himself.

Don’t you hate when you go into a book expecting something great and it’s just … okay? When you are excited about a book that turns into a let-down? It’s the WORST. And for me, that’s what happened here. While there were things I enjoyed about What She Left, overall I really did not like the book.

I didn’t dislike everything about this novel. I was interested by the structure – it’s told in letters, diaries, Facebook posts, Tweets, etc. All of these elements individually tell small pieces of Alice’s life, and they come together in the end to reveal what really happened to her and what secrets she (and those around her) had been keeping. Also, the character of Jeremy Cooke was sufficiently creepy and definitely fit the bill of unreliable narrator (something I enjoy). I thought Richmond did a good job crafting his character, making him someone that I needed to trust to give me the truth, but couldn’t possibly trust because he was just a bit off. I didn’t like Jeremy as a character, but I believed him in his unreliability.

What didn’t I like about the book? Pretty much everything else. Alice herself was not a likable character to me at ALL. While I don’t have to like the characters in books – in fact, disliking them is sometimes better and more interesting – in this case I just couldn’t get myself to care about her. I was supposed to be invested in the truth of what happened to her, in finally learning her entire story, and it did not matter to me one bit. I had to force myself to keep reading, to find out the truth. And once it was revealed I was not emotionally invested in Alice enough to be shocked or sad or anything. I was just “meh” about her and the whole story.

Also I feel like the author threw a lot of curve balls into the story that may not have been necessary. Or the way they were handled could have been the problem, I’m not sure which. It was like – here’s this huge shocker! but it’s buried inside a letter that talks about ten other things, so pay attention to it, but not TOO much attention because it’s not a big deal – like that kind of random, weird reveal stuff and I just didn’t get it.

I don’t know. At times I found the book suspenseful, but mostly it felt rambly and a bit plodding and just not something I got into. For a book that isn’t very long it felt really, super long and I wanted to give up many times while reading it. Perhaps this would be a more successful book for another reader, but I am not that reader.

The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams

The Secret Life of Violet GrantThe Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams
Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

From the publisher:

Manhattan, 1964. Vivian Schuyler, newly graduated from Bryn Mawr College, has recently defied the privilege of her storied old Fifth Avenue family to do the unthinkable for a budding Kennedy-era socialite: break into the Mad Men world of razor-stylish Metropolitan magazine. But when she receives a bulky overseas parcel in the mail, the unexpected contents draw her inexorably back into her family’s past, and the hushed-over crime of an aunt she never knew, whose existence has been wiped from the record of history.

Berlin, 1914. Violet Schuyler Grant endures her marriage to the philandering and decades-older scientist Dr. Walter Grant for one reason: for all his faults, he provides the necessary support to her liminal position as a young American female physicist in prewar Germany. The arrival of Dr. Grant’s magnetic former student at the beginning of Europe’s fateful summer interrupts this delicate détente. Lionel Richardson, a captain in the British Army, challenges Violet to escape her husband’s perverse hold, and as the world edges into war and Lionel’s shocking true motives become evident, Violet is tempted to take the ultimate step to set herself free and seek a life of her own conviction with a man whose cause is as audacious as her own.

As the iridescent and fractured Vivian digs deeper into her aunt’s past and the mystery of her ultimate fate, Violet’s story of determination and desire unfolds, shedding light on the darkness of her years abroad . . . and teaching Vivian to reach forward with grace for the ambitious future––and the love––she wants most.

Like everything else I’ve read by the extremely talented Beatriz Williams, I absolutely adored this novel. It has everything I love in stories like these: a fierce, smart female heroine (two in this case), dual story lines and narrators, a fascinating historical element, and a plot that never stops moving. I couldn’t stop reading about Vivian and Violet and their stories both intrigued me and held my attention equally.

Both Vivian and Violet suffered because of restrictions on and expectations of women in their respective time periods in history. I would argue that Violet suffered in a much deeper way, yet Vivian still had to deal with the consequences of defying the expectations of her family – expectations that wouldn’t have burdened her had she been born a man. Violet’s suffering, though, to me was tremendous and such a stark illustration of the sacrifices women have had to make throughout history to be successful in a career or anywhere outside a role of wife/mother. Violet was incredibly smart, a brilliant scientist, yet she was practically forced to submit to her older, “wiser”, husband, as he repeatedly abused her and took credit for her work. Because of this situation, Violet’s story was slightly more interesting to me than Vivian’s, but also more difficult to read. Honestly, her situation was just heartbreaking to me – I anxiously read her pages in desperation that she would find a way out of her husband’s clutches and into a better life.

What Williams always does so brilliantly in these dual narrative stories is bring them together at the end, and she did an amazing job with that here. I loved how she wrapped everything up for both Vivian and Violet and, while things didn’t work out perfectly, they both got what I most wanted for each of them. I so loved spending time with these Schuyler women and cannot wait to read the rest of this exciting trilogy from Williams. Highly recommended.

Mini-reviews: Books Everyone Raved About

I'll Give You the SunI’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Published by Dial Books

Thirteen-year-old twins Jude and Noah are best friends and couldn’t be closer. Jude is a free spirit who is always up for an adventure, while her brother Noah is more quiet and artistic, but their differences only serve to draw them closer. Three years later, at sixteen, the two are barely speaking after an earth-shattering event changed everything. Told in alternating perspectives and time periods, Noah and Jude reveal to the reader and themselves how and why this occurred, and how they find their way back to each other.

I really loved this book! There is SO much to talk about here, but I’ll be brief because my best recommendation is just – please read this! There are many relationships explored within the book – between the twins, between each one and each parent individually, between each one and their love interests – and the way Nelson is able to get at the heart and emotion of each of these individual relationships is fantastic. There is some pretty serious trauma, too – I won’t give anything away but Noah and Jude have difficult things happen to them throughout the book – but it was not heavy-handed. It just felt real – I felt the emotions of these characters so deeply, by the end of the book I felt like I knew them, like I had experienced these events with them. Also, I’m really not into art but the way that Nelson used art as a centerpiece of the novel was SO well done. I loved this book to pieces, please read it.

After You (Me Before You, #2)After You by Jojo Moyes
Published by Penguin

Louisa Clark is attempting to recover from the death of her beloved, Will Traynor, but isn’t having much success. After a traumatic accident forces her to move back home, she feels like she’s right back where she started – still not recovering at all from Will’s death. She meets and begins falling for a paramedic, Sam Fielding, and at the same time is approached by someone from Will’s past who really needs her help. These new people in her life start giving her the push she needs to truly grieve for Will in a way that may actually begin the healing process.

Like most people, I fell in love with Louisa and Will’s love story and their characters in Moyes’ Me Before You, so of course I was thrilled to learn that she wrote a sequel. I definitely liked the book but can’t say that I loved it as much as the first. I did feel like Louisa kind of went back to the person she was before she met Will – someone passive, who couldn’t own her life or make decisions of any kind, someone who just let things happen to her instead of creating what she wanted in her own life. It was disappointing but also realistic in a way because she just couldn’t get her bearings after he died. I did enjoy the added aspect of the person from Will’s past (I won’t spoil it if you haven’t heard yet who this person is) but it also felt a tiny bit contrived to me – like Moyes had to throw this person in so the book would have some substance to it. Honestly I think because I expect SO much of Moyes, and was so looking forward to this book, it was a bit of a disappointment. That being said, I’ve loved everything else I’ve read by Moyes and I can definitely see what’s to love about After You. Just don’t expect it to be this perfect, incredible continuation of Me Before You and you’ll probably have a great reading experience.

 

 

Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil by Deborah Rodriguez

Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the VeilKabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil by Deborah Rodriguez
Published by Random House

In 2001, just after the fall of the Taliban, Deborah Rodriguez traveled to Afghanistan with a group of aid workers. While she felt inadequate to help in comparison to those she was with – doctors, nurses, therapists, etc. – she soon figured out that being a skilled hairdresser was a gift that she could and should share with the Afghan women. So not only did she start doing the women’s hair, she opened her own beauty school so that she could train women to open their own salons, helping their families and potentially propelling them financially in this society that is so closed to the idea of women achieving financial freedom. In Kabul Beauty School, Rodriguez details the time she spent in Kabul, getting close to the women there, attending weddings, making friends, and even getting married herself.

This memoir is a fascinating look into a part of society in Afghanistan that most people won’t ever get to learn about or especially experience for themselves. Because women in Afghanistan are kept so closed off from society, inside the beauty school that Rodriguez started, they were able to relax and be themselves and talk between each other – no men allowed. Of course, the fact that men aren’t allowed to be around for these conversations is another topic for discussion, but Rodgriguez doesn’t get much into the politics or religious beliefs of the government or people of Afghanistan. I’m sure she could write an entire second book just about those things. This one, however, is about her experience there and most specifically the people she met, befriended, and fell in love with who shaped her time in Afghanistan.

I feel like Rodriguez exposed me to a lot of information about Afghanistan society and I really appreciate what I learned in her memoir. I loved how she got so close with many of these women and formed real friendships with them. Her heart broke for the atrocities some of them faced and she was joyous when good things happened to them – marrying a decent man, becoming a more proficient hairdresser, or simply getting along with a mother-in-law. I have to admit that the culture Rodriguez detailed here was difficult for me to comprehend and wrap my brain around. These women have very few rights – they aren’t even seen as people, really, by the men that control them. It wasn’t easy for me to digest but I feel that Rodriguez did a great job explaining that, showing it, but bringing to the forefront the humanity of these women and showing how they are just regular people trying to create happy and healthy lives for themselves and their families.

A few things about the book made it difficult for me to love. For one, I felt that the structure was a bit all over the place and wasn’t organized as effectively as I would have liked. Additionally, at one point in the book Rodriguez gets married to an Afghan who already has a wife and kids living in another country. This baffled me and I don’t feel that she explained exactly why she made this choice. Whether she was in love with the man or if it was a matter of convenience (since it’s so hard for women in Afghanistan to do/say anything without a man around) was never clear. I felt that she could have explained that whole situation a LOT better.

I listened to the book on audio and the narrator, Bernadette Dunne, did a nice job. There wasn’t anything special or fancy about her narration but she held my attention and kept me tuned into the story she was telling the entire time.

Overall I enjoyed Kabul Beauty School even though I did have a few slight qualms about it. I think it’s hugely important that we learn about other cultures, especially ones as closed as this one, so I appreciate greatly what Rodriguez did here. If you’re open to new experiences and ideas, and want to learn about what life is like in a completely different part of the world from your own, definitely pick up Kabul Beauty School.

Hippiebanker: Bringing Peace Love and Spirituality to the Workplace, A 12-Week Guide to Becoming a Spiritual Activist in Your Little Corner of the World by Camille Sacco

Hippiebanker: Bringing Peace Love and Spirituality to the Workplace, A 12-Week Guide to Becoming a Spiritual Activist in Your Little Corner of the WorldHippiebanker: Bringing Peace Love and Spirituality to the Workplace, a 12-Week Guide to Becoming a Spiritual Activist in Your Little Corner of the World by Camille Sacco
Published by Smashwords Edition

Camille Sacco is a woman on a mission – she is here to show you that you can change the world from your desk at work. All you need to do is be intentional about your behaviors and how you treat others, and this 12-week guide will help you on that journey. Included here are detailed, easy to understand ideas for how you can create a happier, healthier workplace environment, along with journal pages to reflect upon your learnings from each section of the book. People need to understand that it is possible to create a healthy, spiritual workplace, even from at a corporate desk job.

Okay, full disclosure here – Camille is a co-worker and friend of mine. I didn’t read her book as any sort of favor, though – in fact, she never even asked me to read it, I asked HER if I could buy it from her. So these are my honest thoughts but do keep in mind that she and I are friends.

Most of you know that I am in a leadership position at work. I am the “boss”, if you will, of about ten employees. The way I try to run things at work is through compassion, kindness, honesty, and accountability. I take incredibly great care of my people but at the end of the day, we are there to do a job and so I hold them accountable for doing said job. What I love about Camille Sacco’s message is that it’s okay and in fact preferable to be this way. It is GOOD to embrace your employees and customers (if you are customer-facing) with love. It is the right thing to do to take care of your people because you will be rewarded with happy, productive employees and the workplace will feel better, lighter, and more joyful because of it.

I am so on board with Camille’s messaging here. Before I read her book, I was already a believer of most of what she’s saying, and her book reminded me to always keep those feelings top of mind when dealing with my employees and customers. I like that she includes a step-by-step guide to practicing what she preaches, a guide that is easy to follow and follows a very linear approach.

My only issue with the book, and I suppose it’s more of a question really, is that I’m not sure the people who really NEED this book will actually read it. You know who I’m talking about – the horrible bosses out there that just don’t get it, that don’t get how important employee experience is to the whole picture of running a business. Those bosses that just don’t seem to care at ALL about how their employees feel and what their wants and needs are. I worry that while those are the exact people who absolutely need this book, those are the people who would never consider picking it up in the first place.

Besides that I can absolutely recommend Hippiebanker. Camille is so right in what she’s saying here – to have happy, healthy workplaces those of us who are in leadership positions need to take care of our people. We need to look inside ourselves and figure out what we are doing that is preventing our employees from being the happiest and most productive they can be. While Camille is a friend of mine, I also have seen her at work and I believe she embodies what she is saying here. If you are feeling stuck in a rut at work, feeling like corporate culture doesn’t allow you to make a difference to anyone, do yourself a favor and pick up Hippiebanker.

Mini-reviews (attempting to wrap up 2015 reading part 5)

Fables: The Deluxe Edition, Book OneFables: The Deluxe Edition, Book One by Bill Willingham
Published by Vertigo

All of the legends of folklore and fairy tales have been exiled to modern-day New York City, where they live among regular people, but have created their own secret society. This first story focuses on Snow White and her sister, Rose Red, who has gone missing. It’s up to Bigby, the sheriff and recovering Big Bad Wolf, to find the culprit and hopefully find Rose Red herself.

Okay, I’m just going to come out and say that reading Fables cemented something in my head that I’ve sort of been feeling for a while now: I don’t enjoy fairy tale re-tellings. I can’t think of one example of a fairy tale re-telling that I have enjoyed. While I appreciated the art in here, and liked the story arc, it was just not my thing. I won’t be continuing with this series. It’s not you, Fables, it’s me.

Another Day (Every Day, #2)Another Day by David Levithan
Published by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers

Rhiannon has a so-so, mostly boring relationship with her boyfriend Justin, and she’s accepted that’s just the way it’ll always be. But one day, one perfect day, Justin shows her a side of himself she’s never seen before – he’s sweet, super into her, and they share a connection unlike they ever have in the past. The next day, Justin doesn’t remember their day at all. Rhiannon is crushed, disappointed, and so sad until she meets a stranger who tells her that for that one perfect day, she wasn’t actually with Justin at all.

This companion to Levithan’s One Day is basically that exact story told from Rhiannon’s point of view instead of A’s. I absolutely loved the first book and found it incredibly creative and compelling. I liked this companion novel, and it was definitely interesting to see things from Rhiannon’s perspective, to get inside her head and see how she really felt about this whole A thing. But honestly, I’m not sure that this book added much to the overall story. It was pretty much the exact same story told another way. I would have liked to see a simplified version of this story with a lot more after, more of a continuation of the first book. I liked it but definitely can say I wanted more from it.

Sisters of TreasonSisters of Treason by Elizabeth Fremantle
Published by Michael Joseph, Penguin Books

Sisters Katherine and Mary Grey are devastated and terrified after Queen Mary orders the execution of their sister and her cousin, Lady Jane Grey. But the two sisters must find their own places at court if they are to survive and thrive under the aging and paranoid Queen. Mary, born with a physical deformity and the short stature of a child, becomes the Queen’s confidante, and beautiful Katherine is one of the queen’s maids, but her beauty may cause problems as she entangles herself with one romantic prospect after another. The two sisters find themselves in the middle of suspicion and potential danger, as their royal blood, with this queen in particular, keeps them far from ever being safe.

This is the second volume in Fremantle’s Tudor trilogy. Having enjoyed the first I was excited to dive into this one and I was not disappointed. Fremantle is the perfect historical fiction writer for me. Her books are detailed enough to be believable and rooted in fact, yet there’s enough exploration of the characters and their motives and all the drama to make me continuously want to turn pages. This book is a perfect balance between the fluffy dramatics of the time and the seriousness of what was actually going on – beheadings everywhere you look, betrayals, no one trusts anyone, everyone is power-hungry and will stop at nothing to advance their family’s interests, etc. Mary and Katherine are both sympathetic characters and I like that they are people slightly obscure in terms of being highlighted in history books. I have to say that I liked Katherine’s sections slightly more than Mary’s – I guess they were just a bit juicier – but I loved both characters and was captivated by their stories. I’ll definitely be reading the third book in this trilogy and can highly recommend Fremantle as an author!

Mini-reviews (attempting to wrap up 2015 reading part 4)

Saga, Volume 1Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan
Published by Image Comics

Publisher’s summary: When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe.

I chose to read Saga because I have been wanting to try more comics and everyone raves about this one, so I thought it would be a good choice. I really loved it! I loved the angle of these star-crossed lovers – individuals from two different intergalactic species that happen to be at war who fall in love, have a child together, and have to try to make it despite the universe telling them they cannot be together. There is war, drama, love, ghosts – you name it, Saga has got it. And the illustrations are absolutely beautiful and SO creative. I am by no means an expert on comics but I found this one truly excellent and am looking forward to reading the rest.

Mambo in ChinatownMambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok
Published by Riverhead Books

Charlie Wong has spent almost no time throughout her twenty-two years of life outside of Chinatown, where she lives with her father and younger sister. Her job as a dishwasher makes her miserable, so when she lands a new job as a receptionist at a dance studio, she’s thrilled. As Charlie gets to know this new world of dance, her own talents begin to rise to the surface and her life quickly changes into something she had never dreamed for herself. At the same time, however, her sister is having trouble in school and seems to become almost chronically ill. Charlie has to figure out how to grow into her new identity in the American world while at the same time figuring out how to get her firmly Eastern world-minded father to help her sister.

Jean Kwok has a talent for bringing to life the experiences of people I don’t read much about – in her first novel, she detailed the life of Chinese immigrants, and in this one it’s all about American-born Chinese – those who were born here in America, but have lived their lives immersed in Chinese culture. I really enjoyed this novel and felt SO deeply for Charlie. She is the kind of character the reader connects to immediately and roots for throughout the novel. I read so anxiously and hopefully as Charlie discovered this new world, as she learned that she has true talent for something other than washing dishes, and as she stood up to her father and her uncle in regards to her sister’s care. I was proud of her, even! Kwok really showed the reader how difficult a balance children of immigrants must strike between their parents’ ways of thinking and living and the ways of the culture they’ve been immersed in here in the US. Mambo in Chinatown is a fantastic story with a lot to think about, a ton of heart, and great characters. Highly recommended.

Why Not Me?Why Not Me? By Mindy Kaling
Published by Crown Archetype

Mindy Kaling’s second collection of essays invites readers to see inside her brain as she talks about career, her quest to find happiness and excitement in life, falling in love, and looking different from just about every other person in Hollywood.

I’m a huge Mindy Kaling fan and I really enjoyed these essays. Kaling is smart, witty, extremely funny, and really has an eye for what’s going on in society. She pokes fun at people and ideas without being hurtful, while at the same time shows readers how tough it can be to be yourself in a world that wants you to be the same as everyone else. She is just great, I enjoy her tremendously, and if you like her humor you should definitely read both of her books.

Mini-reviews (attempting to wrap up 2015 reading, part 3)

The Bishop’s WifeThe Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison
Published by Soho Crime

Linda Wallheim, devout Mormon, wife of the Bishop, and mother of five, finds herself increasingly involved in the disappearance of a woman in her community, Carrie Helm, who left her husband and young daughter behind. As Linda gets deeper into her own investigation of Carrie’s husband, Jared, she comes to the conclusion that he must have murdered his wife. Although Linda’s husband has asked her to stay out of it, she can’t help feeling for Carrie as she learns more about her life with Jared, and gets pulled closer emotionally to Carrie’s young daughter. She’s pulled between her duty to her husband and church, and what she feels as her duty as a woman to help uncover the truth behind Carrie’s disappearance.

I didn’t grow up around the Mormon church, so everything I know about the religion has been from books, movies and TV, so I have no background upon which to judge if Harrison’s depiction of Mormon life in this book is accurate. That being said, The Bishop’s Wife was pretty darn entertaining and it certainly felt relatively realistic. I’m not a huge fan of when women feel that they have to defer to their husband’s wishes, whether because of religion, culture, or another reason, but I felt that Harrison did a nice job depicting the internal struggle of a woman for which that was the expectation, but she was pulled to do differently by her own conscience. The mystery kept me turning pages and I didn’t guess what really happened until close to the reveal at the end. I’m not sure I loved it enough to continue with this series, but this book was certainly enjoyable.

Empire State: A Love Story (or Not)Empire State: A Love Story (or Not) by Jason Shiga
Published by Harry N. Abrams

Jimmy lives in Oakland, California, with his parents, has few friends, and works in the library. Sara is his best friend, but has bigger dreams for herself than what Jimmy imagines his own life to be. When Sara moves to New York City, Jimmy decides to finally get the courage to tell her his real feelings and arranges a Sleepless in Seattle style meetup at the Empire State Building. His trip to New York is exciting and scary, but what’s scarier is what he discovers when he gets there – Sara has a boyfriend.

This was a cute graphic novel that was an easy, fun way to spend an afternoon. I loved the nerdy way Jimmy responded to the world around him and there were some laugh-out-loud moments during his time traveling to New York. The illustrations were well done and I liked the simplicity of them. I enjoyed Empire State and would recommend it for a quick, light read.

China Rich Girlfriend (Crazy Rich Asians #2)China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan
Published by Knopf Doubleday

This sequel to the incredibly funny and surprisingly heartfelt Crazy Rich Asians brings back Rachel Chu and Nicholas Young just as they’re about to get married. Rachel is sad that her estranged father won’t be able to walk her down the aisle, until she learns that she might be able to forge a relationship with him after all.

I hugely enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians so I was definitely looking forward to this book. Overall it was almost as fun as the first, and I’m still looking forward to whatever Kevin Kwan does next. This book was a bit sillier than the first, and a little less poignant, but still really fun and a highly amusing read. I love these characters, how they are just insanely spoiled rotten and so disgustingly rich, but on the inside they have problems just like the rest of us. My favorite moments throughout these books is when the humanity of these crazy rich Asians shows through their glitz and glamour. China Rich Girlfriend was a really fun read and a must-read for anyone who loved the first book in the series!

 

Mini-reviews (attempting to wrap up 2015 reading, part 2)

Pretty GirlsPretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
Published by William Morrow

Twenty years ago, Claire and Lydia’s teenage sister, Julia, disappeared and hasn’t been seen since. Though the sisters have not spoken in years, when Claire’s husband goes missing, they agree to a shaky truce in order to uncover the truth behind both disappearances and find out if there is any way the two are linked.

This book is a LOT darker than I was expecting. It is extremely tough subject matter to get through – don’t say I didn’t warn you. But if you can deal with the most grisly, disturbing aspects of humanity, this is a must-read for sure. The relationship between Claire and Lydia is strained, to put it mildly, and it takes Slaughter a little bit to show the reader why exactly that is. While both women are extremely prickly and difficult to get to know, it’s clear from the beginning that they are both hiding major pain underneath their tough exteriors. And the book is SO fast-paced, the definition of unputdownable, if you like that kind of thing, this is a winner for sure. The book stuck with me for quite a while, it actually put me in a bit of a funk, seeing how the absolute worst of the worst things can happen to young girls be played out in the novel in excruciating detail, but also I think that’s a mark of an excellent read – one that you can’t stop thinking about after. If you can stomach the most horrific kinds of rape and murder that can happen to a person, Pretty Girls is an excellent read.

The 9/11 ReportThe 9/11 Report by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon
Published by Hill & Wang

This is a graphic nonfiction version of the 9/11 Commission Report published in 2005, a huge nonfiction account of the 9/11 attacks that most people never read. Jacobson and Colon sought to make that report much more accessible to the public, and in creating this work of graphic nonfiction, they’ve done that.

I don’t have much to say about this one other than I highly recommend it. Most people won’t ever read the MASSIVE nonfiction 9/11 report that was written in 2005, so this is a great substitute and seems to hit on all the important facts. Beyond that, the artwork is great and the book itself is written in such a way that makes the events of 9/11 extremely easy to follow and understand. I visited the 9/11 Museum in New York City in October, so reading this shortly after that visit just brought all that I saw back to the top of my mind. If you’re going to read or learn about the events on 9/11 at all and don’t have time for a 500+ piece of nonfiction, I suggest starting here.

Dirty Wings (Metamorphoses, #2)Dirty Wings by Sarah McCarry
Published by St. Martin’s Giffin

This is the story of Cass and Mia, two unlikely friends who find solace in one another when the world has failed each of them. Mia is a teenage piano prodigy and spends her days isolated in her home, laser-focused on her future, under her parents’ close watch. Cass is a runaway, a homeless teen who is knowledgeable about the world in ways Mia never could be. When the two meet and Cass springs Mia from her prison, they have the adventure of Mia’s lifetime. And Cass thinks everything couldn’t be more perfect, until Jason comes along. Jason, who takes Mia’s attention away from Cass, and just might ruin everything the girls have built together.

I enjoyed this book a lot but felt that there were things I might have been missing about it. It’s a retelling of the Persephone myth, which I am embarrassed to admit that I’m not familiar with. In addition, it’s the second book in a series, and I hadn’t read the first book. Even so, I really liked this story and was inspired by the courage shown by both of these girls. I love reading about friendship between girls and women, especially when it’s not based upon their relationship to a boy (which, in this case, it wasn’t until Jason came into the picture), and it’s something extra to see that friendship have the potential to blossom into something more. I would definitely read more from McCarry – her writing is gorgeous and her characters are truly complex. I’m not certain I grasped everything this story was trying to show me, but I enjoyed it anyway.

Mini-reviews (attempting to wrap up 2015 reading, part 1)

A Window OpensA Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan
Published by Simon & Schuster
Review copy provided by the publisher

Alice Pearce is a wife, mother of three, and part-time editor, and is mostly happy with what her life has become. But when her husband decides to abandon his career in favor of embarking on his own path, she decides to find full-time work in order to support their family financially. Her new job at Scroll, a technology-focused start-up that claims to be the future of reading is exciting, and Alice’s new ability to “have it all” by balancing her new career and her family so effectively is something she is rather proud of. Until things begin to fall apart in all areas, forcing her to take a look at her choices and figure out what “having it all” really means for herself.

I am of two minds about A Window Opens. On the one hand, I really liked Alice and the story was very entertaining for me. I enjoyed watching her navigate her way into an entirely new world for herself and find success despite setback after setback. I also loved the satire-ish way Egan explained Scroll’s corporate culture (which, being very well-versed in the corporate world myself, I know is more truth than fiction). But in the end I am just not sure I appreciate Egan’s messaging. It felt to me that Alice was forced to make a choice between career and family, when in reality it’s just not like that for most women. For most women it’s a combination of choice and necessity, and most women end up doing both home stuff and career stuff and not “having it all” but “making it work”. And WHY couldn’t she have had a conversation about gender in this book anywhere? Why did the whole thing have to be about Alice’s sacrifices and nothing about her husband’s? Anyway. While I liked the book a lot, ultimately the ending kind of annoyed me. So not a favorite, but still a well-written and entertaining novel.

Day Four (The Three #2)Day Four by Sarah Lotz
Published by Hodder & Stoughton

It’s four days into a five day cruise when the ship completely shuts down. There’s no electricity, no cell service, but the passengers and crew don’t panic right away – they know someone will come for them soon. Very quickly, though, things escalate from nerve-wracking to downright terrifying as food begins running out, toilets start to back up, and a woman is found dead on the ship. Everyone starts to panic as they face the fact of a potential murderer among them, in addition to even darker possibilities.

This book is definitely creepy, especially for those of you who, like myself, love a good cruise. Day Four kept me furiously turning pages, desperate to find out what fate was in store for all of these people. It’s probably best to go into this book with very little in the way of expectation, because it definitely didn’t go the way I was expecting. That being said, there’s a TON of ambiguity here and I was deeply unsatisfied with the ending. So take that any way you want, but know that it is for sure a terrifying ride.

Everything, EverythingEverything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Maddy is a teenager living in isolation from the outside world, because she has an incredibly rare disease that makes her allergic to almost everything in it. She is content to spend time with her mom and her nurse, Carla, and her books and internet and all the wonderful things that can be experienced from inside a home, until Olly moves in next door. Olly, who she begins to fall in love with, forces her to think outside her bubble and makes her crave the outside world in a way she never thought possible.

Okay. So I really REALLY loved this book for most of it. I loved Maddy, loved her slow-building relationship with Olly, loved how the book was all about living life to the fullest and seizing the moment, and embracing love, and just learning to be a grownup and all that comes with that transition. But something happened that I saw coming from a mile away, and because I usually don’t see these things, it annoyed me to no end that it was completely obvious to me. And that something changed the way I saw the book, in a big way. I know many people felt differently about this book than I did. And in fact, I still would say this is quite a wonderful novel. But it’s not love for me, when all is said and done. It is a beautifully told story with believable characters and a plot that didn’t end up working for me. Does that make sense?

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