Mini-Reviews: Last Books Read in 2016 part 2

Behind Closed DoorsBehind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris
Published by St. Martin’s Press

This book was one HELL of a ride. It’s about this couple, Jack and Grace, who appear absolutely perfect from an outsider’s view: beautiful home in the suburbs, both physically gorgeous and fit, they host the best dinner parties in town, and his affluence and professional success allow her to be a stay-at-home wife and perhaps mother in the near future. But it is obvious from the first few pages that things with the two of them are nowhere near the image they project for their friends and neighbors to see. Once the reader is clued in to what’s really going on here, the novel picks up the pace and I couldn’t stop turning the pages, desperate to find out what would happen with the insanity that I was reading about. I don’t want to give too much away, but this is one of those unputdownable books that everyone raves about for good reason. Read it!

Leave MeLeave Me by Gayle Forman
Published by Algonquin Books

Maribeth is the stereotypical working mother who spends absolutely all of her time on everyone else – between work, her kids and her husband she barely has time to make sure she eats, let alone takes care of her own health needs. So when she goes two days avoiding the pain in her body only to realize she’s been having a heart attack that entire time, after a few weeks of recovery during which she was still responsible for taking care of absolutely everyone except for herself, she does the unthinkable and leaves her family.

Okay, so I really liked this book even though I can say that it definitely had its issues. For me, I enjoyed getting to know Maribeth and I really felt sorry for her. There was very little appreciation shown by anyone in her family for what she sacrificed for them on a daily basis, and while I know that’s the plight of many women, working mothers or otherwise, it was taken to another level here, with her having to take all responsibilities back on herself just five days after having open-heart surgery. There were several things she needed to understand about herself, her past, and what she wanted for her future (and what she was willing to put up with in order to get it), and I enjoyed spending time on this journey with her. The one thing I will say that disappointed me was the ending – it was wrapped up just a bit too neatly for such a difficult situation. There were other things about the book that weren’t perfect, but overall I really enjoyed it.

Cruel Beautiful WorldCruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt
Published by Algonquin Books

Lucy is sixteen in 1969 when she decides to run away with an older man, one of her teachers, to live in an off-the-grid tiny home in rural Pennsylvania. As Lucy’s older sister, Charlotte, and their guardian, Iris, come to terms with Lucy’s disappearance (although they have no idea where she went or why), the three of them must learn to forge ahead in their new lives independently, while never losing hope that Lucy will reunite with the other two again in the future.

I thought this book was so phenomenal, it truly blew me away. Lucy’s decision to leave her family and home for the “security” of this older man had far-reaching consequences, not just for her own life, but for all the people who knew and loved her as well. The way Leavitt crafted this story, while it’s not intended to be a page-turner by any means, kept me on the edge of my seat, frantically wishing and hoping that things would turn out okay for Lucy, Charlotte, and Iris. Leavitt perfectly captured the unique balance of crushing loneliness and feeling like you’re on top of the world and can do absolutely anything that is so unique to certain teenage girls – Lucy struck this balance in such a way that she was the perfect target for her teacher to take advantage of, and he certainly did. Leavitt gave the reader the opportunity to get to know all of the major players, not just Lucy, giving an even more complete picture of what forces propelled Lucy throughout her life to make this seemingly insane choice. Also the writing – SOOOO good. I loved this book so much.

Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam

Rich and PrettyRich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam
Published by Ecco

From the publisher:

As close as sisters for twenty years, Sarah and Lauren have been together through high school and college, first jobs and first loves, the uncertainties of their twenties and the realities of their thirties.

Sarah, the only child of a prominent intellectual and a socialite, works at a charity and is methodically planning her wedding. Lauren—beautiful, independent, and unpredictable—is single and working in publishing, deflecting her parents’ worries and questions about her life and future by trying not to think about it herself. Each woman envies—and is horrified by—particular aspects of the other’s life, topics of conversation they avoid with masterful linguistic pirouettes.

Once, Sarah and Lauren were inseparable; for a long a time now, they’ve been apart. Can two women who rarely see one other, selectively share secrets, and lead different lives still call themselves best friends? Is it their abiding connection—or just force of habit—that keeps them together?

Everyone had been raving about this book for quite some time when I finally decided to pick it up. I figured I’d be able to relate to this novel as I’m about the same age as the characters and understand what it is to be friends with a person for such a long time that while your interests may differ over time, shared history keeps the friendship alive.

Unfortunately, I was wrong about my being able to relate to the novel. I just could not understand or sympathize with these characters in any way. I didn’t like either Sarah or Lauren and it was almost a chore to read about them. I also didn’t get the friendship – for the most part, they didn’t seem to even like each other, much less be close enough to be considered best friends. WHY they kept this “friendship” alive for so many years, when it seemed to be a hassle for either of them to even consider spending time with the other person was so beyond me. It made the entire book feel inauthentic.

One thing I can say about the novel is that I enjoyed the writing style and did have some interest in seeing where things turned out for these two women. Ultimately, it was a let down, but I didn’t HATE the journey I spent with it. I couldn’t get past my feelings on the characters and my lack of understanding their motivations for things but I did finish the novel, so that’s something. Overall I was disappointed by this novel but I can see why some might have enjoyed certain aspects of it.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

What Alice ForgotWhat Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
Published by PanMacmillan Australia

From the publisher:

Alice Love is twenty-nine, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child.

So imagine Alice’s surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over — she’s getting divorced, she has three kids and she’s actually 39 years old. Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade, and find out whether it’s possible to reconstruct her life at the same time. She has to figure out why her sister hardly talks to her, and how is it that she’s become one of those super skinny moms with really expensive clothes.

Ultimately, Alice must discover whether forgetting is a blessing or a curse, and whether it’s possible to start over.

Okay, so Liane Moriarty can do no wrong. Every time I read one of her novels I find myself saying, “now THIS one is my favorite of hers!” only to remember that I keep saying that … turns out they are all pretty awesome, including What Alice Forgot.

What is interesting about this novel is that Alice is almost an unreliable narrator, a thing I like a lot in books, but her unreliability is far from intentional. In fact, throughout the book it is clear that she’d like very much to be a reliable source on her own life, but that simply isn’t possible, what with the amnesia and all. What this does to the reader is forces you to get to know Alice through the eyes of people who know her as well as what she’s telling you about her thoughts and feelings and find a way to sort of pair those two things together to come up with a complete picture of this character who doesn’t even know herself. It was strange and interesting and made the novel a ton of fun to read.

I liked her so much, though! As I continued to read the novel and piece together aspects of her life and personality, I continued to like her more and more. I continued to feel empathy for her situation and hope desperately that things would work out in her favor – although what that meant exactly was unclear for most of the book.

Moriarty does an amazing job at giving the reader hints and clues throughout a novel that slowly get at the real picture of what’s going on without revealing too much, too soon. She excels at this particularly in What Alice Forgot, because since Alice doesn’t remember the big events that made up her life for the past ten years, neither does the reader have that information. Slowly, as Alice remembers things and as her family fills in the details, the reader gets to fill in the gaps right alongside her. There were frustrating moments when I just wanted someone to TELL me about a particular person or situation, but I loved that because it truly got me inside Alice’s head and I understood exactly how she felt – the immense frustration at not knowing your own life, can you imagine? Moriarty did this SO well.

I really loved What Alice Forgot. Moriarty crafted an intense, compelling and ultimately heartwarming story featuring a flawed but very real and wonderful character in Alice. I will continue to be here for whatever Moriarty wants to deliver.

The Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

The Things We Wish Were TrueThe Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen
Published by Lake Union Publishing
Review copy provided by SheReads

From the publisher:

From the outside, Sycamore Glen, North Carolina, might look like the perfect all-American neighborhood. But behind the white picket fences lies a web of secrets that reach from house to house.

Up and down the streets, neighbors quietly bear the weight of their own pasts—until an accident at the community pool upsets the delicate equilibrium. And when tragic circumstances compel a woman to return to Sycamore Glen after years of self-imposed banishment, the tangle of the neighbors’ intertwined lives begins to unravel.

During the course of a sweltering summer, long-buried secrets are revealed, and the neighbors learn that it’s impossible to really know those closest to us. But is it impossible to love and forgive them?

I read this book over two months ago so please forgive my short but sweet thoughts on it. This is Whalen’s grittiest novel to date and I absolutely loved every second I spent with it – these characters were realistically flawed in the best possible way, their interactions rang true to life for me, and WOW was there drama. This community is extremely fractured, it is a total mess, and the people who live in it have some serious issues. Everything is intertwined, everyone knows everyone and has a history, many have secrets, and all of it just comes together so well. Many of the twists and turns surprised me but, for the most part, all felt natural and entirely feasible.

Whalen weaves such a complicated and intricate web of characters and situations that are all related, but the cast of characters never feels overwhelming or too much here. It all just works together seamlessly, her storytelling is perfection, and I truly could not put this book down. As I said, it’s been a while since I finished the novel but the characters have found a place in my head and in my heart and I would absolutely read another novel set in this same fictional neighborhood.

I have to add as a sidenote that I have met Marybeth in person a few times and she is an absolutely kind, funny, warm, incredibly sweet person. I received this book for review as part of the SheReads blog network that she co-founded. The fact that I’ve met Marybeth did not affect my feelings of the book – this is for sure her best novel that I’ve read and had I not enjoyed it I just would have skipped talking about it. 🙂

Highly recommended!

Mini-reviews – catching up

Relish: My Life in the KitchenRelish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley
Published by Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group

This is an adorable food-themed graphic memoir that was super enjoyable to read. Lucy Knisley basically takes the most pivotal moments in her life and relates them to what she was eating, cooking, or learning to make at that time. I really loved the experience of reading this book – not only is it a heartwarming memoir, but the illustrations are great and Knisley includes several of her tried-and-true and family recipes, as well. Overall I just really enjoyed it and will definitely be looking for more from this author.

Truly Madly GuiltyTruly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
Published by Flatiron Books

The basic gist of this one is three couples, of varying degrees of friendship, get together one night for a barbecue and something disastrous happens. The book details the personalities and relationships of the characters before the big event, and then goes into depth on how it has a ripple effect on each one of the characters for quite some time after. I have really loved all of Moriarty’s novels and this one was no exception. The way she is able to create tension amongst a group of people and the way she is able to make even the most vile of characters sympathetic and relatable are two talents that she has that very few authors share with her to this degree. I was definitely kept on the edge of my seat throughout this novel and continue to be impressed with her writing and ability to craft a well-paced, unputdownable story.

A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1)A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Feyre is nineteen years old and her life revolves around finding food for her family and staying safe from the faeries that once ruled the world she lives in. When she kills a wolf in the woods, who turns out to not be a wolf but a faerie, she is collected by Tamlin, another faerie, to give her life in exchange for the one she killed. Once she gets to his estate, she finds herself falling in love with him and subsequently doing everything in her power to protect Tamlin and his world from the dark power that threatens to overtake it.

That was a cliffnotes version of a summary of this book – a book that I liked a LOT. I don’t read a ton of fantasy (almost none, actually) but this one really worked for me. The main element of the book that I loved was getting to know the characters – Maas did an excellent job making Feyre an incredibly believable character that I could really relate to. And Tamlin drew me in with his fiery, dark personality – I loved the two of them together. Plus, their chemistry was seriously hot. This is NOT a book for young teens – there were some pretty intense sexy times happening here. Anyway – I really liked this book and definitely will get to the sequel.

Sweet Disorder (Lively St. Lemeston, #1)Sweet Disorder by Rose Lerner
Published by Samhain Publishing

Romance is a genre that I’m just getting into and Rose Lerner is an author recommended to me by the lovely and brilliant Jenny at Reading the End. I am happy to say that I did like this one and it is a good example of feminist romance – the type of romance that I would like to read more of, for sure. Something I appreciated about the plot of this one is that both main characters’ actions were motivated by helping their families, and there was a lot of character development of not only the main love interests but their family members as well. Both Nick and Phoebe were drawn to each other, but both knew that their being together would go against everything they needed to do to take care of their families. In the end, obviously, it’s a romance novel – there’s a happily ever after. But the getting there was quite enjoyable and I really liked the journey these characters took.

First Comes Love by Emily Giffin

First Comes LoveFirst Comes Love by Emily Giffin
Published by Ballantine Books
Review copy provided by Netgalley

From the publisher:

Growing up, Josie and Meredith Garland shared a loving, if sometimes contentious relationship. Josie was impulsive, spirited, and outgoing; Meredith hardworking, thoughtful, and reserved. When tragedy strikes their family, their different responses to the event splinter their delicate bond.

Fifteen years later, Josie and Meredith are in their late thirties, following very different paths. Josie, a first grade teacher, is single—and this close to swearing off dating for good. What she wants more than the right guy, however, is to become a mother—a feeling that is heightened when her ex-boyfriend’s daughter ends up in her class. Determined to have the future she’s always wanted, Josie decides to take matters into her own hands.

On the outside, Meredith is the model daughter with the perfect life. A successful attorney, she’s married to a wonderful man, and together they’re raising a beautiful four-year-old daughter. Yet lately, Meredith feels dissatisfied and restless, secretly wondering if she chose the life that was expected of her rather than the one she truly desired.

As the anniversary of their tragedy looms and painful secrets from the past begin to surface, Josie and Meredith must not only confront the issues that divide them, but also come to terms with their own choices. In their journey toward understanding and forgiveness, both sisters discover they need each other more than they knew . . . and that in the recipe for true happiness, love always comes first.

I love books featuring sisters. I have a sister with whom I have a very complicated relationship. I love my sister a lot but we are very different people and that has caused issues between us over the years. As we’ve grown up, we’ve grown much closer and I am extremely grateful that I have her and I know she feels the same. But still – relationships between sisters are extremely complex, and what I’m saying is that I know firsthand just how difficult they can be. So I expected to love this book.

Love it I did not. I didn’t hate it but overall the novel just never fell into the groove for me the way all of Giffin’s previous books have. I have always really loved the way that Giffin creates complicated main characters who make bad choices and hurt people, but you as the reader understand their motivations and love them anyway. That was not the case in First Comes Love. These two women, Josie and Meredith, are SO unlikable that it’s almost funny. I honestly couldn’t care about either of them enough to want to sympathize with their situations. Nothing either of them did or said showed me that they were actually people I could relate to, people I could see myself in, people who were essentially okay humans just trying to get through life somewhat unscathed. Since I didn’t get any of that, the book overall fell really flat for me.

It’s disappointing because this is truly the only Emily Giffin novel I haven’t enjoyed. Which I guess is an okay thing – the woman has written like ten books and I’ve mostly loved all of them. So I guess she’s allowed to have one I don’t love every now and then. But still, quite a disappointment for me.

If you want to read Emily Giffin, please do! She’s actually quite an incredible writer. May I suggest you start with her first novel, Something Borrowed? Now THAT is a book about a good person making bad, hurtful choices but you love her anyway.

The Perfect Neighbors by Sarah Pekkanen

The Perfect NeighborsThe Perfect Neighbors by Sarah Pekkanen
Published by Washington Square Press
Review copy provided by Netgalley

From the publisher:

Bucolic Newport Cove, where spontaneous block parties occur on balmy nights and all of the streets are named for flowers, is proud of its distinction of being named one the top twenty safest neighborhoods in the US.

It’s also one of the most secret-filled.

Kellie Scott has just returned to work after a decade of being a stay-at-home mom. She’s adjusting to high heels, scrambling to cook dinner for her family after a day at the office—and soaking in the dangerous attention of a very handsome, very married male colleague. Kellie’s neighbor Susan Barrett begins every day with fresh resolutions: she won’t eat any carbs. She’ll go to bed at a reasonable hour. And she’ll stop stalking her ex-husband and his new girlfriend. Gigi Kennedy seems to have it all together—except her teenage daughter has turned into a hostile stranger and her husband is running for Congress, which means her old skeletons are in danger of being brought into the light.

Then a new family moves to this quiet, tree-lined cul-de-sac. Tessa Campbell seems friendly enough to the other mothers, if a bit reserved. Then the neighbors notice that no one is ever invited to Tessa’s house. And soon, it becomes clear Tessa is hiding the biggest secret of all.

The Perfect Neighbors was a fairly run-of-the-mill women’s fiction story about a bunch of women with secrets. To be honest, it felt very formulaic, like I’ve read this same story before, but with different character names and slightly different secrets. However, I did enjoy it and it certainly held my interest. I liked all of the women and was interested in figuring out how their lives would turn out, how these issues presented would end up resolving themselves.

I enjoyed the time I spent with this novel but in the end, I’m finding it somewhat forgettable which isn’t the greatest thing. I will keep this short and just say, pick it up if you like this kind of thing, otherwise it’s probably okay to give it a pass. It was a fun, quick read for me that won’t stick in my brain much longer.