Checking In

I don’t see myself writing any reviews this week so I figured I’d check in and tell you why! My mom and aunt visited me from Thursday of last week to today – just dropped them off at the airport, *tear* – and the three of us have been enjoying every minute of one another’s company for the six days they were here. We had a GREAT time. Besides the time we spent at the pool, enjoying the sun, cooking delicious food, talking about anything and everything, playing games, drinking wine, kayaking with manatees, and visiting some local spots we enjoy, we spent three days at the beach! Last year we did Daytona Beach for a few days and this year I got a small condo just up the road from there in Ormond Beach. Not far at all from touristy Daytona, but far enough that it was just a little more peaceful, and basically perfect. We really enjoyed our time there, and if you are ever in the area, PLEASE eat at Hull’s Seafood Kitchen – almost everything they serve is locally caught, a lot of times on their own boats, and it’s extremely affordable, not at all fussy, and just delicious. So, so good.

I go back to work tomorrow, and I’m frantically trying to get stuff done this afternoon. Laundry is high on my list as well as a few other little things, but I did want to stop by and say hi, tell you all that I’m around somewhere, and I’ll be back to writing reviews hopefully next week! I have a few books I want to talk about and a few others that were just okay, so you’ll hear about all of them eventually. Until then, I hope you are enjoying your week!

Things I’ve Been Silent About: Memories by Azar Nafisi

Things I've Been Silent About: MemoriesThings I’ve Been Silent About: Memories by Azar Nafisi
Published by Random House

From the publisher:

Azar Nafisi, author of the beloved international bestseller Reading Lolita in Tehran, now gives us a stunning personal story of growing up in Iran, memories of her life lived in thrall to a powerful and complex mother, against the background of a country’s political revolution. A girl’s pain over family secrets; a young woman’s discovery of the power of sensuality in literature; the price a family pays for freedom in a country beset by political upheaval–these and other threads are woven together in this beautiful memoir, as a gifted storyteller once again transforms the way we see the world and “reminds us of why we read in the first place” (Newsday).

Nafisi’s intelligent and complicated mother, disappointed in her dreams of leading an important and romantic life, created mesmerizing fictions about herself, her family, and her past. But her daughter soon learned that these narratives of triumph hid as much as they revealed. Nafisi’s father escaped into narratives of another kind, enchanting his children with the classic tales like the Shahnamah, the Persian Book of Kings. When her father started seeing other women, young Azar began to keep his secrets from her mother. Nafisi’s complicity in these childhood dramas ultimately led her to resist remaining silent about other personal, as well as political, cultural, and social, injustices.

Reaching back in time to reflect on other generations in the Nafisi family,Things I’ve Been Silent About is also a powerful historical portrait of a family that spans many periods of change leading up to the Islamic Revolution of 1978-79, which turned Azar Nafisi’s beloved Iran into a religious dictatorship. Writing of her mother’s historic term in Parliament, even while her father, once mayor of Tehran, was in jail, Nafisi explores the remarkable “coffee hours” her mother presided over, where at first women came together to gossip, to tell fortunes, and to give silent acknowledgment of things never spoken about, and which then evolved into gatherings where men and women would meet to openly discuss the unfolding revolution.

Things I’ve Been Silent About is, finally, a deeply personal reflection on women’s choices, and on how Azar Nafisi found the inspiration for a different kind of life. This unforgettable portrait of a woman, a family, and a troubled homeland is a stunning book that readers will embrace, a new triumph from an author who is a modern master of the memoir.

About fifty pages into this book, I realized I’d read it before. I honestly think that’s the first time this has EVER happened to me and it was the weirdest feeling. But I kept reading, because I remembered almost nothing from the first time which was maybe five years ago. The first time I read the book, I had listened to the audio, and really didn’t care for the experience at all. I don’t know if it’s the fact that my interests have changed over the years, or the audio just wasn’t for me, but I liked the experience of reading Things I’ve Been Silent About this time a LOT better.

Azar Nafisi is a woman who’s experienced a lot in her life, who has grown up with difficult circumstances, all within a very repressive and difficult culture. Her memoir is of course mostly about her life, her family, her relationships, but intertwined with all of it is the background of the culture of Iran and how that culture changed over the years. Growing up in this culture influenced every single thing Nafisi experienced and I have to say that getting to know more about Iran’s history was the best part of the book for me.

I don’t want to make you think that this is a book about Iran’s history or politics because it’s totally not. But because it’s impossible to pull that background away from Nafisi’s life, it’s there woven throughout her narrative. Does that make sense?

I didn’t find Nafisi particularly likable, there’s something aloof and off-putting about her that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but her writing is beautiful and her story is an interesting one. I definitely want to read Reading Lolita in Tehran now that I’ve read and enjoyed this one.

Recommended for fans of memoirs, especially those from people of a different culture from your own.

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

The VacationersThe Vacationers by Emma Straub
Published by Riverhead Books

From the publisher:

For the Posts, a two-week trip to the Balearic island of Mallorca with their extended family and friends is a celebration: Franny and Jim are observing their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, and their daughter, Sylvia, has graduated from high school. The sunlit island, its mountains and beaches, its tapas and tennis courts, also promise an escape from the tensions simmering at home in Manhattan. But all does not go according to plan: over the course of the vacation, secrets come to light, old and new humiliations are experienced, childhood rivalries resurface, and ancient wounds are exacerbated.

This is a story of the sides of ourselves that we choose to show and those we try to conceal, of the ways we tear each other down and build each other up again, and the bonds that ultimately hold us together. With wry humor and tremendous heart, Emma Straub delivers a richly satisfying story of a family in the midst of a maelstrom of change, emerging irrevocably altered yet whole.

What could be more appropriate than reading a book about being on vacation while actually being on vacation yourself? Nothing, that’s what, so that’s exactly when I read this book – on vacation in Mexico. Unlike the characters, I was with friends and was having a great time, with absolutely no drama. But that certainly didn’t keep me from enjoying these characters and their drama – because drama was aplenty in this novel, and I loved every second of it.

While none of the characters are particularly likable, they all have mostly good intentions, and the drama is mostly a matter of people choosing not to reveal pieces of themselves to the ones they love. We all show our “best self” most of the time – it’s when you tear down those walls and become vulnerable and show people your truth that great relationships happen. For a variety of reasons, each of the characters in this book have a hard time with that, to some degree or another, which of course creates huge issues in their relationships.

Ultimately, I feel like this is a book about how all relationships are about choices. To stay in a marriage is a choice each member of the couple makes every single day. To continue a friendship through ups and downs, through lies and betrayals and struggles, is a choice to forgive a friend who has hurt you or choose to detach yourself from that friendship and move on. To have a parent-child relationship, especially for teens or grown children, is a choice that both the parent and child must make and actively work to manage and grow the relationship from childhood into adulthood – because it has to change as the child grows up. The last sentence of the book illustrates this theme perfectly and it’s probably my favorite last sentence of a book I’ve read, ever.

I really, really liked this book and I am looking forward to reading more from Emma Staub!

These Days Are Ours by Michelle Haimoff

These Days Are OursThese Days Are Ours by Michelle Haimoff
Published by Grand Central Publishing

From the publisher:

Six months after September 11th, New Yorkers are instructed to get on with their lives despite the terror advisories, streets filled with 9/11 merchandise, and mail that may contain Anthrax.

But for Hailey, still jobless after college and living in her family’s Fifth Avenue penthouse, getting on with life means getting closer to Michael Brenner, the Princeton graduate and future human rights lawyer who seems to have it all. The city feels as if it’s on the brink of apocalypse, and seeking out any sort of future seems pointless. So Hailey and her friends – Katie, already working at Morgan Stanley; Randy, a trust-fund kid who wears sweaters with holes in them; and Jess, confident of her future success regardless of her present inertia – stay out all night, dream up get rich quick schemes and aspire to greatness while questioning how much that greatness really matters.

But when Hailey meets Adrian, a transplanted Pennsylvanian and recent Brown graduate who doesn’t belong to Hailey’s privileged mileu, she begins to realize that her view of the world might not be the only one there is, and soon she is questioning everything she thought she knew.

I’m surprised this book didn’t get more attention from bloggers when it was published. A lot of bloggers I know would really relate to These Days Are Ours simply because a lot of them are of the same generation as the characters in the novel. I’m a little younger than Hailey and her friends – I was seventeen on 9/11, these characters were twenty-two – but the ages are similar enough that I related to them to a fair degree.

I totally experienced the post-college “what the hell am I going to do with my life?” paralyzing feelings that these characters face, although in my case I had to get a job pretty darn quick because those college loans weren’t going to pay themselves. So I wasn’t anything like these spoiled, rich New York City kids – but the feelings of missing college life, wondering what to do with this crazy thing called adulthood, I got that. I experienced it myself, and Haimoff captured those feelings perfectly here.

Something else that Haimoff just totally got was how when you’re a certain age with very few real responsibilities to speak of, the smallest things can feel like big moments. I can’t really explain it but while on the surface, these characters did almost nothing with their days, to them each new experience, each time they had a poignant conversation with each other, was momentous. I remember that feeling and I get it – and Haimoff gets it too.

These Days Are Ours is short, but there’s quite a bit of character growth in Hailey – to the point where she went from someone who really annoyed me in the beginning to someone I really liked and rooted for by the end. Whatever the book may seem to be on the surface, it’s not. What it IS is smart, funny, true, and like a snapshot from another time – a time not all that long ago, but emotionally way far away. Does that make sense? It’s good, though, really good – if any of the things I said even remotely strikes a chord with you, pick up These Days Are Ours.

One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis

One Step Too FarOne Step Too Far by Tina Seskis
Published by William Morrow & Company

On the surface, Emily Coleman appears to have it all. Great marriage, job, home, the whole nine yards. Yet one morning, she simply abandons her life and begins a new one, leaving her home in the suburbs for the city of London, changing her name to Cat and rooming in a house full of strangers, and even getting a new job as a receptionist. Obviously Emily is running from something, and she’s convinced herself that her new identity will make the past disappear. But the truth has a way of catching up to people, and Cat won’t be able to run from her demons forever – the question is, just how far will she be able to take this thing?

This book drew me in immediately. You know as a reader that something huge happened to Emily, she’s definitely running from something, but you have no idea what for almost all of the book. The suspense that this situation created cannot be explained, except to say that Seskis took this angle and just ran with it, and did such an excellent job at keeping the tension super-high throughout the entire book. I was on pins and needles while reading the novel, and found it incredibly hard to put down.

I am not quite sure what to make of Emily/Cat. At times she really pissed me off. As I was in the dark about what she was running from, I couldn’t really form an opinion on whether her choice to leave was “valid” or not, but I could feel strongly that she was making bad choices in her new life (which I did). No matter what the situation is, doing drugs and partying and associating with pretty shady characters certainly isn’t going to solve anyone’s problems. So that was difficult for me, but at the same time, I got that Cat was trying to shed her old identity completely, and in doing so she just went full steam ahead, making choices that Emily would never, in her wildest dreams, have considered. But it was still kind of hard to read – like a train wreck that you can’t look away from but wish wasn’t happening.

There’s one thing about this book that really bothered me, and I don’t want to spoil too much, but I have to say this – I really, truly thought there was going to be more to the sister situation than there was. True, she ended up being involved in the big situation that caused Emily to flee, but I felt like Seskis took the reader down a path that didn’t end up being anything at all. I was imagining all kinds of things – the sister wasn’t real, she killed the sister, the sister killed her, she IS the sister, just so many things, none of which ended up being even close to the truth. It felt kind of like manipulation. I don’t know, am I the only one who was bothered by this?

In the end. the big reveal was just as juicy and insane and terribly sad as the book promised, and I was super satisfied with how the whole thing turned out. I very much liked this book and will definitely read more from Seskis. I was highly impressed by this debut novel and I see big things for this author’s future!

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – thoughts upon a reread

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Harry Potter, #6)Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
Published by Scholastic

I am way far behind on the Harry Potter Readalong, but as of this writing I’ve already finished the last two books, just haven’t made the time to write about them. Well, here are some brief thoughts on the sixth book!

Love love love. I so overwhelmingly love this book and everything about it. I know I said the fifth book was my favorite, and maybe it still is, but this is a very close second. More than anything else about this book, what I truly love about it is just how much Harry learns about the truth of his life and what he has to do, and how much trust Dumbledore FINALLY places in Harry. After years of keeping him in the dark to “protect” him, Dumbledore finally gets that he needs to just be honest, Harry is not a kid anymore (well, I’d argue that a sixteen-year-old boy is most definitely a kid, but for wizarding purposes not so much), and he deserves to hear the whole story, nothing left out. So Dumbledore does a pretty decent job of that, and we readers are treated to the same information. Which is to say, lots and lots of information is thrown at Harry and the reader in this book. I’ve read this one a few times now, and I feel like each time I read it, I catch something that I must have glossed over the first few times. Every time there is something new to me – either I had forgotten a certain detail, or never paid enough attention in past readings to pick up on it.

This is also the book where I fully came to appreciate Rowling’s genius in writing this story. There are things that happen in this book that were foreshadowed several books back, only we as readers had no idea what was to come – but Rowling certainly did! Nothing proves to me more that she is immensely talented than every single word written in this book.

And Harry and Ginny! Cue trumpets and a parade because YAY! There are a lot of fans who thought Rowling got this wrong, who felt that Harry and Hermione should have ended up together, but I am not one of them. I love Harry and Ginny together and seeing it happen was oh so satisfying.

The end of this book is soul-crushingly devastating and I cry every single time I read it. It is terrible, awful, so unbelievably painful and every time I read it, I secretly hope that maybe they’ve changed it and IT doesn’t happen. Yet it always does. But it must be done to further the story and get Harry to the point of such anger and resolve that he knows with absolute certainty what he must do, what is his destiny, and that is exactly where the book ends. And I love it.

Obviously this is in no way a “review” of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. And it’s also not a comprehensive list of all of my thoughts (of which I have many more). But you get the general idea of my feelings for it, which is my goal.

Thoughts?

Consider the Fork: How Technology Transforms the Way We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson (Weekend Cooking)

Consider the Fork: How Technology Transforms the Way We Cook and EatConsider the Fork: How Technology Transforms the Way We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson
Published by Basic Books

From the publisher:

Since prehistory, humans have braved sharp knives, fire, and grindstones to transform raw ingredients into something delicious—or at least edible. Tools shape what we eat, but they have also transformed how we consume, and how we think about, our food. Technology in the kitchen does not just mean the Pacojets and sous-vide of the modernist kitchen. It can also mean the humbler tools of everyday cooking and eating: a wooden spoon and a skillet, chopsticks and forks.

In Consider the Fork, award-winning food writer Bee Wilson provides a wonderful and witty tour of the evolution of cooking around the world, revealing the hidden history of everyday objects we often take for granted. Knives—perhaps our most important gastronomic tool—predate the discovery of fire, whereas the fork endured centuries of ridicule before gaining widespread acceptance; pots and pans have been around for millennia, while plates are a relatively recent invention. Many once-new technologies have become essential elements of any well-stocked kitchen—mortars and pestles, serrated knives, stainless steel pots, refrigerators. Others have proved only passing fancies, or were supplanted by better technologies; one would be hard pressed now to find a water-powered egg whisk, a magnet-operated spit roaster, a cider owl, or a turnspit dog. Although many tools have disappeared from the modern kitchen, they have left us with traditions, tastes, and even physical characteristics that we would never have possessed otherwise.

Blending history, science, and anthropology, Wilson reveals how our culinary tools and tricks came to be, and how their influence has shaped modern food culture. The story of how we have tamed fire and ice and wielded whisks, spoons, and graters, all for the sake of putting food in our mouths, Consider the Fork is truly a book to savor.

I almost never participate in Weekend Cooking, hosted by Beth Fish Reads every Saturday, but I almost always wish I did. I figured the fact that I read a foodie book recently is as good a reason as any to join this week!

I’m not sure why exactly I got this one from Audible – I think it was a daily deal or deeply discounted or something – because it’s not really something I’d pick up on my own. I like food, and I like food books, and I like history, which is probably what made me think I’d enjoy this one, and I did enjoy it, but it’s pretty different from the typical nonfiction I read.

First, let me say that Consider the Fork is impeccably well-researched. To say there’s a ton of food history here is a huge understatement – Wilson traces food technology from the days before the invention of the knife up to the present, details how different cultures have used different technology in different and unique ways, and makes what could be quite a dull subject incredibly interesting. I learned a lot, and I think if you’re a bigger foodie and more accomplished chef them myself (which is probably most people), you will get even more out of the book than I did.

The audio was well done, too. Alison Larkin narrates and she has a sweet voice with an English accent that makes for a very pleasant listening experience. Whenever I spent time listening to the book, I very much enjoyed her narration.

The only issue I had with Consider the Fork is that I just wasn’t hugely compelled to pick it up almost ever. When I listened to it, I enjoyed the experience and came away with some nugget of new knowledge, but I never felt that feeling of being excited to pick it up again – does that make sense? I’m wondering if I personally would have benefited more from reading this one in print? I’m not sure, to be honest. It also could be that I’m just not super excited about and interested in food history/technology.

Either way, I can still recommend Consider the Fork for foodies and those who love learning about cooking history and technology. Wilson did an incredible job with her research on this one, and even though I can recognize this might not have been the best book for my personal tastes, it is clear that those with interest in this subject will find a lot to enjoy within the book.

A Day in the Life

TDay in the Life Eventoday I am participating in A Day in the Life, hosted by Trish at Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity! Many of you know what I do for a living, but if you don’t – I work at a bank as a branch manager. I can’t say on social media what bank I work for, but if you are curious feel free to send me an email and ask. :) Honestly, I feel that, although every day at my job is different from the day before, for those not in banking, what I do is kind of boring. But what do I know, maybe you’re super curious about what a branch manager does all day long? Either way, this is what Tuesday, March 24th looked like for me.

6:13 – Wake up without an alarm. My body is programmed to wake up between 6 – 6:20 every day because I have to wake at this time at least four days a week to get to work by 7:30. But today was not one of those days, so I went back to sleep.

7:40 – Wake up again, this time using my alarm. Lounge around for a few minutes (I have a bad habit of checking Facebook first thing in the morning) and then get in the shower and get ready for work. Get dressed, put on make-up, dry hair, etc.

8:25 – Leave the house and head to work. Sometimes I listen to an audiobook on the way to work, sometimes I listen to music instead. This particular morning I was listening to Florence & The Machine on Spotify. Throughout this drive all I could think about was that I had no breakfast at work so I would have to stop and get something. Ponder what I want pretty much the entire drive.

8:52 – Decide to be good and go to the grocery store to buy yogurt for breakfasts for the week. Get to the store, grab five yogurts to stick in the fridge at work, and get a cup of coffee from the grocery store.

9:04 – Pull into the parking lot at work.

9:00 – Spend about an hour catching up with my assistant manager after I was out of the office for the weekend prior. We discussed a few customer issues and employee issues that came up in the three days (Fri-Mon) I was gone. Also discovered during this time that our customer service scores dropped dramatically over the weekend so I freak out a little, then quickly get my shit together and come up with a plan to improve them with my assistant manager. We discuss how we’re going to make sure the entire branch is adhering to said plan.

10:00 – Sit down with a branch manager trainee that I’m currently training at my branch. Discussed a few questions that he had about stuff that happened in the branch over the weekend and how I would have handled the situations.

10:15 – Sit down with my private banker (she is the banker for my most affluent clients) and discussed a few customer issues she’s been working on, as well as reviewed her calendar for the upcoming week. We’re finishing up our conversation when we get interrupted by a client, so I exit her office to allow her to help the client.

10:40 – Sit down with another one of my bankers who is struggling this month with her performance. We talked through some obstacles she’s facing and started talking about what I need to do to help her succeed when we got interrupted with a customer about seven minutes in. Once she finished with that customer, we went back to our discussion.

11:00 – Customer called asking for the manager, I got on the phone and helped resolve the customer’s issue.

11:20 – Another one of my bankers comes to me with a complicated customer issue. I helped him figure out what to do and how to explain the solution to the customer.

11:40 – My private banker finishes up an appointment with a potential client so I spend some time debriefing the appointment with her and discussing her follow-up plan with the client and reviewing date/time of her next appointment.

11:45 – I hadn’t even opened my email yet and since I was out of the office for a few days I have about forty unread emails. I quickly start catching up on these.

12:00 – The customer that I referred to at 11:20 comes back, now he’s requesting to speak with me, I spend about twenty minutes helping him and trying to solve the issue, he eventually has to leave and says he’ll be back in the afternoon.

Between 12:30 and 2 I kind of lost track of my record-keeping. I know I helped several customers, took a few phone calls, and worked on a few more of those unread emails from the weekend.

2:00 – I head out for lunch. I first have to stop at the store to buy a birthday card for my sister-in-law, mail the card, and then run to Chipotle for a salad. I’m trying to eat a little better so I make sure not to get any dressing, sour cream, or guacamole on my salad (even though I REALLY want the sour cream). I bring the salad back to the branch and eat quickly in the break room. Sometimes I read a book during lunch but on this particular day I read the news on my phone.

3:00 – Back from lunch. My assistant manager and I talk with our tellers about how to improve our customer service scores. We talk through specific things that we need to see them doing with every single customer such as smiling, greeting them right away, and engaging in conversation. She and I then discuss a few housekeeping operational things we need to take care of before she leaves for vacation the following afternoon, then we take the time to do said tasks.

5:00 – My assistant manager and two tellers leave for the day, so I join the one remaining teller to help him for the last hour of the day. It’s at this exact time that the gentleman from earlier with the issue came back, as he had promised. I spent some more time talking with him and attempting to resolve the issue but we didn’t get very far before I had to run back to my teller and help him with something. The customer was satisfied with the help my banker provided since I wasn’t too available to help. For the next hour, I help customers as a teller.

6:10 – Lock the branch doors! Done for the day! :)

At this point I usually go straight home and start cooking dinner; however, on this particular day we were having a branch dinner, something we do about once per quarter, usually to celebrate something. This dinner was at Longhorn, so after leaving the branch at about 6:30, I headed to dinner. I have an awesome branch team and we actually like spending time together outside of work. So it was a fun and delicious meal with great people.

8:45 – Leave the restaurant and drive home.

9:15 – Pull into the garage. Spend about a half hour catching up with hubby about our days. He’s watching a TV show that I don’t watch so when we’re done talking I pour myself a glass of wine and head upstairs so he can finish his show. I plan on reading, but by the time I get changed into PJs, wash my face, and all that fun stuff it’s past 10 pm and I’m exhausted. I turn on the TV instead and end up watching The Challenge finale on MTV (horrible, I know).

Sometime around 11 pm I turn off the TV and go to sleep. The end!

Mini-Reviews: Books Everyone is Talking About

Everything I Never Told YouEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Published by Penguin Press

This novel, about a Chinese-American family in the 1970’s, has gotten a LOT of buzz since its publication last summer. In this novel, seventeen-year-old Lydia, the middle child of the Lee family and the favorite child of her parents, has gone missing, and instead of leaning on one another for support, this family, which was already fragile to begin with, basically comes apart at the seams.

I read this for book club, and while I unfortunately could not attend the meeting, I found out the following month that most everyone didn’t like it. I actually disagreed for the most part, I guess I can’t say I “like” a book this depressing, but I thought it was written very excellently and the author really made me feel for these characters. I didn’t like either adult in this family, but all three of the kids broke my heart for different reasons. I really got close with these characters and felt that sense of urgency as the end of the book approached to finally find out exactly what happened to Lydia. While I can’t say I loved Everything I Never Told You, I thought it was a solid piece of fiction, incredibly well-written, and I can see why it has received such high acclaim.

We Are Not OurselvesWe Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
Published by Simon & Schuster

This is an epic family saga type book – think Wally Lamb but a little quieter – exactly the kind of book that I can really sink my teeth into, get involved with the characters, and come away feeling like I’ve gotten to know and love another family, like I have new friends. We Are Not Ourselves follows Eileen Tumulty, raised in Queens by Irish immigrant parents, from about the age of ten – in the 1950’s – to the present. In that time, she takes care of her alcoholic mother, meets practical scientist Ed and gets married, becomes a nurse, has a son Connell, and basically the reader just follows this family throughout their lives.

It may sound boring but it is far from that. There’s a ton of struggle and strife and the push-pull of a marriage and family here. There’s also a Big Event that happens to this family about three-quarters of the way through the book that changes a lot of the direction of the novel. I thought the writing in this novel was incredible and despite its length, i couldn’t put the book down. I really got involved with these characters, and even though I had a difficult time liking any of them, that seemed not to matter as I just felt for them. They didn’t act the way I would have acted, didn’t see the world how I do, yet I couldn’t help but get them. Does that make sense? Anyway, I thought this book was just as great as everyone says and I highly recommend it!

The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins
Published by Riverhead Books

If you haven’t heard about this one, you must be living under a rock. In this novel, Rachel is an alcoholic who is mourning her failed marriage and loss of her job, so she rides the train into London each day as if she were going to work and watches the families as she rides by. She makes up names and stories about one particular couple, and when she reads in the newspaper that the woman has disappeared, she decides to get involved in the investigation.

I totally loved this one. I didn’t particularly like any of the characters, they certainly didn’t deserve my compassion, but oh my goodness did Hawkins take me on a wild ride here! I could NOT put this book down (especially the last fifty pages – wow!) and was totally engrossed in the story from start to finish. She totally surprised me with the ending and I am just very impressed with what she did here. And for a debut novel, this is incredibly good. Highly recommended – I get why everyone has been buzzing about this one!

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

Mr. Mercedes (Bill Hodges Trilogy, #1)Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
Published by Scribner

From the publisher:

In the frigid pre-dawn hours, in a distressed Midwestern city, hundreds of desperate unemployed folks are lined up for a spot at a job fair. Without warning, a lone driver plows through the crowd in a stolen Mercedes, running over the innocent, backing up, and charging again. Eight people are killed; fifteen are wounded. The killer escapes.

In another part of town, months later, a retired cop named Bill Hodges is still haunted by the unsolved crime. When he gets a crazed letter from someone who self-identifies as the “perk” and threatens an even more diabolical attack, Hodges wakes up from his depressed and vacant retirement, hell-bent on preventing another tragedy.

Brady Hartfield lives with his alcoholic mother in the house where he was born. He loved the feel of death under the wheels of the Mercedes, and he wants that rush again.

Only Bill Hodges, with a couple of highly unlikely allies, can apprehend the killer before he strikes again. And they have no time to lose, because Brady’s next mission, if it succeeds, will kill or maim thousands.

Would you believe that reading Mr. Mercedes was my first time ever reading Stephen King? And that the only reason I read this book is because of one of my book clubs? Crazy, I know. Yet, true. From what I understand, this is one of King’s tamer, more straightforward novels, which kind of makes me nervous to pick up some of his other stuff (because this isn’t exactly tame stuff), but also very, very curious.

So. I was highly entertained by this novel and am finding myself very impressed with King – I get it. He has an incredible talent for writing characters so flawed, so insane batshit crazy, but that are real people. It’s one of those rare things to find in any genre, and to find it in horror/thriller novels is even more special, I think. So first and foremost, I see his talent and am very interested in picking up more of his books.

What I thought was cool about this book is how you know who the bad guy is the whole time, yet there’s still a thrilling sense of urgency throughout the book – will the good guy find the bad guy and stop him in time? Or will thousands of people die? Obviously you need to read the book to find out, but I was furiously turning pages towards the end, biting my nails like a psycho, just desperate to find out how this whole thing turned out.

What I don’t love about these kinds of books is the fact that I’m really squeamish and when something horrible happens that is described in detail, it runs through my head for hours or days or even weeks after I finish a book. There’s only one scene in here that really did that but oh my GOD can I not get that shit out of my head. So I’m scared that more of King’s books have even MORE of this for me to deal with. Anyway.

I thought this book was super great! I will read more of King, I promise. Where should I start?

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