Book Reviews–October 2019

Welcome!  I have large stacks of books TBR (To Be Read) on my nightstand, plus electronic stacks of books lined up in my Kindle, as well as books on hold at the library.  As I read these books, I love to share my thoughts and opinions of what I’ve read here in this space, because I enjoy sharing my passion for books with others.  I do have an eclectic taste in books, and will choose books based on my mood, or what’s going on in my life that week.  Finally, the page numbers I list here reflect the number of Kindle pages, not paper pages.  Thank you!)  I hope you enjoy this series.

Book #1: 

Book GirlBook Girl  by Sarah Clarkson (Length: 276 pages).  This book was an impulse grab while picking up a few books I had on reserve at my local library branch.  This is a non-fiction read, with chapters on reading life.  There is a very religious-bent in a few chapters, and since I’m decidedly not a fan of organized religion, I skipped those.  I did enjoy reading the author’s book recommendations as well as book lists by various people, as I am always on the hunt for good books and literature.  I came away with 8 new books (2 of which already exist on my TBR list).  The last chapter in this book with recommendations for children’s books is excellent.  This is a good library check-out book, unless you do enjoy religious books and reading about religion, in which case this would be an excellent addition to your own home library!  

From the publisher:

Books were always Sarah Clarkson’s delight. Raised in the company of the lively Anne of Green Gables, the brave Pevensie children of Narnia, and the wise Austen heroines, she discovered reading early on as a daily gift, a way of encountering the world in all its wonder. But what she came to realize as an adult was just how powerfully books had shaped her as a woman to live a story within that world, to be a lifelong learner, to grasp hope in struggle, and to create and act with courage.

She’s convinced that books can do the same for you.

Join Sarah in exploring the reading life as a gift and an adventure, one meant to enrich, broaden, and delight you in each season of your life as a woman. In Book Girl, you’ll discover:

  • how reading can strengthen your spiritual life and deepen your faith,
  • why a journey through classic literature might be just what you need (and where to begin),
  • how stories form your sense of identity,
  • how Sarah’s parents raised her to be a reader—and what you can do to cultivate a love of reading in the growing readers around you, and
  • 20+ annotated book lists, including some old favorites and many new discoveries.

Whether you’ve long considered yourself a reader or have dreams of becoming one, Book Girl will draw you into the life-giving journey of becoming a woman who reads and lives well.

Book #2: 

Eleanor OliphantEleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine  by Gail Honeyman (Length: 331 pages).  I absolutely ADORE this book!  I’ve seen it around for ages, but until my gym bestie gave her copy to me, I hadn’t taken a look.  This is about a Scottish woman in her 30s who is socially awkward, with zero filter.  She’s very intelligent, well-read, with tons of self-confidence regardless of the large scar on her face.  I laughed out loud in the first few chapters thanks to funny dialogue.  There is a very sad backstory of her abusive childhood and this, of course, creeps into the narrative, which does change the initial vibe of the novel.  However, this backstory only serves to make the reader love Eleanor even more, and the plot twists and turns keep you reading.  I was very satisfied with the resolution of the plot, and of course, I loved the character development of Eleanor.  This is a must-read!  I think it would be a fantastic book club pick.  

From the publisher:

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

Soon to be a major motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the smart, warm, and uplifting story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes. . .

The only way to survive is to open your heart. 

Book #3: 

Maybe in another life
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Maybe in Another Life  by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Length: 353 pages).  After thoroughly enjoying the author’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, I was excited to check out this older novel.  It’s a cute, romantic novel, but has a little more depth to it in terms of character development.  We are actually told WHY a character thinks and acts the way they do, with sufficient backstory for both to make logical sense. 

The plot progresses a la Sliding Doors, where a fork in the road occurs and the reader (viewer) is shown both journeys forward from that event.   In this case, they are told in alternating chapters.  I think this is a fun, beach-type escapist read, and it’s absolutely better written than most books of this genre.  

From the publisher:

At the age of twenty-nine, Hannah Martin still has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She has lived in six different cities and held countless meaningless jobs since graduating college. On the heels of leaving yet another city, Hannah moves back to her hometown of Los Angeles and takes up residence in her best friend Gabby’s guestroom. Shortly after getting back to town, Hannah goes out to a bar one night with Gabby and meets up with her high school boyfriend, Ethan.

Just after midnight, Gabby asks Hannah if she’s ready to go. A moment later, Ethan offers to give her a ride later if she wants to stay. Hannah hesitates. What happens if she leaves with Gabby? What happens if she leaves with Ethan?

In concurrent storylines, Hannah lives out the effects of each decision. Quickly, these parallel universes develop into radically different stories with large-scale consequences for Hannah, as well as the people around her. As the two alternate realities run their course, Maybe in Another Life raises questions about fate and true love: Is anything meant to be? How much in our life is determined by chance? And perhaps, most compellingly: Is there such a thing as a soul mate?

Hannah believes there is. And, in both worlds, she believes she’s found him.

Book #4: 

Ask Again YesAsk Again, Yes  by Mary Beth Keane (Length: 401 pages).  Since I’ve been journaling after reading each book during the past few years, I’ve noticed a trend for myself.  I adore long family sagas, rich in character development.  That’s not to say I don’t enjoy thrillers with exciting plot twists as well, but I do love getting into characters’ heads to see what makes them tick.  This particular novel came highly recommended. . . it was actually listed THREE separate times on my various TBR lists.  (Oops!)  All that to say, this particular family saga is very well done, if you, like me, enjoy reading about the minutiae of family relationships.  The author’s writing is excellent, with thoughtful character development.  There is literally one major plot point, with the novel being divided into before and after this life event.  The ending is satisfying, in my opinion, with a resolution of the various threads that isn’t too pat, but it’s sufficient to reward the reader for all of their reading.  (And there’s a lot of it).  I could see this being a great springboard for a book club discussion, but given the length of the book, it would be better served by a more serious book club with members who are actually motivated to finish the chosen book.  😉  

From the publisher:

Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope, rookie cops in the NYPD, live next door to each other outside the city. What happens behind closed doors in both houses—the loneliness of Francis’s wife, Lena, and the instability of Brian’s wife, Anne, sets the stage for the explosive events to come.

Ask Again, Yes is a deeply affecting exploration of the lifelong friendship and love that blossoms between Kate Gleeson and Peter Stanhope, born six months apart. One shocking night their loyalties are divided, and their bond will be tested again and again over the next 40 years. Luminous, heartbreaking, and redemptive, Ask Again, Yes reveals the way childhood memories change when viewed from the distance of adulthood—villains lose their menace and those who appeared innocent seem less so. Kate and Peter’s love story, while haunted by echoes from the past, is marked by tenderness, generosity, and grace.

Book #5: 

The Book of EssieThe Book of Essie  by Meghan MacLean Weir(Length: 338 pages).   This is such an interesting novel, and reads almost as the backstory of a reality TV show, but with very strong writing.  This fictional show is called “Six for Hicks” and follows a TV evangelist and his evangelical Christian family (a la The Duggars).  The novel focuses on the youngest daughter, Essie, who we find out is pregnant in the very beginning pages of the book.  The author’s character development is just okay, but the plot pacing is fantastic here–a total page turner.  There are a few themes that are a bit intense without giving too much away.  The author’s treatment of the corruption inherent in for-profit organized religions and megachurches is very well-done here, as the churches are almost a secondary character in the plot.  I highly recommend this book, and I think it would make a fun book club read, assuming the members are of the open-minded sort.  

From the publisher:

Esther Ann Hicks–Essie–is the youngest child on Six for Hicks, a reality television phenomenon. She’s grown up in the spotlight, both idolized and despised for her family’s fire-and-brimstone brand of faith. When Essie’s mother, Celia, discovers that Essie is pregnant, she arranges an emergency meeting with the show’s producers: Do they sneak Essie out of the country for an abortion? Do they pass the child off as Celia’s? Or do they try to arrange a marriage–and a ratings-blockbuster wedding? Meanwhile, Essie is quietly pairing herself up with Roarke Richards, a senior at her school with a secret of his own to protect. As the newly formed couple attempt to sell their fabricated love story to the media–through exclusive interviews with an infamously conservative reporter named Liberty Bell–Essie finds she has questions of her own: What was the real reason for her older sister leaving home? Who can she trust with the truth about her family? And how much is she willing to sacrifice to win her own freedom?

Book #6: 

Coming CleanComing Clean by Kimberly Rae Miller (Length: 271 pages).   I’ve had personal experience with hoarding thanks to a family friend, so I’m always a bit hesitant to read memoirs where hoarding is a large part of the story.  This particular memoir of a girl growing up in a hoarders’ home is surprisingly very well-written, and isn’t too sensationalistic for my tastes.  The author is coming not from a place of anger, but from a place of compassion, which is commendable given how she was raised.  This is a VERY fast read–I flew through it in a day.  It is very sad in places (especially with regard to the family pets) but given the author’s treatment of her past as well as her obvious (continued) love for her parents, I think it’s absolutely worth a read.    

From the publisher:

Kimberly Rae Miller is an immaculately put-together woman with a great career, a loving boyfriend, and a beautifully tidy apartment in Brooklyn. You would never guess that behind the closed doors of her family’s idyllic Long Island house hid teetering stacks of aging newspaper, broken computers, and boxes upon boxes of unused junk festering in every room—the product of her father’s painful and unending struggle with hoarding.

In this dazzling memoir, Miller brings to life her experience growing up in a rat-infested home, hiding her father’s shameful secret from friends for years, and the emotional burden that ultimately led to her suicide attempt. In beautiful prose, Miller sheds light on her complicated yet loving relationship with her parents, which has thrived in spite of the odds.

Coming Clean is a story about recognizing where you come from and understanding the relationships that define you. It is also a powerful story of recovery and redemption.

Book #7: 

Picnic at Hanging RockPicnic at Hanging Rock  by Joan Lindsay (Length: 198 pages).   This Australian suspense classic has been on my TBR pile for ages.  I thought Halloween was the perfect time to finally pick it up, and I’m glad I did.  Set in the 1900s, this book made quite the splash when it was published as the author left it in the air as to whether this was actually a true account of 3 teen girls and their governess disappearing in the Australian desert.  (If you read the Kindle edition, please read the Foreword after you read the novel.)  This novel is very slow-moving in terms of plot, but is beautifully written.  It is VERY atmospheric with a gorgeous sense of place . . . you can easily picture yourself there.  This author definitely does not spoon feed the book to you like some of today’s thrillers (looking at you, Gone Girl).  It is up to you to connect the dots, which I loved doing here.  I’m watching the Amazon Prime series based on this novel next!  

From the publisher:

A 50th-anniversary edition of the landmark novel about three “gone girls” that inspired the acclaimed 1975 film, featuring a foreword by Maile Meloy, author of Do Not Become Alarmed

It was a cloudless summer day in the year 1900. Everyone at Appleyard College for Young Ladies agreed it was just right for a picnic at Hanging Rock. After lunch, a group of three girls climbed into the blaze of the afternoon sun, pressing on through the scrub into the shadows of the secluded volcanic outcropping. Farther, higher, until at last they disappeared. They never returned. . . .

Mysterious and subtly erotic, Picnic at Hanging Rock inspired the iconic 1975 film of the same name by Peter Weir. A beguiling landmark of Australian literature, it stands with Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides as a masterpiece of intrigue.

One thought on “Book Reviews–October 2019

  1. i read Eleanor Oliphant recently too and thought it was great!! also i just added Ask Again, Yes to my to read list, so i’m very glad you liked it. love this post!!


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