What I Read: February 2018

Reviewing books can be an undertaking. I mean, I know you (my loyal readers) appreciate them… I have so many people who run into me at school or on the street and tell me that they just started reading that book I just finished reading because they saw it on my blog. And I LOVE THAT!

But it’s hard to find the time to review every book I read, and it’s even harder to find the motivation when a book isn’t spectacular or noteworthy or made me think or made me hate it. So, this mini-review roundup was born.

This month started out SO STRONGLY and then just ended with a struggle. I was in a Read-A-Thon on Goodreads, which was a blast, and I managed to read 4 books in a week. But I followed that up with reading the rest of the books this month really slowly. I blame the sunshine… it’s hard to read when I just want to spring clean and soak up the sun outside doing yardwork.

I did manage to knock out my first personal development book of the year, as well as get another 5 star review (interestingly enough, the only two books I’ve read by African American women have been the only five star books so far this year). I’ve read some really great books this month!

Books are listed in the order they were read. For more mini-reviews, check out my What I Read tag.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

Premise: The author, John Berendt, moves to Savannah, Georgia and encounters a whole host of characters. As he is getting to know the locals, a scandalous murder occurs at the home of one of Savannah’s elite. This narrative nonfiction brings out the humor and tells the story of this murder from a first person outsider’s perspective.

My Rating: 4 Stars

Reading Challenge: 2018 Around the Year – Narrative Nonfiction

Thoughts: This is the second narrative nonfiction book I read this year (and also, ever). I enjoyed this more than In Cold Blood, but I think it is because the author did an AMAZING job of bringing these characters to life. I was seriously laughing out loud at some of the characters, including Chablis, the black transgender woman, and Joe Odom, who manages to throw a party every night, no matter where he is living. I’ve never read a book that made the characters come to life so vividly, and the fact that this is nonfiction realllly blew my mind. Yes, there’s a murder, but it definitely took a backseat to all of the “drama” going on in Savannah.

Who Should Read It: Anyone who loves true crime. Anyone who enjoys quirky characters. Anyone who lives in a small rural town.

Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams

Premise: Two women, thirty years apart, connected by a car. Annabelle fell in love during the years leading up to WWII, and had to grapple with all of the circumstances involved with loving a Jew and being married to a German. Pepper meets Annabelle and tries to dissect her story.

My Rating: 4 Stars

Reading Challenge: 2018 Around the Year – 4 books linked by the 4 elements: Book #3 Water

Thoughts: I have had this book on my radar FOREVER, but when I was perusing the library shelves a few weeks ago, I finally picked it up. I’m a sucker for historical fiction, I’m a sucker for multiple points of view, and I’m a sucker for dual timelines, and this one did not disappoint. The two women are sassy and spitfires and I loved them fiercely. Their stories were not as interwoven as I expected (because I expected them to be long-lost relatives or something), but nonetheless, the story was captivating. There were times where I was nearly breathless with the beauty of the writing and the surprise of the circumstances. It was just so good.

PS. On Goodreads, this book is listed as number 3 in a series, but it can DEFINITELY be a standalone. I assume I would have felt more about Pepper and about the small appearances her sisters make if I had read the other two, but I don’t think the story was lacking at all without having read those books.

Who Should Read It: Anyone who loves historical fiction. Anyone looking to read some sassy and romantic women characters. Anyone looking for a intriguing romance.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Premise: Simon is a high school junior who happens to be gay. The only person who knows is his pen pal, Blue. The two boys don’t know each other, they keep their identities secret, but they know that they go to the same school. When one of Simon’s classmates reads his email, Simon is faced with some tough decisions.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

Reading Challenge: 2018 Around the Year – A book you have high expectations for

Thoughts: I found this book lurking at Walmart on sale for $8, and after hearing ALL THE THINGS about it, I knew I should probably read it. At first, I was not feeling it at all. This book was written like a teenage boy speaks — short, choppy sentences, abrupt subject changes, a lot of distractions and tangents. It doesn’t help that I had pretty high expectations for it. That being said, I’m glad I kept on with it, because once I found my rhythm in the writing, the story turned out to be delightful. There was some heartbreak and friend drama, of course, and it was slightly predictable, but I still really enjoyed it. I read it from 10 am to 1:30 pm on a Saturday, and had no urge to put it down!

Who Should Read It: People who like YA fiction. People who are drawn to snarky characters. People who want to read a diverse book that’s also hopeful.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Premise: Famed detective Hercule Poirot is aboard a train when one of the passengers turns up murdered in the middle of the night. Poirot is tasked with figuring out which of the killers on board the train is the murderer.

My Rating: 3 Stars

Reading Challenge: 2018 PopSugar – A book mentioned in another book (Mentioned in The Dinner)

Thoughts: I’m glad I finally read this classic! It felt very much like Sherlock Holmes-style sleuthing. There was no thriller here… just the detective using his brains to figure out the murder. I’ll admit, I never guess the endings of books (well, if I do, that means it was prettttty obvious), so I was pleasantly surprised when I got to the last few pages of the book. All in all, a good classic sleuth story, and I’m only a little bummed that I ruined the movie for myself.

Who Should Read It: Anyone who likes murder mysteries. Anyone who likes Sherlock Holmes. Anyone who enjoys watching clues reveal themselves.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Premise: Kathy is coming upon the end of her life, and she is reflecting back to all of the events that brought her to where she is today. Throughout the novel, the author slowly (very slowly) reveals the world Kathy lives in and her purpose in it.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

Reading Challenge: 2018 Around the Year – A science or science fiction book

Thoughts: This novel is really just a collection of Kathy’s memories, put together in a way that made sense to her. Throughout the novel, we are jumping between past and further past and present and back to a more recent past. The author makes small comments throughout the novel that leaves the reader questioning what the heck he meant… and then he reveals it 30 pages later through Kathy’s memories. Don’t read the blurb. Don’t read the reviews. Go into this book blind and you will love it even more.

Who Should Read It: Anyone who like sci-fi and alternate realities. Anyone who enjoys books with unique structures. Anyone looking for a slower, captivating read.

For a full review, check out this post.

The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

Premise: Lucy loves Gabe. She truly does. But from the very beginning, we know they are not together. This novel takes you on the journey of Lucy’s life, and the decisions she has to make concerning Gabe.

My Rating: 4 Stars

Reading Challenge: 2018 PopSugar – A book from a celebrity book club (Reese’s Book Club x Hello Sunshine)

Thoughts: I wrote four different blog posts about this book the minute I finished it. I sent one to my husband, because it was way too personal to publish here, and the other three were revised and eventually deleted. This book felt so touching and raw, and I didn’t really get that until the very end. Throughout most of the book, I struggled with connecting to Lucy and Gabe’s relationship — I’ve never really had that “wildfire” kind of love, mostly because it’s not the kind of love I want to have. I didn’t understand why she was hanging on to him, why she was writing this whole novel to him, and why she couldn’t just move on. But I get it now. This novel is not like anything I usually read (I like my love stories historical, usually), but this one just gutted me.

Who Should Read It: Anyone who wants a good love story. Anyone who likes short chapters and quick reads. Anyone who wants to cry just a little bit (or a lot…).

For a full review, check out this post.

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

Premise: It’s 1988 England, and Frank is a music store owner who refuses to sell cassettes and CDs. Throughout the novel, we learn about Frank’s past and how he became so very stuck in his ways. When Ilse Bachmann shows up at his shop, his world gets turned upside down.

My Rating: 2 Stars (unfortunately!)

Reading Challenge: 2018 PopSugar – A book with characters who are twins

Thoughts: I really wanted to love this one. It was my Book of the Month pick in January and I was SO EXCITED. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is one of my favorite books of all time, so I had high expectations for this one. Unfortunately, it really just fell flat. I was expecting a lot of music, but most of the music mentioned was before my time and/or classical music, which is cool, I guess, but not for me. The characters also felt really flat. I get why Frank was reserved and hesitant to put himself out there, but I felt cheated out of his big revelation that turned his life around. Harold Fry was a very similar character, but we were able to walk with him on his journey, and I feel like we really missed Frank’s journey here. All of the characters felt one-dimensional, and I didn’t really care what they were up to. I gave it 2 stars because Rachel Joyce’s writing is beautiful and the way she described music really made me feel what Frank was describing to Ilse.

Who Should Read It: Anyone who loves music (especially 80s and classical).

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Premise: Roy and Celestial have the beginnings of what promises to be a great marriage, but, while visiting his parents in Louisiana, Roy gets arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. What follows is the long trail of Roy and Celestial trying to determine how their marriage will look.

My Rating: 5 Stars

Reading Challenge: 2018 PopSugar – A book about a problem facing society today

Thoughts: Holy crap. This novel absolutely transported me. When I would put the book down, it was like coming up for air. The writing is BEAUTIFUL. The way the author uses words to express emotions often made me pause in my reading and reread entire paragraphs just to soak up the beauty. This story is a long one, and a tough one, and it analyzes the roll black men play in our culture and how black men and women must straddle the line between doing something for themselves vs. doing what they “should” do for their community vs. combating society’s expectations of them. Each of these characters were so vulnerable, so well-rounded, so conflicted and stripped… I honestly can’t say enough about it. Sure, the middle dragged a bit, but the writing more than made up for it. There will be a full blog post coming soon for this one.

Who Should Read It: Anyone who loves full, bright characters. Anyone who appreciates elegant writing. Anyone who wants a study in love, marriage, and sacrifice.

You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero

Premise: Jen Sincero tells you how to make your life better through getting rid of self-doubt and using positive thinking and meditation. Each chapter has a sassy name and a great quote, and she frequently uses lists to emphasize her points.

My Rating: 3 Conflicted Stars

Reading Challenge: 2018 Around the Year – A book whose title is a complete sentence

Thoughts: *Note: I have not finished this book yet, but I will be done by the end of February.* I am deeply conflicted by this book. On one hand, some of her advice makes sense. A lot of it was stuff I talked about in therapy. Affirmations, letting go of negative thoughts, meditation… all very sound advice. Her writing voice was also pretty hilarious. I was reading passages out loud to Jeromy, until he told me to cut it out, because some of the things she said was so to-the-point and sassy, which I loved. On the flip side of this, a lot of what she was saying was pretty condescending, and it often came off as “If you get cancer, it’s because you’re not sending out the right frequency into the universe.” which… no. Bad things sometimes happen to really positive, happy people, because that’s life. Also, she said a lot of WHY you should do these great things, but not HOW (writing affirmations, for example). So while I appreciated a lot of what she had to say, I found myself reading between the lines and ignoring a lot of her arguments as well.

Who Should Read It: Anyone doubting themselves. Anyone looking for motivation. Anyone trying to connect with their inner goals.

What do you think? Did I miss the mark on any of these? Are there some that you are excited to read? Leave a comment below!

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