I started stepping up my reading game this month. I managed to finish 17 books in September!
- Small Country by Gael Faye
I gave this one 4/5 stars.I love to be entertained and I have a great ability to suspend my disbelief in favor of a good tale. This is perhaps why non-fiction and history are some of the hardest genres for me to read. In a similar way, war stories are hard for me to get into because I don’t tend to see them as lived experiences. The only ones I really relate to are the modern stories of American military, because I used to be in the Navy and know something of that life.However, some years ago now, I had the privilege of meeting Immaculee Ilibagiza, who wrote “Left to Tell,” which was another story of the Rwandan Genocide. I was able to hear her speak and give her a hug after the talk. This made Rwanda real for me. So, when I heard about this book as one of my Book of the Month options, I had to pick it up.Gael Faye has a different perspective than Immaculee, and was younger when the events occurred, but he speaks with a compelling voice and really has a gift for making you feel the burgeoning horror of the events as they unfold and the increasing tension in the country and those in the immediate vicinity.
Immaculee’s story is one about faith and hope and strength and doing good with your life in the face of all this evil – and forgiving even the most unforgivable. Gael’s is more of how a country can mark you and live in your soul, long after you have moved away. How events and people change and color the entire trajectory of your life.
It was moving and heartbreaking and beautiful. I would especially recommend it to those who have not had a chance to travel outside of the Western world with it’s privilege and wealth. It sounds rather odd to say that it will help your heart to learn compassion and respect for other places and people around the globe, but it does.
- Emotions Explained with Buff Dudes by Andrew Tsyaston
I gave this book 5/5 stars.This book made me laugh out loud on page 2! It has a zesty, wicked humor that I love. Even better, I have several friends who would absolutely love this book right with me! I fully intend to buy at least two copies: one for me and one for Karen. Maybe one for my brother, too. So good.I used to draw sassy little stick figures in all sorts of situations, and this is that idea to the nth level. Not only was it funny, but it was funny because it contained so much truth about life. At the same time, you are laughing, but you are also nodding along and recognizing yourself in these cartoon characters.The squishy emotions though – those are my favorite!
I read a pre-pub version of this book via NetGalley.
- The Brightest Star by Danielle Schothorst
I gave this 5/5 stars.I loved this story! As I was reading it, I was imagining sharing this with my 4 year old goddaughter. She would love the inventive tale and the opportunity to create her own compliments for the star. I would love to be able to lay outside in her backyard under the stars and share the story together, and then search for our own brightest star.I love how there is a subtle moral aspect to the story, and how lifting up and complimenting another brought the whole community together. It’s a great thing to feature, especially at this time when kids are going back to school. Compliments beget compliments and self-esteem all around.The illustrations were also fantastic. We will enjoy looking at all of the animals and the night sky, which is so full of possibility!
Disclaimer: I read a pre-pub version of this book via NetGalley. Thank you for the opportunity!
- Ghosted by Rosie Walsh
I gave this one 4/5 stars.I thought the twists at the end were fantastic and unexpected. There were a few times where I was reading and audibly gasped in surprise, which is such a great feat for an author to be able to surprise the reader that much. It didn’t earn 5 stars for me because the fact that an adult woman would become so obsessed after just a week doesn’t read true for me. I can see digging a little bit, but I wouldn’t upend my life over it. The book also spent quite a bit of time in this uncomfortable space, and this made the book difficult to continue reading in places. Once the reveals started picking up, it was much more enjoyable.
- I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
I gave this book 4/5 stars.The writing in this book was quite a shock and it took some getting used to – very fantastical and quirky. It was hard for me to get into the story at first. As I continued, I adjusted and instead of thinking that the characters were crazy, I realized that the language was more poetic and emotive than realistic and was able to adjust my expectations.As the story unfolded, my affection for this story kept growing; I’m so glad I stuck with it.This is the story of a boy and a girl – twins – who lose themselves and each other. That’s about all I’ll say about the plot, because the journey and the self-discovery is the best part.
It was interesting the way the POV changed. The chapters switched between Noah at age 13-ish and Jude at age 16-ish, so each POV change came with a change in the timeline.
I read this book as an audiobook, but I think that I’ll pick up a copy to have on my bookshelf. This is one where you will want to underline passages.
- Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
I gave this story 4/5 stars.I loved the characterizations in this book. The way each person responded felt authentic to who they were supposed to be. They were layered and complex and their personal histories influenced their present day actions, which while common in daily life, is hard to bring out in a novel. I love how the title of the book not only refers to the beginning and end of the story, but also the “little fires” within each person’s life. Everyone has their own troubles and burdens to bear, and no one’s life is as perfect as it may appear from the outside.
- Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
I gave this one 4/5 stars.I loved the glimpse into the lifestyles of the uber-rich. This was a very fun, interesting, quick read that gave a different perspective. It’s always good to see cultures and customs outside of those you were raised with and this was no exception. I loved the characters and their reactions felt authentic. I watched the movie shortly after completing this book and felt that it was fairly faithful to the spirit of the novel.It is also quite funny. Case in point: “NEVER, EVER wear green chiffon unless you want to look like bok choy that got gang-raped.”
- China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan
I rated this book 4/5 stars.Everything that I loved about Crazy Rich Asians was continued in China Rich Girlfriend. The characterizations were fantastic and made me invest in even unlikable characters. It had the right mix of humor, information, snobbery, and surprise to keep me turning the pages until the end. This is definitely a series that I’ll want to have on my bookshelf!
- Little Tree by Loren Long
This was a 5/5 star story.I brought over 3 different library books to read with Gabby. This one was the first one that she picked to read.I loved the story. It was about a little tree who was afraid to give up his leaves. Ultimately, it was a moral story about having to take a risk in order to grow and change, and how holding on too tightly can stunt your personal growth.
The illustrations were very cute. Gabby liked trying to determine which tree was Little Tree on each page and seeing what the squirrels were doing.
- All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood
I gave this one 3/5 stars.This book deals with a taboo romance between an adult male and a very young child. It starts as a sweet, protective friendship with each person providing emotional fulfillment for the other, but then crosses a line of propriety. You are given enough insight into each characters thoughts to understand that nothing sinister is intended, but as a reader, it is an uncomfortable position to be in.Wavy as a child was a much more interesting character than Wavy as a later adolescent. About halfway through the book, I started to lose interest and started to desire that Wavy move on with her life quickly, so that I could do the same.
At the end of the novel, I could admire Wavy’s persistence and grit, but I was missing the emotional connection and empathy for her that I had at the start of the book. If it was written to show more of her emotional vulnerability at this point, I might have been more engaged in the story.
- Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson
I gave this book 3/5 stars.I liked that this book had a teen male POV – not common in YA fiction – and one which felt authentic. However, I kept waiting for some big reveal or plot twist, but this never came.The cover photo and title led me to think that something big or ominous or momentous was coming, but it felt very… blah. It wasn’t a horrible read and it went by fairly quickly, but it was ultimately forgettable.
- Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire
I gave this 5/5 stars.I know there are a lot of people out there who criticize this book for portraying an unhealthy relationship, and there were certainly many things about it which were unhealthy. However, this book got high ratings from me because I just loved the interaction between Abby and Travis. I literally had a smile plastered on my face for most of the time I was reading the book. Their verbal sparring was exactly my brand of humor/sarcasm.I also quite enjoyed that while Travis was made out to be an alpha-male, who is basically incapable of being defeated, Abby was not portrayed to be a weak female. She was as strong or stronger than Travis in her way and was quite brilliant in her own ways.
Abby has a couple different paths that her relationships can go during the course of the book and I waited for the author to make one choice or the other to be closed irrevocably, but in the end, the choice and the struggle was within Abby – whether she was going to go with the version of herself that she has tried so hard to recreate, or if she was going to forgive her past and allow herself to live in a world similar to the one she has been trying for so long to leave. This felt very real – there’s often multiple different choices that you can make in life and end up fairly well. It’s rare that the choices before you are 99 villains and 1 prince. Usually it’s more like 3 stable boys and you’re the awkward girl-next-door.
- Walking Disaster by Jamie McGuire
I gave this book 4/5 stars.
I can sympathize with people who critique this book for being too much of an exact rewrite of a lot of the dialogue that occurs in Beautiful Disaster. It’s not as much of an issue for me, as I don’t particularly eschew repetition, especially for something that I’m really into.I don’t think that we gained a lot of additional perspective that we didn’t have before, but I was happy to be spending additional time with the characters that I’ve come to love.
- A Beautiful Wedding by Jamie McGuire
I gave this 4/5 stars.
This was a great companion to Beautiful Disaster/Walking Disaster. I liked the opportunity for an extended epilogue with these characters.The very end threw me off for a bit, as it didn’t say right away that the timeline was so different from the rest of the book, and at first, I thought it was a completely different story.
It definitely set me up to anticipate the rest of Jamie McGuire’s books featuring the other Maddox brothers.
- Reason to Breathe by Rebecca Donovan
I gave this one 4/5 stars.I had gotten this as an audiobook from Audible a while ago and for some reason was reluctant to listen to it. I’m not sure why I felt this way, but whenever I’d look at my play list, I had the impression that this wasn’t going to be the best story, and I’d but it off.
I’m glad that I finally gave it a chance! This was a great story and kept it’s suspense and pace up throughout. You always knew that something would happen which would prompt more abuse, but you never knew what the trigger would be, so just like Emma, you had a certain level of fear and wariness at all times.
- Barely Breathing by Rebecca Donovan
I gave this book 4/5 stars.I couldn’t grab the sequel to Reason to Breathe quick enough! The story and characters were compelling and I was hooked.
This book only heightened my concern for Emma and the decisions that she was making – just when I thought the worst was over! The tension and pace were great.
- Out of Breath by Rebecca Donovan
I also gave this book 4/5 stars, although the first third of the book had me at a 1.5 star rating.I’ll admit, for the first third or so of this book, I was really hating it. I hated how Emma was acting and the story was frustrating. I nearly gave up on her. But, then – finally – it started turning around and I was able to start rooting for her again. There were several times where I didn’t know how the relationships would turn out, and I didn’t know which relationship I wanted to see continue and which I wanted to end.