I am a grade-A bookworm, which is a nice way of saying that I am a nerd and would prefer to have my nose in a book than interact with most humans. Unless you’re sitting in a Mexican restaurant and buying me endless tacos. That’s the exception.
I’ve toyed with the idea of sharing book reviews and recommendations before, but had one major hold-up: Reading a book is my safe space. It’s how I escape, how I calm down, how I meditate.
It’s fun! And all the English majors said amen.
Finally, I don’t ever want to fall into the slippery slope that is reading books just for looks.
BOOKS FOR LOOKS IS SO STUPID, FRIENDS.
I’m not going to pick a title so that I can pose it perfectly for an Instagram flatlay, tag #bookstagram and look sO cUlTuReD. I’ve seen it. It’s a thing.
Keep the poser stuff for your Gucci sandal dupes and leave my love of reading out of it, please.
If I ever start getting certain books to be trendy or look cooler than I am, please poison my margarita and put me out of my misery.
“We’re DYING to know how you choose books! Tell us, tell us now!”
OK, so you probably don’t care but sometimes my friends ask me this and I … have no idea. I feel like they just fall in my lap?
The most pragmatic answer is that I’ll stumble upon an author I love and then I’ll binge-read everything else they’ve ever written.
Biiiiggggg author binger.
We can probably tie that back to my love of series like Nancy Drew, the Magic Treehouse, Harry Potter, Hardy Boys, Babysitters Club, The Saddle Club, etc etc etc — when I finally find something I like, why let it go? Gotta lock that down. Coincidentally, that’s also why I got married.
Often I’ll see recommendations from other bloggers or on social media, but that happens way less than you’d think. For one, it’s usually a new release and almost exclusively borrow from the library cause money I don’t pay attention that closely, and two, I’m terrified of spoilers. Not just spoiling the twist ending, but spoiling my appetite for the story. I don’t want to know whether I’ll love it or hate it beforehand, I just want to read it and then decide.
One of my best friends always reads the last page of a book first, then starts in chapter one. HOW?!
I like going in relatively blind.
Which is why, by the way, in my reviews below, I mostly focus on the author, not the storyline.
But my FAVORITE way to discover a new read is to literally discover it — to spot it among the stacks of the library. Or a book store. I’m just usually at the library.
I love the library so much.
It’s a magical place with SO MANY STORIES INSIDE. But I think I need to save my Ode to Library for a separate post because wow, this is already getting long and I haven’t even gotten to the actual book part yet.
“What’s your book review rating system? The people need ANSWERS.”
Rating system: Ehhhhhh if I’m being truthful, it’s a totally arbitrary number between 1-10 that’s not based on anything except my personal opinion. :D
Note: I don’t include trigger warnings in these reviews, and I probably never will — it often spoils the plot for me, unfortunately. So, if you see a book you might like and you know you like to be warned of traumatic triggers, please hit up the Goog :)
Books I Read in March/April 2019 and What I Think About Them, Even Though Nobody Asked:
by Fredrik Backman
SC’s rating: 9.5
Two-word summary: Heart breaker
Speaking of binge-reading authors … hello, Fredrik Backman.
You’ve probably heard of him — he penned the New York Times #1 best-seller “A Man Called Ove” (I read that one last year and don’t get me started talking about it because I will never stop! Read it! Read it now! There are few books I think are right for everyone, but you should order this one today.)
Beartown is less lighthearted than Backman’s debut novel, and it deals with heavy subject matter in a cold, dying town. It’s sad, but it doesn’t stop there. Instead of being entirely depressing, Beartown offers a raw look into who we are at the core, and gives a small glimmer of hope for what we could be. It’s the kind of book that stays with you for weeks after, making you question concepts you thought you knew. What would you do for family? What are the limits of loyalty? What are the true consequences of justice?
Oh, and it’s about hockey. But it’s also not.
His writing is poignant and thought provoking. One of the most impressive things to me is that he’s from Sweden — meaning that the English version is not even in the original language. And yet his writing style is masterful: Lyrical, yet simple. Poetic, without being flowery. He’s an observant writer who crafts round, nuanced characters that you’ll fall in love with, just as I have.
READ IF: You love a sport, or if you don’t.
SKIP IF: You simply can’t bear to read about some of life’s more difficult challenges, like loss, assault and heartbreak.
US AGAINST YOU
by Fredrik Backman
SC’s rating: 8.5
Two-word summary: Beartown, continued.
Backman’s sequel to Beartown is equally captivating thanks to his navigation of complicated truths, beautiful writing style and keen understanding of what we fear most. When you read Beartown, you’re left wanting more, and “Us Against You” won’t let you down.
READ IF: You can’t get enough Amat. And you won’t be able to, promise.
SKIP IF: You were the type of person who read the first four Harry Potter books and were OK with not knowing how everything ended.
TODAY WILL BE DIFFERENT
by Maria Semple
SC’s rating: 7
Two-word summary: Snarky Seattle.
Maria Semple is a strange, sensational storyteller. You might know her from her bestseller, “Where’d You go, Bernadette?”
Semple loves a main character who is flighty and judgmental, most especially of herself. In both “Bernadette” and “Today Will Be Different,” her leading lady is a compilation of quirky personality traits and unlikeable attributes, but who is still loving and loved.
In “Today Will Be Different,” we follow scatterbrained, unpredictable, terribly honest Eleanor Flood through a single day. The story unfolds with the kind with dry wit that has you laughing out loud one minute, only to cut your legs out from under you by the next paragraph’s poignant, heart-wrenching passage. Semple is a sharp and observant writer, that’s for sure. I don’t love some of the themes in this book, but it’s still a fresh way to tell a story.
What’s most interesting is how indelicate she is with her protagonist — Eleanor isn’t adorkably charming, she’s selfish; she’s not supermom, she’s erratic. Semple’s characters are unattractive in a lot of ways. They’re flawed — not in a “oh, this makes my character seem human! See, look, drinking problems! She’s REAL!” like in many books — but in a “wow, you’re kind of the worst, but I’m learning what made you that way” kind of way.
Plus, as a (briefly) former Seattlite, I enjoyed the not-so-subtle digs at some of my fave Seattle stereotypes.
And I did relate to this passage more than I care to admit:
“As far as I’m concerned, the only thing sweeter than seeing a friend is that friend canceling on me.”
RELATED READ: Yes, I’m a Time Snob and You Should Be, Too
READ IF: Snark makes you happy.
SKIP IF: Snark makes you angry.
WHERE WE BELONG
by Emily Giffin
SC’s rating: 5
Two-word summary: Beach read
I love a good beach read. Give me a page turner. Give me a cheesy romance or a lunatic boss and a damaged boyfriend and the horrors of brand-new motherhood and a mysterious daughter on a doorway. I have no shame in loving a lighthearted beach read — they’re the Netflix of the literary world! Hit play, mindlessly enjoy for hours even though you know you should probably be doing something more productive. In fact, I have a huge problem with people who judge others for their book selection. SO COME AT ME.
That said, I at least want my beach reads to be super engaging and full of juicy dialogue. unfortunately, I found “Where We Belong”to be forgettable at best.
I’ll put it this way: I had to Google this title so that I could remember the plot … and I read it last month.
Not trying to be a hater. I still like Emily Giffin and will probably read the next one she puts out.
But also, say “Deadpanned” one more time, Emily Giffin. I dare you.
READ IF: You like pretending you’re a fancy lady in New York working in television, dating a rich executive, eating at all the finest restaurants and generally just being glamorous.
SKIP IF: You have other books within easy reach.
ALL WE EVER WANTED
by Emily Giffin
SC’s rating: 5
Two-word summary: Kinda predictable.
Giffin is chick-lit, if you must use that term, but it’s intelligent chick-lit — and usually with interesting, realistic characters and a relatable plot.
But … I feel like she gave up on this one. The storyline incorporates a lot of hot-button issues and has a few twists, but ultimately falls a little flat. Not life-changing, not a time-suck. Just ehhhhhh.
READ IF: You’re lounging on the beach in Naples, waiting for a pina colada to be hand-delivered to you.
SKIP IF: You don’t want to be reminded of the HORRORS of giving teenagers (or imature people of any age) access to social media.
HOW TO TALK TO A WIDOWER
by Jonathan Tropper
SC’s rating: 6.5
Two-word summary: Typically Tropper
And by that I mean that I find his books wildly funny, readable and honest, but I also usually feel a little depressed afterward. We share a similar dark sense of humor, so I am drawn to his morbid jokes and satire. This one had a lot of deeply sad moments, but a lot of laughter too. And, this book includes his signature raunch and language, so Mom, maybe skip this one.
READ IF: You, too, have a weirdly dark and morbid sense of humor despite being a happy-go-lucky blonde.
SKIP IF: You’re my mother.
THE BOOK OF JOE
SC’s rating: 6
Two-word summary: Hometown return.
You know how I said I binge-read certain authors? Yeah. I thought I’d read all of Tropper’s work, but I guess not, because this was his debut novel and I only just got around to it. Whoops. It’s unfair of me to compare every single one of Tropper’s books to “This is Where I Leave You,” but imma do it anyway, because that book is his best, in my opinion. In a similar vein of TIWILY (never NOT calling “This Is Where I Leave You” “Ti-wily” again), expect a return home to see about a serious illness, family drama, hysterical dialogue, heartbreaking realities and wishing you were 16 again. Though engaging, “The Book of Joe” just doesn’t pull it together like Ti-Wily. I can’t really understand why, because both are full of cinematic cliches, but this one is much lower on my list of recommended reads.
READ IF: You, too, feel compelled to read an author’s entire body of work even though you really should branch out and not be so weird.
SKIP IF: You don’t like profanity or indecency.
I’LL BE GONE IN THE DARK
by Michelle McNamara
SC’s rating: n/a
Two-word summary: Too. Real.
Sadly, this author actually died before her book was completed — I believe her top research assistant finished it? Not sure, because I couldn’t read this whole book. Too scary. I read most of the beginning, skimmed through a few middle chapters and read the ending. I don’t know why I put myself through this when I know I can’t handle it. Don’t be like me. Be better.
Do I find true crime interesting? Yes. Can I stomach it? NOPE. Will I wake up with night terrors and seriously freak out my husband at 4 a.m.? You betcha!
I was obsessed with mysteries when I was younger, and I even thought I wanted to be a crime scene investigator one day. Admittedly, when I realized it was all a lot less Nancy Drew and a lot more math and science, I became decidedly less interested.
Still, I have this compulsion to learn about all of these things that horrify me. I think I’ve written before about how I’ll be looking up who Dolly’s Parton husband is and then next thing I know, I’m 45 minutes deep into reading about Jeffrey Dahmer. These accounts fascinate and repulse me, and I’ll inevitably have nightmares after reading about them.
Such is the case with “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.”
As you might’ve guessed from the title, this is a true crime account of the serial rapist and murderer who haunted California in the late 70s and early 80s. The most frustrating part is that this was before DNA testing was a thing and so this guy was just running around with a mask but without pants, touching door handles, dropping hairs and who knows what else and he wasn’t caught back then.
READ IF: You’re like my sister and love to fall asleep to Cold Case Files, letting the soft narration about dismemberment, violent sexual assault and bizarre murders lull you into a gentle sleep.
SKIP IF: You’re normal.
Ab-ba-dee-ba-dee-be-dee, that’s all for March and April, folks!
Hope you enjoyed my totally subjective reviews — have you read any of these yourself? What are you currently enjoying? Let me know in the comments below, I’m always looking for good books! But no spoilers. Seriously. ;)
Til next time!