Mini-Reviews of Recent Reads: April 2018
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I’ve been reading some excellent books lately, including some that I’ve wanted to read for a long time. Most of the books reviewed below were four and five stars for me, with the exception of one that was just okay–but that many other readers loved.
I’m still working through my Read My Shelf Challenge and have not bought ANY books in the last couple of months. Quite a feat! Progress has been slow, however, because I do still read library books. Half of the books below are from the library and half are from my shelf–one of which was a reread. Still, progress is progress! I also finished another from my reading bucket list.
Here’s what I’ve been reading:
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Eleanor has her routine down to a science: work, weekly phone calls with her mother, and weekends with vodka (and nothing or no one else). She's fine, and she's even ready to pursue a relationship with a musician who seems perfect for her (though she hasn't actually met him).
Never mind that she has no social life, no friends, and she tends to say brutally honest, awkward, and somewhat inappropriate things. She starts working out a self-improvement plan in anticipation of her future relationship with the musician, despite her mother's cruel discouragement.
Meanwhile, she finds herself in an unexpected friendship with her coworker, Raymond, when they help an elderly gentleman after a fall. Slowly, the friendship helps draw Eleanor out of her isolation, but also pushes her toward difficult truths about herself, her past, and her future.
Eleanor is endearing for her mix of self-awareness and oblivious social awkwardness, and Raymond is an unexpected hero. This book manages to be funny, heartbreaking, and uplifting all at once.
If you like this book, you might also like these 11 Irresistible Books Like Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.More info →
At a party in the vice-presidential mansion of an unnamed South American country, a band of young terrorists enters and takes hostages. The hostages include a world-renowned soprano, a Japanese business titan, and diplomats from various countries. The days and months stretch on and lines blur, relationships form, and tensions rise and fall and rise again. This is one of my favorite books and was my first introduction to Ann Patchett--now one of my favorite authors. I recently reread it and had a great experience; read about it in Why You Should Reread Your Favorite Books and How to Make It Worth Your While.More info →
Melinda is starting high school an outcast, rejected by her friends and the rest of the school for calling the cops at a summer party. With surprising humor and insight, she navigates the halls and grows increasingly isolated, retreating into herself and speaking less and less.
She finds solace and purpose in her year-long project for art class, which helps her come to terms with what happened to her at that party. When she realizes her former friend is in danger, she must find her voice again and speak up for both herself and others.
Published in 1999 but particularly timely in this age of #MeToo, Speak is a must-read for teen girls and women still working to find their own voices, and for boys and men seeking a greater understanding of how sexual assault and harassment actually affect women.More info →
What Alice Forgot
When Alice wakes up on the floor of the gym, she finds herself in an alternate universe: one where she is 10 years older, has three children she doesn't remember, a husband she no longer loves, and a sister who speaks to her in strained tones. Alice's memory is gone, and she's trying to figure out how to live a life she no longer recognizes--and get back the man she loved ten years ago.
I was intrigued by the premise of this novel, and it was entertaining, but the domestic drama failed to capture my attention. Maybe elements of her novels are too close to my own suburban mom life, but most of Moriarty's novels fall a bit flat for me. This was a decent lighter read with an interesting spin, but not one that will stick with me.More info →
We Never Asked for Wings
After years of working multiple jobs while her mother raised her two children, Letty Espinosa now finds herself raising 15-year-old Alex and six-year old Luna on her own. Her parents have left San Francisco to return to Mexico and she must learn to be a mother for the first time. The cards seem stacked against the family, but Letty is determined to get the kids out of their abandoned apartment building and into better schools--whatever it takes. Complicating her efforts are the return of Alex's father, new love interests for both Letty and Alex, and a lack of credit that would allow them to move. While I didn't find Diffenbaugh's sophomore effort as arresting as her debut The Language of Flowers, this is a touching story that includes a personal look at illegal immigration and a prescient view of the familial impact of reversing DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).More info →
Following her mother's suicide, 17-year-old Nadia Turner looks for love and solace in the preacher's son, Luke Sheppard. Smart, driven, and rebellious, she finds herself in place she never expected: the local abortion clinic. Abandoned by Luke, she attempts to move on while holding her secret close, carefully side-stepping her still-grieving father. She clings to her new best friend, Aubrey, and plans for her future at college and in law school. When Nadia moves away, Aubrey grows closer to Luke, unaware of his history with Nadia. The three try to move forward but are continually pulled back to that summer, haunted by the choices made, the secrets kept, and the lives changed beyond just their own.
The Mothers is an emotional and incredibly well-written book that examines how difficult choices and lasting griefs can stay with us. The story is never overtaken by the many "issues" it covers, which is refreshing. Bennett is a young debut novelist with clear insight into that tentative time between childhood and adulthood when we all must choose how we let the past define our future.More info →
The War I Finally Won
In this sequel to The War that Saved My Life, Ada Smith has surgery to fix her club foot. But the surgery was the easy part; getting over the trauma of the years of shame and captivity wrought by her cruel mother is harder. When her mother is killed in the Blitz, her feelings are even more complicated. Accepting that she is safe from her mother and loved by Susan Smith, her adoptive mother, doesn't come easy--particularly when safety is far from guaranteed in World War II England. As she struggles with her own demons, she realizes that she is not the only one struggling. The close quarters brought about by the war also bring Ada to a new definition of family--one she may finally be able to accept.
To say I love these books is an understatement; this sequel was just as good as the first book. Ada is a character you want to thrive, in spite of her faults, and Susan is so wonderfully patient in the face of Ada's difficulties--even while dealing with her own. Bradley presents the realities of World War II in a straightforward way, without getting too graphic about some of the horrors--just the right level for a middle grade audience. I'm not sure where the story could go from here, but I'd love a third in the series, just to spend more time with these characters.More info →
I Capture the Castle
Seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her family live in a castle in the English countryside, but they are far from wealthy. This family of dreamers and creatives can hardly put food on the table. When two young Americans, Simon and Neil Cotton, arrive to take over the estate of their deceased landlord, they bring new hope to the family: of creative patronage, of potential marriage, and of (continued) free rent. Aspiring writer Cassandra details the adventures of the family in her journal as they move from abject poverty into high society. Full of charming observations and self-awareness, Cassandra teeters between childhood and adulthood and, through her her writing, she comes to realizations about herself, her family, and love. The family is by turns frustrating and amusing--I was confused by the inability of all of them (save Stephen, their ward) to find work in any capacity. That aside, Cassandra is a delightful companion through the story--on par with Anne Shirley--and the castle itself is pure fantasy for any romantic Anglophile.More info →
Have you read any of these? What are the best books you’ve read lately?
I absolutely loved The War that Saved My Life, so I’m very glad to hear that you loved the sequel! I’m putting it on hold at the library right now 🙂
They are so good. I’ve been really impressed the middle grade books I’ve read recently. I’m starting to pay more attention to what’s coming out for that age because I’d like to read more of them.
SO many great books on here! I want to read Capture the Castle…one of my blog readers recommended it on a Readers Recommend feature and I felt like I was the only one who hadn’t heard of it!
And I loved The Mothers!
And we should talk about Liane Moriarty…I gave her 3 tries and couldn’t deal with all the mommy politics. Same deal with it possibly being too close to real life for me (and something I always try to run away from in real life). But, weirdly, I did love the Big Little Lies TV series…was darker and more focused on the parents’ home life issues than the book.
I hadn’t really heard of I Capture the Castle until last year–I’m pretty sure I saw it on Modern Mrs. Darcy and so many people loved it that I had to check it out.
“Mommy politics!” Yes! That is the phrase I was looking for with Liane Moriarty. I like a good domestic drama, but I barely acknowledge the existence of the mommy politics in my real life–I don’t want to read about someone else’s. I’ve also read three of hers and have been underwhelmed each time. I have two others on my shelf (Truly Madly Guilty and The Hypnotist’s Love Story) but I’m not sure if I’m going to bother. I read Big Little Lies and, like the others, it was fine. I was confused by all the raves–I haven’t seen the series, though. Maybe that type of thing just plays better on screen than in a book, at least for me. There are plenty of shows that I’ve watched and enjoyed that have mommy politics.
Ha! I just clicked on a post of yours on Pinterest and came across your 2014 entry about Liane Moriarty. Everything you said there reflects my feelings–everyone loves her, why don’t I? I love that you had this whole lively discussion about it because I felt like I was alone in my distaste for her books.
I really had high hopes for What Alice Forgot because of the memory thing. Then I couldn’t believe I was reading an entire chapter about making the world’s largest lemon meringue pie–and that this event was the dreaded “big day” throughout the novel. Also, I feel like all the “reveals” in her novels are disappointing and less important than the build up might have you believe–e.g., the “Gina” backstory, the killer in Big Little Lies.
Back out of my rabbit hole, but that was a timely find 🙂
You have several books here that are favorites of mine. I first discovered Ann Patchett with Bel Canto and would definitely like to reread it one day. The Mothers was great and Eleanor Oliphant made my top ten for 2017. I listened to that one and the audio version was fantastic.
I loved rereading Bel Canto. I hope they do it justice with the movie coming out this year–not that I’ll probably watch it until it’s on Netflix or Amazon 🙂 I think Eleanor might be in my top ten for this year!
I don’t re-read books hardly ever, but I do fully intend to re-read I Capture the Castle—I remember falling head over heels in love with it when I read it the first time in my late teens, and I’m curious to see how it holds up as an adult.
And having literally just finished The War that Saved My Life, I’m now anxiously awaiting The War I Finally Won to come in for me at the library 🙂 I’m so glad to hear that the sequel was just as good! A lot of times, they fall flat, so that’s great news!