Best Books of 2018 (So Far!)

Hi, readers!

As we are now more than halfway through the year, I thought I’d share my favorite books I’ve read so far this year. This is the biggest post I’ve ever written for the blog, so let’s get right to it!

Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown

“True belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are. It requires us to be who we are.” Social scientist Brene Brown, PhD, LMSW, has sparked a global conversation about the experiences that bring meaning to our lives–experiences of courage, vulnerability, love, belonging, shame, and empathy. In Braving the Wilderness, Brown redefines what it means to truly belong in an age of increased polarization. With her trademark mix of research, storytelling, and honesty, Brown will again change the cultural conversation while mapping a clear path to true belonging.

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James (read my review here!)

Vermont, 1950. There’s a place for the girls whom no one wants–the troublemakers, the illegitimate, the too smart for their own good. It’s called Idlewild Hall. And in the small town where it’s located, there are rumors that the boarding school is haunted. Four roommates bond over their whispered fears, their budding friendship blossoming–until one of them mysteriously disappears. . . .

Vermont, 2014. As much as she’s tried, journalist Fiona Sheridan cannot stop revisiting the events surrounding her older sister’s death. Twenty years ago, her body was found lying in the overgrown fields near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. And though her sister’s boyfriend was tried and convicted of murder, Fiona can’t shake the suspicion that something was never right about the case.

When Fiona discovers that Idlewild Hall is being restored by an anonymous benefactor, she decides to write a story about it. But a shocking discovery during the renovations will link the loss of her sister to secrets that were meant to stay hidden in the past–and a voice that won’t be silenced. . . .

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware (read my review here!)

On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but also that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money.

Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased…where it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the centre of it.

Educated by Tara Westover (read my review here!)

Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag”. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado (read my review here!)

In Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado blithely demolishes the arbitrary borders between psychological realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism. While her work has earned her comparisons to Karen Russell and Kelly Link, she has a voice that is all her own. In this electric and provocative debut, Machado bends genre to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies.

A wife refuses her husband’s entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. A salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery within the seams of the store’s prom dresses. One woman’s surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted houseguest. And in the bravura novella Especially Heinous, Machado reimagines every episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a show we naively assumed had shown it all, generating a phantasmagoric police procedural full of doppelgangers, ghosts, and girls with bells for eyes.

Earthy and otherworldly, antic and sexy, queer and caustic, comic and deadly serious, Her Body and Other Parties swings from horrific violence to the most exquisite sentiment. In their explosive originality, these stories enlarge the possibilities of contemporary fiction.

The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager (read my review here!)

Two Truths and a Lie. The girls played it all the time in their tiny cabin at Camp Nightingale. Vivian, Natalie, Allison, and first-time camper Emma Davis, the youngest of the group. The games ended when Emma sleepily watched the others sneak out of the cabin in the dead of night. The last she–or anyone–saw of them was Vivian closing the cabin door behind her, hushing Emma with a finger pressed to her lips.

Now a rising star in the New York art scene, Emma turns her past into paintings–massive canvases filled with dark leaves and gnarled branches that cover ghostly shapes in white dresses. The paintings catch the attention of Francesca Harris-White, the socialite and wealthy owner of Camp Nightingale. When Francesca implores her to return to the newly reopened camp as a painting instructor, Emma sees an opportunity to try to find out what really happened to her friends.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett (read my review here!)

It is the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, seventeen-year-old beauty. Mourning her own mother’s recent suicide, she takes up with the local pastor’s son. Luke Sheppard is twenty-one, a former football star whose injury has reduced him to waiting tables at a diner. They are young; it’s not serious. But the pregnancy that results from this teen romance—and the subsequent cover-up—will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth. As Nadia hides her secret from everyone, including Aubrey, her God-fearing best friend, the years move quickly. Soon, Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey are full-fledged adults and still living in debt to the choices they made that one seaside summer, caught in a love triangle they must carefully maneuver, and dogged by the constant, nagging question: What if they had chosen differently? The possibilities of the road not taken are a relentless haunt.

A Rogue by Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean (read my review here!)

A decade ago, the Marquess of Bourne was cast from society with nothing but his title. Now a partner in London’s most exclusive gaming hell, the cold, ruthless Bourne will do whatever it takes to regain his inheritance—including marrying perfect, proper Lady Penelope Marbury.

A broken engagement and years of disappointing courtships have left Penelope with little interest in a quiet, comfortable marriage, and a longing for something more. How lucky that her new husband has access to such unexplored pleasures.

Bourne may be a prince of London’s underworld, but he vows to keep Penelope untouched by its wickedness—a challenge indeed as the lady discovers her own desires, and her willingness to wager anything for them… even her heart.

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Twelve-year-old Astrid has always done everything with her best friend Nicole. So when Astrid signs up for roller derby camp, she assumes Nicole will too. But Nicole signs up for dance camp with a new friend instead, and so begins the toughest summer of Astrid’s life. There are bumps and bruises as Astrid learns who she is without Nicole…and what it takes to be a strong, tough roller girl.

Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare (read my review here!)

As the daughter of a famed author, Isolde Ophelia Goodnight grew up on tales of brave knights and fair maidens. She never doubted romance would be in her future, too. The storybooks offered endless possibilities.

And as she grew older, Izzy crossed them off. One by one by one.

Ugly duckling turned swan?

Abducted by handsome highwayman?

Rescued from drudgery by charming prince?

No, no, and… Heh.

Now Izzy’s given up yearning for romance. She’ll settle for a roof over her head. What fairy tales are left over for an impoverished twenty-six year-old woman who’s never even been kissed?

This one.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (read my review here!)

An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo (read my review here!)

Yejide and Akin have been married since they met and fell in love at university. Though many expected Akin to take several wives, he and Yejide have always agreed: polygamy is not for them. But four years into their marriage–after consulting fertility doctors and healers, trying strange teas and unlikely cures–Yejide is still not pregnant. She assumes she still has time–until her family arrives on her doorstep with a young woman they introduce as Akin’s second wife. Furious, shocked, and livid with jealousy, Yejide knows the only way to save her marriage is to get pregnant, which, finally, she does, but at a cost far greater than she could have dared to imagine. An electrifying novel of enormous emotional power, Stay With Me asks how much we can sacrifice for the sake of family.

Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember by Christine Hyung-Oak Lee (read my review here!)

Christine Hyung-Oak Lee woke up with a headache on the morning of December 31, 2006. By that afternoon, she saw the world—quite literally—upside down. By New Year’s Day, she was unable to form a coherent sentence. And after hours in the ER, days in the hospital, and multiple questions and tests, her doctors informed her that she had had a stroke. 

For months afterward, Lee outsourced her memories to a journal, taking diligent notes to compensate for the thoughts she could no longer hold on to. It is from these notes that she has constructed this frank and compelling memoir.

In a precise and captivating narrative, Lee navigates fearlessly between chronologies, weaving her childhood humiliations and joys together with the story of the early days of her marriage; and then later, in painstaking, painful, and unflinching detail, the account of her stroke and every upset—temporary or permanent—that it caused. 

Lee illuminates the connection between memory and identity in an honest, meditative, and truly funny manner, utterly devoid of self-pity. And as she recovers, she begins to realize that this unexpected and devastating event has provided a catalyst for coming to terms with her true self—and, in a way, has allowed her to become the person she’s always wanted to be.

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn (read my review here!)

Anna Fox lives alone—a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble—and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.

This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins (read my review here!)

Morgan Jerkins is only in her twenties, but she has already established herself as an insightful, brutally honest writer who isn’t afraid of tackling tough, controversial subjects. In This Will Be My Undoing, she takes on perhaps one of the most provocative contemporary topics: What does it mean to “be”—to live as, to exist as—a black woman today? This is a book about black women, but it’s necessary reading for all Americans.

Doubly disenfranchised by race and gender, often deprived of a place within the mostly white mainstream feminist movement, black women are objectified, silenced, and marginalized with devastating consequences, in ways both obvious and subtle, that are rarely acknowledged in our country’s larger discussion about inequality. In This Will Be My Undoing, Jerkins becomes both narrator and subject to expose the social, cultural, and historical story of black female oppression that influences the black community as well as the white, male-dominated world at large.

That’s it for today! What are your favorite books of the year so far?

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5 4 3 2 1 – #20

5 Articles I’m Reading

Book Riot has a list of Native American poets to read. I’m not usually one to read poetry, so I’m excited for these recommendations!

Electric Literature has a great roundup of advice from women writing nonfiction.

Looking for some women centered thrillers? Crime Reads has you covered.

Not exactly book related, but if you haven’t seen Rita Moreno’s moving reading of “The New Colossus,” you’re missing out.

There’s been a lot of buzz surrounding Tommy Orange’s new novel, There There, and it seems we’re in the midst of a Native Renaissance, according to The Paris Review.

4 Shows/Movies I’m Watching

Coco

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Orphan Black

3 New to Me Books

The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

The Last Hours by Minette Walters

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

2 Books I’m Currently Reading

Dead Girls by Alice Bolin

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

1 Quote

“Always remember that when a man goes out of the room, he leaves everything in it behind… When a woman goes out she carries everything that happened in the room along with her.”

Alice Munro

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

My Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time-from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains – this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.

Sometimes terrifying, sometimes tender, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

My Thoughts:

I’m not usually one to go for a sci-fi read. But although this book’s plot centers around a virus outbreak that leads to the end of civilization, it is also about humanity and our connections to the world and one another. Emily St. John Mandel frequently comments on the magical nature of instantaneous communication the world enjoyed before the collapse and how much it was taken for granted. And I think this is an excellent point. Even though older generations may mock the use of social media, it really does keep us all connected in all of life’s moments, be they good, bad, or mundane. And St. John Mandel connects this more broadly to what it means to be human, or even to exist.

“No more internet. No more social media, no more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches, cries for help and expressions of contentment and relationship-status updates with heart icons whole or broken, plans to meet up later, pleas, complaints, desires, pictures of babies dressed as bears or peppers for Halloween. No more reading and commenting on the lives of others, and in so doing, feeling slightly less alone in the room. No more avatars.”

I also loved how St. John Mandel connected the characters in really interesting ways. At the beginning of Station Eleven, we are quickly introduced to five characters and then the story takes off from there. It’s difficult to explain how their lives intersect without ruining the story, and so I’ll refrain from going into more detail. But through these intersections, St. John Mandel interjects hope for the future. Yes, it will take some time, but old friends and family will find one another again. We can rebuild the old world together.

Each character in Station Eleven is unique and rings true to real life, which is impressive for a science fiction novel. I especially liked Kristen and Miranda, and reading about their lives before and after the world fell. Kristen’s story is particularly interesting because she was a child when civilization collapsed and she only half remembers things and is often unsure if she dreamed a facet of life before or if it really happened. This includes airplanes, light switches, and the internet. This book features all sorts of characters, making this book a unique read from start to finish. You’ll love lots of characters and want lots of them to go away forever, too.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I loved this book! I’ve put off reading it for years because it didn’t sound like my cup of tea, but wow was I mistaken. The story is just so incredibly well written, I found myself actually gasping aloud as a I read. I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone.

This book is…

beautifully written

interwoven

full of interesting characters

eloquent

haunting

Publisher: Vintage

Genre: science-fiction

Page Count: 333

ISBN: 0804172447

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read Station Eleven? What dystopian novel would you recommend?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

Review: The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams

My Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

New York Times bestselling author Beatriz Williams brings us the blockbuster novel of the season—a spellbinding novel of romance, murder, class, power, and dark secrets set in the 1950s and ’60s among the rarified world of a resort island in the Long Island Sound . . .

In the summer of 1951, Miranda Schuyler arrives on elite, secretive Winthrop Island in Long Island Sound as a naive eighteen year old, still reeling from the loss of her father in the Second World War. Although a graduate of the exclusive Foxcroft Academy in Virginia, Miranda has always lived on the margins of high society. When her beautiful mother marries Hugh Fisher, whose summer house on Winthrop overlooks the famous lighthouse, Miranda is catapulted into a heady new world of pedigrees and cocktails, status and swimming pools. Isobel Fisher, Miranda’s new stepsister—all long legs and world-weary bravado, engaged to a wealthy Island scion—is eager to draw Miranda into the arcane customs of Winthrop society.

But beneath the Island’s patrician surface, there are really two clans–the summer families with their steadfast ways and quiet obsessions, and the working class of Portuguese fishermen and domestic workers who earn their living on the water and in the laundries of the summer houses. Uneasy among Isobel’s privileged friends, Miranda finds herself drawn to Joseph helps his father in the lobster boat, but in the autumn he returns to Brown University, where he’s determined to make something of himself. Since childhood, Joseph has enjoyed an intense, complex friendship with Isobel Fisher, and has a catastrophe that will shatter Winthrop’s hard-won tranquility and banish Miranda from the Island for nearly two decades.

Now, in the summer of 1969, Miranda returns at last, as a renowned Shakespearean actress hiding a terrible heartbreak. On its surface, the Island remains the same–determined to keep the outside world from its shores, fiercely loyal to those who belong. But the formerly powerful Fisher family is a shadow of itself, and Joseph Vargas has recently escaped the prison where he was incarcerated for the murder of Miranda’s stepfather eighteen years earlier. What’s more, Miranda herself is no longer a naive teenager, and she begins a fierce, inexorable quest for justice to the man she once loved . . . even if it means uncovering every last one of the secrets that bind together the families of Winthrop Island.

My Thoughts:

Per usual, I enjoyed how Beatriz Williams used multiple characters and timelines to flesh out her story. The Summer Wives is slightly different from many of her other stories, in that the focus is primarily on one character and the narration alternates between two time periods in her life. And then we do occasionally hear from another character, but always from the same point in time. While I enjoyed reading so much from one person’s perspective, I prefer when the two timelines are more disparate, like in most of Williams’s other novels. But the overall story was interesting, and includes romance, murder, and theatre! The plot is pretty interesting throughout, despite some slow pacing at times. The last 50 pages or so are a wild ride, and I can honestly say I did not expect things to wrap up the way they did.

I really appreciated how Williams explores class dynamics and how the characters in The Summer Wives navigate these differences. The different generations handled these dynamics in their own ways, with the older adults demanding distance and safety and the younger adults wanting to shake things up, and desperately. Williams also notes how gender dynamics of the 1950s and 1960s intersect with class and race, and that no two people have the exact same options or paths before them.

I thought all of the characters in The Summer Wives were interesting and complex. My favorite character is Miranda, our protagonist. As a bookworm myself, I appreciated how much Miranda loved reading and performing. Once again, Williams crafted several great women lead characters in The Summer Wives. And I appreciate that Williams knows there are many ways to write strong women. The characters featured here are courageous, weak, outspoken, understated, violent, and cautious. That being said, I do wish a few more of the characters were more fleshed out during the 1969 timeline. I felt there wasn’t quite enough explanation as to why certain characters developed as they did, which left some of these characters feeling rushed and forced.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I enjoyed this book! It took me a few days to get into it, but once I did,I flew through the rest. Williams is great at writing historical fiction and adds just the right amount of details and atmosphere to place the reader right in the middle of the story. If you’ve enjoyed any of Williams’s previous books, or if you’ve been meaning to give her work a try, you’ll definitely enjoy this one.

This book is…

well-written

lush with detail

surprising

moving

full of unique characters

Publisher: William Morrow

Genre: historical fiction

Page Count: 384

ISBN: 0062660349

Available here from IndieBound.

Will you read The Summer Wives? What historical fiction book would you recommend?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

Review: Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Two families, generations apart, are forever changed by a heartbreaking injustice in this poignant novel, inspired by a true story, for readers of Orphan Train and The Nightingale.

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize that the truth is much darker. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together—in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions—and compels her to take a journey through her family’s long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or redemption.

Based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals—in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country—Wingate’s riveting, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong.

My Thoughts:

Both the story and the truth behind Before We Were Yours is astonishing in the worst possible way. The more you read and discover what really happened, the more shocked you are that such a large scale operation existed for so long and did so much damage. I’m grateful to Lisa Wingate for exposing the truth and sharing this story.

I also really enjoyed how Wingate used two time periods to tell the story. By having Avery investigate, it’s easy for the reader to identify with Avery in her search for the truth. Likewise, by alternating between past and present, it’s almost impossible to put this book down. Wingate does an excellent job of pacing Before We Were Yours and also makes great use of cliffhangers to propel the story forward.

The characters in Before We Were Yours are very well-written. Wingate does a great job of showcasing each character’s intent and motivations in order to understand where everyone is coming from, including the villains. What’s also interesting about this story is that sometimes there are clearly defined good and evil characters, but that sometimes the characters aren’t so clearly defined. And in this, Wingate reflects real life. Sometimes someone does the wrong thing for the right reasons, and vice versa.

Throughout Before We Were Yours, Wingate makes some questionable language choices. She repeatedly refers to Rill Foss and her family as “river gypsies,” which is not only a slur, but not really the correct word choice. Additionally, Rill and other characters in the 1939 timeline make crass and racist observations about anyone who isn’t white, including black workers and that someone’s closed eyes make them look like a “Chinaman.” I would presume that Wingate included these details to reinforce the time period and the lack of political correctness and awareness that is better these days. But instead these remarks felt jarring and pull the reader out of the story. There are other ways to establish that the Foss family is ‘free spirited’ or that nothing about the early 1940s was perfect.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Wingate does an incredible job of highlighting this horrific situation in our country’s past. Wingate’s former career as a journalist aided in the research and writing of Before We Were Yours and the story unfolds in all the right ways. I highly recommend this book, especially for fans of The Alice Network by Kate Quinn (read my review!) and Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton (read my review!).

This book is…

shocking

illuminating

well-written

engaging

unputdownable

This book contains content warning for…

child abuse (emotional, physical, and sexual)

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Genre: historical fiction

Page Count: 342

ISBN: 9780425284681

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read Before We Were Yours? What historical fiction about a lesser known piece of history would you recommend?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

Review: The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

My Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In the new novel from the bestselling author of Final Girls, The Last Time I Lied follows a young woman as she returns to her childhood summer camp to uncover the truth about a tragedy that happened there fifteen years ago.

Two Truths and a Lie. The girls played it all the time in their tiny cabin at Camp Nightingale. Vivian, Natalie, Allison, and first-time camper Emma Davis, the youngest of the group. The games ended when Emma sleepily watched the others sneak out of the cabin in the dead of night. The last she–or anyone–saw of them was Vivian closing the cabin door behind her, hushing Emma with a finger pressed to her lips.

Now a rising star in the New York art scene, Emma turns her past into paintings–massive canvases filled with dark leaves and gnarled branches that cover ghostly shapes in white dresses. The paintings catch the attention of Francesca Harris-White, the socialite and wealthy owner of Camp Nightingale. When Francesca implores her to return to the newly reopened camp as a painting instructor, Emma sees an opportunity to try to find out what really happened to her friends.

Yet it’s immediately clear that all is not right at Camp Nightingale. Already haunted by memories from fifteen years ago, Emma discovers a security camera pointed directly at her cabin, mounting mistrust from Francesca and, most disturbing of all, cryptic clues Vivian left behind about the camp’s twisted origins. As she digs deeper, Emma finds herself sorting through lies from the past while facing threats from both man and nature in the present. And the closer she gets to the truth about Camp Nightingale, the more she realizes it may come at a deadly price.

My Thoughts:

The story in Last Time is exciting. I enjoyed Emma’s return to Camp Nightingale as she simultaneously tries to learn what happened to her cabin mates and also move through that traumatic event. The mystery surrounding the girls’ disappearances was well done, and it took me until the end of the book to put it all together. As someone who reads a lot of mysteries, I’m always pleased when a mystery or thriller catches me off guard and is able to keep me guessing. That being said, if you’re paying enough attention, you might be able to figure out the ending sooner. But, like any good thriller writer, Sager includes the right amount of twists, turns, and red herrings to keep the reader on the edge of their seat.

I really liked the detail of Emma’s artist career. The descriptions of her paintings were so vivid I felt like I could see the paintings right in front of me! Emma’s artwork is eerie, sensual, and shocking, which makes sense given what happened in her past. Riley Sager made a spot on career choice for Emma, though, and it adds considerable depth to her character. I also thought it was interesting that almost every single character in Last Time is unlikeable, which even includes Emma, our protagonist. I’m not bothered by this choice as I do love rooting for unlikeable characters, especially heroines, but it’s also tough when the reader feels at a distance to everyone involved. I think it’s helpful, even in thrillers, for the reader to like at least one main character.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I loved this book! I really enjoyed Sager’s debut novel, Final Girls, and was nervous that Last Time wouldn’t live up to the hype. But I think I enjoyed Last Time even more than Final Girls! This is a fun, engaging, and quick summer read. It would be an excellent choice for a vacation read! I highly recommend this book, especially to fans of A.J. Finn and Ruth Ware.

This book is…

unputdownable

shocking

engaging

entertaining

spooky

Publisher: Dutton Books

Genre: thriller

Page Count: 384

ISBN: 1524743070

Available here from IndieBound.

Will you read The Last Time I Lied? What thriller would you recommend?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

Reading Wrap Up: June 2018

Hi, readers!

It’s that time again! Today I’m sharing my reads from this past month. All things considered, this was a pretty good reading month. I even had two 5 star reads!

This month I read…

Books: 7

Books by women: 6 / 7

Books by PoC: 2 / 7

Favorite pick of the month: Educated by Tara Westover and The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

Now, onto the books!

Educated by Tara Westover

If you haven’t read this memoir yet, it should be at the top of your list. Westover’s life story is remarkable and inspiring. Her pursuit of higher education after growing up in a Mormon survivalist family is incredible. I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars and you can read my review here.

The Forgotten Room by Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig

I’ve previously read some of Williams’s and Willig’s books and thought this joint novel was a fun story. The three authors weave together three different timelines quite well, making this an enjoyable read. I thought the switching stories were fun but the overall pacing suffered quite a bit as a result. I liked this book but I’m not sure I would really recommend it. I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars.

The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

I loved the newest thriller from Sager. This one follows Emma’s return to Camp Nightingale, fifteen years after her first and only other visit when her three cabinmates disappeared without a trace. I devoured this in two days and it’s definitely one thriller you should add to your summer reading list! I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars and I’ll share a review here next week!

Love in a Fallen City by Eileen Chang

I really enjoyed this short story collection! Chang deftly writes about class dynamics and gender politics. The stories in this collection were engaging, heartbreaking, and surprising. I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars and look forward to reading more of Chang’s work.

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

This is a great read that follows one Cuban-American woman’s journey to Havana after her grandmother’s death. Cleeton does an excellent job of capturing the emotions of those who left Havana during the revolution and those who stayed. I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars and you can read my review here.

The Room on Rue Amélie by Kristin Harmel

This is a beautiful story about three people in Nazi-occupied France during WWII. I loved reading about how ‘ordinary’ civilians sacrificed their lives and did extraordinary things for the greater good. I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars and you can read my full review here.

The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams

This is the newest Williams book that follows one American family in the 1950s and 1960s. I enjoyed how this story follows the different classes on one island and explores how the characters’ lives intersect. I’ve read a handful of Williams’s previous books and while I enjoyed this one, I liked some of her earlier books more. I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars and I’ll share a review here next month.

That’s it for this month! What books did you finish this month?

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5 4 3 2 1 – #19

5 Articles I’m Reading

Crime Reads has a great roundup of Irish women mystery writers.

Here are the top ten lost women’s classic novels.

Looking to read some Toni Morrison? Here’s where to start!

Pride Month recommendations from LGBTQ authors that can really be read yearlong!

What happens when we only celebrate ‘rebel girls’?

4 Shows/Movies I’m Watching

American Made

Brooklyn99

Suits

Westworld

3 New to Me Books

Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams

2 Books I’m Currently Reading

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

1 Quote

“One can follow the sun, of course, but I have always thought that it is best to know some winter, too, so that the summer, when it arrives, is the more gratefully received.”

Beatriz Williams

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Review: The Room on Rue Amélie by Kristin Harmel

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

For fans of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale and Martha Hall Kelly’s Lilac Girls, this powerful novel of fate, resistance, and family—by the international bestselling author of The Sweetness of Forgetting and When We Meet Again—tells the tale of an American woman, a British RAF pilot, and a young Jewish teenager whose lives intersect in occupied Paris during the tumultuous days of World War II.

When newlywed Ruby Henderson Benoit arrives in Paris in 1939 with her French husband Marcel, she imagines strolling arm in arm along the grand boulevards, awash in the golden afternoon light. But war is looming on the horizon, and as France falls to the Nazis, her marriage begins to splinter, too.

Charlotte Dacher is eleven when the Germans roll into the French capital, their sinister swastika flags snapping in the breeze. After the Jewish restrictions take effect and Jews are ordered to wear the yellow star, Charlotte can’t imagine things getting much worse. But then the mass deportations begin, and her life is ripped forever apart.

Thomas Clarke joins the British Royal Air Force to protect his country, but when his beloved mother dies in a German bombing during the waning days of the Blitz, he wonders if he’s really making a difference. Then he finds himself in Paris, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, and he discovers a new reason to keep fighting—and an unexpected road home.

When fate brings them together, Ruby, Charlotte, and Thomas must summon the courage to defy the Nazis—and to open their own broken hearts—as they fight to survive. Rich with historical drama and emotional depth, this is an unforgettable story that will stay with you long after the final page is turned.

My Thoughts:

Room has been compared to The Nightingale and there are many similarities between the two. Both stories focus on sheltering and moving RAF pilots, as well as taking in Jewish neighbors. But Room and Nightingale differ in tone. Don’t get me wrong, Room is definitely heartbreaking. I cried several time during the last 100 pages compared to my sobbing during the last 100 pages of Nightingale. Room manages to feel like a lighter read and I think that’s because Harmel injects images and conversations about hope early on and frequently throughout the story. Also, as a reader, you know when starting this book that there will be sadness. That’s an inevitable fact about this time period. But Harmel’s messages of hope were a welcome change and a beautiful way to pay tribute to the men and women who did resist the Nazis.

Harmel writes incredible characters. Ruby and Charlotte are strong, well-rounded, and dynamic. I loved reading their interactions with one another and enjoyed their development throughout Room. These two ‘regular people’ sacrificed their own well-being and safety to do the right thing during a horrible time. Harmel makes some strong points about how chosen family can be just as powerful as relatives. I especially fell for Ruby’s involvement with Thomas and for Charlotte’s loss of her childhood. Ruby and Thomas’s love story is so pure and heartwarming. I loved reading as they fell in love. Both characters felt so real and it made their romance really come alive on the page. And as for Charlotte, I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be eleven years old when WWII broke into France. Harmel does a great job of capturing Charlotte’s resolve to help despite her limited understanding of what’s happening and why.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! I love to read well-written historical fiction, especially ones set during WWII. And Harmel definitely delivered! Harmel uses lush language to describe locations in Room, including Paris and Ruby’s hometown in California. I would highly recommend this book, especially for fans of The Nightingale and The Alice Network.

This book is…

beautifully written

a tearjerker

informative

full of interesting characters

engaging

Publisher: Gallery Books

Genre: historical fiction

Page Count: 400

ISBN: 1501171402

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read The Room on Rue Amélie? What historical fiction book would you recommend?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

Review: Providence by Caroline Kepnes

My Rating: 2 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A propulsive new thriller about the obsessive nature of love when an intensifying relationship between best friends is disrupted by a kidnapping.

Growing up as best friends in small-town New Hampshire, Jon and Chloe are the only ones who truly understand each other, though they can never find the words to tell one another the depth of their feelings. When Jon is finally ready to confess his feelings, he’s suddenly kidnapped by his substitute teacher who is obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft and has a plot to save humanity.

Mourning the disappearance of Jon and facing the reality he may never return, Chloe tries to navigate the rites of entering young adulthood and “fit in” with the popular crowd, but thoughts of Jon are never far away.

When Jon finally escapes, he discovers he now has an uncontrollable power that endangers anyone he has intense feelings for. He runs away to protect Chloe and find the answers to his new identity–but he’s soon being tracked by a detective who is fascinated by a series of vigilante killings that appear connected.

Whisking us on a journey through New England and crashing these characters’ lives together in the most unexpected ways, Kepnes explores the complex relationship between love and identity, unrequited passion and obsession, self-preservation and self-destruction, and how the lines are often blurred between the two.

My Thoughts:

The plot of Providence is not one I’d usually go for. But I’d heard great things about Kepnes’s writing and this book was a much buzzed book for this summer, so I thought I’d give it a try. The kidnapping storyline was interesting but never fully resolved. The point of view shifts every chapter and it would have helped to hear more from the teacher who kidnaps Jon. I realize that part of Jon’s struggle was in not being able to talk to Jon about what happened, but the reader still needed to know more. Personally, I don’t like when stories are too ambiguous. I prefer when authors actually acknowledge the character’s motivations.

I also think there were big pacing issues throughout the story. Providence starts off pretty strong but all of a sudden Kepnes introduces a new character, Eggs, who is a police officer. To be quite frank, it felt like the story came to a crashing halt once Eggs appeared. It was impossible to connect with Eggs on any level. His entrance into the story felt too abrupt and out of place. From there, Providence becomes a different book. Chock full of references, nods, and allusions to H.P. Lovecraft, Providence is a story that doesn’t know what it wants to be. Kepnes tries to explain the Lovecraft references, but as a reader who has never read Lovecraft, I’m sure I missed a lot. I’m struggling to understand why Kepnes thought this particular story should be told. The story just sort of…ends. What was the point of all this? Why did Jon, his friends, and his family need to suffer?

On Goodreads, this Providence is being categorized as a thriller. But I’m not sure I’d agree with that classification. It’s like this book wanted to be a thriller but never fully connected with the genre. Providence lacks the pulse, drive, and intensity of a thriller. It’s certainly not a mystery, though, and I don’t think there are enough sci-fi elements to put it squarely in that genre, either. I can appreciate Kepnes’s attempts to blur genres but, ultimately, I don’t think it was successful.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I thought this book was okay. It’s considerably harder to review a book that’s only okay because there’s a lack of extreme feeling one way or the other. This was my first Kepnes book and I’m hesitant to read her first novel, You, just because Providence was so lacking. Although I understand that the two are incredibly different from one another, so perhaps You is the better novel. There was something about this book that made me want to keep turning the pages and finish, but I think I wanted to know the point of the story. And unfortunately, there isn’t a point. I would not recommend this book.

This book is…

slow

open-ended

a mix of thriller and sci-fi

abrupt

lackluster

Publisher: Lenny

Genre: thriller

Page Count: 400

ISBN: 0399591435

Available here from IndieBound.

Are you excited to read Providence? What book would you recommend with sci-fi elements?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!