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Show Us Your Books, January 2017: The good, the bad, the one that made me feel dumb

Hey, hey, hey, what do we have here? It’s barely a week into the new year and we already have a Show Us Your Books. Because what’s a better way to start the year than with an ever bigger TBR list? 

For those who are new or newish, I run my month from linkup to linkup rather than the calendar month so when you see my list, please know that even though I read relatively quick, I have not read 7 (well, 8) books since the first of the year. I leave that to people like my co-host, Steph. Oh, and the order I list my books is the order I read them and the reviews are directly copied (and sometimes expanded) from my Litsy reviews. You can find me on Litsy if you want; my username is my name (creativity level: 10). I’ve also discovered, thanks to Book Riot, another book app. I’ll share all about that on Friday #suspense

As always, please remember to visit Steph and the other bloggers on the list. If you’re a nonblogger, please leave me a comment with what you’ve read the last month or even a book that you’re excited to read this year. 

We’re All Damaged by Matthew Norman. You know how sometimes you read a book and you love it but there’s no specific reason? That’s how this was for me. I found it funny, smart, touching, amusing, and the fact that it was littered with relevant pop culture references and current events made it that much better. The characters felt real, the plot felt real, and it was more like listening to someone talk about his fucked up life rather than reading a fiction book.

Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta. I adored Saving Francesca so I was crazy excited to read this one. It did not disappoint. A fast paced, well written, intricate thriller that used time jumping as a way to move the plot forward rather than a gimmick. I loved watching the story unfold and I love that she didn’t shy away from the racism and assumptions made amidst crimes like this (a bus bombing). My only gripe is SO MANY CHARACTERS and I couldn’t always keep them straight.

Darktown by Thomas Mullen. It’s a crime novel, a mystery but also so much more than that. It’s set in post-WWII Atlanta, with racism and police brutality and corruption as much of characters as the characters themselves. It’s a commentary on how things have changed but how they haven’t changed at all. There’s crimes within the crimes. It’s a complex, ridiculously well written, intriguing book that keeps you hooked the entire time. I can’t remember how I found this book but I’m glad I did. It’s not an easy read by any standards but well worth it. 

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance. It’s like a mix of The Other Wes Moore and The Glass Castle and a research paper and a family history project. A sociology nerd, I love learning and reading about subcultures and this is a particularly fascinating one given the current climate of the US. Vance highlights a culture full of stereotypes and makes them understandable and explains a lot of “whys” but based mainly on his experience rather than stats and research (which he does use at times but not often). The book provides a ton of food for thought. It’s important to remember that this is a memoir, not a study because it’s an important distinction.

Salvage the Bones by Jessamyn Ward. I fluctuate between recommending this book and not. I mean, the writing is phenomenal. Every scene, you feel like you’re there, breathing the air and sweating and fighting along with Esch. Her description of Katrina is heart stopping and you feel like you’re part of the family. And the relationship between Skeeter and China is incredible. But the dogfighting and puppy stuff was too much for me and it was incredibly repetitious at times. Read with caution.

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple. Somewhere in this busy, annoying, repetitive, rushed story narrated by an insufferable, snobby, bitchy, selfish asshole is a good book. It peeks out at you every once in a while and then retreats. I think those glimpses are what kept me going and not fully hating the book, despite wanting to put it down and walk away several times. There was so much potential in this story that never materialized. I can take an unlikable narrator so that didn’t put me off. The terrible story and plot did.

Private Citizens by Tony Tulathimutte. I honestly don’t know how I feel about this book. On the one hand, the characters and story and plot are amazing. On the other hand, the writing was too much, like the author had to prove that he’s smarter than everyone or just how smart he is. I swear, I didn’t understand a fourth of the words and I have a decent vocabulary. I don’t like fiction that makes me feel stupid, and this book did. The overwriting compromised my enjoyment, even if he did it to make some sort of point I don’t get. 

Bonus book: I’m not counting this in my book total for the year because it’s essentially a throw away book (I got it for free during my free trial of Kindle Unlimited) but I recently learned about the Danish concept of hygge and this book, The Cozy Life: Rediscover the Joy of the Simple Things Through the Danish Concept of Hygge by Pia Edberg, is a pretty good primer/overview of the idea. It’s not anything special or different but it puts an umbrella on self-care, avoiding SAD, and minimalism which is pretty cool. 

TL; DR: Read Darktown, We’re All Damaged, Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil. Hillbilly Elegy if you like that kind of stuff. The rest, proceed with caution.

Now it’s your turn. Link up and show us your books!

 

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Judging Covers with The Family: The return

This entry is part of 11 in the series Judging Covers

Guess what’s back?! It’s Judging Covers! 

It took an unexpected hiatus but now we’re back in full swing, with the child and the husband on board and now you’ll be able to look forward to it the first Wednesday or Thursday of every month (still haven’t figured out my blogging schedule. Baby steps). Exciting shit, right?

That said, let’s have a look at what’s currently on the nightstand: 

But What If We’re Wrong? Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past by Chuck Klosterman

The Child says: The book cover is on wrong. 

The Husband says: Did he do this on purpose?

Goodreads says:But What If We’re Wrong? visualizes the contemporary world as it will appear to those who’ll perceive it as the distant past. Chuck Klosterman asks questions that are profound in their simplicity: How certain are we about our understanding of gravity? How certain are we about our understanding of time? What will be the defining memory of rock music, five hundred years from today? How seriously should we view the content of our dreams? How seriously should we view the content of television? Are all sports destined for extinction? Is it possible that the greatest artist of our era is currently unknown (or—weirder still—widely known, but entirely disrespected)? Is it possible that we “overrate” democracy? And perhaps most disturbing, is it possible that we’ve reached the end of knowledge?…

Private Citizens by Tony Tulathimutte 

The Child says: It looks like a really dark neighborhood and no one really comes to that neighborhood but one day there’s like…I don’t know. There’s a huge party that goes on in one of the house and you can see lights and chalk but what it really is is an explosion happening (Husband: an explosion of fun!)

The Husband says: Looks like everybody decided on July 4 to set all the fireworks off at one time because dammit, it’s my house and I do what I want.

Goodreads says: Capturing the anxious, self-aware mood of young college grads in the aughts, Private Citizens embraces the contradictions of our new century: call it a loving satire. A gleefully rude comedy of manners. Middlemarch for Millennials. The novel’s four whip-smart narrators—idealistic Cory, Internet-lurking Will, awkward Henrik, and vicious Linda—are torn between fixing the world and cannibalizing it. In boisterous prose that ricochets between humor and pain, the four estranged friends stagger through the Bay Area’s maze of tech startups, protestors, gentrifiers, karaoke bars, house parties, and cultish self-help seminars, washing up in each other’s lives once again. 

Kissing in America by Margo Rabb

The Child says: It’s about a cowboy in the middle of nowhere and his adventures through there (Husband: And then he meets another cowboy on the mountain. Me: SCOTT!! Husband: What? That’d be a great plot for a movie)

The Husband says: Seems like the advertising for a brothel. (Child: what’s a brothel? Husband: What a wonderful conversation to have. Me: It’s not important what a brothel is)

Goodreads says: In the two years since her father died, sixteen-year-old Eva has found comfort in reading romance novels—118 of them, to be exact—to dull the pain of her loss that’s still so present. Her romantic fantasies become a reality when she meets Will, who seems to truly understand Eva’s grief. Unfortunately, after Eva falls head-over-heels for him, he picks up and moves to California without any warning. Not wanting to lose the only person who has been able to pull her out of sadness—and, perhaps, her shot at real love—Eva and her best friend, Annie, concoct a plan to travel to the west coast to see Will again. As they road trip across America, Eva and Annie confront the complex truth about love.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

Jana says: I KNOW!!! I’m reading historical fiction! And a WWII historical fiction at that! #peerpressureFTW

The Child says: It looks like a group of old women who are stranded on a beach except for this one tower and their adventures on that stranded beach.

The Husband says: I think this is similar to The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (me: How do you know what that is?) but with some differences in that this is about post-war England and these women all wear lilac clothes as a symbol of their friendship.

Goodreads says: New York socialite Caroline Ferriday has her hands full with her post at the French consulate and a new love on the horizon. But Caroline’s world is forever changed when Hitler’s army invades Poland in September 1939—and then sets its sights on France.
 
An ocean away from Caroline, Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager, senses her carefree youth disappearing as she is drawn deeper into her role as courier for the underground resistance movement. In a tense atmosphere of watchful eyes and suspecting neighbors, one false move can have dire consequences.
 
For the ambitious young German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, an ad for a government medical position seems her ticket out of a desolate life. Once hired, though, she finds herself trapped in a male-dominated realm of Nazi secrets and power.

How do you think they did? 

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P.S. If we’re friends on Goodreads, you’ll notice that I have a reading goal for this year. It’s not an actual goal that I’m striving for; rather it’s a lazy, easy way for me to keep track of all the books I read. I have no goals but I am curious. 

Show Us Your Books: 2016 in review

I finished 81 books this year, not including the ones I read for work purposes. Some I started and didn’t finish. Some I meant to read and didn’t get around to. Some I finished and hated. Some I finished and months later, can’t stop thinking about.

The latter ones I’ve designated as my favorites of the year. Not because of an arbitrary Goodreads rating or anything else. I picked what I did because of their lasting impact and my likelihood of recommending them to others. And since they’ve already been reviewed and I hate repeating myself, I figured I’d just do a quick picture with the list of titles and authors underneath (I apologize for the lack of links but this post is coming to you live from my phone). There’s a combination of fiction and nonfiction so there’s something for everyone!

Notably absent: Sue Klebold’s book and The Underground Railroad. The latter for no reason other than it’s on all the lists and the former because while I can’t stop thinking about it, I don’t know that I can honestly recommend it.


The books:

  • I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid 
  • Real Artists Have a Day Jobs by Sara Benincasa
  • Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina
  • Sweetgirl by Travis Mulhauser
  • Violent Ends edited by Shaun David Hutchinson
  • The Flood Girls by Richard Fifield
  • Evicted by Matthew Desmond
  • Holding Smoke by Elle Cosimano
  • The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson
  • The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck by Sarah Knight
  • Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
  • Shelter by Jung Yun
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay 
  • Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
  • The Mothers by Brit Bennett

Now it’s your turn! Let us know about your 2016 favorites! And don’t forget to visit Steph and some other participants to start making your 2017 TBR even bigger!

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Show Us Your Books, December edition: The one where I didn’t read a lot

I don’t know what happened this month. It’s been 5 weeks since the last Show Us Your Books and I read exactly 5 books. That’s one a week. WAY below my average. I mean, I know it’s not a competition and sometimes the pace slows and it’s all fine but when I’m trying to tackle a huge pile and the library keeps sending me more, it feels like a race. I suppose I could stop putting books on hold but let’s be honest, that’s not going to happen. So. We continue the epic battle of me vs. library. show-us-your-books-2016-300by300

As for what I read last month, I had 2 books I almost quit but in the end, I’m glad I didn’t. And of the 5, only 2 were strong; the others were good but not great. I wouldn’t say don’t read them but I wouldn’t say bump them to the top of your TBR, either. Let’s explore:

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty. Confession: I confuse her and Jojo Moyes all the time. I don’t know why. Anyway, this books is not my favorite of hers. It was meh. The storytelling annoyed the fuck out of me. She dragged out storylines for the sake of mystery and it fell flat. The characters were mostly irritating and unlikable yet not enough to make me stop reading so there’s that. I thoroughly enjoyed the last few chapters (though not the last one because Clementine sucks the most). The mostly strong finish offset a generally mediocre novel. Not the best but not the worst book I’ve ever read. 

The Mothers by Brit Bennett. This will be the topic of the newest episode of The Armchair Librarians when season 2 launches in January so I’m not going to give too much away. It’s an absolutely phenomenal book. Sad and engaging and heartbreaking and heartwarming. The writing is stellar. I loved the characters and the stories and everything about it. It’s like a perfectly finished puzzle: once you see how it all comes together, it just clicks and you understand. This is the kind of book that reminds me why I love reading. 

The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel. The struggle was REAL with this one. At first, it was a DNF but instead I just put it down and came back to it a couple of weeks later. I’m glad I did. I mean, this book is S-L-O-W for the first 250 pages but the last 60 make it worth the slog. Sad, powerful, explosive, heartwrenching. I’m not a huge fan of her writing but you get over the pretentiousness after awhile. I loved, eventually, all the characters and the narrative punches you in the gut at the end. Note: although this is labeled as a YA book, it most definitely is not. 

I’m Just a Person by Tig Notaro. I think Tig is awesome and hilarious and I was thrilled to find out she wrote a book. And it was enjoyable. She’s such a great writer and a badass survivor. However, having watched and read interviews and her Netflix special, I don’t feel like I learned a ton more about her. It was interesting to get a glimpse inside her head during that one year and how she dealt and survived and pushed through. She’s definitely inspiring but the book was average.

All is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker. This is the other book I’ll almost DNF. I wanted to quit because the narrator is condescending and arrogant and insufferable. But once you realizes he’s actually a sociopathic narcissist, it becomes a whole different book. He reminded me of an unlikable Joe (from YOU and Hidden Bodies) and that helped me get through. The plot was engaging enough and the twist at the end was both predictable and shocking and definitely worth finishing the book for. If you can get over the narrator’s tone, it’s a worthy read. 

TL;DR: The only one that’s a must read is The Mothers. Please, please read it. 

And FYI, there’s another SUYB on December 27, where we’re asking you to join us and talk favorite books of the year. And as a thank you for all the support, Steph and I are hosting our annual holiday giveaway. The winner gets an Amazon gift card and a donation to Dolly’s Imagination Library will be made in the winner’s name. So, linkup, enter, and let’s talk books! (Giveaway is below the linkup)

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Show Us Your Books: The month with amazing books

You voted, right? If not, stop reading this, go vote, and then come back. Unless you live outside of the US in which case, keep on reading. 

I don’t know what happened this month. It’s like the gods and stars of book goodness aligned and sent me a whole bunch of great books all at once. Even the one I didn’t finish was great (you’ll understand when you see my explanation as to why it was a DNF). There’s a TL;DR at the end since I believe there’s 9 or 10 books this month and, as always, the reviews are similar to what you see on Litsy if you follow me there. And, also as always, make sure to visit my co-host, Steph, as well as some of the other bloggers who join us. 

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Alright, friends. Prepare your Goodreads. 

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena. I waffle back and forth between this being awesome or just okay. Because it’s both. At times, it’s a gripping, intense, fast paced thriller and at others it’s a sloppy let’s throw stuff at the wall to see what sticks mess. It became quite predictable so the twist wasn’t really a twist at all and that was disappointing, and the missing baby seemed more like a plot object than point and that got under my skin. But the writing was fine and it’s a wonderful plane/vacation read. It also kept reminding me of the Madeline McCann case, like the author fictionalized or speculated on those events.

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh. The writing in this book is simply astounding. Probably some of the best writing I’ve read in awhile. However, the story was mediocre and Eileen, the main character, was horrible. I know she’s supposed to be, and the the narrator, Eileen’s elderly self, tells you that up front but she was so insufferable and pathetic it made the book hard to get through at times. The end pay off was decent and if you like character studies, this would be a good choice for you. 

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina. SO. GOOD. It’s a contemporary historical fiction story set in 1977 New York. Queens, to be precise which, incidentally is where I live following my birth so I was ACTUALLY ALIVE when this story takes place. My parents never talk about the events the story is set against and so it made that part even more interesting to read. Then there’s the compelling, wonderfully written family drama, coming of age, fiction story wrapped in a YA novel you forget is YA. And the pieces of feminism thrown give it that extra kick of awesome. 

Adulting: How to Become a Grown-Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps by Kelly Brown Williams. As a 39 year old self-described mostly competent adult, I can safely say that had this book existed when I was in my early 20s, it would not have taken me 39 years to become a competent adult. This books is smart, funny, comprehensive, and practical. There isn’t a topic that goes untouched. If there’s a person in your life who’s struggling, at any age, with adulting, give them this book. And then make them read it.

The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay. I know I’m late boarding the bus on this book. I know everyone read it last year. But. OMG. This book ripped my heart apart. I don’t even know how to discuss what a painfully beautiful and heart wrenching story this is. Phenomenally written, too. A lesser writer would have made this a trite, stereotypical YA romance with tortured souls and all that shit. Nope. This was way beyond that. This was intense in the way of All the Bright Places and it will haunt me like that one still does, too. 

Holding Up the Universe. Speaking of Jennifer Niven, this is the book that follows All the Bright Places (it’s not a sequel. Just her next book). It was not a bad book. The characters were interesting and I love her writing but the story wasn’t as strong as I’d hoped. And I would have loved to see less talk of Libby’s weight. It was basically it’s own character and it got annoying. Like she was trying REALLY HARD to prove that fat people are beautiful, too. STOP. We get it. I can’t help but compare this book to Dumplin’, which is similar but executed much better.

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris. FUCKED UP. That’s what this book is. FUCKED. UP. It got predictable at times but then it turned on its head and wasn’t necessarily what you thought would happen. It should come with 8 million trigger warnings because it’s disturbing and depicts emotional, physical, and psychological abuse in an unfortunately realistic manner. But when you think twisted thriller, think of this book. It’s hard to read at times but definitely worth it. Oh, and if you’ve read it and figured out what the fuck he does in Thailand, can you let me know? 

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I don’t have words to do this book justice. And it’s not really my place to do it justice because it’s not about me. This book wasn’t written for people who look like me, although all people need to read it. It’s painful and magnificent and make you think on every page about systemic racism and how it influences and seeps into everything. His writing is superb and framing it as a letter to his son makes it that much more impactful. Read it, read it, READ IT.

Adnan’s Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial by Rabia Chaudry. This was my DNF. I know! It surprised me, too. And please don’t let the fact that it was a DNF for me make you think it’s reflective of the quality of the book. It’s not. If you’ve followed Adnan’s case, you know that Rabia is a passionate advocate for him and the book makes a compelling case against his unjust conviction (and the courts agree, too, so there’s that). But since I was obsessed with Serial and continue to follow what’s happening, the book didn’t really present anything new and it became boring and I had to let it go. 

Bonus book: The Recovering Spender by Lauren Greutman. Ordinarily I don’t review books I read for work purposes for SUYB but this one was worth a mention. If you have a problem with debt or overspending, I highly recommend this one. She talks, very candidly, about her problem and how she and her husband worked their way to a debt free life and her 12 step plan (which is based on the AA plan), is freaking brilliant. She does get a little pushy at times with her website and courses but you can skip those parts without losing context. P.S. She sent me a copy of the book.

TL;DR: You’ll be fine adding any or all of these to your TBR. Not a single one I don’t recommend. But if you limit yourself, definitely add The Sea of Tranquility, Burn Baby Burn and Between the World and Me.

Okay. Now it’s your turn! Show us what you’ve got! Bloggers, link up; nonbloggers, leave a comment with what you’ve been reading. And for those of you who like to plan, next month’s is on December 13 (my daughter’s birthday, incidentally) and there will be a bonus best of linkup later in the month. We’re working out the details. 

 

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