Category: Don’t Even Bother.

While I will forever praise the virtue of the Young Adult novel (just because a novel has a teenage main character doesn’t mean it’s not literary, folks!), I also enjoy a good, pulpy thriller. I’m a huge scaredy cat, but a nice page-turner – especially for someone who travels as much as I do – is sometimes just what the doctor orders to ease painful commutes and travels.

I tend to gobble up the sexy new thriller thing – I’ve recently read The Husband’s Wife, and I LOVE books by Tana French. So, when Paula Hawkins came out with a new book following the success of The Girl On The Train (which I did like), I decided to give it a go.

I’ll stop you right there: don’t even bother reading this book.

WHAT I READ:

Into the Water (Tana French)

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

On a scale of 1 to 5 POV chapters, I give this 2 weird interchapter interludes.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother’s sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she’d never return.

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

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I have so many things I could complain about, but I think the thing I hated the most is that there were SO. MANY. POINTS. OF. VIEW. I find it tricky when authors decide to have POV chapters and, say, two narrators in the book (it’s harder to feel compelled if you are splitting your attention and affections to more than one main character). But I swear to god, this book had at LEAST seven narrators, and that’s just off the top of my head. It took me until WELL past halfway when I was able to keep track of how the characters were connected and who “Josh” was, and by that point I didn’t really give a hoot about what was happening.

I’m still not ENTIRELY sure what the plot was, either. It’s hard when the main “mystery” is treated for the majority of the book by the majority of the characters as a non-mystery – what am I supposed to care about, then?

People, there are so many better thrillers out there. Put down this one. I know, it’s sexy because it says The Girl On the Train on the cover and you want to be up to date with the NYT Bestseller’s List, but I promise you, it isn’t worth it. Go find Tana French instead.

All the Flailing, or: A Grown-Up Fairy Tale, Concluded

I’ve made my love for Sarah J. Maas’ fantastic seriesA Court of Thorns and Roses, no secret. Her first two books were sexy, compelling, well-crafted, scary, fun, and just a damn delight to read. So when the third book (and end of a trilogy) finally comes out after much anticipation, what’s a girl to do – except read frantically for a week straight (while wishing the book would never end)? At one point, I was so invested in the book I actually stayed in the car like a dog while my gentleman went into the store for thirty minutes. And ladies and gentlemen, it was worth it. (It was less worth it when his best friend pounded on the window to scare me.)

WHAT I READ:

A Court of Wings and Ruin (Sarah J. Maas)

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

On a scale of 1 to 5 Cauldrons, I give this book and series 5(million) magical bargain-binding tattoos.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s maneuverings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit-and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well.

As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords-and hunt for allies in unexpected places.

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

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Mostly, it made me feel sad because the trilogy is now over – but we will always have rereads. (And, Maas is writing three more offshoot books set in the same world, and I am SO excited to revisit these characters already).

These books are everything I love about reading, and if you don’t stop everything you are doing and read them, then God, Jed, I don’t even want to know you.

Creative Writing Exercises

Confession: I often don’t love those books that everyone else in the world loves and proclaims to be THE BEST EVER. I found The Underground Railroad to be lacking an emotional heart; Fates and Furies just wasn’t worth the long library wait; and The Goldfinch had too many words not saying enough for my tastes.

So, maybe I’m not the SMARTEST reader. But I still love reading, read a ton, and often like books everyone else likes! Sometimes I even read the super-literary books and like them! I’ve read books with footnotes, guys!

Going into reading Lincoln in the Bardo, I was pretty pumped. One of my favorite bloggers recommended it and it has over 4 stars on Goodreads. And yet, I found it to be pretty “meh.” I liked the mixing of historical research (quotes from memoirs, letters, etc) with the fictional telling of Lincoln’s child in “purgatory” following the child’s death. But, this book was exceptionally skim-worthy, with too many characters, confusing motifs, and far too many mentions of throbbing members for my liking. I’ve said this about other books (primarily Fate and Furies), but this seemed just like an excessive creative writing exercise to me. At a certain point, I want more character and plot development and less clever literary techniques.

WHAT I READ:

Lincoln in the Bardo (George Saunders)

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

On a scale of 1 to 5 gravestones, I give this 2.5 throbbing members. (Ugh)

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

(What can I say… I’m done with trying to summarize it myself.)

The captivating first novel by the best-selling, National Book Award nominee George Saunders, about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven year old son, Willie, at the dawn of the Civil War. On February 22, 1862, two days after his death, Willie Lincoln was laid to rest in a marble crypt in a Georgetown cemetery. That very night, shattered by grief, Abraham Lincoln arrives at the cemetery under cover of darkness and visits the crypt, alone, to spend time with his son’s body. Set over the course of that one night and populated by ghosts of the recently passed and the long dead, Lincoln in the Bardo is a thrilling exploration of death, grief, the powers of good and evil, a novel – in its form and voice – completely unlike anything you have read before. It is also, in the end, an exploration of the deeper meaning and possibilities of life, written as only George Saunders can: with humor, pathos, and grace.

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

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So, should you read it? I dunno, maybe. Perhaps if I in a better mood, or reading this in an educational setting where I had to discuss it with others, I would appreciate it more. As it stands, it just really didn’t do a lot for me.

Stuff You Definitely Missed In History Class

A few years ago, I listened to an episode of one of my favorite podcasts, Stuff You Missed in History Class, about a subject I had definitely never been taught: “The Tulsa Race Riots and Black Wall Street.”  I HIGHLY encourage you stop reading this immediately and spend the next 30 minutes listening to that episode. This extremely traumatic episode in recent American history is more than merely a race riot: it is a black holocaust and one that was virtually scrubbed from American history books until very recently.

Essentially, in 1921 a suburb of Tulsa populated mainly by black people was looted and destroyed over a two-day period by a mob of white Tulsa citizens, including law enforcement and National Guard members. Hundreds of people (mostly black people) died, many thousands of black people lost literally everything, and it was deliberately scrubbed from any official historical mention until the 1990s – with no official recognition by the state until 2001. (And, of course, survivors and their descendants have received no insurance payments or reparations to this day.)

All this to say, I had no idea my most recent book club read was about these race riots until I was well into it, sparking my memory from years past that I had once spent thirty minutes learning about this historical episode via a podcast. I am extremely thankful for both this podcast and this wonderful book for exposing me to this forgotten part of our dark history.

WHAT I READ:

Dreamland Burning (Jennifer Latham)

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

On a scale of 1 to 5 baby detective teenage girls, I give this 4 Victrolas.

#FirstFifty Synopsis:

SOMEONE (me) returned this book to the library before remembering to do this, so I’ll just copy the Goodreads description:

When seventeen-year-old Rowan Chase finds a skeleton on her family’s property, she has no idea that investigating the brutal century-old murder will lead to a summer of painful discoveries about the past, the present, and herself.

One hundred years earlier, a single violent encounter propels seventeen-year-old Will Tillman into a racial firestorm. In a country rife with violence against blacks and a hometown segregated by Jim Crow, Will must make hard choices on a painful journey towards self discovery and face his inner demons in order to do what’s right the night Tulsa burns.

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

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This book does a wonderful job at making ignored history come alive, and I liked both the present-day mystery and the past-day retelling of the horrible events. The few quibbles I had with it (hence the 4/5 stars): first, some of the characters were very one-dimensional. In particular, the present-day lead’s best friend is really just there so she has someone to say her thoughts out loud to, and has no other role in her life. Second, I wish the villain wasn’t QUITE such a caricature. The author gave him some interesting dimension at the end, but I think it would have been more powerful had the villain been a more major character who was nuanced and seemed like a “good guy” whose true colors are revealed when the riots break out.

But, all quibbles aside, this book is incredible for its historical impact and highly recommended.

Book Roundup: March 2017

NUMBER OF BOOKS READ: 8. A bit of a slow month for me.

NUMBER OF FEMALE AUTHORS VS MALE AUTHORS: All ladies!

NUMBER OF DIVERSE (non-American) SETTINGS: Technically 2 had many scenes set outside of the U.S., but since those two were set in 1) England and 2) various locations visited by an American, I don’t know if it counts. Whoops! What I DO like is a lot of the books I read – especially All the Ugly and Wonderful Things and Dreamland Burning – explore parts of America and its ugly underbelly in ways I did not previously explore.

RATINGS SPREAD: Four 5-star reviews, Two 4-star reviews, Two 3-star reviews. Good month!

 

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WHAT I READ: All The Ugly and Wonderful Things (Bryn Greenwood)

WHY I READ IT: On many Best of 2016 lists.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Incredibly challenging, hard to decide how I feel, but such a well-written slice of life that kept me compelled the whole time.

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WHAT I READ: My Husband’s Wife (Jane Corry)

WHY I READ IT: One of my favorite lifestyle bloggers was reading it!

WHAT I THOUGHT: A fun read, but it could have used some structural readjustment to decide what kind of book it was going to be.

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WHAT I READ: The Diviners (Libba Bray)

WHY I READ IT: A podcast I listen to recommend this (and its sequel) as one of the Best Books They Read in 2016.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Totally scared the piss out of me (I’m very ladylike) and is definitively NSFchildren, but I’m pumped to dive into Book #2.

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WHAT I READ: Lair of Dreams (Libba Bray)

WHY I READ IT: See above!

WHAT I THOUGHT: Still totally scary, but I liked this one even more than the first. Too bad we aren’t closer to October and the release of the third!

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WHAT I READ: A Court of Thorns and Roses (Sarah J. Maas)

WHY I READ IT: I first read this book in 2015 and decided to give it a reread when I was sick and had little brainpower for anything else.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Ugh, I love this book SO much. I’m so glad I decided to give it a reread – it just hits everything I need in a book, AND it turns out the 3rd book comes out in early May so I had good timing in my reread!

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WHAT I READ: A Court of Mist and Fury (Sarah J. Maas)

WHY I READ IT: BECAUSE THESE BOOKS BLOW MY SKIRT UP AND I LOVE THEM!!

WHAT I THOUGHT: May 2nd cannot come soon enough. GIMME MORE!

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WHAT I READ: Dreamland Burning (Jennifer Latham)

WHY I READ IT: Book club!

WHAT I THOUGHT: An incredible and important re-telling of a deliberately hidden historical event. More to come next week.

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WHAT I READ: What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding (Kristin Newman)

WHY I READ IT: Even though her name is spelled incorrectly in my opinion, I do like travel memoirs.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Well-written, albeit a little eye-rolley at times as all travel memoirs are, but I still slammed through this book and enjoyed reading it.

 

Need more thorough reviews? Goodreads, baby.

Grown-Up Fairy Tale

There’s nothing I love more than a spicy YA book, except possibly a spicy YA book based on a fairy tale, ESPECIALLY a fairy tale that coincidentally had a live-action movie retelling coming out at the same time I was giving it a read. Yes, folks, you read that confusing sentence correctly: I just reread A Court of Thorns and Roses and man, do I love that book.

In a nutshell, A Court of Thorns and Roses is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, except it’s gritty and violent and sexy and has less inanimate objects singing and dancing. I slammed through it in one long travel day in 2015, and read the equally-as-excellent follow-up A Court of Mist and Fury as soon as it came out in the spring of 2016.

WHAT I READ:

A Court of Thorns and Roses and A Court of Mist and Fury (Sarah J. Maas)

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

On a scale of 1 to 5 faeries, I give both books 5 steamy sex scenes.

#FirstFifty Synposis

Very human Feyre is out in the woods doing her daily task of hunting in order to feed her family (two lazy sisters and a disabled father). While out in the woods, she sees a giant wolf that she surmises must be a faerie – a magical creature that inhabits the land north of the wall, a creature that is supposed to stay in his land. She makes the decision to kill the faerie and sell its pelt – a decision that soon leads to a wrath-filled High Fae breaking down her door, informing her that she broke the faerie/human treaty, and that the only way to atone is to come over the Wall with him and live in his palace for eternity. (Real Beauty and the Beast vibes here, folks).

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

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Last week, when I was sick and craving a familiar book, I decided to give these books a reread – and I instantly remembered why I loved them so much. (Especially since I haven’t read them since the one and only other time, there was a ton I didn’t remember!). AND, the third book comes out in 6 weeks. NEED I SAY MORE?! Why are you still here, reading this? You should be out reading these books!

Book Roundup: February 2017

Another month down, folks! Not quite as many books as usually but most of them were pretty good, and a few were excellent. 

NUMBER OF BOOKS READ: 7 + one re-read

NUMBER OF FEMALE AUTHORS VS MALE AUTHORS: 3 females, 4 males. Off my game!

NUMBER OF DIVERSE (non-American) SETTINGS: Well, 2 were set in Europe, 1 in a fantasy world, one throughout time and space, and one on Mars, so, a bit hard to quantify this time around…

RATINGS SPREAD: One 5-star, Four 4-star, Two 3-stars. Good month!

 

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WHAT I READ: History Is All You Left Me (Adam Silvera)

WHY I READ IT: Praised for being a realistic YA LGBT novel.

WHAT I THOUGHT: I was skeptical for most of this book that the characters would do something I didn’t want them to do, but Silvera did a good job at keeping it grounded (and sad).

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WHAT I READ: The Year Of Living Danishly (Helen Russell)

WHY I READ IT: I desperately want to live in paradise, aka Denmark.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Mostly it made me depressed to live in the U.S. God bless Denmark, apparently.

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WHAT I READ: In The Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin (Erik Larson)

WHY I READ IT: I’m not sure, but I assume it was on one of those “Read this to learn how to live in our new autocracy” listsicles.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Fascinating and well-written narrative nonfiction of a time period I thought I knew about, but this book taught me so much more.

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WHAT I READ: Wayfarer (Alexandra Bracken)

WHY I READ IT: As a follow-up to one of my favorites, Passenger.

WHAT I THOUGHT: I definitely should have re-read the first book more recently.

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WHAT I READ: Spindle (E.K. Johnston)

WHY I READ IT: Book club book!

WHAT I THOUGHT: Way too much “road trip” narrative and not nearly enough action. The author clearly wanted to make spinning/a spindle the central part of the story, and concocted a fairly weak explanation to make it so.

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WHAT I READ: The Martian (Andy Weir)

WHY I READ IT: Well you know, the movie was good.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Absolutely do not get the hype. The math and science seem incredible (I skimmed past a lot of it) but the dialogue was stitled and the characters not nearly layered enough.

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WHAT I READ: Hillbilly Elegy (J.D. Vance)

WHY I READ IT: 2016’s “It” book.

WHAT I THOUGHT: This one WAS absolutely worth the hype. Easily read and a compelling topic; I only wished it had slightly more research/stats to back it up (but the author was clear from the start it wouldn’t). Left me wanting much more.

 

Re-readBig Little Lies. I first read this book a few years ago and with the HBO mini-series launching, decided to give it another go. Just as good as the first time!

The Tragedy of Sequels

I try my hardest, I truly do, when I know I’m reading the first book in a duology or a trilogy. I take detailed notes on the synopsis to remind me of the plot in the future; I request the next book from the library as soon as it comes out; I find in-depth anaylses online of the previous book and dive into them right before reading the sequel. (I’ve found this website to be really helpful).

But, despite my best efforts, I totally failed in my read of Wayfarer (Alexandra Bracken), the follow-up to one of my favorite books of 2016, Passengergushed over Passenger when I read it: I loved the time travel, going to different eras, the dichotomy of pairing a white present-day woman traveling with a black 18th-century man through different eras. I even convinced my mom to read it, wrote myself a tidy little synopsis so I’d remember what happened, and got Wayfarer from the library almost as soon as it came in.

And yet… Wayfarer just never really grabbed me. Partially it was because I had a busy week and was reading in snippets, instead of in long swaths of (commuting) time like I normally am. But I’m not sure if the author – to be clear, one of my favorites – did a fantastic job at bringing everyone back into the world.

I still enjoyed reading it, but found myself confused most of the time, disinterested part of the time, and kicking myself for not giving the first book a full reread the rest of the time.

WHAT I READ

Wayfarer (Passenger #2), Alexandra Bracken

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

On a scale of 1 to 5 confusing time travel devices, I give this 3 astrolabes. When combined with the first book, it gets 4 eyepatches.

#FirstFifty Synopsis:

We’re immediately thrown back into chaos. In a flashback scene, a young Rose experiences the traumatic event that will set her against Cyrus Ironwood forever. Etta, orphaned in a different timeline (maybe, this part always confused me) makes her way through early 20th century Texas and then San Francisco. Meanwhile, Nicolas chases clues trying to find her in 18th century Nassau, even though he’s probably (maybe) in a parallel universe.

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

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Book Roundup: January 2017

This was the first month into my 2017 resolution to read harder books more deeply, and I expected that each month my total number of books read would be a little lower than usual. But at 9 books read this month, I was actually pretty on-par with my normal reading schedule, and I still feel like I had a good combination of heavy and light books. On to the stats!

NUMBER OF BOOKS READ: 10

NUMBER OF FEMALE AUTHORS VS MALE AUTHORS: All ladies this month!

NUMBER OF DIVERSE (non-American) SETTINGS: 3, although two of those are in Ireland (well, technically one in Ireland and one in a apocalyptic probably former Ireland).

RATINGS SPREAD: Two 5-star, One 4-star, Five 3-star, Two 2-star,

Want more? Goodreads, baby.

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WHAT I READ: The Wonder (Emma Donaghue)

WHY I READ IT: Big fan of her Room.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Meh on my end. Good atmosphere-building, but as a full-length novel it dragged.

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WHAT I READ: Spare and Found Parts (Sarah Maria Griffin)

WHY I READ IT: Book club!

WHAT I THOUGHT: If not for book club, I don’t think I would have kept reading it. I just didn’t get a lot of why the characters did what they did, and it was hard to get into the world.

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WHAT I READ: Today Will Be Different (Maria Semple)

WHY I READ IT: This book was all over the blogs as super-good, and I did mostly enjoy her Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

WHAT I THOUGHT: I liked the book, but didn’t love it. I wanted it to be a better exploration of adult mental health, but it didn’t do a deep dive into a whole lot.

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WHAT I READ: Talking As Fast As I Can (Lauren Graham)

WHY I READ IT: Love me some Graham crackers, and especially Gilmore Girls! 

WHAT I THOUGHT: It was very similar to a lot of other celebrity memoirs – some interesting chapters (mostly about the making of GG) but ultimately just a lot of fluff that was clearly written to get her a boost in sales coinciding with the new episodes.

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WHAT I READ: This is Where It Ends (Marieke Nijkamp)

WHY I READ IT: Another one popular on the blogs.

WHAT I THOUGHT: I REALLY did not like it.

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WHAT I READ: Boy, Snow, Bird (Helen Oyeyemi)

WHY I READ IT: One of those “must-reads,” lent from a friend.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Really more of 1.5 stars than 2 stars for me, I really did not like it. It just wasn’t compelling enough to read to the end, and I ended up skimming a lot.

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WHAT I READ: Strangers In Their Own Land (Arlie Hochschild)

WHY I READ IT: Part of my read harder pledge, this nonfiction narrative explores the “Great Paradox” of conservative America (specifically in Louisiana).

WHAT I THOUGHT: I’ll have a lot more to say in a later post, but I LOVED this book – both as a piece of writing (very well done and compelling) and as a piece of research.

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WHAT I READ: Dear Mr. You (Mary-Louise Parker. Yes, that Mary-Louise Parker)

WHY I READ IT: One of my favorite (travel) bloggers highlighted this as a favorite of 2016.

WHAT I THOUGHT: My god, I loved this book. One of my two five-star books of the month. This is the most unique celebrity memoir I’ve ever read, as Parker uses a combination of prose and poetic prose to convey key moments in her life via a series of letters to men – some significant men in her life, like her father and grandfather, others seemingly less significant (but you come to see how they keyed into her being) like a cab driver or a firefighter she passed on the street. So beautiful, so tear-worthy.

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WHAT I READ: Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

WHY I READ IT: I was tragically behind the curve on this beautiful book.

WHAT I THOUGHT: One of my other five-star books for the month; I can’t believe I waited this long.

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WHAT I READ: My Name is Lucy Barton (Elizabeth Strout)

WHY I READ IT: Her Olive Kitteridge is something I moderately enjoyed.

WHAT I THOUGHT: I bumped this up to 3 stars, but it was really more like 2.5. Beautiful writing, but pretty meh.

When You Don’t Love What Oprah Does

Some books you hear about over and over again in a year. Everyone proclaims this is THE BOOK of the year as it makes all the “Best of” book lists. That book this year was The Underground Railroad. It actually had its publishing date pushed up a month as Oprah selected it for her Book Club – and when Oprah says jump… (At least, I remember hearing that fact once and just assume it to be true. No research here!).

And so, I diligently put it on my TBR list, and had a slightly comical affair this fall trying to read it (it came into my library pick-up pile twice and both times I had to return without reading it – the curse of a 7-day hold/no renewal possible book coming in the day before you’ll be out of town!). But third time’s a charm and I finally was able to read it.

WHAT I READ:

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead.

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

My impression was a shaky 4-star book (more like 3.75 but I rounded up to 4). Perhaps I’m just a cold-hearted person, but in short I felt the plot and basic structure of the book to be VERY strong and the character development to be slightly less strong. For me to rank it as a 5-star read, I need it to have both.

#FirstFifty Synposis:

This sweeping story starts with the main character’s grandmother getting kidnapped from Africa to be forced into the slave trade. We go through the first few decades of Cora’s life, including her mother, Mabel, escaping and leaving Cora on the plantation as a ten-year-old; Cora establishing herself as a potentially-crazy-but-not-to-be-messed-with-force to the other slaves; and the plantation thrown into confusion when their (relatively) kind owner dies and his much stricter brother is poised to take over. Just when things seem to be getting even worse, Caesar approaches her with a proposition: attempting to escape via the Underground Railroad.

 

And nwo, skipping the gifs in order to move on to my next “sorry everyone in the world that I didn’t like this one” book – The Mothers.

Immediately after finishing The Underground Railroad, I picked up The Mothers – another oft-praised book of 2016. And once again… I found it a little wanting. #sorrrrrry

WHAT I READ:

The Mothers, by Brit Bennett.

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

This one had the opposite problem from the above book – I found the characters to be really interesting, but the plot (while full of very serious and well-handled topics) to be not the MOST compelling to me. This one I gave 3 stars, but consider it more like a 3.5.

#FirstFifty Synopsis:

Nadia, a super-smart 17 year old destined for greater things than her small coastal Californian town, is grappling with the recent suicide of her mother and finds comfort in the arms (i.e., bed) of Luke, the local football star whose college career gets cut short when he suffers an injury. A few weeks before she is due to leave for college, she discovers she is pregnant, and makes a choice that will set into motion the remainder of her life, Luke’s life, and the lives of the mothers around her.

 

So, what did I learn from this experience? Even the books you’re meant to like just might not tickle every fancy needed. I REALLY enjoyed reading them and heartily recommend to others, but sometimes a book can fall just a little bit short. Even books aren’t perfect, my friends.