2020 Reading List: Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

The first book of 2020 was one chosen by the office book club. Based on the book summary, I would have thought that Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate, would be written differently than it was. I anticipated following along the story as it happened, the events unfolding as they would have in real life. Because this book is, of course, based on real life.

But I was thrown a bit when it read more like a mystery novel. Flashing back from present day to the 1930’s, we swapped points of view between Avery, who is uncovering the mystery of her grandmother’s past bit by bit and Rill, who is living an unimaginable life.

To find out the truth of the past, Avery’s telling of the story is maddeningly slow in the most riveting way. Avery is caught up in her family’s politics, being groomed for a Senate seat while at the same time planning a wedding with her fiance. A chance encounter with a woman at a nursing home during a public appearance has her off on a wild goose chase to connect the dots between this stranger and her grandmother, who happen to have similar photographs in their rooms of the same people.

You realize that Avery is on the brink of discovery, but hits a snag as she encounters a stubborn realtor who has sworn to keep her family’s secret – and yet, she finds herself falling in love with him.

Meanwhile, the reader is transported back a few generations to follow the story of a family on a river.

Be warned: I’m going to give away some spoilers in this review. If you want to read this book and don’t want the ending ruined, I suggest you stop now. Continue reading

2019 Reading List: Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

A summary of this book in one phrase: a tragic historical romance with an unexpected twist.

Next Year in Havana, by Chanel Cleeton, was part of our office book club, and I must say that it exceeded my expectations. It was a story of two women from different generations, who end up going through some surprisingly similar events. Cuban-American, Marisol, wants to fulfill her deceased grandmother’s wish to have her remains scattered in her beloved Havana, Cuba. So now that Marisol is able to travel (somewhat) safely to Cuba, she visits her grandmother’s old family friends, falls in love, and uncovers some hidden family secrets along the way.

The story is told from both perspectives of Marisol, as well as her grandmother Elisa. Switching back and forth between past and present, we get a full picture of Havana, then and now – how so much has changed, and yet, so much hasn’t. Continue reading

2019 Reading List: This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

The next book I read for book club was one I would never pick up myself. Those always turn out to be the best kinds of books though, don’t they? It’s not that I would have had anything against this book. I just would have gone for other ones first. Maybe stayed on more familiar territory.

This Is How It Always Is, by Laurie Frankel, is about a family whose fifth and youngest child is transgender. There may be some unavoidable spoilers in this post, just to warn you now.

This book was so terrifically written that there wasn’t a single copy available in the entire county. The wait list was a couple weeks long, though I got notified a copy was ready for me earlier than I expected, maybe because like me, people couldn’t put it down and finished it in just a few days. Continue reading

2019 Reading List: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

I read All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, by Bryn Greenwood, as part of my office book club.

In Greenwood’s novel, she explores flawed characters, dysfunctional families, inappropriate relationships, sex, drugs, child abuse, murder, friendship, and love. It sounds like there are more ugly things than wonderful things, in my opinion. Continue reading

2019 Reading List: American Sniper by Chris Kyle

This is the second time I’ve read American Sniper, by Chris Kyle. If you know me at all, you’ll know that’s highly unusual for me – I don’t read books twice because there are way too many other books in the world that I haven’t read yet.

In this case, this book was chosen as the book for my book club at my new place of work. I started the book club here when I started my new job at the end of November, and I was thrilled that a few people said they wanted to read with me.

If it were any other book, I might not have picked it up again. I might have said, Oh, I’ve read that, so I’ll just wait till you all are done and talk about it later. But this was American Sniper. I remember loving this book the first time I read it. I remember feeling like my eyes were opened to this whole new perspective on war and combat and service – things I’d never truly considered before.

Many people have seen this movie, but I never have. I would love to, just haven’t gotten around to it yet. But now that I’ve read the book twice, I can say that it was definitely a different experience each time. Continue reading

2018 Reading List: The Bone Clocks

I feel like I’ve read five full novels in the span of 600+ pages. And when I finished, I Googled, “what is a bone clock” because after all that the meaning of the term and the title of the book completely escaped me.

I read The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell, with my office’s book club group, and though I can’t imagine fully summarizing it in any length of blog post, I will do my best.

This book spanned time, characters, countries, plot-lines, and reality in a way that riddles the reader’s mind and defies logic. One minute I was a stowaway with Holly, mad at the unfaithful boyfriend, the next I’m whisked through Cambridge and into Switzerland, cheating friends and mentors to make a buck, relying on wit and charm to get out of trouble, and then before I know it, I’m in the trenches, with shrapnel raining down around me, gunshots in the distance. And then we’re at a literary event, full of high society and esteemed critics, where a packet of drugs puts a friend behind bars, and then we get swept off around the globe where we meet the atemporal beings who live forever, reborn in the bodies of dying children, communicating through telepathy and stopping time. And at the end of it all, we’re 25 years in the future, surviving a near-apocalypse after civilization has wasted every resource and forced its citizens to resort to an ancient hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

I promise, this is just one book.

Continue reading

2018 Reading List: The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchinson

Welcome to the Garden, a wondrous, magical place where it’s always warm, the sun is shining, the waterfall lulls you to sleep, the grass is lush, you have friends and books and games, you have healthy food to eat, and all the time in the world to do as you please. But this, my friends, is not the garden of Eden. This is your nightmare.  Continue reading

2018 Reading List: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

You all know the story of the Titanic (at the very least, you know the movie) – the British ship that sunk in 1912 after colliding with an iceberg, killing over 1,500 people. You might have heard of the Lusitania – the British ocean liner torpedoed by the Germans in 1915, killing almost 1,200 people on board as it sank. But you probably haven’t heard of the Wilhelm Gustloff. At least, I hadn’t.

Which is absolutely insane, because the estimated number of people who died in the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff in 1945 was over 9,400 people. Picture the terrible, gut-wrenching scenes from the Titanic movie where people are screaming, crying, tumbling off the deck, flailing in life jackets, freezing in the icy waters – and then multiply that six times.

It is a travesty that people, particularly in the U.S., do not know about the sinking of a ship that resulted in the largest loss of life of any ship sinkings in history.

So now that I’ve made my point, if you too have never heard of the Wilhelm Gustloff, go read Salt to the Sea, by Ruta Sepetys.  Continue reading

2017 Reading List: It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

This next title on my list of books is part of our office book club. This is the book we chose after none of us could get through “The Invention of Nature.” Quite the contrast.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story, by Ned Vizzini, is a young adult work of fiction. It was made into a movie in 2010, a movie which I have not seen.

When I first read the plot summary of this book and some reactions about it, I was under the impression that it was, actually, going to be a funny story. I thought there would be some dark humor, some funny quips, some comedic relief. Maybe some people saw it, but I didn’t. I just found it to be a somewhat sad story of a boy with depression.  Continue reading

2017 Reading List: Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

This next book on my 2017 list was chosen at random by my office book club. This was the second book we’ve read and, while I read it quite a while ago, we just got together this past week to discuss it.

Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert A. Heinlein, is allegedly the most famous science fiction book of all time. However, I’d never heard of it, and neither had most of my coworkers. It was written in the 1960’s and when it was originally published, they actually asked the author to cut it down because it was too long and they believed no one would read a book of that length. He cut it down as much as he could, but he believed everything in the book was important. After his death, his widow had the original uncut manuscript published in 1991. This is the version that I read.  Continue reading