Best and Worst of 2018: Part 1

There is nothing better than reading a book that you can really sink your teeth into, that makes you think or laugh or swoon. And on the flip side of that, there’s nothing worse than a book that you want to like but is just so disappointing, or a book that you struggle through from page one but make yourself finish anyway. I had both of these reading experiences many times over in 2018, so I decided to compile a list of my favorites and… least favorites.

It’s a little bit of a longer post, so this will be a two part series. Let’s start with the bad news, shall we?

Please note: these are not all books published in 2018. I read them in 2018.

My Least Favorite Books of 2018

#5. The Witch Elm– Tana French

It pains me to put this book on the list. Really, it does. I think Tana French is an amazingly talented writer. She’s an “automatic buy” author, which is among the highest compliments I can give. But her most recent novel, a departure from her Dublin Murder Squad Series, just didn’t work for me. I could maybe have lived with the fact that the murder mystery wasn’t front and center on this one, but I just did not care for the protagonist. Toby lacked the depth I’ve come to expect from French’s narrators. I suffered through the nearly 500 pages of this one, but it was really disappointing.

#4. The Tatooist of Auschwitz– Heather Morris

This was our October book club pick. It’s marketed as a novel but it doesn’t feel like a novel when you’re reading it. The prose is really sparse, and for such a charged topic, seriously lacks emotion. We debated this point at book club; some of my friends thought that the relative emotionlessness of the book was intentional to show how Lale needed to compartmentalize in order to survive. I can see this as argument, but in my opinion, it didn’t work. Maybe Morris didn’t want to embellish anything and detract from Lale’s story as he told it to her. Either way, it’s not often I emerge from a book on the Holocaust completely unmoved.

#3. Manhattan Beach-Jennifer Eagan

Our book club pick from February, on my suggestion. I’m ambivalent about Jennifer Eagan’s work as a whole. I read A Visit from the Goon Squad in graduate school and loved it. But I read another of her novels later and I didn’t like it. In fact, I can’t even remember the title.  The premise of Manhattan Beach was promising; I thought we were in for a mysterious, 1940’s noir kind of read, so I suggested it. No dice. Mostly, we read a lot about underwater diving in order to fix submarines, which wasn’t all that interesting. I found the plot very hard to follow, and I wasn’t invested in the characters. We did, however, have a spirited discussion at book club about all the things that annoyed us about this book, so that was fun.

#2. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend- Katarina Bivald

My best friend tried to warn me off this one, but I thought maybe it was just that we have different tastes in books. So, during our February book club meeting, after discussing Manhattan Beach to death, and drinking a fair amount of wine, we couldn’t come up with a good idea for our next book. I had The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend on my “eventually read,” shelf and it seemed like a harmless enough pick. And it was harmless…it was just also kind of lifeless. I didn’t find the characters or story very compelling, even for a light read. It could be that something was lost in the translation. But we universally decided that this was our least favorite book club pick of 2018.

#1. Neon in Daylight– Hermione Hoby

There was no contest for my least favorite book spot. I don’t even remember where I saw this book, but I thought it would be edgy and cool, but it was just not. I only finished this because my friend Betsy was already reading it with me. I almost always finish a book once I’ve started, but I should have put this one down early. The prose was completely overdone and too flowery for a novel. A short story, maybe, could have worked with this writing style. But for me, it was way too much. The characters were simply not likeable. There was no discernable plot. To me, this book felt like something that came out of an MFA program, and would only appeal to a very small subset of readers. I was not one of those readers.

What do you think about this list? Do you disagree with me about any of these? What is on your least favorite list from 2018?

Let me know in the comments, I would love to hear your thoughts!

Happy Reading!
Angela

Book Review: Becoming

I’ve never been a fan of politics, and my experience in the last ten years has done nothing to change that. I continue to be put off my it’s nastiness—the tribal segregation between red and blue, this idea that we’re supposed to choose one side and stick to it, unable to listen and compromise, or sometimes even to be civil.

Becoming, page 419

In my city, I am an anomaly. I live in Washington, D.C., a place where politics and politicians take center stage, where national issues and—far too often lately, the president—take the place of small talk. In DC, you ask or get asked four questions when you first meet someone: Where are you from? Where do you live? What do you do? and finally, if they can’t figure this out based on your answers to the previous questions, What are your politics? I say I am an anomaly because I am politically apathetic in a city that literally runs on political agendas. I did not come here because I wanted to be in the center of that madness. I came here because the man that I love, who eventually became my husband, was here.

And it is in this small way that I have something in common with Michelle Obama.

Occasionally, I succumb to reading peer pressure. I want to read something because it’s gotten tons of hype, is all over social media, or all my friends are reading it. I’d like to think it’s not because I want to be like everybody else (although that’s probably part of it), but more so that I can intelligently contribute to the conversation when people inevitably bring it up. My desire to read Becoming started this way. I’ve always liked Michelle Obama, and I was mildly interested in learning about her life. But mostly, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

So many of us go through life with our stories hidden, feeling ashamed or afraid when our whole truth doesn’t live up to some established ideal. We grow up with messages that tell us that there’s only way to be American—that if our skin is too dark or our hips are wide, if we don’t experience love in a particular way, if we speak another language or come from another country, then we don’t belong. That is, until someone dares to tell the story differently

Becoming, page 415

First let me say that the writing itself is beautiful. It doesn’t surprise me in any way that someone as intelligent and poised as Michelle can craft eloquent sentences. But it was more than just the sentences that made this book flow, almost effortlessly. This is not a book where someone is just laying out her memories because hey, they happened to her. Every story she shares was clearly chosen for a specific reason, and she weaves it throughout the entire narrative, able to connect something that happened in her childhood to something she experienced in the White House. I don’t read a lot of memoirs, admittedly, but this seems to be a shining example of what the genre can be when done well.

One word I’ve seen many people use to describe this book is intimate, and I definitely agree. Much of the charm of this book is how honest it feels, how candidly Michelle expresses her thoughts and emotions. “Did I think it was a good idea for him to run for Congress? No I did not.” I feel you, girl. If my husband wanted to run for office, I would have the same reaction. And this is the kind of thought that I had while reading, over and over. I hear you. I feel you. That totally would be me. Her writing makes you feel like she’s telling you her life story over a cup of coffee. And what impresses me most is that her tone manages to be conversational when writing about such important things. It was this, more than the sheer beauty of the writing itself, that won me over in the end. I might not care about politics, but I care about Michele’s story. I liked her before I read the book, but I like her better now because I feel like I actually know about her life. She lets herself be open and vulnerable on the page, the refrain of Am I good enough? weaving through pivotal moments of her life. We’ve all been there, and it matters that she shares these moments of insecurity.

It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about where you get yourself in the end. There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your own unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others.

So, ultimately, I do understand what all the fuss is about. It’s over 400 pages, and you need to invest some reading time into it. I usually finish books, even big ones, in a week or less. This one took me a full ten days. Like I said, the writing flows effortlessly, but it is a lot to digest and reflect on. It’s a serious book, and she wants to make you think, so don’t pick it up for a bit of light reading. But, if you want to know more about Michelle’s life, this is worth the read. I feel relieved that she gets a little more normalcy now, and I hope she’s enjoying her new house, and the ability to open the windows whenever she wants to.

Have you read Becoming? What did you think? What other memoirs would you recommend?

Happy Reading!
Angela

WWW Wednesday!

A little more than a week into the New Year, and I am already behind on my reading goal! Is anyone else having this problem?

I suppose that’s what happens when you make several ambitious goals at once. This month, I’m also doing a Whole30, trying to get to yoga 4 times a week, and journal every day. It’s been a lot of running around, and I haven’t spent nearly as much time reading as I would usually like.

So I may not meet my goal of five books this month, but here’s what has been going on in my reading life lately…

WWW Wednesday is hosted by Sam over at Taking on a World of Words.It’s a simple and fun way to see what everyone is reading. After looking at some others this morning, I’ve already added a couple books to my list! Here’s how it works…

The Three W’s are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m going to include both the actual books I’m reading, which count toward my goal, and audiobooks, which are rereads, and don’t count, but bring me lots of joy!

Currently Reading: Becoming by Michelle Obama

This is something of a peer-pressure read. In other words, I’m reading it because everyone else is reading it, and I feel like I should. I’ve always liked Michelle Obama without knowing much about her. (I’m shamefully uninformed and apathetic about politics, particularly given that I live in DC). However, she always comes across intelligent and poised so I was interested to learn more about her life. I’m a little more than halfway through at this point. It’s very well written: the sentences are beautifully composed and I think the book is organized effectively. It’s one of those not-slow-but-not-fast reads. I’m glad I’m reading it, but I don’t think this is one I’ll reread or feel the need to own. See above apathy about politics.

Current Reading (Audiobook): The Secret Place by Tana French

In December, my book club read In the Woods, French’s first novel. I lent my copy to a friend, and so I decided to listen to it on Audible. I’ve basically been binge-listening to all of her books ever since. Let me say, they are all outstanding.The narrators are stunning. If you’re a Tana French fan, or a mystery fan needing a new book, please. Go listen to them. Anyway, I’m a few chapters into The Secret Place, which wasn’t my favorite of hers the first time through. I’m interested to see how the dual-POV feels in an audiobook. I only have one more audiobook for Tana French, so I don’t know what I’m going to listen to when I’m done!

Recently Finished: One Day in December by Josie Silver

This is technically not my most recently finished book, but it’s the most recently finished book that I really enjoyed. I got it for my Book of the Month pick, feeling like I needed something light and fluffy to get me out of the holiday grump. This book delivered! I loved the characters, and the way the novel followed a core group as their lives shifted and changed. It had a great balance of levity, romance, and depth. It was one of those books that gave me more than I was expecting from it. And the romance was so sweet! All I wanted to do when I finished was kiss my husband. Totally got me out of the grump.

Recently Finished (Audiobook): Better Than Beforeby Gretchen Rubin

I’m totally a Gretchen Rubin fangirl, and I don’t care how dorky that sounds. I’ve read The Happiness Project, the book she’s most known for, at least twice. I listen to her podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin,regularly, and I even got to meet her once at a book signing in DC. Better than Before is my favorite of her bestsellers, because advice and strategies in there are just so good. Gretchen does such a fantastic job of taking the abstract and making it concrete. I can’t say I’m nearly as good at keeping my good habits as she is, but she makes me feel so hopeful that I can do better and build a happier life.

Me with Gretchen during her Four Tendencies Tour

Up Next: The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

I’m so excited to sink my teeth into this one! My good friend Betsy, who has impeccable taste in books, recommended The Hating Game to me. She’s also great at picking out top-notch chic lit, which I’ve been promised that this is. It also seems to be a sort of modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, and I’m always intrigued by modernizations of Jane Austen. Still a 100-odd pages left of Becoming left, and then I will be jumping right in!

Thoughts on these choices? Which ones have you read? Have you done the WWW meme? I would love to know what you’re reading!

Happy Reading,
Angela

2019: New Year, New Books

I’m a sucker for New Year’s Resolutions. I love thinking about how on January 1st of each year, I will magically be able to wipe the slate clean of bad habits and finally start doing all the things I say I will….

It generally doesn’t happen. But that’s a different topic altogether.

For the past couple years, in addition to the usual: lose weight, stop snoozing, declutter… I’ve starting making some more fun reading resolutions as well. I started in 2017 by setting a goal of 40 books on my Good Reads Challenge. I met it–just under the wire, by listening to the audiobook versions of the Harry Potter Series. This felt a little like cheating.

In 2018, I upped it to 52 books. I ended up reading 53 (#winning). But I wanted to add more to my reading life than just more books. So, I also made goal to start a book club. I’m proud to say that it’s going strong with 13 members after a year of consistently meeting. Less consistent was my resolution to start this book blog. But hey, it’s here. And I did post a handful of times, so that counts for something, right?

2019 Book Resolutions

Read 60 New Books
This year, I’m setting the bar high with a goal of five books a month. And I want those five books to be new to me. I love to reread, but there are so many books out there and only so much time to read in a day. I’m trying only to reread using audiobooks. I’m actually really enjoying this. It makes my commute more pleasant and livens up chores and making dinner. It also leaves my coveted before bedtime reading free to new material.

Blog Consistently
I must admit, I’m struggling with this already. My official goal–I’m putting it out into the universe–is to post twice a week. By the end of the 2019, I want to publish 100 new blog posts. This is quite a deviation from my post-whenever-I-have-time strategy of last year. By having a specific, numeric goal, I hope to be able to get myself to do something that I’ve wanted to do for (literally) years now: becoming a regular blogger.

Connect with Other Readers
Reading is a solitary activity, which is part of what appeals to my introverted nature. However, I feel like nothing deepens my experience with a book more than discussing it with others. I get to do this once a month with my book club, regularly with some of my bookworm friends, and occasionally with my husband. However, this goal speaks directly to my desire to connect with the online book loving community–book bloggers, in other words. I don’t know what shape this is going to take just yet, but consistently reading and commenting on other book blogs seems like the place to start.

How about you? Do you make book-related new years resolutions? What is on your to-read list? Do you have any great book blog recommendations?

Happy New Year and Happy Reading,
Angela

WWW Wednesday!

IMG_6331

Hello fellow book lovers,

Well, my summer goal of blogging regularly certainly got away from me. I would give some excuses for myself, but since I haven’t written a word of…well, anything…since July, I couldn’t really tell you where the rest of my summer went.

But solidly into October, and the weather in DC has not turned, but I’m in full teacher mode. It’s the time of the year where I’m finally hitting my groove, which means I’m not face-planting into bed every night so I actually have the energy to read a little before passing out.

Seems a logical time to return to this book blog thing.

And as it’s Wednesday, I am the WWW meme, hosted by Sam over at Taking on a World of Words. Here’s how it works…

 The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

AliceNetwork

A good friend in my book club recommended this pick. We have an affinity for historical fiction in my club, and this one is a hit so far! The Alice Network is the story of two women, Charlie and Eve, who so far seem pretty badass. Charlie’s side of the story takes place right after World War II in France. She’s enlisted the help of Eve Gardiner to find her cousin Rose, who went missing during the War. Eve’s side of the story takes us back to World War I, when she worked as a spy in occupied France.

What I like in the first 135 pages I’ve read: rich, vibrant characters. Both Charlie and Eve are strong, compelling women, and I’m completely hooked on both of their story lines already. This would be a great book club read! I may need to revise my rule about only reading books no one has read…

Recently Finished: Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear

SweetLittleLiesOK, technically this isn’t the last book I finished. But I didn’t loved that book, and Sweet Little Lies is the last book in recent memory that had me totally absorbed—to the point where I’m pretty sure I read the last 100 pages in one sitting. This was my August Book of the Month pick, which I somehow didn’t get around to reading until late September. (Again, I blame school). This crime fiction is very reminiscent of Tana French, who is one of my favorites. Sweet Little Lies follows Cat Kinsella, an emotionally effed up detective as she investigates a murder that has a connection to her past. I loved everything about this book. It did start a little slow, but picked up maybe 50 pages in or so.

What I liked about it: great character, well-paced, and a great blend of mystery and psychological conflict. And yes, a few great twists in there too. I didn’t see the last one coming at all! Please. Just go read this book.

Again, why couldn’t I have picked this one for book club?

Reading Next: The Tatooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

TatooistThis one is actually for my October book club meeting. Not one of my suggestions, so I can’t take credit if it turns out to be awesome. (That accolade will be bestowed upon my friend Hillary, fellow teacher and book club member extraordinaire). After a random assortment of picks, including a memoir, a romance, and a disappointing mystery, Hillary offered this World War II novel up to the group. We immediately accepted. The Tatooist of Auschwitz is about Lale Sokolov, a Jew who is put to work tattooing his fellow prisoners. There will be resistance to atrocities of the camp, and a love interest. I look forward to starting this one, and seeing what my book club thinks.

Thoughts on these choices? Which ones have you read? Have you done the WWW meme? Let me know so I can see what you’re reading!

Happy Reading,

Angela

WWW Wednesday!

Hello fellow book lovers!

I don’t know about you, but summer is my favorite time of year. It could be the sunshine, the warm weather, or the fact that I’m on my 8 week vacation from teaching. Let’s be real, it’s the latter. But the free time is definitely enhanced by the sunshine, as I have been spending most of my afternoons poolside.

And I have been reading a lot of fabulous books while working on that tan.

Today, I am going to be doing the WWW meme, hosted by Sam over at Taking On a World of Words. I’ve seen a number of awesome book bloggers rock this weekly meme, and I’ve been meaning to do it for weeks. But then I keep staying at the pool to read…

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

 

Currently Reading: Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty.

DSC_0175

I’ve been meaning to read another of hers since Big Little Lies, which I absolutely loved. I’m a little more on the fence about this one. The story is about three couples: Sam and Clementine, Ericka and Oliver, and Tiffany and Vid. Ericka and Clementine have a problematic friendship as it is, and everything gets a whole lot more complicated when they go to a barbecue at Tiffany and Vid’s. Moriarty holds out the big reveal of what the heck happened at said barbecue until nearly the end. There’s definitely a lot of tension and mystery in this novel. I have about 100 pages left of this one, so I’m interested to see how Moriarty resolves things.

 

Recently Finished: This Could Change Everything by Jill Mansell. 

DSC_0174

This is the third Jill Mansell novel that I’ve read this year and I absolutely loved it! Mansell is a British author, so in addition to being great romances, you also get heaps of British charm! This Could Change Everything takes place in Bath. Essie Phillips wrote an email to her best friend for a joke, and it accidentally gets sent to everyone in her address book. Her boyfriend dumps her, then kicks her out of the apartment, and to add insult to injury, she loses her job, since she was working for his mother. Luckily Essie meets the stylish and vivacious 83-year old Zillah who decides to rent her a room. It’s a heart warming story about the healing powers of new places and new people, with a corky and fun ensemble cast. Fans of Maeve Binchy or Jenny Colgan, you’ll definitely want to read some Jill Mansell.

 

Reading Next: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

DSC_0176

I will be perfectly honest: this is one I chose because I know the movie is coming out soon. I do that occasionally. I love to see movies based on books, but I have to read the book first. I enjoy dissecting the way that the book differs from the movie. I like discussing the casting choices, the sets, costumes, all that good stuff. Book lover’s paradise! But this one also fits into theme of my summer reading so far: Fun and fluffy reads. As the name implies, this one is going to be about what happens when Rachel Chu meets her boyfriend’s parents, and they turn out to be more than a little bit loaded.

I can’t wait to start this one!

 

Thoughts on these choices? Which ones have you read? Have you done the WWW meme? Let me know so I can see what you’re reading!

Happy Reading,
Angela

 

Book Review: The Kiss Quotient

kiss-quotient.jpg

“Three sessions. That’s the most I’ll do,” he said.

It took her a moment to understand that by sessions, he meant lessons, but when she did, her heart sprinted so fast her fingertips went numb. He was going to help her. Could three lessons possibly be enough to perfect sex? There was so much she had to learn, so much she was bad at, but what choice did she have? Maybe if they planned out everything very carefully….

The Kiss Quotient
By: Helen Hoang
Publisher: Berkley
Purchased through: Book of the Month Club
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Why I Read It

I’ve been in something of a reading rut this month. I’ve been checking books off my to-read list without being drawn in which is unfortunate, because that’s the fun of reading for me. I like to be so absorbed that I forget about my surroundings, lose track of time, and feel like I can’t stop reading but then sad when I finish it.

The Kiss Quotient is the first book I’ve read lately that’s given me all the feelings.

This was my June Book of the Month Pick—in part because I want to read all things light and fluffy now that I’m on summer break—but also because this book would be right in my wheelhouse any time of year. It’s corky and romantic, which are basically my two favorite things in a book.

The Premise 

Stella Lane is a 30-year-old who has never quite got the hang of dating and sex, because she also happens to have Asperger’s. But when, Stella’s mother makes it clear that she’s ready for grandchildren, she decides that what she needs to get comfortable with dating is practice. (Because practice makes perfect, right?) With this sound logic, she decides the most practical approach would be to hire a male escort. Enter Michael Phan, the extremely handsome and talented professional romancer. They enter into a “practice relationship” that turns out to be anything but pretend.  Continue reading “Book Review: The Kiss Quotient”