There’s a reason All the Light We Cannot See won a Pulitzer Prize. It took me a few weeks to work my way through this one. In early January, one afternoon it was a surprise waiting for me in the mailbox from one of my favorite teachers. Over the weekend I was bound and determined to find out how this story wrapped up. Sometimes while reading, I had to take breaks because my stomach was in knots and my thoughts would wander (not out of boredom, quite the opposite – this book gave me so much to think about.) The story alternates view points, and points in time throughout the novel, later adding on to the character’s perspectives you’re seeing through, and eventually (as may have been expected), intertwining these character’s lives. There is so much to digest here, so much to take away. We have Marie-Laure a young blind girl living in occupied France during WWII. Marie-Laure’s father Daniel LeBlanc is a locksmith at the Museum of Natural History in Paris. You have orphan Werner Pfennig living in a children’s home in Germany with his sister Jutta, with their kind care taker Frau Elena. As you can imagine in war-time, all of these character’s locations change and their stories expand and they encounter more people who become essential to their stories. I’m intentionally being vague because I would hate to ruin the beautiful way this story unravels. I think some of the key points I was reminded of is the way art, music, books, and imagination can be threads of hope in the darkest of times. I was reminded that although we know what’s right and wrong, people who do bad things, are still capable of doing good things. Recently, I saw a tweet that said “Historically, ‘I was only following orders’ has not been a solid defense.” How true this is, and some people only come to the realization after so much damage is done. Friendship can sprout from curious places. Fear makes people do evil things. It’s never wrong to do the right thing, even if it means you’re going against the current. Doing the right thing takes a tremendous amount of courage sometimes. People can be very impressionable, it’s important to remember to think for yourself and not be a follower. We have a responsibility to maintain a knowledge of the past, so we don’t repeat history’s mistakes. This story tugged on my heart strings, and these characters will stay with me for years to come. If you haven’t read this novel yet, I highly recommend you do so immediately.
I was curious of other reader’s feedback, so I looked at some reviews on Amazon. One person shared: “Look, I’m stoked people are even still writing books, let alone reading them AND sometimes buying the actual book. However, this was just boring.”
Unfortunately, I had to agree.
The Girls focuses on fourteen year old Evie, in the summer of the late 60’s. Bored with her only friend Connie, frustrated with her mom and her string of new boyfriends, desperate and eager for attention she finds herself falling in with a cult. This story line had strong potential, but in my opinion fell flat. The descriptions of the characters, though flowery in their prose, brought us no closer to understanding any of them. The most we got were Evie’s obsessive sexual fantasies about (basically the ring leader of the woman in the group – though they claimed to live belonging to no one with an equal flow of love in all directions) Suzanne. The story is told in flashbacks of present day Evie – older, timid, living a quiet life alone. Basically the whole book just felt like a shell of a story. We don’t really learn much about Evie’s life after that summer, (she wasn’t connected to the crimes committed), except that she made a few friends at boarding school that year, and later in life she had a few different roommates. Even during the summer with the cult and it’s leader, Russell (baring uncanny descriptive similarities to Manson) the flashbacks are lacking as well. Listen, I wasn’t looking for some gruesome telling of the murders, or sexual assault but I just felt confused the whole time. The story didn’t really seem to have much to do with the bizarre practices themselves. Evie seemed to mock them, and question them regularly (mostly internally,) but it was just a means for her to be able to follow Suzanne around and be close to her. Sure – if this wasn’t fictional, it’d be great that some young teenage girl didn’t get completely sucked in. But how much reality is there to the idea that she just rode her bike to hang out with these people on a ranch, occasionally spending the night, but sometimes returning home in time for dinner? It felt non-committal.
Hopefully the other titles on my “to-read” list for 2017 are less disappointing. I know that mine is not necessarily a popular opinion regarding this book. Some people sing the praises of Emma Cline for her “beautiful style.” I wouldn’t personally recommend this book, but I still think it’s good to gather your own opinions, of what is being buzzed about.
(Image from Amazon.)
Happy New Year friends! Hope everyone had some great days this holiday season. I know I haven’t posted as nearly as often as I should lately. Although we’re five days into this new year, I thought it’d be fun to share my reading list from 2016. I’ll let you know, which ones were my favorites (and I’ll even add in some of the books I started but didn’t finish *insert eye covering emoji here.*) Some of these books have stuck with me in such a way that I think about them several times a week. When you find books like that, it’s hard to find a follow up. What were your favorites you read last year? What are you most looking forward to reading this year? Right after Christmas I started reading A Game of Thrones, but this one is going to take me a while. These are in the order I read them, not by my affection for them. The titles listed in bold were my favorites, and if I already featured it on Meg Says, I linked to the original post. See below for a variety of non-fiction, adult fiction, and young adult books I found this year!
*Note: I apologize for any weird formatting issues, I’ve been trying to sort out the kinks.*
How To Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran (Adult Fiction)
Save the Date by Jen Doll (Adult Non-Fiction)For my girlfriends that are always attending weddings – bridesmaids, guests, etc. you will probably find yourself relating to some of these stories. Some of them are funny, and some you’d feel the embarrassment, or you’d get the tensions that can fly in these situations. Nothing too crazy or surprising, but a reminder that a lot of us might feel like we’re in 27 Dresses (as my brother’s friends used to point out about my life, haha.) We probably all have enough of our stories to compile a book like this.
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (Adult Fiction)
Soon to be a mini series on HBO with a stellar cast, you should read this before it airs. I was HOOKED, immediately. I love multi-view point stories, and this is a little bit mystery, somewhat amusing, a touch sad, but all around intriguing. It’s one of my favorite “fun” books to recommend.
Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling (Adult Non-Fiction)
Mindy Kaling never disappoints. I love how real she is, and getting a peak into her life and relationships. She is definitely comfortable and completely embraces all that she is – brilliance and flaws, and all. I feel like I’m having a couch convo in my PJs with a friend while I read her stories.
30 Shades of Grayton by Kyle Petit (Adult Non-Fiction)
I picked this up at one of my favorite little independent bookstores over in Seaside, Florida. It’s a quick read, and was mildly entertaining about a woman in a small coastal town dating after a divorce.
Room by Emma Donoghue (Adult Fiction)
A story abut a young woman who was taken, and brought to live in a room. She doesn’t know life outside of those walls anymore, until one day she has a son. Her son changes everything, as she tries to create a world for him within this space. This was another book I just couldn’t put down. I still haven’t seen the Oscar nominated film, but I was convinced it was finally time to set aside any fears I had that this was going to psychologically torment me and finally read it. I’m so glad I did. This is a beautiful story that I’d say is more about love and life, and the ties that bind then about the awful abduction and treatment during that time. It’s written in a format I wasn’t expecting, and I think it’s completely original.
Bright Young Things by Scarlett Thomas (Adult Fiction)
This little British book kept calling to me from the shelf at the library. It felt like I was immersed in a reality television show. A story about a group of random strangers brought together by responding to an ad. I still feel unsettled by the ending, but it was definitely interesting and not like the other books on my list.
Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (Adult Fiction)
I know it’s unfair to compare this novel to Gone Girl, but I think that was expected as it’s written in a similar vein. This one’s hard to provide details without ruining anything but our main character has blurred memories of a variety of events she’s witnessed. Her alcohol issues have caused her to lose her job. Instead of admitting this to her housemate, she continues on her way with her daily train commute. When a woman she’s seen from the train (and has watched her relationship) turns up missing – she gets involved. It had a bit of a slow pace for me, but still managed to create suspense and I’ll admit it took me more than three quarters of the book to “figure it out.”
The Last Boy and Girl in the World by Siobhan Vivian (YA Fiction)
Undoubtedly, hands down one of my favorite books of the year. Not just the year – all time. I freakin’ love this book, and you should read it. The first several chapters were released online prior to the pub date to increase anticipation and oh my goodness – I was glued to my computer screen. I’m not even going to tell you more, but get this book in your life.
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari (Adult Non-Fiction)
My favorite non-fiction book of the year. Aziz is brilliant. He’s hilarious, and he’s so insightful. I only wish I had been a collaborator in this creation. A look on modern dating, and how it’s evolved over time, and what it looks like in different parts of the world. Simply fascinating.
Me Before You by JoJo Moyes (Adult Fiction)
I have to admit I was majorly disappointed in this book. I finally got around to reading it when I saw the film trailer released, (which I never ended up seeing the movie). The trailer made me cry, and all of my friends thought the book would destroy me. A story of a young woman who is out of a job, and ends up taking on the job of caring for a man who’s been injured and permanently paralyzed and lives in his parent’s home. There were somewhat tender moments, but everything seemed so shallow. The characters were apparently experiencing intense emotions, but they were so poorly conveyed that I was unable to connect.
Extraordinary Means by Robyn Shneider (YA Fiction)
Schneider just crafts such beautiful stories. I thought, “oh! I’m going to make it through this one without crying.” Joke was on me, as this story inevitably ripped my heart out. It follows a group of people who are brought together by an usual connection (their TB diagnosis), where they’re all living in a boarding school/treatment center of sorts. It’s one of those stories that extra makes you appreciate the beautiful intricacies of relationships.
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichiw (Adult Non-Fiction)
Short, but powerful. Read it if you haven’t!
Broken Hearts, Fences, and Other Things to Mend by Katie Finn (YA Fiction)
Morgan Matson’s alias. I was excited to finally dive into the Finn world, and while it was somewhat amusing I didn’t feel compelled to read the follow-up novels. Though the light read that has some of the appeal of an MTV reality show like Laguna Beach could be something fun to try.
The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close (Adult Fiction)
This novel was fantastic. Following the relationship of a young couple who met in New York, and later move to DC as the husband pursues a career in politics. This is a work of fiction, but it felt so realistic. I felt like I was reading a blog, or my friend was emailing me about her life. It definitely made me want to read another Jennifer Close book.
Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll (Adult Fiction)
READ THIS. My only qualm with this one was the designer brand name dropping. Once I got beyond that, I was mesmerized by the story. I knew it was building up to something, but I was taken by surprise when I found out what. (Like gasp a loud, close my eyes surprise.) Then when you find out the similarities of Jessical Knoll’s own experiences, it’s even more heart-wrenching. This is a powerful story that I have chills just referring to right now.
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (YA Fiction)
With this historical fiction novel, Ruta Sepetys raced to the top of my list of favorite authors. It’s a unique take on parts of history, and some of it I was ashamed to realize I was unaware of. It’s painful to read at times, but also beautiful. It’s another book that reminds about the strength love gives us, and the grit and determination fueled by that love can pull us through even the seemingly most impossible situations.
The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick (YA Fiction)
Huntley Fitzpatrick is so great at weaving stories about friendship, love, family and the importance of trust and communication in our relationships. There’s always a twist in her stories, that you’re not expecting and I think that just adds to the appeal. I felt like my heart was literally aching for the characters in this story. Tim Mason grows immensely in this book, and it felt like watching a friend experience some really hell situations and come out the other side.
What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler (YA Fiction)
This story had me fired up. Especially because I was reading it around the “grab her by the p****” comments from earlier this fall. It’s just one of those that drove me crazy because unfortunately you can’t shake your shoulders and say it’s just a story. It’s real, it’s inspired by true events, and victims of sexual assault have been shown over and over that even with video proof of them being violated, people will still try and silence and discount their stories. I think this is an important book to read. I think it shines light on a different perspective. And it takes you outside of the exact event that happened to third party characters which I think lends an interesting view point. This text also lent one of my favorite quotes of the year:
“You’re doing the right thing,” she says.
“Doesn’t feel like it.” I wipe my eyes. I am so tired of crying. She nods, reading back over her list and flipping to a new page in her steno pad. “Sometimes, that’s how you know,” she says without looking up. “That’s how you know.”
The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter (YA Fiction)
The librarian seemed a little disturbed when I was checking out this title, but assumptions aside this is an important piece of work. Sure all families have their own sorts of dysfunction, but some have more than others. This one delves into that divide when parents have their own personal issues they project on their children, and take away the chance for their kids to bond with them in normal ways. Of course, that causes all kinds of psychological damage. I can’t imagine feeling the degree of betrayal Cassie experiences, but man what a journey she traverses to get through it. This is one of the grittiest stories I’ve ever read. Sure, there are some positive spots but there’s no glossing over the anger and heartache. I think the straight forward approach to all sorts of topics in this story is brave and important.
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (YA Fiction)
The second book I read by Ruta Sepetys, and it was just as good as the first. Another look into world history, surrounding Stalin and Hitler but referencing some events I still had no idea about. Somehow Sepetys is able to expand your world view, and your heart at the same time. The friendships that blossom through the pages are just so endearing and painstakingly beautiful. It aches to think about the atrocities they witness together, but you’re glad they’re at least together. She has one more title I haven’t read, and this book dissolved any doubt (I didn’t really have) to read anything she’s ever written.
Bare Bones: I’m Not Lonely If You’re Reading This by Bobby Bones (Adult Non-Fiction)
A memoir from my favorite radio host. I laughed, I cried, I was amazed being reminded of the stories we all carry with us that make us who we are, and sometimes we have no idea what others around us are carrying. This is a great, inspiring story. And it’s all about stories.
The Grown Up by Gillian Flynn (Adult Fiction)
A little psychological terror short story. Definitely had no clue what to expect reading this one, and found it to be just the right amount of creepy.
What Light by Jay Asher (YA Fiction)
This was a perfect read in December with Christmas lights up in my room. A family who goes to their Christmas tree farm every December? Perfect. If you’ve read Thirteen Reasons Why – this one doesn’t have the same life changing punch, but it’s a sweet story. It’s also a good reminder to get to know people on your own, and don’t take their “reputation” at face value because who knows what you could be missing out on.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Adult Fiction)
In the last week of the year, this was the final book I read. It was actually the second time I’d tried to read it. This time I finished. It was an okay story. I really enjoy weird futuristic, post-apocalyptic stories (The Road, The Age of Miracles), and this one was interesting enough I guess, but it seemed to fall a little flat. There were multiple points of view, and I liked the way it came together in the last seventy-five pages or so, but there were so many more things I wished she’d done with it. Maybe it didn’t help that in December I also watched Netflix’s The OA and was obsessed with all the theories it made me think about. I just wish some of the stories had been further expanded on.
Unfortunately, I started but didn’t finish (and am still working on them):
- Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
- Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh (Adult Fiction)
- The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer (Adult Non-Fiction)
- The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson (YA Fiction)
- Modern Lovers by Emma Straub
A Few Books I’m Looking Forward to Reading in 2017:
The Serpent King by Jeff Zettner
- Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick
- Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer
- Still Life With Tornado by A.S. King
- The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
- All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda
- Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple
- Sweet Bitter by Stephanie Danler
- Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
- The Girls by Emma Cline
- Once and For All by Sarah Dessen
- When We Collided by Emery Lord
Of course, when Reese Witherspoon recommends a book, I’m all ears. I saw the praise for Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive, and immediately put myself on the wait list at the library. I was instantly drawn into the world of Ani in all of its splendor, but also hazy secrets. Readers learn quickly that some events earlier in Ani’s life led her to fight for a life as a successful, beautiful, thriving woman – someone who would build armor from the admiration and jealousy of others. Ani is living in Manhattan, in her late twenties, engaged to a handsome man of Wall Street, and writing provocative columns for a women’s magazine. It’s unclear at first what events drove Ani to revent invent herself into the salty, cut throat young woman, wanting to be superior to those around her but as her story unravels – there’s a tenderness, a vulnerability that makes everything make sense. I’ll say at first all of the high-end label name dropping threw me. I felt like it was an unnecessary tool that didn’t have high impact on the plot but eventually it grew to be less of a distraction, as I was more consumed by the emotional details of the story. Eventually the story starts alternating between Ani’s high school experiences in a small, prestigious prep school and her current life in the city. That’s when things start getting really gritty. I’ll be honest, usually I consider myself to be a pretty observant reader and I can sense a plot twist coming. This one took my breath away. I literally felt my hand fly to my mouth with a sharp intake of breath, unprepared for the turn of events on the page. Now that really made me admire Knoll’s writing style. She’d already captivated this reader’s attention, but then she drug me even deeper into the story unable to look away as hard as it was at times to push through the sharp details. I know that this is a vague telling of a novel that I’m recommending with such a high regard but I was so struck by the element of surprise in this story that I would hate to ruin that reading experience for anyone else.
I subscribe to LennyLetter and several months ago, I saw Jessica Knoll had penned her own, “What I Know.” I saw the description, but I declined reading the letter in its entirety, until I’d read Luckiest Girl Alive. Well, after finishing the book last time I went ahead and read the letter, and I have goosebumps just thinking about it. Click here to check it out.
For those of you who have already read Luckiest Girl Alive, thoughts? Comments? I’ve also seen that Witherspoon optioned the movie rights, and Knoll wrote the screenplay so I’m curious to see how that pans out!
You might not be expecting it at first, but this is definitely a powerful read. Knoll gives TifAni a powerful voice in this story, and she writes in a way that captures a plethora of emotions she cycles through – lust, fear, guilt, remorse, uncertainty – it’s all there. I highly recommend you add it to your list. Happy Reading!
(Image from Amazon.)
The Hopefuls tells the story of Beth and Matt who’s relationship started after a fateful meeting in NYC. The beginning clues us in that Matt worked on the Obama campaign in 2008 and was absolutely captivated by the magic energy of being involved. (I’ll admit I was amused from the first page – in a totally good way.) While Beth doesn’t echo the same sentiments, she definitely understands that it’s Matt’s passion. Eventually the young newlyweds found themselves right smack dab in the hub bub of Washington D.C. Matt with dreams of running for office, and Beth having left everything she knew behind in NYC, (only after losing her job at Vanity Fair.) Matt instantly warms to the city of politics, while Beth takes much longer to find a comfortable place there. A blossoming friendship with another couple in a similar position, having moved from Texas – Ashley and Jimmy bring a sense of belonging and ease to the niche they’ve created in D.C. Basically the story follows Matt’s slow climb up the ladder (not always up, sometimes just lateral much to his frustration.) And Beth’s struggle to pinpoint her true aspirations and goals in life, in both her career and her ideas about a future family. It follows their transitions geographically and emotionally.
I know this might not sound like the most exciting story right off hand, but let me tell you: the way Jennifer Close writes, it feels like you’re on the couch and your best friend is just spilling her guts about the mess of everything going on in her life and in her head. That’s how close you feel to all the anguish, and roller coaster of emotions and events Beth is experiencing on their journey. I also think this is one of the most honest depictions of a relationship I’ve ever read about. Even beautiful relationships still come with their own struggles, and Beth notices them even when she can’t pin point the source. While she supports Matt, she also knows even in his disappoints she still deserves to be treated with respect and as a teammate in their marriage. That sacrifice goes both ways. That one person can’t put in all the effort to make a relationship work. It was almost painful at times to read about their struggles, but I think they’re also relatable and in a way, readers can find comfort in that.
Some books get so much buzz when they first come out, that by the time I read them I’m disappointed they don’t live up to the hype. This isn’t one of them. If you haven’t gotten your hands on a copy of Jennifer Close’s The Hopefuls I suggest you get on that now!