Wednesday, September 9, 2015

From the Bookshelf: Recently Read - September 2015 Edition

I've been feeling really lazy lately, and I think this has kind of spilled over into all areas of my life. I've been trying fewer new recipes, working out less frequently, and spending less time on my reading goals.

I still managed to get through 5 books since the last Show Us Your Books! link-up, and I'm still ahead of schedule with my 50 book goal for the year (I've completed 37 so far!) ... But, for whatever reason, I still feel like I'm not reading as much lately. Maybe things will pick back up once the weather begins to cool. Maybe.

As usual, I've written quite a bit about each book I read. If you don't have the time (or patience) to read my lengthy reviews, please feel free to skip to the end of the post for my "TL;DR" summary.

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The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay - 426 pages

Completed on 08/15/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

I'd like to begin this review with a huge thank you to both Steph and Kristen: without your glowing reviews of this novel, I may never have discovered it. And while I didn't stay up all night reading it like they did (okay, I did stay up late once, but I didn't finish it that night), I loved it just as much.

 The Sea of Tranquility is the kind of book I'd want to write. Katja Millay created two very damaged characters and brought them together in a way that felt real. It's a story about first love, but it's about so much more than that. It's a story about hope and second chances and somehow, without veering into "overly cheesy" territory, she manages to deliver all of this (and more!) in a very emotional, very effective way.

And when I say very emotional, I mean very emotional. I'm an incredibly sensitive person and I cry a lot, but I wasn't prepared to cry as much as I did while I was reading this book. I don't think I've cried as much over a book since I read The Fault in Our Stars last year. (Though I expected a sobfest with that one. I mean, it's about teenagers with cancer ... How could it not break my heart?)

I will say that I already knew what Nastya's "last secret" was before I reached the end of the novel, but that didn't make it any less enjoyable. The author gave at least a couple of clues throughout the book, so it wasn't too difficult to put the pieces together. And while this would annoy the shit out of me if it were a mystery/thriller, The Sea of Tranquility most definitely does not fall under that category ... So it really wasn't an issue.

As I said earlier, I loved this book. I gave it a solid 5 stars on Goodreads, and have already recommended it to several people. Katja Millay writes beautifully (I can't believe this is a debut novel!), and I can't wait to read more of her work.

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Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson - 230 pages

Completed on 08/18/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

It's so difficult to rate and review a memoir because you're essentially rating and reviewing another person's life. Who am I to say whether someone's life is interesting? Every life has its interesting moments. 

I don't read a lot of nonfiction in general. At first, I got this from the library simply because I was looking for something different. It also made things a little easier when I decided to join the Literary Ladies Summer Book Challenge since one of the categories was "A Book Written By A Comedian Or Celebrity (Or A Memoir)." 

I was initially drawn to this memoir because the author is, in fact, an author ... So I imagined that, at the very least, it would be well written. More than that, though, the subject matter intrigued me. 

Jeanette Winterson was adopted at a very young age by a devoutly religious couple. Her adoptive mother was nearly impossible to please, and very emotionally and mentally abusive. Jeanette frequently found herself locked out of her own home all night as a young girl, and when her mother was angry with her, she'd say, "The Devil led us to the wrong crib."

Things only became worse for Jeanette as she got older and realized she was a lesbian. At just 16 years old, she was forced to leave her home after coming out to her mother. When she explained that she was in love with another woman and that she made her happy, her mother's response became the title of this memoir: "Why be happy when you could be normal?"

This memoir also chronicles Jeanette's search for her biological mother. I found these sections particularly interesting because she notes in the final chapter that she wrote much of this book in real time ... She had no idea how the search would turn out as she was writing out the frustrations associated with the experience.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this. It was heartbreaking at times, but also filled with hope. I loved that she was able to break away from those "not good enough" feelings to become a successful writer. I also loved that she wasn't afraid to admit to her shortcomings. She felt undeserving of love and ill prepared to give so much of herself to someone else, and she admits that it took her years to figure out how to be in a healthy romantic relationship. And, despite the fact that I don't typically go for memoirs, this wasn't a bad way to pass the time. 

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The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins - 323 pages

Completed on 08/24/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

After several months of patiently waiting for this book to become available at the library, I was finally able to see for myself what all the hype was about. And, since I'm sure that by now most people have either read The Girl on the Train or heard a lot about it, I won't bore you with a summary of the plot ... I'll just share my thoughts.

Before I started this novel, I assumed I would probably love it. I'm a huge fan of thrillers, and this one consistently got (mostly) great reviews. And, despite only rating it 4 stars on Goodreads, I did really like it ... It just didn't blow me away the way I thought it would.

Overall, I thought Paula Hawkins did a great job creating a fast-paced thriller. I was hooked early on, and even though it took me several days to finish, it wasn't due to lack of interest. I stayed up late reading at least once, and actually cared about what happened to Rachel even though she wasn't the most likable character.

To be honest, I kind of felt bad only giving this book 4 stars. I know that's not a bad rating, but I've given several books 5 stars this year ... So I'm not overly stingy with my 5 star ratings. I really enjoyed it, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to others. I think the main issue was that I (unfairly) built it up so much in my mind that it couldn't possibly live up to my expectations.

As I said earlier, I'm a huge fan of thrillers ... So I obviously read a lot of them. The problem with reading a lot of thrillers, though, is that it becomes very difficult for authors to create a twist that I don't see coming. I'm not saying that I always know who did it or why, but I'm pretty good at picking up on the clues the author scatters throughout the book. 

I'll admit that I didn't immediately know who did it, but I knew at least a few chapters before it was revealed. There were a few things I didn't see coming, of course, but I really wanted to be completely shocked ... I mean, the cover even has a blurb stating that the book is "wildly unpredictable." I guess I was just expecting something a little different.

While The Girl on the Train didn't quite live up to my ridiculously high expectations, it was a solid thriller that held my interest throughout. I definitely think it's worth picking up if, like me, you're behind the times and haven't read it yet.

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You by Caroline Kepnes - 422 pages

Completed on 08/30/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

I'm not sure what this says about me (other than I clearly have a dark, fucked up sense of humor), but I found myself laughing out loud on numerous occasions while I was reading this novel. You has been categorized as a "mystery/thriller," but I don't think it really fits that category. 

It kind of reminded me of Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho in some ways (which is actually one of the many pop culture references in this book). Like Ellis, Kepnes weaves obsession, violence, and sex with social commentary, pop culture, and very very dark humor. I found You to be much less graphic than American Psycho (I still think about that fucking rat, and I read that book almost 10 years ago ... Ugh), but if you're not a fan of explicit sexual content, this might not be the book for you.

That being said, I really enjoyed You. I gave it a 4 star rating on Goodreads, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys really dark literature. 

My only issue with this novel was the stream of consciousness writing. For the most part, I don't dislike this ... But sometimes it got to be a bit much. Joe just rattled on and on (sometimes about completely unrelated things), and I'd have to reread sections because I thought I missed something. But no ... He's just sharing every thought in his head.

For those who don't know anything about this book, the general premise is as follows: Joe Goldberg is the owner of a small bookstore in New York. Guinevere Beck (or Beck, as she prefers to be addressed) comes into the store one day and he's immediately smitten. However, in Joe's world "smitten" means learning every single thing about a woman and her life. 

He begins stalking her on various social media accounts, and, from these accounts, learns where she lives, where she goes to school, what bars she frequents, etc. Joe is a smart guy, though, and pretty soon he's not just on the outside looking in ... He's completely inserted himself into her life.

You was creepy in the best sort of way, and it was creepy because it was pretty believable. Many of us (bloggers, especially!) put a lot of our personal lives out there online for anyone to find. I try to keep some parts of my life more private (and I think I do a good job, for the most part), but it's not as though I don't use Instagram while I'm away from home or share some pretty personal stories on my blog. I don't think we'll all inspire stalkers to come knocking at our doors or anything, but it's definitely something I think about from time to time.

As I said, I really enjoyed this novel. I'll definitely be reading the next book in this series (and any others Caroline Kepnes may release in the future)!

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The Ice Twins by S.K. Tremayne - 306 pages

Completed on 09/02/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

I was on the waiting list at the library for at least a couple of months for this book, and I was so excited when it finally showed up on my hold shelf. There were so many 4 and 5 star reviews on Goodreads claiming The Ice Twins was an amazing, suspenseful novel, and I couldn't wait to see what all the hype was about.

Well, I'm still wondering. 

I knew I'd probably have to suspend my disbelief quite a bit based on some of the reviews I read, but I still thought the story sounded interesting. A grieving couple, Sarah and Angus Moorcroft, are trying to move on with their lives after the tragic death of one of their identical twin daughters. Determined to start fresh, they move from London to a tiny Scottish island that Angus inherited from his grandmother. 

But things only become worse after they move. The surviving daughter, Kirstie, suddenly claims that she's actually Lydia, and her parents begin to wonder if they made a terrible mistake. As more time passes, Kirstie (or Lydia?) begins acting very strangely, and Sarah begins to question what actually happened on the night of the accident and whether it is, in fact, just the three of them on their remote island.

I realized pretty early on that I probably wouldn't like this book as much as I initially thought I would. The dialogue grated on my nerves (for some reason it always annoys the hell out of me when people constantly call each other "darling" in books or movies), Kirstie/Lydia acted and spoke like a baby (do 7 year old children really still call their fathers "Dada?"), and the nicknames the couple had for the twins were stupid (Lydie-lo and Kirstie-koo). I know most of those things wouldn't be a big deal to most readers, but they annoyed me so much that I worried I wouldn't even be able to finish the book.

As I continued reading, I found myself at least wondering where S.K. Tremayne would take the story ... And that's literally the only reason I gave this book 2 stars on Goodreads. If I absolutely hated it, I wouldn't care what happened on the night of the accident or which twin actually survived. 

Unfortunately, the story was completely scattered. Was The Ice Twins a ghost story? A story about a dysfunctional family trying to deal with a tragedy? Or was it a story about mistaken identity? It's honestly kind of hard to say because there were so many ideas and random subplots that were never fully developed.

I wish I could say I understand why so many people seem to love this book so much, but I honestly don't. Unless you just really want to check it out for yourself, I'd say this is one to skip.

"TL;DR" Summary:

I'm pleased to say that the majority of the books I've picked up recently are worth checking out. If I had to choose, though, I'd say that The Sea of Tranquility was my favorite. If you haven't read it already, please add it to your "To Read" list. But reader beware: you may not want to finish this one in public if, like me, you're prone to sobbing hysterically over books!

I would also highly recommend The Girl on the Train and You. (I know most people have probably already read The Girl on the Train, though.) You can be pretty sexually explicit, so just keep that in mind if you decide to check it out. I know that sort of thing isn't for everyone.

If you're looking for some nonfiction, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? might appeal to you (especially if you enjoy reading memoirs). I'm not a huge fan of nonfiction, but this book was pretty interesting and managed to hold my attention.

The Ice Twins was the one true dud in the bunch. It wasn't the worst book I've ever read, but it definitely didn't live up to the hype. I'm still wondering how it managed to earn so many 4 and 5 star reviews on Goodreads.


  1. Will all the positive reviews from readers in this link-up, how have I not read The Sea of Tranquility yet? I need to get on that!

    I am like you. I enjoy thrillers and a good effed-up story. And, I enjoyed The Girl on the Train. A lot of people that did not like it complain about hating the characters. I thought the severely flawed characters is what made the book so good for me.

  2. The Sea of Tranquility has been on my list forever. I didn't realize it was so long! I also keep meaning to read You. I liked The Girl on the Train too, but it didn't blow me away.

  3. SO glad you loved the sea of tranquility. i got chills reading your review. with the last secret, do you mean the... garage? i did not see that coming and i bawled like a ridiculous baby. honestly though, i love that you discovered it and i love that i discovered it and i love that blogging helps me find books that i would never have found otherwise.
    You is on my list! Thanks for the sexually explicit warning, I'm okay with that if I know, but if I don't know beforehand it can kind of put me off a book. I liked the girl on the train, but like you, it didn't blow me away. i did enjoy it though.

  4. You and Tranquility are two of my favorite reads from this year. For VERY different reasons. VERY very, clearly.

    I cried REALLY hard reading Tranquility.

  5. I'm with Erin, how have I not read Sea of Tranquility yet?!
    You is also on my TBR list and The Ice Twins sounds interesting.

  6. You is on my Kindle. I think I am going to move it up in line!

  7. Another vote for Tranquility. I guess I am just going to cave and order it. The Winterson book sounds interesting.