Sunday, November 13, 2016

From the Bookshelf: Recently Read - November 2016 Edition

I managed to get through quite a few books since the last Show Us Your Books! link-up with Steph and Jana. (I guess I had a lot of extra time on my hands since I wasn't working on blog stuff.) And, even though I'm ridiculously late to the link-up party, I wanted to make sure I didn't miss out completely.

I haven't been working on blog stuff recently, and there's a reason for that. To put it simply, things have been pretty stressful lately. It hasn't all been bad, of course ... Sometimes I've just been busy. There have definitely been some darker moments over the past few months, though, and I've just found it difficult to even want to share my thoughts and feelings on this blog when I'm still processing them internally.

When I'm stressed and overwhelmed, I tend to withdraw. And if I need to unwind, few things are better than curling up with a book for a few hours and losing myself in a completely different world. 

So that's what I've been doing. Reading. A lot. And, while I probably should have spent more time on more productive things, it's helped me relieve some tension and forget, even for a little while, about things I don't want to dwell on and things I can't control.

So, now that that's out of the way, it's time to take a look at what I've been reading lately (minus anything I've finished since leaving for my anniversary trip last Saturday):

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What You Left Behind by Samantha Hayes - 309 pages - 3 stars

Completed on 10/15/2016

I allowed myself to do some library wandering (always a dangerous thing!), and came away with several books I happened to find on the shelves that were on my ever growing "To Read" list. One of those books was What You Left Behind.

I don't know what prompted me to push this book ahead of all the others I checked out, but something about it made me feel like I just had to read it. 

Unfortunately for me, it was a bit of a letdown. 

I wouldn't say I didn't like it at all (I mean, I gave it 3 stars), but it definitely wasn't what I expected. There were times when I couldn't put it down, desperate to find out what was going on. Other times, though, I had a hard time getting into it. Nearly every time Hayes built up the suspense, she'd pull away and focus on some other, more trivial aspect of the story. Or, if she didn't do that, the "big reveal" felt like a big "whomp whomp" for me.

One of the biggest problems with this book was that there was just so much going on. Hayes was trying to tie things together that really didn't fit, so the resolution felt a little contrived and clunky. Additionally, I wish she'd spent more time on the bullying that one of the main characters, Freddie, was experiencing. It started off strong enough, but then it seemed like she thought, "Actually, I want to take this story in a different direction ..." and completely changed her focus. But, instead of moving on from the bullying entirely, she peppered the rest of the novel with random, unbelievable things that were semi-related to the bullying. It was as weird and jumbled as it sounds.

I felt this book was worthy of a 3 star rating for two reasons: some parts were suspenseful enough to keep me guessing and turning the pages and I thought the main plot of a small town shaken by a cluster of teen suicides was interesting. I don't know how unique that storyline is, but I've never read anything about that topic ... So it was different enough to pique my interest. Obviously I felt like the ending was less than satisfying, but it was a decent way to pass the time.

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott - 340 pages - 5 stars

Completed on 10/20/2016

I'll start this review by saying that I don't think Abbott's writing style is for everyone. I can imagine that some people would get annoyed with the repetition and/or with the way she chooses to describe things (particularly in this book). I can also imagine that other people might find it too slow, as her books seem to be more "slow burn" than "heart pounding thriller."

But me? I fucking love her writing style. I read The End of Everything last year (and it was one of my favorite reads of 2015!), and I can say with confidence that You Will Know Me will be on my list of favorite reads of 2016. 

In You Will Know Me, Abbott effectively creates a creeping sense of dread, scattering small glimpses of what's to come throughout the novel. I know I've only read two of her books, but, from what I have read, I can say that Abbott does a great job creating complex characters and chilling, realistic situations. 

She also has a way of making you (or maybe it's just me?) think you might have things figured out and then introducing new information to make you question what you think you know. In both The End of Everything and You Will Know Me, I had at least three theories about what really happened ... But I wasn't sure of any of them until the end. And, even then, there are always at least one or two things that I'm still thinking about, forced to draw my own conclusions about a character's motivations. 

I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Read - 210 pages - 5 stars

Completed on 10/22/2016

As I was reading I'm Thinking of Ending Things, I just kept thinking over and over: "Holy shit!" Seriously, though ... Holy shit.

I went in knowing very little about this book, and, if you haven't read it and plan to, I'd highly suggest doing the same. (But don't worry, I won't include any spoilers in my review ... So feel free to read on!)

I felt a similar creeping sense of dread while reading I'm Thinking of Ending Things as I did while reading You Will Know Me. This is another "slow burn" kind of book, though I felt that because the things shared throughout the book felt a little darker and a little less based in reality, it seemed like it could go in almost any direction, making it a little scarier (for me, at least).

This book reminded me of a David Lynch movie. To be perfectly honest, his movies are very hit or miss for me. Luckily, I'm Thinking of Ending Things was much more Lost Highway (my absolute favorite Lynch film) than Wild at Heart (which I hated with a passion). In fact, I kept picturing Robert Blake as "The Caller" in this novel.

This book is dark, surreal, and unsettling, and I loved every moment of it! It's a short book, so it's a quick read anyway, but I tore through it in about a day and a half. In fact, I was so eager to find out how it ended that I took it with me to read in the car on the way to my in-laws' house on a Saturday afternoon ... And then sat in the car in the driveway to finish it before coming in. The first thing everyone said when I came in was, "So, was it a really good book?" Yes, it definitely was.

Real Happy Family by Caeli Wolfson Widger - 357 pages - 3 stars

Completed on 10/29/2016

Book hangovers are real. After reading two five star books that felt like they were written just for me (yes, I loved them that much!), it was hard to pick my next read. I wanted to try for at least one more book for Book Challenge by Erin 5.0 (and, yes, I know that I'm way behind and still need to post my results!), and I wanted something that would be completely different from the books I'd just read. And Real Happy Family was about as far away from those chilling books as I could get!

When I first chose this book for the challenge, I thought it would be a pretty light, fluffy, chick-lit kind of book. But, while it was definitely written with a female audience in mind, it was hardly the light and fluffy book I imagined.

I wouldn't classify this book as "dark" either (not by a long shot), but Wolfson Widger touches on some major issues (drug abuse/addiction, body image issues, and infertility, among others) throughout the novel. Despite the often heavy subject matter, Wolfson Widger managed to insert some humor, creating an almost satirical look at Hollywood and the desperate search for fame.

As a fan of stories centering around dysfunctional families, Real Happy Family was a good pick. My biggest issue with it was the fact that, like What You Left Behind, it felt like it had too much going on at times. One character could, in my opinion, have been cut completely from the book. While this would have eliminated two subplots, I think the book would have been better for it. (One of those subplots in particular really just pissed me off.)

That being said, this book was an overall enjoyable read and helped me get through the book hangover I experienced after those last two amazing books.

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris - 293 pages - 3 stars

Completed on 10/30/2016

After reading Steph's review of this book, my expectations were pretty low. But, since I was already on the waiting list at the library, I figured I'd go ahead and check it out for myself. 

Okay, here's the thing: Behind Closed Doors isn't particularly well-written. It isn't very suspenseful, and it isn't very original. Somehow, though, it managed to suck me in and not let go until I'd finished. (I stopped reading only to sleep, finishing around 234 pages in a single day. And, if you're wondering, that's a lot for me.)

I can see why Behind Closed Doors has become a pretty popular book. It's an incredibly easy read, and there's a considerable amount of action propelling the story forward. And, while it's also very unbelievable in many ways, it managed keep me engaged and entertained. (If nothing else, I wanted to see how everything played out in the end.) 

I struggled with rating this book because it had so many flaws, but I couldn't honestly say I didn't enjoy it at all. I think if I'd read it prior to reading Steph's review, my expectations would have been much higher and I probably would have hated it. But, since I wasn't expecting an amazing, original thriller, I was pleasantly surprised when I didn't want to hurl it across the room. This isn't a "must read" kind of book, but I've definitely read much worse. High praise, I know, but it's honest.

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty - 415 pages - 4 stars

Completed on 11/01/2016

I kind of feel like I'm in the minority when it comes to this book. While I don't think I've seen any awful reviews, it seems like a lot of bloggers have been at least a little disappointed with Truly Madly Guilty. (It seems like I've read a lot of reviews that start with something like "I had a hard time getting into this one," anyway.)

I, on the other hand, was completely sucked in from page one. I finished this book in just a couple of days (which is, in my opinion, pretty impressive since it's a little over 400 pages long!), and found myself getting annoyed when I had to put it down to do other things. (You know, like work.) While part of this frantic reading was due to a looming library due date (and a waiting list of 95 people), I mostly tore through this book because I had to know what happened at that barbeque!

I've now read three books by Moriarty, and I've enjoyed them all. While she does seem to follow a general formula with her plots, I always find myself captivated by her flawed characters and realistic "ordinary things go terribly wrong" situations. And, while there is generally a lot going on in each of her books, it never feels jumbled or overwhelming because, in the end, everything had a purpose.

Lessons From a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles - 215 pages - 3 stars

Completed on 11/02/2016

Lessons From a Dead Girl was a very strange, very fucked up book. One of the main characters, Leah, seemed almost like a crazier, more sinister version of Alison DiLaurentis from Pretty Little Liars. Leah is clearly the "queen bee" of the group, using the power in her popularity to make sure none of her friends ever betray her by spilling her darkest secrets.

While I enjoyed this book enough to finish it quickly (though, to be fair, it was a very short book), I didn't really like the way it was written. Yes, this is a YA book, but the writing seemed to suggest it was for a very young audience. The subject matter, on the other hand, wasn't. (And this is a perfect example of why YA books are so hit or miss for me.)

In addition to the simplistic writing, I found it difficult to really care about Leah or the other main character, Laine. The story is told from Laine's point of view, and it seemed as though Knowles wanted readers to really feel for her (with good reason) ... But I just felt like the character development was lacking, so I could never feel any real emotion for her.

I also felt the same about Leah. Although she's painted as a horrible, abusive bitch at least 90% of the time, readers are probably supposed to care about her (at least a little). However, even though Knowles shed light on the main cause of Leah's appalling behavior, I still couldn't bring myself to really feel anything for her. (Except maybe anger and disgust.)

Lessons From a Dead Girl wasn't terrible by any means, but I think it had the potential to be so much better. Like some of the other books I've reviewed in this post, it's not a "must read." It is, however, a quick read that didn't feel like a complete waste of time.