What I Read: April & May 2018

The past two months resulted in quite a few books. Prepare yourself for a long post!

I tipped my toes into the world of contemporary fiction this month with mixed results. Normally, I read books that are multiple years old, rarely do I read a new release unless it is by an author I love. But this month, I thought I would try to break out of my comfort zone and see what all the fuss was about. Most of the books have a saucy storyline so the list is PG13 for sure. Like I said, mixed results. Here are the (mostly) fiction books that took up my time during April and May.

 

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Young Jane Young

 This was the contemporary fiction book that I actually loved this month! It's about a campaign intern who sleeps with the political candidate she works for and the fall out that ensues. It doesn't focus on the affair but rather the ways everyone included, such as family and friends, were impacted. It was funny, written well, and a GREAT audiobook. It got me through a long weekend of work and I purposefully stayed up later designing to finish extra chapters. This would be a perfect beach read!

Verdict: Read!

The Beekeeper's Apprentice-

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How didn't I know about Laurie King or this series? Laurie King is a mystery writer and her main series focuses on a teenage girl, Mary, who becomes Sherlock Holme's apprentice. This is the first book and I adored it. One afternoon I grabbed a cute looking mystery from the clearance section at Half Price Books. When I got home, I realized it was the second in a series and grabbed the first book from the library. Y'all, this book is wonderful. The characters are brilliant, there are kidnappings, deep friendships, quirky language, and tons of disguises. King brings Sherlock Holme's back to life in a rich and satisfying way. This isn't some strange fan fiction. Rather, it feels like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle seamlessly passed on the writing duties to King. If you enjoy smart mysteries, European settings, and clever hijinks, you will love these. 

Verdict: Read!

Heartburn

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Oh Nora Ephron, this broke my heart. Nora is the renowned maker of all our favorite movies- When Harry Met Sally, You've Got Mail, Sleepless in Seatle, and Julie and Julia. She ventured into writing in the mid-80's which is when she wrote Heartburn. A woman discovers her husband is having an affair and this is her tell-all as she navigates the next few weeks. By rule, I adore everything Nora Ephron makes. Apparently, everything but her books. This was such a disappointment that it couldn't even be salvaged by Meryl Streep narrating the audiobook. Yes, you read that right. MERYL STREEP. The characters felt flat and were unlikable and the story never truly progressed. I'm still mourning over what this book could have been. Thankfully, Norah's movies make up for any poor literary attempts. 

Verdict: big time skip.

Go Pro

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This book was recommended by another friend who sells Monat hair care. It is all about network marketing and how to sell well. It was written before Facebook became the largest way people try to get their message across so it's content is focuses on face to face conversation which is incredibly refreshing. I've already recommended this to multiple friends and am rereading it this month! If you are in the direct sales world or are trying to figure out how to grow a team, this is a fantastic read. 

Verdict: must read for direct marketing people. Everyone else, skip

The Arrangement*

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 Another contemporary fiction book that was recommended by an indie bookseller, Annie B. Jones of The Bookshelf in Georgia. It follows a couple who ten years into marriage decides to try an open marriage for six months. It is a look at marriages, what makes them work and what can cause them to break. They both go out into the world to experience other people and end up with catastrophic results. Overall, it just made me sad. Every time I finished a few chapters, I would look at my husband and tell him how much I loved him. Reading about the breakdown of a marriage will do wonders in making you appreciate and work on your own. There was one laugh out loud moment where a pet parade in a church service goes awry but outside of that, it was pretty depressing. Also, heads up, there is quite a bit of language and explicit scenes. I was hopeful when I started it but wound up annoyed I spent time on this book when I could have read something different. 

Verdict: Skip, unless you are like my friend Ellen and love twisted characters and unresolved endings

Grit

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Hands down, one of my all-time favorite non-fiction books. This is a look at why perseverance and effort create more opportunity and success than talent. Just brilliant. Go listen to her TED Talk and then read her book. 

Verdict: BUY.  READ. READ AGAIN.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine **

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This book fulfilled another Modern Mrs. Darcy category- a book nominated for an award in 2018. Last year, I read an incredible novel (The Improbability of Love) that was on the shortlist for the Baileys Women's Fiction award. I loved it so much that I have since been reading previous winners/nominations and was anxiously on the lookout for this year's books. Eleanor Oliphant is on the 2018 long list and it is well deserved. One critic called it a "reminder to be kind" and I couldn't describe it better. The characters are quirky, endearing, and hopeful. Eleanor is a brilliant narrator, her observations are hilarious and truthful. Your heart will ache in the best way for her and the ending will warm your soul. Thank you Baileys Women's Fiction Award for consistently bringing great books to my attention. 

Verdict: BUY

Endless Beach ***

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Another Modern Mrs Darcy category checked off the list (a book by a favorite author). I think we all learned in 2017 that I can't get enough of Jenny Colgan. This is a follow up to The Cafe by the Sea and checked off all the requirements for a summer read with a few good additions. Continued love story? Check. Gorgeous setting? Check. Occasional cheesy moments? Check. What I wasn't expecting but was incredibly impressed with was the way she incorporated a refugee character and his search for his family. The ending had unexpected drama and was left half-way unresolved. She does have a third book in this series coming out later this year so I'll be curious to see how she ties it up.

Verdict: Read

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place

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Alan Bradley, you have redeemed yourself. His last book had me considering writing in angry fan mail questioning how he was going to correct his missteps in my dearly beloved Falvia de Luce series. The previous book felt like he forgot where he was in the middle of the story, it ignored the current narratives (a secret society and ongoing mysteries) and killed off a main character. BUT he came back with a vengeance. This book was absolutely wonderful, full of the wit and intelligence the Flavia series is known for. The ending was so good. The last few paragraphs had me aching for the next (and as of now, final) book the series. If you missed my reviews of the series last year, here is a brief synopsis. Flavia is 11, lives in England in the 1950's, is brilliant at chemistry, and loves solving impossible mysteries in her town which annoys the local police force. Start at the beginning, expect it to get deliciously exciting around book 6, be prepared to get annoyed at book 8, and pray Alan Bradley finishes book 10 and any other additional manuscripts he has in the works (he is in his mid-80s). 

Verdict: Read all nine books (skim through book 8) and hold hands with me while we wait for book 10 to come out!!!!

The Lost Book of the Grail

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Charlie Lovett wrote one of my favorite reads of last year, The Bookman's Tale. I have enjoyed his previous two literary mysteries about the identity of Shakespeare and if Jane Austin really wrote some of her books. This novel alternates between tracing the history of the grail and following two characters in present day who are on their own search for it and other secrets their small town holds. Arthur is stuck in his ways, hates technology, and has a secret love of the Holy Grail and a desire to find the lost book of Ewolda. Bethany is hired to digitize the local library, adores technology, and is equally fascinated with the Grail and all of its legends. They work to discover what exactly happened to these two pieces of history along with the help of fellow literature lovers. I wanted to love it. However, it fell flat to me compared to his other works. The ending was cheesy, it lacked the same action as his previous books, and was slow in a few places. The history of the grail and the archeology that happened along the way was fascinating. (This video shows some of the historical inspiration for the book)Those chunks had me hooked. Overall, I'd give it a B- and say you should probably stick to The Bookman's Tale.

Verdict: Skip

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

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I picked this up in the clearance section of a bookstore and was half-way through before I realized it was by the Gabrielle Zevin who wrote Young Jane Young. Wow, this woman is versatile. There is absolutely nothing in this book that would have made me realize it is the same author. Both are well-written but she has got some serious range! Gabby, you rock. Ok, about the book. This novel is about a bookstore owner who is slowly drinking himself to death after his wife passed away at an early age. One morning in the shop, he finds a baby who has been left there with a note. After taking her in for the weekend, he winds up fostering her and his entire life, and the lives of everyone he intersects with are changed. What is phenomenally smart about this book is that it is written in short story form. A.J Fikry prefers short stories in his bookstore and Zevin outlines his life in exactly that way. It was clever and exciting to read a book in a different format. Overall, I enjoyed this but not near as much as Young Jane Young or other books I've read about book lovers. It was cute, had depth, but ultimately, I wasn't overly connected with the characters or their outcomes. It was perfectly good but not great, which to me means you should skip it in favor of something else.

verdict: Skip

 

Which ones will you be adding to your summer reading stack? I'm knee deep into four novels and another great non-fiction book right now. I can't wait to share them with y'all! Happy reading.

Modern Mrs Darcy 2018 Reading Challenge 

*A book recommended by an indie bookseller

** A book nominated for an Award in 2018 (Baileys Womens Fiction Prize)

*** A book by a favorite author