Sharing some book reviews for my winter reads!
I’ve been delaying doing my monthly book reviews for the past few months, so this post is going to be longer than I originally intended. I also want to note that in 2020, I decided to take on the POPSUGAR Reading Challenge, where I’ll be reading 40 books that fit different prompts. For the books I’ve read in 2020, I’ve also included the prompt that the book fits from the reading challenge.
Let’s just jump in, shall we? I hope you enjoy my thoughts on my winter reads!
THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER by STEPHEN CHBOSKY
Completed on November 5, 2019 | Published in February 1999
I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower awhile ago, and it was a 5-star read for me. I enjoy going back to reread my 5-star books because for one reason or another, they resonated with me in a way that made me want to give it 5-stars.
The book is about a teenager named Charlie who is starting his freshman year of high schools. He has spent his entire life in the background as a wallflower, and he made a new group of friends that introduces him to a world he never knew, full of all the good stuff – sex, drugs, and rock and roll (or in this case, The Rocky Horror Picture Show). But Charlie also has a dark past that he didn’t even know he was running from, and all the good and the bad coming together makes this into one page-turning, heart-wrenching story.
This was my first reread of Perks, and it did not disappoint. It still got me all up in my feels. This story is heartbreaking in so many ways, and both times that I read this book, it made me cry.
EVERY BREATH by NICHOLAS SPARKS
Completed on December 3, 2019 | Published on October 16, 2018
Even though I’ve enjoyed most of the Nicholas Sparks novels I’ve read, I usually don’t go seeking out his new books. Every Breath was an exception because I’m a sucker for a good interracial or intercultural love story. This one did not disappoint.
Every Breath follows two main characters. One is Hope who is thirty-six and feels like her life doesn’t look they way she wants it to. She comes to North Carolina, seeking solace from her on-again off-again relationship with her noncommital boyfriend of six years and the heartbreak of her father being recently diagnosed with ALS. There’s also Tru who has come to North Carolina all the way from Zimbabwe to meet a man who claims to be his father. The two of them meet on the Carolina beach as they both escape from their real lives, and as with any Nicholas Sparks novel, you can expect a beautiful and complicated love story.
As frustrating as this book was, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I think the reason it was so frustrating for me is that it’s so real. These people make the decisions they make because they’re human, and even though we, as readers, want their paths to go one way, in reality, when it comes to matters of the heart, any decision we make is tough. Another reason this book so easily sucked me in is that this is a real life love story, and that makes the novel even more beautiful.
ZODIAC by ROBERT GRAYSMITH
Completed on December 18, 2019 | Published on April 1, 1987
If you know me, you know I’m a sucker for true crime. I usually read fiction suspense and thriller novels, but every once in a while, I like to get the nitty gritty on real true crime stories.
Even people who don’t follow true crime know about the Zodiac Killer. He killed 37 people over several decades, sent anonymous notes to the police, and he was never caught, which is absolutely insane. Reading this book was both fascinating and frustrating for me. Even though I knew going into it that the Zodiac was never caught, I still found myself unsatisfied by the end of the story. I was so disappointed that this novel didn’t lead to any further leads for who the Zodiac was since its publication in 1987. I did, however, enjoy reading a full account of events from start to finish and found myself seeking out podcast episodes to learn even more about this notorious serial killer.
QUEENIE by CANDICE CARTER-WILLIAMS
Completed on December 30, 2019 | March 19, 2019
I don’t think I’ve ever identified with a fictional character in the way that I identified with Queenie. I seriously loved this book from start to finish. The book is about a 25-year-old named Queenie who is Jamaican and living in London. She recently had a nasty breakup with her white boyfriend of several years and has found herself spiraling ever since.
This book deals with so many things – interracial relationships, racism, stereotypes, mental health, women’s issues, cultural expectations, etc. I saw so much of myself in Queenie, from seeking solace in the wrong way with the wrong people to having apprehensions about therapy before allowing myself to fully immerse into it, to dealing with subtle racism, and so much more. I enjoyed this book so much, and I think it’s such an important novel with so many important messages.
THE REST OF THE STORY by SARAH DESSEN
Completed on January 2, 2020 | Published on June 4, 2019
POPSUGAR Prompt: A book you meant to read in 2019
Sarah Dessen has been one of my favorite authors since high school, and even though I’m 30 now, I still make it a point to read all of her latest novels. Last year, I had the opportunity to see her on her book tour for The Rest of the Story. It was so awesome seeing one of my favorite authors in real life and getting to meet her. We chatted about how I saw her speak at the Austin Teen Book Festival back in 2013 and about our mutual love for Veronica Mars. It made me love her even more.
Her latest book, The Rest of the Story, is about a girl named Emma Saylor whose mother died when she was just 10-years-old. She doesn’t remember much about her, but she gets the opportunity to step into her mother’s world when her father and his new wife go on their honeymoon, leaving Emma behind at North Lake where her mother grew up. Through new friends and some old friends that she didn’t realize she knew, Emma learns more about her mother, her father, and herself while immersing herself in this world that she didn’t know was a part of her past.
I’m sad to say that I thought Sarah Dessen’s latest novel was just okay. If you’ve never read a Sarah Dessen novel, and this is the first one you pick up, you probably wouldn’t expect to fall in love with her work and want to read her entire published collection. The book had all of the things you expect to find in a classic Sarah Dessen novel – a girl who digs into her past to help her understand her future, a super cute love story, and everything tied with a pretty bow at the end – but there wasn’t anything that made me want to keep reading and figure out what happens at the end.
Overall, this book was fine, but nothing took it to the next level for me. There wasn’t an element of the story that really tugged at my heartstrings in the way that many of Sarah Dessen’s older novels have done for me in the past. I’m glad that I was finally able to cross the book off of my TBR, but more than anything, it made me want to reread some of her older novels, like Just Listen and The Truth About Forever, that really get me in my feelings.
YOU ARE A BADASS: HOW TO STOP DOUBTING YOUR GREATNESS AND START LIVING AN AWESOME LIFE by JEN SINCERO
Completed on January 7, 2020 | Published on April 23, 2013
POPSUGAR Prompt: A book with only words on the cover, no images or graphics
The way that everyone has been talking about You Are a Badass, I honestly thought I was going to shut the book feeling ready and invigorated to get my sh*t together and start living my best life. Instead, I found a novel where I felt like I was being lectured to without very little solid advice that I felt was relevant to my own life.
Don’t get me wrong, there is some good advice that could apply to most people. I also enjoyed her quirkiness and sarcastic tone throughout the book. For the most part though, it was basically a giant lecture that repeated the same sentiments – if you’re not happy with something in your life, change it. I mean…obviously. That’s all well and good, but sometimes, people really are victims of their own circumstances. It’s nice to think that if we want something bad enough, we can manifest it into our lives, but the reality is, that isn’t always true, and sometimes, people are on a time crunch.
The story about her buying a car she “couldn’t afford” made me want to throw the book across the room. She is clearly speaking from the perspective of someone with a lot of privilege. Not everyone is able to find money in unexpected places or buy things we can’t afford just because we want them. The world doesn’t work in the way that she explained in the novel. While some of the advice she gave was pretty sound, the majority of the book was just endless examples of her privilege and how she used that privilege to get to where she is today.
THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER by EMILY X.R. PAN
Completed on January 15, 2020 | Published on March 20, 2018
POPSUGAR Prompt: A book with a bird on the cover
I am a sucker for a book with a main character that is mixed race. Being mixed race myself, I find that I enjoy when characters have to deal with walking the line between both of their identities. It’s something that I wish was more prevalent in books today.
The Astonishing Color of After is about a girl named Leigh who has an Asian mother and a white father. The novel starts with heartbreak when you learn that Leigh’s mother has committed suicide. Leigh is convinced that her mother has turned into a bird and is trying to communicate with her. Her mother’s actions after death have lead to Leigh traveling to Taiwan to meet her mother’s parents for the first time where she will do what she can to work through her confusion and grief.
The best word I can use to describe this novel is beautiful. The author uses colors and art to communicate how the characters are feeling, and the way she writes makes you feel like you’re actually experiencing the characters’ thoughts and feelings. There is no one way to grieve, and you can’t help but sympathize with Leigh as she tries her best to make sense of her mother’s suicide while also uncovering the family secrets that she didn’t even know existed.
This novel will take you on a whirlwind of a journey, with a mix of art and magic, while experiencing things both in the past and present, and really digging into the minds of each of the characters.
A WOMAN IS NO MAN by ETAF RUM
Completed on January 21, 2020 | Published on March 5, 2019
POPSUGAR Prompt: A book that passes the Bechdel test
So many people have been talking about this book since it came out, and it won a lot of awards that were voted on by readers, so I knew that I would eventually have to dive into it. I listened to the audio book version of the novel, and I really enjoyed it because it felt like I was sitting with someone who was telling me a really intense and frustrating story. Admittedly, I am uneducated when it comes to Arab culture, so I was grateful for this book for opening my eyes to the real struggles that Arab women face. I used the word “frustrating” to describe this novel because as an American woman, I haven’t had to face many of the struggles that the main characters faced.
The novel follows multiple generations of Palestinian-American women and their struggles to honor their Arab culture while living in America. I found myself having to take breaks from time to time because I would get so caught up in the unfairness of it all, and then it would upset me even more that Arab women still face these issues today. This is an important novel for anyone to read to understand the very real struggles of Arab women. My only complaint was that the ending kind of fell flat for me, but the rest of the novel sucked me in enough for the ending to be forgiven.
THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO by TAYLOR JENKINS REID
Completed on January 24, 2020 | Published on June 13, 2017
POPSUGAR Prompt: A book by or about a journalist
Daisy Jones and the Six was the first novel I read by Taylor Jenkins Reid, and fans of that book were also fans of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, so I went into this book expecting to love. I was not disappointed.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is about a reporter named Monique who is chosen to tell the story of glamorous Hollywood movie icon, Evelyn Hugo. You learn about Monique and her personal struggles romantically and professionally. You also learn about the life of Evelyn Hugo, her rise to fame, and, of course, all of her husbands.
This book took me on a journey I didn’t know I wanted to go on. I heard people saying a lot of positive things about it, but the synopsis of the book didn’t actually intrigue me that much. From the start, I found myself engulfed in Evelyn’s life story, and I wanted to know everything about what got her to where she was today and find out who the true love of her life was. I also wanted to know why Evelyn chose Monique to tell her life story, and I was not ready to learn how their lives intersected.
ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by GAIL HONEYMAN
Completed on February 1, 2020 | Published on May 9, 2017
POPSUGAR Prompt: A book featuring one of the seven deadly sins
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine follows a woman who spends most of her time in isolation. She struggles with genuine human contact and never hesitates to say what’s on her mind. Her life changes when she and the IT guy from her work, Raymond, save an older man named Sammy. The three of their lives intersect, and they all kind of save each other, even though they didn’t realize they needed to be saved.
I found myself frustrated with Eleanor for most of this book, but I think that was the intention. She has an extremely dark past, which is evident in the relationship she has with her mother. I chose this book for the prompt “a book featuring one of the seven deadly sins” because wrath is very clearly depicted in her mother. She’s actually quite scary, and every conversation Eleanor had with her made my skin crawl.
More than anything, I just wanted Eleanor to get better, because she obviously wasn’t “completely fine.” I really enjoyed how her character progressed and grew throughout the book. I also appreciate an author who allows a character to grow on their own without a love story.
While I did enjoy this book, overall I thought it was just okay. I did find myself invested in the characters and really wanting to learn about Eleanor’s past and how it shaped her into who she was in the present day. There’s a good balance of sadness and humor, which I enjoyed because without that quirkiness, this novel would have been heavy.
RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE by CASEY MCQUISTON
Completed on February 4, 2020 | Published on May 14, 2019
POPSUGAR Prompt: A book with a pink cover
Even though Red, White & Royal Blue was just published last year, I felt like I was so late to the game reading it just a few months later. Everyone was talking about and falling in love with this book, and I was so ready to hop on that train.
The enemies to lovers trope is can be a hit or miss for me, so I was kind of nervous about that going into the novel. The book follows Alex, son of the US President, and Prince Henry, grandson of the Queen of England. The two get into a semi-accidental physical altercation, which couldn’t have come at a worse time. The boys are forced to publicly hang out, but then they find themselves texting each other in the middle of the night and finding excuses to be together.
This book was, for lack of a better word, adorable. I was obsessed with the development of this love story, and I enjoyed the juicy, sexy bits as well. I found myself cheering them on as their relationship turned from frenemies into something more. The drama of them both being in the political eyes of their respective countries really kept me intrigued because like them, I was wondering how can they make it work?!
From start to finish, this book kept me entertained. I loved the mix of the mature romance with the high school feel of sneaking around. I also enjoyed the political elements of the plot and how it created complications for the characters, but also gave them excuses to keep sneaking around. It was just a cute novel, and a welcome addition to the rest of the incredible books I read in February.
THE 7 1/2 DEATHS OF EVELYN HARDCASTLE by STUART TURTON
Completed on February 9, 2020 | Published on September 18, 2018
POPSUGAR Prompt: A book you picked because the title caught your attention
I heard quite a few people talking about this book on BookTube, and the synopsis of it just absolutely intrigued me. It’s about a man named Aiden who wakes up to find himself in a different body everyday. A woman named Evelyn Hardcastle is killed, and Aiden has to keep reliving her death until he can figure out who did it. I mean, come on! How can you not want to read this book immediately?
This book drove me nuts because I was obviously so curious to figure out who killed Evelyn Hugo and why. I found myself getting frustrated with Aiden because he only knew so much information, and he had to keep interacting with himself as other people in order to put plans into place figure out who the killer was. I felt like I should be taking notes so I could figure out who the killer was, but honestly, after finishing the book, I know I wouldn’t have been able to figure it out, even with taking notes.
I listened to the audio book of this novel, which made it kind of hard to keep up with everything that was happening, but honestly, I feel like even if I read the actual book, I still would have found myself confused. There were so many twists and turns that many of the facts got twisted around, and the whole mystery of why this was happening to Aiden in the first place confused me even more. Let’s just say this book was a lot. There were a lot of characters to keep up with. There were a lot of plot lines to follow. There was a lot going on overall. It was just a lot, and my confusion with trying to keep up with it all made this book a 3.5-star read for me.
WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING by DELIA OWENS
Completed on February 12, 2020 |Published on August 14, 2018
POPSUGAR Prompt: A book with a map
My boyfriend, Kyle, and I like to read to each other before we go to bed, and Where the Crawdads Sing was one of the books that we read together. Literally everyone was talking about this book, even people in my life who I don’t know as big readers. I was definitely excited to finally dive into it, but my biggest frustration was that we were reading it together, so I couldn’t finish it as fast as I wanted. Honestly, it was worth it though. I think it made me love the book even more.
The book is told in two timelines. One is in 1969 when the town’s beloved, Chase Andrews, dies, and the police immediately assume that he was murdered. The other storyline follows Kya as she grows up known as the Marsh Girl, abandoned by her family at a young age and living in isolation.
First of all, the writing of this novel was absolutely gorgeous. Delia Owens is actually an award-winning nature writer and a wildlife scientist, so it should be no surprise that the descriptions of everything in this book are so thorough that you can actually picture everything she’s writing about. Admittedly, there were some parts of the book where I felt the descriptions were a bit too much (like during the courtroom scenes, ugh!), but for the most part, I appreciated the lengthy descriptions that made me feel like I could actually see what was happening in the book. She made it feel like the marsh was its own character in the novel.
I will say that I was 0% invested in the present day story and Chase’s murder until Kya’s storyline lined up with what was happening in 1969. I was immediately intrigued by Kya and her sad story. Her entire family abandoned her, and she had to figure out how to survive on her own. I found myself just wanting to take care of Kya. I felt the heartbreak that she felt when everyone she knew and loved walked out on her. I was proud when she learned new things, both on her own and with the help of a friend. I was so invested in her story, and I just wanted her to be happy!
Kyle and I lost sleep during some parts of this book because we just wanted to know what was going to happen next. This was definitely a 5-star read for me, and I completely understand why it’s received all this hype.
THE BROMANCE BOOK CLUB by LYSSA KAY ADAMS
Completed on February 13, 2020 | Published on November 5, 2019
POPSUGAR Prompt: A book about a book club
Honestly, I don’t think The Bromance Book Club is a book I would have picked up had it not been for the POPSUGAR Reading Challenge. I was looking for a book that fit this prompt, and I just happened to watch a YouTube video about a reader who read this book and it was an unexpected win for her. I wasn’t super interested in the storyline, but I was hoping that I would feel the same about it.
The book is about a man named Gavin whose wife, Thea, has just asked him for a divorce. He recently found out that she had been faking her orgasms for the entirety of their relationship, and he did not handle it well. He gave her the silent treatment for over a month, and it was pretty much the breaking point for their already crumbling marriage. Then steps in the bromance book club, a book club full of Nashville’s top men. With the help of the romance novel, Courting the Countess, the book club coaches Gavin into saving his marriage.
This book was just an okay read for me, and I think most of that has to do with the fact that I just didn’t care for any of the characters. Gavin was obviously selfish and completely self-involved, not to mention hot-headed. His wife was extremely irritating and unreasonable. She was pretty unhappy with the marriage from the beginning, and all of the things she got mad at Gavin about were things that should have been talked about wayyy before the whole orgasm situation. What it boils down to is, the main issue in their marriage was communication, and I hate that she put so much of the blame on Gavin for their marriage falling apart, when she was equally to blame. And don’t get me started on Thea’s sister. She was my least favorite character for so many reasons. Ah! She was such an instigator, and she was the devil on Thea’s shoulder for all the wrong reasons.
One thing I did appreciate about the book was that it was a falling back into love story. There were many complications standing in their way, but I think it’s important to give credit to Gavin who was willing to put his pride aside in order to fix his marriage. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough for me to actually like this book. There’s going to be a sequel that follows one of sleaziest male characters in the book and Thea’s sister, so you can probably assume that I won’t be reading it.
THE SILENT PATIENT by ALEX MICHAELIDES
Completed on February 19, 2020 | Published on February 5, 2019
POPSUGAR Prompt: A medical thriller
This book starts with a murder, so you know I was already invested from page one.
To the outside world, Alicia has the perfect life, but one day after her husband comes home from work, she shoots him in the face five times. Since then, she hasn’t spoken a word, and psychotherapist, Theo Faber is determined to be the person who, not only gets her to talk, but to solve the mystery behind why she did what she did.
From the start, this book pulls you in. I was literally at the edge of my seat for the majority of the novel, which is why I finished it in a day. It’s hard for me to really talk about the book without giving away details because every part of this book is important. I will say that I didn’t see the twist coming at all, and this was obviously a 5-star read for me.
THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END by ADAM SILVERA
Completed on February 25, 2020 | Published on September 5, 2017
POPSUGAR Prompt: A book about or involving social media
I wanted to like this book so much, but it fell flat in so many ways. I’m so shocked because usually when I read a book that has at least four stars on Goodreads, I at least think the book is okay. This book was less than just okay for me. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t like it either.
They Both Die at the End (I mean, how can you not be intrigued by that title?) takes place in a world where people get a phone call on the day that they’re going to die. Mateo and Rufus both get their calls, and for their own reasons, they’re looking for someone to spend their last days with. They find each other through an app called Last Friend, and they do their best to help each other make their last days unforgettable.
Between the title of the book, the synopsis, and the overall positive reviews on Goodreads, I really thought I was going to enjoy this one. It had everything it needed to be a good novel, but I found myself just bored for most of it. I wasn’t invested in either of the characters. Many of the things they chose to do on their last day were just boring, and the normalcy of them having a last meal at their favorite restaurant or traveling from one spot to another just really dragged on. I mean, this is your last day! Why am I so bored reading about it?
The ending picks up as they draw closer to their inevitable deaths, but I was just so uninterested in most of the novel that those moments didn’t even really do anything for me. I think this book had a lot of potential, but unfortunately, it just didn’t tug at my heartstrings in the way that I wanted it to.
What were some of your favorite winter reads?