Tuesday, August 9, 2016

What I read in July

Due to some very strong peer pressure from Goodreads in the form of "You are 4 books behind schedule", I got my ass in gear and started pounding through some books I've been waiting to read.  Also, it really helped that Erin's Challenge finally started and my reading list was given a green light.  Although, finishing Outlander really freed up my time.  That said, I often consider just playing the book for background noise because I enjoyed the narration so much.  I can't help it, accents make me smitten.  Onto the books, shall we?

Life According to Steph

Rating scale:

1/5 - Hated it, didn't finish.
2/5 - Tolerated it on principle to finish, didn't like it.
3/5 - Eh, didn't love it, didn't hate it.  Had some good parts/kept me interested/finished it on principle.
3.5/5 - I liked parts of it.
4/5 - I liked the whole thing.
4.5/5 - I like it a lot, but not sure I'd read it again.
5/5 - I LURVED it and I'd read it again.

Skimmers, stick with the bold text (TL;DR* parts).
PS. Possible spoilers included in reviews.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah   3.5/5 (audiobook)  
I was steeling myself for a poor review... and then.. in the last 5%, my heart was shattered, I realized I was wrong, and I melted.  Me as I read the book:
35%: Ugh, I hate these characters.  I hate this story.  This narrator's voice is painful.  I'm giving it 2 more hours.
50%: Ugh, I still hate these characters, but at least something is finally happening.  FINALLY.  Whoever told me this book was about THE Nightingale was wrong.  This book is about both the sisters.  The Nightingale is a deceptive title.
75%:  Can't stop, won't stop.  The end is near.  Get that credit worth!
90-95%:  No!  NO NO NOOOOOO!  I'm about to cry at work.  Dry that shit up, Megan.  BUT OMMGGGG WHHYYYY? 

I don't want to think of the beginning of the book, since I don't want it to taint the ending, but I will.. for my Gentle Readers.  
The book is about Isabelle and Vianne, sisters who aren't close, and their experiences during WW2.  Isabelle is presented as the strong, independent sister, and Vianne is presented as the weaker woman, reliant on her husband, who is sent off to serve in the French military during the war.  Isabelle joins a secret group that communicate messages and eventually helps downed Allied pilots escape German-occupied France.  Vianne, as we are constantly reminded, the weaker sister, ends up with a German solider staying at her house.  As German rule strengthens and more and more individuals are sent to concentration camps, Vianne ends up safeguarding the orphans left behind.

At some point, we get the perspective of an older woman with a son who takes care of her.  You have no idea who this old lady is, just that it's 1995 and she is invited to Paris for a gathering of people who opposed German occupation.  If you want to read this book and haven't yet and you don't want to read spoilers, now is the time to go away.  Go. Away.  Seriously.  Keep scrolling.

This plot line was my least favorite.  Julian is annoying.  The narrator makes his voice even more annoying than his character.  I assumed after our 2nd session with the old lady that it was Isabelle.  And then.. it wasn't..  also, I was tired of being confused at which sister's POV we were getting and the obvious names being left out to create suspension.  

But then.. we get to the end and we see how the war ended and what happened with the family and.. my wine-chilling-heart broke and I almost cried at work... because what responsible adult doesn't shun work to listen to an audiobook they just want to finish?

TL;DR:  WW2 book about 2 sisters who oppose German rule in their own ways.  The last 10% of the book will absolutely shatter you. 

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson   2.5/5 (hard copy)
My scale, my rules.  Not sorry.

I almost put this book down, but then I was so close to the end, I just powered through it.  The only reason this book got the extra .5 boost was because it made me laugh. Otherwise, it would have been 2/5 because I felt like I had been dragging these two fools along the AT behind me. It was miserable. Bryson's humor is outweighed by his disdain for all things related to the Park Service and natural processes that are killing the vistas of the AT. While I understand that these are serious issues, I felt berated to have ever appreciated the Park Service.

Also, I assumed if you published a book about hiking the AT and in the beginning you are discussing hiking the entire thing, you would hike the entire thing. NOT THE CASE. In fact, much of the AT was skipped. I guess I felt duped.

Another reviewer definitely pegged it when they said that this book reads like travel brochures for the different places they made it to. I expected tails from the trail and very little of this book was that. When there were tails, they were mostly complaining about others or Katz, his companion. Then there were the vista summaries, which were... a breath of fresh air.

I'm just glad I finally finished this.

TL;DR: Ms. Boomkin really enjoyed this book, but she's a hiker, so I completely understand why.  As for me, I wasn't entranced by Bryson's diatribes about 

How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz   3/5 (ebook)
Anna, Kate, and George have been friends since college.  Anna is the instigator, Kate is the weird one, and George is the pretty one.  Truthfully, I couldn't keep the characters straight while I was reading the book. Taking a theme from the book, the names were too WASPy, except for George, which was just weird. It was like the author was writing about her own life, but she was changing names to protect the innocent and one of her friends was called something the opposite gender was often called. Having taken a few creative writing classes and written some shitty fiction, I have done this.

The absolute worst part of this book, which most reviews pointed out, are the horrible time jumps between chapters.  The author has even answered a question on Goodreads, acknowledging this problem and gives a link to the timeline so it makes a little more sense to readers.  I mostly gave up trying to figure out what time we were in and just tried to stifle my annoyance.  I also applied this same method to trying to figure out which character's POV we were getting.  

Problems in the book seem like non-problems, with the exception of Anna's alcohol problem.  Most of these non-problems seem like problems that would be solved by the women actually growing up and acting like adults, except that never seems to happen.  Maybe it was a reflection of real life?  I have no idea and it was annoying.  

Then.. oh then.. there was the end, when everything literally went up in flames.  It was like the author was like, "Welp, fuck this shit, I'm out.  Let's burn it all to the ground."

TL;DR: A book about 3 women from college to now, told in no discernible order. If you want a light, easy read and don't mind a bit of confusion about wtf is happening and who-is-who, then check out this happy ending story.

Confessions of an Unlikely Runner: A Guide to Racing and Obstacle Courses for the Averagely Fit and Halfway Dedicated by Dana Ayers   5/5 (ebook)
I'm in the middle of a book challenge and I bought AND READ a book not on my list!  /GASP!  The horror!

Ya know what, I'm calling #worthit.  This book took me about 2 hours to get through and I laughed and nodded along with Dana as she told tales of her running life.  Horrors and humiliations and absolute joys.  If you've ever been a "runner" or "not a runner", this book is for you.  Dana writes about doing a marathon, Tough Mudder, Ragnar, and a support run for the Boston Marathon bombing victims.  She made me laugh with her description of crossfit.  She made me realize that a Tough Mudder is just not for me.  Mostly though, she made me REALLY, REALLLLYYY want to do a Ragnar race.  I should just join a random group and run one and call it done.

TL;DR: If you are (or were) a runner looking for a quickie book, read this. 

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll   2/5 (audio version found on Spotify)
This was absolute torture.  I found an audio version on Spotify and figured why not.  It was actually a pretty cool idea to use voice actors to narrate the different characters, except that the minor characters were all different voices, which was mostly pointless.  There is a group called LibriVox that records free domain books (so books that aren't copy-written).  Anyways, other than the thrill of finding another free source to listen to books, Alice was the pits.

Technically this is 2 books, but often they are packaged together since they are short, so I'm counting it as one book.  If you've never seen/heard of Alice in Wonderland, Alice falls asleep and start to have this really jacked up dream.  You don't know she's dreaming until the end.  But the dream is full of cray-cray.  In Through the Looking Glass, everything is backwards.  Neither of these books was particularly enjoyable and Alice is a whiny, offensive bitch.  Probably everything Lewis Carroll was used to dealing with.

TL;DR: Skip this book.  Alice doesn't just offend the characters, she offended me.

A story set during WW1 about an American serving in the Italian military (weird, but ok). He meets a Scottish nurse and they enter into a relationship. He gets blown up and she ends up being transferred to the hospital where he is convalescing. Right before he has to go back to the front, Nurse tells him that she's a triflin' ho pregnant. He still has to go back to the front nonetheless once he is better enough from his injuries and he tells her he will come back for her when the war is over.

It was strange to me that Henry was only away from Catherine for what seemed like a short amount of time (6 months? there is no clear timeline) when most stories of war time are that men were gone for years. Obviously, this situation is different since Henry deserts, but it seems like he would have been gone longer than he was.

I was annoyed by the conversations that took place in the book. It felt like the conversations were clipped and repetitious, the same things said over and over and over. I struggled with some of the relationships in the book, wondering if there was more to them then what was given at face value (Rinaldi and Henry, Henry and the Priest).

The end was utterly depressing. I wasn't expecting it, as I'm always hoping for a happy ending. But, I'm glad I didn't read reviews that gave away the ending. That definitely would have ruined this book for me.

TL;DR: If you're looking for a war-time classic, this might be it. But don't expect a happy ending. Also, war ruins everything.

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty   3.5/5 (audiobook)
I honestly picked this book because I'm never the first to read anything because I'm an anti-bandwagon-er and I thought that this would be an excellent time to read something first since blog book review was coming up and I could post my review to the challenge FB page.  I even pre-ordered this book on Audible.  I was committed.

Fortunately, so were the characters in the book.  Unfortunately, they were committed to being annoying in the worst ways.  Over and over, I asked myself, are people actually like this?

Erika, the poor unfortunate girl who grew up with a hoarder mom, deals with life with a rigidity that makes me shake my head and enjoys the sympathy and empathy of Clementine's family, except she has a secret that has no bearing on anything in the book other than to give her something to be guilty about.  Clementine, a musical genius, tolerates everything about her life.  Despite being adults, Clementine still feels forced to be poor Erika's bestie.

There's a BBQ one night at the neighbor's house and a child almost drowns but Erika has a memory lapse from that night and just wants to remember what happened and everyone feels guilty for their own reasons.  The most heartbreaking line of the entire book was when Oliver tells Erika, "I am your best friend."

There were many things going on in this book and I was pleased that all the loose ends were taken care of.  But the last hour was spent just on wrapping things up.  Maybe an epilogue would have been a better choice?  So glad this book is finally over.

TL;DR: If you hate your best friend, you probably shouldn't be friends.  If you loathe all the characters for the first 4 hours, you probably will loathe them for the remaining 13 hours that this book lasts.
I won't lie, I'm a HUGE Mitch Albom fan.  I've been a fan for years.  When I saw he had a new book coming out, I was pumped.  When it happened to fall into the music category?  Tickle me pink.

This book didn't always feel like a Mitch Albom book, despite the theme of death/life.  It made me think of The Book Thief since Music was the narrator.  But this book wove the life of Frankie Presto into the lives of popular musicians throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.  At times, I questioned if Frankie Presto was based on a real person, but I almost don't want to find out and potentially ruin it.

Essentially, Frankie has the talent of music, but Frankie has a pretty horrible life.  The book starts during the Spanish Revolution, where Frankie is born in a church.  It seems like fate that Frankie is saved over and over throughout the book.  I found the Aurora York story line intriguing yet difficult.  There are many different stories overlapping in this book, which is one of my favorite things.  Albom ties up the lose ends well.

I personally could have maybe done without the "hooded figure".  I understood that the "hooded figure" was there to make the story progress and create tension, but I think even without, the story would have stood on it's own and been enjoyable.  Nonetheless, I did appreciate coming full-circle to the beginning of the story by the end.

TL;DR: If you're a Mitch Albom fan, here's another gem for you (and it's definitely better than The Time Keeper).  If you like stories with many layers and elements that will eventually come full-circle, this book is for you.


In Progress:

On Deck:

Erin's book challenge started on July 1st, so my next books are already selected.

*TL;DR = too long, don't read


  1. That's one of my favorite Hemingways!

    The Nightingale is on my list butbi'm not in a rush to read it.

  2. I am almost 100% certain I will not read The Nightingale. I generally do not read historical fiction.

    Steph and I did an episode about How to Start a Fire. It was a strange book but a good examination of friendships.

  3. I felt basically the same way about Hemingway...it blew.

    And YAY for Fangirl!!! I loved it.

  4. about 1/4 through Nightingale and I love it so far! hopefully it stays that way for me :)

  5. i am the same with accents :) i read this one book (code name verity) and i loved the narrator so much i read another one she narrated (burial rites) but i think she did a different accent.. she was still amazing though. and by 'read' i mean listened to.
    i'm glad the ending wrapped up the nightingale for you. looking back, there were definitely boring parts, and characters and plot lines i didn't care for, but the ending hit me right in the feels and made me care for the book overall, you know? i didn't hate the narrator though, but i did question my sanity at listening to a book like that. i cry easily and i only listen at the gym or driving, so yeah. you can imagine the looks i was getting!
    i haven't read the alice books, i don't have much desire to, so i'm good lol.
    i haven't read liane's new book yet, i've not heard the best things which is such a bummer! i'll definitely skip the audio though, i hate listening to annoying characters but i can handle reading about them sometimes.
    can't wait to hear your thoughts on red queen!

  6. ahaha your reviews crack me up!! I started Truly Madly Guilty but I have a bunch of library books to read before I finish it...I've heard mixed things but I think I hear that about all her books so I never know what to think. I can't do her books on audio though myself. That runner book sounds awesome and I'm going to go check it out right now!!

  7. Ohhh I do adore Mitch Albom and have to add that to my list immediately! I have The Nightingale on dock to start soon and now I want it a little less after reading what you said lol. I have 8 hours to go in Truly Madly Guilty and I am feeling everything you are feeling. I have spent the last 9 hours asking...so wtf happened at the fucking BBQ already?!??! And Ericka is getting on my damn nerves. And the narrators voice for Vid is horrendous. And thank goodness I just read about the fountain thing otherwise I would have been like thanks a lot bitch! Hahaahahaha

  8. I really enjoyed The Nightingale but the end did destroy me too. I have not read a Liane Moriarty book yet but it doesn't sound like Truly Madly Deeply is the place to start. And the only thing about Hemingway I like are his cats. :)

    1. Start with What Alice Forgot by Moriarty, that was my fave of the 3 books I've read by her.

  9. I thought the beginning of The Nightingale was boring too! Such a bummer about Truly Madly Guilty. I can't stand annoying characters.

  10. I have sung the praises for The Nightingale for a while. I find reading your perspective from an audio book standpoint quite interesting. It is certainly a different experience than reading it for this particular book. I like how, in the end, we see that Vianne is not weak at all. She is a badass, strong female as well. I cried ugly, mascara-streaked tears.

    I've only read one Mitch Albom book and that was years ago...maybe 10 or 15 years ago. And, Frankie Presto intrigues me, so it sounds like a time to revisit.

  11. Loved Fangirl. Forever, Interrupted is on my short list.
    In the middle of Truly, Madly, Guilty, so I skipped your review!
    How to Start a Fire didn't impress me.
    I felt the same way throughout The Nightingale! And at the end I didn't have the reaction you did, but after it was over I was like, "Oh, that was a decent tale".
    (No one else feels that way, so I'm just airing my opinion :)

  12. I need to try Outlander on audiobook to see if I can get into it I tried to read it but I think it was just a bad time for me. I put Truly madly guilty on my list the minute I saw your reading it for one I really like the author and for to it just struck me as something I definitely had to read.


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