Wednesday, June 30, 2021

June Books

Can you believe that reading wasn't my jam growing up?! Clif Notes were my best friends in high school - I'd "read enough" to get by for a paper or test, but other than that I did not enjoy the act of reading so never did it... like ever. Maybe I wasn't reading things that held my interest or maybe it was because it was "required" so I didn't find it enjoyable, but whatever the reason, I'm glad I challenged myself to add the goal of reading 17 books in 2017 (which turned into 88 books in 201777 books in 201867 books in 2019, and 66 books in 2020). In the last year or so, especially since going back to work outside of the house full-time, the majority of my "reading" has been through audiobooks because I don't have as much time to sit and read physical books (not to mention I walk to work and walk on my lunch break so have at least two hours a day I can listen to something). Even still, holding a physical book is the bomb diggity and I hope to get back to adding more reading vs listening this year. Just like in years past, writing a monthly recap of the books I get through is a great way for me to both record what I'm reading and to stay accountable. So here are the books I finished in June:

  • We Came We Saw We Left by Charles Wheelan - Well, technically these first three books were finished in May, but because we were on our road trip (listening to the audiobooks while on the drive) and didn't really have access to reliable internet, I decided to just put them on June rather than stress about it. The first book we grabbed for our road trip was pretty perfect - it was the story about a family who took a "gap year". This family decided to take a year (well, more like 9 months, but "gap year" had a better ring to it) and travel. They rented out their house, they packed up their belongings in their backpacks and hit the road. If you know me, you probably know I have a HUGE CASE of wanderlust and would LOVE to pack up and hit the road (I have tried nudging the hubby into vanlife for years now), so this was fun to listen to. I appreciate that it wasn't just the highs, but also included the lows (often times on social media you only see the picture perfect moments, but it's obviously so much more than that!). I wouldn't say that I had or have a huge desire to go to many of the places this family traveled to, but it was still pretty awesome to follow along on the adventure. It also reinforced the idea that you can ALWAYS make travel happen, you just have to pull the trigger! You don't need to be a billionaire (although that'd make it a lot easier ;)), you just have to make it work. I would give it an 8.5 out of 10.

  • I'll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamara - If you ever get the chance to look through our Netflix history, you'll see the hubby and I enjoy crime docuseries ;) With that said, when I sent the hubby a list of potential audiobooks for our road trip I wasn't surprised that this made the top three. The author of this book was a crime writer/ blogger. After her daughter would go to sleep, she'd go into her playroom and dig into unsolved murders (hey, everyone has their hobby, right?!). One serial rapist turned serial killer caught her attention more than others, the Golden State Killer. This is a book about the research she (and others) did to try and solve the over 120 burglaries, 50 rapes and 13 murders. I told the hubby we had to listen to this one in the morning, because I was worried listening to it later in the day and then sleeping in the middle of nowhere would freak me the frick out ;) It's crazy how criminals can fly under the radar for so long... this guy committed these crimes in the 70s and 80s, and, at the time of the book in 2018, he had not been identified or arrested! (Oh yeah, and now we will obviously have to watch the HBO six-part series that was released!) I would give it a 9 out of 10. 

  • Plastic: A Toxic Love Story by Susan Freinkel - I had this book saved in my "for later" list for a long while, so I was glad when the hubby picked it for our final road trip listen. Plastic was revolutionary when it came out - a way to change the world FOR THE BETTER... Too bad we've gone a bit too far (in some people's opinions) with it. This book dives into eight specific plastic items and unpacks them (objects from the frisbee to IV bags). I'll be honest, there are parts that are extremely technical (going into the different chemical makeup of different plastics), but overall I thought it was super well written, informative and eye-opening. I will be honest, for the past few years I have been villainizing plastics, but for all of the damage they are doing to the environment, our health, etc, they also have positive aspects which I often forget about. Don't get me wrong, I still try to limit my plastic consumption (especially single-use items), but I guess we can't have the good (sometimes life saving) without some of the bad... The important message is we need to be more conscious about our consumption, which is something I can absolutely get behind. It will definitely make me think twice about buying something made of plastic (or cheaply made instead of something of better quality). I would give it an 8.5 out of 10.

  • Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo - I had read this author's first novel a few months back and LOVED it, so when I saw she had released another book I had to snag it. Other than the fact that I loved the previous book, I didn't know anything about this story. Similar to other audiobooks that I enjoy, this one was written from two different first-person perspectives - each of them being read by a different person (one of which was the author). Although this is a story about a father who was killed in a plane crash, it is really about so much more. It is about how family is messy and people are imperfect. It is about secrets and sisterhood. It is about grief and forgiveness and love and the bonds we make throughout life. {Like her first book, this is technically a YA book, but there are mature subject matters being discussed [death, sexual abuse, etc], so take that into account for the reader.} Although I love the author's first book more, this is still an amazingly written story. Can't wait to see what's next for this author (hopefully TONS more writing). I  would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh - I don't remember if I saw this title from a friend or if it popped up on the popular page in my Hoopla app, but whatever the reason I had it saved and figured I'd give it a go. I didn't know anything about it when I downloaded it (surprise, surprise, ha!). This novel was not what I was expecting (I'm not really sure what I was expecting), but it was great. I felt like the plot (instead of criminals or "innocents" simply going into witness protection, a scientist had figured out a way to wipe the memories of what the people did or saw so they could start over in this new place) was super original. It was a fast paced book that didn't give you much time to sit and ponder about whodunit. There were many different storylines going on with quite a few characters, but they were easy to keep straight (even if you weren't sure where exactly the story would go next). It felt a bit like a modern western and even though that isn't my normal genre, it kept me intrigued the entire time. Warning - there is a lot of bloodshed, so if that makes you squeamish or it isn't your jam, you might want to skip this one, but if you can get past the killings (I mean, it is a town of hardened criminals, I'm sure you've got to expect a little chaos to ensue), it's an interesting premise. I would give it an 8.5 out of 10.

  • Cilka's Journey by Heather Morris - I read The Tattooist of Auschwitz a while back and didn't realize the author had released a second book. (Technically this is a stand-alone book, but showed as the second book in the series in my Hoopla app since Lale {the tattooist} introduces Heather, the writer, to Cilka {the main character of this book}.) As I'm sure you can imagine, you definitely have to be in a certain mindset to read/ listen to this book. Learning about the atrocities of the Holocaust never gets easier, but burying our heads in the sand (at least in my opinion) isn't an option. Cilka was a sixteen year old Jewish girl who was sent to Auschwitz, survived and then, upon "release", was charged with being a conspirator with the Nazis and sentenced to fifteen years in a Siberian prison/ workcamp. Although the author never met Cilka and is completely transparent about this being a novel {inspired by a real person/ actual events}, I was engrossed in the story from the first page and couldn't shake the horrors lived/ described. Some characters were a combination of multiple real people, others were completely made up. Nevertheless, this wickedness {there aren't strong enough words to describe the tragedies that occurred} happened. We need to remember the stories, we need to mourn the losses, we need to better ourselves so this NEVER happens again. I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges - This was a short listen (just over two hours) because it is technically a children's book, but I appreciated every minute of it. Note - The audiobook had an interview with the author at the end that was great as well. Although I would say I am familiar with Ruby's story, I didn't know the details until this book. I knew, for example, that there were hoards of racist people outside of the school yelling/ threatening/ boycotting, but I didn't realize that when Ruby went to first grade she was the ONLY student in her class because all of the other parents had withdrawn their children. I appreciate that the book was written for kids (the reading level says 9-12 year olds) because it is never too early to talk about racism. The mix of firsthand experiences (of Ruby, her teacher, her family, etc) with what the media was saying at the time was powerful (showing not only how the world was seeing these events but also how the media can spin and contort things as well). Ruby also includes snippets of what was happening in the Civil Rights movement around that time as well. Hearing how everything felt through the eyes of six year old was not only impactful, but eye opening. This is a great book for folks of ALL AGES to pick up! I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • Anna K by Jenny Lee - Confession time... One of my guilty pleasures a few years back was watching Gossip Girl. Yes, I know I was probably too old for the target audience, but I got sucked into the rich, entitled, Upper East Side drama of the high school kids. When I saw this book in the YA section of my Hoopla app I thought it'd be along the same vein and figured it was worth a listen. As I suspected, it was very much in the same realm as Gossip Girl. I didn't realize until listening to the author's note at the end that the story was actually a reimagining of Leo Tolstoy's love story, Anna Karenina. {PS You do not need to have read the original before this one. I had never even heard of it until after I finished this one.} Although the main focus of the story is on Anna K, I really enjoyed the side characters' stories as well. I wouldn't say that this was an amazing or earth shattering book, but it was entertaining to get lost in. A fun beach/ summer read. I would give it a 7.5 out of 10.

  • Anna K Away by Jenny Lee - I know I didn't give the previous book raving reviews (don't get me wrong, it wasn't terrible, I'd consider it a fine beach/ vacation read), but I figured since there was a sequel, I might as well keep the train chugging down the tracks. If you like the Gossip Girl sort of vibe (rich, spoiled high school students flaunting their money and gallivanting around the world), then you will probably enjoy this one. It was a little more "fun" (definitely less tragedy, that's for sure) than the first one, but I'd say the ending was not my favorite. It felt rushed and I was overall disappointed in it. There were also some of the characters that I would have liked a little more focus on (like Steven, Dustin and Kimmy). Overall it was fine and if there was a movie made of it, I'd give it a watch, but not a book I'd necessarily come back to again. I would give it a 7 out of 10.

  • The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn - I had seen this movie pop up on my Netflix account and remembered that it was a book first. The hubby and I decided to listen to it on the way to our Mammoth camping trip (that way we could watch the movie at some point, since I prefer reading the book first). I've gotta say, this one definitely kept us guessing till the very end. I am normally pretty good at figuring out who the "bad guy" is in suspenseful thrillers (probably due to all of the Law & Order I grew up watching, hehe), but for some reason this one had me stumped. The hubby and I would chat at our different stops about the fact that we had no idea "whodunit" and weren't really sure where the story was going. With that said, there were parts that did seem to drag on and on. I'm actually wondering if this will be one where we like the movie more than the book because it'll be a bit more concise and to the point... although now we know the ending... I would give it an 8 out of 10.

  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling - I’ll be honest, I’ve never really been into the sci-fi/ fantasy type genre and couple that with not being a reader when I was younger, you can probably see why I never got into the Harry Potter series. Well, that is until a couple of weeks ago when a friend’s daughter (a sweet penpal of mine) wrote me a letter and mentioned she finished the series. She sent me a couple stickers and seeing as I was looking for a new book to read it seemed like perfect timing. I have heard that the first two or so books in the series are a bit childish (the age recommendation actually is for 7-12 year olds), but that they seem to age a bit with the series (and the characters). I was surprised how much I enjoyed this book (I know, I know, people have been screaming its praises from the mountain tops for years), but it seemed to have a bit of everything - friendship, mystery and suspense, humor, etc. There did seem to be a bit much going on and it was a little hard for me at the beginning to keep everything straight, but overall I liked it (and more than I was expecting). And now I understand some of the references that I hear ;) I would give it an 8.5 out of 10.

  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling - Well, now that I started the series I sort of need to keep going, right?! The second book picked up right where the first one ended, with Harry moving back with his aunt and uncle for the summer after his first year at Hogwarts. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure why exactly, but I didn’t love this one as much as I did the first. Maybe it’s because I really like Hagrid and there was less of him in this story, maybe it was because it wasn’t as “new” to me so I wasn't as overtly engaged, maybe it was because I disliked Lockhart from the jump, who knows. Don’t get me wrong, I still flew through this one (again, the age recommendation for this one is 8-12 year olds so you’d think I’d be able to get through it fairly quickly), but it just wasn’t as good, in my opinion, as the first (but, let’s be real, sequels always have a hard time standing up against the first book/ movie in a series). I would give it an 8 out of 10.

With that, June has come to a close. My reading may not be going gang-busters like it has in the past, but I hope it never completely stops. If you have any suggestions, let me know! I'm always willing to add them to my library wait list! 

PS I created an Amazon list that includes all of the books I've read and would recommend to others. Check it out!

What's the best book you've read lately? 

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