Tuesday, April 30, 2024

April 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, 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 201966 books in 202067 books in 202141 books in 2022 and 98 books in 2023). The majority of my "reading" has been listening to audiobooks since I don't have as much time to sit and read physical books once I started working full time (not to mention I walk to work and walk on my lunch break so have two-ish hours a day I can listen to something). Even still, holding a physical book is the bomb dot com and I hope to get back to adding more reading vs listening. 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 the month of April:

  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou - If you haven't read/ listened to this book, you are definitely missing out. Maya Angelou is one amazing woman and this is a memoir of the early portion of her life (AND the audiobook was read by her!). I always enjoy biographies because it's not like you can argue with someone's life experiences and I appreciate a little look behind the curtain of what life is really like for some folks (let's be real, things you see on social media is a very curated version of someone's life and although someone can choose what to include in a memoir, I get the sense that much more of the struggle/ hard/ not so glamorous portions are more likely to be included in a book than on a screen). I think this was amazing to see the start of a heroine's life (and, yes, I would consider Maya Angelou the stuff of legends!), especially since she came from a VERY humble beginnings. Her relationship with her brother was so endearing and I'm thrilled she had someone near who she could confide in and battle life with. It is still mind boggling the racism and bigotry she endured as a Black female in the south NOT TOO LONG AGO! WE MUST DO BETTER AS A PEOPLE! If you haven't picked this one up before, I would highly recommend it! I would give it a 10 out of 10.

  • The Teacher by Freida McFadden - At the end of the March I saw this book on a few of my friend's lists of what they read, so I figured it'd probably be worth grabbing. I haven't read anything by this author before, but apparently she has many plot twists in her books and this was no different. Obviously I don't want to spoil anything (because I did find it a great read and would recommend it to others), but let's just say everything is not as it seems... even through the very end. The story is one you have heard/ seen before (on things like Law & Order SVU), a teacher becomes involved with a student and you see the fallout of what comes next, but there are a few major twists and turns along the way that makes it stand alone. (Ok, they may be outlandish differences and not as much of a reality that you might imagine in your community, but, hey, this is a book of fiction, right?!) I did really like that the book was written from the perspective of the different characters (and read by different actors) - those always tend to be more interesting to me. I wouldn't be surprised if at some point it becomes a movie. I guess I need to grab a few more of Freida's books. I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson - I originally had this saved in my "for later" list on Hoopla, so when I saw it pop up on Libby I figured I'd finally grab it. I may not be part of the LGBTQ+ community, I am always down to learn how to be a better ally, so wanted to give it a listen. This is probably going to sound strange, but this is sort of like a guide book on being gay. Seeing as I am a heterosexual cis female, I have not had to think about things like sex ed. When schools teach sex education (if they even do), it is only male plus female. With that being said, how do those who have relationships that do not fit P to V learn sex ed? This book not only walks folks through things like the club scene and dating apps, but it also dives into sexual orientation, the difference between them, etc. I think anyone who is LGBTQ+, has friends/ family who is LGBTQ+ or wants to learn more about the LGBTQ+ community and some of the issues they run into in a world built around the white heterosexual cis male would find this informative. There could definitely be a deeper dive into some of the topics (or some of the less know sexual orientations), but I realize this is written for young adults so understand some of the nitty gritty wrote about it more generalized statements. I would give it an 8 out of 10.

  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart - I was scrolling through the Young Adult section on the Libby app and saw this among the most popular books so although I had never heard of it I figured I'd give it a try. When I started it I thought it was going to be an easy-breezy, lighthearted book (maybe one to read at the pool), but it definitely doesn't stay sunshine and unicorns the entire time. The story surrounds a family (think very wealthy, entitled, patriarchal, you know the type ;)) and their summer vacations. They "own" an island and there are three generations that come to spend the time together (grandfather, three daughters and then their children). Obviously there are shenanigans that ensue, but it also takes a pretty dark turn as well (who doesn't love a good twist?!). I wouldn't say it would be something I need to add to my personal library, but it kept me entertained and intrigued (and I would watch it if they turned it into a movie ;)). I would give it an 8 out of 10.

  • Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano - I had seen this on some "must read" lists, but other than the fact that some folks found it a great read, I was pretty clueless on what this book was about. Let's just say it is NOT an easy read. The premise of the story is there is a plane crash where 191 people die and one person lives. That person is Edward and he's a young boy who not only loses his family (parents and older brother) but is then thrust into the limelight for being the "miracle boy". It is definitely a heavy story and it pulls on all of your heart strings. I have never really thought about something like this (unless it surrounds 9/11), so it was pretty enlightening. Although this is a novel, the author did base it on a few different actual plane crashes (and used some material directly from court transcripts of said accidents). I love how this story doesn't shy away from hard topics (whether it's survivors guilt, going to therapy, grief, marital issues, etc). I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • Family of Liars by E. Lockhart - Since I had "checked out" We Are Liars, this book popped up in my Libby feed of recommended reads. This is the prequel and even though I normally don't like prequels/ sequels as much (it's sort of like they are just trying to capitalize on the success of the first one so often times they aren't as good as the original), I still figured I'd give it a listen. There are definitely some spoilers if you haven't read/ listened to the original, so I won't mention too much here, but this is the story of the three sisters (the moms in the We Are Liars story) and one summer that they were kids on the island. The book is told from Carrie's, the oldest sister's, perspective. She is telling about the worst thing she had ever done. I actually think I liked this one better. Again, I don't want to ruin any of the plot, but the "further from reality" part in We Are Liars is a much smaller portion of the story so it wasn't too important or impactful. I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave - I'll be honest, whenever I see that a book has been turned into a movie or series, it does pique my interest a bit more (I'm assuming most folks wouldn't want to waste their time/ money/ resources using a BAD book, so this gives me a little more confidence that I may enjoy the read). Also, 99% of the time I enjoy the book more than the adaptation, but just in case the hubby and I watch the series, I figured it'd be worth grabbing this one beforehand. Let's just say there are quite a few twists and turns in the book, most of which I didn't see coming (and I normally pride myself on being able to figure plots out ahead of time thanks to growing up on shows like Law & Order ;)). I really enjoyed the way that everything unraveled in this one (and noticed the author has another book, so will definitely be snagging that one too). What was interesting was there were different parts throughout the book where I liked and disliked all of the characters. In my opinion, I feel like that shows the depth of the character development (since they felt like 'real' people where you may agree with them at one point and not on another topic). I can see why this one has gotten so much fanfare and I 'd totally agree with it. I would give it a 10 out of 10.

  • Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon - I have always loved anything that Nicola has written, so when I saw this new-to-me title of hers pop up on Libby I knew I needed it immediately. This was a young adult romance with a little magic thrown in for good measure. As can be expected, loved this one! I don't want to spoil the ending, but sometimes I really do appreciate when things don't end "happily ever after". The main character in this story, Evie, has the ability to see the spectrum of others' relationships (from first meet to how it ends). "Seeing" so many relationships around her end, along with the divorce of her parents, leads her to become a cynic when it comes to love. Obviously, in most cutesy YA stories, along comes a heart throb which may or may not change Evie's perspective on relationships/ heartbreak/ etc. If you're looking for a sweet, quick read (maybe for a day at the beach or before going to bed) I'd 100% recommend it! I would give it a 9 out of 10.  

  • Hello, Sunshine by Laura Dave - After "The Last Thing He Told Me", I saw the author had another book and wanted to give it a go. On the Libby app there was a wait, so I went back to my trusty Hoopla app and downloaded it. Let's just say I'm glad I didn't read this one first. I definitely did not like it as much (or actually much at all in general). It felt like an entitled, white, cis female complaining the entire time (#WhitePrivilege much?!). I actually didn't want to finish it, but since it wasn't too long of a listen I went the distance. I did appreciate that it made me think a little more critically about social media (although I have taken a GIANT step back in the past few months), so I guess there was a tiny nugget I took away. I would give it a 3 out of 10.

  • One of Us is Next by Karen M. McManus - I remembered reading/ listening to the first book in the series a while back and I thought I enjoyed it (haha), so when I saw there were three books in the series and the second one was available in audiobook form I grabbed it on my Libby app. Well, I guess you can say I forgot what the first book was about (and especially the details of the story) so I'll be honest and say I was hoping this was more of a stand alone book but no such luck. Sure, I was able to follow what was going on in the current plot, but whenever they referenced "Simon" or the "game", I was out of the loop. It seemed like I was jumping into something two steps too late. I'm not sure why, but this one just didn't grab my attention. Maybe because I wasn't in the right mindspace for it, maybe it was just a bit too outlandish for me to believe, maybe it just took a while to get into. Whatever the case, I'll probably skip the third book (especially since neither of my book apps has the audiobook). I actually wasn't even too eager to finish listening to this one. I would give it a 4 out of 10.

  • Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter - Remember when I mentioned that if a book has the little sticker saying it was turned into a series or book I will often assume it is good, or at least worth my time?! Well, that is what happened with this one. The hubby and I don't have Netflix, so I don't know if we will ever see the series, but if someone greenlit the project I was hoping the book would be 'good enough'. As per usual, I didn't have any idea about what the story would entail, but I was pleasantly pleased. This isn't my normal genre, but the spy/ double agent/ whodunit feel kept me entertained. I enjoyed that the story would flip back and forth in time between the past and present. Sometimes when the plot jumps around it can be a little confusing or like whiplash, but the author did a good job here and it more kept me in the moment and not trying to figure out what would happen next. I wouldn't say it was my favorite read, but I can definitely see how it could be adapted to the screen (especially as a series since the audiobook was 16 hours long). I would give it a 7 out of 10.

  • The Only Purple House in Town by Ann Aguirre - I don't remember how I came across this book on my Hoopla app (maybe searching new YA books, maybe it was suggested to me based on what I had been downloading, who knows), but I am so glad I found it. It sort of reminded me of one of my favorite books (The House in the Cerulean Sea) and oddly enough the titles are very similar ;) The little blurb on the front says "Sheer happiness in a book" and I couldn't agree more. There were a few parts that seemed like they could have been skipped since they didn't really have any bearing on the story overall, but other than that, it was pretty amazing. The main issue I had was that it wasn't longer (or there isn't a sequel). I loved all of the characters in this rag-tag bunch of folks who become one another's chosen family. There are a few cuss words, so it might not be suitable for 'young' young adults, but otherwise I think it is super cute, has a great overall message and I will be recommending it to folks FO SHO! (And, yes, in case you were wondering, I DID add this book to my Wish List on Amazon so I can have it in my personal "library".) I would give it a 10 out of 10.

  • Everyone on this Train is a Suspect by Benjamin Stevenson - I had read the first book in this "series" a while back and remembered enjoying it so thought I'd give this one a go. The main character is a writer who writes books about how to write mystery books. I know, I know, sort of silly, but it makes sense. This book is technically a sequel but you don't necessarily need to have read the first one (you'd know a few of the characters in this book, but other than that the storylines don't really intersect so this book can stand alone). Let me start out by saying I am a baby when it comes to scary things - I don't even like watching previews of scary movies. With that being said, I tend to stay away from "dark" books, but this was actually a very light hearted murder mystery (is that even a thing, ha?!). If you have seen the movie Knives Out, this book is sort of similar. This wasn't my favorite book of the month, but it definitely kept me entertained. I would say the one draw back (and maybe it is just me) is that there seemed to be A LOT of characters. I felt like I really had to be paying attention to make sure I followed along. Maybe if I had a physical book it would've been easier, but with the audiobook I had to pay close attention or I'd get the characters confused. I would give it an 8 out of 10.

  • Evil Eye by Etaf Rum - I read this author's first novel (A Woman is No Man) and really liked it, so was stoked to see she had written another. This novel is about a Palestinian American woman, her family, the expectations put on her, generational trauma, finding her way (purpose) in life, etc. I know it is "just a story", but I felt like I 'knew' Yara. The character development was so good and the storytelling so vivid that I felt like I was there (and that I would have wanted to be friends with her and Silas). I had read a review (when I was grabbing the link for this post) used the word "engrossing" and I absolutely agree. Like I mentioned, this was a novel, but I appreciate the author's care to show the culture and the plight of people who have been forced from their homelands. The only thing I would've really suggested was that there be a trigger warning at the beginning because there were a lot of very important (but potentially triggering) topics. I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • Heroine by Mindy McGinnis - This book popped up in the Young Adult section on my Libby app and it looked interesting so I grabbed it. I appreciated that this book DID have a trigger warning beforehand - letting folks who have problems with needles, folks possibly in recovery, etc may want to consider if they are in a place where they can read/ listen to this book. This book focuses on the opioid epidemic. Although I may not have experience first hand with this crisis, I know how life destroying (and ending) it can be. The main character, Mickey, was in a car accident, was prescribed Oxycontin for her pain (by a legit doctor, not a pill-mill type place), got hooked and her life spiraled out of control. I honestly had to double check to see if this was a memoir or a fictional story once I finished because it felt so real (and, unfortunately, for too many families it is all too much like their reality). The Midwest is a great place to be from, but drugs run rampant and I'm forever grateful they never got their grasp on me, but I know not everyone is as lucky. I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • The Power of Fun by Catherine Price - After the fiction I had been reading, I thought it was time to throw something else into the mix, so I found this book on my Libby app. I didn't know much about it other than the title, but I am stoked I found it because it was really good. The author believes that the lack of play and fun in our society leads to many negative issues. Although I would say I am very Type A and a rule follower, the hubby has definitely opened my eyes to going with the flow a bit more. He absolutely brings fun into our lives. With that being said, there were some nuggets that I took away from the book that I hope to implement. For example, many of us don't know what we find "fun" because we don't make the time to seek it out. One suggestion she had was to take a "screen sabaith". Her and her husband stay away from screens (phones, tablets, tvs, etc) for 24 hours. They've found that it forces them to find other things to do - other things that could be "fun". I'd LOVE to do this, but it might only work if the hubby is on board too... (She also wrote a book about "breaking up with your phone" and I'll probably grab that at some point too.) I would give it a 9 out of 10. 

  • Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng - I have always enjoyed this author, so when I saw it pop up in the YA section of my Libby app I knew I needed it. Let's just say, I loved it and have already added it to my Amazon Wish List so I can add it to my personal library. It is a story that is about our society and not about our society at the same time [think of a book like 1984... close to reality... sometimes too close... but still not exactly the same]. She took some things that have happened and are still happening (such as removing children from homes, banning books, etc) and took things a step further. Obviously this is a novel, but I'd be lying if I said some of it didn't ring true or mimic some of my thoughts/ feelings. The character development was great and I was rooting for them within the first few pages (here's to hoping I am a bit like Margret Miu). I also loved how different stories/ tales were incorporated into this story. This one is powerful. I would give it 10 out of 10.

  • Brave Faces by Shaun David Hutchinson - As you probably know by now, I tend to be a sucker for the Young Adult genre and memoirs. This book popped up and seemed to be a mix of both, so obviously I had to give it a listen. I appreciate that not only was the author the one who read the book but also how raw and real he was. Also, he was very generous with the trigger warnings throughout the story (not just at the beginning) because his life was definitely filled with ups and downs. I am always grateful for the LGBTQ+ community's willingness to share the heartache, depression, bullying, internal and external homophobia, etc that many (if not all) experience. I'm a white, cisgendered heteroseual female born in America - besides being male it's pretty hard to be more privileged with that. With that being said, I obviously have had a different upbringing and am always interested to learn about the lives of others (and how, in turn, that may help me in the quest of becoming a better person). This is not an easy listen, but it's extremely important for it to be out there - even if just for those struggling kiddos (or adults) to see themselves in the media and know they're not alone. (Note: I do NOT think that's the only reason for books like this to exist, but hopefully that's obvious.) I would give it a 9 out of 10. 

  • Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus - While the hubby and I were on our adventure to Utah, I wanted to grab a book to listen to when he was scrolling through social media (I'm doing my best to limit how much I am on it - hopefully less than 30 minutes a day). Since we were at a campground and I didn't want to spend hours scrolling through my Libby app, I noticed one of the authors I had listened to earlier in the month had another book (and it wasn't part of the not-my-favorite series), so I snagged it. The way I would describe this would be like an episode of Law & Order but instead of Sergeant Olivia Benson investigating it was a couple of high schoolers ;) Don't get me wrong, it was entertaining and I actually didn't see the end coming until pretty late in the story, but it wasn't anything special to write home about. I could see this being turned into a Netflix movie or, shoot, maybe it actually already has been an episode of Law & Order, hehe. I won't be adding it to my personal library, but it did its job and held my interest for a few hours. PS Every time I read the title I sing the Pretty Little Liars theme song (wow, I really am into the YA genre!). I would give it a 7 out of 10. 

  • The Darkest White by Eric Blehm - The hubby has been wanting to listen to this audiobook for a while, so the drive to and from Utah for a long weekend getaway seemed to be a perfect time. Let me start by saying that although I grew up in Michigan, I did not grow up skiing or snowboarding... The hubby, on the other hand, seemed to be on a snowboard (or water skis) since birth. With that being said, he was pretty heavy into the snowboard/ skateboard scene and grew up seeing the magazines or watching all the films about these sports and athletes. Craig Kelly was an amazingly talented snowboarder in the 80s and 90s (whom Ryan was very familiar with) and unfortunately died in an avalanche in the backcountry in 2003. This book is an extremely well researched account of not only Craig's athletic accomplishments, but also about that fateful day. Let me just say that you do NOT need to be a snowboarder to get wrapped up into this story. Also, you better believe I will be hugging the hubby a little longer and harder every time he heads to the mountains from here forward. I may not have been emotionally invested in Craig prior to listening to his story (like the hubby was), but, golly gee, this will pull at your heartstrings even when you already know how the story ends. I would give it a 9 out of 10.

With that, April is done-zo. If you have suggestions, let me know! I'm always looking to add to my "must read" list! 

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

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