Wednesday, December 11, 2019

What I'm Reading

I've got more books to share with you!! I can't believe I haven't shared a books post since June, I've read so much since then. Like I said last time, I put the Kindle app on my phone and it is a game changer. Sure, it's not the best reading experience (I would so prefer a real book), but now I read every time I feed Mia. I used to read from my iPad on the train, but now on my iPhone I can pull it out to crank through a few pages anywhere and everywhere. Apparently I read a lot, because I have 15 books for you today! Leaving off a few more, because really, who wants to read more than 15 book recommendations at once?!

My favorite books of the last six months 

American Royals
Okay, picture America today, with everything the same, except that back at the end of the Revolutionary War, instead of choosing to be president George Washington became the King of America instead. It's such a simple concept, but initially what drew me into the story was how interesting the world itself was due to the American monarchy. It's a little bit of a butterfly effect, what might have changed, what wars wouldn't have happened or other historical events might have changed. I found the look into the royal history fascinating, and my sister said it immediately drew her in too. It is a YA novel so the story itself is a little predictable but ultimately a fun, easy read and an interesting fantasy to be a part of. It's the first in a triology, and you'd better bet I'm already dying for the next installment! 100% would recommend.

The Great Believers
This was the best book of the year for me. It follows the story of the AIDs crisis in Chicago in the eighties, as well as the ramifications on some of the characters in the present. I was immediately drawn into the character of Yale, a 30-something living in Boystown, and honestly cared about him more than any other character I've read since Jude in A Little Life. Every time I came up for air I literally had to fill Jeff in with what was happening with Yale and what I was worried might happen next (sorry Jeff). It was also so interesting to me because I lived in Boystown twenty years after the story takes place, and the stories of Chicago and descriptions of the neighborhood were completely fascinating. But whether or not you live in Chicago, I highly, highly recommend this one.

The Heart's Invisible Furies
Cyril Avery is born in Ireland in the 1940's. From birth, he's different - born to an unwed mother and adopted by parents who never treat him like their son. As he grows up, he struggles with being gay and having to hide it in a repressed, religious Ireland - and from his beautiful best friend, Julian. The story follows Cyril throughout his life as he tries to find himself. The story was beautifully written, heartbreaking at times, and really one of my favorites this year.

Daisy Jones & The Six
The Six are a band on the rise in the late sixties, and Daisy Jones is a party girl with a voice that gets her noticed. They end up joining forces to become one of the biggest bands in the world, until they unexpectedly break up. The book is written like a transcript from a documentary, letting you hear each person's side of the story from their own perspective. It was a really interesting read and had me dying for more. I've heard it's really great in the audio book version if you prefer that, as each character has a different actor reading for him or her. And no, in case you're wondering, Daisy Jones & The Six was not a real band, but I thought (and it appears the internets do too) that it sounds a lot like Fleetwood Mac.

Some great relationship-based novels

Normal People 
Normal People follows the lives of two teens in rural Ireland, one poor but popular, the other rich and a social pariah, both incredibly smart and both drawn to each other despite the fact that they won't even acknowledge each other at school. From high school through their years at college, the story follows how they change one another and how their relationship ebbs and flows. It's a little quiet and a little sad, but also beautifully heartbreaking with a lot of depth.

The Girl He Used to Know
Annika is a shy girl on the spectrum attending the University of Illinois back in the nineties, and Jonathan falls in love with her. The story follows the pair through their time at the U of I and then ten years later in Chicago as they try to figure out what went wrong in their relationship and become friends again. There is a twist in the book that I found upsetting, but for the most part the story is sweet and romantic. This was also fun for me to read since I went to the University of Illinois and live in Chicago - they even went to Kams!

Fleishman Is in Trouble
Toby Fleishman is going through a messy divorce, and is quickly learning the fun of being a single man in the world of dating apps. But then one weekend his wife drops his kids off without warning, and doesn't come back. At first I was not so into Toby's story as it seemed one-note on the surface, but the story builds and builds as we learn more about Toby's relationship with his wife, his kids, and his friends. Maybe Toby's wife is just as evil as he thinks she is. Or maybe, he just hadn't ever understood the full picture.

Beach Reads

Okay if you want some cheese, here's some cheese. After a disastrous wedding, the maid of honor and the best man end up going on the honeymoon instead of the bride and groom. The two hate each other, but to keep up appearances pretend to be newlyweds - with quite a few unexpected side effects. A predictable romantic comedy at heart, while I wouldn't call this book "good," it was amusing enough if you're looking for a quick and easy read. 

I expected this book to be total fluff, but I was really drawn into the story and some darker aspects of history I wasn't aware of before. The book follows German-American Elise and Japanese-American Mariko as they become friends after being sent to an internment camp during World War II. Both girls and their families end up being deported back to their home countries before the end of the war, despite the fact that the girls were both American citizens born in the USA. We then follow Elise as she tries to survive the end of the war in Germany and dreams of reuniting with Mariko in New York City. I knew that internment camps were a thing, but I literally couldn't believe as I was reading that the USA would actually send our citizens into war zones. The look at wartime and post-war Germany was completely fascinating too. This is a YA novel so it does err a little young and predictable, but I still really enjoyed it. 

I wasn't really sure of this book at the beginning. Jo and Bethie are born to a conservative middle-class Jewish family in Detroit in the fifties. Bethie is the perfect, beautiful, talented daughter, while Jo can't do anything right. For the first few chapters, this read like a sitcom, with a big problem that is solved by the end of each chapter. But as you go and their problems get bigger and they learn how to be the women they want to be in a world where the expectations put on women area changing. I had really low expectations going into this, but I loved it by the end. It's a real feminist anthem, and makes you wonder how and why women are expected to be Mrs. Everything. 

The weird ones

If you want to read something weird, then Bunny is for you. Are you intrigued, or did you already move on to the next book? The descriptions I had read about Bunny were that it took place in an Ivy League world and that it was hilarious and dark. Well yes, yes, and yes, but the main focus of the story is on fantasy/supernatural elements. The Bunnies are a group of friends who are so sugar sweet and loving that it disgusts their classmate Samantha, who prefers her dark insular world. But everything changes when the Bunnies invite Samantha to join their girl gang. This book read like something dreamed up in my college creative writing class, almost weird for the sake of being weird (or were those just the stories I turned in?). Dark, thrilling, a little gross, and with some fun twists and turns - it may have been my weirdest read of the year, but I also couldn't put it down. How many times should a person use the word "weird" in a single book review?

Bellweather Rhapsody
The Bellweather Hotel used to be one of the most beautiful in the country, but by the time a group of high schoolers descend on the property for a Statewide, a music festival, it has seen better days. The first night of Statewide, events unfold that seem eerily similar to a murder that took place at the Bellweather years ago. This novel was dark and odd, but a fun mystery to unravel.

And a few more

Trust Exercise 
What's the truth, and what has our memory changed over time? In Trust Exercise we follow the lives of several students at a performing arts high school in the eighties. The title comes from the different exercises the theater students do every day to break down their walls and learn to really trust each other. The relationships the students build and break are the bread and butter of this novel. But as the story goes on, we start to wonder - what was it that really happened? Who was exaggerating, who was lying, and what wasn't real? I found Trust Exercise a little dense and difficult to read at times, and the ending a bit too ambiguous to be fully satisfying. I liked it and would recommend it, but I wished there was more.

Tell Me Everything
They're a tight-knit group of seniors in college celebrating the end of their four years on Senior Day. But it turns out their group isn't as close as it appears from the outside, and one of them will die that night. The main character, Malin, has spent her whole college career trying to fit in and be normal after an unusual childhood with her sociopath brother. But the secrets, lies, and manipulations will finally catch up with her and end in disaster. I didn't love love love this book as I had a hard time connecting with Malin's character and motivations, but it was an interesting enough read.

The Hundred Year House
Zee and her husband Doug, two college professors, have moved back home to live in her parents' carriage house for a new job. Zee has always heard about the ghost of her great-grandmother who haunts the house, but now that she's back we start to wonder if the ghost is real. The house also used to be the former home of an artist colony, and an artist Doug is researching happened to have lived there for his work. But as Doug tries to dig further into the history of the artist colony, his mother in law becomes increasingly secretive, leading him to wonder what exactly happened in the house's past. I'm not usually into mysteries, and while parts of this story were predictable I was drawn into the story and found myself racing toward the end. For those of you who are also interested in the local aspect, although they never name it the story 100% takes place in Lake Forest, which is close to where I grew up. I apparently am fascinated by locations for this book post!

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