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What I Read This Month: December 2017

December 18, 2017

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Y’all. Today is the last Monday before Christmas. I have a house full of family coming on SATURDAY and do you know how I spent 99.9% of my weekend? Reading on the sofa in front of the fireplace and I don’t even feel bad about it. After a flat out crazy December for both of us, A and I took a much needed break from the “have tos” and focused on a few “want tos”.  It was delightful!

Thanks, in large part, to a relatively lazy weekend, here’s what I read in December.

Final Girls by Riley Sager

“Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter went on vacation with five friends and came back alone, the only survivor of a horror movie–scale massacre. In an instant, she became a member of a club no one wants to belong to—a group of similar survivors known in the press as the Final Girls. The three girls are all attempting to put their nightmares behind them and, with that, one another. Despite the media’s attempts, they never meet. Now, Quincy is doing well—maybe even great, thanks to her Xanax prescription. Her memory won’t even allow her to recall the events of that night; the past is in the past. That is until Lisa, the first Final Girl, is found dead in her bathtub, wrists slit; and Sam, the second, appears on Quincy’s doorstep.”

A co-worker got this book as her Book of the Month selection and when she finished, handed it to me and said, “don’t read this while your husband is away.” After reading it, I totally get why. It was all kinds of creepy, suspenseful and more than a little twisted. I read it in the middle of the day with all the lights on and was still pretty convinced I’d have nightmares.

I can usually guess the ending of most thrillers, but this one surprised me! Right up until the twist was revealed, I totally thought it was something else. That’s the mark of a good thriller in my opinion. This was a page turner without a doubt and I flew through it. Quincy wasn’t my favorite character in the entire world, but I felt like she was an authentic version of someone who’d experienced her particular past. I liked that the author chose to make it so she didn’t remember the events of the night and revealed it piece by piece throughout the story.

The English Wife by Lauren Willig

“Annabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil live a charmed life in New York: he’s the scion of an old Knickerbocker family, she grew up in a Tudor manor in England, they had a whirlwind romance in London, they have three year old twins on whom they dote, and he’s recreated her family home on the banks of the Hudson and renamed it Illyria. Yes, there are rumors that she’s having an affair with the architect, but rumors are rumors and people will gossip. But then Bayard is found dead with a knife in his chest on the night of their Twelfth Night Ball, Annabelle goes missing, presumed drowned, and the papers go mad. Bay’s sister, Janie, forms an unlikely alliance with a reporter to uncover the truth, convinced that Bay would never have killed his wife, that it must be a third party, but the more she learns about her brother and his wife, the more everything she thought she knew about them starts to unravel. Who were her brother and his wife, really? And why did her brother die with the name George on his lips?”

This was undoubtedly the least scary of my three thrillers. Perhaps it was the historical setting or maybe it was because the plot was very specific to those characters, but it doesn’t have nightmare potential the way the other two do. It started a bit slowly, but once the plot got rolling, it moved along quickly, thanks in part to the characters. Their backstories were complex even by today’s standards, but certainly by the standards of the late 1800s. I was especially a fan of Janie, the main protagonist who eventually found her voice and stood up for herself.

I’m not sure I saw the ending coming, but when it was all revealed, I somehow wasn’t terribly surprised. Nothing at all like Final Girls. One of my only complaints is that a minor character (who was awful) didn’t really get what I thought he deserved.  Otherwise, this one was very good.

Bonfire by Krysten Ritter

“It has been ten years since Abby Williams left home and scrubbed away all visible evidence of her small-town roots. Now working as an environmental lawyer in Chicago, she has a thriving career, a modern apartment, and her pick of meaningless one-night stands. But when a new case takes her back home to Barrens, Indiana, the life Abby painstakingly created begins to crack. Tasked with investigating Optimal Plastics, the town’s most high-profile company and economic heart, Abby begins to find strange connections to Barrens’s biggest scandal from more than a decade ago, involving the popular Kaycee Mitchell and her closest friends—just before Kaycee disappeared for good.”

This was probably my least favorite of the three and the one I’d recommend last, if only because it was the most…icky? I can’t really explain it without giving it away, but the ending made me intensely uncomfortable, although I suppose most people got what they deserved. I actually wasn’t a huge fan of Abby, even though I know I was supposed to root for her to overcome her past and save a town that had basically tortured her as a child. Bonfire was the shortest one I read and moved quickly; I actually finished it in one evening.

I think all three books were enjoyable (albeit creepy) reads and I would recommend them if you’re into the suspense/thriller genre. What have you read lately?


What I Read This Month: July 2017

July 28, 2017

If there’s a good side to my husband being deployed, it’s that I have more time to myself.  It never seems to fail that I spend it in one of three ways: being super productive, watching trashy TV that A would never watch and reading a ton. So far this deployment, I’ve done a bit of all three, but July was very heavy in the reading category.

Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty 

“Lyn, Cat, and Gemma Kettle, beautiful thirty-three-year-old triplets, seem to attract attention everywhere they go. Together, laughter, drama, and mayhem seem to follow them. But apart, each is dealing with her own share of ups and downs. Lyn has organized her life into one big checklist, Cat has just learned a startling secret about her marriage, and Gemma, who bolts every time a relationship hits the six-month mark, holds out hope for lasting love. In this wise, witty, and hilarious novel, we follow the Kettle sisters through their tumultuous thirty-third year.”

This was a very quick, enjoyable read, but I don’t know that I loved it. I’m a big fan of a lot of her books and while this one was good, I wouldn’t put it on the same level as The Husband’s Secret. The story moved quickly and the characters were intriguing. But after a very large amount of drama, things wrapped up a little too perfectly for my taste.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

“It was an unlikely quest from the start. With a team composed of the sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the University of Washington’s eight-oar crew team was never expected to defeat the elite teams of the East Coast and Great Britain, yet they did, going on to shock the world by defeating the German team rowing for Adolf Hitler.”

I loved this one probably because it reminded me so much of The Boys of Winter, one of my favorite books of all time.  I picked it up on my way home from a conference in Seattle so all of the locations were fresh in my mind which probably helped the story come alive for me.  I found myself cheering for the boys from UW and turning the pages a little bit faster as we got to the gold-medal race.  I definitely plan to see the documentary and would recommend this for sports fan and history buffs alike!

The Night She Won Miss America by Michael Callahan

“Betty Jane Welch reluctantly enters the Miss Delaware contest to make her mother happy, only to surprisingly find herself the judges’ choice. Just like that, she’s catapulted into the big time, the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City. Luckily, her pageant-approved escort for the week is the dashing but mercurial Griffin McAllister, and she falls for him hard. But when the spirited Betty unexpectedly wins the crown and sash, she finds she may lose what she wants most: Griff’s love. To keep him, she recklessly agrees to run away together. From the flashy carnival of the Boardwalk to the shadowy streets of Manhattan to a cliffside mansion in gilded Newport, the chase is on as the cops and a scrappy reporter secretly in love with the beauty queen threaten to unravel everything-and expose Griff’s darkest secret.”

Oh my gosh, this one was good! I read it almost one sitting because I couldn’t put it down. The book was based on a true story, but heavily fictionalized so I was definitely left wishing I knew what the true story was. The dark secret was not at all what I expected and its resolution felt a little off, even though it was perfectly appropriate for the time period. But overall, I really enjoyed this one.

Always by Sarah Jio

“Enjoying a romantic candlelit dinner with her fiancé, Ryan, at one of Seattle’s chicest restaurants, Kailey Crain can’t believe her good fortune: She has a great job as a journalist and is now engaged to a guy who is perfect in nearly every way. As she and Ryan leave the restaurant, Kailey spies a thin, bearded homeless man on the sidewalk. She approaches him to offer up her bag of leftovers, and is stunned when their eyes meet, then stricken to her very core: The man is the love of her life, Cade McAllister.”

Ok real talk, I wasn’t a huge fan of The Look of Love so I picked this one up with mild expectations. But holy crap y’all, this one was SO much better! I found myself so caught up in the story that at one point I gasped at a turn of events. Out loud. It was very compelling and thought-provoking, even while being masked as a romantic story. It’s inspired me to check out more books by this author.

City of Friends by Joanna Trollope

“The day Stacey Grant loses her job feels like the last day of her life. Or at least, the only life she’d ever known. For who was she if not a City high-flyer, Senior Partner at one of the top private equity firms in London? As Stacey starts to reconcile her old life with the new—one without professional achievements or meetings, but instead, long days at home with her dog and ailing mother, waiting for her successful husband to come home—she at least has The Girls to fall back on. Beth, Melissa and Gaby. The girls, now women, had been best friends from the early days of university right through their working lives, and through all the happiness and heartbreaks in between. But these career women all have personal problems of their own, and when Stacey’s redundancy forces a betrayal to emerge that was supposed to remain secret, their long cherished friendships will be pushed to their limits.”

This one was my least favorite of all the books I read this month. The characters were a little annoying to be honest with you. For people who had been friends for so long, they certainly didn’t seem to be very good to each other.  I found the “betrayal” to be a little silly and all the grudges these women had with each other seemed a bit insignificant. I would recommend skipping this one and don’t see myself picking up more by this author.

What did you read this month?

Books Military

Going Overboard Reflection

July 27, 2017

The military spouse lifestyle can be a bit somber: there are a lot of goodbyes, usually more than one person’s fair share of tears and sometimes some very serious moments.  Thanks to a lot of mainstream media, many civilians think things end there, but they don’t. In between the tears, there is laughter. There is levity to balance out the somber moments. There is humor in the military spouse lifestyle and Sarah Smiley shares many of those moments in Going Overboard.

Summary: In 1999, Sarah was a typical bride-to-be, flustered with wedding details. Then the groom called. “I don’t want you to panic, but I might not be able to come to our wedding….”

So began Sarah Smiley’s life as a military wife. As a former Navy brat herself, Sarah knew better than anyone that weddings and funerals—even childbirth!—take a backseat to Uncle Sam. But just as the young, nationally syndicated columnist was getting comfortable with the military wife’s routine, her husband was sent away for an unexpected deployment. What followed was a true test of strength and wit. From getting locked out of the house in cowgirl pajamas to wrestling with the temptation of infidelity, Sarah exposes it all with candor, heart—and knowing humor.

My thoughts: I had mixed reactions to this one. On one hand, I felt like this was the least dramatized version of a military spouse’s life that I’ve read and I really appreciated that. Sarah was honest (sometimes brutally so) about the ups and downs of being married to the military. I think her reactions to deployment were genuine and completely relatable.  So many of us bicker with our spouses right before they leave. So many of us have had complete meltdowns because the dryer is broken again or the dog has gotten sick on the bed or we’re locked out of the house in our cowgirl PJs.

But on the other hand, I was a bit disheartened by this book. Sarah is tempted by infidelity during her husband’s deployment, so much so that her being at his homecoming is in question at one point.  While I can completely understand how difficult it is to be by yourself and can empathize with her feelings, I just cannot get behind the idea of cheating on my husband, or even contemplating it.  It’s beyond comprehension to me and I couldn’t relate to her struggle with it.  I found myself becoming very frustrated with that part of her story.

I was hoping that because this book was written by a military spouse (rather than just about them), it would be truer to the military spouse lifestyle I see everyday. In reality, it still perpetuated a few of the stereotypes I (and so many of us) hate.

But perhaps that’s the good thing about this book: it shows another facet of military spouse life. It may not be the facet that I relate to or the one that I agree with, but it’s there. Sarah’s experience as a military spouse is just as valid as my own, even though they are very different.

If military spouses are going to claim to be a diverse group that can’t be stereotyped or neatly categorized, we need to acknowledge all experiences as valid and worthy of respect, even if they’re ones we don’t agree with.

Have you ever read a book that presents a life of experiences so very different than your own, but that you still recognize as valid? Can there be a continuum of the military spouse lifestyle?

Books Military

Under the Sabers Reflection

July 6, 2017

Earlier this year, I set the goal of reading more books by and for military spouses and finally made it to my third one! I was initially drawn to Under the Sabers partially because of the sensational backstory and because it was set at Ft. Bragg, where we’re stationed. I was prepared for something very similar to Home Fires Burning, and in some ways that is exactly what I got, but in others the two books couldn’t have been more different.

Summary: “In the summer of 2002, Army wives were in the headlines after Biank, a military reporter for the Fayetteville Observer, made international news when she broke the story about four Army wives who were brutally murdered by their husbands in the span of six weeks at Fort Bragg, an Army post that is home to the Green Berets, Airborne paratroopers, and Delta Force commandos. By that autumn, Biank, an Army brat herself, realized the still untold story of Army wives lay in the ashes of that tragic and sensationalized summer. She knew the truth—wives were the backbone of the Army. They were strong—not helpless—and deserved more than the sugarcoating that often accompanied their stories in the media.

Under the Sabers tells the story of four typical Army wives, who, in a flash, find themselves neck-deep in extraordinary circumstances that ultimately force them to redefine who they are as women and Army wives. In this fascinating and meticulously researched account, Biank takes the reader past the Army’s gates, where everyone has a role to play, rules are followed, discipline is expected, perfection praised, and perception often overrides reality. Biank explores what happens when real life collides with Army convention.”

It’s hard to profile individuals and accurately portray the wide variety of human nature, but Biank did a fairly decent job of selecting diverse women to follow. Rita is the newest Army wife and while at first she struggles to find her place in the both the community and her marriage, I think her story is possibly the most compelling because of how she contradicts so many stereotypes.  Delores and Andrea Cory’s husbands are high ranking and they are so ingrained in the military lifestyle that it’s hard to imagine them existing outside the Ft. Bragg bubble. But then they both go through unspeakable tragedy and have to reexamine everything they though they were.  And last, but certainly not least, is Andrea Floyd, one of the four Army wives murdered by their husbands in just six weeks. But her story is even more complex than a simple newspaper headline would lead you to believe.

Each wife presents an interesting look at a slice of Army life, and more broadly military life in general. But what frustrates me the most is that taken individually, each story doesn’t do the entire military spouse community justice. The sensational stories are the ones that make for entertaining reading: the affairs, the abuse, the death. I understand that’s compelling entertainment for the average person, but it’s still so stereotypical! For every military spouse living a Lifetime movie, there is another military spouse living a completely normal and boring life (or as boring as you can get in the military) without any of the dramatic bits. Frankly, I wish those stories were told more often.

Overall the book was a compelling read and for someone outside the military, it’s probably pretty educational, or at least seems that way. But for those of us living it every single day, I thought it was a bit dramatic and didn’t really touch on the coping skills or mechanisms necessary to get through this life.  If a new military spouse picks up this book looking for tips, I think he/she will walk away disappointed and perhaps a bit overwhelmed with worry.

Have you read Under the Sabers? What were your thoughts? Do you feel that portrayals of military spouses lean towards the overly dramatic or stereotypical?


What I Read This Month: June 2017

June 23, 2017

You know what the best part of a beach vacation is? All the time to read! Seriously, while I’m all for exploring cities and having new experiences, I also love curling up with a book and spending my vacation traveling via the written word. Even though our trip to Isle of Palms was very busy, I still found some time to turn a few pages.

Startup by Doree Shafrir

“Mack McAllister has a $600 million dollar idea. His mindfulness app, TakeOff, is already the hottest thing in tech and he’s about to launch a new and improved version that promises to bring investors running and may turn his brainchild into a $1 billion dollar business–in startup parlance, an elusive unicorn. Katya Pasternack is hungry for a scoop that will drive traffic. An ambitious young journalist at a gossipy tech blog, Katya knows that she needs more than another PR friendly puff piece to make her the go-to byline for industry news.”

I had high hopes for this one, but was left a little disappointed. I wasn’t a huge fan of any of the characters or their motivations. The plot felt a little thin, especially the open ended ending that left me wanting more of a resolution. I do think that the book was really well-timed, as it deals with a lot of the same issues plaguing the Ubers of the world.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

“Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now? Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.”

This was by far my favorite book of the month. Once I started, I could not put it down and read the entire thing in my four-hour car trip to the beach. Evelyn’s life story was captivating and I so wish she was a real person so I could read more about her. This was entertaining with a few unexpected twists that really kept you guessing. I so highly recommend this one as a fun summer read.

White Fur by Jardine Libaire

“When Elise Perez meets Jamey Hyde on a desolate winter afternoon, fate implodes, and neither of their lives will ever be the same. Although they are next-door neighbors in New Haven, they come from different worlds. Elise grew up in a housing project without a father and didn’t graduate from high school; Jamey is a junior at Yale, heir to a private investment bank fortune and beholden to high family expectations. Nevertheless, the attraction is instant, and what starts out as sexual obsession turns into something greater, stranger, and impossible to ignore.”

Hm. I’m very torn on this one. Part of me flat out hated this book. I didn’t enjoy the writing style and thought the whole thing was very choppy and a bit hard to follow. But the other part of me devoured the story in under a day so it was clearly captivating. I did find it interesting that Elise turned out to be the more pulled together of the two while Jamey was the one with so much inner turmoil. It reinforces that upbringing isn’t necessarily indicative of your future.

What did you read this month?