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Books & Chocolate

I love to read just about anything, as long as it's fiction. I read for me - that means I read what I want, when I want. My reviews tend to mostly be based on how I'm able to personally connect with the story/characters. They are not intended to influence someone to read, or not read, a particular book. I always encourage people to take a chance and make up your own mind.

 

Oh, and I love chocolate.

A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove - Fredrik Backman

Overall I really enjoyed A Man Called Ove. I liked that Ove was a grumpy old man and not a typical heroic character. He was difficult to like, but I felt his story did a good job of explaining who he was.I also really enjoyed all the side characters in the book. 

 

I've read several other reviews and many readers described this as a kind of transformation story for Ove. However, I didn't view it that way. I see it as a story about finding a reason to live when you don't think there is one. Ove was grumpy and detached all the way through the book. He just needed help realizing he could live a satisfied life with people he cared about even after his wife died. I'm actually happy Ove didn't change, and that the people who came into his life loved him despite his sharp edges. We're all different in this world. Not everyone is sunshine and roses. But that doesn't mean they don't deserve to be loved and understood.

The Duff

The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend - Kody Keplinger

The Duff was a quick and entertaining read. I loved the concept of this book from the moment I first read the description. We all know The Duff (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) and some of us have even related to being The Duff at some point in time. I liked that the book got to that point -- that somewhere, somehow, we have all felt like The Duff for one reason or another. I also like the message of the book that we should not only accept it but embrace it as well.

 

I loved the relationship between Bianca and her friends. I love how she never questioned why they hung around her. She knew they were genuinely her friends and not using her as their Duff. On the flipside, she didn't understand why they got upset with her when she blew them off, and she rationalized why she couldn't tell them about her issues (but she could tell the guy she hated...) When something like this popped up I'd remind myself these were teenagers, and teenagers didn't always make mature decisions. 

 

I liked Wesley in this book. While he did sleep is way through most of the girls in his high school, it seemed he was never underhanded about it. This doesn't mean I approve of this kind of behavior, but I certainly can't condemn it either. The girls he slept with were never led to believe he was going to give them anything more.

 

The primary downfall was I didn't like Bianca much. She was so negative, but more than that, she was constantly thinking down on others. This is pointed out by several of her friends, and basically her reaction is 'yeah, well, that's me'. I love the message at the end that she doesn't want to change who she is for anyone - I totally promote that message as well. However, there's a difference between change and growth. Negativity does not make a person unique or special. It makes them miss out on a lot of great things about life. Not being willing to be more positive is just a way of refusing to admit she only wants to see the world through her own lens.

 

There is a moment in the end where Bianca realizes that calling someone a whore or other name is the same as them calling her The Duff. It's a great moment where she determines labels are not good (she keeps the negativity though). My issue with this part is that it seems the author was so focused on trying to infuse a feminist moment that she missed an opportunity to point out that this notion applies to men as well. Bianca constantly called Wesley a man-whore. While that name stopped after her realization, he was never included in her ah-ha moment. I think it was more of the fact that the name wasn't needed by that point in the story so it just sort of got dropped. 

 

I have this obsession with watching the movie version of every book I read. In this case, the movie is very different than the book. Some names are the same and of course there's the label of The Duff, but that's about it. I liked and disliked parts of both in equal measure. 

The Likeness

The Likeness - Tana French

The Likeness is the second book in the Dublin Murder Squad series. I liked it, but not quite as much as the first. The plot was very far-fetched, but I went in with that understanding. I suspended my disbelief and allowed myself to think, "OK, so if all the stars aligned in just the right way, something like this could possibly happen." 

 

The book did hold my attention and I wanted to find out who stabbed Lexie and if my guess were correct. The characters were complex and I thought they each had just the right amount of depth.

 

The primary issue I had with this book was the pace. It just felt like it dragged on way longer than necessary. It's possible my mood played a big part in my enjoyment of this. I had to start it late and wanted to get through it so I could get to other books I had on my list for last month. And I was sick. So, maybe I would have enjoyed the slower pace more had I not felt so impatient while reading it.

 

I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.

The Red Tent

The Red Tent - Anita Diamant

I'm not very familiar with the original Bible stories that The Red Tent is based on. After reading a few other reviews, it seems many who are familiar feel this was a big departure from the 'true' stories. I didn't read this for an accurate retelling of a Bible story, so I have no opinion on the accuracy.

 

Overall I enjoyed The Red Tent. While I understand this is one person's creative view on how life was for women back then, I think the picture she painted could have been very accurate. There were only a few parts that I felt dragged on longer than necessary. I'm looking forward to watching the mini-series now.

It Ends with Us

It Ends with Us: A Novel - Colleen Hoover

I haven't yet read all of Hoover's books, but I've read many and I'm making a point to catch up this year. I really enjoyed her early books and felt a lot of connection with the characters and their stories. Unfortunately, her latest books are just going in the opposite direction for me. This one was a struggle for me at rating higher than a 3, but that's what I gave Ugly Love and I liked this one marginally better than that, so 3.5 it is...

 

I've said before that one of the things I admire about Hoover as an author is her willingness to step out of the box in her writing. She tries new things and it keeps me interested in reading her stuff. However, I'm beginning to wish she'd jump out of the box on a few other things --- first up for me would be the nauseatingly 'perfect' looking characters in her books. They are all just gorgeous. {gag} My 'favorite' in this one was how Ryle had these massive arms that barely fit in his sleeves -- and it was made clear this was because they were sculpted big and not Mickey-D's big. Yet, never once in the book was it mentioned he spent time at the gym or even lifted at home. I'm sorry, you don't get arms like that unless you work at it. Even if you are a neurosurgeon. I can't be the only reader who's tried of the publishing industry assuming I'm so shallow I can only care about characters who defy the laws of human nature, so I wish they'd just stop.

 

The other box I wish Hoover would step out of is the need to cram graphic sex scenes in new adult books. Again, I find it insulting to assume readers aren't deeper than steamy hot sex in relationships. 

 

When I read romance these days, I'm expecting these things I've mentioned and I usually look right past them. It's sad, but I'm either looking for a light escape and don't care about the lack of originality in these areas, or I'm able to appreciate the other aspects of the plot and that makes up for it.

 

However, in this case, I didn't just want more but I needed it. This book was about a very important subject. I feel the cliched character and plot devices used cheapened the overall message Hoover was trying to paint. I didn't fully buy into Ryle acting the way he did, because I didn't fully buy into Ryle himself. He was very fictional and overly drawn. If he had been a bit more average/real, I may have connected more and felt the impact of his actions. And if their relationship had been more loving and nurturing, then I think that would have provided a powerful contrast to the other issue in their relationship. If Hoover felt the need to throw in sex, then I wish it would have at least been love scenes rather than sex scenes. Some of Ryle's abhorrent behavior didn't surprise me based on the way he was portrayed in bed.

 

As mentioned above, this book touches on a very important topic. I don't want to give spoilers, so some comments have been hidden. I think Hoover did a good job in many aspects of this part of the plot. 

 

I do think abusive relationships are complicated and there are a lot of gray areas those of us on the outside can't understand. Hoover approached this subject in a way that made me feel for Lily and root for her relationship with Ryle. Despite the pain he caused her, Hoover was able to show me that he did care and wanted to be a different person. I think there were still a few holes that could have been explored - such as why Ryle didn't show any violence with others and why he didn't seek professional help after things happened.

(show spoiler)

 

I was conflicted on the inclusion of Lily's first love, Atlas. I don't think he was necessary. In many ways, I think he actually brought the strength of the plot down. 

 

So overall, just a 'meh' book for me with an extra half point thrown in for her willingness to tackle such a difficult subject.

The Night Circus

The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern

The first thing that drew me to The Night Circus was the cover. I just love everything about it. But, that was also the reason I was hesitant to read it. When I love a cover, I want to love the story just as much. When I don't, it kills my cover-love. I didn't want to be turned off this cover. But, I liked the idea of the story a lot so I decided to finally jump in.

 

I'm not sure how to review this book. I went in knowing only the synopsis provided, and I'm glad. I think this book is best when discovered while reading. I will say that there were moments along the way when I thought it was dragging out. I'm not one who likes a lot of description in books, and this book is saturated it in. There would be chapters dedicated to describing tents and what went on inside. They didn't feel as if they served any purpose other than trying to immerse the reader in the world of the circus. However, as I finished the book I realized that each of those tents served as a sort of character description. Not only for the circus itself, which I think was meant to feel as though it were a living thing, but also of the characters who created them. I also realized that much of the way that Celia and Marco fell in love was through the tents they created. Those seemingly needless chapters served an important purpose, although it was subtle and many readers may miss that point as I almost did (or perhaps they won't agree with me, which is fine).

 

It's also a tale of two schools of thought when it comes to how magic should be done. Is one better than the other, or is there an argument that the best outcome is when they are combined?


I ended up loving The Night Circus. It's the first book I've read where I wished it were a TV series so I could get lost in it each week for a long, long time.

I'll Meet You There

I'll Meet You There - Heather Demetrios

There are a lot of things I really liked about I'll Meet You There. I love a good story about two people who fall in love but have a lot to overcome to be together. Josh and Skylar (Sky) certainly had a lot to overcome. 

 

I don't know a lot about PTSD, but I feel this book did a good job of making me more aware of what it feels like to be trapped in that mindset. My heart really went out to Josh and those he loved. It was clear they were all trying to figure out how to function in their new post-war reality. 

 

I also related to the struggle Sky had with wanting to get out of her podunk town. She felt trapped and it seemed that at every turn there was something trying to keep her from following her dreams.

I do like how Sky was eventually called out by her BFF on how she talked about Creek View and how she was basically constantly telling her friend she wasn't good enough in an indirect way. However, I wish Sky would have had a bit more growth in that area. She apologized, but only in a way to tell her BFF that she wasn't included in her disdain. She also did start to see Creek View differently while doing her art, but again I would have liked to have seen more growth in this area. It wouldn't have been too much of a departure from the plot since that was Sky's main conflict - would she get out of Creek View.

(show spoiler)

 

I do wish Josh hadn't been the guy who slept with most of the girls in town, except Sky who was one of the very few virgins. I mean, this plot angle has been done so many times and it's time for something more original to step in. I also didn't like how Josh talked to/about many of the people in the town -- 'slut', 'fag', etc. There's no evolution in Josh for why he shouldn't say these things, he just stops at some point because Sky tells him it's not cool....

 

Bottom like - there were some nuggets of gold in this book, but I had to filter through the cheap costume jewelry to find them.

Dark Matter

Dark Matter: A Novel - Blake Crouch

Dark Matter is probably the fastest book I've read in a long time. I just didn't want to put it down. And when I wasn't reading it, I was thinking about it. I'm not sure I buy into the concept of parallel worlds, but I like thinking about the possibility. This book was successful in making me think about the choices I've made in my life (and even the ones I didn't make by avoiding the decision until the need passed). It made me think about how much of my personality is fundamentally me and how much is based on my experiences of the external environment. And in the midst of this scientific-based plot, the author even managed to infuse a bit of fate. I just wish I my book club would have read this with me as I'd love to talk about it with them!

 

Definitely worth the read and now I want to check out his Wayward Pines series as I've heard good things about it. 

The Promise of Rayne

The Promise of Rayne - Nicole Deese

I've read several books now by author Nicole Deese and I've really enjoyed them. I was excited for her new book, The Promise of Rayne. Unfortunately, I'm in the apparent minority of readers because I didn't love this one as much as her others. I did still enjoy it, but I just couldn't get as invested in these characters as I have in her previous books.

 

The petty conflict between Rayne's uncle Cal and their neighbor Ford was a bit extreme. The ending did justify the reasons for the dislike somewhat, but it still seemed quite over the top. I don't do petty, so maybe that's one of the reasons it was difficult for me to connect with the story.

 

I did like the relationship between Rayne and Levi. I thought they were good together and I liked how their differences complemented each other.

 

I think what bothered me most about this book was Rayne herself. She was very committed to her family, and I can appreciate that. However, for someone who was painted to be generous of heart and willing to look past the Shelby family stigma, she really didn't extend that to Ford. I didn't like how she could not see for herself who she should trust - she wouldn't believe the person who treated her with respect until the person who treated her like crap fessed up to lying, just because he was family. If she were truly generous of heart, then I think she would be willing to question her family's actions as soon as she realized how she should be treated by someone who loves her.

 

Her reaction when she was first confronted by Ford was difficult for me to take seriously. Her grandfather died of a heart attack, and the rumor was Ford that conned him out of land from the family's inheritance. Ford had never approached her in 18 years - so even if the rumors were true, I don't get her reaction of extreme fear. Anger, yes. Fear, no. I mean, it's not like she was told Ford had killed her grandfather. And I'm not sure why she would be so angry. She only cared about the lodge. If Ford had 'swindled' her grandfather out of land, that didn't impact her position at the lodge or her grandfather personally. It really only impacted her dad and uncle, and she didn't seem to care much for either of them. She also didn't seem to care about money. She wanted to help others, give back to the community, etc. So why would she care so much about what he had stolen from family members she didn't even like? Basically, I felt her reaction was too much of an unrealistic overreaction that left a bitter taste in my mouth and me questioning the validity of her character.

(show spoiler)

 

There were a few other petty things I had issues with as well.

 

Overall, not my favorite but still glad I read it.

In the Woods

In the Woods - Tana French

I really enjoyed this first book of the Dublin Murder Squad series. I thought In the Woods was a compelling mystery. I really liked the characters and thought they were well developed. The primary mystery is centered on a 12-year-old girl who is found murdered. Lately I have avoided books where the plot has a young child as a victim. One of the side effects of being a mom I suppose. I did struggle with certain parts of this book, but overall I was able to make it through without too much difficulty.

 

While my primary suspicion was correct, I still enjoyed the journey this book took me on. I had some minor issues but nothing worthy of note (especially since it would contain spoilers). 

 

I struggled with the ending. On one had it frustrated the you-know-what out of me. On the other, I respected the author for taking the less popular path. 

 

I've read from others that the second book is much better - I can't wait!

The Hypnotist's Love Story

The Hypnotist's Love Story[HYPNOTISTS LOVE STORY][Paperback] - LianeMoriarty

This is my third book by Liane Moriarty and, like the others, this book was good but it didn't blow me away. There were moments that made me love the book. While Saskia's stalker behavior was not acceptable, I did understand the feelings behind her actions. I got why she found it so hard to move on. I also liked how Ellen was somewhat intrigued by Saskia. She was a hypnotherapist, so it made sense that she'd want to know what made this woman tick and why she stalked her and her new boyfriend (Saskia's ex). I enjoyed seeing the challenges in Ellen's relationship with Patrick and how the 'baggage' was different with his late wife than it was with Saskia.

 

However, I felt it dragged on way too much. Too much redundancy. And I didn't like how the ending was just so neat and tidy. 

The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield

I love my book club. We've been gathering around the same dining room table for over 10 years. But I need to give them a bit of sass. I've been trying to talk them into reading The Thirteenth Tale for YEARS. For some reason, it never makes the list. I'll admit, the synopsis doesn't really grab me so maybe that's the issue. I finally gave up waiting for them and decided to read it on my own.

 

I'm so glad I made this book a priority. This book was able to keep me guessing until the end. And once all was revealed, the other 'questionable' things I had about this book fell right into place and it was awesome. I'd love to go back and re-read it now that I know the ending. I'm wondering how much I'd catch a second time through when reading through a different lens.

Dark Places

Dark Places - Gillian Flynn

Gillian Flynn knows how to write a dark and twisted book, that's for sure. Dark Places kept me engaged and trying to figure out who killed the Day family. I wasn't sure at first about the multiple narration, but I ended up liking how it helped to keep me guessing. I had a few theories, and my main one was partially right. The fact I could never fully commit to my own theory is a credit to Flynn on a job well done. The only thing I want to nitpick on is that there were no likable characters. Sure I was rooting for Libby, but she wasn't exactly likable. Not a single likable character in the book -- waitresses, strangers, neighbors, friends... even Libby's cat. From their behavior to their appearance, they were all presented as unsavory. It kind of put me in an 'unbelievable' state. Despite that, a very good book and well worth the read.

The Revenant

The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge - Michael Punke

I'll have to start by saying this is not my typical kind of book. But I challenged myself this year to read more books outside my normal 'box', and this was one of them. In general, I didn't feel the story was bad. It just wasn't my cuppa tea. I listened to the audiobook (which was very well done) and there were parts I had to fastfoward through. Way too graphic for my liking. I may not eat meat for a month...

 

Still, I have to say it's an amazing story of survival.

Home Front

Home Front: A Novel - Kristin Hannah

After finishing Home Front, I went back and looked over my list of Kristin Hannah books I've read. I noticed a pattern -- while I enjoyed some more than others, in general her books fall in the 3-star range for me. Not bad, but not exceptional. It also seems my issues fall into similar categories -- characters I can't connect to or don't like and a plot that drags on longer than necessary. 

 

Home Front was no different for me. While I appreciate all attention Hannah brought forward for PTSD, I felt it could have been more powerful if at least one less issue had been included. I listened to the audiobook version (which I did not like, by the way) and there was an interview with Hannah at the end. One comment she made was she wanted readers to take away that this was a book about a family trying to come back together. I personally wish the drama between Jo and her husband, Michael, had been a little less than it was. Michael's comment before Jo leaves for the war made me dislike him almost instantly. I think the challenges of deployment and PTSD that Hannah was reaching for still could have been achieved without going that far. They were both characters who didn't communicate with each other well - I can understand that and it should have stopped there and it still would have been enough to create a challenge when Jo returned home.

 

Side note - I wanted to slap Betsy, Jo and Michael's 12-year-old daughter. I find it difficult to believe either would have let her walk all over them the way she did. Complete disrespect -- both before and after Jo left for war. Michael finally started to step up but it was just a half effort. I have a 10-year-old. I get it. They push limits and test their boundaries. They are hormonal. But sweet baby Jesus, enough is enough. Be the parent. 

Still Alice

Still Alice - Lisa Genova

Still Alice was an emotional journey into the life of someone with early-onset Alzheimer's Disease. While I don't personally have any experience with EOAD, or have any family members who have suffered, I've come across it a bit in some previous research I've conducted. I was able to feel not only Alice's frustration but also the frustration of her family members. I felt the characters were well developed and presented realistic family dynamics. It's scary to think about what people with Alzheimer's have to go through. The downside to reading this book was that every time I forgot something, or when I accidently told my daughter her spelling word was increase rather than decrease (without realizing I did it), I couldn't help but think, "Damn, what if..."