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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.

Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why - Jay Asher

Going into the book, I knew Thirteen Reasons Why was a controversial book. I have personally battled depression in the past, but have never been near suicidal. So while I can't comment on the authenticity of how this story represents the mindset of someone who is suicidal, I can certainly believe that it rings true to at least some people. I watched the Netflix series as well, and there were differences. There were parts I thought played out better in the book and others I thought were more impactful in the series. I'll focus on the book here.

 

Hannah isn't a particularly likable character. In some ways, I'm glad for that though. The reader has to work a bit harder to maintain empathy with the narrator, and working harder for it makes you think a bit more about the circumstances. 

 

I don't think this book had anything that was a profoundly new concept. As I read through each of the 13 reasons, I had a memory flash of when something similar happened to me growing up. Things for teens may be more pronounced these days with the inclusion of social media, but it's not new stuff. Kids are cruel - always have been and always will be. Those cruel words and actions will have an impact on others. Some will get over it and some won't. Some will even be able to use it to make them stronger. I do think it might be more difficult to escape these days from cruel behavior because of how easily rumors and bullying can spread through social media, and I know that can be a real challenge. So even though not a profound new look at the struggles of teens, it's a unique way to bring forth the reminders that if we could all just be a bit kinder then we might actually make a huge impact in someone else's life. 

 

I do wish the book would have gone more into Hannah's mental health. Many kids go through similar experiences, yet they don't commit or even attempt suicide. Someone who is willing to carry it through has much deeper needs - and unfortunately the book didn't touch on that at all. 

 

I'd also like to point out that this is the kind of book that parents should read with their child. Some have slammed this book for the danger it causes because it glamorizes suicide and somewhat gives a pass as to why it's OK. Some will see it that way. Others won't. That's why it's important to read it with your teen and talk about it. 

Behind Closed Doors

Behind Closed Doors - B.A. Paris

I'm not exactly sure of the reason, but I could not connect to Behind Closed Doors at all. I didn't feel a thing for any of the characters or what happened to them. It wasn't a thriller for me. The plot isn't very plausible, but I was willing to look past it so my lack of connection wasn't from that. I wish I could put my finger on it, but I'm now even having a difficult time remembering details - that's how little I connected with this book. At least it was a quick read and a free loan from the library - so not much lost in the way of time and money. I'm sure there are those out there who will really enjoy this book. I just wasn't one of them.

Winter

Winter - Marissa Meyer

Winter is the final installment of the Lunar Chronicles series. I'm so happy this final book didn't let me down. While I did feel it was a bit longer than it needed to be (lots of filler with repetitive information), I thought it was a satisfying ending to the story that remained true to the series as a whole. This book did get a bit more into the romances of the characters, but that was a bit expected. And it didn't really overshadow the 'defeat Lavana' plot -- but I think that also contributed to the extra length.

 

Overall I highly recommend this series if you're looking for a fun, feel-good story with strong female leads.

The Trespasser

The Trespasser: A Novel - Tana French

After the letdown of book #5, The Secret Place, in the Dublin Murder Squad series, I wasn't sure if I wanted to continue on with book #6, The Trespasser. I'd been struggling with the slow pace of all the books in the series, and the main character in The Trespasser was a character I didn't care for in the previous book. But I decided to push forward since at the time of this review book #6 was the last. I'm glad I did, as this book was so much better than the last.

 

First, I should point out that the pacing in this book was much better, at least for the last half of the book. The first half still had a bit of the dragging quality, but the second part really read quickly. Or I suppose it's possible I've just gotten better at knowing which parts I can skip in these books :)

 

While I was hesitant to be in the PoV of Detective Conway, I was ultimately glad for it. Conway didn't come across as a likable character in the previous book, and if I'm being honest she still isn't, but I do have a better understanding of why she is so negative. As the only female detective, Conway has to take a lot of crap from her fellow detectives. She feels trapped - if she stands up for herself she is treated as an outcast, but if she accepts the mistreatment then she's condoning the behavior. I mostly liked the way Conway was able to see the situation from a different perspective - I say mostly because I do wish she had had a bit more self-awareness in the moments when she would act in a way that made her complaints come across as a double-standard (like it's OK for her to poke a sexual joke at a male colleague, but not for them to poke one at her).

 

I liked the way that Conway and Moran worked together. I think in many ways Moran made Conway more human and therefore forgivable for some of her actions. 

 

I'm glad the author didn't go the supernatural route in this book the way she did in the previous. If that had been in there, it would have been just the nail I needed to close up on this series for good. I thought the mystery was well played and I liked the way it all tied in together and the ultimate resolution.

 

I'm not sure if there will be future books in this series, but if so I'm good to give the next one a go.

 

 

Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies - Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies kind of took me by surprise. Obviously, I was hoping I'd like it, but I worried it would end up disappointing me like many books hyped in the media. Also, I had read two other books by Liane Moriarty and they were only so-so for me. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. 

 

I enjoyed all the characters, even the ones I didn't like. I also liked the way Moriarty added interview notes from the characters to the start/end of most chapters. It was a unique way to not only drive the plot forward, but it also gave me additional insight into each of the characters. 

 

I have to say, most murder mysteries don't shock me. I usually figure out the who-done-it by mid-book or at least have a few options which one turns out to be correct in the end. I did not see this one coming and I literally let an "Oh crap" slip out :) 

 

Very well worth the read, with lots of characters and situations I could relate to.

The Secret Place

The Secret Place - Tana French

The whole Dublin Murder Squad series has been a bit of an up-and-down ride for me. There have been things I've really enjoyed (which is what has kept me reading the series), and things I didn't. One of my continued criticisms is the pace - the books are soooo slow. This one and the previous were a bit faster, but still - snail's pace. 

 

Where to start with the issues I had with this one... Well, I already mentioned the pacing so there's that. While it was a bit quicker overall, there were moments when it just bogged down. 

 

Then there was the back-and-forth bit. It took me a while to figure out that the chapters were actually bouncing from the past to present. And that the past chapters were third-person omniscient. The present day chapters were third-person limited, so the switch was really jarring at times - even towards the end when I knew that was the style being used. 

 

I suppose next I'll mention the characters. I didn't connect with a single one of them. I really didn't care what happened to any of them. I've said before I don't have to like characters in books to enjoy the book, so that's not the issue. It's just there was no connection at all. Just indifference. 

 

Finally - the whole supernatural element was not necessary. In the previous books, there was always a hint of a supernatural element. I was OK with that. But this was obvious. I wish the author had just stayed in the vague territory on that one.

 

One more book to go in the series (at least as of the date of this post). I'll tough it out, even though the two main characters are the same as this story - and remember I didn't care about either of them...

Cress

Cress - Marissa Meyer

So far, Cress is my favorite of the Lunar Chronicles. I have to say I have a bit of a book-crush on Thorne. He is just so freaking adorable! And match him with the quirky personality of Cress... ahh (insert big sappy grin emoji)

 

Really, this book was just so much FUN! I can't tell you how many times I giggled out loud - which rarely happens to me while reading!

 

I've been pleasantly surprised by this whole series. It's been a long time since I haven't been let down by the subsequent books. I've been listening to these on audiobooks downloaded from my library. The narrator does a fantastic job, but I'm enjoying them so much and want to share them with my daughter when she gets a bit older, so I'm just going to have to purchase the box set for the personal bookshelf :)

 

Let's hope I didn't just stick my foot in my mouth and jinx it for the final book, Winter. I hope it doesn't fall short of the other books for me!

Scarlet

Scarlet - Marissa Meyer

I really enjoyed Scarlet, the second book in the Lunar Chronicles series. I thought this adaption of Little Red Riding Hood was very creative. I liked both Scarlet and Wolf and how they fit into the overall story from the previous book. While the relationship between Scarlet and Wolf is more on the insta-love side of the spectrum, I'm OK with it so far because Scarlet does question the logic of it and holds back.

 

The only real issue I had with the book was the fact that Scarlet was so easily 'controlled' by the Lunars. This became more of an irritation after getting into the next book, Cress, because it's explained that those who are weak minded are the easiest to control. Scarlet did not come across as weak minded to me. And we saw in Cinder how Kai was able to fight against the 'glamor' (with much difficulty), so we know it can be done. I guess it felt like the control over Scarlet was more plot driven than character driven, and I wish it was the other way around.

(show spoiler)

 

I'm really enjoying this series so far and can't wait to share them with my daughter in a year or so.

Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told you - Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You is a slow paced book that is more a character study and lesson in life than a story. The Lee family is a mixed Chinese American family set in the 1970's. The story starts with the discovery that the middle child, Lydia, has gone missing and is soon found at the bottom of the nearby lake. Lydia was the family favorite, so the book shows how the family unravels in a variety of ways.

 

There are many things I really liked about this book. It does show the power communication can have. If any of these family members would have talked to one another, it's likely none of this would have ever happened. It shows how easy it is for people to assume we know our loved ones just because they are family and we see them every day. Especially between parents and children. It's easy for parents to assume we know what our children are feeling or what they want because we were once their age. So they must be going through the same things we went through, and many times we would do anything to keep them from experiencing the same painful moments we had to go through. And sometimes we end up doing more damage as a result.

 

However, there were a few dull spots for me. For one, I didn't really feel as though I connected with any of the characters. I didn't like the parents, Marilyn and James, and of the children, Hannah was probably the only one I felt sorry for. She's the one who is essentially ignored - the 'oops' kid that no one wanted to begin with. While I felt all the characters held realistic issues, I didn't feel they were all that realistic. For example, Hannah came across as very wise for a 10-year-old. I have a 10-year-old, and I'm pretty sure she wouldn't come to the conclusion that

Jack loved Nath just because he licked the drop of water that fell from Nath's back and landed on his hand.

(show spoiler)

 

The other issues I had were along similar lines - the Lee family never talked to each other about any of their true feelings. Everything was false or left unsaid. Then, suddenly, each realizes the 'truth' of the situation (not what happened to Lydia or why, but that everything in their lives was false). It comes to them in a flash, triggered by something mundane. I can see where these instances might make them question their beliefs, but I don't see how they could suddenly be so spot on about their reality.

 

I felt another miss was that the mother never acknowledged that she made a choice in her life. She wanted to be a doctor, but fell in love and got pregnant. She could have still been a doctor but chose to pursue a family life. Granted, I know that given the setting of the story that was much more unlikely back then than it is now, so I do get that she would feel somewhat slighted. But it was still her choice to sleep with James, and apparently not use protection. The whole story we are told how much she feels she settled for what she was 'supposed' to do. Then she has an aha moment when she opens her eyes and really stops to think about the fact that her neighbor, who is a single mom, is a doctor. That's what makes her think she can still be a doctor - but what I don't get is that she leaves her family to finish her degree. Why wouldn't that moment make her realize she could still pursue the career and stay with her family, especially since she had a husband to support/help her where the other woman did not? To me she came across as a selfish one-dimensional woman who could only define happiness as anything that was the opposite of what her mother had been.

(show spoiler)

Cinder

Cinder - Marissa Meyer

Cinder had been on my radar for a long time, and I finally made it a priority on my reading list. I don't normally read about cyborgs, but it was getting such great reviews, and I enjoy unique retellings of the classic fairytales. And that cover! [insert eye-heart emoji] 

 

Let me just say, a sarcastic cyborg Cinderella is a badass Cinderella. I think the thing I loved most about this story was that Cinder was self-sufficient. There was no fairy godmother who came and waved a wand to give her a beautiful dress for the ball with a horse-drawn carriage. Nope - she made it all happen herself, and she arrived in a style that was so fitting to her personality. 

 

I'm interested to see where this series will go. I'm really hoping that the relationship between Cinder and Kai (assuming there will be one) grows out of something of substance. That they get to know each other better in the coming books and the love grows from there. Cinder is too strong of a character to be a victim of an insta-love so strong it makes her risk all, including life, just to be with him. I'm good with the insta-attraction that occurred in this book, I'm just hopeful for a strong build of their relationship going forward. 

 

I listened to this in audiobook and I thought the narrator did a great job. Looking forward to starting the next book in the series!

Broken Harbour

Broken Harbour - Tana French

Broken Harbour is the 4th book in the Dublin Murder Squad series. I have to say that I think this was my favorite of the series so far. Which is interesting because I didn't like the main character, Mick 'Scorcher' Kennedy, in the previous book. He came across as pompous and not willing to consider outside points of view in his cases. I'm still not sure I like Scorcher all that much, but I do understand him better now that I know his backstory. I get why he is the way he is. 

 

All of these books tend to drag on for me for some reason, but this one moved the quickest. Most of the plot was focused on the case, so maybe that's why it didn't seem as bogged down as the previous books. 

 

I will say that I have difficulty accepting the 'who-done-it' aspect of this book. It's a stretch for me. But the parts I enjoyed were enough to make that not a big issue for me.

 

I'm excited to move on to book 5!

All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel - Anthony Doerr

I'll start by saying that All the Light We Cannot See is beautifully written. I also loved the characters and the complexity each one brought. This extended beyond the main characters. I enjoyed seeing the effects of WWII from both sides. We had Marie-Laure, a blind Parisian girl, who loses her home and eventually her father because of the war. Then there is Werner, an orphaned boy, who is brainwashed to believe that not only will his life be better as part of the Hitler Youth, but that he would be doing the right thing. Both are victims, just in different ways.

 

I didn't really like the back-and-forth on the timeline. I always find that hard to follow, and I'm not entirely sure it was necessary for this book. I might have enjoyed it even more if it had followed a linear path. I also felt there were moments where it dragged. It was a bit too long. Maybe one option would have been to leave out the whole Sea of Flames story arc. I'm not exactly sure what that brought to the story. The critical moments that occurred because of this story arc could have still been achieved through some slight tweaking. 

 

I listened to the audiobook version, and I do believe that it enhanced my enjoyment of the novel. The narrator, Zach Appleman, did a very good job.

Faithful Place

Faithful Place - Tana French

This is the third book in the Dublin Murder Squad series. In this book we have Frank who tries to solve the murder of his high school sweetheart, Rosie. Along the way, we are introduced to his very dysfunctional family. I enjoyed the way this story gave an adult character an opportunity to grow and mature in many ways. I had figured out who had murdered Rosie very early on, but I was OK with that. It didn't ruin my enjoyment of following along with Frank to see how he would arrive at the same conclusion, and then what he would do once he got there. My only real criticism is pretty much the same as the others -- it felt way too long. I'm not sure if it's the pacing of these books or what. For now it's not detering me, but I'm afraid as I progress in the books it will start to turn me off the series. We'll see. On to book #4.

The Couple Next Door

The Couple Next Door - Shari Lapena

I really wanted to like this book. A couple leaves their 6-month-old baby sleeping at home while they go to a dinner party next door, and she's missing when the couple gets home? Bring it! Unfortunately, I just thought this book was a big mess. I felt like I had been tricked and manipulated the entire book, and I didn't like it.

 

I get that a physiological thriller is supposed to have shocking twists. That's why I enjoy reading them, after all! But I felt the execution in this book was just poor. It wasn't suspense, just a constant stream of bait-and-switch. 

 

I also hated the way every single chapter ended on some sort of epic cliffhanger. Again, it felt like I was just be toyed with because they weren't actual cliffhangers. The next chapter started right where the previous ended, so it was just baiting me to read the next chapter. If the story is well done, I'm gripped enough to want to read the next chapter without having to have a pound of chocolate dropped in front of me.

 

There was also the major issue of repetition and redundancy. Ugh.

 

I know many readers hated the ending. I was so annoyed with this book by then that I really didn't care.

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.