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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.

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. 

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.