Review Shorts

Summer Reading: Big Little Lies and Fireflies

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The next two books in my series of Summer Reading Reviews are probably my two favorites so far. One had me in tears by the end, while the other was really difficult to put down (a problem, since I started it on a busy weekend where I didn’t have time to just sit and read).

Firefly LaneFirefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

Title: Firefly Lane
Author: Kristin Hannah
Publication Date: February 5, 2008
Format: Paperback
Rating: 4 stars

I’ve never read anything by Kristin Hannah, but this book had intrigued me since it’s original publication. I think it was probably the cover that initially attracted me. (It’s just so pretty! And there are fireflies!). Overall, I really enjoyed this book more than I thought I would. I used to dismiss popular fiction – particularly women’s fiction like this – for no reason other than I believed it wouldn’t interest me. I’m quickly finding out I was very wrong in that assumption.

I loved the first half of the novel, then it seemed to drag just slightly during the second half, but by the end I was hooked again. And even with it’s slow parts, it’s just a beautiful novel of friendship – Kate and Tully have their share of ups and downs during the course of their friendship, but ultimately they’re always there for each other and that’s what friendship should be. Warning: I was definitely in tears by the end of this novel, so have some tissues ready.

Beach Read Rating: StarfishRatings
While I loved this book, it felt more like a good spring/fall book to me – unless you’re the type who likes to have a good ugly cry at the beach!

Big Little LiesBig Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Title: Big Little Lies
Author: Liane Moriarty
Publication Date: July 29, 2014
Format: Paperback
Rating: 4.5 stars

I’ve been wondering about this author for a while, as her books have become increasingly popular and I had no idea what the appeal was. Finally, I decided it was time to find out for myself, and I did not regret it.

This novel is full of materialistic, vain, petty elementary school mothers and to my surprise I loved every second of it. It’s exactly the kind of novel I thought I would never enjoy, but something about the over-the-top craziness of these moms and then the added mystery that’s foreshadowed throughout the entire novel just made this almost impossible to put down. I seriously loved this book so much I cannot wait to try another one of her novels.

Beach Read Rating:    StarfishRatings
This is exactly the kind of book I would like to have with me at the beach – it’s not too dark or deep but there’s plenty of juicy drama to go around.

Introducing Summer Reading Reviews

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Since I’m reading a lot of older books as part of my summer reading list, I decided I probably won’t do full-length reviews for each one. Instead, I’ll do a series of “Summer Reading Reviews” that look at 2 or 3 of the books I’ve read at a time. This way, I can share my thoughts on each book, without feeling like I’m struggling to write a full review of the book.

For each book I’ll also include a “Beach Read Rating” which is my totally subjective opinion on whether or not I think this book makes a good beach read. This rating may not necessarily match my regular rating – books I would typically give a lower rating may still make great beach reads. Remember, this is completely subjective as everyone has their own definition as to what constitutes a good “Beach Read.”

Spring Fever by Mary Kay Andrews

Spring_FeverTitle: Spring Fever
Author: Mary Kay Andrews
Publication Date: June 5, 2012
Format: Paperback
Rating: 3.5 stars

My goal this summer was to read books I wouldn’t normally choose, and to try out some lighter fiction than what I am accustomed to. This is why Mary Kay Andrews’s books appealed to me, as they fit both categories. This certainly wasn’t the kind of book I would normally choose, but I found myself enjoying quite a bit of it.

I would describe this novel as a chick flick with the added drama of a soap opera. In a lot of ways it had the predictability and humor of a chick flick, but with the extra sudsy appeal of a soap opera. Normally I would have rolled my eyes, but I actually found myself enjoying the book to my surprise. It took me a little while to really get into it, as I had trouble identifying with the characters, but once I finally fell into a rhythm with it I found it to be a quick, fun read.

Beach Read Rating:    StarfishRatings
This book is my definition of a beach read – light, and fun with just the right amount of sudsy drama.

The Last Letter From Your Lover by JoJo Moyes

Last Letter LoverTitle: The Last Letter From Your Lover
Author: JoJo Moyes
Publication Date: January 10, 2008
Format: Paperback
Rating: 4 stars

I really enjoyed Me Before You, and wanted to try another book by the author. This one was chosen somewhat at random since it was the only one on the shelf at the used bookstore where I was shopping. However, the bright pink cover appealed to me so I picked it up. (Yes, I do judge books by their covers, but I know I’m not the only one!)

While reading this book, I found myself really getting into the part of the story taking place in the 1960s, though the present day storyline didn’t interest me nearly as much except where it overlapped with the characters from the past. I think the characters in the 1960s storyline were just fleshed out better and more interesting. Much like the character of Ellie in the present, I was drawn in by the love story and a desire to know what happened to the couple.

Beach Read Rating: StarfishRatings
This book isn’t as light and fun as Spring Fever, but it would certainly look bright and colorful in your beach bag!

Review Shorts: Primary Prep – Clinton & Sanders

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Tomorrow is Primary Day here in Pennsylvania, finally. Normally during a presidential election PA is so late in the primary schedule that the candidate is basically already decided and it feels like it doesn’t matter who I vote for. That’s not the case with this election and in the last couple months I have found myself going back and forth on which candidate I would choose.  I think I have finally made a decision in the last couple weeks, but I still thought it would be interesting to read a memoir/autobiography by each candidate before the primary.

Living History by Hillary Rodham Clinton

Living HistoryTitle:
 Living History
Author: Hillary Rodham Clinton
Publication Date: June 9, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 4 stars

Hillary Rodham Clinton is known to hundreds of millions of people around the world. Yet few beyond her close friends and family have ever heard her account of her extraordinary journey. She writes with candor, humor and passion about her upbringing in suburban, middle-class America in the 1950s and her transformation from Goldwater Girl to student activist to controversial First Lady.

Living History is her revealing memoir of life through the White House years. It is also her chronicle of living history with Bill Clinton, a thirty-year adventure in love and politics that survives personal betrayal, relentless partisan investigations and constant public scrutiny. (Goodreads)

This book had been on my summer reading list for last summer, but I just never got to  it. I decided I was definitely reading it now. Clinton is a very eloquent writer and while I usually prefer humorous memoirs, I found this one just as intriguing. I don’t pretend to know a lot about politics, but a lot of Clinton’s own personality and voice really shone through in this memoir, making it that much more interesting.

I grew up with a very conservative family during the Clinton administration, so it was interesting to read this book and learn about these events all over again, this time without seeing them through a conservative lens. I also really appreciated Clinton’s candor when speaking of her husband’s affair and the struggle their marriage went through at that time.

This book made Hillary Clinton – indeed, the entire Clinton family – seem more human to me, and it helped me understand her in a way I hadn’t before.

Outsider in the White House by Bernie Sanders, with Hank Gutman

Outsider White HouseTitle:
 Outsider in the White House
Author: Bernie Sanders, with Hank Gutman
Publication Date: October 6, 2015 (original 1996)
Format: Paperback
Rating: 3 stars

Bernie Sanders’s campaign for the presidency of the United States has galvanized people all over the country, putting economic, racial, and social justice into the spotlight, and raising hopes that Americans can take their country back from the billionaires and change the course of history.

In this book, Sanders tells the story of a passionate and principled political life. He describes how, after cutting his teeth in the Civil Rights movement, he helped build a grassroots political movement in Vermont, making it possible for him to become the first independent elected to the US House of Representatives in forty years. The story continues into the US Senate and through the dramatic launch of his presidential campaign. (Goodreads)

Perhaps it was because I was reading this simultaneously with Living History, but Sanders’ autobiography left me disappointed. Not because the writing style wasn’t as eloquent (it wasn’t, but it was straight forward and easy to read) but because it focused solely on Sanders’ political campaigns and voting history. As I stated above, I know very little about politics I had read this book hoping to learn more about Bernie the man, and only learned about his campaigns. This book didn’t humanize Sanders for me the way Living History did Clinton. That’s not technically the book’s fault – I didn’t realize how little of Sanders’s actual life would be found in those pages.

Another aspect I found disappointing was the lack of information about his record since 1996. I knew when I started the book it had been originally published 10 years earlier, but I thought with the update it would contain more information about what Bernie has been up to in the last decade. Instead, there is just an Afterward by  a third party giving a quick overview of the past decade and what Sanders hopes to accomplish as president. I had hoped Sanders might have taken at least a little bit of time to update the book himeslf, but that was not the case.

Overall, though this book was interesting and did help me learn a lot about Sanders as a politician, it didn’t help me learn anything more about who he is as a human and I was somewhat disappointed.

Review Shorts: All About Love and How to Be a Woman

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Every once in a while there’s a book you read and no matter how much you might love it, it’s just hard to find enough to say about it to write a full review. Therefore, I’ve been toying with the idea of a “Review Shorts” category for a long time. The idea is to combine reviews of one or two books that would otherwise be really short posts on their own. I’m thinking I’d like a somewhat more clever title for this category, but I haven’t come up with anything better yet. (If you have any suggestions feel free to share in the comments!)

My first Review Shorts post includes the two most recent reading selections for Our Shared Shelf. For those of you who may not know, this is the book club Emma Watson started at the beginning of the year. So far I’ve really been enjoying the opportunity to discover new books and read things I may not have chosen on my own.

All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks

All About LoveTitle: All About Love: New Visions
Author: bell hooks
Publication Date: December 22, 1999
Format: Paperback
Rating: 4.25 stars

All About Love offers radical new ways to think about love by showing its interconnectedness in our private and public lives. In eleven concise chapters, hooks explains how our everyday notions of what it means to give and receive love often fail us, and how these ideals are established in early childhood. She offers a rethinking of self-love (without narcissism) that will bring peace and compassion to our personal and professional lives, and asserts the place of love to end struggles between individuals, in communities, and among societies. Moving from the cultural to the intimate, hooks notes the ties between love and loss and challenges the prevailing notion that romantic love is the most important love of all. (Goodreads)

This book was the March selection for Our Shared Shelf. Though I am familiar with bell hooks, I’ve never had a chance to read anything she has published. Also, this book just sounded interesting, so I was really excited to read it.

I really enjoyed hooks’ simple and straightforward writing style. This book ended up being a fairly quick read and one that I can already tell may become one of those that I read and reread over the years, taking something new away from it every time I read it. While I was reading it through I always had a pen and highlighter near me because there were frequently passages that I wanted to mark.

As hooks points out, a lot of the popular books on relationships and dating tend to be written by men, and from a male perspective. Books like Steve Harvey’s Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man and the popular Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus by John Gray, give women advice on relationships but also subtly promote gender roles.

I really enjoyed this book and think it may be my favorite selection for the book club so far.

How to Be a Woman by Caitlyn Moran

How to be a Woman

Title: How to Be a Woman
Author: Caitlyn Moran
Publication Date: January 1, 2011
Format: Paperback
Rating: 3 stars

Though they have the vote and the Pill and haven’t been burned as witches since 1727, life isn’t exactly a stroll down the catwalk for modern women. They are beset by uncertainties and questions: Why are they supposed to get Brazilians? Why do bras hurt? Why the incessant talk about babies? And do men secretly hate them? Caitlin Moran interweaves provocative observations on women’s lives with laugh-out-loud funny scenes from her own, from adolescence to her development as a writer, wife, and mother. (Goodreads)

How to Be a Woman was the April selection for Our Shared Shelf, and it’s the first one that I’ve actually managed to read during the month of it’s selection. I was really looking forward to this book, as it seemed like it would be a fun and interesting read but I ended up having really mixed feelings about it by the time I was finished.

Each chapter of How to Be a Woman is broken up into something Moran learns about being a woman at various stages in her life, beginning with her young teenaged days. Each chapter starts with an anecdote from Moran’s life, then goes on to take what she learns from that incident and apply it to women (and being a woman) in general.

Moran’s style is bold, honest, straightforward and humorous. She pulls no punches and says exactly what she thinks. At times this makes for some great humor – more than once she had me actually laughing out loud – but occasionally some of the things she said could be a little bit of a turn off. Sometimes it was just cultural differences in humor (she could often be very brash and blunt) and other times it was just that I completely disagreed with her.

I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading this book, because it is humorous and Moran does make a lot of good points. Just don’t be surprised if you discover some of her comments to be slightly offensive or controversial. It was interesting, and I’m glad I read it but I just didn’t love it.