Saturday, July 25, 2020

What I've Heard- Talking to Strangers

What happens when people don't know how to talk to strangers? 

I can't remember where I heard that I needed to read Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell. It's obviously been a while because as I sifted through my collection looking for a new audiobook, I had completely forgotten what it was about. I thought it was a manual for understanding other people better, being able to talk with people we don't know, kind of an inter-personal how-to book. I was mostly wrong. The one thing I did remember correctly was that it was highly recommended to listen to the audio version. The book was supposedly very good, but the audio version was substantially better because it was almost like listening to a long form podcast. Read by the author, this audio book also included recorded clips from interviews with the subjects he is discussing, a score to deepen the experience, and trial testimony- either the actual audio or the transcript performed by actors.

Talking to Strangers is a book about how many factors go into understanding people we don't know. Told in what appears to be a bit of a stream of consciousness narrative, Gladwell bounces from one example to the next in order to build his way toward his point. This book is decidedly complex and there were times I wasn't sure what Gladwell was trying to say, but then he would pull it all back together, drawing out the critical details in order to explain everything.

The various stories include CIA agents being duped for years by double agents, Ponzi schemes, the interrogation of terrorists, the suicide of Sylvia Plath, the trial of Amanda Knox, and the arrest and death of Sandra Bland. If these topics seem unconnected and incoherent, you will really feel that way as you are listening to the audio book. But hold on, keep listening, pay attention and it will start to make sense. This book is a bit heavy at times and you may find yourself listening to a topic with which you disagree, but I encourage you to be patient and trust that it will begin to make sense. I will admit there were times I needed to take breaks, but I am so glad that I persisted.
I found this book absolutely fascinating and I hope you will, too.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin

As popular a writer as Emily Giffin is, somehow I had never read one of her books. I have had All We Ever Wanted on my TBR list for a very long time and I've just now finished it. Nina is the mother of eighteen-year-old Finch, a senior at a prestigious private school who has recently been accepted to Princeton. She is also the wife of very wealthy and connected Kirk. Their lives seem perfect, from the outside and from the inside, too, until a cell phone photo begins making its rounds in their upscale community. The rumor mill is hard at work assigning blame and defending "good families". Meanwhile, scholarship student Lyla just wants it all to go away, and most of all for her father not to find out about it.

This was a very fast read for me, full of intrigue and questions about who was telling the truth and who was a heartless liar. Teenagers make mistakes, but at what point does that mistake cross a line into cruelty? The descriptions of Nina's lavish lifestyle are a pure escapist fun, but it is clear that it comes at a cost she didn't realize she was paying. I really enjoyed this book and will definitely keep Giffin on my list of authors to follow.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren

In Christina Lauren's Love and Other Words, book lovers Elliot and Macy meet when they are barely teenagers. Elliot lives next door to Macy's weekend cabin she shares with her widowed father. Elliot and Macy bond over books and their love of words. Eventually their relationship grows far beyond friendship, but something comes along to disrupt their plans. Eleven years later, they stumble upon one another at a coffee shop and try to work out what happened.

Told in alternating chapters of the present and the past, we slowly get to know their relationship as well as where they are now in their lives. This book was engaging and fun to read. It was a little racy in some parts, so keep that in mind if that kind of thing bothers you. I was totally invested in the characters, but something about the last little bit of the book really bugged me. I don't know if it was the direction the plot took or if it was that the characters suddenly seemed less likable, but it was a bit of a let down. Up until that point it was very good and the ending doesn't completely kill it. If you're in the mood for something a little fluffy and romantic, this would be a good one to try.

*This Advanced Reader Copy was provided to me by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for and honest review.*

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

Ruth Ware can always be counted upon to provide truly escapist literature. Her books are engaging and keep the reader turning the pages late into the night. The Turn of the Key is no different. Tired of the nursery at which she's been working, Rowan is a young woman in search of a new nanny position. When she stumbles upon an ad for a placement in northern Scotland, she thinks it must be too good to be true. The pay is outrageously high and it is in a beautiful home, allowing her almost no expenses. The only concern is that the last several nannies left after only a very short time. It is rumored that the house is haunted, but since Rowan doesn't believe in ghosts, she isn't worried. When a child dies, Rowan insists on her innocence, but there she has a lot of story to tell first.

Told in the format of a letter after the fact in hopes of securing an advocate in court, Rowan describes her situation at great length. It is an interesting device, but I kept thinking it didn't make sense that she would go into such detail in correspondence. There are lots of twists and turns, allowing the reader to think she has it figured out only to pull the rug out again around the next corner. This book was a fun read, especially if you don't over-analyze it. In these times when we all want a little distraction, this book could be just what you need.

*This Advanced Reader Copy was provided to me by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for and honest review.*

Monday, June 29, 2020

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

I just couldn't get in to Rebecca Serle's The Dinner List, so I was a bit skeptical when I heard about her new book In Five Years. The premise, however, was intriguing enough to pique my interest. Dannie is a super Type-A corporate lawyer with a very firm five year plan: get a job at her dream firm in New York City, marry her boyfriend, buy the perfect apartment. Just as everything looks as if it is going according to plan, Dannie has a vision, a premonition of her life five years in the future and it doesn't look at all like what she expected. Thrown off by what she knows wasn't a dream, she has a hard time committing to her future and then hopes to find a way to make it not come true at all. Dannie's best friend Bella is her pure opposite- carefree and full of spontaneity. They are there for one another through everything.

I loved this book so much that I read most of it in a single afternoon. I will warn you it is a bit of a tear jerker, but if you've been here for a while you know that is a fairly low bar for me. I'm a giant crybaby. This is exactly my favorite kind of love story. I really want to tell you more, but I don't want to ruin it. Read it yourself and I think you'll understand. I hope you love it, too.

*This Advanced Reader Copy was provided to me by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for and honest review.*

My Name is Venus Black by Heather Lloyd

Heather Lloyd's My Name is Venus Black follows the titular character Venus through a most difficult and traumatic experience. Accused of a cold-blooded crime at the extraordinarily tender age of thirteen, Venus is separated from her autistic younger brother Leo and sent to a juvenile detention center far away. When Leo goes missing a few days later, Venus is frantic to get out and look for him. Abandoned by her mother who has put all the blame for everything on her daughter's shoulders, Venus has to put her head down and serve her time. When she is finally released, all she can think of doing is starting over with a new name to escape the media attention, and searching for Leo.

This book deals with some heavy topics, but it a very gentle way. The crime is described only enough to make the point, the circumstances leading up to the crime are also awful, but handled in such a way as to communicate the fact without dwelling on it. Even Leo's "mental disability" (this book is set in the early 1980s before common use of the term autism) is observed with love and understanding, even when the characters don't fully understand. I'm not sure I would give this book to a very young teen, but an older one should have no problem with the topics. The characters are wonderfully written and those who are meant to be likable are very likable. I found myself invested in them. Venus is strong and stubborn and a little hardened from her life, but we also see her soften when the time is right.

I really liked this book and I think you will, too.

*This Advanced Reader Copy was provided to me by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for and honest review.*

Monday, June 15, 2020

The Wives by Tarryn Fisher

I was in need of a silly, distracting thriller and I thought The Wives by Tarryn Fisher might fit the bill. Thursday is a woman in a most unusual relationship. She is married to a man who is married to two other women. She doesn't know them. This isn't a religious thing. They don't all live together in a compound out in the middle of nowhere. Thursday is just in love with her husband and the fact that he is also married to two other women isn't enough to change that. What does start to change some things is when she lets her curiosity get the better of her. And we all know what that did to the cat...

This was a super fast read that keeps the pages turning. It is such an unusual situation that you just can't look away. And then it gets crazier and crazier. I can't say this book was great, but it was pretty good. I was bothered that Thursday had several moments where she was just plain crass and it didn't seem to fit very well. It was almost as if the author had thrown it in because she thought that was what women in thrillers were supposed to say, ala Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train. I'd say if you need something to distract you from the real world (who doesn't right now) or to read on the beach, this would be a good fit.

*This Advanced Reader Copy was provided to me by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for and honest review.*