the sparkly life: The 15 Books I Read in February and March (Best and Worst!)

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The 15 Books I Read in February and March (Best and Worst!)


This has been a tough past few weeks for most of us, to say the least. I don't know if you're like me, but even though I (and everyone!) had all the time in the world, I found it nearly impossible to focus on books. I'm starting to come around though, which I'm thankful for. Reading does a lot to reduce my anxiety, and I've certainly had a lot of that lately! So for obvious reasons, March was a relatively light reading month for me. And since February was light, as well, mostly because I was busy, (remember when we used to be busy?), I decided to combine the two months here. 

The good news: This was a great two months of reading for me! It was a mix of brand new books, and older books that have been on my TBR forever. And so many good ones! There were six 5-star reads, plus many more 4/4.5 star reads. If you're looking for a good book to keep you company during quarantine, there's a lot to love here.

Also, while I have you, if you're not yet a member of Libro.fm, this is a great time to consider joining. Independent bookstores are getting killed right now thanks to coronavirus closures, and Libro allows your audiobook purchases to directly support your local indie bookstores instead of Amazon. If you use code ALYSSA (or just click here), you can get three audiobooks for the price of one! I'm a huge Libro fan and highly recommend them.

And now...here's everything I read over the past two months. Enjoy!

LOVED

The Dream Daughter - I LOVED this book by Diane Chamberlain. I'm a sucker for time travel stories and this was SUCH a great one! It's about a young widow named Casey who is pregnant and living in the 1970s when she finds out her unborn child has a terminal heart defect and will not survive. She is devastated, of course, but soon learns of a way to time travel to the future where in utero heart surgery is possible. I won't give away any more, but this is a fantastic book with so many twists and turns. I gasped out loud while reading it, I bawled at the end, and I could not put it down. 

Open Book by Jessica Simpson - I went into this with pretty neutral feelings about Jessica Simpson (was never a particular fan, but had nothing against her), but I came out of this wanting to be her best friend! You guys, this is just a really good book whether or not you are a Jessica fan. It's exactly what a celebrity memoir should be: brutally honest, totally open, and super juicy. Jessica lets it all out. She talks about her struggles with alcoholism and her weight, she talks about other celebrities (that John Mayer section, OMG!), she opens up about her marriage to Nick Lachey, as well as her other relationships, and so, so much more. The audio version is an absolute must (you hear her cry a lot, you hear her laugh), and you will not be able to stop listening once you start. (Again, if you're going to get the audio version of this or anything else, consider doing it through Libro.fm with code ALYSSA (click here) for three audiobooks for the price of one!)

In Five Years - In this book by Rebecca Searle (author of The Dinner List), things couldn't be going better for New York lawyer Dannie Cohen. When we first meet her, she rocks a job interview in the morning, and then gets engaged to ger boyfriend that night. But later that evening, Dannie goes to sleep and wakes up in a strange apartment she doesn't recognize--with a strange man who she doesn't know but who she seems to be in a relationship with. She soon realizes that she has been transported five years into the future. When she wakes up again, she is back in 2020, safe in her apartment, but very confused. Had that been a vision of her future? Life pretty much returns to normal until four and a half years later when Dannie finally comes face to face with the man from her vision--and nothing will ever be the same again. I loved this book, and don't think I have ever read anything so fast in my life. I tore through it in just a few hours! It deals beautifully with fate, friendship, destiny, and love. I was surprised, delighted, and so moved. I had tears in my eyes by the end, and adored every page it took to get there. 

American Dirt - Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that there has been some controversy around this book. After much debate and research, I decided I wanted to read it and decide for myself, and I'm so glad I did. American Dirt tells the story of Lydia who is forced to flee her hometown in Mexico with her young son Luca when she becomes the target of a drug cartel. We follow Lydia and Luca as they make a long and harrowing journey through the country in the hopes of reaching safety in America. My verdict: I loved this book. Is it the most accurate depiction of migrants ever created? I'll trust the people who say it is not. But as a fictional book, it's very successful. It's exciting, it's gripping, it's emotional, and the characters are so interesting. But most of all, it makes you feel intense empathy for the many people who are making these dangerous, impossible-seeming journeys. And god knows, there are a lot of people in this world who could stand to gain a little more empathy...especially on this issue. (Side note: The book has also made me want to seek out additional, own-voices books on the subject, which is a very good thing.)

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell - This book has been kicking around in my Kindle forever, and I'm so glad I finally read it. It's so good! We first meet Sam Hell as a child. He is bullied and called "Devil Boy" by his classmates, because of his red pupils, an effect of a condition called ocular albinism. He has a tough life, but it's made bearable when he makes two friends: Eddie and Mickie. Forty years later, Sam is working as an eye doctor and looking back on his life--and he takes the reader on quite the journey  The book is happy, sad, triumphant, and even funny. I don't want to give away too much, but I just loved every moment. It reminds me of This Tender Land in a lot of ways. (Another book I loved and highly recommend!). Best part is that it's FREE if you have Kindle Unlimited. If you don't, the digital version is just $5.99 right now!

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo - Another one that was kicking around in my Kindle forever. Not sure what took me so long to read it (EVERYBODY raves about it), but I'm so glad I did. It's as good as everybody says! Aging, legendary film actress Evelyn Hugo sits down with a young writer named Monique, who she handpicked to tell her life story. And what a story it is! But it's also not the story you'd expect. We learn all about Evelyn's career, her marriages, the true love of her life, and the surprising reason she chose Monique to write the story at all. I picked this up after struggling to focus on book after book at the start of coronavirus self-quarantine, and it was the perfect thing. It's quick, hard to put down, and really good. Loved.


LIKED A LOT

My Dark Vanessa - This tells the story of Vanessa Wye, who at 15 years old, engages in a sexual relationship with Jacob Strane, her 42 year old English teacher at boarding school. Told in alternating timelines, we are there for both Vanessa's teenage years during the affair, as well as 17 years later in the age of Me Too, when her world is rocked once again when she learns of a former student who is bringing sexual abuse charges against Strane. The older teacher/younger student subject has been told a million times, of course, but what was so fascating here is that we get to see two students who went through basically the exact same thing, but view it very differently (with one seeing it as clear sexual abuse, and the other seeing it in a way that's much more...complicated). Though there are parts that are very tough to read, this is a definite page turner and would make an excellent book club pick. So much to discuss here!

The Grace Year - Tierney is a 16 year old girl living in the fictional, patriarchal society of Garner County, where girls her age are banished for a full year so that they can get rid of their "magic" before returning home to fulfill their duties as wives. We follow Tierney as she fights for survival during the year, battling foes such as poachers (who lurk in the woods and are said to skin the girls alive), the harsh elements, and--perhaps most dangerous of all--each other. As others have accurately said, it's Handmaid's Tale meets Lord of the Flies (with some Hunger Games thrown in), and it's good. Elizabeth Banks is producing a movie version of it, which I fully expect should be awesome!

You Are Not Alone - Shay is a young woman living an average, fairly boring life in New York. But everything changes when she witnesses a mysterious stranger commit suicide. She becomes obsessed with the dead woman's life and even with her friends. And, soon, those friends become obsessed with her, too. Don't want to give away too many more details, but rest assured that this is a good, fun thriller that I really enjoyed. I actually listened to it on audiobook, even though I don't typically do well with fiction on audio. But I had no problems keeping up with the story and really liked experiencing it in the audio format!

Little Secrets - Marin and Derek are a picture-perfect married couple. They started as college sweethearts, and are now successful and wealthy professionals living in Seattle. Then, one day, their lives are turned upside down when their young son, Sebastian, is kidnapped in broad daylight. We then re-join them a year later when Marin is a broken woman, struggling to get through the day. There are no leads as to Sebastian's whereabouts, so she hires a private investigator to take on the case. And the PI makes a big discovery: Derek is having an affair. Marin soon becomes obsessed with the other woman, and essentially goes on a mission to make sure she doesn't lose her husband, too. I really enjoyed this book for the most part. The kidnapping portion is gut-wrenching, and I liked most of the characters. The book lost me a bit in the middle though, as I felt Marin made some truly far-fetched choices that seemed totally unrealistic. It hooked me again in the final third though with a fast-paced ending with many unexpected moments. It's a fun, dramatic, hard-to-put-down book that won't make you think too hard.  (Note: This book comes out on April 21, but you can preorder now!)

Uncomfortably Numb - I really enjoyed the author's Spivey's Club Instagram takeover last week, so I decided to grab a copy. (It's free on Kindle Unlimited and only $5.99 for the digital version.) It tells the story of the author's life being rocked when she is diagnosed with a chronic disease (after being told by doctors that it was anxiety/all in her head). I thought it was really interesting to learn about how her illness has affected every aspect of her life, and I also thought it was a good commentary on how women's concerns still often aren't taken seriously by the medical community. It's a quick read and I love a good memoir.

Pretty Things - Nina is a professional con woman living in Los Angeles. Having learned the trade from her mother (a longtime con artist herself), Nina spends her days stealing from the rich in heists cooked up with her boyfriend Lachlan. But when her mother has a relapse of her disease and needs to start an expensive treatment, Nina realizes she needs to step up her game and make some more money fast. She comes up with an elaborate plan to swindle Vanessa, an old-money heiress turned Instagram influencer living in a massive, inherited mansion in Lake Tahoe. Nina and Lachlan create new identities and quickly begin to weave their way into Vanessa's priviledged life. But it turns out Vanessa has some secrets of her own. This book was a fun, thrilling romp with twist after twist. Virtually every character vascillates between being sympathetic and unlikeable, and every one of them will surprise you at some point in the story. This is a light, quick read that I thoroughly enjoyed. It would make a great beach (or quarantine!) read. (Note: This book comes out on April 21, but you can preorder now!)


JUST OKAY

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird - On Lydia's 28th birthday, her fiance Freddie is killed in a freak car accident. She is understandably devastated. Then, one night, she takes a much-needed sleeping pill, and wakes up...with Freddie. She quickly realizes that she has entered an alternate version of her life, one where Freddie didn't die. She learns to travel between both worlds: the one where the love of her life has died, and the other where he is still alive and their wedding is fast approaching. I so wanted to love this book, because the premise is right up my alley, but I had some trouble getting into it. The beginning was really slow for me. Around the 40 percent mark, I got invested in it though and did really enjoy it from that point on. I thought the way the author handled the two worlds was clever, and I really loved the ending. I also think this book could be very comforting to someone who has lost a loved one. I do recommend it, I just wish I had enjoyed the first half more!

Writers & Lovers -Still reeling from the death of her mother, 31 year old Casey Peabody is at a crossroads in her life. She is a struggling writer/waitress who lives in a potting shed, has a mountain of student debt, and basically just needs to come to terms with the reality of whether she will or will not be able to live a creative life. It's a book about growing up and the universal struggle to become the person you want to be. I do think the author really captures what it feels like to be a woman of this age, feeling lost and overwhelmed, and the writing itself is great. I just couldn't get sucked in though. There were parts where I was really rooting for Casey and invested in the story, but other parts where I just wasn't. (I do think I'm in the minority on this one though. It was a March Book of the Month pick and I know many people who absolutely loved it!)

The Jetsetters - This was the most recent Reese's Book Club pick, and though I usually love her choices, this one was just ok for me. It's a character-driven family drama about a mother (Charlotte) who enters an essay contest to win a cruise around the world. When she wins the contest, she brings her estranged adult children (Lee, Cord, and Regan) in the hopes that the trip can bring them all together again. There is lots of drama and arguing and feelings and even many funny moments, but not a ton of action. (That's what killed it for me; I wanted more to happen.) I did like the end though--and lots of little bits throughout. Because of the focus on family dynamics, this reminded me a bit of All Adults Here (which I reviewed here), but that one is a much better book, in my opinion. 

Have you guys been reading a lot these days? Or having trouble focusing because of everything that's been going on? And if you've managed to read, what's the best thing you've read lately?


2 comments:

notesbyJ said...

Generally I'm not into celebrity memoirs but I've heard so many good things about Jessica Simpsons. I might have to listen to it.

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