bookrecommendations

Six Months in Books (2019)

At least reading-wise these past six months have been productive. Here is my humble little list and mini-reviews. If you read anything on here, please share your impressions!

Second Person Singular

A solid 4-star, eye-opening read. This was the first novel written by an Israeli-Palestinian for me. I couldn’t tear away from it.

American Like Me

I’m partial to stories about immigrant experiences. I could not resist this collection of essays. I do have a bit of beef with the editing choices here (more in my review linked above), but on the whole, it’s fascinating read. We’re much more alike than we’re not!

An Anonymous Girl

I’m a huge fan on this writing duo but this wasn’t a favorite. It fell a bit flat and predictable for me, although maybe some of that may have to do with my own high expectations given the authors’ first book.

All the Rivers

Okay, truth time: I cannot stop thinking about this one. So far this year, this has been my absolute favorite. It gripped me tight and won’t let me go. Highly, highly recommend.

A Girl at the Border

Complex and intriguing plot line. At times, it felt a little cluttered to me but, on the other hand, the language was stunning. Recommend.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

An easy read with a hyper relatable protagonist with zero patience for society’s bullshit. Highly recommend.

The Broken Girls

This one sat on my to-read shelf for a while so I’m glad I finally read it. It’s an easy read with just enough of a hint of the paranormal. A very engaging novel.

The Buried: An Archeology of the Egyptian Revolution

I don’t read enough non-fiction. I came across this book by complete accident but wound up being completely engrossed by it. Peter Hessler is a magnificent storyteller. I learned so much! Highly recommend this book if you are at all interested in Egypt and/or politics.

If you happen to read any of these titles, please let me know. I would love to compare notes!

Summer Reading List

Summer! Let’s play free-association: I say, summer, you say—________.

Summers are busy for me. I’m not sure how much reading I will be able to accomplish over the upcoming three months, but I’m nothing if not ambitious. Below is a list I compiled of the promised hottest summer reads. Let’s see how many of these I get to…and how many of these I’ll like as much as the various editors think I should.

I’ll Never Tell by Catherine McKenzie

Summary: “Twenty years ago, Amanda Holmes was found bludgeoned in a rowboat at the MacAllister family’s Camp Macaw. No one was ever charged with the crime. Now, after their parents’ sudden deaths, the MacAllister siblings return to camp to read the will and decide what to do with the prime real estate the camp occupies. However, the will stipulates that until they unravel the mystery of what happened to Amanda, they can’t settle the estate. Any one of them could have done it, and each one is holding a piece of the puzzle. Will they work together to finally discover the truth, or will their secrets finally tear the family apart?”

Sounds like a perfect summer read to me!

Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok

Summary: “Sylvie, the beautiful, brilliant, successful older daughter of the Lee family, flies to the Netherlands for one final visit with her dying grandmother—and then vanishes. Amy, the sheltered baby of the Lee family, is too young to remember a time when her parents were newly immigrated. Timid and shy, Amy has always looked up to her sister, the fierce and fearless protector who showered her with unconditional love. But what happened to Sylvie? Amy and her parents are distraught and desperate for answers. Sylvie has always looked out for them. Now, it’s Amy’s turn to help. Terrified yet determined, Amy retraces her sister’s movements, flying to the last place Sylvie was seen. But instead of simple answers, she discovers something much more valuable: the truth. Sylvie, the golden girl, kept painful secrets . . . secrets that will reveal more about Amy’s complicated family—and herself—than she ever could have imagined.”

Suspense, immigrant narrative—this books has all the right elements for me!

Magic for Liars by Sarah Bailey

Summary: “When a gruesome murder is discovered at The Osthorne Academy of Young Mages, where her estranged twin sister teaches Theoretical Magic, reluctant detective Ivy Gamble is pulled into the world of untold power and dangerous secrets. She will have to find a murderer and reclaim her sister—without losing herself.”

This sounds like a fun, light enough of a read.

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

Summary: “No visitors. No nights spent away from the apartment. No disturbing the other residents, all of whom are rich or famous or both. These are the only rules for Jules Larsen’s new job as an apartment sitter at the Bartholomew, one of Manhattan's most high-profile and mysterious buildings. Recently heartbroken and just plain broke, Jules is taken in by the splendor of her surroundings and accepts the terms, ready to leave her past life behind.

As she gets to know the residents and staff of the Bartholomew, Jules finds herself drawn to fellow apartment sitter Ingrid, who comfortingly reminds her of the sister she lost eight years ago. When Ingrid confides that the Bartholomew is not what it seems and the dark history hidden beneath its gleaming facade is starting to frighten her, Jules brushes it off as a harmless ghost story . . . until the next day, when Ingrid disappears.

Searching for the truth about Ingrid’s disappearance, Jules digs deeper into the Bartholomew's sordid past and into the secrets kept within its walls. What she discovers pits Jules against the clock as she races to unmask a killer, expose the building’s hidden past, and escape the Bartholomew before her temporary status becomes permanent.”

This sounds hella intriguing! Can’t wait to read this one!

Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson

Summary: “Amy Whey is proud of her ordinary life and the simple pleasures that come with it—teaching diving lessons, baking cookies for new neighbors, helping her best friend, Charlotte, run their local book club. Her greatest joy is her family: her devoted professor husband, her spirited fifteen-year-old stepdaughter, her adorable infant son. And, of course, the steadfast and supportive Charlotte. But Amy’s sweet, uncomplicated life begins to unravel when the mysterious and alluring Angelica Roux arrives on her doorstep one book club night.

Sultry and magnetic, Roux beguiles the group with her feral charm. She keeps the wine flowing and lures them into a game of spilling secrets. Everyone thinks it’s naughty, harmless fun. Only Amy knows better. Something wicked has come her way—a she-devil in a pricey red sports car who seems to know the terrible truth about who she is and what she once did.

When they’re alone, Roux tells her that if she doesn’t give her what she asks for, what she deserves, she’s going to make Amy pay for her sins. One way or another.

To protect herself and her family and save the life she’s built, Amy must beat the devil at her own clever game, matching wits with Roux in an escalating war of hidden pasts and unearthed secrets. Amy knows the consequences if she can’t beat Roux. What terrifies her is everything she could lose if she wins.”

This one had me at the mention of book club shenanigans.

Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Summary: “Toby Fleishman thought he knew what to expect when he and his wife of almost fifteen years separated: weekends and every other holiday with the kids, some residual bitterness, the occasional moment of tension in their co-parenting negotiations. He could not have predicted that one day, in the middle of his summer of sexual emancipation, Rachel would just drop their two children off at his place and simply not return. He had been working so hard to find equilibrium in his single life. The winds of his optimism, long dormant, had finally begun to pick up. Now this.

As Toby tries to figure out where Rachel went, all while juggling his patients at the hospital, his never-ending parental duties, and his new app-assisted sexual popularity, his tidy narrative of the spurned husband with the too-ambitious wife is his sole consolation. But if Toby ever wants to truly understand what happened to Rachel and what happened to his marriage, he is going to have to consider that he might not have seen things all that clearly in the first place.”

This sounds like a fun piece of family satire. What’s not to like about that.

Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman

Summary: “In 1966, Baltimore is a city of secrets that everyone seems to know—everyone, that is, except Madeline “Maddie” Schwartz. Last year, she was a happy, even pampered housewife. This year, she’s bolted from her marriage of almost twenty years, determined to make good on her youthful ambitions to live a passionate, meaningful life.

Maddie wants to matter, to leave her mark on a swiftly changing world. Drawing on her own secrets, she helps Baltimore police find a murdered girl—assistance that leads to a job at the city’s afternoon newspaper, the Star. Working at the newspaper offers Maddie the opportunity to make her name, and she has found just the story to do it: a missing woman whose body was discovered in the fountain of a city park lake.

Cleo Sherwood was a young African-American woman who liked to have a good time. No one seems to know or care why she was killed except Maddie—and the dead woman herself. Maddie’s going to find the truth about Cleo’s life and death. Cleo’s ghost, privy to Maddie’s poking and prying, wants to be left alone.

Maddie’s investigation brings her into contact with people that used to be on the periphery of her life—a jewelry store clerk, a waitress, a rising star on the Baltimore Orioles, a patrol cop, a hardened female reporter, a lonely man in a movie theater. But for all her ambition and drive, Maddie often fails to see the people right in front of her. Her inability to look beyond her own needs will lead to tragedy and turmoil for all sorts of people—including the man who shares her bed, a black police officer who cares for Maddie more than she knows.”

I love Ms. Lippman’s work so I’m excited for this one.

Strangers and Cousins by Leah Hager Cohen

“In the seemingly idyllic town of Rundle Junction, Bennie and Walter are preparing to host the wedding of their eldest daughter Clem. A marriage ceremony at their beloved, rambling home should be the happiest of occasions, but Walter and Bennie have a secret. A new community has moved to Rundle Junction, threatening the social order and forcing Bennie and Walter to confront uncomfortable truths about the lengths they would go to to maintain harmony.

Meanwhile, Aunt Glad, the oldest member of the family, arrives for the wedding plagued by long-buried memories of a scarring event that occurred when she was a girl in Rundle Junction. As she uncovers details about her role in this event, the family begins to realize that Clem's wedding may not be exactly what it seemed. Clever, passionate, artistic Clem has her own agenda. What she doesn't know is that by the end, everyone will have roles to play in this richly imagined ceremony of familial connection-a brood of quirky relatives, effervescent college friends, ghosts emerging from the past, a determined little mouse, and even the very group of new neighbors whose presence has shaken Rundle Junction to its core.”

What a promising family saga!

Bunny by Mona Awad

“Samantha Heather Mackey couldn't be more of an outsider in her small, highly selective MFA program at New England's Warren University. A scholarship student who prefers the company of her dark imagination to that of most people, she is utterly repelled by the rest of her fiction writing cohort--a clique of unbearably twee rich girls who call each other "Bunny," and seem to move and speak as one.

But everything changes when Samantha receives an invitation to the Bunnies' fabled "Smut Salon," and finds herself inexplicably drawn to their front door--ditching her only friend, Ava, in the process. As Samantha plunges deeper and deeper into the Bunnies' sinister yet saccharine world, beginning to take part in the ritualistic off-campus "Workshop" where they conjure their monstrous creations, the edges of reality begin to blur. Soon, her friendships with Ava and the Bunnies will be brought into deadly collision.”

Whoa, satirical work set in Britain? When can I start?!

How Could She by Lauren Mechling

Summary: “After a devastating break-up with her fiancé, Geraldine is struggling to get her life back on track in Toronto. Her two old friends, Sunny and Rachel, left ages ago for New York, where they've landed good jobs, handsome husbands, and unfairly glamorous lives (or at least so it appears to Geraldine). Sick of watching from the sidelines, Geraldine decides to force the universe to give her the big break she knows she deserves, and moves to New York City. 

As she zigzags her way through the downtown art scene and rooftop party circuit, she discovers how hard it is to find her footing in a world of influencers and media darlings. Meanwhile, Sunny's life as an It Girl watercolorist is not nearly as charmed as it seemed to Geraldine from Toronto. And Rachel is trying to keep it together as a new mom, writer, and wife--how is it that she was more confident and successful at twenty-five than in her mid-thirties? Perhaps worst of all, why are Sunny and Rachel--who've always been suspicious of each other--suddenly hanging out without Geraldine?”

A story about female friendship in a high powered, high pressure media world? Sign me up.

Any of these on your list this summer? Share your picks!

A Girl at the Border (Book Review)

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A friend of mine recommended this novel to me. She felt that the prose reminded her of my writing. She said it seemed like something I would write, and she meant it as a compliment! She loved the book! Naturally, I was intrigued and simply had to read it ASAP. Luckily, my little virtual book club, MR BOOK CLUB, selected it as it's March/April Official Selection so I got right on it.

I give A Girl at the Border 4 stars. The writing is gorgeous. All the settings, the dialogue—it was all written so expertly and effortlessly. The pictures painted themselves. Psst, if that’s what my friend meant—I’m over the moon by the comparison! The only thing that made me “deduct” a point was that at times the novel seemed a little cluttered, touching on a few too many subjects—parental absenteeism, 9/11, the war on terror. On the flip side, the author did keep me guessing and I did not see the biggest twist coming. Okay, so maybe half a star deduction there, to be fair. The other half? The many time jumps got a little confusing here and there. All in all, however, I loved this book and look forward to more fiction from Leslie Archer.

Moral of the story? Listen to your friends when they give you book recommendations, people:)

All the Rivers (Book Review)

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I came across All the Rivers by way of social media. In one of the many interviews the brilliant Rami Malek gave while promoting Bohemian Rhapsody, he mentioned reading a book that was about a love story between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man and what a beautiful story that would be tell as an actor. I didn’t hear him mention the title but a few months later, almost by chance, I saw someone reference this title in relation to Mr. Malek. Hurray for power of Instagram! I looked up the description and downloaded the book in seconds. I’m not exaggerating when I say that from the get-go, it took my breath away. I can only dream of ever being able to write in a way that flies off the page like this even when translated to a different language.

I have always clicked with literature translated from the Hebrew language. I’m not sure if this has to do with my relation to and interest in the Middle East and if it’s just self-fulfilling that way, but it’s true! Ever since reading short stories by Savyon Liebrecht in college, something about the thematics in Hebrew literature drew me in. Much like foreign TV shows and films, these feel different in an intriguing way. This novel, however, left me completely and utterly destroyed (and I say that with highest praise). It’s an autobiographical novel, with many elements of the story being lifted straight from the author’s life. For example, Dorit Rabinyan really did have a Palestinian boyfriend who was an artist and…oops, I almost revealed a spoiler! So perhaps it was this aspect that gripped me so. Or maybe it’s because this book served as a reminder that no matter how much we have in common, no matter how much we love each other as people/friends/neighbors/lovers, our political interests are so at arms with each other that they take precedence over personal interests, and frankly, that just hurts. It could also be because the action takes place in New York, in 2002-2003—a time when I myself was 20 and in college and tried to love desperately and hopelessly, just like you’re supposed to at that age. Whatever the reason, this book stands alone when it comes to a work of fiction taking ahold of me so tight and making me feel an ache so physical, it was beautifully terrifying. I can’t say I’m not a crier, but I rarely cry at movies, and I literally have never cried at written work of fiction. This says a lot, or at least it should.

Read this book. It was will hurt, but it will also teach you some valuable lessons not just about the impossible conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, but also about yourself. Please let me know if you do.

An Anonymous Girl (book review)

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Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen are a dynamic duo of sorts. I mean, I hear they write together in real time! Having read The Wife Between Us last summer, I could not wait to get my hands on their next collaboration. Expectations were high given that I devoured Wife at the time (see my review here). So how did it fare?

Well, here is the thing about expectations—they are a double edged sword. On one hand, you write an awesome book, you get a new fan! Hundreds, thousands of new fans. Hurray for you! But then all those fans expect to be wowed each and every time you put pen to paper. And it’s difficult to wow each and every time. It’s legitimately difficult.

This was the problem here—my expectations were way too high after The Wife Between Us. All the twists and surprises there were truly unexpected, the pace exciting. An Anonymous Girl , on the other hand, was perfectly satisfactory. Good, even! But it was no Wife. Herein was its problem. None of the twists were unexpected and the novel fell a little flat for me. The characters didn’t ring true and the dialogue didn’t flow as naturally as I expected from these brilliant authors. Some of this may have had a little bit to do with the fact that I listened to the book on Audible; narration, after all, makes a big difference. Perhaps the voices given to the main characters did my perception of the novel a disservice. If you read this one, please let me know what you think. I give it 3.5-4 stars.

Second Person Singular

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I met Sayed Kashua once. A friend of a friend, we were introduced after a screening of Write Down-I am an Arab, a documentary about a renowned Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. I found him intimidating. Kashua, not Darwish. His mood that day can easily be explained by the timing of our meeting—we’d just come out of the discussion about the film and the life of Mahmoud Darwish, and inevitably, the conversation had turned to the life and status of Arab Israelis. My friend Mira Award (who’d adapted Darwish’s poetry to her original music for this project) and Sayed Kashua (who himself is an Israeli Arab journalist and novelist, writing primarily in Hebrew) were poised and polite in the face of some rather ignorant questions, but when it was over and we all headed over the a nearby bar somewhere around NYU, Sayed was visibly shaken and annoyed. By way of context, he had apparently recently moved to the United States with his family, vowing never to return to Israel. He spoke very fast, mostly in Arabic and Hebrew (neither one of which I speak), and I remember feeling very intimidated. He smoked a lot and left before anyone else did. I was relieved! Needless to say, I didn’t even think to mention that I am a writer—a title I still feel insecure about throwing around by way of a self-descriptor. Now, half a decade older, I realize what a wasted opportunity this meeting was! Not because I regret not making a “contact” in Mr. Kashua, but because, had I been braver and not allowed myself to become so easily flustered, I could’ve learned something from such an accomplished author! I’ve been kicking myself and wanting to read Sayed’s novels ever since.

I proposed reading Second Person Singular to my Facebook Book Club, MR. BOOK CLUB, but it lost to American Like Me. I, of course, knew that, win or lose, I was going to finally read this novel, and I have to say, I am glad that I did. I am embarrassed to admit that this is the first work of fiction I’ve read that was written by an Israeli Arab. I’ve read literature by Jewish Israelis leaning to the left of the local political spectrum, of course, but obviously that is not the same thing.

I must say, I don’t remember the last time I felt like I truly learned something from a novel. For example, I had no idea about the friction between Israeli Arabs from the Galilee vs those from the “triangle,” the Christian and Muslim Arabs etc. The way I see it, underneath it all, this book is about insecurity. On all levels—personal, cultural, political. No wonder I can relate! The writing is crystal clear, despite the translation from Hebrew, and truly pulls you in. On the whole, this is a fascinating and rewarding read and I highly recommend it.


Nine Perfect Strangers

I’m just gonna say it—I love Liane Moriarty. Granted, I was a little late to the party, only giving her books a try two years ago; I, therefore, may be overcompensating a bit. I read Big Little Lies, What Alice Forgot, and My Husband’s Secret. Ms. Moriarty’s voice is unlike anyone else’s and I cannot get enough. I’ll be honest, Nine Perfect Strangers is not my favorite novel by Ms. Moriarty, but it is a worthy, enjoyable read. It was my on-line book club’s official November/December selection. Join us here: MR. BOOK CLUB.

Currently, I am wrapping up a manuscript with multiple points of view so getting my hands on a book with that many POVs written by one of my favorite authors was godsent. Quality writing is indeed inspiring. On this front, Ms. Moriarty did not disappoint—nine characters were introduced effortlessly and naturally. Lots to learn from the master! The multiple voices were not overwhelming and it was helpful to hear inner dialogue and different perspectives on the previously introduced conflict. This, of course, was the highlight of the book for me.

Each character was distinct and different and developed to a different degree, but Masha stood out to me for a rather obvious reason. I’m naturally hypersensitive to representation of Russian-speaking characters in books and movies, and here is Masha—the gorgeous, know-it-all, arrogant health resort owner. Naturally, I was on guard from the second I read her name. I need not have been, as it turns out. Not because Masha was portrayed as a highly relatable, likable starlet, but because she was not. Highly educated and of enviable will power, Masha doesn’t hide her distaste for those around her. She feels superior to them not because she is naturally better than them but because she fought and worked hard for everything in her new life in Australia (despite immeasurable trauma, as it turns out). I’ve met women like Masha in my local immigrant community. She’s well-written. She’s believable. I didn’t like her but I understood where she was coming from.

The ending was the only thing that truly bugged me about the novel, to be honest. And even that’s only because it seemed to drag unnecessarily, with multiple updates on the characters in the future.

All in all, I recommend this book to anyone who likes an easy but quality read.

2017 in Books

2017 was the year I discovered Audible, which changed my reading life forever. Below is a list of the books it has allowed me to read this past year, along with some short notes. I hope you can find something that piques your interest for your own 2018 reading list!

Happy New Year!

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

Today Will Be Different was the last novel I actually "read." I was about to say it was my last paperback, but that would be wrong-I read it on my beloved Kindle. I love Maria Semple. Where Did You Go, Bernadette? was genius, and Today Will Be Different did not disappoint. A relatable, flawed and troubled protagonist is everything for me. I highly recommend this novel to those seeking literary fiction at its best.

11/22/63 by Stephen King

11/22/63 was my first Audible book and also my first Stephen King novel (yes, yes, I know!). The creativity and the attention to detail of this one blew me away. Just to think of all the research that went into this novel! Highly recommend to thriller lovers.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

I've resisted reading Liane Moriarty for a while. The rebel in me sometimes winds up missing out on something fun just for the sake of being contrary. But HBO was coming out with an adaptation (I don't have HBO), so I decided to give it a try. Holy crap, was I immediately hooked! Liane Moriarty is one of my most favorite authors now. The way she writes her characters is impeccable. They are nuanced, they are relatable. Loved Big Little Lies.

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

Pretty much "read above." Highly recommend to those who love quality women's literature.

In the Woods by Tana French

I've heard a lot of buzz about the Tana French mysteries and finally decided to give this one a try. It was good, and I certainly wanted to know what comes next, but it didn't click that much for me. I'm curious about the background of the main character, but I'm not sure I'll continue with the series for now. I may get back to it.

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

I'm sorry to admit this but The Couple Next Door is my least favorite book this year. This doesn't happen often, but try as I might, I still can't find much to say about it. There is too much telling, barely any showing, and the whole thing is riddled with stereotypes on every level. This is a well ranked and reviewed book so this was quite a surprise.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

After having such a negative experience, I simply had to cleanse the palette with some more Liane Moriarty. What Alice Forgot wound up being my favorite book by the author. Alice and I share quite a lot in common.

Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine

A highly suspenseful novel! I can't wait for the next installment. 

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

I don't read much YA but this was such a thoughtful book. Simply lovely. It does a wonderful job at attempting to renew your faith in mankind. Highly recommend to fans of the genre.

A Dark and Twisted Tide by Sharon Bolton

This is probably my most favorite thriller. I could not turn it off (an Audible equivalent of being unable to put the book down). Great imagery, great foreshadowing, a great story. It's #4 in the series but I read it as a standalone book and it totally worked.