BOOK REVIEW ROUND UP // VOLUME 1 ISSUE 11

A review and rating of the last 6 books I read to finish off the year 2020 and a look into my TBR list

One to Watch
Author: Kate Stayman-London
Publication Date: July 2020
Genre: romance, contemporary
Method: paperback, borrowed from TPL

Review: What I’ve learned this year having read 50 books across a multitude of genres is that I love stories that are told in various formats of text, and this book literally has it all, plus more. Following the prologue in prose, the story opens with a magazine article interviewing main character Bea. From there we read text message transcripts, food delivery receipts, tinder exchanges, blogposts with comments, emails, tweets, digital media headlines, Instagram DMs, and that’s all within the first 50 pages! As a romance, I found the story very predictable, but that didn’t stop me from loving it. While there is an obvious romantic, heterosexual relationship at the heart of this story, I loved the small nods to all forms of love, from homosexuality and pansexuality, to non-romantic love like those between best friends and parent-child relationships (Stepdad Bob is my hero). And we love a character named Marin, so A+ on character names.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
Author: V. E. Schwab
Publication Date: October 2020
Genre: fantasy, fiction, historical fiction
Method: hardback, borrowed from TPL

Review: The hype surrounding this book was intense. From what I’ve seen across Goodreads, bookstagram, and booktube, many readers slotted this as their ‘most anticipated book of 2020.’ Spoiler alert, can’t relate.
What I found most unique was Schwab’s way of weaving main character Addie into history by way of pieces of fictional fine art. I loved starting a new part of the book with a clue as to how Addie managed to leave an impression on those around her, even though she’s been cursed to be forgotten by all that she meets. I appreciated the variety of romantic relationships represented, from the expected heterosexual, to homosexual and bisexual/pansexual attractions.
Where this story loses me is the pace – holy hell I found this to be so slow. And that’s do in part to the numerous, numerous flash forwards and backs, which is usually something I love in books, but in this case, I felt like it dragged the plot considerably. I also feel very conflicted in regards to the ending because I was so, so, so loving the will-they-won’t-they romantic and sexual tension between Addie and Luc. Maybe I’m just a hopeless romantic but I so easily believed Luc’s confession and expression of love for Addie. Part of me felt that Addie was too stubborn to even consider a life with Luc, thus sabotaging her own happiness. At this point my mind is wandering and I was imaging a follow up story where Addie is also a God working in tandem with Luc, in a sort of good-cop, bad-cop scenario.
I can see how thousands of readers are loving this book, and while there is a lot to like it just wasn’t a home run for me. I toggled between a 3 and 4 star rating, let’s call it somewhere in the middle. However, I’m now even more excited to read Vicious by V. E. Schwab because, from what I’ve read, the writing style in Addie LaRue is quite different from her earlier works.

One Day in December
Author: Josie Silver
Publication Date: October 2018
Genre: romance, women’s fiction, chick lit
Method: paperback, borrowed from TPL

Review: I feel bad giving this a 3 of 5 stars but that’s where we landed. This story was fine, just fine. I saw a review tag this book ‘eh’ and I chuckled in agreeance. I enjoyed the different directions the plot took over the span of a decade but I just didn’t feel anything for these characters. If anything, I enjoyed and was more drawn to the subplots related to health, grief, death, and dying – but remember, this is first and foremost a romance, so… yeah.

The Last Time I Lied
Author: Riley Sager
Publication Date: July 2018
Genre: thriller, mystery
Method: hardback from BOTM subscription

Review: Riley Sager, you had me worried. With one chapter left, I was slightly disappointed, questioning if this was going to be my first 4 star review for one of his books. But then I read the concluding chapter and when I say my jaw hit the floor, I just, wow. THAT MOMENT, that is what I want in every thriller. Now having read all of Sager’s backlist, I definitely have a sense of how his plots are driven but even so, he still got me. Like his other works, this story is told in present day intermixed with flashbacks to drive the story forward. In true Sager fashion, he lead me right into every dead end, he lays the crumbs and I gladly take the bait. I was thinking I was so smart and capable, but no. He got me again. I hate him but I oh so love him.

The Bungalow Mystery
Author: Carolyn Keene
Publication Date: 1930
Genre: mystery, fiction, young adult
Method: hardback, borrowed from TPL

Review: This has to be my most random read of the year. Prior to this, I read Riley Sager’s The Last Time I Lied and this Nancy Drew mystery was mentioned – so I immediately requested in from the library. I was a huge Nancy Drew reader growing up, my mom has nearly the entire collection from her childhood, same with the Hardy Boys. I wish I could have re-read this through the eyes of 9-year-old me, because present-day me was disappointed in the lack of entertainment. The 1940s vernacular is hard to look past and the mystery/plot itself was so shallow. At least in was a quick read, took me less than 2 hours over 2 days.

The Twelve Dates of Christmas
Author: Jenny Bayliss
Publication Date: October 2020
Genre: romance, holiday, contemporary
Method: paperback, borrowed from TPL

Review: This was such a smart, well crafted holiday romance. I wasn’t anticipating a web of so many characters and learning how their pasts and presents intertwine was very enjoyable to read. The ending? Incredibly predictable, but come on, we all knew who the main character was going to end up with within the first 25 pages. I don’t fault you for that, cute Christmas romance. I only applaud you. A wholesome Christmas love story, memorable for it’s interesting cast of characters, yet slightly forgettable given the predictability of the ending.

And what’s up next

Until tomorrow, Meryn


BOOK REVIEW ROUND UP // VOLUME 1 ISSUE 10

A review and rating of the last 5 books I read and a look into my TBR list

His Only Wife
Author: Peace Adzo Medie
Publication Date: October 2020
Genre: fiction
Method: hardcover, borrowed from TPL

Review: What a joy it was to travel to Ghana through the pages of this book. I loved the imagery of the lavish lifestyle Afi immerses herself in along with the culture, food, and fashion of Ghana. I also found myself doing some side reading and research about traditional Ghanaian names (linked here) which was also very interesting. Afi is the strong, independent female lead I didn’t know I needed in 2020 – but glad to now know her. I admired her strong will, resiliency, and dedication to creating her own happiness, especially in the face of adversity. I plan to read Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi in 2021, also set primarily in Ghana.

In Five Years
Author: Rebecca Serle
Publication Date: March 2020
Genre: fiction, romance, contemporary
Method: hardcover, borrowed from TPL

Review: I feel bamboozled. What I thought I was getting, having read the synopsis, was a cute love story about a woman whose five year plan doesn’t go as planned. What I got instead was a book about grief, while grieving. What is wild is I didn’t even understand how much I was grieving, until it became very clear that grief was a major theme in this story. On one hand I feel frustrated in that a story centered around grief related to health/mortality was not what I was looking to read at a time likes this (e.g. COVID19 viral pandemic). But at the same time, this may have been divine intervention because a book about grief is/may be exactly what I needed. Frustration aside, the twists and turns were unexpected, I felt pain and sorrow for the characters, and the final reveal took me by surprise. 4 out of 5 stars.

Pretty Little Wife
Author: Darby Kane
Publication Date: December 2020
Genre: thriller, suspense
Method: hardback from BOTM subscription

Review: This one came close, but it just missed the mark for a 5/5 rating. Some low level uneasiness and apprehension, but no jaw dropping moments nor heart palpitations (I’m looking at you, Home Before Dark), so it’s a 4/5 from me. The pace was excellent – the perfect balance of flashforwards and flashbacks sandwiched between suspenseful chapter endings. The author did a great job of leading the reader to possible suspects and eventual dead ends. I had low expectations going into this one after being semi-disappointed in my previous 2 suspense BOTM picks, so I call this one a win!

In a Holidaze
Author: Christina Lauren
Publication Date: October 2020
Genre: romance, holiday
Method: paperback, borrowed from TPL

Review: A quick, heart warming holiday read. The first couple of chapters felt a little choppy trying to keep all the characters straight but after getting a handle on the various family trees, I flew through it. Definitely some laugh out loud moments and tugs at the heart strings. A feel good pick for the holiday season! Also, would love to see this made into a Hallmark film, just putting it out there.

The Truths We Hold
Author: Kamala Harris
Publication Date: August 2020
Genre: nonfiction, politics, autobiography
Method: paperback, borrowed from TPL

Review: I didn’t have any expectations going into this book. When the election was officially called for Joe and Kamala, I requested this book from the library, surprised when it didn’t have a long wait list! Simply put, I learned a lot having cracked open this book. The chapters were dense and it took some time to get through, but I found it to be very, very informative. Topics discussed included: prison reform, gay and marriage rights, the foreclosure crisis, police brutality, DACA, the American health care system, the opioid crisis, war on drugs, Affordable Care Act, and big pharma.

And what’s up next

Until tomorrow, Meryn


BOOK REVIEW: NORMAL PEOPLE BY SALLY ROONEY

A dedicated blog post for just one book? Yes. Because I have thoughts.

There’s only a hand full of books I’ve read twice in my life, let alone twice in 4 months. But here were are, insert Sally Rooney’s Normal People.

https://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2020/04/hulu-normal-people-sally-rooney-radical-romance/610921/

After seeing Normal People plastered all over bookstagram, Goodreads, and Book of the Month, I dove head first in August, knowing very well that it was a polarizing book – some people absolutely loved it while others absolutely hated it. My initial impression was wow, these characters are so unlikeable. Page after page I just kept feeling more and more frustrated with the yo-yoing relationship of the two main characters, Marianne and Connell. After my first encounter and read through, I rated it a 3/5 stars, shocked anyone could love this book or its characters.

After dragging my feet, I finally started the Hulu mini series. Let’s just say I marathoned the 12 episodes over two days and sobbed, seriously sobbed e.g. the concluding scene. I was in no way expecting that response because given my lukewarm feelings for both Connell and Marianne while reading the first time around. But wow, they really came to life for me on screen. There’s something just so annoying and bizarre about their miscommunication that is so infuriating in the book but oddly endearing on screen. I was pleasantly surprised how closely the dialogue and plot of the show resembled the book; it made re-reading the book more enjoyable. I’ll also add, I felt it was easier to understand the disparities in social class and status between Marianne and Connell while watching the show – I didn’t so easily pick up on this division between the main characters which, in hindsight, significantly drives the plot.

Having enjoyed the show so much, I figured what the heck, let’s request the book from the library and give it another shot. Reading the second time around, I definitely didn’t hate the characters nearly as much. Are Connell and Marianne the two most cerebral, disjointed, and inarticulate characters on the (fictional literary) planet?? YES IN ALL CAPS. I definitely found it easier to sympathize with the characters the second time around, and, personally, loved having the actors as reference to reimagine the scenes in my mind.

In conclusion, the book lands a 4/5 for me. The Hulu miniseries a 10/10 easily, would watch again (and likely sob, again).

Additional Resources
Normal People Hulu Original Series Trailer linked here
Normal People Season 2: Everything We Know // Elle article linked here
How Normal People Made Sex You Actually Believe // Elle article linked here
The Irresistible Intimacy of Normal People // The Atlantic article linked here

Until tomorrow, Meryn


BOOK REVIEW ROUND UP // VOLUME 1 ISSUE 9

A review and rating of the last 5 books I read and a look into my TBR list

Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life
Author: Emily Nagoski
Publication Date: March 2015
Genre: nonfiction, feminism, science
Method: paperback, borrowed from TPL

Review: I’ll be honest, I had higher hopes for this one because it came so highly recommended by one of my favorite authors/makers. I wasn’t a huge fan of the writing style, I would have preferred something more straight forward, scientific, and technical. I found some of the ‘dumbed down’ examples and comparisons childish and misplaced, what is this about a rat and Iggy Pop again? And again? I can see the merit in having the various hypothetical couples to drive home themes but by the time I made it to the last chapter, I was skipping those antidotes all together. I think I needed this text 2 or 3 years ago. At this stage in the game, I’ve figured basically all of this out with love and trust in my body and my partner. Read this if you need a text and an author to empower your sexual identity and sexual health. Not bad by any means, just very VERY repetitive, not what I was looking for at the moment.

A Separate Peace
Author: John Knowles
Publication Date: 1959
Genre: classic, fiction, historical fiction
Method: paperback, personal collection

Review: I apparently read this book 8 years ago for my honors sophomore English class but was surprised that I literally didn’t remember a thing. Some details were coming back the farther along I got but I hadn’t even recalled the climax correctly – which is wild to me! I would or should have written papers about this book, had quizzes and tests, but no, barely remembered anything beyond the main characters names. All to say, this was not for me. I just found it so dull and boring. If anything I’m realizing historical fiction is just not for me, at least, not in this season of life.

The Girl Who Reads on the Métro
Author: Christine Féret-Fleury
Publication Date: October 2019
Genre: fiction
Method: hardcover, borrowed from TPL

Review: This was a huge miss for me. I thought I was going to be reading a beautiful and romantic book that would transport me to the streets of Paris. A book lover (me) reading about a book lover (main character Juliette) in the city of love (Paris) sounded well and good, but I didn’t get there. Nowhere close. I don’t know if it was due to the translation from French to English but it just felt so disjointed. I felt lost along the plot in nearly every chapter, and this is a fairly short book at 175 pages. Au revoir.

When No One is Watching
Author: Alyssa Cole
Publication Date: September 2020
Genre: thriller, mystery
Method: paperback, lent from a friend

Review: This year I’ve read a lot of suspense and thrillers, but all from white authors. I had been looking to diversify my readings in this genre, so it was perfect match when a friend lent me this book by Alyssa Cole, a black author who covers historical, contemporary, and sci-fi romance. This story was thrilling, but not in a blood and gore or supernatural way. What’s horrifying about this book is how these events experienced by the black characters could and are happening right now. We’re talking modern day racism, gentrification, classism, and nepotism. I loved all the strange occurrences happening in the neighborhood and to the main character – when I finally put the book down, I found myself mulling over all these innocuous details, excited to see how they fit into the story. On the other hand, I found the ending quite rushed and the changing perspective confusing at times – the characters voices didn’t read very differently from one another. I can understand the need for both perspectives, but it felt unnecessary and lent more towards my confusion in the second half of the book when the story was continuing exactly were the previous chapter ended but with a different perspective.

Normal People
Author: Sally Rooney
Publication Date: April 2019
Genre: fiction, contemporary, romance
Method: hardcover, borrowed from TPL

Review: Yes, this is the second time I’ve read this book this year. And I have a lot of thoughts. So much so I plan to write a dedicated blog post solely about the book and the Hulu mini series. When it’s up and ready to read, I’ll link it here. All I’ll say is this time around, it gets a 4/5, one more star than last time.

What’s Up Next

Until tomorrow, Meryn


BOOK REVIEW ROUND UP // VOLUME 1 ISSUE 8

A review and rating of the last 5 books I read and a look into my TBR list

The Vanishing Half
Author: Brit Bennett
Publication Date: June 2020
Genre: fiction, contemporary
Method: digital copy via TPL

Review: It was the first paragraph of chapter 5, for me. It was at this point I started recommending it to friends, followed Brit Bennet on Instagram, and requested her first novel, The Mothers, from the library. It was then I knew that I loved this book. It offered so much more than I could have ever imagined with topics including racism, prejudice, love, self-discovery, identity, and gender. I’ve seen other reviewers complain about the jumping timeline but I quite enjoyed that aspect of this book. I loved the similarities and differences between the 3 generations of woman and how their stories weave together and apart. Rumor has it this book is in the running to be Book of the Year – I could not agree more!

The Girl in the Mirror
Author: Rose Carlyle
Publication Date: October 2020
Genre: thriller, mystery
Method: hardback from BOTM subscription

Review: I have mixed feelings. Overall, it was just too improbable and unbelievable for rating above 3. A set of twins that no one, not even their mother, can tell apart? Ehh, okay. Setting that aside, I did enjoy the twists and turns, especially the reveal at the end. This story was a well-timed follow up having just finished The Vanishing Half -also about twin sisters. After finishing, I proceeded to think about this story for the next 45 minutes – enough so that I cracked the book back open 3 times to re-read sections, not typical for me after finishing a book. Not something I would read again but would lend to friends.

Urban Jungle: Living and Styling with Plants
Author: Igor Josifovic, Judith De Graaff
Publication Date: December 2016
Genre: nonfiction, gardening
Method: hardback, borrowed from TPL

Review: Requested this on a whim from the library. Honestly, I didn’t even read the title assuming it was a book focused on plant care (classic judging a book by it’s cover move). Despite my confusion, thanks to my own carelessness, I enjoyed this beautiful and educational book, though it was quite repetitive at times. There’s a variety of information including DIYs, plant care, styling tips, and in depth looks into the lives and homes of plant lovers across Europe. I would love to include this in my personal library or display on our coffee table if I happen to come across a used copy!

The Mothers
Author: Brit Bennett
Publication Date: October 2016
Genre: fiction, contemporary
Method: hardback, borrowed from TPL

Review: Jumped in on this after finishing Bennett’s second novel, The Vanishing Half, which I absolutely, without a doubt, loved. So appropriately titled, this story dives deep into motherhood through multiple themes including suicide, abortion, and single parenthood alongside betrayal, infidelity, identity, race, and grief. This book inspired multiple discussions with my partner regarding abortion and parenthood, but also a conversation reflecting on how the required reading in high school did or did not prepare us for the real world. While reading, I found myself thinking how if/when I have a daughter, I’d want her to read this book and come to me with questions because this is real life. Parental suicide is real, parental abandonment is real, abortion is real. Of Mice and Men and The Great Gatsby are well and good, but not indicative of modern life. I guess I’m realizing I rate books based off of their ability to challenge me to think and engage in conversations with my peers, rather than plot structure, plot holes, and character development.

The Nothing Man
Author: Catherine Ryan Howard
Publication Date: August 2020
Genre: thriller, mystery
Method: hardback from my collection

Review: Earlier this year, I sped read and thoroughly enjoyed Riley Sager’s Home Before Dark (HBD), a suspense thriller written in a ‘book within a book’ format. Abby from Crime by the Book recommended The Nothing Man (TNM) as a similar read as it is also a ‘book within a book’ style story. It feels natural to compare the two books, though their themes are different; TNM is more crime and murder focused whereas HBD is more haunted house and spooky. I loved the plot of this story: serial killer gets away with horrendous violence and murders only to be surprised 20 years later when one of the survivors writes a book about the events in the hopes of finally catching him. I liked having both perspectives represented, that of the victim(s) via chapters from her newly published book, and that of the serial killer as he reacts to chapters of her book. However, the ending felt semi-rushed, anti-climatic and predictable, hence the 4/5 rating.

What’s Up Next

Until tomorrow, Meryn


BOOK REVIEW ROUND UP // 6 MONTH UPDATE

Never in a hundred billion years did I think I’d read 30 books in 6 months. Or obsess over book recommendations and bookstagrams accounts. Or stalk Reese’s Book Club and Book of the Month’s Instagrams for their monthly picks. But here we are.

Like a lot of people, I found myself with more free time at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic with reduced work hours and a non-existent social life. While some people dove head first into making sourdough bread, building puzzles, and binging Tiger King (I’m guilty of that last one), I took to reading.

The book that started it all was Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, the September 2017 pick for Reese’s Book Club. This book was getting a lot of press and exposure at the start of quarantine as Hulu had just released their drama series adaptation, starring Reese Witherspoon herself alongside Kerry Washington.

Being the introspective type and someone who loves to analyze data and trends, I wanted to reflect on the 30 books I’ve read by awarding reading superlatives (for the works of fiction) and provide some numbers to understand the diversity of my 2020 hypothetical book shelf. Here we go!

Reading Superlatives

Favorite author: Riley Sager

Favorite book: Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

Least favorite book: Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Favorite character: Simon from The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Least favorite character: Emira of Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid or Marianne from Normal People by Sally Rooney

Most loved character: Alex Claremont-Diaz of Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Most hated character: Amber Patterson of The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine

Favorite relationship / parent-child: Roy Hamilton Jr. and Big Roy Hamilton in An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Favorite relationship / sibling: Simon and Klara Gold from The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Favorite relationship / friendship: Eleanor Oliphant and Raymond of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeymoon

Favorite relationship / romantic: Alex Claremont-Diaz and Prince Henry of Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Favorite setting: Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

Best imagery: The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister 

Best symbolism: Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

Favorite cultural references: The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo

Favorite redemption story: The Guest List by Lucy Foley

Favorite love story: Simon Gold and Robert of The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Funniest book: Alex Claremont-Diaz and Prince Henry of Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Saddest book: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Favorite book format: Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

Best twist: Lock Every Door by Riley Sager or The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

Worst twist: All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

Most overhyped: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Most underhyped: Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

I’ll be interested to see if any of these selections change by the end of 2020 – I plan to do a 2020 wrap up and reassign as needed!

Figures and trends

Non-fiction: 6

Fiction: 24

Crime, suspense, thrillers: 14

Contemporary: 4

Feminism: 1

Historical fiction: 3

Poetry: 1

Race: 4

Romance: 2

Physical books: 11

Electronic books: 18

Audiobooks: 2


Book of the Month purchases: 3

Reese’s Book Club selections: 10

To follow along my reading journey, you can find my Goodreads account here and my merynmade Instagram where I post about the books I’m reading here. Additional blogposts about my 2020 books and book reviews can be found under the category reading linked here.

Until tomorrow, Meryn