Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

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Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

Genre: Science Fiction Thriller

Review:

This book is weird. In trying to explain it to my husband, I had trouble really even pinpointing a good description, especially without too many spoilers. It’s basically a sci-fi thriller revolving around the concept of the multiverse and dark matter: what if every possible outcome happened, just in a different facet of time?

Dark Matter is a well-written thriller, but its setting and some of the details are what really got me. I’m not sure I can say I loved this book or really, that I liked it, even. Many times I found myself stopping and thinking, “wait, what?” This got worse as time went on, but even when I felt like I was pulled out of the story because of something crazy, it still made sense for the world Blake Crouch created. It was weird, but done very well. It’s hard to pull off this kind of concept and I’m still not sure how I feel about it, but I admire Crouch’s ability both to imagine it and to write it well.

I’m trying not to include any spoilers because spoilers will really ruin some of the suspense and excitement, especially in a book like this. So, what can I really say? It’s a thriller in which a man is stolen away from his family and his life, and he fights like hell to get back to them. That’s the best description I can give without spoilers. There’s a weird sci-fi element to the story (or, at least, weird to me — I’m not a big reader of sci-fi) and the idea of the multiverse plays a big role.

So, who should read this book? Well, that’s a tough one. If you like thrillers and don’t mind some sci-fi, this is a great book for you. Even if you don’t love sci-fi, you might love this book — I’ve read a ton of glowing reviews from people who don’t normally touch this genre. It’s super quick (or it was for me, anyway — I finished in just a few hours) and really interesting. I liked the suspense and wasn’t sure how it would end. The ending was somewhat satisfying for me, and I didn’t guess at the outcome.

I decided to give this book four stars. I’m really still not sure how I feel about it in many ways, but I think it was done really well and is one of those books that will stick with me, even after I move on to the next one.

 

Hello, April!

It seems like March flew by, and I didn’t get as much reading done as I’d hoped between traveling and preparing for the baby. I didn’t even touch Ulysses (though that’s not a huge surprise, since I’ve been planning to read it for so long) or any Pulitzer winners besides An Army At Dawn. I did finish and review four ARCs, three from NetGalley, so I’m doing a little better on that front at least.

This month is my last month without a baby competing for attention, so I’m really hopeful that I’ll get some good reading time in. My official goal for each month is to read five books, but for April, I do have a few that I’m hoping to read in particular.

First, I’d love to finish An Army At Dawn. It’s really interesting and written very well, and even though it’s hard to power through denser non-fiction (especially about wars), I’m pretty sure I could manage this in the course of the next month.

Aside from that, I’m hoping to get several NetGalley reviews posted. In particular, I have plans to finish The German Girl (way overdue on this one!), The Bone WitchAnything is PossibleBeartownMaking WavesMurphy’s Law, and The Secret Room. These are, for the most part, quicker reads, so I think I can manage all of them. I  have several more I’d love to get through as well, but my focus is primarily on books coming out in April — and there are a lot of them!

I’d love to finish two books I’ve gotten from Penguin’s First to Read program, too — The Space Between the Stars and Flame in the Mist, but since those don’t come out until a little later, I’m only planning to work them in if I have time.

I’ve got a few other books I’d like to read, too, but I may or may not post reviews for them. My biggest hope is to get through all of my outstanding NetGalley ARCs before the baby comes, though I know that’ll be a tough challenge. Besides reading, I’ll be continuing to work on my Bullet Journal, starting a gratitude log and possibly a morning writing journal, and generally spring cleaning my house (I wasn’t lying when I said reading Marie Kondo’s book inspired me to get this place in shape!).

What are your plans for April, reading or otherwise? What books are coming out soon that you’re looking forward to? Are you as happy as I am that it’s finally spring and we might (fingers crossed) be done with the snow?

Pre-Release Review: The Thing About Love by Julie James

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Rating: ✮✮✮✮

Genre: Romance

Release Date: April 18, 2017

Review:

I’ve really enjoyed all of Julie James’s books and this was no exception. I was thrilled to get access to an early copy because a well-written romance was just what I needed to break up my other reading, and I can’t recommend this book enough.

In The Thing About Love, FBI agents John Shepherd and Jessica Harlow have to work undercover together despite having a somewhat rocky past. The tension between them is part of what makes this book such a great read. It’s not a traditional romance in the sense that the characters are immediately thrown into a romantic situation by the author. Rather, time is spent developing their history and working on the case they’ve been assigned, and when the romance does come, it feels natural. Nothing in this book felt forced, which is so important in a contemporary romance.

I think what was most important for me was that the characters are believable. Granted, I’m not an FBI special agent and I’ve never done undercover work, but I believed that these characters did, and I believed that they could be a realistic representation of FBI agents. They don’t have crazy names or billions of dollars, but they do have friends and families and struggles, hopes and dreams and disappointments. They’re well-rounded and human, and I love that about them.

I don’t think I can point to anything I didn’t like about this book. I literally had trouble putting it down, and only physical exhaustion made me do it. I gave it four stars because I really loved it, but I hesitate to classify it as a favorite. While it was a great read, in the end, it’s still unlikely to stick with me for a long time because it’s meant to be a light book. What will stick with me, though, is my love of Julie James and all the books she writes.

*ARC from Penguin First to Read

Review: If Not For You by Debbie Macomber

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If Not For You by Debbie Macomber

Rating: ✮✮✮

Genre: Romance

Review:

Earlier this week, Debbie Macomber released her newest novel, If Not For You. I’ve enjoyed the lightness of some of her books before and in the middle of trying to read heavier literature and An Army at Dawn (a Pulitzer non-fiction winner about World War II), I thought this would be the perfect time to read a lighter romance.

I was a little disappointed that this wasn’t exactly light, though. It wasn’t a steamy romance, of course, but because of a car accident, most of the book takes place in a hospital or rehab center. This isn’t exactly an exciting setting or a great location for a romance, and it wasn’t my favorite aspect of the book.

I did like the characters to a point, though I thought they were both a little too extreme. Beth, the Bible-reading good girl who just has to defy her parents (because for some reason, at age 25, she still needs their permission to live her life?), is too unrealistic to me. Sam, the rough-around-the-edges mechanic who (of course) sweeps her off her feet, despite (or perhaps because of) his unsuitability in Beth’s mother’s plans, has too many issues that pop up that just aren’t necessary. Between the two of them, I thought they created problems where there weren’t any.

Besides this, I didn’t really get the sense that they belonged together. I liked that Sam was attentive and kind, but I didn’t see why they were so hooked on each other. The romance element was lacking for me, or at least, the escapist romance was. I could see how these two might have fallen in love in real life based on their situation, but for a book, it was a little lackluster.

I didn’t not like it, though. It was a quick read and I liked seeing Beth’s growth over time, though she did make a lot of dumb repeat mistakes. I ended up giving this three stars because I didn’t love it, but I didn’t dislike it, either. It didn’t work as much for what I was looking for, but it might be someone else’s cup of tea.

*ARC from Ballantine Books via NetGalley

Review: Spark Joy by Marie Kondo

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Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

Genre: Self-Help

Review:

Normally, I don’t really read self-help type books, and I’d rather actually clean my house than read a book about cleaning my house. Still, when I read Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up in 2015, I was inspired to clean more, tidy more, and actually throw away things I wasn’t using. To be clear, I have not under any possible interpretation followed Kondo’s exact methods, and I never followed through on a lot of the organizing I meant to do because other things just came up, and then I forgot. Still, as someone who frequently feels guilty throwing away or donating items for various reasons, I found her method enlightening, and it’s really helped me. I’ve donated many boxes of clothing and household items that I otherwise would have kept around just in case, not to mention furniture, and I also threw away things I obviously didn’t need. I even used some of her philosophy to help when finally cleaning out my childhood bedroom last summer.

When I got a copy of Spark Joy in a PopSugar mystery box last year, I wasn’t exactly thrilled. I had already read Kondo’s book, and I thought I didn’t need a refresher. I pretty much knew what to do: keep only things that bring you joy, and get rid of the rest, and organize by category rather than by room (which, for most of us, is easier said than done). This week, though, after coming down with a nasty stomach bug (sorry) and not wanting to read anything I had to focus on too much, I picked it up and decided to give it a go. I’m glad I did, and I have plans to give/lend this book to others to help in their organizing.

What I liked about this book was that it did serve as a good refresher, but more importantly, it’s illustrated, which is particularly helpful when it comes to folding clothes. I hate folding my clothes, and while I do it, it’s usually fairly haphazard and not neat and tidy at all. I’m hopeful that Kondo’s folding techniques will save me space in my dresser and inspire me to generally be tidier about my clothes storage. The other pictures are cute, but less helpful.

She recommends reading her primary work first, but I’m honestly not sure it’s necessary. Yes, there were a lot of inspirational stories about people’s lives being changed through organizing and tidying, but there was also a lot of the spiritual stuff that turned people off. This book goes through the method itself and gives tips on how to accomplish tidying each category without as much of the silly stuff. (Although, I will admit, the silly stuff is one of the things that makes this work for me. It may seem weird to most people to thank your possessions before getting rid of them, but for me and people like me who feel guilty discarding gifts or items we paid a not-insignificant amount of money for, I think it’s helpful.)

I’m inspired to get back to tidying now, and while I almost certainly won’t follow all of her suggestions, I’ll be using many of her ideas to help keep my house tidy and my possessions in check. I’m already eager to start discarding clothing items I’ve only kept around out of guilt that I spent money on them (like the dozen pairs of almost identical skinny jeans I never wear) and things I just flat out don’t need (two dozen pairs of older socks I don’t wear because I bought newer, better ones). I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to at least get through my clothing and paper items before moving on to other projects, and that by the end, I’ll feel good about what I’ve kept and what I haven’t.

If you have any organizing or tidying ambitions, I do recommend reading this. It’s got helpful ideas, and even if you don’t take all of her suggestions and follow her technique to the letter, I think it will inspire you to get started on your “organizing festival.” Plus, it’s just in time for spring cleaning, and who couldn’t stand to toss out at least a few things? I gave this book four stars for its useful tips and for inspiring me to do better.

Review: A Lady’s Code of Misconduct by Meredith Duran

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A Lady’s Code of Misconduct by Meredith Duran

Rating: ✮✮✮

Genre: Historical Romance

Review:

A Lady’s Code of Misconduct is the fifth book in Meredith Duran’s “Rules for the Reckless” series, though you don’t need to read the whole series to enjoy each book. The basic premise is that an heiress, Jane, is being kept cloistered at her uncle’s home in the countryside so he can make free use of her fortune with no worries about her getting married (to anyone besides his son, that is). Ruthless MP Crispin Burke, a friend of her uncle’s and generally unlikable guy, tries to help her out of her predicament, but soon ends up being attacked and losing five years of his memories. Jane’s and Crispin’s relationship develops from there in an unorthodox way, and they do, of course, live happily ever after. It is, after all, a romance.

Overall, I liked this book. I liked the characters’ initial dislike of each other and that even early on Crispin showed signs of being a decent human underneath it all. Still, I didn’t like how completely his personality changed while he had amnesia. I didn’t like that Jane lied to him for so long, even when there were obvious opportunities to come clean. I also really didn’t like the ending. The castle was a weird thing that just wasn’t believable (and if this was based on something real, my apologies to the author).

I would have preferred to see more interactions between Jane and Crispin before he was attacked, but I can see why that wasn’t the author’s focus. I thought their relationship developed nicely and at a reasonable pace, though I didn’t like that both characters treated Crispin as two different people (before amnesia and now). It was a little strange and I’m not sure it was all that necessary.

Despite its shortcomings, though, I’d recommend this if you enjoy light historical romances. I’ve enjoyed reading Meredith Duran’s novels, even if they do have some shortcomings for me. They’re a great break between heavier reads and this book in particular had enough in it (both romance and subplot) to keep me interested. I gave it three stars.

*ARC from Pocket Books via NetGalley

Review: Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

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Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Rating: ✮✮✮

Genre: Literary Fiction

Review:

Behold the Dreamers is the story of Jende and Neni, two Cameroonian immigrants trying to make their way in New York City with their children in the months and years just before and after the 2008 financial crisis. I’m so glad I had the chance to read this. I really feel that it opened my eyes to some of the struggles immigrants face in trying to remain in the country legally and in trying to make better lives for themselves. That said, I did think it focused a little less on the immigration narrative and the financial crisis than I’d hoped, so I’m giving this book three stars (though I do recommend giving it a read).

Jende is an interesting character. He came to America for a better life, and he’s thrilled when he lands a job as a chauffeur for a Lehman Bros. executive, Clark Edwards, and his family. He’s making better money and there’s some level of stability, which allows him to provide for his wife, Neni, and his son, Liomi. He always seems cheerful with this job and is unfailingly loyal to his employer, but there was just something missing for me in his character. Even with his immigration struggles, I just thought he could have fought harder or found a better way to handle things than he did. Plus, by the end, I strongly disliked him and the way he treated his wife, though some of this may be a cultural issue. I don’t like overbearing men generally and hated the way what Neni wanted always seemed to be ignored.

I’d also hoped that, even though this was a story about Jende and Neni, we’d get more of a glimpse into the crisis on Wall Street, and while we do get a little of that, it isn’t much. There was much more of a focus on marriage and interpersonal drama than on either the immigration narrative or the financial crisis. In a way, this probably makes sense, because immigrants have the same concerns as everyone else, but for some reason, I just expected more.

I liked Neni for most of the book, but after she takes some extreme actions to keep her family afloat, I had trouble sympathizing with her, though I was still outraged on her behalf when Jende mistreated her or told her what to do. I wish Neni had made different choices, but again, she might have been constrained by the cultural norms that were so ingrained in her. It’s hard for me to understand this, as I could never stand by and let someone else make huge decisions about my life, but I think it was consistent behavior for her character, for the most part.

Overall, I did enjoy this book, though I felt there was something missing for me. It went quickly and I always wanted to see how things would work out for Jende and Neni (as well as the Edwardses, who definitely had their own share of problems). I gave it three stars because of some unmet expectations, but I do recommend this book. I think it helps give a little insight into the immigration situation for those of us who don’t really have experience with it, and it’s also a good reminder of how alike we all are at a basic level, despite all of our outward differences.

*ARC from Random House via NetGalley