News: 2018 Pulitzer Prize Winners Announced!

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been in a Pulitzer-reading mood for the past couple of years. I’ve wanted to read things that were a little more outside of my comfort zone and learn something new, and the Pulitzer winners have been a great way to start. I’ve been reading a lot more literature and non-fiction than I did before, and I really appreciate the diversity of subject material in the non-fiction winners especially.

Every year in mid-April, the new year’s Pulitzer winners are announced, and this year, that happened today! I eagerly awaited the results and I wasn’t disappointed. Here’s what I think of this year’s winners for fiction and non-fiction and which ones I’m excited to read.

Fiction

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Less by Andrew Sean Greer

What it’s about: An almost-fifty failed novelist is invited to his ex-boyfriend’s wedding and winds up traveling abroad to get out of going. Described as a satire of the American abroad by the publisher.

What I think: This sounds entertaining and I’m interested in reading it, though I’d never heard of it before today. I bought the audiobook, which is pretty short and will make good listening for spring walks.

General Non-Fiction

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Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman, Jr.

What it’s about: The title pretty much describes this one, but it’s a former public defender’s look into race in the criminal justice system.

What I think: I can’t wait to read this one. I bought my copy and have plans to read it when I finish my current batch of books. So, I guess five years down the road? Ha. I hadn’t heard of this one, either, but it’s right up my alley and fits in with the sorts of things I’ve been interested in reading about lately.

Biography/Autobiography

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Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser

What it’s about: Laura Ingalls Wilder’s real life!

What I think: Um, yes! Absolutely planning to read this and bought a copy. I read the Little House on the Prairie books as a kid and loved them, and I’m very interested in learning more about her real life. Maybe this is one I can share with my little bookworm later on.

History

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The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea by Jack E. Davis

What it’s about: The history of the Gulf of Mexico!

What I think: This seems unusual and interesting. It’s absolutely not the sort of thing I would ever think to reach for, but that’s why I want to read it. I bought this one, too, and while I’m not sure exactly when I’ll get to it, I’m curious to learn more about the gulf and its history. There’s got to be a lot I don’t know to fill a whole book!


While I’d love to get to all of these this year, it seems highly unlikely, especially given that two are well over 600 pages. Pre-baby, it would be a piece of cake if I were interested in tackling them, but now? Now I’m lucky to get through a book a month most of the time, and non-fiction takes me longer. I’m hoping to get to two of them this year, Less and one of the non-fiction choices, and if I manage more, it’s a great bonus!

What do you think? Will you be picking any of them up?

 

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Review: When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger

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When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger

Rating: ✮✮✮

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Release Date: June 5, 2018

Review:

I’ve read most of Lauren Weisberger’s books, and I generally enjoy them. They’re light and fluffy, and they’re almost always super quick reads. They’re brain candy, the kind of books I need to read in the middle of more serious ones so I don’t go crazy. This one is no different, though it wasn’t entirely what I expected.

When Life Gives You Lululemons is a follow-up to Weisberger’s hit novel-turned-blockbuster The Devil Wears Prada. I loved the movie version and liked the book, as well, so when the publisher reached out and offered me the chance to review WLGYL, I was ecstatic. I haven’t even been reading much lately and I still got my act together to read and review it quickly.

The book follows Emily, Miranda’s former assistant, several years down the road. Emily, if you’ll recall, was sassy and absolutely obsessed with fashion. I expected that Emily when I started this book, and to be fair, she still has a little sass, though not as much as before. What we get here, though, is less sassy-fashion-forward Emily and more mid-30s-what-am-I-doing-with-my-life Emily, who’s considerably less fun. She’s married, she’s essentially a less-well-known version of Olivia Pope who keeps losing clients to someone also named Olivia.

Unsurprisingly, the book is told from multiple perspectives, including Emily, Karolina (model-turned-senator’s-wife) and Miriam (frumpyish attorney-turned-Greenwich-housewife), both of whom are moms and in the middle of their own issues. It had a totally different feel than I was expecting. Some of the book spent time poking fun at the uber-rich Greenwich housewives, while some dealt with handling a scandal. Miranda makes a cameo and we’re shown some of the less upstanding sides of some of the main characters.

That’s the book in a nutshell. It’s entertaining, but not spectacular. It’s more mature in some ways, with all of our main characters having families and less glamorous issues to deal with, but it’s also the same shallow sort of story you might expect, where sex and weight and haircuts are important issues. It’s not surprising; it’s just not all that exciting.

Would I recommend reading this? Sure, if you’re in the mood for a light summer read that doesn’t require much thought. It’s a quick read and entertaining enough. I wouldn’t go out of my way to seek it out, but if you’re a fan of Weisberger’s already, you’ll likely find this book to be exactly what you’d expect.

I rated this book three stars.

*ARC from Simon & Schuster via NetGalley

Review: Beartown by Fredrik Backman

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Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

Genre: Fiction

Review: 

Oh my goodness, this book. Absolutely loved it! But before I get into the full review, let me just say that my blogging hasn’t dropped off because I’ve forgotten to review things (mostly). It’s dropped off because I’ve barely been reading this year, thanks to my new addition. She’s just about seven months old now, and while she doesn’t share my love for complex characters and thought-out plots, let alone well-crafted writing, she does enjoy books! She loves turning the pages for herself and isn’t opposed to taking a little nibble just to make sure they really aren’t edible.

That said, now that I’ve finally been able to get to Fredrik Backman’s Beartown, I so wish that I’d gotten to it sooner. I’ve loved all of Backman’s books, and this is no exception.

Late one evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barreled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead and pulled the trigger. … This is the story of how we got there.” — Fredrik Backman, Beartown

And so begins one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Beartown is a hockey town. Its residents live and breathe hockey, from the youngest to the oldest, and that creates some issues for them. The whole town kind of feels like a TV high school where the football players skate by on their on-field talents and get away with pretty much everything, just on a bigger scale. But that also means that there’s a ton of drama (who ought to be the coach of this or that team? should we believe this kid’s word of that one’s simply because he’s a star? etc.), which certainly adds to the story.

But despite this book being set in a hockey town with a strong hockey element, that’s not what makes it so engrossing. There’s a non-hockey incident, one that I won’t spoil, that’s foreshadowed and hinted at until it happens. (As the publisher’s blurb says, there’s a “violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil” — and that’s all I’ll say about what happens.)

I’ll be honest — I hadn’t considered exactly what the violent act might be, and was making mental assumptions about it all the way through that turned out to be wrong.

As a hockey book, Beartown is good. The drama surrounding the junior team could have sustained the book, even without anything more. But the way Backman handled the “incident” was what really made me love this book. It wasn’t easy or glamorous or hopeful. It was realistic and shocking (but, sadly, not that shocking). It was, to put it simply, masterful.

The ensemble cast of characters significantly contributed to my love this book. I didn’t necessarily care about all of them at first, but by the end, it was really clear that all of their perspectives were valuable. I loved reading about the friendships and rivalries and family tragedies, the heartbreaks and the triumphs. I loved seeing the defining personality traits emerge from the teen characters over the course of the book, both good and bad.

The other thing about this book is that it’s timely. In 2017, when we’re questioning everything and finding out so many people aren’t who we thought they were, Beartown explores a similar idea. A girl accuses a boy of committing a violent act; a town reacts. The boy is a star hockey player, and the girl? Well, she’s just the girl accusing a beloved town athlete.

One of the quotes that really struck me was this:

Perhaps one day the man in the black jacket will think about this too: why he only wondered if it was Kevin or Amat who was telling the truth. Why Maya’s word wasn’t enough.

This kind of sentiment seems to define where we are as a society right now, and luckily, I think we’re starting to move in the right direction, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Beartown is a book about hockey, yes, but it’s also a book about community, family, friendships, and doing what’s right, even if that means suffering the consequences after. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a while, and I highly recommend it to anyone. Even if you think you wouldn’t like it because of the hockey plot elements, I urge you to give it a try anyway. You won’t be disappointed.

*ARC from Atria Books via NetGalley

 

Review: The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

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The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

Genre: Historical Romance

Review:

I’ve been reading historical romance novels since I was maybe eleven years old, thanks to receiving some hand-me-downs from a thoughtful elderly neighbor. I’ve gone back and forth between loving them and being bored with them, and it seems like lately I’ve started to swing back to enjoying them, especially when I find books written by authors who write strong characters.

What I loved about The Duchess Deal was that it had an actual romance, not just a relationship based on looks. The hero, the Duke of Ashbury (or Ash), was disfigured in the war, and he doesn’t have the best personality either. The heroine, Emma, meanwhile, is pretty enough, but that’s not what most attracts Ash. Rather, he likes her personality and that she’s strong.

There is, of course, a marriage of convenience (that’s the “deal” part) and there are misunderstandings along the way before our HEA. There are also some interesting and entertaining side characters, but the heroine was really what kept me reading.

Emma, disowned by her father when she was just seventeen, has been supporting herself and living her own life for years, and she doesn’t lose her independent streak when she accepts the duke’s deal. I’m not sure how realistic that is (either before or after her marriage), but it’s the sort of character I enjoy reading about. She’s not swooning and claiming that she’s instantly in love at first sight, and she’s not boring, either. She’s everything a good heroine should be, and that’s what’s most important to me when reading historical romances.

Well, that, and a good hero, too, and the Duke of Ashbury doesn’t let us down, either. He won me over as soon as he noticed her for her personality more than her looks, something that rarely seems to happen in these sorts of books. More than that, underneath his gruff exterior, he’s genuinely kind (not that he’d like anyone to notice).

What didn’t so much work for me, though, was the interfering household staff, which definitely reminded me of the enchanted objects in Beauty and the Beast (possibly intentional? There were definitely other moments that hearkened back to BatB, too). I don’t think it’s appropriate for the era, even if it’s fun. While such a strong heroine may also be inappropriate, I’ll suspend my disbelief that far, especially because it’s possible, if not completely probable. A household staff who openly meddles with their employer, though, seems highly unlikely.

I gave this book four stars because I read it in one sitting and generally enjoyed it. It’s not full of insta-romance and it’s not as shallow as some of the others I’ve read, so I’d recommend it if you enjoy historical romances.

 

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Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

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The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

Genre: YA Sci-fi/Dystopia

Review:

I’m WAY behind on this book. I bought it in 2013, and it’s since been made into a movie, but I literally just got around to reading it. I have no idea how or why it took me so long to start it because it took me less than one day to read it from start to finish, and that was while taking breaks to take care of a baby. I could easily have read it years ago, but something stopped me, whether it was my changing reading moods or a feeling that I wouldn’t like it.

Regardless of why, I finally decided it was time (in part so I could watch the movie while it was available On Demand, though I only got two minutes in before deciding I didn’t really want to watch it after all). This is basically an alien invasion dystopia, in which aliens are killing off the human species in order to claim Earth for themselves. It sounds super science-fictiony, but when I was reading it, I felt like it didn’t focus on that as much as survival and humanity. In essence, what makes humans human? This is what I found so interesting about it.

I’ve super moved past my dystopian phase (and my young adult one, for the most part), but I did enjoy reading this. I liked that it didn’t just focus on the external situation, but that it did address the deeper questions: What makes humans human? What would it take for the aliens to win and destroy that humanity? How far can humans be pushed before they’ll lose the very essence of being human?

It’s hard not to see parallels between this alien invasion and terrorism (if we lose our values in fighting terrorism, have the terrorists won?), and that, for me, is what really made this book worth reading. I know it’s meant to be enjoyed on its face for what it is, and I did generally find it to be interesting, fast-paced, well-written, and creative, but the English major in me just wants to dissect it (which may just show how much I’ve missed school since graduating).

The characters as written were interesting, and I appreciated seeing how they thought when they were fighting not only for their lives, but for the survival of their species. A part of me would like to read the rest of the books in this series, but another part of me knows that if I bought them, it could very well be another four years before I got to them. Maybe someday.

That said, I would recommend this if you aren’t dystopiaed-out. It’s a quick read that I did enjoy, and while I’m not sure if I’ll read the rest of the books, it’s not because I don’t think they’d be good; it’s more that I’ve got so many other books to read that I’m looking forward to right now just a little more. I gave this book four stars.

Review: The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter

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The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

Genre: Thriller

Review:

Nothing keeps me reading like a good thriller, and The Good Daughter was, in all respects, a good thriller. I listened to the audio version (narrated by Kathleen Early) and had trouble turning it off to do anything else. I even listened during some meals. Everything about this story pulled me in and kept me interested, and it’s a definite favorite for the year.

The Good Daughter is about two crimes that happen twenty-eight years apart in small-town Georgia, and two sisters caught up in the fallout from them. A horrific murder witnessed by two teenaged girls, Charlie and Samantha, changes their lives forever, and when Charlie witnesses another crime twenty-eight years later, the trauma resurfaces. Secrets and lies keep the story moving just as much as the crimes themselves, and it’s almost impossible not to keep reading.

I loved the concept of this book. So many books deal with crimes and solving them, but this is more about seeing how those crimes affect the people who witnessed them and were impacted by them (though there is a good dose of legal thriller thrown in for the second crime). Charlie and Sam were never the same after their family was attacked, and we learn more and more about them as the book goes on. Slaughter leads us to think one set of facts are true, and then later throws in another detail that adds more to the narrative. I loved this style, loved that I couldn’t trust that I knew the whole truth about anything up to the end. It’s one of the things that made what could have been a more literary story thrilling. The slow unveiling of the truth piece by piece made me question whether I ever really knew anything at all.

I know I’m being vague about the plot, but I don’t want to say too much about it — spoilers are the absolute worst for thrillers especially, and it would be SO easy to completely ruin the story. Suffice it to say that it’s very character driven, and it’s fast paced. It will draw you in and keep you hooked right through the very end.

So, why only four stars, then? Well, I felt like I had been led to expect a legal thriller by about halfway through the book, and then that part of the plot took a backseat to everything else and didn’t go quite the way I’d hoped and expected. Don’t get me wrong, it was still exactly what the book needed it to be, but it didn’t meet my expectations, so I knocked off a star for the mild disappointment. Still, I loved this book and would highly recommend it if you enjoy thrillers.

I’m back (hopefully!)

Babies are a lot of work. Sure, that sounds obvious to most people, but until you’re actually responsible for another human 24/7, it’s hard to understand just how much work. It’s the kind of work that’s fulfilling, sure, but it’s also completely draining and at times takes more energy than I even knew I had.

Does that mean I haven’t been reading? Of course not! I haven’t been reading as much as before, obviously, because I now have a little baby girl who is dependent on me for even the most basic things, many of which require my full attention and both hands, but I have been reading.

So why haven’t there been any reviews? Um, did you miss the part about babies being completely draining? At the end of the day, when I have a few minutes to myself (which is thankfully happening more now that we’ve got Baby Bookworm on a schedule with a bedtime), I usually spend those minutes mindlessly scrolling through Facebook posts before going to sleep early.

I do miss blogging and reviewing, though, and I’m hoping to be able to make more time to get my reviews up. I’m only managing to read 4-6 books a month, so they won’t be as frequent as before, but I’ll post as I finish.

So, what have I been reading? Well, honestly, there’s been a lot of slow progress on several nonfiction Pulitzer winners (An Army at Dawn, Washington: A Life, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II, and The Return: Fathers, Sons, and the Land in Between), but I’m also throwing in some fiction reads as well. Currently, I’m in the middle of The Stroke of ThirteenHomegoingBeartown, and Anything is Possible. I’ve also just finished The Good Daughter and The 5th Wave and will be posting those reviews shortly. I have also, of course, been reading a TON of children’s books. I don’t have any real plans to review them, but I will say that Bunnies for Tea and Ellie are definitely new favorites (among others).

I’ve got several NetGalley reviews to catch up on as well as many, many, oh so many books I’ve bought. I’ll read as much as I can, as always, and post my thoughts when I can.