Review: The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

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The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

Genre: Thriller

Review:

I’ve wanted to read this new thriller from Ruth Ware since it was first announced. The idea of a murder being committed on a cruise ship is so interesting, and even more so because the main character, Lo, witnesses it. We’re left to question everything she says, and everything everyone else says, not sure who or what to believe. Was there actually a murder, or was this a hallucination from an unreliable narrator who’s had a little too much to drink and not enough sleep? These questions persist right up through the end, and I really enjoyed trying to get to the bottom of what was true and what actually happened.

Thrillers are frequently a little disappointing to me, especially if they’re targeted at people who liked other books (this one wasn’t). Luckily, I didn’t have anything to be disappointed with here. It wasn’t particularly fast-paced, but that didn’t matter. There were enough questions to keep me reading. I didn’t figure out on my own what happened, and there were enough possible answers to speculate on theories. None of my theories turned out to be right, but that’s almost what you hope for when reading a thriller (or, at least, I do).

Lo isn’t a particularly compelling character, and as more comes out through the book, it’s not easy to trust her perception of things. There were some things that she did that struck me as being unnecessary (her treatment of Judah, for one) and some things about her that seemed a little like they were thrown in just to make her seem even less trustworthy. I won’t mention what those are because it could spoil the book.

The other characters (and there are several) all seemed fairly decent and like they could all potentially be guilty of the murder Lo claims happened, but we don’t learn a ton about them. This isn’t a huge problem because of the style of the book, though it was a little weird that so many people with strong personalities and motives for murder might be on the same luxury cruise.

I think Ware did a good job of creating suspense and red herrings throughout the book, and I think I enjoyed it more than In a Dark, Dark Wood (though I did like that, too). I’m not sure I’d list her as a favorite author, but I definitely look forward to reading more from her in the future (and according to Goodreads, she’s got a new book coming this summer).

I’d recommend this if you enjoy thrillers and/or unreliable narrators. It’s quick and it’s good, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I gave it four stars.

Currently Reading….

I’ve been slow at posting reviews lately, but that’s in part because I’m reading a lot of different books rather than focusing on one at a time. I’m going to try to buckle down and finish more books, but for now, here’s a list of what I’m currently reading.


518k3i-ncil-_sx324_bo1204203200_ My current audiobook, Anna Kendrick’s Scrappy Little Nobody, which I haven’t made a ton of progress on, but which I hope to get through in the next week or two. I’ve liked Kendrick in movies and am looking forward to hearing more about her.

51o1si8z4sl This is what I’m most focused on right now. I still haven’t seen the movie, but I always prefer reading the book first, anyway, even though I suspect the two are quite different in this case (unless the movie spends a lot of time giving biographical background on the characters).

51zuqtlftdl I’ve been slowly making my way through Ron Chernow’s Washington: A Life since early fall, and while I enjoy reading it, I never make it through more than a chapter in one sitting. I’m hoping to change that once I finish my other non-fiction reads, as I do have many, many other books to read and I hate leaving something unfinished.

cover86179-medium This is a NetGalley read that I’m super behind on (though, to be fair, I did get approved for it after the publication date to begin with). It’s about Cameroonian immigrants in New York right around the time of the 2008 financial crisis, and I’ve been looking forward to it for so long. I’m making slow progress on it, in part because I’ve been incredibly busy with life lately and in part because, even though it’s easy to switch between books in my Kindle app, I just never do. I’m hoping to finish this one very soon, though, and I’ll let you know how it is!

51abemwqtzl One of my goals for this year is to catch up on all the Shakespeare I’ve never read (so mostly comedies and romances, with a few of the histories and tragedies thrown in). I’ve been working on Twelfth Night for a while even though it’s a quick play to get through because I’ve just been ignoring it. Hopefully I’ll finish soon (though it’s unlikely I’ll post a review, because what can I add to the discussion about Shakespeare in a short blog post?).


Even with all of these in progress, I think there’s a good chance I’ll end up starting something else (I just got an early copy of Julie James’s The Thing About Love, plus I have a few NetGalley books that are being released this month I’d love to get to sooner rather than later). One of these days, maybe I’ll manage to focus on just one book at a time. Until then, I’ll keep enjoying the variety and focus on enjoying myself while I read, rather than rushing through just to get reviews posted more quickly. Thanks for sticking with me!

 

Hello, March!

I know February is a short month, but I still can’t believe it’s already over! I got a lot of great reading done in February and I was so excited to accomplish some of my big reading goals for the year! Last month, I finished three Pulitzer winners (two fiction, one history) and made good progress toward my overall reading goal of finishing sixty books by the end of the year.

Now that it’s March, though, it’s time for some new goals. I’d love to get through ten books, especially since I’m trying to front load my reading for the year. I’m not sure how much reading I can count on doing after the baby is born, so I want to make sure I’ve made good progress before then.

I know March is Women’s History Month, but since most of the books I read are by and about women anyway, I’m not planning on dedicating any special time or reading to that theme. If an interesting book with feminist themes comes my way, I’ll gladly read it, but for the most part, I feel that I do give plenty of attention to women in ways that I don’t always give attention to non-white authors or subjects (completely unintentionally in both respects). March is also (according to Wikipedia) National Reading Month and Irish-American Heritage Month, so I think I’m covered with my reading plans and themes.

Specifically, I’d love to read three more Pulitzer winners (although this is extremely ambitious). My current focus books are An Army At Dawn (History, 2003), which I’ll be reading (or at least starting) with my Goodreads non-fiction Pulitzer group; A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain (Fiction, 1993), which is a collection of related short stories; and A Visit from the Goon Squad (Fiction, 2011), which I was really supposed to have read for a recommendation exchange last summer. I have high hopes for reading these three, though I’m not sure I’ll definitely make it through.

Besides these, my biggest goal is to finally, finally, read Ulysses. I started reading it for class in my sophomore year of college and couldn’t bring myself to finish it. It’s been sitting on my bookshelf collecting dust ever since, and every year for the past eight years or so I’ve told myself I’m going to get to it. Now, I’m saying in public for all to see that I’m determined to do it this month, no matter how painful it might be (and since I’ve never liked Joyce very much, I do expect it to be painful).

Besides this, I’m planning to continue catching up on my NetGalley reviews and have plans to post at least four reviews from these books (and probably a few more). I’ll likely also finish the audiobook of Crooked Kingdom, which I’ve been listening to with my husband since December. We don’t have too much left and I’m pretty sure that soon, we’ll be done.

That’s it for me! Have you set any goals for reading for the month or year? I’d love to hear about them!

Review: A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

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A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

Rating: ✮✮✮

Genre: Literary Fiction

Review:

In my continuing quest to read the Pulitzer winners, I picked up Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres, the Fiction winner for 1992. It’s set in Iowa, but it’s modeled on Shakespeare’s King Lear. This definitely comes through when reading, but the tragedy that worked for Shakespeare (and was over the top even then) is a little overwhelming in a modern setting, and there were many plot elements in the second half especially that really just made me take a step back to say, “Wait, what?” For those reasons, I gave it three stars.

Essentially, this is a book about a family struggling over changing times and what to do with the family farm as Larry, the Cook family patriarch, gets older. This results in a power struggle, infighting, and feuds that are utterly predictable if you know King Lear, but they make sense all the same. It’s perfectly believable that there might be some problems that arise when you’ve got three daughters (and their spouses) all vying for an interest and control of the farm they consider theirs.

We’re shown this feud and the whole world of the book through Ginny’s eyes (Ginny, of course, being based on Shakespeare’s Goneril). At first, she’s easy to sympathize with: she’s certainly experienced tragedy and has had by all accounts a fairly mediocre life. She eventually becomes a little too unpredictable, though, and seems to be losing control of herself, which isn’t exactly enjoyable to read.

This book has sibling rivalry and feuding, marital issues, sexual assault (if you’re triggered by the idea of parent-child sex assault, this won’t be the book for you), death, mental illness, and judgey neighbors. It really has everything you need to create a complete mess of problems for the characters. My problem, though, is that there was a little too much mess. I think the issue of sex assault came completely out of nowhere and it didn’t make sense to me. I don’t think this book needed it for any reason and I think it would have been a more effective story without it.

That said, the writing was good and the story does draw you in, moreso if you’re a fan of Shakespeare and/or you’ve read King Lear. I’d recommend giving the play a read before this book for sure; it makes the elements of tragedy and the characters’ sometimes bizarre-seeming actions make more sense, and it makes the whole story more meaningful.

As far as whether I’d recommend it, I’m not sure. If you’re into retellings, and you have a high tolerance for gratuitous tragedy, it’s an interesting read. It’s a relatively quick read, too, especially for a Pulitzer winner. I don’t regret reading it, and if you’re a fan of literary fiction, retellings, or feuding families on farms, give it a try!

Review: Gilded Cage by Vic James

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Gilded Cage by Vic James

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

Genre: YA Fantasy/Dystopian

Review:

It’s been a while since I’ve read and really enjoyed a young adult dystopian novel, in part because they all feel the same. There are so many repeated themes that I get bored with them quickly. When I saw the synopsis for Vic James’s Gilded Cage, though, I started to hope that it would be different from the rest, and luckily, it didn’t let me down.

In Gilded Cage, James creates a world in which the Equals (not equal, just skilled with some kind of magic) run everything, and everyone else is required to complete ten years of slave labor. The concept for this world is interesting and unique, and I enjoyed learning about it and seeing how the characters navigated this place with all its complexities.

The book jumps around to different characters’ points of view, and I did enjoy this. It made me keep reading to get to the next part of a particular person’s story. I liked how everything eventually intersected, bringing the characters together despite their seemingly different paths earlier on. I also enjoyed that the characters weren’t black and white; even the people who are seemingly the bad guys have some redeeming qualities (most of the time) and it was hard to predict exactly what they were going to do.

I really liked the Jardine characters. I felt that they were supposed to be villains, but they were also fairly well-rounded. I enjoyed seeing how they would respond to the situations they were in and how they created their own fates by manipulating the people around them. I didn’t love the Hadleys, especially the parents. How can you just make a decision to have your children be slaves for ten years at young ages without even talking to them about it? Still, I did like seeing how Daisy and Abi adjusted to their new lives, even if I didn’t love the choices they made.

What I really didn’t like was the author’s treatment of Luke. It seemed like he was just a pawn to move things along. How do we make things worse for the heroes? Hurt Luke, of course! From the beginning to the end, I felt that he was the character with the least amount of agency, and that bothered me. Even his ten-year-old sister Daisy managed to be able to make decisions that moved the plot forward without something just happening to her. But Luke? Nope. He has to be the target of every bad twist of fate. It bugged me that these things just kept happening to him. It didn’t seem like he was really able to make any choices for himself, except maybe for a little bit at Millmoor (the slavetown he’s sent to). I really wish that he’d been more in control of his own life.

Overall, though, I did really enjoy reading this! I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly it went, and I honestly didn’t put it down from start to finish. I look forward to reading more from this author and the next book in the series. I gave it four stars.

*ARC from Del Rey via NetGalley

Review: Always by Sarah Jio

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Always by Sarah Jio

Rating:

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Review:

I’ve read and enjoyed several books by Sarah Jio before, so I was excited when I saw she was releasing a book this month. Her books are always fairly light and quick, and they’re great after reading heavier things as a way to relax a little. That said, I didn’t find this as enjoyable as I’d hoped, and I ended up giving it three stars.

Always is the story of Kailey Crane and Cade McAllister, sort of. It switches between their time together in the 90s and her life today, where she’s engaged to a man named Ryan and where Cade, it turns out, is homeless and can’t remember who he is. This seems like an interesting plot element, and it is, but it’s not as exciting as you’d hope. I think this is in part because we get bogged down with Cade and Kailey’s unnecessary backstory.

Throughout the book, I sort of skimmed through the sections that happened in the past. Normally, in a split timeframe book, those parts are my favorite, as I love seeing how the past and present intersect. In this book, though, I found the sections in the past to be boring. It would have been just as easy to insert a paragraph talking about how they were in a relationship, and then Cade had some kind of breakdown and disappeared. It just didn’t add much to the book to continue switching between the past and the much more interesting present.

I really enjoyed the parts of the book set more recently. I liked seeing that Kailey stuck to her values and beliefs to help Cade, regardless of how it might affect her relationship with Ryan. I liked the suspense of wondering whether Cade would regain his memory, and if so, would we ever find out what caused his memory loss to begin with. These bits were interesting and enjoyable, and they reminded me why I liked Sarah Jio in the first place. I just wish she’d stuck with the more compelling story and ignored the parts that didn’t matter.

Always is a light, quick read, and I did enjoy it, even with its faults. If you’re looking for something like this, go ahead and give it a try, and don’t feel too bad if you skim through the less exciting parts. If that would seriously detract from your enjoyment, though, I’d skip this one. I gave it three stars.

*ARC from Ballantine Books via NetGalley

 

Review: Parting the Waters by Taylor Branch

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Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954–63 by Taylor Branch

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

Genre: History

Review:

After six long months of slow progress, I finally finished the first installment in Taylor Branch’s “America in the King Years” trilogy, Parting the Waters. I’m so glad I buckled down and finally got through it because it was a truly eye-opening book and I learned a lot. If you’re worried that my rating is based solely on that, don’t! It’s also extremely well-written and hard to want to put down, though at points your brain (and, if you’ve bought the physical version, your hands/arms) will probably need a break.

This last bit is probably the reason it took six months to get through for me (plus the pregnancy fatigue). I (perhaps stupidly) bought the paperback, which is massive and extremely heavy. I still have residual wrist pain from reading it, and because of this, I highly recommend trying an e-book version instead, though I can’t comment on the formatting of the e-book. Regardless, your wrists will thank you for not trying to tough out the 900+ page tome in paper.

On to the content — this book covers Martin Luther King Jr.’s early career, up through the end of 1963 (just after the march on Washington and JFK’s assassination). It’s a lot of time to get through, but so much happens. We see Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Freedom Rides, Brown vs. Board of Education, various marches and sit-ins throughout Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama, and the march on Washington, including MLK’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. We get to see some of the behind-the-scenes conversations between civil rights leaders, activists, politicians, and attorneys, including both JFK and Robert Kennedy, who was the Attorney General at the time.

If you’re an American who attended a public school of average caliber (like me), you might not have learned much in depth about the Civil Rights Movement. I remember learning the names of some people, like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, but not much else. It’s all kind of fuzzy, and I think a few big events were definitely the focus every time Black History Month rolled around. Since then, I haven’t dedicated much of my educational time to learning about the CRM, since I mostly prefer reading about European and especially Russian history. Now, after reading this book, I’m eager to read book two in the trilogy to find out more about it. I don’t think I’d realized just how much I’d missed.

One of the reasons I really loved this book was that I felt that reading it made current events today seem much clearer and I could draw many, many parallels between today’s struggles and those of our not-too-distant past. It also emphasized to me the importance of what many people term “political correctness” and what I call “living in a civilized society where we don’t say absolutely ridiculous offensive things.” Some of the statements from southern whites at the time were outrageous, and none of them were ashamed to repeat them in public, no matter who was around. There’s a reason we evolved away from the behaviors and mores of the past, and we really shouldn’t glamorize a time when half of the country was literally not allowed to vote, or when they were put in jail for having been beaten or shot by a police officer (this really happened on multiple occasions). Nostalgia is a powerful thing, but when you look back at actual facts, it takes on a different light.

Another thing I loved about this book was that even though it’s sort of a book about Martin Luther King, it’s also a book about the lesser-known individuals involved in the Civil Rights Movement. There’s quite a lot of time dedicated to the brave people who volunteered to participate in marches or sit-ins or Freedom Rides, knowing they were probably going to be beaten and/or arrested, and that there was a possibility that they might be killed. So many people eagerly signed up for these risks because they were doing what they knew was right. Thanks to their bravery and perseverance, we no longer have segregation. No one is required to answer any qualifying questions to have the right to vote.

I’d like to say police officers can’t get away with hurting or killing innocent people, especially blacks, but unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case. We’ve also rolled back voting rights by implementing increasingly strict voter ID laws and by gerrymandering districts so that minorities’ votes don’t really count. This is all unfortunate and is a reminder that the battle for equality isn’t over yet. It’s easy to say we’re all equal because, on the books, we are. Legally, we all have the same rights. In effect, though, we’re not quite ready to call it “mission: accomplished.” There’s work to be done and after reading this book, I think it’s easier to see the unfortunate parallels that exist between problems now and problems then.

I know this is a lot about politics and current events, but I really feel strongly that this book helps to clarify these sorts of issues. It’s long, but it’s a great overview of the earlier part of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s in America. I highly recommend reading this book, and even though it’ll feel like you’ll never get through, I don’t think you’ll regret buckling down and finishing. I know I didn’t, sore wrists and all. I gave it five stars.