Friday, February 14, 2020

What I've Read Recently // January 2020

Summer of '69 by Elin Hilderbrand
From Goodreads:
Follow New York Times bestselling author Elin Hilderbrand back in time and join a Nantucket family as they experience the drama, intrigue, and upheaval of a 1960s summer.
What I thought: 7/10
There're a lot of storylines woven throughout this novel. I found it to be entertaining and engaging. If you're a fan of Hilderbrand already, you're going to love this book. While I would still categorize it as a "beach read" --it was meatier than most. I enjoyed the cultural touchpoints that were woven throughout the story: Women's Movement, Vietnam War, Chappaquiddick, the Moonwalk, Woodstock... While the characters were interesting --each of three sisters dealing with their own various problems (Blair: feeling sidelined from rewarding work to stay home and raise twins and suspecting her husband is having an affair; Kirby: reeling from a dark secret and trying to navigate an interracial relationship she knows her family would not approve of; and Jessie: struggling through puberty, heartbreak, and missing her brother who is fighting in Vietnam), a mother who blurs her desperation of missing her son with alcohol, and a grandmother who has a secret of her own... there was a lot in the pages but ultimately, I didn't really fall in love with any of them.

Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett
From Goodreads:
One morning, Jessa-Lynn Morton walks into the family taxidermy shop to find that her father has committed suicide, right there on one of the metal tables. Shocked and grieving, Jessa steps up to manage the failing business, while the rest of the Morton family crumbles.
What I thought: 6/10
This book was challenging. Despite its cheerful cover art, which I assumed suggested a fun and perhaps off-the-wall story --it was actually very dark. I found that I struggled to pick up and when I did, I was left feeling sad. I tried talking to friends about it the process of getting through the story and found that what kept be going is that I did end up caring about Jessa (main character) and really wanted her to climb out of her grief. I craved some happiness for her. Don't get me wrong, I didn't need rainbows and butterflies --but I definitely needed a little ray of sunshine to peek through the storm. This book is raw. It's uncomfortable. Ultimately, I'm glad I kept turning the pages. It's a good story that is told vividly and with an honesty that makes the reader squirm.

The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager
From Goodreads:
Two Truths and a Lie. The girls played it all the time in their tiny cabin at Camp Nightingale. The games ended when Emma sleepily watched [her cabin mates] sneak out of the cabin in the dead of night. The last she—or anyone—saw of them was Vivian closing the cabin door behind her, hushing Emma with a finger pressed to her lips.
What I thought: 4/10
I picked this book up because I enjoyed Sager's other work, Lock Every Door which I very much enjoyed and reviewed here. Unfortunately, The Last Time I Lied was not nearly as enjoyable. I thought the story was thin, the character's decisions were not all that plausible, and because the story felt so tedious to get through, the ultimate twist felt like a trick instead of a delightful shock.

The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia
From Goodreads:
From a beguiling voice in Mexican fiction comes an astonishing novel—her first to be translated into English—about a mysterious child with the power to change a family’s history in a country on the verge of revolution. Set against the backdrop of the Mexican Revolution and the devastating influenza of 1918, The Murmur of Bees captures both the fate of a country in flux and the destiny of one family that has put their love, faith, and future in the unbelievable. The Murmur of Bees is a heartfelt work of historical fiction with a touch of magic. 
What I thought: 8/10 (Listened on Audible)
As usual with Audible --now that I always preview the narration by listening to the sample, I very much enjoyed the story that these voices brought forth. The pacing of the reading was perfect with the way the story unfolded. I'm confident that reading Segovia's words from the page would also be an amazingly enjoyable experience --she writes with such beauty and richness. The Murmur of Bees is the story of a lifetime and the tale cannot be rushed. Simonopio found an easy entrance into my heart and I'm sure he will find his way into yours as well. However, if you need a "page-turner" or a lot of bold action, this is not that.

Money Rock: A Family's Story of Cocaine, Race, and Ambition in the New South by Pam Kelley
From Goodreads:
Money Rock is the gripping story—by turns action-packed, uplifting, and tragic—of a striving African American family, swept up and transformed by the 1980s cocaine epidemic. This epic account begins in 1963 when Belton Lamont Platt (who would come to be known as Money Rock) is born in a newly integrated North Carolina hospital to Carrie, an activist mother. It ends with Belton’s sons, three of whom die violently as teenagers, and one—his oldest—who’s trying to transcend a criminal past in a world where the odds are stacked against him.
What I thought: 7/10
This story is as much about Platt as it is about Charlotte. Calling Charlotte my home now, I was caught up in the unveiling of the historic decisions (social, racial, political, and economic) that created the affordable housing epidemic we now find ourselves in. While Charlotte has long considered itself to be a progressive city --its practices and policies have grown from segregation and the disenfranchisement of its citizens. Reading like a novel, Kelley is able to interweave the story of one man's journey from Boy Scouts and ROTC to drug kingpin and from incarceration to spiritual fulfillment. The book is a great blend of narration and fact that shines a light on the interconnectedness of generational poverty and incarceration.

Raising Financially Confident Kids by Mary Hunt
From Goodreads:
It's natural to want your kids to have a secure future. But when it comes to teaching the next generation how to handle money, parents are failing.
What I thought: 7/10
I bought this book after an enlightening conversation with a new friend who is also raising two kids, similarly aged to mine. She mentioned the "Salary Plan" and I had so many questions! Her family's plan was born from Hunt's main idea (enhanced by a couple other authors) and fleshed out over time as they began down this path. Here's what you need to know: Hunt's book is dated. Some of her core recommendations are no longer easily applied ("only ever pay for things with cash"). Overall, the book had too much why and not enough how --but I hope that doesn't dissuade you from picking up a copy. The premise is excellent and the main idea critical: We need to do a much better job educating, preparing, and helping our kids practice to become smart financial decision-makers. This book offers simple and good advice: Start giving your kids more financial responsibility and ownership so they can learn from mistakes while the consequences are small, they can experience the rewards of working-toward/saving-for important purchases, and understand that we shouldn't be providing for their every want or waiting on the sidelines to rescue them (with loans or handouts) at the drop of a hat. This would be an ideal read when your kids are 8-9 years old --but odds are it's not too late to start adopting some of these ideas now. The Jones Family will be implementing some version of the Salary Plan very soon. 

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