What a month this has been for reading! I have been a dedicated reader since the start of elementary school. Wherever I went, there was always a book in my head. One time my babysitter drove to the mall WITHOUT ME because I was always so quiet when I was reading my book that she thought I was already in the back of her car.
Since being at home all the time, I have been reading like crazy. Thank goodness for my local library’s curbside service! I have been able to put books on hold on the website and then pick them up from outside the library. So easy! Any fellow Richmonders: this is definitely an option if you need something to read.
I’ve been reviewing my current reads on my Instagram story, but I thought I would compile them here and write a more in-depth review of each book. There are books from several different genres here so hopefully everyone can find something they like!
*The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
This is a story of two sisters during the WWII period. One is a mother, reeling from the loss of her husband when he leaves for the front and desperate to protect her daughter, and the other is a rebellious teenager who becomes involved with the Resistance in an effort to fight for France from within.
This book is incredible. The author beautifully crafts a heartbreaking story with characters that develop over time and you can really get invested in. Kristin Hannah’s writing and language are to die for. I could not recommend this book enough. I will warn you that some of the story is sad and heavy so if you are looking for a mood-boosting book, this probably isn’t the one. Overall, though, you can’t go wrong with this one.
Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah
This book alternates between two timelines: one of two sisters trying to connect with their estranged mother and navigating obstacles in their loves lives, the other a story of a mother trying to save her children in a war-torn Leningrad.
I really enjoyed this one, though not as much as some of Kristin Hannah’s other work. It starts off slow, still enjoyable but no major plot development. About half-way through it starts to pick up and gets better. It is also around the half-way mark that the book starts to get very sad but the ending was hopeful and tied everything together nicely. I picked this book because it was supposed to be somewhat about WWII and I’ve been going through a historical fiction phase. It is a lot less of a WWII related plot than I expected, so if you are looking for historical fiction this probably isn’t the book for you. That being said, this isn’t the first book I would recommend but still a good option if you have the chance to read it.
The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman
Alternating between the perspectives of a 15 year-old girl and the daughter she was forced to give up for adoption, The Home for Unwanted Girls is about one girl’s journey through Quebec’s impoverished orphanage system and her mother’s quest to find her after many years.
I definitely liked this one, but it isn’t one of my favorites. The story was very compelling and sad at times. It exposes the cruelty in the Canadian orphanage system during the 1950s-60s (though it is fictionalized) which made me so incredibly sad. I think it is more heartbreaking to know that this story was based on real events but also an important piece of history to be aware of (in my opinion). The ending didn’t quite wrap the story up, it left more to be said but was optimistic. A good read if you are in the right mindset to handle some heavy topics.
*When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
This is a memoir about a young neurosurgeon who finds himself in the role of a patient when he is diagnosed with cancer. It follows him through the early years of his journey to becoming a doctor and then through his own medical care and treatments as he explores the critical question of “what makes life worth living?”
I loved everything about this book. I can’t recommend it enough. I honestly will probably be singing it’s praises for years to come. I first picked up this book because I, too, dream of becoming a neurosurgeon one day. But when I started to read I found that I had much more in common with the author. I have seen his reflections about mortality mirrored in my own thoughts. I connected so deeply to his words. I think everyone can benefit from this book.
Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
Similar to Kristin Hannah’s other work, this book examines the relationships between women. This story follows the friendship of two girls over nearly 30 years and the way they stay connected to each other even as their lives take different paths.
I have mixed feelings about this book because I have read some raving reviews about it and I really like the author’s other books but this one wasn’t my favorite. The beginning was very good but then in the middle the plot slowed down and it started dragging. The ending was very sad and beautifully written but it just felt disconnected from the rest of the book. I haven’t read the sequel so maybe that ties up some loose ends. I still enjoyed it, just not the first book I would recommend.
When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger
The story of a Hollywood image consultant helping a former supermodel recover and get custody of her son after being arrested and left by her senator husband.
Sounds crazy? It is. This book isn’t something I would usually go for but I LOVED it! It was so lighthearted and funny but with an endearing exploration of friendship. A very good read if you just need to get out of your head. One thing I will say is that there are several mentions of dieting/food restriction so if you think this could be triggering I would not recommend!
The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
A memoir about resilience that offers a look into a unique family. Jeanette Walls’ father was charismatic a brilliant, except when alcohol turned him destructive. Her mother was a free-spirit who rejected traditional domesticity. This is the story of how the Walls children learned to take care of themselves and support each other, eventually finding their way in New York.
I heard incredible things about this book so when I saw it was available at the library I eagerly jumped at the chance to read it. I am kind of conflicted about this book because I heard such raving reviews but I struggled to get into it. I can see what other people liked about it but maybe it just wasn’t right for me or maybe I need to revisit it when I can give it my full attention (during the time when I was working through this one I was also bombarded by school work). I definitely suggest checking this one out because of such good reviews and it is a New York Times best seller.
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
A thriller about a reporter from Chicago who returns to her hometown for an assignment investigating the murders of young girls where she has to face her neurotic mother who she hadn’t seen for years and the strange half-sister she barely knows. It is a story of the narrator unraveling her own past as she looks into the murders.
This is another book that is out of my comfort zone. I tend to lean towards historical/literary fiction and this was very much a psychological thriller. And it completely disturbed me. But at the same time I couldn’t put it down? The ending is such a twist and shocked me to my core a little bit. If you don’t mind some disturbing details in a good thrilling story, I’d say this is for you!
Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren
Childhood sweethearts reconnect after nearly a decade apart. Told in alternating timelines, this is the story of two kids falling in love and adults confronting what went wrong in their relationship in and effort to find their way back to each other.
This book was okay. It’s a very sweet love story that I found endearing and it’s a very easy read. However, I found the language too simple. I often find a book very off-putting if I can’t get into the writing. I also felt like this book wasn’t super realistic. The characters could be very dramatic in dialogue (not just their words, the way their faces and body language were described, as well), and it kind of annoyed me. Oops. I wouldn’t recommend this one but if you are in the mood for an easy love story this isn’t a bad option.
*The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall
This book follows two very different men who are jointly hired as ministers of a Presbyterian church through the beginning of their faith and ministry journey and what comes after when they start their own families.
This book is everything. I loved everything about it. I can’t even find the words to describe my love for it. First, it is beautifully written. The writing is just impeccable. Second, I worried that it would be geared toward a religious audience but I was wrong. It is about so much more and the exploration of faith is so well done. The author writes about religion in a way I felt that I could relate to. If you read anything on this list, read this!
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
A unique take on a love story set in the world of 1940s New York City theater. A older woman looks back on her youth in a letter and tells a tale of female sexuality, identity, and finding love in unexpected places.
I had high hopes for this book but it fell short. It was a fun and lighthearted story (mostly) that had more potential. The story was somewhat dry and dragged. There weren’t any major plot points until well into the book. It was also LONG. The parts that were dry were made drier by the fact that they were dragged out for several pages. I enjoyed the first half but then I struggled to get through it. This just never completely captured my attention because I feel like I was waiting for something more exciting to happen. It does have some very good reviews so don’t completely write it off!
Night Road by Kristin Hannah
A heartbreaking tale of friendship and love amid tragedy. When a girl moves from foster care to the house of her great aunt, she becomes instant best friends with a quiet girl from school who’s twin brother falls in love with her. But when tragedy strikes, the story details the journey of confronting loss and finding the courage to forgive.
If I could describe this book in one word it would be OUCH. It hurt my heart. I actually thought I would have to stop reading about halfway through because it got so sad. But I’m so glad I stuck with it because the ending was just perfect. I actually started copying down a few passages in a notebook because I just really connected to some of these words. I think you have to be in the right mindset to read this, but if you like Kristin Hannah’s writing you will definitely enjoy this!
*Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
A story of grief and young love as two teenagers find their way back to each other after several years. They both are dealing with conflict in their own lives, but reconnect through working in a bookshop and finding old letters stuck between pages of books.
I feel like anything I write about this book just won’t do it justice. It was incredible. The writing, the characters, the emotion conveyed through the story, just everything. Read this book.
*The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
A new virus is discovered a small town in California where the sick fall into a deep sleep and cannot be woken. Tests show that those affected are presenting the highest level of brain activity ever reported in a human. They are dreaming, but of what?
I really loved this one and I think what I love about it has nothing to do with the plot. I mentioned above that language can really draw me into a story and this is exactly the case with this book. I did enjoy the plot but I felt like the ending left me wanting me. However, the writing kept me hooked until the very last word. If you are like me and are really compelled by language, this is a must-read!