Audiobook Review, Memoir/Biography, Nonfiction, Reese Witherspoon's Book Club

From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home by Tembi Locke

From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding HomeFrom Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home by Tembi Locke

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

From Scratch came recommended by Reese’s Book Club. I always read her recommendations and usually resonate with them, but this one wasn’t my favorite. This book is advertised as “A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home” but I would add “Loss and Death” to that list. Given the lovely photo on the cover, I was expecting something uplifting and romantic. But, this book was far more depressing than I was anticipating.

Tembi Locke tells the story of her and her husband (who died from cancer), their journey to overcome racial and cultural barriers, their struggle with illness and death, and her quest to move on.

I will say that Tembi Locke can write beautifully. I felt like I was in Sicily and her descriptions made me feel like I was in her world. The writing was wonderfully executed. Where I struggled was in the structure of the book (or lack thereof). There wasn’t really a defined beginning, middle, or end to the story. It skipped all over the place from past to present with random stories peppered in between. And the lack of a defined literary path made it difficult for me to connect with the story or the characters.

I enjoyed the first half more than the second. Tembi’s descriptions of her husband’s struggle with cancer and his ultimate death were heartbreaking and I felt for her. But after his death, the story kind of dragged on and felt a bit repetitive in places.

I know a ton of people have really loved this book. And I will admit that while I do read memoirs, they’re never the genre that I gravitate to naturally. So if you’re a fan of memoir, you may absolutely love this one. If you pick it up, I would highly recommend listening on audio as Tembi’s narration is superb.

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Audiobook Review, Historical Fiction

The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer

The Things We Cannot SayThe Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can’t even express how much I loved this book. I had seen the cover around and had heard good things here and there but I was caught off guard by how special the story turned out to be. It was completely unexpected.

The Things We Cannot Say is told in two parts, past and present. The present portion is the story of a young woman named Alice and her babcia (Polish for grandmother). This reference was particularly special for me because I’m Polish and I called my great grandmother Babcia. When Alice’s babcia suffers a debilitating stroke, she tries to communicate secrets of her past before her life comes to an end but is unable to put her thoughts into words. Alice finds herself on a journey of discovering family secrets in an attempt to decipher her babcia’s thoughts. The portion of the story told in the past is about a young girl named Alina who is trapped in Nazi-occupied Poland trying to survive along with her young love Tomasz. But their lives will take a turn they never imagined as was the case of many of those who lived through the horrors of WWII.

This book gave me all the same feels as Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale which is quite a compliment given that The Nightingale is my favorite book of all time. I also felt like the family drama (particularly in the present timeline) was reminiscent of Chanel Cleeton’s Next Year in Havana. With those powerhouse authors and books as comparison, I would consider this book quite impactful.

Kelly Rimmer has a way of creating connection between reader and character. I adored Alina and Tomasz and was rooting for them from the start. The daily struggles of Alice’s life set in the present timeline were completely relatable and I could understand where her character was coming from in her choices and thoughts. I must also say that I was impressed by how Kelly Rimmer was able to distinguish the two story lines in terms of her writing style. The writing of the past felt vintage. The writing of the present felt modern.

This one was expertly crafted. If you loved The Nightingale or Next Year in Havana, I have a feeling this one will not let you down. It comes highly recommended and I don’t think it will be leaving me any time soon.

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Audiobook Review, Nonfiction, Reese Witherspoon's Book Club, True Crime

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

The Library BookThe Library Book by Susan Orlean

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Snatched this one while catching up on my Reese Witherspoon Book Club picks. I went in blind but knew that it was nonfiction and that it had received mixed reviews.

The Library Book is exactly what it sounds like. A book about the library. And it just happened to be a book I borrowed from the library as well. It starts by telling the story of the fire that burned down the Los Angeles Public Library in 1986. 400,000 books burned. Another 700,000 books were damaged by smoke and water. Was it accidental or was it arson?

Then it transitions to a bunch of history about libraries, extensive information about fire, more history about libraries, and swings back around in the end to the Los Angeles Public Library fire at the end.

I was super invested in the fire portion of the book. It started to feel like a true crime and I was totally on board. When the book transitioned to library history, I was in and out. There were pieces of information that were super interesting: how Overdrive works, how the library transitioned from a book repository into a community outreach program, etc. But I lost a little bit of interest when the story turned to how the Los Angeles Public Library was designed or its family tree of librarians.

So overall, I found myself loving some pieces and being bored by others. The parts I loved were a solid 4 stars for me, but the boring sections were 3 stars. Split down the middle, I’d give the book 3.5 stars.

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Audiobook Review, Mystery, Thriller

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

Miracle CreekMiracle Creek by Angie Kim

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What an interesting and unique thriller! I feel like I’m always harping on my thriller authors out there because the story lines have become stagnant and tired. Untrustworthy husband this. And devious, backstabbing wife that. I’m always looking for that plot line that hooks me on something completely different. And Miracle Creek delivered.

Let’s talk HBOT. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy. A treatment strategy whereby patients are placed in a sealed chamber which is pressurized with high levels of oxygen. The theory? Provide high levels of oxygen to damaged tissues in the body to promote healing. Which is exactly why the patients in this novel were taking part in HBOT….. until the chamber exploded, tragically killing some of those who were inside. What follows is half courtroom drama and half whodunnit to determine who set the fire which caused the explosion.

I really enjoyed the thought Angie Kim put into this book. All of the loose ends tied together extremely well which showed just how well planned the story line was. I have to admit that I figured out the “who” very early in the story so wasn’t incredibly surprised when the arsonist was exposed. But I did not figure out the “why” or “how.” They were both completely unexpected with a good twist for the reader.

I also appreciated the multifaceted relationships described throughout the story. Patients and their family members. Patients and other patients. Family members and other family members. The HBOT owners and the patients. There was a lot to unpack.

I did feel like there was a little bit of a lull in the middle where I found the story to be a tad repetitive, and I did feel like the ending took a really long time to fully unfold. There was a point where I wanted the story to just “get there” in terms of giving away its secrets because it felt a bit drawn out. But that’s really the worst thing I can say about this book. Overall, it was a great read and I would recommend to any thriller lovers looking for a unique story line.

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Audiobook Review, Memoir/Biography, Nonfiction, Reese Witherspoon's Book Club

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

This is the Story of a Happy MarriageThis is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! Ann Patchett is nothing short of a powerhouse writer!

Living in Nashville and being a book junkie, I naturally made my way to Parnassus Books for a visit (it just happens to be co-owned by Ann Patchett herself). And while I was there, I decided to pick up a signed copy of Ann’s book, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick from 2017. As I’ve made it a goal to slowly make my way through Reese’s recommendations, this seemed like a fitting choice.

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I’m not a huge believer in reading book jackets or synopses before diving in (I read a wide variety of genres and prefer to be surprised), so I had no idea that this was a) nonfiction and b) a collection of essays. This is exactly why I don’t read book jackets. Because those two components together are not what I would typically gravitate toward in a book. And by reading the jacket and making a preemptive judgment, I would miss out on a ton of really amazing books.

In This is the Story of a Happy Marriage Ann Patchett teaches us life lessons, tells us about love and loss, gives us a glimpse into how she got where she is today both in her personal life and her career, and paints a lovely picture of Nashville that this Nashvillian really appreciated. But the magic isn’t necessarily in the content itself, but the author’s masterful storytelling. Her sentence structure and the way she combines words and phrases is magical. She had a lot of really insightful things to say that made me think. There were moments when I chuckled. And there were moments where I said, “I want to be friends with Ann Patchett.”

If a collection of essays doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you should read this book anyway. While it’s technically a bunch of short stories strung together, it reads more like a cohesive memoir. The essays flowed together logically to tell a complete story that did not feel disjointed. I would highly recommend and will definitely be reading more from Patchett in the future.

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