Audiobook Review, General Fiction (Adult), Reese Witherspoon's Hello Sunshine Book Club, Romance

The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

The Light We LostThe Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another Reese Witherspoon Book Club success!

So let me first just put this disclaimer here. I don’t think this book will be a five star read for everybody. But it was for me. And I will tell you why.

The Light We Lost is a beautifully written story about real life. Plain and simple. I felt like the characters in this story could have walked straight off the pages of this book and walked around today’s society. They were flawed. They were real. They were honest. They struggled. I can’t see how any man or woman who reads this book can’t find something to relate to in one of the character’s stories.

The story is simply about a boy and a girl who connect on 9/11/2001. On that fateful day they find comfort in each other and are bonded to each other for life. Over time, they develop into an emotionally unavailable man whose mission is to make a difference after the events of September 11th and a woman who finds herself madly in love with him. His wanderlust takes him away from her, and as life goes on, she finds another man who makes her feel safe and comfortable, but doesn’t ignite the passion of her first love. She finds herself asking whether fire, passion, and feeling alive with a “wild card” type of man are the key to a happy life or if the key is in the safety, comfort, and security of a man who provides stability and normality.

I think we can all relate to that feeling at one point or another in our lives. Girls who go for the “bad boys” or chase after the wrong men for the thrill, while perfectly nice guys are waiting in the wings wishing they were being chased. That’s an age old story. And if you haven’t been there personally, you know somebody who has.

There is nothing Earth shattering about The Light We Lost. It’s not the world’s most original story. Which is why I say it may not be a five star read for everybody. But, it was such an honest and raw depiction of love and life that I found myself making a strong connection with the main characters and their struggles.

I honestly listened to this book in one sitting straight. It’s a relatively short audiobook at around 7 hours (which took me 3.5 hours to listen to on double speed). While it is kind of depressing and sad, it would still make a good listen for a long car ride.

I’m not a huge romance fan, but this is one that I would highly recommend.

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Audiobook Review, General Fiction (Adult), Mystery, Reese Witherspoon's Hello Sunshine Book Club, Thriller

Still Lives by Maria Hummel

Still LivesStill Lives by Maria Hummel

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I’m on a quest lately to read all of Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club picks from the last few years. Luckily the library has almost all of them so I’m able to fly right through them. Sorry Reese. Didn’t really love this one as much as I hoped I would!

Everybody is dying to see Kim Lord’s new art exhibit, Still Lives…. a collection of paintings based of photographs of Kim posing as famous dead women. Think Nicole Brown Simpson and The Black Dahlia. Creepy, right? My thought exactly. And imagine everybody’s surprise when Kim Lord is M.I.A. for the opening night of her exhibit. The rumors start circulating. Is this part of the art, or is Kim in danger? Meanwhile a young copy editor for the museum named Maggie finds herself wrapped up in a the scandalous art world, and the more she learns about Kim Lord, the more convoluted the story becomes. Maggie quickly finds herself in the middle of her own investigation into the disappearance of Kim Lord.

I thought the spin on modern art in this book was really evocative and lovely. I appreciated Maria Hummel’s thoughtfulness in designing this somewhat grungy, underground-feeling world of eccentricity. Even though we don’t technically meet Kim Lord’s character, her description was so well done that I felt she was. And the way the art folded into the murder mystery had a wonderful uniqueness that I enjoyed.

What didn’t I like about it? I felt like my interest really ebbed and flowed as the story progressed. There were times when I was really invested and I felt like the story was really grabbing me and then there were times when I felt my mind drifting. Usually when I found myself losing interest in the story, I felt like the story had gone off on a tangent briefly and left me feeling disconnected. And to be honest, the story’s conclusion ended up being a tad too complicated for my liking.

Overall, this book had a ton of potential and I really did enjoy the concept. But the execution fell a little flat for me.

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General Fiction (Adult)

Pickle’s Progress by Marcia Butler

Pickle's ProgressPickle’s Progress by Marcia Butler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Out April 9th! Preorder at Amazon here!

Thank you to Marcia Butler for being so sweet many months ago and offering me an opportunity to review this book! And also for mailing me her autograph! I always love to connect with new authors, and while Marcia is not new to the art scene, this is her debut novel.

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Pickle’s Progress is about four people, all with their own struggles, just trying to make it through life in New York City. Stan and his wife Karen are struggling in their marriage. Pickle is Stan’s twin brother and has forever been the black sheep/lesser loved child of their mother. Junie is the bystander of a car crash on the George Washington bridge caused by drunken Stan and Karen, and Junie’s boyfriend just happens to have jumped to his death off the side. All four of them are connected in their own twisted way, and we will find out if there is a happy ending for any of them by the time the last few pages roll around.

I honestly kind of struggled with this book. While I really appreciated the book conceptually and understood where Marcia Butler was trying to go, the plot ebbed and flowed for me. There were times when I was fully invested, and other times when I found my interest wavering. The one thing that I found super distracting which could have impacted my investment in the story is the dialogue. The dialogue did not feel authentic at all. It felt very scripted and, in my opinion, kept the book from feeling realistic and relatable.

I also had a hard time with some of the decisions that the characters made throughout the book. For example, after the car crash, Junie is invited by Karen and Stan to stay in their home as she recovers from witnessing the traumatic suicide of her boyfriend. I had a really hard time believing that a real person would move in with a pair of drunken strangers without question.

If Marcia Butler was going for completely unlikable characters, she hit the nail out of the park though (and my impression was that was the direction she was trying to go). I could not stand any of the main characters. They all had horrible qualities and character flaws that made them completely despicable. Butler certainly accomplished the development of uniquely defined characters that I think will ignite some passion and emotion for any reader… good or bad (which is something I think any author should strive for).

Overall, while this wasn’t my favorite book of all time, it did have some redeeming qualities. While there were highs and lows, as a complete package it was just okay. But don’t take my word for it. Read it for yourself and tell me what you think!

-I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to NetGalley, Marcia Butler, and Central Avenue Publishing for the opportunity to review.-

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General Fiction (Adult)

When All Is Said by Anne Griffin

When All Is SaidWhen All Is Said by Anne Griffin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely stunning!

I love nothing more than winning a book in a giveaway that I wouldn’t have otherwise read and falling in love with the author and the writing. When All Is Said was that book for me.

When your life comes to an end, what will you look back upon? What will you remember? How will be people remember you? How will your life be defined by the choices you made along the way? This book tells the story of an elderly man as he sits at a local bar raising a toast to the five people that mattered most in his life. As he remembers the way their lives impacted him.

I will NOT do this book justice with my review. It was poetically written and (in my opinion) could rival the classics. The writing was so different than anything I’ve read lately. Despite being only about 260 pages, it was not a quick read because the prose was written in a non-conversational way. But it was brilliantly executed.

There were minimal twists and turns. There wasn’t a ton of excitement. There wasn’t a fast paced, heart pounding narrative. But none of that mattered. The story was able to carry itself without all the bells and whistles. And by the end, I was legitimately bawling on the floor next to my exercise bike wishing it wouldn’t end.

I don’t know that this book will be loved by all. Like I said, the writing is very unique and may not be ideal for somebody looking for a quick and easy read. But if you’re searching for a book that will speak to you, give you all the feels, and really capture your soul, this is the book for you. Bravo to Anne Griffin on her first novel. It was a fabulous debut!

This book comes out on Tuesday and you can preorder it here! Trust me. You will not want to miss it.

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Audiobook Review, General Fiction (Adult), Reese Witherspoon's Hello Sunshine Book Club, Romance

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Erotic Stories for Punjabi WidowsErotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I think it was extremely lucky that this book was picked up by Reese Witherspoon as part of her book club. I love the Hello Sunshine Book Club and read everything that Reese Witherspoon recommends because all of the books she chooses feature a strong female lead in one way or another. All of her books tend to really resonate with me. That being said, Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows was not my favorite of Reese’s recommendations.

Nikki is the daughter of Indian immigrants, living in London, and looking for a job to help her family make ends meet. She stumbles across an opportunity to teach a creative writing class at the community center, a chance to teach Punjabi women. What she doesn’t realize is that most of the women don’t know how to physically write, a little detail that was left out of the job description. What follows is a hilarious journey of traditional Punjabi women (mostly widows) turning their creative writing class into a storytelling class. The topic? Erotica.

While I enjoyed the writing by Balli Kaur Jaswal, I just felt like the story had a lot going on and could have benefited from some simplification. There was the main plot involving the creative writing class, but beyond that there were subplots about Nikki’s sister looking for a husband, Nikki’s father and his disappointment in her, the long-ago death of a young woman and a touch of murder mystery, etc. While I really enjoyed the story of the class, I just felt like the other plot lines took away from the major elements of the story.

Also, I think if I were to read this again, I would read it in print versus audiobook. There were a LOT of characters with traditional Punjabi names and I found it extremely difficult while listening to be able to keep everybody straight/associate each of the characters with their own unique identity. I feel like it may have been easier to remember all of their names if I had read the book, but I’m also more of a visual learner so that may not be the case for everybody.

Because I had a hard time keeping the characters straight, I wasn’t able to connect with really any of the characters and at times when there was a lot of dialogue, I found myself just wanting the book to speed up and move forward.

Now, there were some major highlights for me. I did enjoy the humor laced throughout the book and found the Punjabi widows very heartwarming overall. I like the idea of very traditional women acting in a way that is very taboo, and having a great time doing it together. It put a smile on my face. I also thought the “erotic stories” interspersed throughout the book were tastefully done, and although erotica is definitely not my traditional genre of choice, I did not find it offensive or vulgar. I will say at times I did find the little mini stories that were peppered throughout the prose somewhat distracting from the overall story. While I understood the value it provided to the reader, making the storytelling sessions more realistic, I think there were maybe a few too many stories in the grand scheme of things which made for choppy reading.

Overall, was this the best book ever? No. Was it okay? Yes. Do I think it’s the best thing Reese Witherspoon has recommended? Nope. But it was interesting and definitely something different.

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