Audiobook Review, General Fiction (Adult), Romance

The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves

The Girl He Used to KnowThe Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I’ve seen this cover everywhere in the last 4 to 6 months with people raving about the story. I cannot even tell you how many times I entered the Goodreads giveaways for this book (and never won… haha!). So I finally gave up and requested the audiobook from the library.

This was such a fun, quirky, and beautiful love story. Tracey Garvis Graves tells the story of Annika (rhymes with Monica), a socially awkward college student who meets a boy named Jonathan in chess club. Jonathan opens her up to a world she never knew… of love… of intrigue… of acceptance. But with love comes tragedy that will rip the young lovers apart, forcing them down separate paths of independence. But fate will reunite them 10 years later and send them on a journey of rediscovery.

I thought this book was so real. Both Annika and Jonathan were perfectly developed. I could feel Annika’s awkwardness… her struggle to get by in social situations… her longing to fit in.

The beginning for me was somewhat basic. It was a basic love story. Boy meets girl. Girl is complicated. Boy and girl fall in love and boy teaches girl new things. It wasn’t anything earth shattering with the exception of Annika’s personality quirks. But the second half of the book kind of blew me away. While I saw pieces of the ending coming, the author had me on the edge of my seat waiting to see what happened next. I could feel the tension and angst and pain. I am not going to give away any secrets here because I think the end is the best part of the book and it is worth discovering on your own. Just take my word for it.

This one reminded me a lot of The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo which was a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick. If you enjoyed The Light We Lost, I would highly recommend giving this one a try. It will not disappoint.

View all my reviews

Romance, Young Adult

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Everything, EverythingEverything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well y’all. I just joined a new book club in Nashville that I’m super excited about it. I’ve been trying out different book clubs in the area and nothing has really “fit” up to this point. But, a fellow Nashvillian told me about this book club and I decided to give it a try. I found out about it on Monday and my first meeting was Wednesday. The book…. Everything, Everything.

I don’t know if you know this…. but I read a lot. And even I was a little worried about getting the book read by Wednesday so I could be part of the discussion. But Everything, Everything is such a quick read that I finished it in a matter of 24 hours.

From the Publisher:

What if you couldn’t touch anything in the outside world? Never breathe in the fresh air, feel the sun warm your face . . . or kiss the boy next door? In Everything, Everything, Maddy is a girl who’s literally allergic to the outside world, and Olly is the boy who moves in next door . . . and becomes the greatest risk she’s ever taken.

My absolute favorite thing about the book? The format. Super short chapters + varying format + illustrations. Short chapters are always a winner for me. I find books with short chapters difficult to put down because I’m always convincing myself that I can read just one more…. one more… one more…

The format was so interesting and perfect for this story. Nicola Yoon wrote in standard paragraph format for much of the novel but also used email, instant messaging, Maddy’s short book reviews, Maddy-approved definitions, and written schedules of those she observed to paint an overall picture of Maddy’s life. It somehow made the book feel so authentic and realistic because I could imagine an 18 year old girl who had been cooped up in a house her entire life trying to express herself through the different channels she had available to her.

Finally, the illustrations. What’s funny here is that I usually tend to listen to library books on audio but I decided to read this one in print. I’m so happy that I did because the illustrations were perfectly placed and executed (and drawn by the author’s husband), and I thought they enhanced the content of the book. One of the women I interacted with at book club listened to the audio and had no idea there were illustrations in the book. She didn’t feel like not having illustrations took anything away from the book, but I would still recommend reading versus listening to this one.

Beyond the formatting, the story was just heartwarming and cute. It definitely oozes young adult with the two main characters trying to discover who they really are as individuals as well as together. And there are a few surprises along the way that I didn’t see coming. Definitely a lot of content to unpack in a book club format and made for good discussion.

Overall, this was a really strong and powerful book. I thought it was thoroughly unique and I enjoyed reading it. Now I will have to go watch the movie to compare!

View all my reviews

Audiobook Review, Historical Fiction, Romance

When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton

When We Left CubaWhen We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Chanel Cleeton has done it again! And she may have done it better.

I simply adored Next Year in Havana when I read it as one of Reese Witherspoon’s book club picks last year. It so fantastically captured the essence of Cuba while providing a lot of great historical information about how Fidel Castro rose to power.

So when I saw When We Left Cuba hit the shelves, I could not wait to read it. And it did not disappoint. When We Left Cuba starts where Next Year in Havana leaves off. The Perez family has fled to the United States after Fidel Castro assumes power. And the story follows Beatriz as she struggles to accept the reality of her beloved Cuba. She is angry and decides to use her beauty and intelligence to help the CIA with their plans to overthrow Castro.

I absolutely adored Beatriz. She was such a strong character with strong morals and values, oozing independence and fire. Chanel Cleeton did the perfect job developing her and making her totally believable.

Beyond my love for Beatriz, there were two really great things about this book:
1. The Love Story. There was kind of a bizarre love triangle thing going on in the story and it was perfectly executed. I was enraptured with Beatriz and how she balanced her love for Cuba and her mission with her conflicting love interests.
2. The History. I learned so much about The Cold War by reading this book and it was fiction. I’ve always thought one of the fantastic things about historical fiction as a genre is the ability to make history interesting and engaging. Cleeton did the perfect job incorporating true events (The Bay of Pigs, Kennedy’s assassination, The Cuban Missile Crisis) into the story, and giving good historical information without bogging down the story with boring factual content. She used Beatriz’s experience of these events as a delivery tool and it worked wonderfully.

Overall, this was a very strong follow up to Cleeton’s successful first novel. I think I may have enjoyed it even more than Next Year in Havana which was a hard act to follow. As each book is told from the perspective of a different sister in the Perez family, I truly hope Cleeton continues this story from the perspectives of the other sisters in the family. I would be delighted to find out what happens next.

View all my reviews

Audiobook Review, General Fiction (Adult), Reese Witherspoon's 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.

View all my reviews

Audiobook Review, General Fiction (Adult), Reese Witherspoon's 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.

View all my reviews