American Gods by Neil Gaiman

America is a bad place for gods in American Gods by Neil Gaiman. In modern day, a war has broken out between the old gods and the new. This is where Shadow finds himself – standing in the middle of a troubling war he doesn’t fully understand.

Shadow has been in jail for the last three years and as soon as he’s about to be released, his wife Laura dies in a car crash. Unexpectedly, Shadow meets the odd and all knowing Mr. Wednesday, a leader of the old gods, who offers him a job. With nowhere to go and nothing to do but grieve, he accepts Mr. Wednesday’s offer.

We soon learn that Wednesday is rallying the old gods to join him in the battle. Shadow plays a larger role in this than he could have ever imagined.

Through this story, Gaiman shares a vivid history of America. It’s a really interesting idea, this war of the gods, and it’s very fantastical and full of mythology. The story is definitely thought-provoking, but the pace was slow for me and some of the transitions from one scene to the next were difficult to follow.

I loved Gaiman’s book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and while American Gods was also good, it was very different. It’s clear that he’s a very talented writer!

These quotes stood out to me:

“’This is the only country in the world,’ said Wednesday, into stillness, ‘that worries about what it is.’”

“Religions are places to stand and look and act, vantage points from which to view the world.”

Fitness Junkie by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza

What would you do if your best friend called you the F word? In Fitness Junkie by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza, F refers to Fat. One morning, Janey is ambushed by her best friend and business partner when he tells her that she needs to lose weight to stay in her position as CEO of their wedding dress business. Understandably Janey is hurt (and pissed).

Over the next three months, Janey goes to great lengths to lose weight. $50 (or more) workout classes. $30 juices. The clay diet. A weeklong fitness retreat. You name it, Janey tried it. It’s clear that this “healthy” lifestyle is anything but being healthy.

Fitness Junkie is entertaining and ridiculous at times, but underneath the silly exterior are very real issues like eating disorders, poor body image, and unrealistic expectations. I appreciate a book that can shine a light on important issues in a way that’s easy to absorb.

Janey’s (fictional) wealth allowed her to take part in all of these extreme and expensive health trends, but many times it veered too far towards the excessive. The fact the Janey could pay for all this extravagance (in NYC no less) without much consideration was a little bit too unrealistic (at least for the majority of people) for me.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading Fitness Junkie and recommend it!

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Imagine a cruise ship sailing in the middle of the ocean, no land visible in any direction. It’s a dark and dreary night. There’s a small cramped cabin on the boat. This is where Lo Blacklock finds herself staying on the inaugural sailing of the Aurora.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware shares the story of Lo, a travel journalist about to set off for her first big story covering a high-end cruise. Just before the trip, her apartment is broken into and she’s left very shaken. While on the ship she’s still very anxious and wakes up in the middle of the night to a mysterious sound from the cabin next to hers, cabin 10. Then, unbelievably, she hears a large splash… No one on board believes her – could she be losing her mind? Lo is determined to find out what happened in cabin 10.

I liked the pace of The Woman in Cabin 10 and the eerie cruise ship setting. The thought of being trapped below water is horrifying! I also thought that this book is better than Ware’s first book, In a Dark Dark Wood, because the storyline was more unexpected. At the same time, there were aspects of the book that felt disconnected and too coincidental, i.e. unlikely to happen.

Overall, I recommend this one for a quick, engaging mystery read!

The Fire by Night by Teresa Messineo

“‘You say this is a man’s world, sir, and I am not so naïve as to disagree with you. But’ – here Kay leaned forward, staring the man straight in the eye- ‘if the world of men ever tears itself apart again, it will take an army of nurses to put it back together.’”  

The Fire by Night by Teresa Messineo shares the stories of two American nurses during World War II – one stationed in France and the other imprisoned in a Japanese POW camp.

Jo McMahon is trapped in a field hospital with 6 critically wounded patients under her care and the Germans are approaching. Very much on her own, Jo goes to extremes to save these men. It turns out that one of them may be more than just a patient to her.

Across the world, Kay Elliott was stationed in Hawaii and until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, everything in her life seemed perfect. She had met the love of her life and her heart was filled with hope for the future. Soon, Kay was imprisoned in a terrible Japanese POW that sucked her dry of any hope.

I appreciate that The Fire by Night shares the perspectives of nurses during the war – it was unique from other books I’ve read that are based during this time. Nurses not only experience their own horrors, they also experience the tragedies of their patients and carry those burdens. Both Joe and Kay are lively, strong characters who are pushed far past the brink.

While The Fire by Night is well written and compelling (and I do recommend it!) I didn’t think it was better than other World War II historical fiction novels out there like The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton

The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton has been sitting on my bookshelf for almost 18 months and now I wish that I’d picked it up sooner. This unexpected story is compelling, unsettling, and hopeful at once.

Yasmin, brilliant and slightly cross, and her deaf 10-year-old daughter Ruby arrive in Alaska to meet their husband/father, Matt. Once they’ve landed at the airport, they learn that the small village where Matt was staying suffered a terrible fire. When police tell them that no one could have survived, Yasmin and Ruby refuse to listen and instead set out on a wild and wicked journey to find him.

What they find at the end of their journey is shocking, but what they learn along the way is just as compelling, if not more so. We learn that Yasmin desperately wants Ruby to speak with her mouth while Ruby wants to speak with her hands. It’s touching as the pair begins to understand each other.

“It wasn’t that Yasmin wanted Ruby to speak so much as she wanted her to be heard.”

The story shifted between Yasmin and Ruby’s perspectives and I loved this aspect of the book. Both points of view were true to character and provided really contrasting views of the same situations.

I enjoyed The Quality of Silence very much and hope that you’ll pick it up as well!

The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams

I’m happy to report that I’ve read another one of Beatriz Williams’ books (this time, The Wicked City) and have been completely captivated by the story. She has an extraordinary way of bringing characters to life, especially through their dialogue and quick-witted thoughts. I’m reminded yet again of why she’s one of my favorite authors!

The Wicked City shares the stories of two women, both living in New York City, during very different time periods. Meet Gin Kelly, a firecracker of a girl living in New York City during the 1920’s. She came to the city to escape her despicable stepfather, but before too long she gets caught up in his bootlegging business and is pulled back to her small hometown. Along the way, she comes across Anson, the stoic, noble, quiet do-gooder who might just be the only man that can throw her for a loop.

Shift forward to 1998 and we meet Ella, a woman also living in New York City, who just learned that her beloved husband is a rather dirty fellow. As she tries to recover from this shock, she finds herself in Gin’s old stomping grounds and although 70 years have passed, she can almost sense her presence. I appreciate that Williams brought a bit of the magic from the 1920’s to the 1990’s.

My only criticism is that the plot left a couple loose ends and some of Ella’s story line was a bit unrealistic, but it was fun. I still really enjoyed the book and definitely recommend it!

“She wanted the radiant, satisfied skin her mother had. The adoring gaze that followed her mother around the house.”

Falling by Jane Green

Emma has never felt at home with her family in England so when she had the chance to move to New York City for her finance career, she took it. 5 years later, she’s sick of her stress-filled life and decided to quit her job and move to a coastal town in Connecticut. Throughout Falling by Jane Green, Emma attempts to get in touch with who she is and what she wants.

It turns out that her handsome landlord and his cute young son may be the answer to what she’d been looking for, but hadn’t been expecting. At its core, this book explores what it means to be a family.

While the book had a fun and playful tone (the writing style was light and straightforward), it was also unexpectedly sad and I didn’t see that coming. Some aspects of Falling were a little cheesy, but the emotions shared were real.

I enjoyed the New England setting and the playful tone of the book. On the other hand, the main character, Emma, tended to dramatize situations and those sections of the book dragged. Overall, Falling isn’t a book I plan to read for a second time.