2019 Reading Wrap-up

It’s been a year filled with reading, writing and reviewing, however it wasn’t until I started to think about a 2019 wrap-up that I remembered I haven’t posted a review on the blog during 2019. As I focused more on writing and reading, my reviews turned miniature and were posted only on Instagram. Well, I’d like to take the opportunity during these last couple days of the year (and decade) to praise some of my favorite reads from this past year!

In no particular order…

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Through interview-style writing, Jenkins Reid somehow managed to transport readers to the 1970’s rock-n-roll era in this book. Looking back, these interviews tell the story of how the band got together in the first place, their wildly successful years and the mystery of why they broke up.

On Writing by Stephen King
Originally, I borrowed this book from a friend, but once I started to dig into it I went out and bought my own copy because I knew it would be filled with post-its and notes before long. Between snippets from his past and his process for writing, King manages to share insights about the craft of writing that I found to be inspiring and instructional.

Carrie by Stephen King
I may be the last person on earth (kidding!) to have read King’s famous thriller, but I can easily say that Carrie topped my reading list this year. It’s spooky, strange and even a little endearing. Is it too early to plan to read this on Halloween 2020?

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin
A family saga told from the perspective of the youngest of four siblings that spans the entirety of their lives beginning from the pivotal moment they call the Pause. This will ultimately impact them for decades to come. A big focus of this book is cause-and-effect and how our choices and circumstances shape us.

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
Reminding me a bit of Romeo & Juliet, this book begins when two cops working in NYC become neighbors in the suburbs. Their young children become close until a tragic incident tears the families apart. Try as they might, the two children (Peter and Kate) cannot stay away from one another and this forces everyone involved to reflect on the power of forgiveness and time.

The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo
While this book may look daunting (it’s long), this character-driven story spans generations of the Sorenson Family. I really appreciated the authenticity that Lombardo portrayed through the relationships between the four sisters and their parents.

My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Not Pictured)
It’s been months since I read this sharp, short thriller and I cannot stop recommending it. From the intriguing idea to the fresh writing, I couldn’t put it down. When her sister calls to tell her that her boyfriend is dead, Korede helps clean up the evidence. It’s only when her sister’s third boyfriend dies that Korede begins to question everything.

Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
The Trojan War is shown from a different perspective, from Briseis (a Trojan queen and captive of Achilles), in this book. As a prisoner, she observes and experiences the horror inflicted on those imprisoned in the Greek army camp. It was fascinating to read this well-known story from a different lens and the writing was absolutely captivating.

The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh
Haunting and hopeful, this book is magnetic. Three sisters are raised in isolation and taught to fear men along with the toxicity of the outside world. When their father disappears and three men appear on their shore, everything changes. It’s heavy and lonely and stays with you after you set it down.

Where The Crawdad’s Sing by Delia Owens
It was just announced that this book has sold over 4.5 million copies and I’m not sure whether this came as a surprise to anyone considering that this book is just so good. If you haven’t read the story of Kya, the Marsh Girl, I highly recommend that you do. Raised in a rural marsh on the North Carolina coast, Kya is brave, intelligent and extremely independent. I was rooting for her from the first page.

Educated by Tara Westover
From the very first page I was completely captivated and shocked by this raw, reflective memoir. Westover, who as a child lived off the grid with her family, managed to educate herself and eventually find her place in academia. I wish I’d read it sooner!

Becoming by Michelle Obama (Not Pictured)
An amazing memoir written by an amazing leader. In Becoming, Obama shares her journey from childhood through present day (published in 2018) in a series of hopeful, moving stories that are at once personable and inspiring.

Favorite Reads of 2018

A65B0907-48A4-4791-8F3A-03776E1DECF7One of my favorite things to do before the New Year is to reflect on the books I’ve read over the past year. Looking back, I’m able to mark the season or time of year by what I read at the time. This year my favorite reads (not all of which were published in 2018) were eye-opening and full of heart.

In no particular order…

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

My expectations couldn’t have been higher for this book because The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is one of my favorite books, but somehow The Great Alone still managed to exceed my expectations and surprise me. The story was compelling from the headstrong main heroine who moves to Alaska with her parents to the ruthlessly beautiful Alaskan terrain that she found herself in. If you take anything from this post, try out this book.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

This story seemed take the world by storm this year. In The Power, women become the dominant gender due to the ability to release electric shocks from their fingers. While there are incidents in this book that I don’t necessarily agree with, it has stuck with me for the conversations it evoked and for the female dominated plot.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

I’m late to the game here, as I know this has been a popular book for years, but I couldn’t help but adore this story and the old man’s grumbly personality. A story of hope and that it’s never too late to build a life worth living.

Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford

Jamie Ford has a beautiful writing style, it’s gentle and vibrantly descriptive. Emotional, but not overpoweringly so. Inspired by a true story, this book centers around Ernest, who is sold at the Seattle World’s Fair as a young boy in 1909. He’s auctioned off to a high-class brothel, where he becomes the new houseboy. I loved the historic Seattle setting!

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

This was one of the best books I could have picked out for a beach vacation. It was witty, fun and yet also managed to pack a punch and teach some strong lessons. I don’t want to categorize it as a “beach read” because it was so much more than that. I couldn’t put it down!

Circe by Madeline Miller

I really enjoy Greek mythology and after reading Madeline Miller’s Achilles, I couldn’t wait to read more of her work. This story stars a powerful, independent female god in a universe ruled by males. She paves her own path and I was rooting for her the whole time.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeymoon

The perfect combination of heartbreaking and sweetly funny. I don’t know how Gail Honeymoon did it, but I felt like I was smiling and grimacing along with Eleanor’s journey the whole time.

Some of these books were provided to me for free from publishers – thank you for the opportunity to review these stories. Cheers to another year of wonderful books!

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Although I’m from the Pacific Northwest, which is relatively close to Alaska compared to the rest of the United States, I haven’t had much of an interest in visiting the Northern state. That is, until reading The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. I’m reminded (again) that books, especially powerful vivid ones like this, have the ability to sway our thinking.

Hannah takes the reader on a survivor’s journey in her new book, The Great Alone. Leni and her mother are two peas in a pod, inseparable, and when her father returns from the Vietnam War where he was a POW, they have the opportunity to live as a family again. Unfortunately, Leni’s father, Ernt is having a hard time adjusting back to his old life and is haunted by vicious memories. Violent memories. Then they receive a letter saying that there’s a piece of land and a cabin in Alaska that’s all theirs and the family packs up a VW bus and drives on up.

They are shocked by how unprepared they are for the rugged Alaskan lifestyle as well as the beauty that greets them. Leni comes to love her new home and feels accepted in a way she never has before. She meets Matthew, who quickly becomes her best friend. As they settle into their new life, with the help of the community around them, Ernt becomes increasingly paranoid and dangerously violent. So much so that Leni and her mother need to make a choice regarding how they want to live their lives.

The story is filled with vivid descriptions of the Alaskan terrain, pioneer spirit, and heart wrenching relationships. Hannah sure knows how to pack a punch. Needless to say, I loved this book!

Author interview: Olivia Kiernan

It has been quite some time since my last author interview and I’m thrilled to welcome Olivia Kiernan, author of TOO CLOSE TO BREATHE, to the blog. This dark, deceiving thriller is Kiernan’s debut and kept me wondering until the very end!

The book focuses on a police investigation – how did you conduct research for this?

I think as someone who is interested in crime, crime fiction and the mode of crime, I find myself watching many true crime programmes, documentaries and listening to podcasts on crime analysis. Over time the routine of how police might approach a crime scene does sink in, so initially I didn’t actively do a lot of research. I tried to approach the book through the main character, DCS Frankie Sheehan, and follow what I felt a detective of her experience would do with the finance, time and knowledge available to her. It’s probably relevant that I’ve studied in science for many years, so the more technical aspects of the autopsy were a little easier for me to write.

Once I had the first draft down, I spoke to two members of the gardaí, one sergeant and one detective and a member of the police force here in the UK to ensure that police procedure was as accurate as I could make it. I do remember phoning a forensic data clinic to query what sort of information could be gleaned from a waterlogged phone. I began the conversation by saying I was a writer and wanted to know whether police would be able to retrieve information from a mobile phone that had significant water damage. Throughout the conversation, the guy on the other end kept referring to the phone as mine. I must have sounded very shifty indeed. No matter how many times I said I was researching for a book and that this was a fictional world I was exploring, he overlooked it. I’m sure he thought I’d committed some heinous crime and I wanted reassurance that the police wouldn’t be able to access my records. He was so convinced I was that person who phoned up to ‘ask for a friend’ that he gave me a price breakdown, including VAT on what the process would cost.

Why did you choose to write from the perspective of Detective Frankie?

Frankie is a tough cookie but also someone of great integrity who has always seen herself firmly in the role of protector. At the beginning of the novel, we see her struggling in a new role, that of victim. Her approach to her work changes, her perspective altered, she now looks through the veil of this recent experience. And she struggles with this added vulnerability. To her, at the start of the novel, it feels like a confrontation against her self-image. I felt this was the best way to explore the themes of victim and predator in the novel, who we think or who we expect to fit those roles, as Frankie herself is dealing with this same conflict.

What do you hope readers take away from your story?

Mostly, I want readers to have a cracking good crime thriller read. And maybe come away with their interest piqued in some of the themes the novel explores: the art of Chagall, for instance, the colourful history of Prussian Blue, or the shady recesses of the Dark Web. If the novel draws some questions on victimology, I would hope it to be around the theme of control.

Who are your favorite authors?

There are always too many to list and that list grows every year. I love Tana French’s novels for her character detail and absorbing plots. I really enjoyed Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places and Sharp Objects and am waiting, not so patiently, for her next novel. I love the work of Sebastian Barry, Anne Enright and Cormac McCarthy for the elegance of their prose. I could go on.

What are you working on next?

My next novel is titled, The Killer In Me and takes up with DCS Frankie Sheehan in Dublin. Murder convict, Sean Hennessy is released from prison to return to the seaside community of Clontarf in Dublin. Hennessy has always professed his innocence. But within months of his release, two bodies appear in Frankie’s hometown. As the investigation continues and the threat closes in around the small community, Sheehan is forced to confront her own darkness to discover exactly what it takes to become a killer.

Thank you to Olivia Kiernan for stopping by and answering a few questions! TOO CLOSE TO BREATHE is available on April 3, 2018.

The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper

Louisa May Alcott is a well known name in the literary world as it belongs to the author of the famous book, Little Women (which I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t read… yet!). The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper tells the story of May Alcott, the younger sister of the famous author. Although May has been largely overshadowed, she was just as ambitious as her sister and her art is painting and drawing.

May has been passionate about art for her whole life, but while in her 20’s she questions whether she’s earned the title of “artist.” When does someone truly become what they want to be? Is it when they practice it? When they earn a living from it? When they’ve achieved fame? I thought this question was really interesting, especially as May travels around the world to master her skill and find confidence. She prioritized studying with fine teachers and copying the masterpieces that hung in museums.  

Both May and Louisa challenged the traditional female role in the 1800’s by forging their own independent paths. There’s an unmistakable rivalry between them, although it’s complicated due to their sisterhood. Their relationship is filled with conflict, love, and support all at once.

Besides May and Louisa, Hooper shares a glimpse at the lives of other female artists during the time period who were trying, against the odds, the make names for themselves and find success. Their perseverance is admirable and an inspiration.

The pace was slow and steady, but I was interested throughout and definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, powerful female characters and/or complex sibling relationships.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Sometimes I avoid picking up a book, even if I really want to read it. I’ll carry it to a coffee shop or I’ll bring it on a trip, but when it comes to actually reading it – I can’t bring myself to do it. This is exactly what happened with A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. This story is incredibly intense and emotional; I wasn’t sure I could handle it.

After years of avoiding it, I read A Little Life and it was more devastating than I could have believed.

Soon after Jude, Willem, JB and Malcom become roommates during their freshman year of college, they become best friends. They are inseparable for a time and move to New York as so many young people do. The book follows their lives and what has led them to New York. They are each extremely talented, even if not all of them believe it, as an artist, an architect, an actor and a lawyer. In some ways their lives are ordinary and in other ways, extraordinary.

When I told my mom about this book, she asked why I’m reading it. It’s a fair question. As heartbreaking as this story is, it’s also filled with hope, compassion and love. In a way, it’s a tribute to the perseverance of humankind in times of terribly tragedy.

A Little Life is one of the best books I’ve ever read and I highly recommend it, but know that it has an intensity (both positive and negative) like none other.

My 5 Favorite Books of 2017

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas

Everyone needs to read this book. It’s honest, uncomfortable, and eye-opening. Starr lives in a poor, dangerous neighborhood, but attends a wealthy and predominately white school and she feels like her two selves are at war when she witnesses her friend Khalil get fatally shot by a police officer. Seriously, read this book. 

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak

Sometimes a book is so endearing and nostalgic to teenage years that you can’t help getting brought along for the ride. Billy is a fourteen-year-old who spends his time with friends, playing and creating video games, and thinking about girls while also avoiding them. We follow along as he navigates through high school.

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

This stunning, eye-opening novel very clearly shows how reading fosters empathy. In a heartwarming tone, it discusses a topic that a lot of people aren’t familiar with in a very eye-opening and relatable way.

Dead Letters by Claire Dolan-Leach

Caite Dolan-Leach writes beautifully, casting an eccentric line of characters in a beautiful (albeit unsuccessful) vineyard in a small town. Enchanting with a punchy voice, quick pace, and unexpected twists!

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

This father-daughter story stars the gun-toting Samuel Hawley and his daughter, steel-toe boot-wearing Loo. Despite their rough exteriors, the duo charmed me as Loo tries to reconcile with her father’s dark past.