Ramblings and Recommendations

Hello all!

I love to read.  And, I find myself often talking about reading and books and making recommendations to my friends and neighbors (both solicited and unsolicited).  I also enjoy writing, but mostly of the stream-of-conscience brand.  So, here are my ramblings about books and reading and my recommendations.  I hope you enjoy.

Nobody Will Tell You This But Me – Bess Kalb

Memoir Monday

Bess Kalb’s memoir gives an unusual take on the genre.  The author’s grandmother, Bobby Bell, was a Jewish grandmother extraordinaire.  And, even after her death, Kalb finds herself taking a step back from her life and channels her grandmother’s voice — both real and imagined — on the events of her life. The author captures Bobby Bell’s humor, unsolicited advice, and deep love in every chapter.  An endearing tribute to family.

Cool Town: How Athens, Georgia Launched Alternative Music and Changed American Culture – Grace Elizabeth Hale

A special recommendation for all of my UGA peeps! In Cool Town, Grace Elizabeth Hale details the rise of Athen’s music scene, which she was also a part of in the late 80’s.  A nostalgic and detailed look at the characters and places that helped to build a music town that had me googling YouTube videos for hours every time I picked up the book to read a chapter.  Bonus: the author is a professor at my alma mater, the University of Virginia; so all of my Wahoo friends should pick this one up, too!

The Evening and the Morning – Ken Follett


It’s unusual for me to recommend a book in an already established series, but the publication of The Evening and the Morning is perfectly timed for both new readers and established fans of Ken Follett’s Kingsbridge series.  The Pillars of the Earth, the first book in the series, follows Tom the Builder, a man whose life work is the construction of a cathedral in Kingsbridge, England.  The saga gives interesting historical details about the Middle Ages while also building a superb character-driven plot.  The Evening and the Morning takes place 200 years prior to Pillars, and follows much of the same structure.  The story follows a laborer who helps a devoted clergyman establish the township of Kingsbridge (by building the bridge from which it takes it’s name).  Because this latest novel is a prequel, you can begin here, if you haven’t already become a fan of the series.  If you loved Pillars, then you do not need any refresher to dive right into Evening.  If you haven’t already checked it out, there is a mini-series of The Pillars of the Earth starring Eddie Redmayne that sticks remarkably close to the book, which I also highly recommend.


I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher via Edelweiss.  Thanks!

The Red Lotus – Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian knocks it out of the park (again) in his latest thriller, The Red Lotus.  New York City Emergency Room Doctor, Alexis, and her boyfriend, Austin have decided to kick their relationship up a notch by taking a vacation together.  The couple decides upon a bicycle tour of Vietnam.  Once there, Austin takes a solo side trip to visit an area where his father and uncle served in the Vietnam war.  But, Austin doesn’t return from this excursion.  When his body is found, Alexis notices a wound on his hand that makes her suspect foul play. How well did she know Austin, after all?  The unraveling of the mystery that follows introduces amazing characters and a dark and twisty plot that stuns.

The Book of Rosy: A Mother’s Story of Separation at the Border – Rosayra Pablo Cruz and Julie Schweitert Collazo

Memoir Monday

The Book of Rosy is the superior, authentic voices, non-fiction version of the controversial American Dirt by Jeanne Cummins.  Rosayra Pablo Cruz, Rosy, left her native Guatemala after her husband was murdered and her son was being threatened.  Rosy arrived in the US with her two sons immediately following a tightening of American border policy and her sons were separated from her for months.  Through the Immigrant Families Together program, Pablo Cruz sought asylum, was released, and traveled to New York to reunite with her sons.  The long and arduous process of her reunion focuses this narrative.  Collazo works with Immigrant Families Together and adds her story to the end of the narrative to shed light upon her work and the plight of other asylum seekers.  The addition of Collazo’s personal story somewhat dilutes the book, and feels unnecessary.  But the powerful and well-told story of Rosy’s journey and experiences makes this a powerful and necessary book.


I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.  Thanks!

Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators – Ronan Farrow

Ronan Farrow’s recounting of his investigation into the sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein reads like a mash-up of Woodward and Bernstein’s All the President’s Men and Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Farrow meticulously details his journalistic process, the numerous accounts of egregious sexual misconduct and a laundry list of power brokers who fought at every turn to keep this story from being broken (most notably, nearly everyone at NBC).  An infuriating but important look at an important story about power, privilege, and the rise of the #MeToo movement.

The Disaster Tourist – Yun Ko-Eun

After a decade of providing devoted service and enduring sexual harassment, Yona Ko suspects that she’s being pushed out of her company, a travel service that offers tours of areas around the world affected by disasters.  In what may be her final assignment, Yona is sent to evaluate one of the company’s tour packages, a sinkhole in Vietnam.  In a deliciously satirical twist, Yona and the locals engineer a solution to both Yona’s career problems and the potential loss of tourism for the area should their destination be closed to tourists.

I received an advance copy of this novel from the publisher via netgalley in exchange for an honest review.  Thanks!

My Dark Vanessa – Kate Elizabeth Russell

Kate Elizabeth Russell’s explores the lingering effects of sexual abuse in this powerful #MeToo debut novel. In 2000, when she was 15, the titular Vanessa was systematically groomed then sexually abused by her boarding school teacher, Jacob Strane.  Years later, a thirty-something Vanessa, must confront her memories and her ongoing relationship with Strane when other former students come out against him and accuse him of abuse as the #MeToo movement begins to catch fire. Vanessa convinced herself that the relationship she shared with Mr. Strane was unique, consensual and loving.  As she is confronted with discussions of sexual abuse in the news as well as specific allegations against Strane, she is forced to reconsider her entire worldview.  A dark and compelling novel.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone – Lori Gottlieb

Memoir Monday

Lori Gottlieb’s book combines two juicy genres: memoir and self-help.  Gottlieb talks about therapy as both a therapist and a patient.  There is something deeply satisfying about reading about other people’s problems (I should say here that Gottlieb presents her patients anonymously either by creating a composite character or obscuring details), and her personal story both in and outside of the office is compelling.  The big takeaway from Gottlieb’s memoir?  Mental health is health, y’all, and everyone could benefit from talking to someone.

We Were Liars – E. Lockhart

YA author E. Lockhart has written a perfect summer read in We Were Liars.  Wealthy Candace Sinclair spends her summers on a private island with her extended family.  The family compound includes four homes: the grandparents in the main house, and each of their offspring (and grandchildren) in the other three..  Candace; her cousins, Johnny and Mirium; and Gat, a local friend, spend their time together as a happy band.  One summer abruptly ends when Candace is found nearly naked washed up on shore with her memory wiped and undiagnosed ailments.  Two years later, Candace returns to the island and unravels what happened to her on that mysterious night.  The story is filled with juicy family secrets and roller-coaster level twists and turns.  A satisfying summer afternoon read.