April was another fantastic month of reading and I am excited to share the April Must-Reads list from the books I tackled this month. I hope that you are also following along with my Sundays With Writers series where I interview the authors about their books and try to find out more about their stories behind the stories. This series happens to be my favorite and it is such a treat to share why they created their books. I will be sure to share below any interviews that have happened (or will be happening) so you can enjoy them after the book.
Speaking of interviews, I can now say that I have interviewed a Pulitzer Prize winning author! A big congratulations to Anthony Doerr on his win for All the Light We Cannot See. It was such an honor to interview him last year about this book and, and after penning it for an entire decade, it is worthy of every accolade it has received. Be sure to check it out!
I think it is important to be honest. Sometimes books just don’t make the must-read cut, but I want to mention them anyway, as we all have our cups of literature tea. These two that didn’t make it are well-written, but I did not love them. I read this book and this book this month, but didn’t feel like these were must-reads for you.
This one definitely gave me a lot to think about, but it took it to a level that I wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending it to a lot of people. It was, frankly, the most graphically disturbing book I have ever read. I am no prude. I read these (and they were terrible). Nutting exposes the sensationalized topic of female teachers pursuing teens for sexual relationships for what it is…pedophilia. Through this narcissistic sociopath’s eyes, we are able to see exactly what type of child a teacher would target, how she would initiate a relationship, and how she permanently and unapologetically ruins children for their future relationships. The writing is on-point, but the unnecessary pushing of the sexual envelope, lowered the rating for me, as it did not move the plot forward and seemed instead to intentionally shock the reader. Compared to Lolita & American Psycho, the author truly creates the most unlikable character you might ever read.
This book was one that everyone was raving and raving about and I read it just because everyone said it was so fantastic. It was beautifully written although a much slower read than I had expected after hearing such great things. The premise is that when a birthday party is held in an unnamed South American country, a famous soprano opera singer sings at a birthday party in honor of a visiting Japanese industrial titan. The party is interrupted when 18 terrorists enter the vice-presidential mansion in hopes to hold the president hostage. Unfortunately, the president never showed up because he was watching his favorite soap opera, defeating the purpose of the terrorist visit. Instead, they hold the people from the party hostage to try to get their demands met and what develops are unexpected relationships between the party guests and even the guests with their captures. The book developed the characters well, but I felt hostage too when the plot did not drive itself forward enough for me. If the book had been scaled back in pages, I would have enjoyed it so much more. That said, it read more like a play to me more than a book as this is such a character-driven piece all taking place in one setting. I would recommend this one for readers who love REALLY slow builds and rich characters, but it did not make the must-read cut. I know, I know…throw rotten tomatoes wildly at me! Am I missing something? I know there are people out there loving this one so tell me what in the world is wrong with me and why you love it so much!
Let’s move on to the things I think you SHOULD read!
The Life Intended by Kristin Harmel
This book was charming from start to finish. I am a big fan of books that explore the what-if’s in life and this one does it beautifully. When Kate loses her husband in a tragic accident she finally feels like she can move forward in a new relationship twelve years later. When her husband begins to visit her in her dreams though, she begins to fall into an alternate universe where the lines between reality and imagination are blurred.
One of my favorite movies is Sliding Doors and this book reminded me so much of that movie. Harmel truly explores what does it take to move forward in life without forgetting your past.
In this story, Kate blames her lack of sleep on stress. But when she starts seeing Patrick, her late husband, in her dreams, she begins to wonder if she’s really ready to move on. Is Patrick trying to tell her something? Attempting to navigate between dreams and reality, Kate must uncover her husband’s hidden message. Her quest leads her to a sign language class and into the New York City foster system, where she finds rewards greater than she could have imagined.
This is the best piece of chick lit I have read this year and would highly recommend for anyone who needs a little reading escape! I have been telling everyone to escape with this one and I keep hearing how much they loved it too. It’s one I would be packing in my beach bag this summer, for sure!
5 Out of 5 Stars
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
What a beautiful story of two sweet kids who find each other just when they need one another the most. Niven sheds light on a topic rarely discussed in YA literature sharing the true struggles of mental illness as Finch, the main character, struggles with bipolar disorder.
Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.
Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.
The stigma attached to mental illness and the reaction of his peers to this, make this a compelling read for any teen in understanding what it would be like to live with mental illness. This was heartbreaking, beautiful, and provided a thoughtful ending with a great resources & info list for kids struggling with (or who have family/friends struggling with) mental illness at the end of the book. I highly recommend this one for a well-captured idea of what living with bipolar disorder would feel like.
Jennifer Niven will be joining me for a future Sundays With Writers so be sure to check back for that interview as we chat about mental illness in teens and her first YA book (that we will soon be able to see Elle Fanning starring in the movie adaptation of!!).
4 Out of 5 Stars
Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll (currently available for pre-order, hits stores on May 12th!)
I received an ARC from NetGalley for my honest thoughts & opinions on this book.
How can this book not be on your top list? The title has GIRL in it (like this, and this, and this…), Gillian Flynn’s name is dropped on the front cover for the endorsement, the narrator is unlikable, AND Reese Witherspoon will be producing the movie version of this book (only just recently announced). I’d say this has a winning combination for this to be the book that everyone will be talking about this summer.
Much like other thriller books, I don’t want to give away the plot too much so that you have the satisfaction of discovering the twists yourself. Ani is a girl who never has the ability to fit in at her prestigious private school, no matter how many brand name clothes her mother buys her. When Ani intrigues the popular kids, they decide to invite her in and Ani discovers, maybe it was better to have never been a part of the group at all. In a horrible turn of events, she finds solace in another kid at school that will, ultimately, change the destiny of the school and the kids in it forever.
The book flashes back to Ani’s painful teen years and then alternates chapters as they film a documentary about what happened at their school and how much happier Ani is now that she is working at a high-profile magazine, beautiful, thin, and has the guy of her dreams. Of course, things are never as good as they seem and getting to the root of why Ani is so unlikable helps the reader to connect more as the story progresses despite the excruciating shallowness and weight obsession of this woman.
With just the right amount of sass to balance the darkness of this book (think Gillian Flynn for how dark we get), this read is a quick page-turner that I can’t wait to see adapted into film.
5 Out of 5 Stars
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
This book is achingly beautiful in so many ways exploring the beauty and anguish of first loves. This story is uniquely told by a twin sister & brother, alternating chapters, yet one is telling the story three years later while the other is telling the story as it happens. It creates a journey experience for the reader when characters begin to overlap together in these stories.
Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.
Nelson’s words read like watching a painting unravel on a page, as though it all is coming to life, especially when told through artistic Noah’s eyes as his words are the most visually vivid. Nelson beautifully paints the portrait of the typical teenage angst of Jude & Noah, while focusing strongly on the difficulties of being a gay teen and the hostility of classmates that force Noah to try to fit in with his peers.
I laughed and cried through the pages of this one especially because I have never read a writer like this, making me Nelson’s latest fan. It really surprised me in so many ways. I would recommend it for fans of Rainbow Rowell or John Green.
Read my interview with Jandy Nelson in our Sundays With Writers series this month!
5 Out of 5 Stars
The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler (available for pre-order, hits stores on June 23rd)
I received an ARC from NetGalley for my honest thoughts and opinions on this book.
I knew I was going to love this book because it had so many ingredients in it for success with me- librarians, old books, a bit of magic, and a glimpse at the old carnival life. The book has been compared to Water For Elephants and Night Circus, but definitely stands on its own and is an ambitious debut novel from this first-time author. When Simon, a young librarian, receives the gift of a book that is a travel log for a carnival in the 1700’s, he discovers a drowning death of a circus mermaid that is coincidental to his own mother’s drowning death (a former circus mermaid herself) that happened even on the same day. If their family is cursed, his sister could be the next victim and he will do anything to save her. The chapters alternate between the travel log (complete with unique sketch drawings) and present day as Simon tries to stop the curse on his family. The author manages to bring these stories together in a beautiful way with a satisfying conclusion to these mysterious drownings.
This was definitely a slower read for me and the length could have been shortened a bit, as the plot lagged a bit for me. The sketches, however, add a fun interactive element for the reader and help keep you engaged in the story. If you appreciate a good circus story with a modern-day mystery, you will enjoy this escape. I imagine there will be a lot of buzz surrounding this book this summer.
4 Out of 5 Stars
Read With Me This Year:
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