I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
December 15, 2018
Okay, okay. I know I read a lot. Last year, I decided to make an effort to read and listen to books in my downtime, as opposed to mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or binge watching a just-okay Netflix series. And my efforts have paid off — I used to get through 15-20 books a year. Now, it’s more like 60-70. WOOT.
I’m really excited about this final book review of the year, because I’ve read some INCREDIBLE books over the last two months, and listened to some wonderful audiobooks. I can’t wait to share them with you! I’ve put the Christmas/wintery reads at the top, for those of you looking for a seasonal read over the next couple of weeks. And yes, this list is a LOT longer than usual because I’d like to start fresh in January and make this a first-of-the-month thing.
Last Christmas in Paris, Hazel Gaynor (5/5 stars)
So many hearts and stars for this lovely wartime novel, which is a WWI-era romance told through letters exchanged between a soldier, an intrepid young woman, and the people who surround them. Last Christmas in Paris is a beautiful holiday read, but it really can be enjoyed any time of year. It’s not deep literary fiction, but it’ll give you the romantic historical fiction feels for sure. And have Kleenex ready for the ending — You’ll need them!
The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living, Louise Miller (4/5 stars)
I absolutely loved the audiobook version of this frothy foodie romance and if you loved Great Kitchens of the Midwest, you will no doubt love The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living, too.
Pastry chef Olivia Rawlings moves from Boston to small-town Vermont because she’s looking for a change — and she certainly gets one when she signs on to work at the Sugar Maple Inn. Soon, she finds herself tangled in the lives and intrigues of the town’s residents, and the son of her boss’s best friend has caught her eye. Has Olivia found a place she can truly call home or will she return to Boston and leave Guthrie, Vermont behind forever? You’ll have to read (or listen to) the book to find out!
Louise Miller does an excellent job of making us love Olivia and all (or at least, most) of the residents of Guthrie, which reminds me a lot of the Gilmore Girls’Stars Hollow. Her descriptions of the delicious pastries Olivia turns out as well as the Vermont countryside are very cozy and atmospheric. The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living is an altogether enjoyable, light read perfect for those times when you want to curl up with a good book, and the audibook version is excellent.
One Day in December, Josie Silver (5/5 stars)
Despite the fact that the first three books on this list are romances, I’m actually not a big romance fan in general — but One Day in December will go down as the big exception to this rule. I LOVED THIS BOOK. And I can’t wait to read more books by this author.
From the beginning, I was drawn in by Laurie James, the young heroine trying to find her way in London after graduating from college, and her best friend Sarah. Silver’s descriptive, down-to-earth writing style made me feel like I was right there with them, making sandwiches, nursing hangovers, and laughing about all that had happened the night before. I don’t want to say too much about the love story that’s central to this novel because part of its charm is the many unexpected twists and turns it takes, but I will say it was riveting and unexpected and emotional and sweet and every time I picked this book up, I didn’t want to put it down. When I finally had a relatively free afternoon yesterday, I just sat down and read until I finished it!
You can read One Day in December at any time of year, but it is particularly delicious at Christmas time. I totally recommend it, even if you don’t ordinarily read romance novels.
*Netgalley provided me with an ARC of this novel, which does not affect my opinion at all. Promise.
In Pieces, Sally Field (4/5 stars)
This memoir was quite a surprise. I grew up watching Sally Field in reruns of Gidget and The Flying Nun and loved many of her movies, like Norma Rae, Places in the Heart, and Steel Magnolias. I had an image of her as being more down-to-earth and relatable than the average Hollywood actor. This book, although it was good, shot that idea to pieces.
The real Sally Field, or at least the one she wants people to believe is the real Sally Field, is far more jaded and hardened and deeply embedded in the philosophy and lifestyle of a professional actor than the public persona she’s shown us over the decades. She grew up in California as a child of TV stars and never really knew any other way of life, and it shows in her general outlook. Sally wants us to know in this memoir that she’s a deep thinker and a woman who’s had her share of hard knocks. I got that and I really felt for the difficult times she’s endured. But I also was a little disappointed to find that I couldn’t relate to the real Sally Field at all — not as a mom, not as a professional, not as an American woman. The decisions she made over the years at pivotal moments in her life were so different from the ones I would have made in her shoes, so different from the ones I would have expected her to make. I came away from the book with an entirely different idea of Sally Field than I had going into it.
But that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy listening to it. One of the reasons I enjoy Hollywood memoirs is that actors’ life experiences generally are so different from my own. I’m fascinated by the way celebrity can change a person’s outlook and way of seeing him/herself. Sally Field’s story is interesting, compelling, and in some ways tragic, and I’d say the memoir is far better than average, with an ending that will absolutely leave you in pieces. Recommended for Sally Field fans and anyone who enjoys a good, juicy Hollywood autobiography.
The Great Alone, Kristin Hannah (4/5 stars)
Although I didn’t think The Great Alone was anywhere near as good as Hannah’s The Nightingale, it is definitely a solid, compelling read and would be perfect for a vacation. It’s the 1970s when Leni Allbright’s parents load up all their belongings in an old VW bus with the intent of homesteading in Alaska. They land in a tiny town in the heart of the Alaskan wilderness and the Allbrights quickly learn they’re not at all prepared to survive in this wild frontier. With the help of their new neighbors, though, they’re quickly brought up to speed.
Things are tough for Leni and her mom — They must navigate the violent nature and mental unraveling of their father and husband, Ernt, a POW from the Vietnam War. Surviving him proves to be even more difficult than surviving Alaska’s harsh winters.
That’s the scenario for the plot and it leads to several unexpected twists and turns, some of which I wasn’t all that thrilled with. At times, the book also dragged a bit in its repetitive descriptions of the Alaskan wilderness and their constant efforts to survive. That said, it’s a good read overall, one I think just about any woman would enjoy.
The Last Black Unicorn, Tiffany Haddish (5/5 stars)
The audiobook version of this book was a total delight. Tiffany Haddish is real, raw, and holds nothing back about her experiences growing up in and out of foster care and making her way in the world as a black female comedian. Listening to her read this book was like hearing my craziest, funniest friend tell the most hilarious –and sometimes most shocking– stories about her life. It was thoroughly entertaining and at times, unexpectedly emotional. Tiffany cried as she was reading parts of it and you can’t help but sympathize with her for having to endure a difficult childhood and an abusive, controlling husband.
If you don’t like language and graphic sexual descriptions, this is definitely not the book for you. You also don’t want to listen to this one in front of your kids!
If those things don’t bother you, definitely give this book a listen. I’m sure it’s good on paper, but do yourself a favor and get the audiobook of this one — Tiffany’s narration is AHMAZING.
A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin (5/5 stars)
Let me start by saying I’m not a reader of fantasy novels. Not now, not ever. However, I love the Game of Thrones HBO series so much that I decided to try the novel — I’m so glad I did. If you’ve seen the show, reading the books will only enhance the TV series and mightily impress you with its casting directors, who pretty much NAILED IT across the board. If you haven’t seen the show, I’m betting you’ll still love the book series. George R. R. Martin does an amazing job of creating an entirely new world and making you feel like you’re there, experiencing the same sights, sounds and smells as the characters. You don’t need to be a lover of fantasy to appreciate his talent and incredible imagination.
I’m looking very forward to reading the rest of the series!
Belgravia, Julian Fellowes (4/5 stars)
Do you still miss Downton Abbey? Then this is definitely the audiobook for you. Belgravia has all the upstairs/downstairs intrigue and fascinating period details of Downton Abbey and the audiobook is even divided up into episodes rather than chapters, adding to its television series feel. Belgravia begs to be optioned for Masterpiece Theatre, and I’m convinced that’s exactly what Julian Fellowes had in mind when he wrote it. I found the audiobook to be totally enjoyable and I’m a new fan of its narrator, British actress Juliet Stevenson, who transported me back to 1800s England.
Pachinko, Min Jin Lee (5/5 stars)
This ambitious, sweeping saga covers the lives of one family through four generations, starting in 1911 with the daughter of a poor fishing family in Korea and ending with her descendants’ ultimate financial success (but not without high cost) in Japan, eighty years later.
Pachinko is a quiet tale that’s expertly told, drawing you in and intimately connecting you with its characters’ thoughts, struggles, and desires so that when the unexpected happens, it really packs a punch. It explores faith, familial duty, honor, love, and the roles of women and men, both in family life and society at large. It also paints a well-researched portrait of life as a Korean family in Japan in the 20th century. I was fascinated by the real-life struggles of the many Koreans who live in Japan and how they’re viewed by Japanese natives, and I loved reading about the cultures and customs of the area since they’re at times incredibly different from ours in the west. If you found Unbroken to be a fascinating cultural exploration of the United States’ complicated relationship with Japan, then I think Pachinko will be an eye-opening companion. I found myself thinking of Unbroken many times while I was reading this book.
Pachinko now takes a well-deserved spot as one of my top five favorite books of the year so far. Recommended!
You’ll Grow Out of It, Jessi Klein (5/5 stars)
I’ve found a kindred spirit in Jessi Klein.
You’ll Grow Out of It is a memoir filled with hilarious, at times poignant, and often relatable stories gleaned from Klein’s life as a young, single comedy writer (and later, new wife and mother) making her way through life in New York City. I chose the audiobook version and I’m glad I did — It felt like I was sitting with a hilarious friend at a bar as she told intimate, fascinating stories about her life.
Much like Tina Fey in Bossypants (definitely the best book by a female comedian I’ve ever read) Klein manages to strike a balance between laugh-out-loud hilarity and astute observations about the female experience. The one drawback of the audiobook was that there were too many times when I wanted to go back and underline what I’d heard. This is one of the few occasions where I’m determined to buy a hard copy of the book — I love it that much.
It was interesting to me that other readers had very strong feelings about You’ll Grow Out of It — Either they loved it or they really didn’t like it at all. Those who didn’t enjoy it complained that Klein wasn’t relatable because of her fabulous life as a writer for shows like SNL and Inside Amy Schumer. This didn’t bother me because Klein is clearly writing about life from her background and perspective — At no time did she seem to be trying to make anyone believe she’s just like everybody else out there. At the same time, Klein is incredibly self-deprecating. Even as she wrote of winning an Emmy – the pinnacle of her career so far – she admitted to feelings of inferiority and general lameness. I never got the impression that Klein secretly thinks she’s better than her readers and if you read many celebrity memoirs, you know as well as I do that’s not always the case!
Bottom line: If you read my blog and like my style of humor (which is probably why you’re reading this review now), I’m betting you’ll love You’ll Grow Out of It, simply because I thought it was HILARIOUS. I only wish I were as sharp and funny as Jessi Klein. If you don’t enjoy my sense of humor, well, I’m guessing you might not like this book, either.
Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson (5/5 stars)
No matter where you stand on the death penalty, consider this book a must-read. Bryan Stevenson has devoted his career to helping inmates on death row get their sentences commuted or overturned. He gives us an inside look at America’s prison system and gives voice to the men (and, occasionally, women) who’ve previously only been portrayed by the media as monsters. He exposes the inherent problems of our criminal justice system, and they are problems we should all be worried about, regardless of how we feel about the criminals themselves.
I did not always agree with Stevenson’s assertions. I think his book would have been stronger if he had not painted an entirely sympathetic portrait of every man and woman he covered in this book. Death penalty crimes are typically heinous and shocking and because Stevenson chose to sort of gloss over these crimes, I thought his position was made less credible.
That said, I couldn’t help but admire Stevenson for giving his life to this cause in which he so strongly believes, and for proving the innocence of several men who almost certainly would have died in prison if he hadn’t interceded and reviewed the details of their cases. Stevenson made the excellent point that many — if not most– of our nation’s criminals likely never would have committed their crimes if a caring society had interceded during their youths, when they were subject to poverty and abuse and violence and mental illness and homelessness. Why are we so unwilling to help those most at risk while they can still be helped, and yet so eager to put them away in prisons and mental hospitals when they inevitably crack? It’s definitely something to think about, and it actually prodded me to start volunteering at one of our city’s lowest-performing elementary schools in an effort to contribute even a tiny bit toward solving this huge societal problem.
Read this book. It will make you think, it will make you feel, it will make you angry and it will make you sad. Read this book no matter how you feel about the prison system. Stevenson’s perspective is one we all need to carefully consider.
These Happy Golden Years, Laura Ingalls Wilder (4/5 stars)
Well, shoot. I really don’t want this series to end.
In this next-to-last Little House installment, Laura becomes a school teacher and finally falls in love with Almanzo. It’s definitely a little creepy that he began courting her when he was 25 and she was 15 and that this was happening to all the teen girls in Laura’s town (they don’t mention the actual age differences in the book, but it’s pretty clear that all the men are much older than the girls they’re wooing), but I tried to roll with it since it was normal for that time and it’s also clear that he really did care about her — She basically rebuffed him for two straight years and he kept patiently coming around and helping out every time he saw an opportunity until she was mature enough at 18 to actually develop feelings for him and want to get married. It seems like he wisely took time to develop a longstanding friendship with her, which I’m sure contributed to their happiness together. At any rate, they stayed married until his death at 92, so things seemed to have worked out!
This book feels like an ending to the series — The girls are all growing up and Laura moves out of her home by the end of this volume. I found myself really wanting to read another series about Laura’s life as a young wife and mother and I felt sad that Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t write that story. I realize there’s one more book left in this series, but it’s super short! Waaah.
The funny thing is that I didn’t like this series at all when I was a kid — I got through one or two books before giving up out of boredom. As an adult, though, I absolutely LOVE this series. I love the nostalgia of it and the history and I love thinking about what it would have been like to have lived during these times. I have also loved thinking about life from Caroline’s perspective, raising girls in uncertain and dangerous times. I can’t even imagine how difficult and frightening things must have been for her as woman and as a mother.
I will probably wait a year and then start the series all over again. The books never fail to draw me into their cozy, idealized world of pioneer life, and I absolutely love them. The Little House series is a guilty pleasure I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty about.
Scrappy Little Nobody, Anna Kendrick (3.5/5 stars)
I have a love-hate relationship with this book. At times, Anna Kendrick’s mostly relatable stories about her life were enjoyable and entertaining, particularly listening to her tell them in audiobook format. At other times, it got a little dull and annoying. A large part of the book, for example, is devoted to her growing up years, which for the most part were incredibly ordinary — and while I can appreciate her desire to prove that she’s not so different from the rest of us, I’m not sure I needed her to spell it out in such great detail.
As the book progresses, it becomes painfully apparent that Kendrick came out with this memoir several decades too soon since frankly, not all that much has happened to her yet. Several of her ‘major breakout roles’ that get lots of coverage in this book were in movies and plays I had never seen nor heard of. And she’s had no struggles to speak of, so there’s not much meat here.
Then there’s the fact that there’s absolutely NO dishing of behind-the-scenes gossip regarding her two big roles in Into the Woods and the Pitch Perfect, or her minor role in the Twilight series, since, as Kendrick writes, she wanted to continue acting after the book came out. That’s all well and good, but it makes her stories read more like a carefully vetted magazine interview than a dishy tell-all.
In summary, Scrappy Little Nobody is definitely not the best memoir I’ve read or listened to lately — BUT it is a decent audiobook if you’re looking for something light to put on while you’re doing other things. Kendrick feels like that mostly-lovable-but-sometimes-annoying friend who rambles on and on about her life while you silently listen and wonder if she’s going to ever ask you about yourself.
Through a Glass Darkly, Karleen Koen
I absolutely loved Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl, so much so that I’ve since read several more of her books and a few of Alison Weir’s as well. And though I’ve enjoyed most of them, none have approached the unputdownable level of Boleyn Girl… that is until I came across Through a Glass Darkly. I knew this book had quite a devoted following and now that I’ve read it, I can understand why.
Barbara Alderley is a young woman of noble heritage coming of age in 1700s Britain. We meet her as a teen and follow along as she experiences life, love, and intrigue in the court of the Prince of Wales. I was completely engrossed in her story, which had enough scandal and melodrama to make 750 pages fly by. I also loved reading about an era that’s not often written about in historical fiction. I relished learning about how the upper crust lived in an altogether different time period in England and France. It was fascinating and really added interest to the novel.
If you loved The Other Boleyn Girl, I can almost guarantee you’ll love Through a Glass Darkly as well. I’m looking forward to reading the two other books in the Tamworth Saga.
Before We Were Yours, Lisa Wingate (4/5 stars)
Just when you think you know all there is to know about your state’s history, a book like this one comes along and hits you in the gut. Before We Were Yours is based on the real-life Tennessee Children’s Home Society, where in the 1930s and 40s thousands of children were stolen from poor and unmarried parents and either abused and neglected in orphanages or profitably adopted out to families with means. That this happened in my state not all that long ago is unimaginable, and the fact that so many knew what was going on and either aided in it or did nothing is truly appalling. From this perspective, Before We Were Yours is eye-opening, gut wrenching, and heartbreaking. It’s a moment in time you won’t soon forget.
Before We Were Yours is also a well-told tale. Once I got through the first 50 or so pages, I raced through the book, wanting to know what was going to happen next, which made for a very satisfying, if shocking, read. If you’re looking for a solid page-turner based in real-life events, this is the book for you. And I’m betting you’ll watch the 60 Minutes reports about the Tennessee Children’s Home Society when you’re done with the book, just like I did!
Stillhouse Lake, Rachel Caine (4/5 stars)
Ever since finding out her husband was a serial killer, Gina Royal has been on the run with her two children, trying to give them as normal of a life as possible while staying hidden from the Internet trolls who are convinced she helped her husband commit the murders. Just when Gina thinks she’s finally found a peaceful home where she and her family can settle down for a while, ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE.
Stillhouse Lake is a solid thriller, but not necessarily a memorable one — I just finished it a couple of weeks ago and already needed a refresher on the synopsis before I wrote this review! I’m not a huge fan of thrillers, so the fact that this one kept me engaged is a good sign and the twist at the end was unexpected — I’ll probably read the sequel when it comes out.
Rich People Problems, Kevin Kwan (4/5 stars)
This third installment of the Crazy Rich Asians series just might be my favorite — When a fabulously wealthy Asian matriarch nears death, the entire family rushes to her side in hopes of being chosen as heir to her billion-dollar estate, Tyersall Park. All kinds of hilarious tabloid-style antics ensue.
I think of this series as the Asian version of Dominick Dunne’s gossipy novels about New York’s elite. Rich People Problems is fluffy, gossipy, over-the-top fun, and I’ve loved listening to the entire series on audiobook.
My Southern Journey, Rick Bragg (3.5/5 stars)
This book is a collection of Rick Bragg’s magazine essays and some are better than others. I loved Bragg’s stories of family and childhood and Southern food — I wasn’t so thrilled about his obsession with Alabama football. I really enjoyed listening to the audiobook version of this book because Bragg is a natural storyteller and his voice is melodious and soothing. Many of the essays from this book were featured in Southern Living, which I subscribe to, and I enjoyed listening to Rick Bragg read his essays aloud more than I ever enjoy reading them myself in the magazine — Therefore, I’d recommend the audiobook version of My Southern Journey over the written one.
The Story of Holly & Ivy, Rumer Godden (4/5 stars)
This is a sweet read-in-one-sitting story about a toy store doll who wants a girl and an orphan girl who wants a doll — and a grandmother — to call her own. It’s a bit… okay, TOTALLY farfetched, but a lovely book to read to a child in the weeks leading up to Christmas. The illustrations are really wonderful and definitely add to the tale, so get a hardback copy if you can find one.
Keep up with what I’m reading in real time by following me on Goodreads!
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. All opinions are my own.