Life has been chaotic lately and I haven’t gotten around to sharing my latest reads with you. I’m so far behind, in fact, that I’m dividing up what I’ve read lately into two posts — I’ll share the rest in a week or two. I recommitted to reading more in March of last year and have read over a hundred books since then! Part of this is thanks to my discovery of audiobooks, which I now listen to in the car, while I’m getting ready, and when I’m doing laundry or housework. The other is due to a conscious decision I made to read during my downtime as opposed to surfing the web, scrolling through my iPhone, or binge-watching mediocre shows on Netflix. It’s amazing how much more I’ve been able to read since making that decision!
You’ll notice that I’m all over the place when it comes to books. New releases, literary classics, obscure memoirs, sci-fi, mysteries, romance, YA — I’ll read just about anything if I think it’s going be good! The appeal of a good book for me is entering someone else’s world and experiencing what it’s like to be there. I have several AMAZING audiobooks to share with you in this list, which are great for long car trips, and the rest of the books run the gamut of interests. Take a look, and be sure to share what you’re reading in the comments. I love your recommendations! And follow on me on GoodReads to keep up with what I’m reading in real time.
Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan (4/5 stars)
Over the years, I have read and loved all of Dominick Dunne’s snarky novels about the lives, loves and scandals of New York’s upper crust — He made it seem like an insider was whispering sordid tales of the rich and famous into my ear in a secluded corner at the Swan Ball, and except for Truman Capote, no one else has really been able to match him in this particular genre… until now.
Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians has the exact same appeal as Dunne’s novels had for me, and the fact that I knew absolutely nothing about Singapore’s jet set only made things all the more interesting. I loved the melodrama, the unfathomable wealth, the charming tradition the older Asian billionaires have of pretending that they’re actually not very wealthy at all, and the clash that comes with having children and grandchildren who want to flaunt those riches and live large.
Crazy Rich Asians reads like a soap opera in the hands of a very talented writer. It’s a perfect beach read or palate cleanser and it was a wonderful escape from my solidly middle class life. I listened to the audiobook version of this novel and highly recommend it. And I will definitely be seeing the movie!
Kristin Lavransdatter, Sigrid Undset (5/5 stars)
One word to describe this 1144-page trilogy? WOW.
Kristin Lavransdatter is best described as an epic journey through all the phases of a 14th-century Norwegian woman’s life, from headstrong young maiden to passionate wife, fiercely loyal mother, and finally, elderly (for the 1300s, anyway) woman. If you are a wife and mother in particular and aren’t afraid to devote some serious time and effort to a sprawling, multi-layered saga, this trilogy is definitely worth your time — and as others have suggested, the three books really need to be read as a whole.
When I finally finished the final book of the series, I felt like I had been on a long emotional journey back in time, into the heart and soul of Kristin and her family. In Kristin, I saw so many elements of my own past, present, and future and it was truly moving to consider the progression of my own life alongside her own. This trilogy is truly brilliant, particularly considering it was written in the 1920s, and it will fulfill you on so many levels. If you have the patience and desire for a deep dive into great literature, you can’t go wrong with Kristin Lavransdatter. Highly recommended.
The Uncommon Reader, Alan Bennett (4/5 stars)
This delightful novella is just 2.5 hours long on audiobook and it’s absolutely worth a listen. Bibliophiles and royal watchers alike will love this fictionalized tale of what happens when Queen Elizabeth discovers a late-in-life love of books. I feel much more attuned to the Queen after watching The Crown on Netflix and Bennett’s depiction of her was pitch-perfect. Highly recommended on audiobook!
The Heart’s Invisible Furies, John Boyne (3/5 stars)
I had heard great things about The Heart’s Invisible Furies, but in the end, it just wasn’t my cup of tea.
We follow Cyril Avery from his birth in 1940s Ireland to the present and marvel at the challenges he faces as a gay man in a very religious, very repressed country. The lack of tolerance for those who deviated from the Catholic ‘norm’ during a time that wasn’t even that long ago is hard to imagine today.
Beyond that, this book just didn’t grab me. There were too many ‘coincidences’ for one thing, as Cyril’s path continually criscrossed with people from his past. It always irks me when novelists stretch my suspension of disbelief to a point where it gets really difficult to place the story in a real life setting in my mind. And while I was waiting for a profound moment of reckoning or discovery that would tie everything up and make the hours I spent reading this 600-page book worthwhile, it never really happened for me. I thought the whole thing was just ‘okay’ — not quite bad enough to put down, but not good enough to be excited about reading it. In the end, those are my least favorite books of all.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies is often compared to A Little Life, which I LOVED. If you’re trying to choose between the two, I’d recommend A Little Life, but not this one.
Mean Streak, Sandra Brown (4/5 stars)
I listened to the audiobook version of this book and for what it was, I really enjoyed it. I’ll definitely read more of Sandra Brown’s books in the future.
Atlanta pediatrician Dr. Emory Charbonneau heads to the mountains of North Carolina alone to train for an upcoming marathon — and doesn’t return. After starting off on her run, she wakes with a concussion in the secluded mountain cabin of a man whose intentions are unclear. As the mystery slowly unravels, Emory finds herself both terrified and attracted by this man, who harbors a dark secret that keeps the reader guessing about him all the way to the end of the book.
Mean Streak has plenty of great twists that all actually seem plausible — My problem with most novels in this genre is that the twists often become so unlikely that they end up spoiling what could otherwise have been a good book. But what really set Mean Streak apart for me was Brown’s gift at characterization. I could vividly see the characters in my mind as I read about them and I thought of them as real people — Because of this, I was far more invested in what was going on than I ordinarily would have been.
A warning for more conservative readers — There are some pretty graphic sex scenes that might just make you blush (and will definitely make you reach for the earbuds if you have kids!). But once again, I thought even these scenes were well-written and appropriate to the story.
I’m glad I discovered Sandra Brown and HIGHLY recommend the audio version of Mean Streak.