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.
November 3, 2018
There’s a lot to love — or at least, like — in this latest installment of what I’ve read lately, starting with one of my favorite books of the year. Check out my list and tell me in the comments what you’ve been reading lately!
Educated, Tara Westover (5/5 stars)
Wow. I have so many thoughts about this book!
This could have been a very typical ‘my childhood was so crazy’ memoir about the strange and disturbing life of a girl from a fundamentalist Mormon family. Tara Westover never received any formal education. She spent her childhood working in her family’s junkyard and preparing for End Times. She endured abuse and neglect from a crazy brother and possibly bipolar father. Her story is worthy of a Jerry Springer episode — but it’s elevated by Westover’s intellect, talent for writing and profound thoughts about her experience.
Westover went on to graduate with honors from Brigham Young University. She did post-graduate work at Cambridge and Harvard and ended with a PhD in history. She widens the perspective of her story so that many of us can relate to her experience on some level and compare her family’s dysfunction to what we may have experienced in our own histories. By realizing that she, as opposed to her father or her brother or her church, is the rightful author and the authoritative voice of her personal history, she reminds us that we can and should be the authors of our histories as well. It seems like an obvious fact on its face, but I suspect most of us have allowed others to dictate how our childhoods played out, even when we knew that narrative was completely flawed.
On this level, I absolutely loved Educated. I was riveted by it.
But there’s something about this story that’s very troubling to me.
Although Westover changed the names of several of her friends and family members, it’s easy to find their real names and many details of their lives online. One could argue that if they didn’t want her to write publicly about them, they shouldn’t have acted the way they did — but while that may be true of her father and brother, for me the boundaries are less clear when it comes to the female family members in her life, most notably her mother, sister, and sister-in-law. One could argue that they are also victims of her father and brother’s rigid belief system (although I do believe her mother absolutely could have and should have stood up for her) and it bothers me that some of the most private and embarrassing details of their lives have been made public without their consent. Tara Westover has no contact with them now — She’s a celebrated author speaking at major events, posing in glamorous photo shoots, and making lots of money. But I can’t help but wonder if she feels a degree of guilt in exposing some of the most vulnerable aspects of her female family members’ lives and then cutting ties with them, offering no help or support as their secrets are exposed.
Regardless, I suspect this book will stay on my mind for years to come. I do hope Tara Westover is able to reunite with her estranged family members (well, maybe not ‘Shawn’) and I hope they are all able to find some peace and understanding for one another. There’s an undercurrent of longing and loss in her writing that’s impossible to ignore, and I suspect that if she’s unable to reconcile with her family, it will be traumatic for her.
Once Upon a River, Diane Setterfield (3.5/5 stars)
Once Upon a River starts off strong, with a fairytale-like air — A drowned girl miraculously revives in an old inn beside the Thames. The patrons, known for their storytelling abilities, instantly began weaving the tale of who she is, where she came from, and what will happen next. We spend the rest of the book figuring all these things out for ourselves, and there are many twists and turns along the way.
I loved Setterfield’s cozy and descriptive writing style. I loved many of the characters and felt invested in what was happening to them. But I didn’t absolutely love the story itself. While it definitely had its moments, it seemed to ramble at times to the point that I was soon very eager to finish the book and move on to something else. I believe if the tale had been significantly shorter, I would have enjoyed it much more. I really loved The Thirteenth Tale, so I probably set the bar higher for Once Upon a River than I otherwise would have. If you love historical fiction mixed with a bit of magical realism and appreciate a writer who really is a first-rate storyteller, give this book a try.
I received an advanced digital copy of this book from Netgalley.
Monster, Walter Dean Myers (4/5 stars)
Sixteen-year-old Steve Harmon is on trial for murder. Is he guilty of acting as lookout in a botched store robbery that ended in the shopkeeper’s death, or was he simply in the wrong place at the wrong time? That’s the premise of this novel, written as a screenplay from Steve’s perspective.
I listened to the full-cast dramatization of this novel and it really made the book come to life. Some have complained that the screenplay format of the book makes it difficult to read, so I think the audio version of this book might be the best way to go. While I enjoyed Monster, my 14-year-old daughter was absolutely riveted by it — It served as an introduction for her to the harsh realities of our prison and judicial systems and how a young black man might be perceived within that system, regardless of how he feels inside.
Monster led to some great discussions and I really loved its unexpected ending. At 2.5 hours, it’s a perfect length for a car trip, but due to the sometimes graphic nature of the book, it’s best for families with teens.
Into the Darkest Corner, Elizabeth Haynes (4/5 stars)
This psychological thriller has a slow, simmering build, but once it gets going, you’ll have trouble putting it down. Cathy Bailey was a vivacious, fun-loving party girl until she started dating Lee Brightman. Four years later, she’s broken, traumatized, and suffering from a severe case of OCD. We spend the rest of the book learning what happened to Cathy and what’s coming next now that Lee has been released from prison.
If you’re a fan of the genre, Into the Darkest Corner will not disappoint. Not surprisingly, there are plot points that stretch the boundaries of belief, but it doesn’t offend in this department as much as most other thrillers I’ve read. Although it’s 600 pages long, the book is a total page turner and the chapters fly by.
The downside of the book is its abject darkness. Its depictions of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse are incredibly graphic — This could be triggering for some readers. At times, I found myself wondering if I could even finish the book. It felt wrong to be reading about these acts, even when they were only imagined by the author.
However, if you have a strong stomach and you’re looking for a terrifying book likely to keep you up well past your bedtime (I stayed up until 1am finishing it last night and am suffering today!), Into the Darkest Corner is a great pick.
When Dimple Met Rishi, Sandhya Menon (3.5/5 stars)
Dimple Shah isn’t down with her parents’ traditional ways — The 18-year-old tech geek is determined to live her own Westernized life, and when she gets to a summer coding camp and realizes her parents have secretly intended it to be a meet-up with the boy they’re hoping she’ll eventually marry, she’s FURIOUS. Poor Rishi Patel doesn’t stand a chance in the face of Dimple’s fury…. except that Rishi is, like, the nicest, most thoughtful guy that ever lived.
What will happen to Dimple and Rishi? You’ll have to read this fun and frothy book to find out. I absolutely loved the audiobook version — The narrators are completely charming and made me laugh out loud several times. Sandhya Menon also did a great job of evoking those butterflies-in-the-stomach feelings of first love. Both Dimple and Rishi are incredibly likable and I was totally rooting for both of them throughout the book.
I’m giving it 3.5 stars instead of four because it is predictable at times and it drags some the second half of the book. That said, it was a very enjoyable listen and would make for a sweet and lighthearted YA romance read if you’re up for that sort of thing.
The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion, Fannie Flagg (4/5 stars)
Although this novel’s structure is eerily similar to Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle-Stop Cafe, that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. Mrs. Sookie Poole of Point Clear Alabama has just married off her last daughter and is preparing to relax for a change when an unexpected discovery about her past calls into question everything she’s ever believed about herself. As Sookie comes to terms with her identity, we slowly learn the story of four Polish sisters in Wisconsin, who not only ran an all-girl filling station but also flew planes during WWII. Their story, though fictional, is based on actual female pilots whose service was later basically covered over by the military. I found this information to be fascinating.
The storyline veers back and forth between Sookie’s story and that of the girls back in the 1940s and I have to admit, I found the girls’ story far more interesting than Sookie’s — She was a little too similar to Evelyn Couch from Fried Green Tomatoes for comfort. However, the book as a whole was enjoyable, particular the audio version, which is read in a perfect Southern drawl by Fannie Flagg herself. (Her attempts at a Wisconsin accent are sketchy, but we’ll forgive her for that!)
If you were a fan of Fried Green Tomatoes — the movie or the book– chances are you’ll like The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion as well.
China Rich Girlfriend, Kevin Kwan (4/5 stars)
More hilarious high society fun from Kevin Kwan in part 2 of the Crazy Rich Asians saga — The billionaires of Asia put the European and American elite to shame! I love the audiobook versions of Kwan’s novels and can’t wait to check out Rich People Problems. If you like Dominick Dunne’s novels, you will LOVE the Crazy Rich Asians series.
Calypso, David Sedaris (4/5 stars)
I have to admit, I was a little disappointed to realize I had already read 75% of the essays in Calypso in magazines and online. That made me extra glad, though, that I chose the audiobook version of the book — Hearing David Sedaris read these essays aloud made them all worth hearing again.
Calypso gives us an intimate look at Sedaris and his family — His siblings are almost all in their 50s now and his dad is in his 90s. It has been fascinating to see them change over time through Sedaris’s eyes, and to follow along as he’s become more vulnerable and open in what he chooses to tell the world about his relationships with his siblings, his parents, and his husband, Hugh. We learn more about the suicide of his sister, Tiffany, and how her death continues to rock the family dynamic, even though her adult interactions with them were never easy or good.
I was also surprised at the amount of bickering between Sedaris and Hugh that comes out in this book. It’s funny, of course, but there’s so much of it that I feel a little bad for them now, and I wonder if Sedaris is subconsciously venting about this change in their relationship in his essays.
Overall, Calypso is another solid volume from David Sedaris. His fans will not be disappointed. He’s still hilarious, but as he ages he definitely becomes more introspective and that’s a good thing, for sure. Recommended!
Everything You Want Me to Be, Mindy Mejia (4/5 stars)
Let’s get this out of the way first — The audiobook version of Everything You Want Me to Be is totally cringeworthy. Although it has three narrators, which usually would be a big plus, all three of these particular narrators were abysmally horrible when it came to attempting voices of the opposite sex. The male narrators made every female character sound like what would happen if some random man was assigned the role of ‘prissy grandma’ in a community theater production of Great Sketches from the Carol Burnett Show, while the female narrator inexplicably gave her Midwestern born-and-bred teen boyfriend a New York accent that at times veered into Eastern European with a splash of speech impediment. Meanwhile, one of the male narrators gave that very same character a total redneck twang. Plus, ALL the narrators struggled noticeably with the pronunciation of ‘Nguyen’ — and each narrator came up with a different solution. Was it Noo-Yen? Nwoo-Yen? Nah-goo-wee-Yen? All three options were represented. (My friend, Mary Nguyen, pronounced it ‘Nwen.’ I’ve gone around for years saying ‘Nwen.’ Now I’m flummoxed.) The crux for me, though, was when a narrator pronounced Nashville’s Opryland ‘Ope-ryland.’ HOW COULD ANYONE IN THE U-S-of-A NOT KNOW HOW TO PRONOUNCE OPRYLAND? HOW? I mean, what’s next? The Grand Ole Ope-ry?!
That said, it is a testament to the greatness of this novel that despite its loathsome audio, I could not stop listening. I don’t want to give any details on this one — The Goodreads synopsis already reveals way too much — I will say that it has plenty of twists and turns, a satisfyingly small number of plot holes and inexplicable tangents (Hattie’s brother: Why?), characters you will come to love and understand even though each is far from perfect, and an ending I did not see coming. While I’m not a HUGE fan of thrillers because I’ve had sooo many disappointments in this genre, I keep coming back to them because I can’t give up on the notion of being, well, thrilled. On that score, Everything You Want Me to Be did not disappoint.
The Husband Hunters, Anne de Courcy (3/5 stars)
I really enjoyed this book — It’s full of wonderfully detailed, gossipy stories about the upper crust in England and America during the Gilded Age and the marriages that gave American heiresses royal titles and saved many British houses from ruin. The only reason I’m giving it three stars is that it is heavily in need of editing. It seems almost as if Anne de Courcy’s notes were bound together into a book — The narrative is all over the place, with certain stories and details repeated several times and the same women and men popping up randomly at different points in the book without explanation rather than their stories being told in one cohesive section.
I was inspired to read more about several of the people mentioned in The Husband Hunters (May Yohe and Tennessee Claflin to name a few) and WOW — If an actress, novelist, or filmmaker is looking for a new project, there are some fantastic and fascinating ideas here!
If you loved Downton Abbey, I think you will like this book as well.
I received an advanced digital copy of this book from Netgalley.
The Chaperone, Laura Moriarty (3/5 stars)
I listened to the audiobook version of this novel and the only reason I was able to finish it was because Elizabeth McGovern did such a good job narrating it. Although the book — the fictionalized tale of the woman tasked with chaperoning silent film star Louise Brooks while still a teenager dancing in New York City– was a disappointment for me, I’ve heard rumors that Elizabeth McGovern will be starring in a Masterpiece Theatre adaptation of this novel, and I’m looking forward to seeing it. I do think it would translate well to the screen.
Little Town on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder (4/5 stars)
Another wonderful volume in the Little House series. Nellie Olsen returns for more drama, Almanzo comes a courtin’, Mary goes off to college, and Laura grows up. What’s not to love? I especially loved the depictions of social life in a brand new town at the end of the 1800s. I couldn’t get into these books as a kid, but now that I’m an adult, I absolutely love them!
What are you reading right now?
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I LOVED Educated. It has stuck with me since I read it a few weeks ago; I can’t imagine how hard it was to crawl out of that kind of situation with any sense of self-worth.
I’m in the middle of a book of short stories by Curtis Sittenfeld but I haven’t decided if I like it yet. 🙂