August & September Book Review

August_SeptemberBook Review

I’m always asking friends and family which books they’re digging, especially the ones they can’t put down and find themselves staying up way past bedtime to finish. Those are the only kinds of books I can get into. If I’m just feeling so-so a quarter of the way into a book, there’s a good chance I will stop reading it altogether because I have zero patience when something doesn’t grab me from the start.

These past couple months I had a few must-read suggestions from friends plus some new books penned by authors I’ve adored for years, and books from new writers whose recent work I’ve just started to tap into. I hope you get some ideas from this book review to add your fall reading list…what better season exists to curl up and get lost in a new book?

First Comes Love book coverFirst Comes Love by Emily Giffin

After a family member lent me Something Borrowed a few years back (I had previously seen the movie starring Kate Hudson and Ginnifer Goodwin – not realizing it was based on a book), I discovered this author had written an entire series with the same chick-lit vibe, so I basically spent an entire summer engrossed in reading every single book. From then on, I always jumped on each newly published Emily Giffin novel as soon as it was released. So when it had been two years since Emily’s last book The One and Only came out, I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the newest one.

First Comes Love is about two sisters trying to work through their relationship after the death of their brother. The majority of the plot is set 15 years after the tragedy, but there are a few flashbacks woven throughout the book. I really enjoyed all of the elements in this novel – the love, loss, and self-exploration that revealed the complexities beyond a traditional sisterly rivalry.

My only minor complaint is that it could have used an additional chapter at the conclusion – maybe a flash forward to “one year later…” to see how everything wrapped up. Even without it, I thought First Comes Love completely lived up to my expectations of Emily’s books, which are known for being witty, satisfying, and culturally relevant, all while remaining suspenseful and thoughtful.

Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic For a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living by Shauna Niequist

I’ve waxed poetic about Shauna Niequist ever since my first book review which included one of her all-time bestsellers Bread and Wine. I was SO looking forward to reading Present Over Perfect, especially after I had the privilege of seeing Shauna speak in person at the Belong Tour in late August.

That being said, I have mixed emotions about this book. It’s obvious that Shauna poured her heart and soul into this book – possibly more so than any other she’s ever written (and that’s saying something for a seasoned author with five books under her belt). The message is important for so many women – to slow down and prioritize meaningful connection over the busyness that often leads to a frenzied lifestyle.

While I was reading it, I was deeply entrenched and absolutely fell in love all over again with Shauna’s lyrical writing style. I found myself constantly nodding my head in agreement and tearing up over the the poignant remarks she made about some hard realizations she had come to during her journey of self rediscovery. She gets extremely personal and shares valuable lessons that came to her at an incredible cost. That kind of vulnerability always makes a lasting impact on me.

Now for the not so great parts. When I took time to put down Present Over Perfect, walking away to let it all sink in and coming back to it later, I started to observe a lot of repetition and monotony. The format of the book is a series of essays and oftentimes feels like random thoughts strung together, written perhaps for more cathartic purposes. Shauna does not provide practical ways to change, but she’s very detailed about her personal soul transformation and experiences.

This is specifically geared toward the driven, type A, overachieving women, so if you don’t find yourself in that category Present Over Perfect may not strike a chord with you. The overall message is to slow down and do life at a pace that is meant for you. And for some people like Shauna, that might look like saying no to certain opportunities in favor of more quality time with loved ones.

I would still recommend this book, even if you feel you have to skim through some of the heavier monotonous portions to get to the really good nuggets of wisdom – because there are many! The fact that Present Over Perfect even challenges readers to contemplate how they’re living life is a win in my opinion. But I think Bread and Wine will still remain my favorite book of hers.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

A couple friends really liked this book, and when I saw it was available on Amazon’s new Audible free channel streaming service, I knew it was the perfect audiobook to keep me company while working on some home painting projects.

It’s set in 1977 and begins with a Chinese-American teenager named Lydia found dead at the bottom of the local lake, working backwards to uncover all of the struggles in her family over the last decade of her life that led to this point. We get perspective from each family member and the backstory of Lydia’s life.

Everything I Never Told You covers it all – a character portrait, family relations, the burden of expectations, and race and gender identity issues. I think listening to the audiobook version really made all the difference in how I interpreted each individual character’s story. Each person had their share of secrets, lies, and heartbreak that made them question the events leading up to Lydia’s death.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say this was a downer, so you have to prepare yourself to feel melancholy when it’s all said and done. I felt a little bit “meh” about the ending, but unlike a lot of other fictional books, this one left me really thinking about some of the complex issues discussed throughout – setting unrealistic expectations, trying to fit in, being different among one’s classmates, coping with dysfunctional family dynamics, and not projecting our own hopes and dreams on our children.

After You book coverAfter You by JoJo Moyes

*Warning: I’m about to be annoyingly vague so as not to spoil the plot of Me Before You (prequel to After You) for anyone who hasn’t read it. After reading and loving Me Before You, I was excited when the audiobook of the sequel became available through the library. This book starts eighteen months after the end of the previous one. I remember wanting to read just a few more chapters of Louisa’s (main character) life following Me Before You‘s climactic ending, so After You filled that need for me. I know some people will try to compare the two books and might find themselves disappointed, but I really enjoyed this new chapter of Louisa’s life.

After the events that unfolded with Louisa’s love interest Will Traynor, After You begins with her getting into a horrible accident and returning to her hometown to recover with family. Throughout the rest of the book she meets a new cast of secondary characters that assist with her road to physical recovery and her journey to find emotional healing and peace from what occurred in the previous book (there I go being vague again).

Louisa’s quirky family plays a pretty big role once again and while they are certainly flawed they are so loveable and add to the charm of this book. I think After You had just the right balance of humor, romance, and drama. I loved seeing how Louisa’s life played out and how she learns to fall in love and believe in herself again.

Here are some books that are on my reading list for next time:

My mom suggested two must-read novels for me: A Man Called Ove and What Was Mine. Read the synopses of each at the links above. How could you not be hooked from the get-go with those storylines?

Liane Moriarty’s Truly, Madly, Guilty. Sadly, I’ve heard reviews that have erred on the negative side for her latest book. Please say it isn’t so! Does anyone else have insight on it? I’ve loved all of her other books so I’m hoping it isn’t a dud like so many others have said it is. 🙁

Elin Hilderbrand’s  Here’s to Us. I just barely started this and think it will be another good light chick-lit read.

Lysa TerKeurst’s Uninvited. I’m about halfway through this since I took a break to add some fictional pieces back into the mix these last couple months. There are SO many good takeaways in this book and I am highlighting/bookmarking in my Kindle like crazy and can’t wait to share.

What have you been reading lately? I’d love both fiction and non-fiction suggestions!

2 Comments on August & September Book Review

  1. Renee
    January 11, 2017 at 3:32 am (4 years ago)

    I know this post is old BUT loved these recs – I haven’t read any of these so I’m excited to add some to my pile. Keyword PILE. I’m actually the same way in terms of not being able to get through a book if I don’t love it from the start. A Man Called Ove is on my list too – I’m like number #100 on the library wait list. haha.

    I really liked Dear Mr. Knightley!!!!! It was so fun and sweet.
    I’m just starting Wild & Free – good so far, although a little repetitive.
    The Power of Habit – great for new year’s
    I liked Malcom Gladwell’s books if you haven’t read them yet.

    • mhofker
      January 17, 2017 at 3:06 am (4 years ago)

      Thanks, Renee!!! I FINALLY made it to the #1 spot for A Man Called Ove on the library wait list this weekend so it’s getting me through the ice storm, ha! Thanks for the recs. I’ve heard a few other friends mention some of those books so your input just confirms that I need to add them to my reading list!


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