Good Reads // July 2015

ReadingBench

Hello friends and fellow bookworms!  It’s time for my monthly book reviews post – and there are some real gems here!  Enjoy!

Rating System
★★★★★ = Amazing!
★★★★ = A great read
★★★ = It’s good
★★ = Just ok
★ = Not for me

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book_dogsTitle: Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts
Author: Lucy Dillon
Series: NA
Audiobook Narrated By: Jilly Bond
Length: 13 hrs and 3 mins
Published:2009 by Hodder & Stoughton // BBC Audiobooks
Pages: 432 (Paperback)
Category: Fiction, Chick Lit, Animals
Overall Rating: ★★★

The first lines: “When February started, Rachel Fielding had a middling-to-glamorous career doing PR for internet companies, a boyfriend who regularly bought her flowers and dressed better than she did, a cleaner, and a skin-age three years younger than her actual age, which was thirty-nine.  By the second week, however, she had, in one simple maneuver, manager to lose the love of her life, her Chiswick flat and her job.  Rachel also discovered, that same morning, her first grey streak, which stood out a mile in her thick dark hair, and got a text from her sister Amelia, accusing her of forgetting her niece’s fifth birthday ‘because not having children doesn’t mean you can be so bloody selfish.’ The sacking, or the dumping, or the grey hair was depressing enough on its own.  But all three together was more punishment than even someone skilled in spinning bad news could take.”

Summary from Goodreads: Thirty-nine year old Rachel is having a really bad year. After losing her job and breaking up with her boyfriend, Rachel has inherited her late aunt’s house, her beloved border collie, and a crowded rescue kennel, despite the fact that she knows almost nothing about dogs. Still, considering her limited options, she gamely takes up the challenge of running the kennel. And as Rachel starts finding new homes for the abandoned strays, it turns out that it might not just be the dogs that need rescuing.

My thoughts A good read – quick and easy – filled with absolutely adorable dog stories!  One of the main characters inherits a dog rescue shelter and throughout the book, we get to discover the dogs’ backgrounds and personalities!  That part was cute and fun!  Throughout the rest of the book, however, there was lots of talk about kids – people not having kids (and apparently being selfish for it), people wanting to have kids but can’t, and people having kids and struggling with it.  Not exactly bad stuff…just…not what I was expecting, or really wanting to read.  It is part melancholy, part romantic…but overall not a bad read.

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book_MartianTitle: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
Series: NA
Published: 2011 Self Published; 2014 by Crown
Pages: 384 pages (Hardback)
Category: Science Fiction, Space, Humor
Overall Rating: ★★★★★

The first lines: “Log Entry: Sol 6.  I’m pretty much fucked.  That’s my considered opinion.  Fucked.  Six days into what should be the greatest two months of my life, and it’s turned into a nightmare.  I don’t even know who’ll read this.  I guess someone will find it eventually.  Maybe a hundred years from now.  For the record…I didn’t die on Sol 6.  Certainly the rest of the crew thought I did, and I can’t blame them.  Maybe there’ll be a day of national mourning for me, and my Wikipedia page will say, ‘Mark Watney is the only human being to have died on Mars.’ And it’ll be right, probably.  ‘Cause I’ll surely die here.  Just not on Sol 6 when everything thinks I did.  Let’s see…where do I begin?”

Summary from Goodreads: Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him & forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded & completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—& even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—& a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

My thoughtsLoved it.  Loved reading it.  Loved laughing at it.  Loved the characters’ voices in my head.  Who knew a novel about an astronaut stranded on Mars with limited water and food would be so funny?  And I mean literally, laugh out loud, funny.  Even non-sci-fi readers will have a hard time putting down this book.  I know that I literally could not put down.  The “sol” entries and chapter lengths are absolutely perfect for the story flow – and even though you can sense time passing, you don’t actually think about the fact that you are reading through an entire year and a half of entries logged in space.  First of all, if you’re not a regular science fiction reader, don’t let the science in the novel throw you off.  Yes, there are a couple of very detailed scientific babble paragraphs thrown in throughout that your eyes will naturally gloss over, but it’s honestly those fine details make the possibility of living on Mars that much more real.  But it’s not just science…it’s dangerous science….and watching (reading) the “why would you even consider that” options play out.  As readers, we’re aware that even an unnoticed action or miscalculation could sabotage survival (or just outright kill him)…and yet we continue to read as that very situation unfolds. It’s always tricky when an author switches back and forth between narrators…but the author did an amazing job at blending the two perspectives at exactly the right time and with the right amount of information.  HIGHLY RECOMMEND.

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book_fourTitle: Four: A Divergent Collection
Author: Veronica Roth
Series: Divergent
Published: January 1, 2014 (Katherine Tegen Books)
Pages:  285 pages (Hardback)
Category: Fiction, Dystsopia
Overall Rating: ★★★★

The first lines: “I emerge from the simulation with a yell.  My lip stings, and when I take my hand away from it, there is blood on my fingertips.  I must have bitten it during the test.  The Dauntless woman administering my aptitude test-Tori, she said her name was-gives me a strange look as she pulls her black hair back and ties it in a knot.  Her arms are marked up and down with ink, flames and rays of light and hawk wings.  ‘When you were in the simulation…were you aware that it wasn’t real?’ Tori says to me as she turns off the machine.  She sounds and looks casual, but it’s a studied casualness, learned from years of practice.  I know it when I see it.  I always do.  Suddenly I’m aware of my own heartbeat.”

Summary from Goodreads: Two years before Beatrice Prior made her choice, the sixteen-year-old son of abnegation’s faction leader did the same. Tobias’s transfer to Dauntless is a chance to begin again. Here, he will not be called the name his parents gave him. Here, he will not let fear turn him into a cowering child.  Newly christened “Four,” he discovers during initiation that he will succeed in Dauntless. Initiation is only the beginning, though; Four must claim his place in the Dauntless hierarchy. His decisions will affect future initiates as well as uncover secrets that could threaten his own future–and the future of the entire faction system. Two years later, Four is poised to take action, but the course is still unclear. The first new initiate who jumps into the net might change all that. With her, the way to righting their world might become clear. With her, it might become possible to be Tobias once again. From #1 New York Times bestselling author Veronica Roth comes a companion volume to the worldwide bestselling Divergent series, told from the perspective of the immensely popular character Tobias. The four pieces included here–“The Transfer,” “The Initiate,” “The Son,” and “The Traitor”–plus three additional exclusive scenes, give readers an electrifying glimpse in to the history and heart of Tobias, and set the stage for the epic saga of the Divergent trilogy.

My thoughts Finished in one day! A great read for Divergent fans who crave just a little bit more.  A bit of history told from the perspective of Four…with a couple other tidbits thrown in.  Definitely not a stand-alone book, but still fun to read.  Recommend.

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book_orphanTitle: Orphan Train
Author: Christina Baker Kline
Series: NA
Published: 2013 (William Morrow Paperbacks)
Pages: 278 (Paperback)
Category: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Overall Rating: ★★★★

The first lines: “I believe in ghosts.  They’re the ones who haunt us, the ones who have left us behind.  Many times in my life I have felt them around me, observing, witnessing, when no one in the living world knew or cared what happened.  I am ninety-one years old, and almost everyone who was once in my life is now a ghost.  Sometimes these spirits have been more real to me than people, more real than God.  They fill silence with their weight, dense and warm, like bread dough rising under cloth.  My gram, with her kind eyes and talcum-dusted skin.  My da, sober, laughing.  My mama, singing a tune.  The bitterness and alcohol and depression are stripped away from these phantom incarnations, and they console and protect me in death as they never did in life.”

Summary from Goodreads: The author of Bird in Hand and The Way Life Should Be delivers her most ambitious and powerful novel to date: a captivating story of two very different women who build an unexpected friendship: a 91-year-old woman with a hidden past as an orphan-train rider and the teenage girl whose own troubled adolescence leads her to seek answers to questions no one has ever thought to ask.  Nearly eighteen, Molly Ayer knows she has one last chance. Just months from “aging out” of the child welfare system, and close to being kicked out of her foster home, a community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping her out of juvie and worse. Vivian Daly has lived a quiet life on the coast of Maine. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past. As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly discovers that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.  The closer Molly grows to Vivian, the more she discovers parallels to her own life. A Penobscot Indian, she, too, is an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past. As her emotional barriers begin to crumble, Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life – answers that will ultimately free them both.  Rich in detail and epic in scope, Orphan Train is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of second chances, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are.

My thoughts This book follows two touching stories of unlikely friends, 17-year-old Molly and a rich 91-year-old widow Vivian. Although at first these two women seem to have little in common, their unenviable fates are not that different: Molly grew up as a foster child, while Vivian was an orphan train rider. In addition to a fascinating story of courage, resilience and second chances, the book offers an insider’s look at a significant but often overlooked figure in American history, so-called orphan trains, which between 1854 and 1929 “transported more than two thousand orphaned, abandoned, and homeless children from the coastal cities of the Eastern United States to the Midwest for ‘adoption,’ which often turned out to be indentured servitude.”  Vivian’s recollections and the present day storyline were woven together beautifully, but it still felt like reading two separate books because the styles of each story were dramatically different. Vivian’s story was very realistic, gripping and deeply moving, and I was impatient to return to it after the stories switched. Even though the present day storyline was still entertaining, I didn’t connect with it that much as it seemed more stereotypical.  Overall, a great quick read.  Recommend.

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book_girltrainTitle: The Girl on the Train
Author: Paula Hawkins
Series: NA
Published: January 1, 2015 (Riverhead Books)
Pages: 336 pages (Paperback)
Category: Fiction, Mystery
Overall Rating: ★★★★

The first lines: “There is a pile of clothing on the side of the train tracks.  Light-blue cloth – a shirt, perhaps – jumbled up with something dirty white.  It’s probably rubbish, part of a load dumped into the scrubby little wood up the bank.  It could have been left behind by the engineers who work this part of the track, they’re here often enough.  Or it could be something else.  My mother used to tell me that I had an overactive imagination; Tom said that, too.  I can’t help it, I catch sight of these discarded scraps, a dirty T-shirt or a lonesome shoe, and all I can think of is the other shoe and the feet that fitted into them.  The train jolts and scrapes and screeches back into motion, the little pile of clothes disappears from view and we trundle on towards London, moving at a brisk jogger’s pace.”

Summary from Goodreads: Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.  And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

My thoughts This book started a little slow, but really pulled me in during the second half.  The story is told from three different perspectives, all of which you aren’t quite sure whether to trust. Rachel, the girl on the train, is a down and out alcoholic who becomes overly interested in a couple she’s never spoken to, but sees from a distance during her morning commutes. When the wife of this couple goes missing, Rachel becomes an ‘important’ part of the police investigation.  Mystery, suspense, and drunken blackouts ensue. The characters are all hot messes (yes…all of them!) and some of the details are a bit unsettling, but I’m telling you it will hook you!  Recommend!

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What are you currently reading? 
Jen
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4 thoughts on “Good Reads // July 2015

  1. Girl on the Train WILL hook you for sure. I really wanted to know what would happen in the end, but man I didn’t like that book. I think just because all the characters are hot messes, like you said 🙂 Orphan Train has been on my list for a while. Glad you would recommend! I’ve heard pretty good things.

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