52 Book Challenge: 29-53

This is my final check in for 2018! If you want to see my other reviews, check out Quarter 1, Quarter 2, and Quarter 3.

I can’t believe I did it, but I not only finished all 52 books, but I have a 53rd one as well, and it’s not even New Years. I’ll do a recap post a bit later looking at all the books I’ve read and planning for 2019.

29. Luckiest Girl Alive

Author: Jessica Knoll
Stars:  4/5
Setting:  Main Line, PA and NYC
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QUICK SUMMARY:

Ani FAnelli has been determined to show the world her perfect life from the minute she graduated her elite Main Line private school. From the beautiful fiance to the killer outfits and enviable job in NYC, she appears to have it all. What she hasn’t learned to deal with are two major events of her freshman year, one a personal humiliation and the other national news. When she’s asked to be part of a documentary about the latter, she has to come to terms with both and her own happiness with her current state.

THOUGHTS:

To be honest, I have one question for the author that I can’t seem to find an answer to:

What in the Lord’s name is up with the main character’s name and weird capitalization?!

With that out of the way, I actually liked this book. I read it in like a day, and while I probably wouldn’t put it on a list of my favorites, I thought the author did a good job tackling a lot of subject matter in less than 400 pages. It kind of is a lot, but it does explain a rather unlikeable main character.

Also, I was getting such deja vu with all the name dropping since I grew up right around the setting of Ani’s high school years. From shopping at the King of Prussia Mall to my friend living in Chester Springs to knowing just how amazing Wawa is… I’ll admit it probably buttered me up to the actual plot.

30. Serendipity

Author: Ashok Ferrey
Stars:  3.5/5
Setting:  Colombo, Sri Lanka
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QUICK SUMMARY:

Fed up with her 1980s London life, Piyumi Segarajasingham jumps on the chance to return to her home in Sri Lanka and fight to keep a part of her mother’s family’s estate from being sold by her relatives.

THOUGHTS:

This was such an odd little book! I picked it up at a bookstore on Mayne Island, read about half of it, and then forgot it in a restaurant! Luckily, I found it on Amazon and ordered it to finish when I got back to Providence. It feels like a quick read, but I also feel like I didn’t 100% understand what was going on. I’m not familiar with Sri Lanka’s history, and I also feel like the author had a ton of anachronisms that made it harder to keep track of the time.

It is an interesting story, and I felt for the main character who was trying to save something she idealized. I thought she was oddly passive in her actual love life, which I didn’t get at all, and it made me feel bad for the guy constantly helping and wanting to be with her.

31. Anne of Avonlea

Author: LM Montgomery
Stars:  5/5
Setting:  Avonlea, Prince Edward Island
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QUICK SUMMARY:

This book takes place when Anne’s 16-18 and follows her as she takes up a position as a schoolteacher in Avonlea. Adventures of the second book include the arrival of twins, Davy and Dora, attempts at beautifying Avonlea, meeting the lovely Miss Lavender, and more.

THOUGHTS:

I mean, it’s not my favorite of the books, but that’s like saying chocolate cake isn’t your favorite way to consume chocolate. It’s still a lovely story with fun characters, dreamy musings, and a lovely plot. These books are so wholesome, they make for a nice break in between all the other books I read. Still sad Gilbert Blythe isn’t even based off a real person haha

32. Girls & Boys

Author: Dennis Kelly
Stars:  3.5/5
Setting:  England
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QUICK SUMMARY:

A lone woman tells the story of how she met and married her husband, interspersed with her talking to her children. It’s a short listen/read since it’s based off a play.

THOUGHTS:

Umm… Well, that was certainly a story. I honestly didn’t know where it was going to go, so by the time they start revealing something’s off with this tale, it goes from like 0 – 100 real quick.

33. Last Train to Istanbul

Author: Alyse Kulin
Stars:  5/5
Setting:  Ankara, Paris, + Marseilles mainly
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QUICK SUMMARY:

The story is about two privileged sisters who wind up on separate paths. Both the daughters of a well respected Turkish pasha, Sabitha follows the path laid out for her — marriage to a promising, young Muslim man, a family, and a daughter. Selva, the younger sister, though, takes a completely different, marrying a Turkish Jew, Rafael Alfandri. When neither her nor his family approves, they leave Turkey for France, but soon find themselves caught up in the Nazi occupation. The book is about how they must fight to find their way back to Turkey.

THOUGHTS:

At first, I wanted to be wildly annoyed with the main character, Selva, because she constantly put herself in danger trying to be heroic. Don’t get me wrong, we need heroes, but her kid needs a mother more! But I realized she was only doing her best, and she’s still human, and this story is just freaking good.

It’s well-researched, and it’s a take on WWII, I’d never read about before — Jewish Turkish citizens in France trying to escape. Honestly, I wouldn’t have thought it remotely real if it weren’t for the afterword where the author describes her research into it!

There are little things I wish had a bit better of a conclusion, like Sabitha and the psychiatrist or how Selva’s husband actually feels about her beyond duty, but that’s life.

34. Emma

Author: Jane Austen
Stars:  5/5
Setting:  England
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QUICK SUMMARY:

Emma Woodhouse has all the privilege in the world — an inheritance that gives her financial independence, a father who adores her, and a circle of friends who find her fun and clever. However, it’s when she starts meddling in other’s affairs that she realizes just how wrong she may have been about her beliefs and decisions.

THOUGHTS:

You know, I’d never actually finished Emma, and I started it ages ago as a kid. Since then I’ve enjoyed the Romola Garai version and, of course, Clueless. Guys, I love Clueless, and listening to Emma made me realize just how well they nailed the modern adaption. Emma is one of my favorite Austen characters because I love how independent and confident she is.

35. The Woman in Cabin 10

Author: Ruth Ware
Stars:  4/5
Setting:  Norway Cruise
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QUICK SUMMARY:

After suffering a break-in, Lo Blacklock is a little on edge going into her first big assignment aboard a luxury cruise in Norway. However, she really begins to think she’s gone crazy when she witnesses a murder in the middle of the night but no one seems to believe her. Worse yet, everyone on board is accounted for.

THOUGHTS:

It took me a few reads to get into the story, but once I was, I finished like 140 pages in a day. I enjoyed the twists and turns the plot took, and it didn’t make me as depressed as the author’s other book, In a Dark, Dark Wood. I know it is a bit slow to start, but I liked the descriptions of the boat and Norway and her job as a travel writer!

36. Little Fires Everywhere

Author: Celest Ng
Stars:  3.5/5
Setting:  Shaker Heights, Ohio
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QUICK SUMMARY:

Everything about the Richardson family and their suburban town of Shaker Heights is lovely and idyllic. However, this is all upended when a mysterious artist and her daughter move in.

THOUGHTS:

I actually listened to this way back in July when I was in Jeju, but somehow I forgot to add it to my list back then. I LOVED the writing style, but what the hell was that plot?

book challenge

37. Wedding Night

Author: Sophie Kinsella
Stars:  4/5
Setting:  London
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QUICK SUMMARY:

When Lottie’s boyfriend doesn’t propose like she thinks he will, she takes up with an old flame and decides to get married! Meanwhile her sister, Fliss, is going through a divorce, and decides she must stop the two from consummating the marriage, so they can get an annulment and not suffer what she’s suffering through.

THOUGHTS:

This is an absolutely ridiculous plot, but it’s a fun, light read that had me laughing along. It’s such a weird concept, I don’t know how it got through the initial brainstorming phases. I liked it way better than the other Kinsella book I read recently but not as much as My So-Called Perfect Life.

38. Anne of the Island

Author: LM Montgomery
Stars:  5/5
Setting:  Kingsport, Nova Scotia
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QUICK SUMMARY:

Anne’s in university! She and Gilbert head off the Redmond College in Kingsport to experience the life of college students. Obviously, this means new characters, new little plot lines, and, of course, new revelations.

THOUGHTS:

This is my FAVORITE Anne book by far. I mean, I’m sure you can guess why — it’s when Anne finally realizes she likes Gil. I actually haven’t read this one since I was younger than their ages in the book, so it’s fun rereading it now that I’m well past their ages. Phil might actually be my favorite character because she has absolutely 0 reservations about calling it like she sees it!

39. The Map of Salt and Stars

Author: Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar
Stars:  5/5
Setting:  Syria
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QUICK SUMMARY:

The book goes back and forth between two Syrian girls. The first is Nour, whose family becomes refugees as they try to escape the violence around them and the second is Rawiya, the heroine of a 12th century tale. She disguises herself as a boy and follows a famous mapmaker as his apprentice.

THOUGHTS:

I got this book when Audible was having a big sale around Black Friday, and I was absolutely in love with listening to it. It’s just a beautiful story that hits everything you want it to without being cliche or manipulating your emotions.

40. House By the River

Author: Lena Manta
Stars:  3.5/5
Setting:  Greece, US
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QUICK SUMMARY:

In a little village near the base of Mt. Olympus, five daughters yearn to get out in the world. The book follows each of their stories throughout the years.

THOUGHTS:

Part of me absolutely loved this book, and another part of me had a lot of skeptical questions. The age gaps between the couples were bizarre and some of them quite creepy. I also thought it was just plain odd that none of them kept in touch after they left the house by the river! They try to explain it a bit because two of the sisters ended up in Athens at the same time, but it’s a weak one at best. All I could imagine was my sophomore year suite mate rolling her eyes and saying, “Drama, drama, drama.”

41. Anne’s House of Dreams

Author: LM Montgomery
Stars:  4/5
Setting:  Glen St. Mary, PEI
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QUICK SUMMARY:

Anne and Gilbert are finally married! After their wedding, they move about sixty miles away from Avonlea to Glen St. Mary where Gilbert becomes a doctor and Anne starts to keep house. As they enjoy their first few years of marriage, we’re introduced to a whole new slew of characters to love.

THOUGHTS:

Ugh. I remember loving this book at 13 because, marriage! But reading it as I’m older makes me a bit sad. I don’t understand why LM didn’t give Anne more to do! She and Gilbert also start to fade into the background characters they become for the rest of the novels, which is sad. I also hate how we’re robbed of scenes with characters we’ve been with from Book 1! For example, Anne and Gilbert return to Avonlea for Christmas, and we get maybe a paragraph or two mentioning it. I want five chapters dedicated to Marilla and Rachel Lynde and Davy and Dora!

I do always love Leslie’s story, though.

42. Rilla of Ingleside

Author: LM Montgomery
Stars:  5/5
Setting:  Glen St. Mary, PEI
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QUICK SUMMARY:

In the final Anne book, the main character isn’t Anne, but her youngest daughter, Rilla. Rilla is a dreamy, frivolous girl of 14 who only wants to be treated like an adult and attend dances. But WWI has different plans, and Rilla and PEI soon find themselves wrapped up in a war no one could have prepared them for.

THOUGHTS:

AHHHHHH. Okay, so I decided to skip to the last book because I knew I wouldn’t love re-reading Anne of Ingleside and Rainbow Valley. While Anne of the Island is probably my favorite Anne-centric book, I’m not going to lie, this one might be my favorite of the whole bunch. It’s just SO GOOD. It’s so different from the rest of the books though, it’s almost not fair to compare them in a ranking.

Rilla is such a charming character, and it’s fun to watch her grow and become more than just a bit of an airhead. Also the little romance with Kenneth West is cute and will help heal the heartbreak that’s going to happen in the other parts of the book.

43. The Nightingale

Author: Kristin Hannah
Stars:  4/5
Setting: Paris and Loire Valley, France
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QUICK SUMMARY:

The Nightingale follows two French sisters, ten years apart, and what they both experience during World War II. While the older Vianne just wants to protect her daughter while her husband is at war, the more impetuous Isabelle winds up joining an underground resistance against the German invasion.

THOUGHTS:

I mean, it’s set in WWII, no one’s going into this book expecting rainbows and butterflies! I do think Hannah has a tendency to really get overdramatic with her novels (at least with this one and Firefly Lane), but for some reason I find myself loving them in the end.

Also, I was reading reviews afterwards, and people kept saying they were referred to the book because of All the Light We Cannot See, and, wow, besides being set in WWII, these books are nothing alike. I enjoy both but in different ways. AtLWCS is very much an example of literary fiction, which means the plot is more subtle, the writing is more refined, and it’s sometimes a little less accessible for regular reading. TN is more straightforward in its writing; there’s a lot more action, and it’s the kind of book you could find yourself getting sucked into reading late into the night.

44. What Happened

Author: Hillary Clinton
Stars:  5/5
Setting:  Around the US
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QUICK SUMMARY:

I mean, you know what this book is. It’s Hillary’s response to the disastrous 2016 election. It’s her way of writing through what happened, and her way of saying all the things she wishes she had said or done when she ran.

THOUGHTS:

It took me a while to listen through this book because it brought up a lot of raw hurt and anger I had for most of 2017. But it’s so worth the read, and I wish she had gotten to say everything she had written instead of the media focusing on her emails. Yes, Clinton isn’t above reproach, and there are some things in her history I really wish she’d address, but at the end of the day I’m never not going to be angry she’s not my president.

Also, F*** Y**, James Comey.

45. The Wild Girl

Author: Kate Forsyth
Stars:  5/5
Setting:  Kassel, Germany
Get Here

QUICK SUMMARY:

Did you know many of the Grimm Tales actually come from the girl next door? Not some eccentric grandmas hidden around the German countryside. This is the story of Dortchen Wild, who would eventually become Wilhelm Grimm’s wife.

THOUGHTS:

I don’t know why, but when I was settled at home in the winter, all I wanted to do was reread this book. It’s one of those books I go back and reread sections of all the time, so I decided to return and reread the whole thing. I skimmed over some of the more difficult parts (Trigger warning — there’s some domestic and sexual abuse). I just love how well- researched the novel is and how it pieces together Dortchen and Wilhelm’s relationship.

46. The Diplomat’s Daughter

Author: Karin Tanabe
Stars:  4.5/5
Setting:  Japan, US, China, Germany
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QUICK SUMMARY:

This story is about three people and how they survive WWII. The first is Emi Kato, whose father is a Japanese diplomat, and how she finds herself in an US internment camp and then Japan after the bombings of Pearl Harbor. The second is Leo Hartmann, Emi’s former Jewish boyfriend when her family was stationed in Austria. After the Nazis begin persecuting Jews, her family helps his escape to Shanghai where they must survive the Jewish ghetto there. The third is about Christian Lange whose German-American parents are falsely accused of Nazi sympathies and sent to the same internment camp as Emi.

THOUGHTS:

Whoops! This is another one I listened to back in the summer, and I completely forgot to record it. I was telling a friend about how many WWII books I seemed to read this year, as I was telling her, I realized I’d left this one out. This is another one I liked but also was a bit frustrated by. It brought up yet more aspects of WWII that I had never really read about, but I was ultimately a little underwhelmed by the love plot. I almost wish the author had figured out a different way to connect all three characters or written separate books.

47. Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

Authors: Marry Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Stars:  5/5
Setting: London + Guernsey
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QUICK SUMMARY:

Told through letters, this book is about a writer, Juliet, in post-WWII and the unlikely friendship she strikes with a small community in Guernsey.

THOUGHTS:

Ahhhh, this book is so unbelievably charming! I, of course, saw the movie first. I love Lily James, Jessica Brown Findlay, and Michael Huisman when he’s not playing a lame oldest brother of haunted siblings. I’m also a total sucker for beautiful landscapes and, as you can see by my book challenge, anything related to WWII. The movie was so beautiful, I planned on reading the book as soon as I finished it.

Anyway, it took me a while to finish because I had a physical copy of it, and I kept misplacing it! I finally finished it at home right before Christmas, and it was as lovely and wonderful as you’d hope a book could be. I wish I came off as effortlessly charming as Juliet!

48. The Question of Red

Author: Laksmi Pamuntjak
Stars:  4.5/5
Setting:  mainly Yogyakarta, Buru Island, Kadipura
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QUICK SUMMARY:

Amba is a clever girl who has no intention of succumbing to the same tragedy her namesake suffers in the famous Indonesia myth. However, she ironically finds herself between two men, Salwa, the lovely teacher who her parents love, and Bhisma, a doctor and communist sympathizer.

THOUGHTS:

I don’t think I’ve ever read a single book set in Indonesia! This was part of Amazon’s Free Book day, and I loved it. Besides the fact that it hits all my weak points — forbidden love, a strong-willed female character, and ties to history, it’s just a fascinating tale. It really goes into a time period I didn’t even know existed. Also the writing is just incredible. I read that the author actually did the translating herself, which makes sense because it completely lacks any awkwardness that tends to creep into even the best of translations.

49. The Little Book of Lykke

Author: Meik Wiking
Stars:  5/5
Setting:  Various places
Get Here

QUICK SUMMARY:

The same guy who brought Hygge into the world is back with his research of happiness or “lykke.”

THOUGHTS:

Just a fun book that examines happiness around the world! It goes into what makes us happy, why some countries are happier than others, and case studies of how people created their own happiness. It’s a fun, cheerful book that was the pick-up I needed in this dreary December.

book challenge

50. River in Darkness

Author: Masaji Ishikawa
Stars:  5/5
Setting: North Korea + Japan
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QUICK SUMMARY:

Masaji Ishikawa has the worst of both worlds — he’s half-Japanese and half-Korean in 1950s Japan. When his father is given the opportunity to return to North Korea, the land of paradise, and escape the discrimination they face in Japan, the family has no idea just how bad things are about to get.

THOUGHTS:

This book is going to break your heart. It’s a relatively short read, which is probably a mercy because it’s so sad. I mean, it’s a book about a man and how he escaped North Korea to tell his tale, so you know it’s not going to be happy. But still, it’s rough. And if you know anything about NK, you know even the happiest of endings for refugees aren’t that happy.

51. I Am Pilgrim

Author: Terry Hayes
Stars:  3/5
Setting:  Saudi Arabia, Paris, NYC, various places
Get Here

QUICK SUMMARY:

There’s a man who’s secret agent status makes James Bond look low on the totem pole, and he goes by a number of aliases. He’s trying to retire and find some sort of normal life when he’s pulled back in by the threat of a biological massacre (is that the right word?) that would make 9/11 look like child’s play.

THOUGHTS:

I mean… The plot is good. It’s a thriller, and you get sucked into it. The villain was far more fascinating than the main character, and the descriptions are gruesome. I found myself getting stressed out just listening to some of the scenes. I do think the way it wraps itself up is a little cliched but not too bad.

The real issue I have, though, is in the details. Like, if you kept the author a secret, I would have guessed it was a middle-aged white dude writing it. Can’t tell which casual commentary came more often — the Islamophobic or the mildly misogynistic.

52. Christmas Eve 1914

Author: Charles Olivier
Stars:  5/5
Setting:  Frontlines in WWI
Get Here

QUICK SUMMARY:

Just a play that describes how the miraculous Christmas truce of 1914 came about in WWI.

THOUGHTS:

This was part of Audible’s free selection for December, so I listened to it while I was working on something else. It’s a touching tale told from the British side, and it’ll give you a nice punch in the gut with emotion at the end.

53. The Good Girl

Author: Mary Kubica
Stars:  3/5
Setting:  Chicago, IL + Grand Marais, MN
Get Here

QUICK SUMMARY:

Told from three different perspectives, this story is about Mia Dennett and what happens when she goes missing one night. There’s Colin, her kidnapper, Eve, her mother, and Gabe, the detective.

THOUGHTS:

So… I actually think this book had the potential to be really interesting, but it completely ruined it in the details. Like, could be anymore cliched?! Guess what Mia’s skin color is? Better yet, guess what color her hair is? Guess how affluent her family is? Guess how horrible her father is? Guess the skin color of the “real” bad guy? Guess how poor the kidnapper was once upon a time? Good lord, lady, come up with better descriptions!

And there you have it! Book Challenge COMPLETE.

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