Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Summer Reading List: July Book Reviews

Whoaaa, I really need to update my blog. It's been a month since my last post. I promise a full update on life soon! I guess blogging idleness is the sign of a good, happy, busy summer right? And it has been FULL-- full of visitors, friends, family, trips and lots of rest. Part of rest has included reading - I tackled several books off my list this month and am ready to offer reviews. 

Same disclosure as last time - If you read one of these books and hate it, remember that I am not a literary critic or an English teacher. I just like what I like, so take my opinions with a grain of salt. Your cup of tea might be different than mine!

You can check out last month's reviews here.

July Readings and Reviews

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dove
Rating: 4.5 stars

This was not even a book on my summer reading list. It was my July book club book, so I had to make a little detour from my list and I am so glad I did. I loved this book and had not heard of it, so I probably would not have read it if not for the fact that it was required of me. The book is set in Sonoma County at a family winery when all of the family is in town for the harvest party and a family wedding.  From the beginning, the reader is aware that each of the family members has his or her own struggle, with some of the conflicts and hurts within the family. This is a tight close knit family that is trudging through loss, change, hurts and disappointment with each other. Even more, they are at a crossroads where they have to let go of part of their past in order to move into the future. None of the characters are "bad guys" per se, so you find yourself rooting for each one, flaws and all. I really wanted to see healing, opportunity, hope and love come to each character.

What I loved about this book is that I (and probably many of you) could easily relate to this fictional family.  I, too, come from a close knit, in-your-business, type of family. A family filled with traditions - sure, these traditions aren't "harvest parties" but football games and tailgates, holidays, cookouts, etc. A family with its own share of hurts, both within and outside of the family walls. So, I could easily identify with the characters - the ones hurt by their family, the ones who did the hurting, the ones who were hurt out in the world and came home for comfort, the ones who were scared of change, etc. 

The book wasn't perfect, but it was very enjoyable and actually hopeful - but not in a cheesy fairy tale kind of way.  It doesn't have a "perfect" ending, but instead it has a real ending.

Eight Twenty Eight by Larissa and Ian Murphy
Rating: 4.5 stars

I love this sweet couple. I mean, how can you not? These two were seriously dating with Ian saving up for a ring when a tragic accident placed him in a coma (and then traumatic recovery) and derailed their future plans. Despite a brain injury, they decided to keep dating and eventually, go ahead and move forward towards their goal of marriage - and their marriage looks far different than they had planned.  How incredible to commit to "for better or for worse" even without the marriage covenant binding you!  She is totally sacrificial in her love of him and he is totally trusting - two areas I could definitely improve on.

My one complaint is that the book does seem to jump around a bit - and sometimes I had a hard time keeping up with the timeline. But, the Murphys are not professional authors, just two amazing people sharing their story. Also, there were parts of the story I wanted to know more about - for example, I wanted to know more about when and how he woke up from his coma and what that was like. However, it's not my story to tell - and she told their story so tenderly and honestly, obviously sharing what she saw as the most important moments in their journey and Ian's continued recovery.

For those who read this  book, you will fall in love with them both and you will cheer for them and cry with them and hope right alongside them.  You can follow their blog here.

Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz
Rating: 4 stars

This book is a short easy read and quite entertaining! I found it to be a great little metro/lunch break read as I could easily ready a couple chapters in a short amount of time.  The author is a world renowned chef and cookbook author who fulfilled his lifelong dream of moving to Paris after his partner unexpectedly died.  Some said he was running away, but he saw it as one chapter ending (sadly) and using the ending as a chance to take another opportunity.  He tells about the good, bad and ugly of French living - how the French cut in line constantly, how everything takes longer, how sales people aren't always helpful- but he also tells about the great people, great food, wonderful little shops with expert sales people and all the charm of this city. After all, every culture has its pros and cons.

The book also includes some of the author's recipes and a list of his favorite restaurants in Paris.  I hope to make use of both!

The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris by Jenny Colgan
 Rating: 3.5 stars

I ended up liking this book, but I must admit, it started out slowly (for me, at least)  But, to be fair, I was reading a few books at once and some of them flowed quickly so this may have sounded slow by comparisons.

The main thing I loved about this book was that it was set in Paris - and at a chocolate shop. Paris, chocolate - what's not to love? The book focuses on two English women - Claire who is in her late 50s, a divorcee, mom of 2 and cancer patient, but spent a glorious summer in Paris 4 decades prior - as a nanny. She fell in love with Paris and a chocolate shop owner - and has always remembered that summer as her happiest of days. The second woman, Anna, is 30 years old, in need of a life change and a former student of Claire's. With Claire's prodding, Anna leaves for Paris to work in the same chocolate shop owner. Finally, with Anna's help, Claire makes one final trip to Paris, a city where she found love and a different version of life forty years prior.

What I liked about this book is that there were second chances at life and love, reconciliation, forgiveness, deep friendship between women 25+ years apart and also, a realization in all the blessings life provided along the way.  After all, life isn't always romantic summer flings in Paris, but it can still be filled with family, commitment, happy moments.

The book is not life changing, but it is a happy little piece of chick lit set in one of the world's most romantic cities.

The Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins
Rating: 5 stars

Oh, I loved this book. I could not put it down!! It is not my typical type of book as kind of dark, but it is a page turner and keeps you guessing (and I was quite proud of myself for solving the mystery before the murderer was revealed)

The book's main character, Rachel, is not really very likable. She is a depressed unhealthy drunk woman who rides the London commuter train that passes her former house (where her ex, his new wife and their baby still live).   The train also passes a house with what she imagines to be a happy couple. She watches them on their patio and has created a happy life for them in her head.  However, when the woman in the couple goes missing, Rachel places herself into the investigation, providing insights and also realizing that people aren't always who you imagine them to be.  Also, throughout the book, you slowly start to like Rachel a bit more as you realize some of the reasons she is the way that she is.

I can't say too much about this book without giving away critical information, but if you want a page turner that you can't put down, this is your book.  Many have called it the next Gone Girl!

Undone: A Story of Making Peace With an Unexpected Life by Michelle Cushatt
Rating: 3 stars

I didn't like this book as much as I thought I would - but the good news is, that by the end of the book, I liked it a lot more than I did in the beginning.  I think my frustrations were because I imagined the book to be a Christian Living self-help type of book (is it pathetic to say self-help?) with advice and scripture on how to handle life's unexpected troubles.  I just came off a very hard 6 months and I wanted some encouragement on living with unexpected life turns.

However, the book tended to be more about the author's journey - with occasional advice mixed it.  Her writing was vulnerable and expressive, but to me, it read more like a memoir of a rough few years in her life instead of an encouragement book for others. I did enjoy the book because I became involved in her life story, rooting for God to show up in big ways amidst some really hard troubles (cancer, wayward children, sick family members, foster kids, etc) and truthfully, even without instruction spelled out in clear black and white, I did gain encouragement from her story. However, I would have preferred a little bit more clarity - here's how to get through life's detours, here is encouragement for when life feels undone.

So, not a bad book, but not quite what I had hoped for.

What I have read/still have left to read: 
***You can read my original list and thoughts here.

Book Club Books 
1. The Stranger by Harlan Coben
2. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (and *possibly* the sequel, China Rich Girlfriend)
ADDITION: Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave (my July book)

Home and Marriage
3. The 7 principles for making Marriage Work by Dr. John Gottman
4. Eight Twenty Eight by Larissa and Ian Murphy
5. A Beautiful Mess Happy Handmade Home by Elsie Larson and Emma Chapman

Southern Fiction
6. Natchez Burning by Greg Iles
7. The Right Thing by Amy Conner
8. My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

French Reads
9. Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz
10. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
11. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
12. A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable
13. The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris by Jenny Colgan 
ACCIDENTAL ADDITION: Paris Hangover by Kirsten Lobe

General Fiction
14. The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
15. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
16. The Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins
17. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
18. Paper Towns by John Green
19. The Life Intended by Kristen Harmel
20. Blue Bistro by Elin Hilderbrand

Religious Reads
21. Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Quireshi
22. Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist
23. Undone: A Story of Making Peace With an Unexpected Life

24. The Fringe Hours by Jessica N. Turner
25. 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative by Dr. Paul Kengor

Looking forward to several new books this month. I have already started on "All the Light We Cannot See" to fully get in the France mood before our trip. Anyone else read anything great lately?


  1. You've done great with your summer reading. I, on the other hand, have not! Glad you're taking up the slack for me!

    1. haha, I had a fairly easy going month but have been sick a couple times AND had some metro delays- plenty of reading time!

      You've been busy getting ready for baby, maybe you can read during late night feedings ha!

  2. I realize my comments to your last book list didn't post. :(

    Because of you, I read "The Royal We". It was a LOT longer than I expected, but it was great. I think you will really like it. Thanks for introducing us! I think you'll like "The Rosie Project" a lot too. It was a nice, quick read. "Big Little Lies" was a complete page-turner like "The Girl on a Train" (which I am currently reading). You have a lot of good things left on your General Fiction list!

    1. Thanks Kristen! I am finishing up "All the Light We Cannot See" right now. SO SO SO good. I will admit, quite long so it took a few chapters to get really invested, but now I can't put it down.

      I plan on taking 2-3 books with me to France - The Royal We and one other, I might have to make it the two you suggested!