My Girlish Whims Book Club #26

Coming back atcha with another list of book reviews since my last round up: I've still been doing a lot of reading due to the COVID-19 forced quarantine in our state that JUST started to reopen this past weekend.  After being quaranteed since mid March, my husband and I were both getting a little stir crazy so we decided to head down to his family's home in Chincoteague Island for a change of scenery 2 weeks ago.  It was so nice to read somewhere that wasn't my same couch, bed, or my deck staring at the same dang trees every single day!!!

My in-law's home has a second story balcony in the rear of the home off of the master bedroom that looks out over a marshy area and channel of water.  That little spot was my favorite place to read with a strong cuppa joe in the morning, and a crisp and sweet glass of Riesling in the evening.

 I was also able to get a good amount of reading done on the beach too! We actually only had one really good "beach day" where it was 75 and sunny during the week we were down there but luckily it was on a Saturday and we took full advantage of it.  Even on the days where the weather wasn't perfect we still bundled up and headed to the beach after we were done working from "home" for the day.  Will went fishing and I used my beach towel as a blanket and protection from the wind and read my books. Even a windy day at the beach is better than a plain old boring day at home in my opinion ;)

This little island has such a special place in my heart.  The scenery is so so beautiful, the locals are kind, and it's such a unique and calming town to visit.  Since we are both still working from home for the foreseeable future we can really work from "home" ANYWHERE so we've already planned a trip back down for later in June to do it all over again. It's just so nice to be able to close my laptop at 5PM, hop in the car, drive over to the beach access which is through a national seashore/wildlife refuge area where you can literally see wild horses on the drive in, park, grab your beach chairs and other goodies and be relaxing on the beach by 5:30 with the sun shining still.  We definitely do not have that luxury at home in PA!

Our little island trip was JUST what we needed to break up our quarantine blues and we came home feeling refreshed, relaxed, and ready to get back into our new "normal" routine at our real home.  Of course for me that still includes lots of reading, so here is the list of the last 4 books I've read and my thoughts on each one!

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The Outsider

By Stephen King. Synopsis from Amazon:

An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is discovered in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens—Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. Maitland has an alibi, but Anderson and the district attorney soon have DNA evidence to go with the fingerprints and witnesses. Their case seems ironclad.

As the investigation expands and horrifying details begin to emerge, King’s story kicks into high gear, generating strong tension and almost unbearable suspense. Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy, but is he wearing another face? When the answer comes, it will shock you as only Stephen King can.

This was the very first Stephen King novel I've ever read. SHOCKER - right??? Now that I've read one, I'm very excited to read more! I think I was scared to read any before this because I'm not big on scary stuff and horror movies.  I very easily get the heebie jeebies and so I thought I had to stay away from all of King's books! This one peeked my interest though because I heard so many people talking about the new show on HBO called "The Outsider" based on this book.  I wanted to watch it, but (of course) I always have to read the book first, so I finally gave it a shot.  I really, really REALLY enjoyed this book.  For me it had the perfect amount of suspense and thrill with some creepiness, but it wasn't anything that would keep me up all night scared out of my mind. What I loved most was how King creates such vivid and relatable characters.  I loved reading the witness interviews at the beginning of the book: the way King portrayed and described each person was so realistic.  This continued on to all of the main characters in the book and I found myself getting so attached to Howie, Sablo, Holly, the whole crew.  There are some pretty graphic scenes in the book that describe crime scenes involving the molestation and murder of children, so it hits on some pretty heavy and horrid topics in brief spots in the beginning, so just beware of that going in. If you can read/skim through those parts or if it is not triggering for you, I still recommend this book and will also say I loved the mini-series on HBO.  They did change some parts of the plot, but it was done tastefully and I loved the actors and enjoyed getting caught up in the TV version of the story as well.

Normal People

By Sally Rooney. Synopsis from Amazon: 

Connell and Marianne grew up in the same small town, but the similarities end there. At school, Connell is popular and well liked, while Marianne is a loner. But when the two strike up a conversation—awkward but electrifying—something life changing begins.

A year later, they’re both studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines, shy and uncertain. Throughout their years at university, Marianne and Connell circle one another, straying toward other people and possibilities but always magnetically, irresistibly drawn back together. And as she veers into self-destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other.

Normal People is the story of mutual fascination, friendship and love. It takes us from that first conversation to the years beyond, in the company of two people who try to stay apart but find that they can’t.

I'm undecided on this book.  It received so many awards for being the "Best Book of the Year" and honestly I'm not exactly sure why.  I didn't love it but I didn't hate it: maybe it just didn't click with me? I still enjoyed reading it, but I'm just not getting all the hype around it. I enjoyed Marianne at the beginning of the story.  I loved her quirky, "I don't care what anyone thinks of me" attitude; I loved how smart she was, and I loved how unapologetically she connected with Connell at first. Connell honestly felt like wet blanket at times in the beginning of the book and I got so frustrated at him for being such a dick to Marianne.  However, as the story progressed I feel like Marianne changed and morphed into someone who boozed and smoked too much and hung out with unkind people and became pretty unlikable herself.  Marianne and Connell both had their faults which I suppose is part of the deal with a "coming of age" story but I still got frustrated at those faults when we as the reader knew they could be doing better.  Why, when we all knew Marianne was getting abused from the very start of the novel, did it never come out and become more of the plot before almost the very end? Why, when CLEARLY Marianne and Connell were so attracted to each other and had a relationship that was unique to them and different than "other people" could they never just actually be together and be happy??? I guess it's all part of the plot and part of the story. Maybe, if I'm this passionate about it, I liked it more than I thought - lol.  Regardless, I did enjoy reading this and following along this unique, 21st century love story.  As undecided as I am if it is actually worth the hype or not, I will also be watching this new TV series on Hulu: let's see if their adaptation sways me one way or another!!!

  Red, White and Royal Blue

By Casey McQuiston. Synopsis from Amazon:

What happens when America's First Son falls in love with the Prince of Wales?

When his mother became President, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius—his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There's only one problem: Alex has a beef with the actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.

Heads of family, state, and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: staging a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instragramable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations and begs the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through? Casey McQuiston's Red, White & Royal Blue proves: true love isn't always diplomatic.

I was excited to read this book because I read a lot of reviews saying it was a fun, comedy romance book. While I did enjoy this book, I do think it was over-hyped just a bit as well.  The funniest part of the book took place in the first few chapters.  I literally snorted out loud at the cake incident, but that was about the extent of the LOL (or SOL - snort out loud) moments for me. As far as the romance factor: this was the first gay focused romance novel I've ever read, and to be honest I was a little unsure of what to expect.  I personally was happy with how it was written: I'd definitely rate this an "R" book but it didn't go overboard on the details in every single romance scene but there was still plenty enough to detail to keep you intrigued and keep reading. My main problem with this book was I had trouble connecting with the main character Alex.  I enjoyed the playful scenes with him and his family and enjoyed watching him let lose and party at times but he still had a rather gruff personality.  Frankly, I think the main reason I couldn't connect with him was because it seemed like every other sentence he spoke he was dropping an F bomb! I'm not prude and I'm ok with language in novels but I thought this was excessive. Instead of adding anything to his character or the story I just found it distracting and juvenile.  I did however really enjoy getting to know Henry's character and I loved the story line of two different powerhouse political/royal figures fighting across an ocean and family issues and secret service escorts to be together. It was a fun and lighthearted read that read very different from the typical rom-com/ romance novel plots I'm used to reading which was a refreshing change up.

The Nightingale

By Kristin Hannah. Synopsis from Amazon:

France, 1939 - In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn't believe that the Nazis will invade France … but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne's home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.
Vianne's sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can … completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.
With courage, grace, and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of World War II and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women's war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France―a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.

This is a book that has been on my "to be read" list for quite some time and I am so happy that I finally read it.  I wanted to read something with a bit more sustenance after Red, White and Royal Blue (I feel like that happens to me after I read any romance book really, hah) and this was the perfect change of pace for me.  I loved The Great Alone which was the first book I had read from Kristin Hannah (review of that posted here) and so I knew it was time to give another one of her novels a try.  I really have not read many books that focuse on World War II and this was such an eye opening and heartfelt story about the war and how it impacted two women and their families.  Both of the main characters were likeable and inspiring.  I enjoyed the conflict, especially towards the beginning of the book, where they had differing political resolve and struggled to adjust to living together and surviving the war before Isabelle departs to join the resistance.  While Isabelle is brave and passionate and we admire her for volunteering so quickly and fearlessly to serve her country and fight against the Germans, we also learn to admire her sister Vianne. Vianne may be more timid and prone to just behaving to avoid drawing attention to herself when she is forced to live with the enemy, but she still will do anything within her power to protect her family, her friends, and do her part where possible to save her country-folk.  This is an emotional novel: I did not physically cry but I got close to it at the end! It's so scary to think that humans could treat others this way: it seems mind boggling and impossible to believe that the Nazi's could be so heartless and vigilant in trying to literally wipe out an entire sect of people, but then I watch the news in 2020 and can see that this type of evil is still around. During this book there were many inspiring moments, many heartbreaking moments, and better still a cathartic ending that reminded me that there will always be those out there fighting for what is right.  It's our job to be them, to support them, and learn to never let the tragedies from history repeat themselves.

I want to close out this post by acknowledging the very tumultuous time our country is going through right now as we struggle to fight against the injustices going on towards people of color.  I've always known that treating people differently because of the color of their skin was NEVER ok, but until recently I've always thought that just because "I'm not racist" meant that I was doing my part.  Clearly from current events and years of oppression and unfairness and lack of change, me "just not being racist" is not me doing my part to promote change and create awareness.  I know so many white people like myself have committed themselves recently to moving forward from George Flyod's death and listening more, learning more and reading more to educate themselves on what they can do better, and that is something I would like to do as well.  What does that mean for me? I would love to sit here and tell you I commit to reading XXX number of non-fiction books about fighting racism and learning how to use my privledge to help, but if I speak truthfully to you: the last non-fiction book I finished 8 years ago in college? I've started multiple since then but for some reason I somehow CANNOT focus on reading non-fiction.  What I obviously can focus on though is fiction books: this is my 26th book review post I've listed on my blog since my first post on May 17th, 2017.  In these past 3 years I've read and reviewed over 100 books: how many of them have been written by black authors? To be honest, I'm not entirely sure, but I know it's nowhere NEAR an equal 50/50 split. 

I'm great at reading fiction books.  I get lost in the story and use it as a relaxing time by myself to get caught up in another world.  I LEARN from the stories.  I connect with the characters: I celebrate their wins, I empathize with their losses, and I close a good, solid novel feeling moved and emotional.  I don't think every fictional book needs to be a story that teaches you something, but this is me acknowledging that I have a lot of room to grow in my reading choices and lots of potential to pick fictional books that WILL teach me something.  I can select books that will help educate me to be a better advocate and ally in REAL LIFE by reading more fictional stories about people of color.  That is my goal moving forward and for anyone else feeling uncomfortable or unsure of where to go from here, picking up a novel that depicts a character or plight that is not a cookie cutter resemblance to your life or skin color that can help teach you something is a great place to start.  My goal is to be back in my next round-up with at least a few options to share <3

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