nerdy girl reads: big little lies

I will straight up tell you I judged this book by its cover:

big-little-lies

While it is beautifully designed and the imagery is striking, it is very clearly some form of chick lit, right? So I judged it and put off reading it. I guess I was trying to be literary? Ugh, so pretentious! Then I had to wait a million years (a month or two?) for my hold to come in at the library. Guess what? It’s totally chick lit. But Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies was one of my favorite books of this year. Sure it’s no heavy, full-of-lessons tome like The Goldfinch, but once I started reading, I never wanted to stop.

Big Little Lies follows the over-the-top schoolyard drama surrounding three women in suburban Sidney: Madeline, who is funny and smart and always holds her grudges…and whose ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into the hood, meaning their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest; Celeste, who is always the most beautiful woman in the room, but is also always covering up her bruises; and sad single mom Jane, who is so young that the other mothers mistake her for the nanny and so worried she’ll never move on from her disastrous one-night stand six years ago. Everything leads up the final scene, a drunken school trivia fundraiser, where we’ve learned through the (hilarious) police interviews scattered in between chapters that a murder has occurred. As the reader, you don’t even know who the victim is until the fateful trivia night, and it is a whirlwind ride getting there. The story jumps effortlessly from light to dark to light again, which is why when I’ve recommended it to people, I’ve said it’s an incredibly fun and funny read…that deals with murder and domestic abuse and elementary school drama. USA Today probably says it best: Reading Big Little Lies “is a bit like drinking a pink cosmo laced with arsenic… [BIG LITTLE LIES] is a fun, engaging and sometimes disturbing read.”

As I’ve said, I definitely didn’t want to put this book down. The quick pacing and shifting of narration keep you on your toes and some of the plot lines (especially Madeline’s) are so absurd, you can’t help but laugh out loud. I also read Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret (another good read, but lacks the same spark that BLL has) this year and it’s obvious after the success of the two novels, she prefers this three-character format. It definitely works for her and I’m amazed at how richly and realistically the characters are portrayed in so little page time. This book honestly had everything I love in a book: Real characters, great plot, tons of humor, suspense, witty emails/police documents. You know. On the surface this was about a group of parents acting badly. But under the surface are the ooey-gooey issues — bullying, abuse, trauma. Considering everything that was tackled in this book it should not have worked but it did, and that is to the author’s credit. I have recommended it to anyone and everyone who has asked me for new reading suggestions and do the same here. You’ll love it. I want to go back in time so I can read it for the first time again, that’s how much I loved it.

Rating: 9, Just shy of perfect (Can’t put it down! Well rounded with exceptional characters and style.)

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nerdy girl reads: short summer reads

Last night I realized that these sweet summer days are quickly passing us by when the husband got a text about his fantasy football draft in a few weeks. What the what? I can’t even. (Though let’s be real, I am super pumped for football season and already want pumpkin beer. It’s a sickness.) But thankfully, we do still have more than a month ahead of us before Labor Day’s arrival – plenty of time to soak up the sun and get some reading done before the pool closes! Because I love you all so much, I’ve read a bunch of shorter reads you can fly through in a weekend or two and reviewed them all here. Hope it helps you find a new fave!

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams
A-Hundred_SummersIn the mood for some pure chick lit fun? A Hundred Summers is for you. I first read Williams’ work in Overseas, and was excited to check this one out. Set in a beach town in Rhode Island in 1938, we follow socialite drama at its best. Lily Dane is shocked and hurt when Nick and Budgie Greenwald show up unexpectedly for the summer. They are her former best friend and her former fiancé, now recently married. Sucks right? Budgie insinuates herself back into Lily’s friendship with an overpowering talent for seduction…and an alluring acquaintance from their college days, Yankees pitcher Graham Pendleton. But because it’s chick lit and a little formulaic, Lily and Nick can’t stay away from each other, and the two are drawn back into their long-buried feels, despite their heartbreak. I really enjoyed this story and despite its somewhat sappy and contrived plot, I was hooked because I love love stories and historical fiction. Williams does a great job of weaving in flashbacks to the main story and you really will love Lily and feel her heartbreak. Like I said, pure chick lit fun for the summer!

Rating: 7, Darn good (Highly recommended book that is well paced and enjoyable with a few flaws.)

Trains and Lovers by Alexander McCall Smith
Trains_and_LoversI can’t believe I had never read an Alexander McCall Smith book before this year! Not only because he’s written SO MANY, but also because they are all so British and I love British things. Anyway, Trains and Lovers. You guys, it is so cute. I know that sounds lame, but there’s really no other way to describe it. The book itself is tiny in size and the cover is an adorable watercolor of a train with pretty hand-lettered type. And the story is just as sweet. Basically, four strangers meet on a train and tell each other their love stories on the journey. It is incredibly sentimental and not for anyone who isn’t the most hopeless of romantics. There’s really not much in the way of plot – the characters are just riding a train after all – but the writing is so gentle and intelligent that this quick read is like sitting by the fire and enjoying a pleasant warmth. It sticks with you much like the rocking of a train and makes you happy to be in love.

Rating: 8, Excellent (Memorable and above par, highly entertaining.)

Lonely Planet A Fork in the Road
Fork_in_the_RoadI love travel writing, especially if it involves food. The best parts of Eat, Pray, Love are by far when she talks about the food she eats in Italy and The Sweet Life in Paris was a wonderful romp through French cuisine. So when A Fork in the Road‘s cover caught my eye in a library display, I snatched it up. It’s not really a story, more of a collection of essays written about the intersection of food and travel and its impact on famous foodies’ lives. I’ll admit, it wasn’t my favorite read of the summer. Some of the essays sparkle with life and wit and some fall pretty flat. I naturally loved the stories from well-known chefs and authors like Curtis Stone and Michael Pollan, but some of the hidden gems were from people I had never heard of talking about disastrous stays at a Tuscan villa, a comedic family lunch in a small town in France, and how an exotic dish brought a girl and her estranged father together despite her uptight Asian family. If you are a fan of the genre, you will enjoy its humor and sentimentality and it is perfect for when you only have 10-20 minutes to read because you can skip around the chapters as you want, knock out an essay, and feel immense amounts of wanderlust!

Rating: 6, Above average (Recommend with reservations. Entertaining, but lacks a certain je ne sais quoi.)

Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues by Martin J. Blaser
Missing_Microbes
Ah yes, a learning book. And a kinda scary one at that. But hear me out! Not everyone likes all this schmaltzy stuff! And this isn’t like the summer reading you had to do in high school – it’s waaay more interesting than Machivelli or Greek plays. (Anyone else have to suffer through that?!?) I saw Blaser on The Daily Show and knew I had to get his book. After waiting forever to get it from the library, I hustled through this quick science-y read. I love learning about our human biology, especially when it comes to bacteria and our digestive system and our health. (See Cooked and this past month’s edition of Eating Well for more fun!) As someone who is also suspect of taking any and all medications, I wanted to learn more about the damage that overuse of antibiotics is doing to our health, you know, small things like contributing to the rise of obesity, asthma, diabetes, and certain forms of cancer. Gah! For hundreds of thousands of years bacterial and human cells have lived in a peaceful Garden of Eden that is responsible for the health and equilibrium of our body and we’re ruining it! Blaser skillfully combines technical data from the lab and his conclusions without getting to science-y for the lay reader and offers really good solutions for how we can start to fix it. I’ll warn the hypochondriacs out there that there was a chapter I had to stop reading in the middle because it was freaking me out (antibiotic-resistant MRSA anyone?), but I think this is a worthwhile read for anyone who wants to make smart decisions about their health and medicine.

Rating: 8, Excellent (Memorable and above par, highly entertaining.) (Ok, maybe not entertaining, but important!)

Goodnight June by Sarah Jio
Goodnight_JuneOk, back to the schmaltz! Y’all know I love Sarah Jio. Blackberry Winter is still one of my fave chick lit reads. Unfortunately, I think her editors are doing her a disservice by having her crank out at least one book a year because her two latest have felt under-developed to me. Goodnight June could have been great because the story premise is great: burned-out and heartbroken financial guru June moves to Seattle to take over her deceased aunt’s failing bookstore and finds out she was confidantes with Margaret Wise Brown, the author of Goodnight Moon, and inspired the famous story, thus saving the store and finding love. Like I said, sounds great, yes? The writing is a little flat though, especially when it comes to the love story. You know it’s unmemorable when you can’t even remember the love interest’s name! But, it’s worth reading if only for the letters between June’s aunt Ruby and Margaret. They come alive and their friendship really becomes the love story and heart of the novel. I loved the literary bent of the book and I credit Jio’s imagination for coming up with such a clever and beautiful backstory for such a beloved book. Again, perfect to pick up and read by the pool for some easy-going chick lit!

Rating: 6, Above average (Recommend with reservations. Entertaining, but lacks a certain je ne sais quoi.)

What are you reading this summer?