Review: The Great Alone – Kristin Hannah

The Great Alone

The Great Alone – Kristin Hannah
St. Martin’s Press
Release Date:  
February 2018
Rating:  5 Stars
Alaska, 1974.
Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed.
For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival.

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown

At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska―a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.

Review:  I didn’t have any intentions of reviewing Kristin Hannah’s newest novel, The Great Alone.  I actually didn’t intend to read it until later this year (my TBR pile is ungodly right now) but it was nominated as my book club’s choice for April and I wanted to get ahead plus, hello snowstorm, so I plunged in not expecting to come out of it feeling the way I do.

The Great Alone had me so split and feeling so contrary.  I hated Leni’s dad, Ernt.  I thought he was a selfish, self absorbed, abusive jerk who deserved some horrible payback.  But then I remember that he was a prisoner of war for years and had serious PTSD and I feel bad.  So then I don’t hate him for a few pages until he does something awful again.  Halfway through the book, when I started thinking about my pattern of hate and compassion, I realized that this is why Kristin Hannah is a genius–I was thinking and feeling exactly the same way as Leni did.  Normally when I read, I don’t necessarily pick up or feel the emotions of the characters, but I felt Leni’s hatred.  I felt her sorrow for her father.  I felt it all, and it was like a boulder of dread sitting on my chest.

This book also had me seriously stressed out.  I fretted about Leni and Matthew, about Cora and Tom.  I worried about Ernt and his obviously deteriorating mental health.  Every single time I went to put the book down, I had to read a few extra paragraphs ahead just to be sure everyone was OK.  I couldn’t stop thinking about it The Great Alone when I put it down, and I can’t stop thinking about it now that I’ve finished it.

This book hurt my heart in so many ways.  I cried for Cora and Leni and their damaged mother/daughter relationship.  I outright sobbed for Leni and Matthew and for everything to work out.  I even spared a tear or two for Ernt. There was just so much raw pain in this book.  I kept having to stop and breathe.

Make no mistake, everything about this book is tragic.  But with that said, The Great Alone is so, so much more.  It’s the love between a child and her parents.  It’s the perfect first love.  It’s community and supporting others during hardship.  It’s figuring out where home is and what it means.  And even though it’s full of horror, The Great Alone ended perfectly.  I don’t know how, but Hannah brought the end back around in a way that just worked.  And I was satisfied.  There’s not one single thing I’d change about this book.

Go… read The Great Alone.  Let me know what you think in the comments.

Review: The Favorite Sister – Jessica Knoll

The Favorite Sister - Jessica KnollThe Favorite Sister – Jessica Knoll
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: May 2018
Rating:  3.5 Stars
Synopsis: When five hyper-successful women agree to appear on a reality series set in New York City called Goal Diggers, the producers never expect the season will end in murder…

Brett’s the fan favorite. Tattooed and only twenty-seven, the meteoric success of her spin studio—and her recent engagement to her girlfriend—has made her the object of jealousy and vitriol from her cast mates.

Kelly, Brett’s older sister and business partner, is the most recent recruit, dismissed as a hanger-on by veteran cast. The golden child growing up, she defers to Brett now—a role which requires her to protect their shocking secret.

Stephanie, the first black cast member and the oldest, is a successful bestselling author of erotic novels. There have long been whispers about her hot, non-working actor-husband and his wandering eye, but this season the focus is on the rift that has opened between her and Brett, former best friends—and resentment soon breeds contempt.

Lauren, the start-up world’s darling whose drinking has gotten out of control, is Goal Diggers’ recovery narrative—everyone loves a comeback story.

And Jen, made rich and famous through her cultishly popular vegan food line plays a holistic hippie for the cameras, but is perhaps the most ruthless of them all when the cameras are off.

Review:  Like a lot of people, I had a hard time starting The Favorite Sister.  There are a lot of characters thrown at you and you’re kind up dumped in the middle of a situation in two different time periods, so you really have to have your wits about you.  I kept mixing the women of Goal Diggers up–which one was the holistic hippy chick again?  Who was sleeping with whose husband?  I think if this had had a stronger beginning, I would have enjoyed it more.

I also wasn’t completely sold on Goal Diggers, the reality TV show all of these ladies (I don’t even know if that’s the right descriptor for these women!) are on.  I sadly can’t imagine a platform that aims to lift women up being a popular reality show… though I guess there was enough drama on the show to kind of skirt that point, maybe?  I don’t know.  It just felt weird to me.

Even so, Knoll’s writing is fantastic.  She’s witty but without trying.  She’s great at character building and bringing these bitchy women to life, so much so that it can be exhausting.  With all of the backstabbing and underhandedness, you almost feel like you’re binge-watching a marathon of Real Housewives or some such.

I really liked Knoll’s first book, Luckiest Girl Alive and was hoping for more of the same dark, twisty writing.  I wasn’t disappointed, but at the same time, The Favorite Sister was a different monster.  I look forward to seeing what Knoll comes out with next.

Thank you to the publishers and NetGalley for providing an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertalli

Simon vs the Homo Sapiens AgendaSimon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertalli
Publisher:  Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins)
Release Date:  April 2015
Rating:  4.5 Stars
Synopsis:  Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

Review:  Man, high school sucked… you couldn’t pay me to go back and relive it.  But yet I somehow still enjoy YA novels.  Not sure what the heck that’s about!  I picked up this book at a book fair solely because I’d seen previews for the move version, Love, Simon, and I thought it looked cute and like something I’d probably go see.  But I swear I was so close to giving up on Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda a mere twenty-odd pages in.  I wasn’t sold on its quirkiness or characters.  I didn’t feel like I was getting into it at all.  And then I realized I was still reading 100 pages later, unable to put it down, and I was completely invested in Simon and Blue’s story/relationship.  Loving this book as much as I did really snuck up on me.

Despite my wonky start with this book, Simon came at the right time for me.  It was happy, despite some serious internal conflict on Simon’s part, and it really had me rooting for each of the characters.  I so needed a happy ending and I needed to think about something outside of my own little world.  I’m glad I kept reading.

I’m really looking forward to revisiting all of the characters from Simon in Albertalli’s forthcoming Leah on the Offbeat, which focuses on Leah Burke–badass girl drummer and my favorite character from Simon.  I would have liked to have gotten to know Leah a bit more, so I’m really excited for this one.

And yes, I’ll probably go see the movie!

Why you should be on the Book of the Month Bandwagon

I love Book of the Month.  I’m not even gonna lie–I log on first thing in the morning on the first of every month, often before I’m even out of bed, to see what the selections are.  I know they’re going to be a wide range and, a lot of times, out of my normal reading comfort zone.  I love that.  Since I started with BOTM, I’ve read some amazing novels that I otherwise would have passed by.  Here’s a peek at my BOTM shelf:

BOTM Shelf

Nice, right?

Some months I know straight away which book I want.  Other months, it takes me a few days to figure out.  You’ve got until the 6th of each month.  And on rare occasions, I can think of only one, none appeal or strike me.  Do I lose out by not choosing a book?  Nope.  That credit just rolls over to the following month.

What else is there to love?  How about the fact that you can order up to two additional books at a discounted price of $9.99 each?  We all know that new release hardbacks cost a heckuva lot more than that!  Case in point?  I added the new Kristen Hannah to this month’s box because I was torn by it and another book for February’s selection.

2018-03-01 14_32_48-Book of the Month

You can also “gift” a 3, 6 or 12 month subscription.  It’s perfect for those bookworms in your life–I can vouch for that!  My youngest sister was gifted a 3 month subscription for Christmas and really liked it.

If you’re interested in joining up, be sure to use my BOTM unique link.  If you join, you’ll get a free book–bonus!!!

Happy Reading!

Review: The Flight Attendant – Chris Bohjalian

The Flight Attendant - Chris Bohjalian

The Flight Attendant – Chris Bohjalian
Publisher: Doubleday Books
Release Date: March 2018
Rating:  5 Stars
Synopsis: Cassandra Bowden is no stranger to hungover mornings. She’s a binge drinker, her job with the airline making it easy to find adventure, and the occasional blackouts seem to be inevitable. She lives with them, and the accompanying self-loathing. When she awakes in a Dubai hotel room, she tries to piece the previous night back together, already counting the minutes until she has to catch her crew shuttle to the airport. She quietly slides out of bed, careful not to aggravate her already pounding head, and looks at the man she spent the night with. She sees his dark hair. His utter stillness. And blood, a slick, still wet pool on the crisp white sheets. Afraid to call the police–she’s a single woman alone in a hotel room far from home–Cassie begins to lie. She lies as she joins the other flight attendants and pilots in the van. She lies on the way to Paris as she works the first class cabin. She lies to the FBI agents in New York who meet her at the gate. Soon it’s too late to come clean-or face the truth about what really happened back in Dubai. Could she have killed him? If not, who did?

Review:  Ok, I take back what I said a while back about being annoyed with authors currently using alcohol addiction as the method of choice to create an unreliable narrator/character–especially when it’s  as well written as Chris Bohjalian’s The Flight Attendant.

Cassie’s struggle with alcohol is very authentic in the moment, but apart from waking up in a dead man’s bed, there seems to be little consequence for her drinking… not much in the way of hangovers!  As someone who has struggled off and on for years with alcohol, I can vouch for a lot of the feelings Cassie had, particularly on days when she told herself she wouldn’t drink but ends up at the bottom of a glass anyhow.  Personal struggles aside, I really enjoyed Cassie’s flawed character.  I’ve never imagined being a flight attendant would be overly glamorous, and this only solidified that for me.

I did like the FBI reports interspersed throughout the book and felt like they added to the overall plot very well.  I wasn’t too sure about the agents themselves–I was in total disbelief that Cassie was allowed to fly out of the country in the middle of an ongoing investigation that, let’s be honest, she was at the wrong end of throughout.

The Flight Attendant would be a great summer/beach/vacation read.  It’s thrilling enough to keep you turning pages, but you also don’t need to map out characters and plots to try and keep up with things.  Maybe hold off from reading it on the plane, though!

Thank you to the publishers and NetGalley for providing an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

I get by with a little help from my friends…

I had another post ready to go for today but something much more important has come up.

My youngest sister is a full time student working multiple jobs to pay her own way.  She’s an excellent student, very involved outside of class and is an amazing person.  She’s done mission work in Honduras (read her guest post here).  She’d help anyone with anything they needed, no questions asked.

Yesterday, she found out that her surgery to remove her wisdom teeth was not going to be covered by her insurance at all.  She’d already expected that it wouldn’t be fully covered so she had been putting money aside for some time now to cover the difference.

She’s now $1,300 short.  Without going into detail, family members aren’t able to help much because of financial/medical issues, and some family members plain old won’t help.  One of her friends has created a YouCaring page to help raise the funds for the procedure.  If she doesn’t have it done, she’s at risk of having her sinuses perforated and will continue to be in pain.

YouCaring - Destinee

I fully believe people are good.  I believe in the power of the internet and crowd funding.  So I’m asking–please consider donating.  If you can’t, I completely understand–not everyone has expendable income they can donate to a stranger’s sister.  But if you can’t donate, please share her YouCaring page wherever you can.  There is no one more deserving of the kindness of strangers than my little sister.  She’s just under 38% of the way there–and that’s in less than 24 hours.  I know we can get her there.

Again, you can find her page here:

Books I’ve Loved: High School Edition

High School Edition

Looking back and trying to remember what books I loved in high school was not the easiest thing ever.  I read… a LOT.  Not as much as other bloggers, but I read enough that I have trouble keeping track of what I read and when.  Thank goodness for sites like Goodreads!

High school, for me, was a very wonky and occasionally dark period.  There was a lot of crap going on in my life during those four years… stuff that really shaped me and who I am today.  I’ve always loved reading but I really feel like high school solidified reading as a comfort-crutch for me.  Books were my escape, my drug of choice.  This still applies today, but the addition of wine certainly helps!

Anyhow, these are the books that got me through high school hell:


I Was a Teenage Fairy – Francesca Lia Block
I remember seeing this book for the first time in the library and I picked it up based solely on the cover–something I’ve always done.  The habit has led me astray on occasion, but this wasn’t one of those times.  I was in love with Francesca Lia Block’s Mab.  She was thorny, crude, but oh so enjoyable to read.  This book spawned an ongoing love affair with Block’s books.  I think I’ve read nearly all of them to date, but this is still my favorite.

Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman
Neverwhere was my introduction to Neil Gaiman and was recommended by a friend’s mother who just so happens to be a cool ass lady.  I haven’t read it in years, but after having lived in London I probably should.  The humor was fantastic and very British.

Armageddon Summer – Jane Yolen & Bruce Coville
I remember this book so vividly, but when I went to look for it for the life of me I couldn’t remember the title–just that the cover had black and orange on it.  Yes.  I was one of those people.  Someone on Goodreads had the answer in less than an hour… I was impressed.  I had a fascination with religion and cults there for a bit, so I’m sure this probably hit the spot during that phase.

Sabriel – Garth Nix
I. Loved. Sabriel. Strong female character? Check. Magic? Check. A vividly imagined world with memorable characters? Double check.  I need to reread this… it’s been years.  And you know what? Up until a few days ago while pulling together book covers for this post, I honestly didn’t realize it was a full blown series.  I think I know what I’ll be taking with me for my long beach weekend in June!

The Princess Bride – William Goldman
The first time I read this may have been high school, but I’ve come back to it so many times since.  It has everything: true love, humor, sword fights, giants, rodents of unusual size… what more could a reader ask for? I have three copies of this book–a well worn paperback (my first copy), a hardback and an ebook copy.  To say I love this book is an understatement.  And this is one of the few movies that I love just as much as the novel.  Win win!

What books did you love as a teen?  Leave me suggestions in the comments!