Review: Riley Sager’s The Last Time I Lied

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Move over, Friday the 13th, there’s a new king of summer camp mysteries. Riley Sager’s The Last Time I Lied takes a successful stab at the well-known trope of deaths and disappearances amongst the backdrop of cabins and bug juice. In the novel, Emma returns to the re-opened Camp Nightengale, this time as a full-grown art teacher. She can’t help but paint the same thing over and over again–images of the girls that disappeared from the camp years ago, back when Emma herself was a camper. Emma’s return brings back dark memories and clues to a still unsolved mystery. Yet happenings at the camp start to eerily mirror that year from her childhood. When an unexpected event strikes, Emma is tasked with preventing yet another tragedy.

This mystery pulled me in quickly, and I couldn’t let go. It was definitely one of the best mystery novels I have read in a long time. Though it takes on an at-times cliche plot line, it updates in a fresh, entirely enthralling way. I was very impressed with this novel, and the reveal at the end was chilling and unexpected. The characters were detailed and complex, and the mystery complex as well.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Review: Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age

Such a Fun Age is all the rage (no rhyme intended) these days. The novel packs a story of backstabbing and coming of age amongst heavier topics of race, class, and gender.

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The novel follows Emira, a recent graduate of Temple University with a degree in English Literature. Emira is somewhat disappointed to find her only position after college to be a babysitting gig for Briar, the daughter of Alix Chamberlain. Alix runs a “female empowerment” brand called Let Her Speak. Alix is obsessed with own influence and blind to her disregard for the actual humans around her. With this character, Kiley Reid pokes fun at white female influencers who proclaim their own “wokeness” while continuing to uphold their privilege over others.

The story begins when Emira is stopped by a security guard who doubts that she’s actually a babysitter, and accuses her of trying to kidnap Briar. A bystander videotapes the encounter. His name is Kelly, and, after Emira begs him to delete the video, they begin a romantic relationship. But Kelly has secrets of his own. After the video mysteriously resurfaces, tensions rise to the surface and erupt on a televised interview.

This was a quick, intense read. It was well-written and contained nuanced, detailed characters. This was a really great read for our times, and a way to change our perspectives on the beliefs and positions we’ve held to be the norm.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Why it Helps to Have “Range”

Every so often, there comes around a new career book that disrupts everything we’ve commonly held to be true. Take the highly popular Grit by Angela Duckworth, that helped to dismantle beliefs in inherent skill and genius, and instead placed emphasis on the importance of effort, coining the term “grit” and starting a movement. Or Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, which similarly examined the circumstances, not inherent genius, that contributed to success, turning our conceptions of billionaires and historical figures on their heads.

David Epstein’s Range looks at the importance of what, and how much, we focus on. It criticizes a one-track pathway, and instead looks at the ways in which having a range of skills helps people to succeed. Range explores this through a variety of case studies–initially following a comparison between the training of Tiger Woods and tennis player Roger Federer. Like the books that came before it, Range also dismantles what we have commonly held to be true and/or good–that being the best in one specific pursuit is something to brag about and tout. Instead, it is increasingly more helpful to have a variety of skills. In science, education, etc., this helps people be more prepared for the problems they have to tackle.

I really enjoyed Range, and it provided me with helpful advice as I continue to develop my own skills and plan on entering the work force. I found it to be written in a straightforward, conversational, and easy to read way. The case studies and experiments outlined in the book were interesting and clear to follow. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in the subject of skill and anyone looking to examine their own “range”.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Review: Evie Dunmore’s Bringing Down the Duke

If historical fiction and/or romance is your thing, Evie Dunmore’s Bringing Down the Duke is a must-read. The new novel follows Annabelle, a member of a suffragist movement and one of scarce few female students at Oxford University. Annabelle is charged with following Duke Sebastian Montgomery, in attempts to sway his political beliefs and convince him to vote for an amendment that will allow women to vote.

It is not long, however, before Sebastian finds himself unable to resist Annabelle’s charms. Yet a relationship between the two, who come from different classes and different aims, seems impossible. The two continue to come together and apart until some form of solution is found.

I absolutely loved this book. The romance was very similar to Pride and Prejudice–bickering turns to love and back again to bickering. The relationship between Sebastian and Annabelle is intense and swoon-inducing.

The historical aspects of the novel are interesting and important, as well. It illustrates the ways in which women were restricted from making their own decisions and owning their own property, and the ways in which they were treated by the men around them. The struggle for the vote comes through in scenes of protests and back-stage political calculations. The women in the suffragist group serve to both entertain and inform readers, their conversations at time humorous, and at others poignant messages on the ways in which women were prevented from leading their own lives.

One complaint: the political aspect of the story at many times took a back seat to the romance, and Annabelle did not seem to be doing much real work for the cause. It may come across as problematic that her romantic relationship with a man is what serves to truly help their efforts in the end, not her own individual work. Though her intellect and passion for the cause is what serves to change Duke Montgomery’s mind.

Overall, I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves historical romance!

Rating: 5 Stars!

My Best Books of 2019

2019 was my year of audiobooks. I eagerly consumed book after book in audiobook form after getting into knitting. I’m so glad to have found a way to multitask and get in more reading. It was also a year of book clubs, and some of these are from those as well. I read a combination of new and old, fiction and nonfiction, and I am excited to share them here with you. The following are my top ten books, in no particular order: 

Olive, Again

I must confess I never read the previous book—Olive Kitteridge. But I am currently almost finished with the audiobook version of this and I am in love. It is written as the combination of many different lives and experiences in the same small town in Maine and has such a genuine and true heart. 

Dominicana

Dominicana explores the history of immigration to America through the fictional story of one woman. This was a quick and entertaining yet powerful read. 

Miracle Creek

Miracle Creek was one of the best audiobooks that I read this year. It is at once a thrilling mystery and emotional exploration of family, immigration, and raising special needs children. 

Christmas Shopaholic

Though I have never read any of the other books in the Shopaholic series, I really loved this one. It put me in the Christmas spirit like nothing else. Becky’s personality and her shopping habit are unique, lovable, and hilarious. 

Educated

Tara Westover’s Educated was definitely my favorite memoir of the year. Westover overcomes extreme odds, growing up in a fundamentalist mormon family and experiencing abuse at the hands of her brother. Yet she overcomes this to become a highly educated, respected academic. 

Maybe you should Talk to Someone

In a year when everyone seems to need therapy, this memoir was a great exploration of the practice through such a personal point of view. The book explores a therapist’s perspective of going to therapy herself after a particularly painful breakup. 

Children of Blood and Bone

This was my favorite fantasy book of the year. It is a very popular YA novel that explores clashes between groups, kingdoms, and family members, with a little magic added in. 

An American Marriage

I read this for a book club and absolutely loved it, though it could be heartbreaking and frustrating. An American Marriage asks whether or not newlyweds can stick together after one of them is falsely accused of a crime, and spends five years in jail. 

Where’d you go, Bernadette

I may be a little late to this party, but I only recently listed to this on audiobook. I loved it for its humor, warmth, and ability to stay down to earth while tackling big issues. 

Ducks, Newburyport

The most experimental book on this list, Ducks, Newburyport is essentially one extremely long sentence. It offers a glimpse into the mind and life of one women, and explores pressing issues of today from a warm and personal standpoint. 

What were your favorite books this year? Let me know in the comments. 

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Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Great Read about Life, Love, and Therapy

In 2019 it seems that everyone is talking to someone, and, with an overall influx of anxiety and a focus on mental health, openly speaking about therapy is more commonplace than it ever has been. But, talking about our issues and emotions has never been easy. Lori Gottlieb explores this through her own experiences as both patient and therapist in Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. The memoir follows her life and the choices that led her to what she describes as a very rewarding career as a therapist.

She details her relationship with clients who present various problems. There is John, a seemingly curmudgeonly man who works on a very popular TV show. Even John is hiding painful pasts and emotions that are brought out in sessions. Then there’s Julie, a college professor coming to terms with her cancer diagnosis. Lori explains the nuances of relationship between client and therapist, and even what to do in cases of seeing someone in public.

Lori details her experiences both as therapist and as a patient with the therapist she coins “Wendell”. Lori decides to go to therapy after a shocking and unexpected breakup that leaves her anxious and constantly teary. Wendell helps Lori to unpack and rethink her thoughts about her ex, herself, and her child. Along the way, you learn about Lori’s life and about the history and methodology of psychotherapy.

I really enjoyed this read, and it provided a humorous, personable look into the histories that bring people into therapy. I think that it demystified the practice, and hopefully inspires more people to “talk to someone”.

Carrie Kerpen’s “Work It”: An Excellent Source for Professional Development Advice

Carrie Kerpen’s Work It: Secrets for Success from the Boldest Women in Business, features advice for young, female professionals and those starting off on their own. It features interviews from professionals including Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg. Kerpen is also the host of the podcast “All the Social Ladies”. 

This was one of the first strictly career development books I have read, and I found it to very very inspiring and helpful. As a young women starting to build my career, many of the interviews and notes included spoke to my current journey. I enjoyed the format of the book, which was broken into organized chapters that also contained graphics and bullet points of best practices, plus parts you are able to fill out yourself. I think that this was a really great way to get in touch with your career goals and break away from negative thinking. 

Work It was written for women in the career force, and it includes a chapter on balancing family and career and on navigating a hostile work environment. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on networking and building a “squad” of powerful women to support your efforts. Networking is a big focus of the book, and I learned to not be afraid to send direct emails to people you want to gain advice or work from. I also learned to view networking as a never-ending activity, and to do it even in casual situations. Anyone can be a helpful contact. I also learned how to be able to say “no” when requests are unnecessary or harmful to my goals, and how to get over failures and move on to new endeavors. This was an excellent source for women looking to become entrepreneurs.  

The interviews in this book were particularly helpful, seeing how this is what Maggie does regularly for her podcast. Each women shared advice that aligned with the goals of the chapter, and included heartfelt personal anecdotes.

Overall, I was really pleased with the quality of this book and recommend it for any woman in the work force looking to grow or start their own business. 

Adventures in Self-Help Lit

Audiobooks are my new thing. I love the ability to consume a new book while also getting things done–cleaning, knitting, cooking, etc. I’ve been turning to my local library’s app to rent audiobooks for free, and recently listened to Dan Harris’ 10% Happier, an account of his journey through the worlds of self-help and meditation after having a panic attack on live television. Read by the author, the book was a humorous account of a sceptic’s ascent into meditation retreats and self-reflective solitude. 10% Happier also introduced me to other self-help that I’ve been exploring recently. Below, I’ve written about the recent books and workbooks I’ve read to help me better get in touch with myself and my creativity:

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle: This intersperses Tolle’s own experiences with advice on how to disconnect yourself from your own mind and ego and live in the now. I’ve found the ideas outlined here to be very helpful, though at times repetitive.

Be Here Now by Ram Das: This book, not mentioned in Dan Harris’, was a little more “out there”. It is an account of the author’s experiences with meditation, interspersed in the center with illustrated musings on becoming enlightened. I found some of these ideas helpful, others outlandish.

The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron: A highly popular workbook that claims to help readers connect with their inner artist. This book is split into weeks, which come along with a chapter on a different topic related to creativity, and then activities to get in touch with yourself and your creative process. My favorite part of this book has been Cameron’s “morning pages”–while completing the book you are asked to free-write three pages each morning, which I have found very meditative.

Wherever You Go, There You Are and Coming to our Senses by Jon Kabat Zinn: Kabat-Zinn is a master of meditation, and I have found his books on mindfulness to be essential. Wherever You go, There You Are introduces readers to meditation practices, while Coming to our Senses expands upon the ways in which the practice of mindfulness and meditation could potentially impact the world as a whole.

About Me and My Blog

Hi!

My name, as you may have assumed from the title, is Olivia. I’m a recent graduate of Drew University in New Jersey, where I studied English Literature. I’ve previously worked in donor relations at Drew, as an intern at an Ed-Tech nonprofit company, and in various coffee shops and restaurants. I love reading, writing, and anything related to books at all. Currently, I spend most of my time knitting, reading, taking yoga classes, and looking for a job. In the past, I also ran a book review blog, so I’ll be sure to blog about books here as well. Words by Olivia is place for me to share updates about my life as a recent college graduate looking to get a job where I can effectively use my English degree, and about the fun I have in the meantime. Stop by and say hi!