THE WIVES by Tarryn Fisher

My final read of 2019 was The Wives by Tarryn Fisher. (This book comes out today! I never time reviews this well. Yay, me.) The Wives is a psychological thriller about a woman – “Thursday” – who is the second wife in a plural marriage. She sees her husband Seth once a week on Thursdays when he comes to Seattle, and the rest of the week he is with Wives 1 and 3 in Portland. Thursday is deeply in love with Seth, and for a while is contented to stay in a marriage where she shares her husband with two other women she has never met. But she is also lonely and depressed, and as her dissatisfaction with her marriage increases, she grows curious and ultimately obsessed with learning more about the other two women she sees as her competition.

When Thursday finds a clue as to the identity of Wife #3, she tracks her down and invents an excuse to meet her. She sees bruises on Wife #3 and starts to worry that Seth may not be who he seems. As the book progresses, her obsession with getting to know the other two wives grows and her behavior grows more risky. Are they in danger? And is Seth responsible for troubles she has faced in her own life? Is she in love, or in denial?

I sped through The Wives on vacation. It grabs you from the beginning with the polygamy premise – hard to resist – and takes off from there. I don’t want to spoil the plot or give away how it resolves, but I can say that by the end I found it unsatisfying and kind of a silly book. There are a lot of loose ends that go untied, as well as some frustrating stereotyping about women and mental health. I am generally not a big fan of psychological thrillers, and while The Wives kept my attention, it left me feeling empty in the end.

The Wives was a December BOTM pick and most reviews on Goodreads are very positive, so this may be my continuing challenge with psychological thrillers.

Last book of 2019!! Here’s to a great reading year in 2020.

2019 Reading Year In Review

This year I surpassed my reading goal of 60 books – my highest goal ever – and ended at 64. It was a pretty good year in reading, but not amazing. There were a lot of books that I really loved, so the highs were very high. But as I scroll through my list, I see just as many books that were just OK and didn’t leave much impact on me. The 2019 EDIWTB Reading Challenge also slowed me down in the last few months as I ticked the last categories off the list. I am hoping to avoid a challenge-related reading slowdown next year with the new categories in the 2020 challenge that will hopefully sustain my reading energy all year. I will also continue to be very deliberate with my reading choices in order to improve my satisfaction with the books I read.

I increased my non-fiction and my male author counts, both of which were goals for 2019. For 2020, I am setting a goal of 60 books again. Hopefully I will surpass it once more, but this year was definitely a stretch and I don’t want to get too ambitious for 2020.

Here are my overall stats for 2019:

Books finished: 64
Fiction: 54
Non-fiction: 10
Male authors: 14
Audiobooks: 21
Repeat authors: 
Taylor Jenkins Reid, Karen Thompson Walker, Lynda Cohen Loigman, Dani Shapiro, Sally Thorne, Jhumpa Lahiri, Ann Patchett, Colson Whitehead, Halle Butler, Katherine Center, Agatha Christie, J. Ryan Stradal, Jean Kwok, Stephen McCauley, Kevin Wilson

Here are a few superlatives for the year:

Best Books: I listed my top 10 best reads of 2019 in a separate blog post, so I won’t repeat them here.

Best AudiobooksBecoming by Michelle Obama, Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Inheritance by Dani Shapiro

Books I Could Not Put Down: Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes, Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, Forever Is The Worst Long Time by Camille Pagan, The Hating Game by Sally Thorne, The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, Becoming by Michelle Obama

Books That Should Be Required Reading: The Only Plane In The Sky by Garrett Graff, There There by Tommy Orange, The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Book That Made Me Feel Stupid: Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

Thank you all for reading along with me in 2019. 2020 will be my 14th (!) year of blogging and I am grateful to you all for supporting EDIWTB and sharing it with your friends!

Happy 2020!!

NOTHING TO SEE HERE by Kevin Wilson

Nothing To See Here by Kevin Wilson is a strange book about twin 10 year-olds who burst into flames when they are upset or agitated. Lillian, a thirtysomething woman who lives at home with her mother in a dead-end life, is summoned by her former best friend Madison to come to her opulent home in Tennessee because she needs a favor. It turns out Madison’s twin stepchildren, who have the strange firestarting ailment, are in need of a nanny after the death of their mother. Their father, Madison’s husband, is a senator with bigger aspirations, and the couple needs to keep the kids’ flames under wraps so as not to torpedo his future confirmation hearings.

Strange premise, right?

I finished Nothing To See Here today and I am really not sure how I feel about it. I’ve read a number of reviews that call it heartwarming and funny, and I definitely don’t agree with those. Lillian is lonely and depressed, and while her connection to her young charges is touching, her life is not a happy one. The kids have been ignored and/or isolated their whole life, and they are not terribly interesting or compelling beyond being worthy of sympathy. The relationship between Madison and Lillian turns out to be more complicated than it seemed at first, but while the two dance around each other, they don’t get seem to get anywhere. I feel like Wilson developed this firestarting conceit but didn’t know what to do with it after the first 100 pages, because beyond the kids developing a relationship with Lillian, they don’t change all that much and the firestarting doesn’t go away.

I liked Wilson’s writing – it is wry and direct, and his dialogue rings true. But this book just didn’t make much of a mark for me and I actually found it kind of boring. His previous book, Perfect Little World (reviewed here), was much more substantive and had a lot to say about parenting and relationships. Nothing To See Here was more superficial and while it was odd and original, I finished it and wondered, “What was the point of that?” I am still not sure of the answer.

I am in the minority here. Nothing To See Here was a Read With Jenna pick and a BOTM selection, and according to my book club, was sold out at our bookstore on the day we selected it as our January read because it was so hot. So clearly it has found an enthusiastic audience – just not me.

SUCH A FUN AGE by Kiley Reid

I am on vacation, trying to get in the last reviews of 2019, so this will be short. Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid is a novel about two women: Alix, a white mom of two and motivational speaker/writer who has recently moved from NYC to Philly, and Emira, her African-American nanny. Late one night, Alix calls Emira to ask if she take her three year-old daughter Briar out of the house because it has been egged and they need to call the police. Emira comes to get Briar and they head to a nearby market that is open late, and while there she is detained by a security guard who questions why she is there with a white child and whether she has taken Briar without permission. This racist incident sets the book in motion.

Alix has a weird fascination with Emira that borders on an obsession. She wants to get to know Emira better and help develop in her the qualities she has built a career on encouraging in other young women, yet she also fears Emira will quit and is downright clingy with her. Emira, meanwhile, is puzzled by her boss’ new intensity of attention and is herself trying to become an adult with her own health insurance and career goals. When Emira’s new boyfriend turns out to be someone from Alix’s past, things get more complicated, quickly, as the two women navigate some

There is a lot to Such A Fun Age – Reid explores issues of race, privilege, motherhood and professional success and identity through relatable characters and authentic dialogue and situations. Alix, while well-intentioned, is clumsy and clueless, and watching her flail through her relationship with Emira can be funny, if cringey. Emira’s perspective gives the book its depth and heft. It is an easy, quick read with more going on than appears on the surface.

Such A Fun Age is a buzzy book that is going to get a lot of attention, soon.

I mostly listened to Such A Fun Age on audio. It was narrated by Nicole Lewis, who did a good job with a range of voices (including Briar’s). My only quibble is that Emira’s coming to terms with what she wants from her life is a big part of the book, but Lewis made Emira sound more aloof and immature than she came across in print. I needed to have confidence in Emira’s judgment and personal growth, and I had a hard time doing that with the audio version, where she seemed indifferent to everything.

2020 EDIWTB Reading Challenge!

Now that 2019 is almost behind us, it’s time to announce the categories for the 2020 EDIWTB Reading Challenge!

As I mentioned in my 2019 Reading Challenge wrap-up post, I wanted to make 2020’s categories a little more fun and less of an obligation. My hope with these is that you’ll find lots of books you want to read within these categories, without having to scrounge around for something that you don’t love and wouldn’t have read otherwise. I am also a big fan of reading your bookshelves, and hopefully you can do that more with this list than last year’s.

Here is the Google spreadsheet to keep track of your reading. If you’re new to the Challenge, just add your name to the list and you can keep track of your books here if you’d like. It’s also fun to see what other people are reading for the challenge.

HERE ARE THE CATEGORIES FOR 2020:

  1. An Epistolary Novel. This can also be a book told through texts/emails/etc. – doesn’t have to be letters.
  2. A Book That’s Been Sitting On Your Shelf For 2+ Years
  3. Pick A Book, Any Book. Close your eyes, walk up to your bookshelf, and read the first unread book you touch. (No do-overs!)
  4. A Book With The Word “Love” In The Title
  5. A Book That You Learned About From A Podcast/Blog
  6. A Celebrity Memoir
  7. A Book Involving Time Travel
  8. A Debut Novel
  9. A Book With A Blue Cover
  10. A Non-Fiction Book
  11. A Book About Sports. This can be fiction or non-fiction.
  12. A Book By An Author You Love That You Haven’t Read Yet

I am really excited about this list and hope that you are too! Please spread the word – if you have reader friends who would enjoy a fun, manageable book challenge and want to join a supportive, interesting community of readers, please send them this link.

Looking forward to kicking this off in January!

10 Best Books of 2019

What a year 2019 was for reading!

Here are my top 10 reads of the year. These are the books I thought about months after I read them, the ones that most touched, entertained, educated or moved me.

  1. The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. This book kicked off my 2019 reading and it set a very high bar. It’s a novel about how AIDS ravaged the gay community in 1980s Chicago, with ramifications for decades for those who knew and loved the men who died from the disease. (Review here.)
  2. Becoming by Michelle Obama. It’s a cliche at this point to gush over Michelle Obama’s memoir, but it’s just really good. I think about Becoming all the time, and I miss the Obamas terribly. (Review here.)
  3. Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes. This novel about a lonely widow in Maine and the unlikely friendship she strikes up with a pitcher with the yips was the perfect summer read. It is smart, wistful and romantic without a trace of sappiness. I was sad when it ended. (Review here.)
  4. Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. Brodesser-Akner hit a nerve this summer with her novel about modern marriage and divorce, Manhattan-style. Funny, observant and acerbic, the book took a narrative turn 3/4 of the way through that gave it much more depth. (Review here.)
  5. The Only Plane In The Sky by Garrett Graff. This comprehensive oral history of 9/11 is very difficult to read, but it’s important and very moving. I recommend this book equally for people who lived through 9/11, and those born after it happened. (Review here.)
  6. In The Pleasure Groove by John Taylor. I loved this memoir by the bassist of Duran Duran, not just because I love DD and anything related to 80s music, but because he was smart and self-deprecating and lived a crazy life in the 80s. (Review here.)
  7. Forever Is The Worst Long Time by Camille Pagan. This is a bittersweet read about a man who falls in love with his best friend’s girlfriend and pines for her for years. When they eventually get together, will it work out? This book took some unexpected turns and I think back on it often. (Review here.)
  8. Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane. This story about two families inextricably linked through tragedy will break your heart. (Review here.)
  9. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. I loved this book about a brother and sister who are forced to move from their childhood home after their father dies. Patchett traces their lives over the next few decades, exploring their relationship and how the house looms large in their identities. (Review here.)
  10. Our Souls At Night by Kent Haruf. This quiet novel about two older people who find each other after their partners died is beautifully simple and moving. This was my first Haruf novel and I can’t wait to read more. (Review here.)

THE ONLY PLANE IN THE SKY: AN ORAL HISTORY OF 9/11 by Garrett Graff

The Only Plane In The Sky by Garrett Graff is an oral history of 9/11, told by hundreds of people who experienced that day firsthand. Graff painstakingly reconstructed the chronology of September 11, 2001, from the four planes boarding and taking off and President Bush’s now-famous appearance at a school in Sarasota, FL, to the planes colliding with their targets, the falling of the buildings, and the rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero and the Pentagon. While this is a very difficult book to read, it is incredibly powerful and one that I highly recommend.

The Only Plane In The Sky is structured as an oral history, with limited additional commentary and information by the author. Hearing the words of the people who lived through it made the whole day more immediate – and, in retrospect, even more scary – for me, and I have a better sense of what they went through and the enormity of the efforts by first responders in both New York and Virginia to rescue people in the buildings. Graff also interviews people who lost loved ones in the building and on the planes, which is of course unbelievably moving and a reminder of the grief that so many people still feel personally experience from 9/11.

I learned a lot from The Only Plane In The Sky as well. One of the people Graff interviewed describes how the nation’s air traffic controllers were able to ground 3,500 of the planes in the air at the time within the first hour of the attacks, and 700 within the first ten minutes. (Of course, one of the things many people commented on about the days after 9/11 was the disconcerting quiet of the planeless skies, punctuated only by the buzz of military planes patrolling major U.S. cities.)

Graff also interviewed people close to President Bush, such as Ari Fleischer and Karen Hughes, and I learned much more about what he did immediately after the attacks and how handicapped Air Force One was by a lack of information and crude communications technology. The president’s plane circled a Florida city while advisers tried to decide where to go, with their only source of news a local TV station whose signal would go in and out as the plane circled in and out of range. Bush and his staff were more in the dark than people watching CNN at home.

I was also unaware of the huge evacuation efforts that took place by boat from lower Manhattan as people fled Ground Zero. Thousands of people were taken to Staten Island and New Jersey by a fleet that consisted of pleasure boats, ferries, Coast Guard vessels, and even private yachts that NYPD broke into while docked to get people (some of whom were jumping into the Hudson River) out of Manhattan.

The Only Plane In The Sky was a tough read, and I did it over about two months because I just couldn’t read that much of it at one time. (I especially had trouble reading it before bed.) But it is one of my top reads of the year, and I feel grateful for the experience of reading it. I never like to call anything “required reading”, but I will call this “very highly recommended reading” for anyone who wants to really understand that happened that day, or who perhaps wasn’t alive in 2001 and didn’t experience it themselves.

I am especially impressed with Garrett Graff, who undertook the task of reviewing thousands of interviews from witnesses to 9/11 and synthesizing them into this highly readable and compelling format.