Book Of The Month is a subscription service that sends you one hardcover book per month out of five selections for a low monthly subscription fee. You can add 2 more titles to your monthly delivery for $9.99 each, and the price overall is very cheap for full-size hardcovers.
Book Of The Month is not paying me to promote their service. I just love it so much that I’ve turned my monthly deliveries into a feature on my blog 🙂 I do encourage you to try it though, because if you like hardcovers it’s a great deal.
You can use my referral link to sign up if you’re interested in trying it. You’ll get your first three months for just $9.99 each plus a cute tote. And I’ll get a free book when you join. Win, win!
I had a pretty lucky month for my Book Of The Month selections. I ended up with two five star picks (Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips and Killers Of The Flower Moon by David Grann) and one solid three star pick (The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan). I also ended up with a bonus book (The Sisters Chase by Sarah Healey) because Book Of The Month sent it to me accidentally. Once I let them know, they shipped the correct book out to me asap and let me keep The Sisters Chase as well (great customer service). I ended up not loving it, but I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Read my full reviews below!
Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips
Publication Date: July 25th 2017
Published By: Viking
Plot Teaser (from Goodreads – 3.75 rating)
An electrifying novel about the primal and unyielding bond between a mother and her son, and the lengths she’ll go to protect him.
The zoo is nearly empty as Joan and her four-year-old son soak up the last few moments of playtime. They are happy, and the day has been close to perfect. But what Joan sees as she hustles her son toward the exit gate minutes before closing time sends her sprinting back into the zoo, her child in her arms. And for the next three hours—the entire scope of the novel—she keeps on running.
Joan’s intimate knowledge of her son and of the zoo itself—the hidden pathways and under-renovation exhibits, the best spots on the carousel and overstocked snack machines—is all that keeps them a step ahead of danger.
What I Liked
A different premise than your usual thriller. Raise your hand if you’re a little over the usual thriller premise of a girl/woman who goes missing in the night and needs to be found. Sure, you’ll still have some good and hopefully unexpected twists in there, but you’re still starting out from the same place. Well, in Fierce Kingdom, you’re getting a whole new beginning. This thriller is focused on one cold-blooded storyline – a shooting spree taking place in a zoo past closing hours. I didn’t know if it would be an excessively gory read, based on the premise, but I think Phillips struck the right balance of realism with the violence and injuries included, while keeping the focus on the psychological aspect of the trauma for the characters involved.
The suspense. I’ve mentioned it in a couple other posts and on social media already, but this book made me stay up to finish it way past my usual bedtime. I tend to go to sleep early by any standards (typically 9:30PM), but I couldn’t tear myself away from this story and ended up reading it in one sitting. The pages just kept turning, and I know others have had the same experience, based on the reviews I’ve read. Since you kind of know what’s going to happen from the plot teaser, you already feel a sense of foreboding in the first few relatively calm chapters, and even when the action slackens, the emotional and mental tension for characters and readers alike remains. It was frightening but I just had to see what would happen next.
The emotional component. I found it really interesting that Phillips chose to put a mother and her young boy at the center of her plot. The main character of Joan in particular is extremely well-developed – the reader sees the events unfolding in the thriller through Joan’s mind and is privy to her every anxious and terrified thought. Joan’s relationship to her son and her fears for his safety are starkly revealed in Joan’s mind, and the realism of some of the unimaginable choices she has to make throughout the horrific experience make her actions feel weirdly relatable. You’ll wonder if you would make the same choices Joan did in her place, and will try to discern the safest way forward right alongside her.
What I Didn’t Like
Not much character development for secondary characters. The novel is really told from Joan’s perspective, and though the reader develops a strong understanding of her, there are several secondary characters in the narrative (including the shooter or shooters – no spoilers), which I would have liked to have more of an insight into. In a specific instance, the reader sees one of the other people trapped in the zoo make a really difficult moral decision, but because the book is so focused on Joan, you actually never really find out what happened as a result of that decision, or what that character was thinking while they were making the choice. Though I understand that focusing primarily on one victim gives more of an immediacy to the narrative, I could see how switching perspectives between victims could have also added something to the book if done right.
You won’t be able to put this one down. Fierce Kingdom is a thriller with an original and highly topical premise that will make you wonder how you would act in its protagonist’s shoes.
Killers Of The Flower Moon by David Grann
Publication Date: April 18th 2017
Published By: Doubleday (Random House)
Plot Teaser (from Goodreads – 4.16 rating)
From New Yorker staff writer David Grann, #1 New York Times best-selling author of The Lost City of Z, a twisting, haunting true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history.
In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe. Then, one by one, they began to be killed off.
As the death toll surpassed more than twenty-four Osage, the newly created F.B.I. took up the case, in what became one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations. In Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann revisits a shocking series of crimes in which dozens of people were murdered in cold blood.
What I Liked
The mix of true crime and history. This book has so much to offer. It shifts between genres and topics, spanning Native American history, the development of forensic science, a captivating murder mystery and investigation, the beginning of the FBI, a riveting courtroom drama and an emotional family story. There’s pretty much something for everyone, and the continuing shifts in the narrative kept me turning the pages to see where the story would go next. Ultimately, Killers Of The Flower Moon is an intersection of many different historical occurrences and characters, brought together around a mysterious series of highly targeted murders, but each element is included in exactly the right amount and manner. Not an easy feat.
The writing. This is the kind of historical nonfiction book that is a great gateway to the genre for people who don’t normally read nonfiction, because it reads almost like a novel. The story itself is so engaging – I didn’t know about the Osage myself and the author does an amazing job of melding some much information about the members of the tribe involved in the murder mystery at the center of the book, while keeping the plot moving and staying away from making the book sound dry. It’s a really hard balance to strike, but Grann is truly masterful at it. I loved reading passages of this book out loud. Grann constructs beautiful sentences that have a musical nature to them but still inform and don’t feel convoluted.
Pictures interspersed throughout the book. This may have been my favorite part of the book. As someone who reads a lot of nonfiction, one of my pet peeves is either a historical nonfiction book that has no accompanying visual material, or one that relegates all the visual material in a center insert or at the end of the book. It’s true that that is sometimes necessary to be able to include color photos, but since most of the photos in Grann’s narrative must have been in black and white to start with, I thought it really added to the story to have the photos interspersed throughout the narrative next to relevant parts of the plot. It made it so much easier to visualize all the various historical figures and Osage families involved in the mystery, and I even found a really hot outlaw to post on my instagram (see below).
What I Didn’t Like
A little slow in a couple sections. I thought this book was pretty much perfect, but if I had to find a flaw with it, it would be that occasionally the narrative slowed down a bit. There were a few sections where Grann got slightly deep into a character’s back story or delved in a little bit too much detail about documents or intricate aspects of the investigation behind the Osage murders. Aside from that, I think this a must read.
Expertly written account of the Osage murders which melds historical fact, true crime, family drama and mystery into a riveting story about a little known murder spree in American history.
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Publication Date: March 22nd 1989
Published By: G.P. Putnam’s Sons (Drop Cap version published by Penguin)
Plot Teaser (from Goodreads)
In 1949, four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, begin meeting to eat dim sum, play mahjong, and talk. United in shared loss and hope, they call themselves the Joy Luck Club. With wit and wisdom, Amy Tan examines the sometimes painful, often tender, and always deep connection between these four women and their American-born daughters. As each reveals her secrets, trying to unravel the truth about her life, the strings become more tangled, more entwined.
What I Liked
The history and details about Chinese culture. The chapters of the book that I think were most successful for me were the ones that traveled back in time to the lives of the mothers in the book as children in China. Their struggles were so much more elemental in scope than those of their daughters in America – about how to find enough food to survive, how to flee from enemy invasions, and how to cope in loveless arranged marriages. There were also Chinese legends, customs and sayings tied into their stories that felt magical and ancestral. A book with just their stories would have felt like worthwhile reading for its own sake.
The immigrant narrative. One of the central themes in the book is the exploration of the relationship between 1st generation immigrant mothers and their 2nd generation daughters. This generational clash is rooted in completely different social, economic and cultural experiences, which create a divide between the mothers (brought up in a difficult epoch in China) and the daughters (soft and willful from their significantly easier upbringing in America). This separation between children and parents is rooted in questions of identity and of heritage. As something I’ve experienced in my own life by being abroad from my birth country for many years, It was a theme I could relate to.
What I Didn’t Like
Felt like self-contained essays. It was hard to connect to this book because every chapter is basically its own standalone story. There are four parts to the book, each made up of four chapters, which in turn are each written from the point of view of one of the eight different main characters (4 mothers and 4 daughters). The book jumps from one narrator to the other, from one historical period to the other, from one location to the other, and though some chapters are related to each other, they are separated by other unrelated chapters. It honestly felt kind of confusing. I kept forgetting about the prior part of a story that was picked up in a subsequent chapter, and though some of the individual stories were beautiful, I missed the impact that a more interwoven novel would have had.
So many ‘main’ characters it was hard to connect to them. Like I mentioned above, the book really has 8 main characters, which in my opinion is about 4 too many. I think it was unrealistic to think that a reader would not only have been able to connect with each of the primary characters and at the same time also be able to keep them straight when jumping from one narrator to the other, and also remember the various secondary characters included in each chapter. I certainly struggled with it, and had to go back to the cheat sheet at the beginning of the book to help me tease out who was whose mother and who had already had a chapter of their own. It was a little more work than I was prepared for, and really took away from the experience of the novel.
Beautifully written and evocative of two very different cultures and times, The Joy Luck Club may be a struggle to read due to a plethora of primary characters and a disconnected narrative structure.
The Sisters Chase by Sarah Healy
Publication Date: June 27th 2017
Published By: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Plot Teaser (from Goodreads – rating 3.75)
The hardscrabble Chase women—Mary, Hannah, and their mother Diane—have been eking out a living running a tiny seaside motel that has been in the family for generations, inviting trouble into their lives for just as long. Eighteen-year-old Mary Chase is a force of nature: passionate, beautiful, and free-spirited. Her much younger sister, Hannah, whom Mary affectionately calls “Bunny,” is imaginative, her head full of the stories of princesses and adventures that Mary tells.
But when Diane dies in a car accident, Mary discovers the motel is worth less than the back taxes they owe. With few options, Mary’s finely tuned instincts for survival kick in. As the sisters begin a cross-country journey in search of a better life, she will stop at nothing to protect Hannah. But Mary wants to protect herself, too, for the secrets she promised she would never tell—but now may be forced to reveal—hold the weight of unbearable loss.
What I Liked
It wasn’t bad. I struggled to find something specific to pinpoint as really positive in this book, and I think that’s part of the problem. The plot isn’t horrible – it’s just okay. The characters aren’t completely uninteresting – they’re relatively interesting. The writing isn’t poor, it’s even good at times. Overall, I think this was aspiring to be complex literary fiction, and unfortunately fell short. There are clearly people on Goodreads who didn’t hate this, and I didn’t hate it either, which is why I gave it 2 stars. I also didn’t like it… That’s kind of a narrow target to hit, but somehow, The Sisters Chase did it. There were sparks of possibility here and there, moments when I though the story or characters would suddenly become more interesting, but it just always fell slightly short of that mark.
What I Didn’t Like
It was only mediocre. This isn’t really a thriller, and it isn’t really literary fiction either. It’s somewhere in between, which leaves it unfortunately in a really underwhelming no mans land. Like I said, I didn’t hate it – I read the whole thing after all – but there was just nothing special or remarkable about it. Considering that I have way more reading options than I know what to do with, it left me wishing I had spent the hours it took me to read it reading something else instead. That’s definitely not a good sign. I think it might work for readers who are looking for a little lack of depth, specifically because they want something that will work well for easy reading.
Felt superficial due to lack of character development. Apparently I’m disclosing a few reading pet peeves in this post, but another one of mine is when an author tells you what makes a character interesting instead of showing you. Where all the character development occurs in descriptions of the character by the author (eg. “Mary was lovely and terrible. Mary was a blessing and a tragedy. Mary was capable of great love, but only toward a very few”), but there’s not enough to correspond to that description in the actual actions and thoughts of the character to carry the description through. What resulted in The Sisters Chase were water-thin shadows of characters that I never truly liked or connected with.
Predictable plot. It’s okay when beautifully written literary fiction has a plot that barely goes anywhere – the quality of the prose and the depth of the character development are what make up for it. I actually love that kind of literary fiction, and am by no means the kind of reader who needs a plot twist around every corner. Since The Sisters Chase didn’t reach the (admittedly high) bar of true literary fiction, I was hoping for it to fall back on the unexpected revelation side of the spectrum to make up with it. Sadly, you can see the twist at the end of the novel coming from a mile away. It’s not completely uninteresting – nothing in the book is – it’s just meh. I feel like that’s pretty much what I’ve said in this whole review. Maybe I should have just written one word – meh.
Average novel that fails to stand out for plot, writing or character development among a sea of other reading choices.
Have you read and of these 4 titles? What did you think of them? Do you agree with my ratings? Let me know in the comments.
If you want to read my previous reviews for my Book Of The Month deliveries here are links to my July 2017, June 2017, May 2017, April 2017, March 2017, February 2017, January 2017, December 2016, November 2016, October 2016 and September 2016 posts.
Here’s an image from my Instagram of my August 2017 Book Of The Month picks. ANd below it the hot outlaw picture from Killers Of The Flower Moon.
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