What Is An Advanced Reader Copy? (What I Read In May)
I’m happy to report I’ve busted out of my reading slump! After a string of meh reads in March and April, May was a phenomenal month! Not only did I read some of the best writing I’ve encountered all year, I finished a whopping 19 books! (Compared to 8 in April and 12 in March)
A huge addition to my reading life in May was joining NetGalley, an online service dedicated to pairing “professional readers” (librarians, booksellers, bloggers, book reviewers) with free digital copies of books, most offered prior to the book’s official publication date. These are often called Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs)
I’d never gotten my hands on an ARC before, and then one mysteriously showed up in the mail for me at the beginning of this month. In my research to figure out where it had come from (I still don’t know) I discovered NetGalley. And just like that, BOOM! My TBR list exploded!
The reason publishers and authors want to share their ARCs prior to publication is to get early feedback on the books (NetGalley gives an option to give covers a thumbs up or down), and mostly to get word out about the books. The books are given in exchange for the reader to provide an “honest review.”
I’m telling you all about ARCs because you’re going to see a few on this month’s reading list, and I’ll be talking about them from time to time. You should know me well enough by now to know that for me, honest review means exactly that. I’m not going to recommend a book if I don’t think it’s worth your time.
So here’s a look at what I read in May:
The Female Persuasion – Meg Wolitzer
For the PopSugar Challenge Category: A book about feminism I enjoy this author, but was skeptical to read this one. I consider myself a “bad feminist” and thought I wouldn’t like it, based on the description. I bought it because it was the selection for Barnes & Noble’s first ever book club meeting. Like Wolitzer’s other novels, this one is character driven. We get to know some wonderful characters who are fully developed and relatable. Yes, the Feminist Movement plays a huge role in the novel, and that proves to be an interesting lens through which to watch these characters.
Elizabeth Is Missing – Emma Healey
For the PopSugar category: Your favorite prompt from the 2015-2017 Reading Challenges: A book with an unreliable narrator A non-traditional thriller, Healey gives us a unique twist on the unreliable narrator. Maud is in her 80’s and experiencing dementia. She is increasingly becoming a burden on her daughter and a danger to herself. This isn’t helped by the fact that Maud’s beloved friend Elizabeth is missing and no one will take her seriously. The storyline shifts between Maud’s youth and her present day, giving us a full picture of her life and how she has been affected by the disappearance of her older sister 70 years ago. After a while, I started to feel anxious and confused by Maud’s condition, a sign of excellent writing and character development. This was a fast, compelling read, nothing like what I was expecting.
The Success Principles – Jack Canfield
For the PopSugar category: A book mentioned in another book (The Successful Author Mindset) All you have to do to be successful is follow these 67 principles, most of which are have multiple phases, and incorporate them into your every day life. Holy cow, it took me forever to slog through all of this. I read this book at the recommendation of my editor and I can see why she suggested it and likes it. I do believe in the Law of Attraction and found there to be a lot of great information in this book. However, it is practically buried among a lot of repetition and unnecessary anecdotes. I wouldn’t recommend this to someone in the version I read. If there isn’t already, there should be an abridged version! Or better yet, The Secret or You Are A Badass would be more engaging ways to receive a similar message.
How To Break Up With Your Phone – Catherine Price
Don’t be misled by the title, as I almost was. Instead of recommending a permanent split with ones’s smartphone, the author encourages us to re-evaluate the current relationship we have with our phones and ask ourselves if this is truly how we want to be spending our time. Price provides a thorough explanation of how devices and apps are developed to intentionally create an endless loop of browsing and be addictive. She also explains how human brains work, why we get a little rush of dopamine when we check our phone and why that hooks us to reach for it again only moments later. What I appreciate most about the author’s approach is that information and advice is given without judgement. Instead of telling us we “shouldn’t” be on our phones, which truly isn’t the case, she is equipping us with the tools necessary to make a decision about how and when we use our phones. This is an important book. All smartphone users should read it so they can make educated choices.
Hillbilly Elegy – JD Vance
For the PopSugar Category: A book about a problem facing society today (poverty) I was 3/4 of the way through this book figuring I would give it two stars. I couldn’t understand all the buzz. Then the last few chapters resonated with me in a serious way and after the conclusion, it occurred to me why this book was so popular yet I hadn’t been feeling it early on. It’s because I had a traumatic childhood. Mine was not similar to Vance’s and I didn’t grow up in the rust belt, but there are a lot of similarities in regard to being poor and having an unstable mother. This book got a lot of buzz because most readers cannot relate to the author and are stunned. I realize it took an incredible amount of courage (and research) to write this book and I respect that a great deal. I can see why it’s so important to evaluate a life such as Vance’s to see what can be done to encourage other children to break the cycle and be successful in life. This is a fascinating look into a part of America many know little about.
Bring Me Back – BA Paris
For the PopSugar challenge: A book about a villain or anti-hero. The mysteriously appearing Advanced Copy! This one will be published June 19th.
Here we have a bit of an anti-hero in Finn, who is moving on with his life after his girlfriend, Layla, disappeared 12 years ago. He just so happens to be moving on with Layla’s sister. None of the characters are likable, everyone is lying and sneaking around. Generally I want at least one character to root for, yet not having that made it easier to get fully immersed in the flow of the story. I couldn’t put it down, desperately wanting to know what happened next. While the majority of the plot was pretty typical, and at times felt a bit predictable, the author had an incredible amount of groundwork laid that I hadn’t even noticed. The writing is simple and straightforward — this isn’t a literary work, but it does it’s job thoroughly, which is to thrill the reader!
An American Marriage – Tayari Jones
For the Read Harder challenge category: An Oprah’s Book Club Selection I was so blown away by this book, I wrote an entire post about it the day after I finished it! So go read that post for my full review, all I’ll say here is: everything about this novel is stunning.
Lacks Self Control – Roy Sekoff
This was my first advanced copy from NetGalley and it set the bar pretty dang high! Publication date is June 12th.
Be prepared to laugh out loud while reading this book, I even snorted once while reading in public! Reminiscent of the work of David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs, these essays put a hilarious spin on awkward moments in Sekoff’s life. From discovering his dad’s porn collection as a kid, to scattering his parents’ ashes as an adult and father, Sekoff does a stellar job highlighting significant moments in his life. These are the moments we all have, some of which may seem “minor” at the time, then later become the stories we tell at dinner parties, and are ultimately the moments that build us as a person. The writing is skilled and packs a punch in all the right places. (Not surprising since Sekoff is the founding editor of the Huffington Post.) He writes with raw emotion and honesty, after finishing the book I felt like we were friends. The title and subtitle are a perfect reflection of what’s in these essays. I hadn’t heard of Sekoff before reading this, and I’m definitely going to pay attention to what he’s doing from here on out!
The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen
For the PopSugar category: A book by two authors A generally suspenseful thriller that fell flat. The first half was pretty decent, then I became incredibly confused, and it was much too long. It was tough to keep track of who was who and what her intentions were. A lot of the plot was predictable. The characters aren’t fully developed and seem too similar. I didn’t really care about what happened to them. There are too many other thrillers that are much better. Skip this one.
Eat That Frog! – Brian Tracy
For the PopSugar challenge category: A book with an animal in the title There are a few useful tidbits buried under the ENDLESS references to eating a frog, but they weren’t worth it. I started the book hopeful and by the end was angry! The general tone of the writing is condescending, and the one size fits all approach is totally unrealistic. Tracy’s 21 steps to stop procrastinating are repetitive, at times contradictory (one of them is To Procrastinate Creatively) and certainly not a solution for everyone. He doesn’t take into account personality or motivation. There are many other resources for habit building that are kind and realistic (like Gretchen Rubin’s work) so you can work with your tendencies and preferences, not against them as is encouraged here.
Failure is an Option: An Attempted Memoir by H. Jon Benjamin
For the Read Harder Challenge Category: A celebrity memoir My second title from NetGalley. With his trademark apathy and sarcasm, Benjamin tells stories of times throughout his life where he failed, sometimes fantastically at whatever he was attempting. Topics range from mildly crude to outright vulgar, crossing the blurry comedic line causing the reader to ask “He really can’t be serious here, right?” I laughed out at some point in almost every chapter, and in more than one instance I had tears in my eyes from laughing so hard. What I appreciate most, besides the laughs, is Benajamin’s spin on failure. Sure, he’s making fun of himself, but he makes a good point: So much emphasis is placed on success in our society, we forget that failure is often “a springboard towards something better”
A Family Daughter by Maile Meloy
It took me a while to wrap my brain around this one. I read and loved the author’s first novel, Liars & Saints. A Family Daughter is not a sequel or even quite a follow up to the first novel. It features the same characters, however it’s a totally different timeline. The themes are all there: Catholicism, family secrets, guilt, lies, family obligation, and it’s the same family, same characters, only in different circumstances. It’s a beautiful novel and the writing is engrossing, but my enjoyment of it was affected because I was distracted by comparing this story to the previous novel.
A Glass Half Empty? Or Half Full? by Dan Schuck
Another book I received from NetGalley. This is an adorable “self help” book for adults in the format of a children’s book. The concept is solid. The information provided and the way it’s delivered is useful. This would be a great introduction to the concepts of optimism, pessimism, and finding balance in life. It also addresses how we are affected by and affect others without intention and reminds us to stay aware of that. It was an enjoyable little read, but the end fell flat. I was hoping for just a tiny bit more – maybe another tidbit of advice on how to answer the question for oneself.
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
For the Read Harder challenge category: A children’s classic published before 1980 I was expecting a fairy tale, which this is not. It took me a while to realize it was an allegory, then I was trying to wrap my brain around what was happening and what it meant. All of which distracted me from the story. I found it all very odd, although there were occasional sweet parts. I may need to read it again (or watch the movie) in order to fully comprehend the story.
The Truth of Memoir by Kerry Cohen
While this book didn’t necessarily “teach” me things I wasn’t already aware of as a memoir writer, it provides me with factual examples and advice from published memoirists. It reassures me that the challenges I face and things I worry about as I write, are common to all writers of the genre. It gives me a wide range of answers to some of the questions I have and reiterated the big answer, which is: you absolutely truly cannot know how anyone is going to respond to your writing. It also reminded me that I have every right to tell me stories and to do my best to be kind while doing it.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Gay explores some heavy topics in this essay collection. What I appreciate most about her writing is she recognizes that her opinion will be disagreed with, and she voices it anyway, loudly, with strength, humor, and facts. As a writer of personal essays myself, this collection was a serious kick in the pants of inspiration. Her piece about playing competitive Scrabble is sheer perfection.There were times I laughed out loud while reading these essays, and times I was saddened and disgusted. Gay reminds us that we are all complex creatures. We do not fit into a finely defined box of “feminist” or any other label society tries to force upon us, or we try to squeeze into.
The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks
Rereading this book for the first time in 25 years, all the magic is still here along with the wonderful imagery. Yes, the cowboys and Indians stuff is quite dated and embraces negative stereotypes. As an adult, there were a few instances that made me squirm. I had forgotten the book is set in England, so perhaps that explains some of the inaccuracies. Regardless, it is still a wonderful read.
I Have Lost My Way by Gayle Forman
For the While I Was Reading challenge category: A book that takes place in one day A beautiful story of three young people brought together randomly, or perhaps by Fate. Taking place over the course of a single day with alternating chapters of backstory, this novel was difficult to put down. The three main characters wormed their way into my heart and I wasn’t ready for their story to be over. Forman’s writing is realistic, her characters relatable. The emphasis on loving kindness throughout this story is exceptional. I was amazed how these three teenagers, who each viewed themselves as weak, showed up for each other and found themselves during one tumultuous day.
You Are A Badass At Making Money by Jen Sincero
Just like her first book, I read this one at the right time. While her tone is humorous and her language is casual, the message is strong: You can succeed at whatever you put your mind to. I appreciate the emphasis she places on removing stigmas associated with money and being wealthy. She discusses money as energy, as a conduit to a better life. She provides useful anecdotes and tips for figuring out not only what you want to do but WHY. The mantras and exercises at the end of each chapter were helpful to dig into my limiting beliefs about money and where they came from.
What did you read in May? Do you have opinions on any of the books I read?