The Au Pair by Emma Rous | Advance Reader’s Copy Review

Au Pair Review

Title: The Au Pair
Author: Emma Rous
My rating: 4.5 / 5
Is it worth reading? If you love mystery and suspense, slow-revelations-style character development, and contrasting spooky/cozy atmosphere, this is a great book for you.
When does it come out? January 8, 2019
Random gushing: I love the cover of this book. It’s one of those covers that doesn’t disappoint you and fits in perfectly with the content of the book. Can’t wait to see this one on the shelves!

 

>>SPOILER FREE REVIEW<<

Summary:

After her father’s accidental death, Seraphine Mayes seeks solace in old family albums. That’s when she discovers a photograph she’s never seen before—of her mother serenely holding one, not two, babies on the day she and her twin brother were born. Hours after the photo was taken, her mother would throw herself from the cliffs behind their idyllic countryside estate, and the events surrounding the birth of the Mayes twins would become the stuff of local legend … tales of sprites and switched babies, changelings and a curse upon all twins born at Summerbourne. But who is Seraphine, really?

Review:

I was first intrigued by the cover of this book, and let me tell you—and like the girl on the cover, it will keep you looking back over your shoulder the whole time, hoping you don’t find a knife waiting for you.

Each chapter shifts between two perspectives—Seraphine in the present day, and Laura (the au pair) in the past. I love how this story slowly unfolds as the circumstances become more dire in each narrator’s story. I also appreciated how the author kept me guessing the whole time—just who are these children and where did they come from? Rous’ sense of place and atmosphere is wonderful. It made me want to sip tea in Summerbourne and run down to a rocky beach. But while sometimes the story felt cheery and homey, at other times it was eerie and mysterious (this always seemed to happen when I was reading it at night!).

I also liked Seraphine’s internal dialogue of self-doubt. Is she just being crazy and paranoid? Is she just grasping at straws to stay connected to her dead father? Or has she been ignoring her own intuition her entire life?

The story has a mostly satisfying ending (even some romance!), although we never know the extent of the accused character’s true evil or the extent of Ruth’s mental illness.

My only critique was that the first chapter felt a bit bumpy to me. I just didn’t initially buy into Seraphine’s sudden suspicions based on one photograph. But as the story unfolds, we see how little dominoes falling over the course of her life have lead her to this place of suspicion.

This one ticked all the boxes for me: Great mystery, interesting characters, intricate plot development, great sense of place, and quick read. Pick up a copy this January!

Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group for an early copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

On almost hitting my reading goals, favorite books of 2017, and more

What a turbulent, change-filled, and exhausting year 2017 has been.

Besides the craziness happening in the world at large, this has been one of the most difficult years of my life. When I started this blog back in January of last year (here’s my first review!), I had no clue how much things would change in my personal life, and how little blog writing I would actually get done this year.

My husband and I moved across the country. I spent a stressful summer looking for a job while working from home (torture for an extrovert). I started graduate school. We moved again. I started a new job. My husband started his own business. I’m tired just writing all of that.

Basically, life has been bananas (and I mean B-A-N-A-N-A-S) for months.

And here, on the fresh cusp of a new year, I finally feel like the dust may slowly be starting to settle. The stress about the business is still there. The endless pile of to-do’s are still there. The dirty dishes are ALWAYS there.

But it’s difficult for me to feel too pessimistic at the start of a new year. Something about a new year feels like a fresh start…a new chance to be a better version of myself, to grow and improve, and to reflect on what did and didn’t work last year.

What didn’t work: Moving twice within six months. Never again.

What did work: Reading more books, finding a library job I love, and taking the plunge into grad school in a field that excites me.

Still in progress: Forming community and finding new friends in a new place.

Today, I hope you have a chance to reflect on 2017 and what obstacles you have overcome in your own life this year. Last January, I never would have imagine how much upheaval we would experience this year. If I had known, I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to even begin.

But here I am, still alive somehow, on the other end of 2017. You can do it too. I hope you have a truly marvelous 2018!

2017

So close…

On to book matters:

For 2017, I had a goal of reading 40 books. Maybe something about not having friends or lots of free time this summer helped me go past my goal goal until it was a week before January 1, and I was at 48 books. I wanted sooooo badly to hit 50 (I’ve never read 50!), but having family in town (among other excuses), meant that I was finishing my last book of the year, On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder last night at 11:30 p.m.

I only read 49.

The anal part of me is dying inside.

I know I should be glad that I could read nine books over my initial goal, but of course all I can think about is that one measly little book I somehow couldn’t manage to finish. Sigh.

Next year.

Best of the best of 2017

I read so many good books this year. So many. Here are some highlights:

  • I discovered Louise Penny’s wonderful Chief Inspector Gamache series.
  • I chipped 4 (almost 5!) more Agatha Christie books off my lifetime list.
  • I only read two Jane Austen adaptations instead of the usual five.
  • I read 20 nonfiction books—a new record for this fiction lover!
  • I even read one short story collection—The Mistletoe Murder by P.D. James—and discovered I don’t hate short stories!

Since choosing one favorite book is obviously impossible, these were my favorite books by genre. Apparently I only read three genres:

Fiction

186074

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Not since The Lord of the Rings have I found a fantasy that so captured my imagination like this one. I love the format of the story too—as Kvothe tells the story in flashbacks, it keeps you itching to know more. Part hero epic, part action adventure, part love story, Rothfuss’ world feels as real as Middle Earth. It’s a huge book, but it reads fast.

 

Honorable mentions:

19486412

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

I didn’t expect to like this one as much as I did. I honestly thought it was going to be something like desperate housewives with petty, shallow characters crying in their Mercedes convertibles and fighting over popularity. I was so wrong. I loved how this book highlights the secret burdens and pains we all face. The twist at the end was great too! Don’t go in expecting a full-fledged mystery or thriller. It’s a little of both but not fully either.

33590214

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

I’ve already talked about what I love about this book over here, but if you haven’t picked this one up yet, you should. The audio version is also fantastic. I laughed out loud and also was forced to think about my own assumptions following scandal.

 

Nonfiction

liturgy of the ordinary tish harrison warren nonfiction picks

Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren

This was such a readable and thought-provoking work. I won’t rehash everything I’ve already said about this one, but I really recommend you pick this up if you’re searching for significance in the everyday, ordinary parts of your life. This book is a reminder that we can be worshipful even in the most seemingly insignificant moments.

Bonus: It’s Christianity Today’s 2018 Book of the Year!

 

Honorable mentions:

41tMNxsg+WL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_

Booked by Karen Swallow Prior

I actually had Dr. Prior for a class in college, and I remember this (her first book) coming out. But it was only this year that I picked it up for myself, and I am so glad that I did! Dr. Prior reflects on different points in her life and the books that shaped those times. I loved the combination of memoir + love letter to reading. She also has some seriously important insights on how reading is one of the greatest way we can grow and mature. (I was even inspired to finally give Great Expectations a try!)

the road back to you ian morgan cron enneagram

The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron & Suzanne Stabile

I loved learning about the Enneagram from this book. I’ve reflected a lot this year on my type and what role fear (the Type 6’s great struggle) plays in my life. Before reading this book, I didn’t realize how much fear impacted my choices. Read this book if you want to know yourself better! (And read here for a more detailed review.)

9780147526793

Evicted by Mathew Desmond

I couldn’t have said it any better than Roxanne Gay when she reviewed this book: “The brutal truth of poverty in America is far more devastating than any fiction ever could be.” This book was eye-opening, tragic, and amazing. There is so much I didn’t know or understand about eviction until I read this book. I was angry and enlightened. This is an incredibly important read.

Bonus: It won the Pulitzer Prize and was named a Top 10 Best Book by the New York Times Book Review in 2016.

 

Mystery

516wvvl6WLL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

I have read so many great mystery books this year, but this one stands out as the one that surprised me the most. I can’t wait to read more Agatha Christie in 2018! Read more here about how I changed my mind about Miss Marple.

 

Honorable  mentions:

1-lrg-still-life

Still Life by Louise Penny

I have Anne Bogel over at Modern Mrs Darcy and What Should I Read Next? to thank for convincing me to try Louise Penny. I love this series! Especially now that we live in a small mountain town, I feel right at home in Three Pines as Chief Inspector Gamache solves mysteries and reflects on the simple pleasures of life. I also appreciate how Penny wrestles with human nature and analyzes her character’s fears, joys, and struggles throughout the series. I’m on book four now and I can’t wait to read book five!

Death-Comes-to-Pemberley-Book-Cover

Death Comes to Pemberly by P.D. James

This was my first P.D. James book. I watched the mini-series on Netflix and enjoyed it, so I decided to pick up the book. I’ve never read a Jane Austen retelling that is also a mystery, so this was an interesting departure. It’s a light, fun read if you enjoy imagining the world of Pride and Prejudice after the Darcy wedding.

Great audiobook narrators, Part 1

“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.”

— Lemony Snicket

Picking a good audiobook isn’t just about picking the right book.

It’s about picking a voice you can listen to for the next 12 hours. I’ve written about it before, but a narrator can make or break an audiobook.

Struggling to find something you’ll enjoy? I’ve done the hard work for you.

Here are some of my favorite audiobooks by narrator:

 

IMG_5003

Rosamund Pike, Pride and Prejudice

Not only is Rosamund Pike my favorite Jane Bennet of all the Pride and Prejudice film adaptations, she is a marvelous narrator. Her voice is melodious and her voices for different characters are marvelous. I’ve read Pride and Prejudice more times than I can count, but listening to Pike’s narration was like hearing it for the first time. Her voices are excellent, and her delivery impeccable.

Use your free 1-month trial from Audible and fall in love with this classic again!

 

bg8r-square-1536

Carey Elwes, As You Wish

If you’re a fan of The Princess Bride (especially the movie), you’ll absolutely love this audiobook. Carey Elwes (aka Wesley) narrates the story of The Princess Bride‘s journey from book to movie production. His humorous stories, wonderful voice (who could resist Wesley??), and storytelling ability is a wonderful tribute to the movie and its fans.

What I especially love about this particular audiobook is that many of the original actors narrate sections of the book from their perspective. The story of making the film is almost as hilarious as the film itself.

 

IMG_4992

Rob Inglis, Lord of the Rings

I love Rob Inglis’ narration. Every time I press play, I feel like I’m being wrapped up cozy blanket by the fire with a mug of tea, listening as Gandalf reads me a story. While I absolutely love Lord of the Rings, there are definitely some thick/slow parts that audiobook helps you power through.

Also if you, like me, love Lord of the Rings but hate reading the songs and poems, you’re in luck. Rob Inglis actually sings every song, so you can finally appreciate Tolkien’s poetry instead of just skipping over it.

 

IMG_4994

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

If you love listening to writers read their own books, listen to a copy of Between the World and Me next. I honestly don’t know if I would have recognized all the emotion, heartache, and passion Coates writes with if I hadn’t heard him read his own words aloud.

Beyond the fact that Coates is an excellent narrator, Between the World and Me is an excellent book, and it’s one you need to read. I didn’t have the slightest understanding of what it was like to be black in America before reading this book. I probably never will, fully. But this book was a good place to start. Listen to Ta-Nehisi Coates, and let Between the World in Me draw you one step closer to understanding, compassion, and hope.

 

Who are your favorite audiobook narrators?

 

*No affiliate links used in this post

Old book, new review: The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Copy of The circle review (1)

Title: The Pillars of the Earth
Author: Ken Follett
My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Fiction
Is it worth reading? Yes. For more conservative readers, there will definitely be some sections to skip over (sex, rape, violence etc.). However, despite these flaws, Follett’s world is so captivating and the drama of the cathedral’s construction is so captivating, that if you love being sucked into a new world, you’ll find much to enjoy.

 

>>SPOILER FREE REVIEW<<

This September, Ken Follett will be releasing a new book — the first since he completed the Century Trilogy (which I’m currently reading). Out in September, A Column of Fire is the third book in his Kingsbridge series.

I decided to revisit book one in the series, The Pillars of the Earth, in a new review of the 1989 epic.

First, this book is no joke. At a whopping 1,000+ pages, it’s no quick read. This is not a Harry Potter-1,000 pages that vanish all too quickly. It’s a sizable commitment. But that shouldn’t scare you away, and here’s why:

 

The weird and ugly

Let’s get the negatives out of the way first.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. But there’s definitely some disturbing content. If you’re particularly sensitive to these topics, you might want to skip on Pillars.

Graphic sex and rape: There is a lot of sex throughout, and most scenes are pretty descriptive. I found it easy to skip over them (no major plot points lost), but the amount of detail felt unnecessary. I didn’t pick up a romance novel. Be warned: One rape scene is particularly disturbing and graphic.

Plot devices: As another reviewer pointed out, sometimes the plot felt a bit methodical: Things are going well, HUGE PROBLEM, solution is discovered at the last second, repeat. It’s no surprise that Follett started out writing thrillers.

I eventually came to expect that if things were going well, it was only a matter of time until things got crappy again. Nothing is sacred. No one is invincible. Even though I knew exactly what Follett was doing, I couldn’t. Stop. Reading.

Corruption and violence: Medieval England is about what you would expect — violent, cruel, every man for himself. There are accusations of witchcraft, misogyny in its worst forms, and evil, oppressive leaders. The injustice was so despicable at some points that it took my breath away.

Despite the ugliness depicted throughout Pillars, the stories rang true. Even today, evil exists and abounds. Nothing irks me more than a story that untruthfully depicts human nature.

Now, some of the characters were almost a little too evil, and much of the sex was highly dramatized. But overall, Follett does a good job of presenting flawed, believable characters who develop throughout the story.

 

The beautiful and good

Religion and the Church: For Christian readers, one important thing to keep in mind is that Follett does not believe in God. This is part of what drew me to the book in the first place. It’s totally fascinating to me that someone who doesn’t practice Christianity would write a book about the construction of a cathedral.

Yet somehow Follett creates multi-layered, three-dimensional characters who struggle with their beliefs and wrestle with discerning how God would have them live — something Christians experience daily.

For the most part, Follett was respectful of the church (even though he doesn’t subscribe to faith himself) and Prior Philip is still one of my favorite Christian characters.

World building: This is Follett’s true triumph. The world that he weaves is beautifully intricate and surprisingly real. The layered, rich world-building alone made it worth skipping over all the negative parts.

I’m amazed at how Follett has the ability to capture life in a different time and place, so that you really start to believe you’re immersed in medieval England. I was completely sucked into a different time and place.

Every time I read a Follett, I learn something new about history and people. I know everyone doesn’t love learning (so tragic), but when you read Follett, it doesn’t feel like learning. That’s the beauty of it.

I do wish the book had included a diagram of a cathedral. I’m not familiar with cathedral architecture and terms, and I ended up searching cathedrals online so I could visualize the descriptions of the construction.

 

Why I’m not interested in World Without End

This brings me to why I haven’t read the sequel, World Without End, and why I probably won’t be reading A Column of Fire.

It’s important to note that World Without End was written 20 years after Pillars. Several friends who have read both books (and many Goodreads reviews) point out that much of Follett’s political and personal philosophy seems to have shifted in the years since Pillars was published.

Whereas in Pillars we had Prior Philip — a believer in God, but also a strong, courageous, and flawed character — World Without End seems to be exclusively populated with religious figures who are evil and corrupt.

As a person of faith, I just can’t bring myself to read it. I’m not trying to be naive — I know that throughout history (and today) many religious institutions have been controlled by the corrupt. (Spotlight is one of my favorite movies!)

But why devote the time to reading a 1,000-page book that will likely just make me frustrated?

Life’s just too short and there are too many other good books to read.

 

Have you read The Pillars of the Earth? What did you think? Have you read the sequel?

4 books to inspire your next big change

Reconsidering your career? Stuck in a funk? Ready to kickstart your daily routine?

Step into my office.

This year has been full of HUGE transitions for me. Maybe it is for you too.

Whether you’ve decided to beat that bad habit or you’re heading back to grad school (or moving across the country), these books will help streamline your focus. They’re inspiring and thought provoking, and I hope you’ll benefit from them as much as I have.

Confession: I listened to most of these on audiobook (Read earlier confession).

Enjoy!

1. Grit, by Angela Duckworth

grit angela duckworth nonfiction picks

I probably wouldn’t have picked this book up if it hadn’t been available for free at my workplace (what kind of person says no to a free book??). But I’m so glad I did!

This book was both convicting and encouraging. 

In Grit, Angela Duckworth debunks the myth that talent is a better predictor of success than effort. She argues that determination, purpose, and endurance are key to achieving long-term success.

In high school, I was successful because I worked hard, not because I was naturally talented in math or chemistry. I was determined to succeed and I was comfortable with failure. But something changed in college. I started thinking that because other students were “naturally smarter” than me, I couldn’t measure up. This book was a much-needed wakeup call. It helped me regain some confidence and perspective I lost in college.

Recommended if you feel a bit lost in your career and you wonder if you have what it takes to achieve your goals. Be warned, there are long passages describing her scientific methods, and some parts are repetitive. Be strong and stick around for the good stuff!

 

2. The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg

the power of habit charles duhigg nonfiction picks

The Power of Habit is a seriously fascinating book.

I’m a how-to junkie and I’m also fascinated by the way things (and people) work. I love tips for becoming more efficient and productive. I also love the How Stuff Works podcast and the TV show How It’s Made.

If that sounds like you, this is your book.

The Power of Habit explains the brain forms habits and how you can retake control of your own habits. Duhigg also talks about the history of habit science and how habits impact the way we live, work, and make decisions.

I especially enjoyed the sections on habit formation in the workplace and how marketers use the basic principles of habits to influence consumers. I swear I’m not a science junkie (AT ALL), but I still enjoyed this book all the same. (However, I do have a sneaky suspicion I would have had a harder time finishing it if I hadn’t listened on audiobook.)

The only part I didn’t like was the last section covering Angie Bachmann — I thought it was a bit weak, didn’t give any satisfactory conclusions, and wasn’t as interesting as the rest of the book.

Recommended if you want to adjust bad habits, cultivate good habits, and want to be more aware of how your subconscious impacts your decision making.

 

3. The Road Back to You, by Ian Morgan Cron & Suzanne Stabile

the road back to you ian morgan cron enneagram

I used to love the Myers-Briggs personality test, but I always felt like the half of my results described me, and the other half didn’t. (I’m an ESFJ, in case you were wondering.)

Then I discovered the Enneagram, and my whole personality-test loving world was shattered … in the best possible way.

The Enneagram described me so perfectly, it was a little creepy. I learned about my basic fears, my unique contribution to the world, and why I react to certain situations the way I do.

If you’re curious about learning more about yourself to improve your relationships, self-doubt, and workplace habits, The Road Back to You is a great place to start. As a primer for the Enneagram, it takes you through all nine personality types and explains how the enneagram works. It also offers plenty of helpful tips for overcoming your core “deadly sin,” learning to interact more productively with others, and using your unique strengths to contribute to the flourishing of others.

Knowing that I’m an Enneagram 6 helped me recognize how fear is always holding me back. For the first time in my life, I realized that most of my unhealthy beliefs, habits, and attitudes are based in fear. This is game-changing stuff.

Recommended if you want to understand yourself better so you can start relating to others better. (Aka: why certain things make you mad, how you can get along with that annoying coworker, and why your parents are so weird.)

 

4. Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warrenliturgy of the ordinary tish harrison warren nonfiction picks

Confession: I find the pressure to “live every day like your last” exhausting and overwhelming.

But in this cultural moment, there’s a pervading idea that your life — filled with the unglamorous tasks of laundry, 9-to-5 jobs, and doctor’s appointments — is being wasted unless you’re doing big, exciting, and audacious things.

If we’re not carpe diem-ing every moment, we must be doing something wrong.

Liturgy of the Ordinary offers a different vision: Although many years of our lives will be spent doing everyday, ordinary tasks, that’s ok.

In fact, it’s during these seemingly unimportant moments that we are forming spiritual (and unspiritual) habits that shape who we are. We are being sanctified through ordinariness.

Warren also points out that Jesus Christ was a humble carpenter for 30 years before He changed the world. If ordinary life was embraced by God Himself, then there must be deep spiritual value in the formative work He is doing in our rhythms and routines.

Recommended if you’re ready to start paying attention to how your habits and routines are molding and shaping you spiritually. Maybe you’re at a place in life where you need to stay planted, grow roots, and purposefully commit to endurance and ordinariness. This book will help you not let that time go to waste.

 

What books inspire you? Leave a comment and let me know!

 

Accidental Hiatus: That time I moved across the country

Hello, fellow readers. It’s been a while.

Two months ago, I totally didn’t mean to go on hiatus from blogging (and reading for that matter). But then, I totally didn’t mean to move across the country either, and that happened, so here we are.

A big life change has been on the horizon for a while. My husband and I have been waiting, hoping, praying, and longing for the “what’s next” in our life for a long time, but it came much faster than we were expecting.

accidental hiatus

In the form of moving from Virginia to Colorado.

In six weeks.

It’s been a whirlwind, to say the least. A stressful, exciting, strange whirlwind.

The mountains have been calling to us for a long time, and we (well, mostly me), finally found the courage to answer.

But I’m excited to be back to writing! I’m mostly (ish) settled in to my new place, my new routine, and my new life. We’re loving it out west so far (minus the whole not having any friends thing), and I’m ready to discover some new book stores, new libraries, and review some more books!

Thanks for sticking with me. Let’s get reading!