Reading Lately: 5 Books I Loved…And 1 I Really Didn’t

My reading goal for this year is 30 books, and I’m almost at the halfway point at 14 books read. Yes, I know the year is more than half over. Shhh! Don’t remind me! I’ll get my hiney in gear this month before the craziness of the school year begins.

 

Out of the 14 books I’ve read, I really liked 5 of them…and there were more than a few that I didn’t like, but only 1 I really, really didn’t like. So if you’re looking for some book recs for the rest of the summer or want to know what to definitely skip, check out my reviews below.

 

Reading Lately: 5 Books I Loved... And 1 I Really Didn't

 

 

5 Books I Loved…

 

1) Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions by Mario Giordano

 

Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
Photo by Caitlin Follstad

 

What a romp this book is (in every sense of the word)! I just loved Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions. Auntie Poldi is the aunt everyone needs to have in their life – fun, witty, a little unbalanced, and very, very wise. 

 

As told from her nephew’s perspective, the story follows Auntie Poldi as she moves from Munich to Sicily on her 60th birthday with the aim of devoting the rest of her days to “drinking herself comfortably to death with a sea view”. But soon Auntie Poldi finds herself smack dab in the middle of a murder investigation when her young handyman goes missing and she happens to find the body. Not one to sit on the sidelines, Poldi takes it upon herself to investigate the murder herself, which both annoys and thrills the sexy Detective Vito Montano to no end.

 

As Poldi ambles through Sicily on her quest to solve the murder, we are introduced to a colorful cast of characters (look out for the Beatle), a lot of prosecco (and other spirits, let’s be honest), and only a few Jordan almonds (see: wedding scene). All this bonhomie is enough to make you want to board the next plane to Italy and join in the fun. Of course, Auntie Poldi has her darker moments of depression (why else would she be intent on drinking herself to death in the first place?), but her innate pluck and the loose ends of an unsolved murder inevitably managed to always persuade her to get back into fighting form.

 

The second book in the Auntie Poldi Adventures series came out in March and is called Auntie Poldi and the Vineyards of Etna. To say I’m excited to read it is an understatement. Auntie Poldi, wine, and a murder mystery? Sign me up!

 

2) Still Life by Louise Penny

 

Still Life by Louise Penny

 

I am new to the cult of Louise Penny and I can’t believe I didn’t know about her until recently. But that’s also good, because now I have a plethora of books to catch up on and don’t have to deal with the pesky problem of waiting for a favorite author to finish writing her next novel. That’s the beauty of coming late to a series. 

 

Still Life introduces Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec and the little village of Three Pines south of Montreal and just north of the U.S. border. Jane Neal is found dead in the woods, seemingly the victim of an accidental hunting accident. But there’s more to the story, of course. As the investigation unfolds under Gamache’s steady leadership, we learn more about the lovable inhabitants of Three Pines and the honesty and integrity of our now beloved Inspector Gamache. If you’re looking for a hard-core crime novel, Louise Penny is not for you. But if you’re looking for warm characters and a charming village with a side of murder, sign yourself up for this series. Personally, I’m planning a trip to Quebec right now.

 

3) Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker

 

Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker
Photo by Caitlin Follstad

 

Cork Dork was a fascinating glimpse into the world of wine. I’ve watched “Somm”, the documentary on sommeliers studying for the Master Sommelier exam, but I had forgotten how passionate some people are in the wine world. Licking rocks, eating dirt, tasting EVERYTHING. People really get into expanding their palettes all in the name of wine tasting, and it’s all documented for our reading delight within the pages of this book.

 

Cork Dork follows the author’s pursuit to become a bonafide sommelier, starting at the bottom and working her way out of the cellar to the restaurant floor. Granted, she has a lot of advantages that other people don’t have when they start out in the wine industry due to her journalism background (she was a technology editor at the Huffington Post before quitting to pursue wine). Bosker is able to access professors, scientists, and wine experts that regular citizens wouldn’t be able to reach, which is great for readers of her book. 

 

Through Bosker, we are able to learn the ins and outs of wine in the restaurant industry, from her time working as a cellar rat retrieving bottles in a restaurant’s wine cellar to serving wine at Terroir, a wine bar in New York City known for its punk atmosphere. We see sommeliers fervently tasting and studying, tasting and studying, in preparation for the prestigious Master Sommelier exam. We learn the balance sommeliers must maintain between respecting customers’ budget and wine preferences, persuading customers to try new types of wine, and selling enough wine to keep the restaurant in business. And we watch sommeliers, and even Bosker herself, compete in sommelier competitions. Note: We learn that there are sommelier competitions, something I’m sure you never knew existed. 

 

We also get to journey around the globe to learn the science of smelling and how some of the most well-known mass market wine producers use research and science to increase the odds you’ll like their wine (and thus buy more). And we find out exactly how rich people like to party with their wine.

 

It’s all one wild, mind-boggling ride. All of these people dedicating their lives (and their dollars) to fermented grape juice. Wow.

 

If there’s one thing I took away from the book, it was that you don’t have to go bankrupt in order to enjoy fine wine. Bosker quotes Karl Storchmann as saying quality increases with price until about $50 or $60 a bottle. Once a bottle of wine is more expensive than that, you’re paying for factors outside of the bottle: brand, reputation, and scarcity. Since I’m all about experiencing good things on a budget, this information was more than welcome.

 

Cork Dork is a great book for anyone even slightly interested in wine. You don’t need to know your pinot grigio from your pinot noir to enjoy this captivating glimpse into the lives of those dedicated to wine. You’ll figure it all out as you buckle up and enjoy the ride.

 

4) Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

 

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton
Photo by Caitlin Follstad

 

Next Year in Havana follows Marisol as she travels to Cuba from her home in Miami to find the perfect spot to spread the ashes of her Cuban-American grandmother, Elisa. The novel switches back and forth between Marisol in modern-day Cuba and Elisa in the days leading up to and following the Cuban Revolution. The women’s experiences parallel one another in that they both grapple with love, loss, rebellion, and what it means to be a true Cuban.

 

In both Marisol and Elisa’s narratives, the revolution is an ever-present backdrop for the dramatic journeys they both take as they struggle to reconcile love of Cuba with the need for self-preservation. Their stories become utterly gripping as Cleeton shifts between the two women’s narratives, ending one chapter with a cliffhanger only to open the next chapter with the other character’s storyline. I found myself unable to put the book down, hungry to find out what happens next.

 

That being said, this book was a bit of a punch in the gut for me. Admittedly, I knew very little about Cuba, its revolution, and the everyday life of Cubans after the revolution, but the book cracked wide open many myths I had about the country.  

 

Don’t read Next Year in Havana if you want to believe Havana is a paradise of mid-century cars and faded, but still magnificent, Spanish colonial buildings. Don’t read Next Year in Havana if you only envision jubilant locals dancing to salsa music in the sultry night air when you think of Havana. Don’t read Next Year in Havana if you want to go to Cuba because you want to see it before it’s ruined by American tourism. 

 

As Cleeton makes clear, Cuba is already ruined. Its people are remarkable, its architecture spectacular, and its natural beauty stunning, but the island has been ruined since before the revolution. This proclamation is both heartbreaking and logical. After all, the people of Cuba did not have a revolution for no reason. They fought because they believed the government was corrupt, the U.S. played too great a role in how the country was run, and the people in the lower classes experienced unfair treatment and poor living conditions. Before the revolution, it hadn’t been good in Cuba for a very long time.

 

While reading Next Year in Havana did temper my idealized vision of a faded Caribbean paradise, it did not dissuade me from wanting to visit the island. Reading about the strength and beauty of the Cuban people only intensified my desire to meet such an incredible collection of humans. 

 

Read this book, but don’t let the pretty cover fool you.

 

5) Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

 

From book clubs across America to celebrities like Reese Witherspoon, everybody has been raving about Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine for a while now. Since it takes me a good 6 months to one year to follow any trend, I finally read the book two years after it was published. 

 

Eleanor is an interesting character, one who will play well in a movie adaptation (possibly even better than she does in a book). In the first thirty or so pages, I didn’t get what all the fuss was about, so I went and read reviews on Amazon. One reviewer mentioned Eleanor being on the Autism spectrum, and that made her behavior make so much more sense to me. Without having to puzzle out Eleanor’s peculiar ways, I was able to continue reading the book.

 

A character-driven novel, we see Eleanor evolve as she comes to terms with the abuse her mother inflicted on her as a child and process the aftermath of a horrible tragedy in her past. Along the way, we meet Raymond, who has a heart of gold, and several other caring people who lift Eleanor into the kind of world she had never before considered. 

 

The ending wasn’t as dramatic as I thought the book was leading up to be, but of course you know I cried at the end. I empathize with Eleanor’s lack of unconditional love from her mother, not because that was my experience with my mother, but because it was the opposite. Now that my mom has passed away, I miss that source of unconditional love and I really felt for Eleanor, who also does not have that source of love. 

 

…And 1 Book I Really, Really Didn’t Like

 

The Rejected Writers’ Book Club by Suzanne Kelman

 

The Rejected Writers' Book Club by Suzanne Kelman

 

This may be the most ridiculous book I’ve ever read. The characters’ total lack of common sense is what gives the book its wacky “fun”, but it all was lost on me. The bulk of the story takes place as the women of a rejected writers’ book club go on a road trip from what I’m assuming is Whidbey Island in Washington State to San Francisco. The purpose of their club is to write awful stories or poems, submit them to publishers, and collect the inevitable rejection letters. The club’s leader received an acceptance letter for the book she submitted to a publisher (the horror!), and the group’s goal is to get the publisher, who is located in San Francisco, to write a rejection letter instead. If they don’t succeed, the leader will be kicked out of the club. (Because you can’t have an accepted writer in a rejected writers’ club. Duh.) 

 

On the road trip that, in my opinion, should have only taken two days but takes four instead, they find themselves in a variety of tough pickles (car problems, mountain pass closures due to landslides, not enough gas to make it to a gas station, a snowstorm). To solve their problems, the women turn to a bevy of nice men (never women, mind you) to come to their rescue. All the women have to do is promise the men a good, hot meal in exchange for their help (including providing car services and lodging). How would these women be able to provide these men with a good, hot meal? Because one of them brought along all of her cooking supplies and a week’s worth of groceries on a road trip that should only take two days. Ugh. 

 

I think the worst part of the book, though, is the relationship between the main character, Janet, and her pregnant-with-twins daughter, Stacy, who lives in San Francisco. After Stacy starts bleeding and has a scary turn in the hospital, she asks her mom to stay with her for a week while her husband is on a business trip. Janet hesitates and tries to make excuses so she doesn’t have to go. It’s revolting. She calls her daughter her ice child, but I think the daughter just might be taking after her ice mother. Your daughter is pregnant with your grandchildren and is having some complications and asks for your help? You go to her. Parenting 101.

 

Needless to say, I will not be reading the books in the rest of this series.

 

Onward!

 

Book Stack
Photo by Caitlin Follstad

 

Currently, I’m reading Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarity and am really digging it. I’ve got a few more books lined up for the rest of the summer, including The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, Educated by Tara Westover, and a reread of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

 

What are you reading? Any good recommendations?

 

If you’re interested in the other books I’ve read so far this year, you can check them out on the sidebar —>

 

You can also see my reviews of the books I read in 2018 here.



2 thoughts on “Reading Lately: 5 Books I Loved…And 1 I Really Didn’t”

  • I just added Cork Dork to my library hold list- it sounds fun and interesting! I admit, though, I’m curious about The Rejected Writers’ Book Club…I love a good madcap adventure but I’m not sure I could put up with a complete lack of common sense for long.

    • Cork Dork is awesome! I love a madcap adventure, too, but I think the key to a good one is there is at least one straight man to balance it all out. When everyone just goes along with the protagonists’ crazy ideas, the madcap turns simply mad.

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