samarakroeger's reviews
279 reviews

The Great Believers, by Rebecca Makkai

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challenging dark emotional reflective sad medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

4.5

it took me a minute to become ensconced in the story and then I couldn't put it down.  I stayed up until 2 AM crocheting and listening to this audiobook get sadder and sadder and before I knew it, the book was over.  this is one I need to sit with for a bit, but color me impressed.

if you liked Still Life by Sarah Winman, you'll love this.  very similar books in many ways (with different settings and plots, obviously).

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Bad Sex: Truth, Pleasure, and an Unfinished Revolution, by Nona Willis Aronowitz

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challenging emotional informative reflective medium-paced

3.0

I'm not sure why I kept reading this even when I really could not stand the ways Nona talked about sex and relationships.  I think the title is incredibly misleading, if eye-catching.  It was trying to be too many things, without fully committing to any of them (kind of like her extramarital activities ...).  I would have been more interested in a discussion of radical feminism in the last 50 years and its relationship to the patriarchy.  I really would have preferred less gratuitous content about her own sex life (has she considered therapy for sex and relationship addition?).

Anyways, with the audiobook playing at 3x speed, I somehow didn't stop listening despite actively disagreeing and disliking the approach she took, so there must be something to this.  She does a good job at citing and quoting other feminist writers and thinkers.  I know I typically want my nonfiction to feature the author a bit more, but in this case I wanted less of Nona's personal life stuffed in.  This was half memoir, half feminist thought piece, and I badly wanted it to commit more to one or the other.

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The Worst Best Man, by Mia Sosa

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emotional funny lighthearted medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

3.0

this was fine.  an aggressively average contemporary romance stuffed to the brim with tropes, featuring a love interest who loses all personality once he falls in love.  I did not like the dual first person present tense narration here at all (I can very occasionally put up with it, most recently in Part of Your World).  the male narrator of the audiobook made his sections even more cringe-inducing than they already were.  all in all, I still had a reasonably good time and there was nothing here that could make me actually hate it (I'll probably just forget it).
The Trees, by Percival Everett

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challenging dark mysterious tense fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

5.0

I couldn't put this down.  masterful exploration of the history of lynchings in the US that is appropriately unsettling.

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The Tea Dragon Society, by K. O'Neill

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lighthearted medium-paced

3.0

this was an extremely quick read that looked and felt like one of those story games where you play a character who meets other characters who give them info and nothing really happens. incredibly gentle and filled with no real content or story arc, but I don’t think that there was supposed to be one. 

not really my thing but I’m sure many people find it comforting and quaint. I just happen to not seek out those qualities in my reading (which probably says more about me than anything). 
Part of Your World, by Abby Jimenez

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emotional funny hopeful reflective medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

4.5

the way this book made me SOB caught me so off guard (and at work, no less).  I had been curious about this book since it came out (especially since it's set in MN), but stayed away until now because I saw it was written in first person dual perspective, which is not really my thing.  after seeing the audiobook had two separate narrators (the only thing that can save this narration style imo), I knew I had to give it a shot.  I'm so glad I did.  I also normally don't want abuse as a major plot point in my romance, but Abby Jimenez respectfully and tactfully threaded in that aspect into the background in what felt like a realistic way.  it wasn't used as the reason the main characters get together or break up, and it certainly was not romanticized in any way.  also, there was a lot of sex in this book but it wasn't really smut, an interesting halfway between closed and open door I haven't really seen in a romance book before.

anywho, probably going to check out more of Jimenez's other work now, despite the narrative style. 

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Nazi Billionaires: The Dark History of Germany's Wealthiest Dynasties, by David de Jong

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challenging dark informative sad slow-paced

2.5

De Jong managed to make a fascinating sounding topic incredibly boring.  Magda was by FAR the most interesting part of this book, and I would have been interested in more salacious gossip peppered throughout this dry (arid, even) and meandering account of many different business families in Nazi Germany.  Because he constantly switched up who he was talking about, it was very confusing and hard to follow at times. All the shady businessmen blurred together, and it might have been more effective to focus on only one such family or company. 

Furthermore, this needed more editorial oversight on the big picture side of things. I would have actively advocated for a stronger narrative pull, a more concentrated focus and scope, and a clearer organizational strategy.  I would have welcomed more personal intrusions into the narrative from de Jong himself, as he clearly has a vested interest in the subject. 

It’s clear that a lot of research went into this book, but I’m pretty sure most readers could have done with less listing off of specific deals and trades that don’t actively build up the primary narrative. It felt like only a person fascinated by ticker tape or something equally banal would have not gotten completely lost in the weeds. 

The end of the book, exploring the Nuremberg Trials through today, was more interesting but a little underdeveloped. I kept wanting to hear about the why instead of just the what. Why should we care? What is significant about this legacy? How will this issue continue to manifest itself in the future? These are pretty basic questions I think any nonfiction writer should ask themselves throughout the writing process and absolutely should be addressed in the conclusion. 
Jane Austen at Home: A Biography, by Lucy Worsley

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informative reflective sad slow-paced

4.0

A very well researched biography of the beloved author, focusing on where and how she lived her daily life.  The book is heavily informed by the surviving letters she wrote throughout her life.  I liked the domestic focus -- it is fitting for her very domestic novels.  I learned a lot, but I also found it a little boring and tedious at times (to be fair, I'm not a big biography reader, I much prefer memoirs or narrative nonfiction).  Lucy Worsley is a good writer, but a much stronger narrative thread would have made this a more engaging and digestible book.  I liked how she connected elements of Jane's life with characters and places featured in her novels, and I appreciated how Worsley conveys a strong sense of place throughout.

I'm really glad I'm not a woman born in Georgian England without any real sense of agency.  I hate relying on men.  Long live the spinster union!
Breakfast at Tiffany's, by Truman Capote

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dark reflective sad medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

2.0

oops, didn't like this one!  there was a LOT of offensive language (racist, homophobic, ableist, etc.) that I was not expecting.  Holly Golightly is an overtly racist, mildly sociopathic fraudster and "American geisha" who does have an interesting backstory as a child bride.  I've never seen the movie, but I'm pretty sure that Audrey Hepburn's Holly bears little to no resemblance to Capote's Holly.

Honestly, the writing was pretty good.  Capote does have a way with words (if you ignore the slurs), but to me it felt like a pale imitation of Fitzgerald.  Really, a lot of the aspects of Breakfast at Tiffany's feel like they were heavily lifted from other works, including from Isherwood and Fitzgerald (who I both consider to be far superior writers).  How did this novella come to be considered an American classic ... I think it was purely because of the association with the (incredibly loose) movie adaptation.

overall, just kinda bleh.  it needed to actually say something, but it really didn't.  Michael C. Hall did a great job narrating the audiobook, though.

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Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators, by Ronan Farrow

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challenging dark emotional informative tense medium-paced

4.75

I saw this book on my bookshelf today while I was packing, and on a whim checked to see if the audiobook was available on libby.  Ended up immediately listening to it without putting it down once, fully captivated in the (completely true) spy thriller pacing of the book.  The corruption and coverups run so much deeper throughout the entire political and media landscape than I ever dared think.  Ronan not only brought very important allegations of sexual misconduct into the public consciousness on behalf of silenced women, he also proceeded to lift the veil on systemic issues within NBC and other news organizations.  

Of course, five years after #metoo, I knew where the story would end up, but that did not detract from my engagement with the plot.  It is also very important for us to see how difficult it was to break the Harvey Weinstein story within NBC, the very real threats made against journalists, and how enmeshed all top execs (across industries) are in this big cabal to keep victims silenced.

I did wish Ronan Farrow did not attempt to do accents for all the quotes - they were mediocre and distracting.  He comes off as a bit self-righteous at times, but honestly, I kind of think he deserves to be.

One of the most engagingly written pieces of investigative journalism I've read.  I do read around 30% nonfiction, and Farrow wrote this in a way that I think fiction readers would not find intimidating.  To all the readers out there scared by nonfiction: pick this up.  You won't regret it.

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