Meeting the People We Hate at the Wedding

Book Review: The People We Hate at the Wedding by Grant Ginder

When I saw that Allison Janney and Kristin Bell are amongst the cast of the movie adaptation of The People We Hate at the Wedding by Grant Ginder, I pulled my copy off my shelf and pledged to read the book before I watch the movie starring two of my favorite actresses.

I will keep this book review short because I have to admit that it wasn’t a win for me. Ginder is a good writer, I fully recognize, but the book was slow and didn’t come to a full resolution.

About The People We Hate at the Wedding

When Alice and Paul receive invitations to their half-sister’s English countryside wedding, their first action is to price out the wedding invites, setting the understanding that both are resentful of Eloise’s money. After all, the three’s mother, Donna, has spent Alice and Paul’s lifetimes wishing that she’d never left France after Eloise’s father had an affair. Alice and Paul grew up seeing Eloise as the perfect, privileged half-sister who has coasted through life. Thus, neither are overly keen to participate in the marital celebrations.

Through a series of events that, in my opinion, take up way too many pages of prose in this book that’s just over 300 pages long, Alice and Paul do go to the wedding in England, but their resentment of Eloise and their mother, as well as their own life events, make the trip much more complicated.

My Thoughts While Reading the People We Hate at the Wedding

I love a flawed character. I’m here for their mistakes, opinions, and (hopefully) growth. But Donna, Alice, and Paul do not make good decisions. Let me clarify that: their decisions don’t make sense.

Donna is still mourning the life she could have had with Henrique, her first husband and Eloise’s father, but she plays a melancholy victim. She’s not a fully developed character and seems to star in misaligned vignettes rather than act as the matriarch.

Alice is having an affair with her married boss and struggling to deal with a past, horrific trauma. She was the most likable character for me, but she kind of disappeared at the end of the novel.

Paul resents Donna for how she reacted after his father, Bill, died. He doesn’t know that Bill was a bigot who refused to accept Paul’s homosexuality and only remained quiet because Donna threatened to leave Bill after Paul came out. That’s a terrible experience, but Paul plays victim to his arrogant partner, Mark, and has a tendency to explode in frustration and anger. He’s both dramatic and passive, making me want to yell, “Express your feelings in a productive way.”

Eloise appears to mean well, but she’s not an altruistic person. She uses her money and influence to help her siblings, but doesn’t do it solely out of the goodness of her heart. She wants their approval and acceptance, which is reasonable. However, her final story arc was inconsistent and felt forced.

The People We Hate at the Wedding wasn’t for me, but I recognize that others may love this book. I still plan to watch the movie, and I’m glad I read the book first. This is a rare case of I hope the movie is better than the book.

A Deadly Family Game

The Family Game by Catherine Steadman

A Five-Star Book Review

This was my first Catherine Steadman book, but it won’t be my last. I loved The Family Game for many reasons, but most of all, it is a fast-paced thriller that kept me questioning and guessing, which makes for an excellent read.

Synopsis of The Family Game

Harriet (Harry) Reed is a British author who has found success in her own right. Then she met Edward Holbeck, the first son of the Holbeck empire, and the charming man sweeps her off her feet, leading to her move to New York City as she struggles to finish her next novel. When Edward proposes, Harry eagerly accepts. The only trepidation that she, and Edward, feel is Harry’s impending introduction to the rest of the Holbeck family.

Edward has distanced himself from the family conglomerate of communications, logistics, and massive power. He is careful to warn Harry that his parents, Robert and Eleanor, and siblings: Matilda, Stuart, and Oliver, can be overwhelming and often cross boundaries. But the newly engaged couple has much to celebrate, and Harry would be lying if she wasn’t intrigued by the family’s wealth and prominence.

As Harry tries to adjust to the thought of joining the Holbeck family, she is drawn toward patriarch Robert and quickly learns that this family plays many games, some friendly and some not.

What I Loved about The Family Game

  • The plot: I generally lean toward character-driven storylines, and The Family Game is full of well-developed characters. However, the plot is what shined for me. This is a good plot. With twists and turns and questionable actions, Steadman’s story is a wild journey, and I can’t give away too much without spoiling the book, but I’ll give a few examples here:
    • Immense wealth passed down from a 19th century patriarch’s monopoly during the Industrial Revolution.
    • A castle razed from its original land in Hungary and rebuilt by hand in the countryside of New York State.
    • Krampusnacht. That is all.
  • The characters: Not only is the narrator, Harry, a complex protagonist, but the entire Holbeck family is nuanced and unreliable. Everyone has more motivations lingering underneath the surface.
  • The writing: Steadman is my kind of writer. Her prose isn’t sparse, but it is directly and elegant. She writes sentences that you know are foreshadowing for the rest of the story, but you don’t know why. She moves the story and characters along quickly, and she doesn’t bury a reader in unnecessary details.

The Family Game is a twisted thriller full of family drama, hidden truths, and complex histories. It’s a great read, and I highly recommend you pick it up if you’re looking for an exciting ride.

Killing The It Girl

The It Girl by Ruth Ware

A 5⭐️ Book Teview

This was my first Ruth Ware book, and it definitely won’t be my last! I really enjoyed the story, the writing, and the twists of her newest book, The It Girl.

What I Loved about Ruth Ware’s The It Girl

Hannah Jones is the lead of the story. She is haunted by the murder of April, her best friend and roommate, at the end of their first year as Pelham College students at the University of Oxford. Almost a decade after the murder, Hannah is married to Will, who was April’s boyfriend, working in a bookshop, and is six months’ pregnant with Will’s child. Despite running away from Pelham, she is consumed by April’s death and questions who the killer really was.

The time shifts in this book do wonders to love the story along. It’s not a new writing construct to switch from before and after defining events for characters, but Ware does it beautifully, making us understand the dynamics of Hannah’s friend group, her Pelham experience, and how her life is defined by what happened to April.

The setting makes this story! I love a book with an academic setting, and what has more academic prestige than the University of Oxford? Ware uses Oxford masterfully in The It Girl, as the university is a rich, mysterious background player for Hannah and her friends.

Overall, this was a great read, a perfect thriller and whodunnit for my taste! I hope you’ll pick up this one soon.

Take My Hand for a 5-Star Read

Sometimes an author gives the amazing gift of a beautiful read that is page-turning and educational. Dolen Perkins-Valdez did exactly that with her 2022 book, Take My Hand.

The Tuskegee syphillis experiments are a horrific, tragic part of US history. It’s still unimaginable to think of what doctors did to Black men in Alabama for 40 years (1932 to 1972). It’s reprehensible.

But that’s not the only story of its kind. As Ms. Perkins-Valdez explores so eloquently in her novel, the involuntary sterilization of Black and poor girls and women was commonplace in the US as recently at the late 20th century. Take My Hand is based on the true case of Mary Alice and Minnie Relf, who were sterilized without their consent by US government workers. In the book, the sisters are Erica and India Williams, and the narrator is Civil Townsend, a 23 year old nurse in Montgomery, Alabama, who champions these children, their father, and their grandmother as she is desperate to right the terrible wrong that took away the girls’ fertility.

What I Liked about Take My Hand

  • The writing: Ms. Perkins-Valdez is a talented author who moved between the past and the present with ease and who crafted a story that is not only about tragedy but also about love.
  • Civil’s journey: Civil is a motivated young woman who is determined to make a difference as a nurse. She deeply loves the Williams family and must grapple with boundaries while trying to help them.
  • The sisters: Erica and India have a deep bond, particularly because India is not verbal, placing more responsibility on Erica. These girls are children facing experiences that adults haven’t witnessed, and their story is beautiful.
  • The message: I knew about forced sterilization in US history, but I didn’t know how far it went. This book opened my eyes to so much more, and, unfortunately, it is apropos for what is happening in the US in 2022.

In short, please read this book. It will stay with me for a long time.

Five Stars for All My Rage

All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir

A Five-Star Book Review

All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir is a book about love, culture, and who you turn to when life is unimaginably hard. It is a beautiful story I about desperate people making desperate decisions, and I am here for it.

Nope and Salahudin (Sal) have been best friends since grade school. They were the only Pakistani children in their small desert town of Juniper, California, and have been bonded since Noor arrives in the classroom after being rescued by her uncle when her family was killed in an earthquake back home. That is, they were best friends until The Fight, when Noor confessed her non-platonic love for Sal and he denied her.

Despite the pleas from Misbah, Sal’s mother, that the two should rebuild their friendship, the two are distant until the unthinkable happens. With tragedy and threats of future ruin approach, these teenagers join back together. Sal is desperate to save The Clouds’ Rest, the desert motel that was his mother’s dream, and to stop his father’s alcoholism, and Noor is determined to escape her oppressive Chachu and his liquor store, which is where her uncle is determined Noor will work upon her high school graduation. The decisions these two make through the book are frustrating, hopeful, and anguished.

What I Loved about All My Rage

  • The time shifts: The book is separated by Then and Now, so we learn about the past: Misbah’s life in Pakistan, her marriage to Toufiq, and their arrival in Juniper, and the present: Noor and Sal’s experiences in their high school years.
  • The cultural diversity: Author Sabaa Tahir is a master at weaving Pakistini and Muslim culture and traditions into the immigrant experience in the U.S. This helped me learn while I read a page-turning novel.
  • The tough choices: Noor and Sal face terrible situations that make them take action in different ways. This isn’t easy subject matter; sexual and physical abuse, addiction, and poverty are threaded throughout the book.
  • The resolution: I won’t give any spoilers, but I left the book feeling that Noor, Sal, and Misbah all received a well-deserved end.

What book have you read and loved lately?

In the Existence of Mental Illness

Book Review

The Existence of Amy by Lana Grace Riva

Amy is existing. She goes to work, makes excuses to avoid happy hours, and moves through life while knowing that simple existence is not right. She has something, a voice, a compulsion, a suffocating threat to any semblance of the life she used to have. Her friends continue to be there for her, but her secrecy, excuses, and separation keep her from accepting their kindness.

Lana Grace Riva has delivered a book that encapsulates mental illness, giving voice to every bit of Amy’s struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder and depression. Reading Amy’s first-person account of her mental illness was true and gave a voice to what it’s like in the thick of it, not after years of medicine, therapy, and improvement. It’s a rare book that truly does this.

Thank you to Ms. Riva for gifting me with a copy of this book to review and provide my own thoughts about this valuable mental health novel.

Overthinking About You: A Read-Along

Mental health is a passion for me. I struggle with severe mental illness (SMI), as I’ve shared on here before. But mental illness doesn’t just impact the diagnosed; it impacts their loved ones and anyone close to them.

Mental health and relationships come with their own sets of challenges. I am so grateful for my husband who supports my mental health journey and who is my unbending advocate.

That’s why I was excited to participate in The Tandem Collective Global’s real-along for the book Overthinking About You: Navigating Romantic Relationships When You Have Anxiety, OCD, and/or Depression by Allison Raskin (Workman Publishing). This read-along was a great way to immersive myself in the book and answer questions about my contributions to my marriage while dealing with SMI.

What I Liked about Overthinking About You

I loved the thoughtfulness of this book. Ms. Raskin writes with a warmth and honest approach about anxiety, OCD, and depression, and how to navigate relationships while you have a mental illness. Another quote that hit me hard: “I might not feel this way or see the world this way, but I acknowledge and respect that you do” (p. 90).

This book is practical advice, research from experts, and nuggets of wisdom. While Overthinking About You is written from the standpoint of new and relatively new relationships, I found the discussions about anxiety and conversations about mental health applicable to my marriage. My husband is incredible, but I know my mental health puts challenges on our relationship. And that’s on me.

Activities in the Read-Along

As I completed the read-along, I highlighted passages and filled my notebook pages with resonating words. Here are three statements that rang incredibly true for me:

  • A useful acronym to respond to anxiety – “STOP: Stop, Take a breath, Observe, Proceed” (p. 40).
  • “It’s a lot more reasonable to ask someone to weather a storm with you when you already have a strong foundation” (p. 59).

And my absolute favorite:

“None of us are Superman, and that’s a good thing.”

Allison Raskin, Overthinking About You (p. 78)

Another activity asked about your healing rituals. Here are some of mine:

  • Sit outside with my husband.
  • Go for a long walk, ideally while listening to an audiobook.
  • Take a hot shower.
  • Pet my dog.
  • Let myself have a good cry.

Also, I liked the read-along activity that asked us to think about our senses and what awakens them. I came up with these:

  • Seeing the bright colors of tulips and the Northern Lights
  • Tasting a delicious dessert
  • Smelling a great perfume, coffee beans, and fresh-cut grass

Final Thoughts

Ms. Raskin understands the importance of mental health, and she writes from a place of honesty and realism. This book isn’t full of broad-stroke advice that you’d see on a motivational Pinterest board. Instead, it’s a thoughtful look at how you can manage your mental health, specifically anxiety, OCD, and/or depression, and be in a positive romantic relationship.

I’m happily married to a wonderful man who supports me and my mental health. While some of Ms. Raskin’s messages were solely for people in the dating stage, I still took away some great points about how I must communicate what I need when I’m struggling and how I can take hold of my own mental health in relation to my marriage.

Overall, this is a 5-star book for me, and I highly recommend if you struggle with mental health and are/want to be/have been in a relationship. It’s a great read with a long-lasting message!

Two quotes I’ll end with:

  • “There is power in knowing you are not going to change your morals in reaction to pain” (p. 193).
  • “No matter what happens, my life is in good hands. They just happen to be my own” (p. 196).

What’s the Cover Story?

Cover Story by Susan Rigetti

A 4⭐️ Review

Cover Story by Susan Rigetti is described as a “Netflix’s ‘Inventing Anna’ and Hulu’s ‘The Dropout’ meets Catch Me If You Can,” and I think that comparison was spot-on for me. I listened to this book and definitely enjoyed it. The characters are well-crafted, the story is interesting, and the format is unique. It’s a story about a con-artist Cat Wolff and naïve college student Lora Ricci, and I was fully engaged in the fast-paced story as I learned about Cat’s antics and Lora’s desperate desire to be part of the New York City literature and fashion magazine scene.

This is an epistolary novel, composed with emails, texts, and diary entries. I haven’t read many novels like this, and it was a refreshing format to listen to on audiobook. Particularly, I think that the epistolary format added to the story, and it wasn’t a trope that an author would use to make a book stand out.

Do you consider yourself people-savvy, even if they’re lying? I’m admittedly not. I think people are inherently good and have been duped because of it a few times.

P.S. If you haven’t watched Inventing Anna, you definitely should! Now The Dropout is on my want-to-watch list.

Spending a Day with Dava Shastri

Dava Shastri’s Last Day by Kirthana Ramisetti

A five-star book review

If you could find out what people say about you after you die, would you want to do so?

Confession: I did lot know if I was going to rate Dava Shastri’s Last Day as a five-star read until the last few chapters. This debut novel by Kirthana Ramisetti is a character study of a determined, complicated woman who has taken her fate into her own hands, determined to enact her own decisions before cancer does it for her. But, she discovers that prematurely announcing her death has lasting effects on her children. That is the premise for this book, but its pages are filled with so much more.

What I Liked about Dava Shastri’s Last Day

  • The premise – I think it’s natural to want to know what people say about you when you’re not there. Unless you’re one of those completely self-assured individuals who can genuinely say, “Screw them,” that question is always at the back of your mind. But, hearing your eulogy or legacy amps up that experience. Dava read, listened to, and witnessed others’ responses to her death, and some of it surprised her, not in a positive way.
  • Dava – The protagonist of this novel isn’t necessarily a likable character. She’s deeply driven, a bit egotistical, and extremely controlling. But, as her last day unfolds and we learn more about her past and how those events influenced her life, I started to empathize with her. Revealing more of her experience would give away spoilers, so I’ll just say that her story is complex and full of emotion.
  • The children – Much like their mother, the Shastri-Persson children aren’t lovable characters at first encounter. They run the spectrum of deeply committed to Dava’s foundations and work (daughter Sita) to wandering through life courtesy of their trust funds (son Rev). The children attribute their lives and their own decisions to Dava’s influence, and they’re not wrong. Their mother is a force in their lives, but as I made my way through this book, I found myself rooting for their growth and own decision-making.
  • The philanthropy: Dava made her billions in music, first as a producer and then as an investor in an iPod-like device. But her real impact comes from her foundations. Likable or not, Dava is a philanthropist who wants to support artists, especially women. She wants to make an impact with her money, and I admire that.

Dava Shastri’s Last Day was a surprising read for me. The more I read, the more I became invested in the stories of Dava and her children. A complex novel about family, secrets, and ambition, it’s a book that left me thinking about my own legacy, and that makes it a five-star read.

The Importance of Moxie

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu
A 5⭐️ Book

I heard about Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu when the Netflix movie with Amy Poehler released and eagerly bought the novel, but like so many books on my TBR, it got pushed down in the stack.

I added Moxie to my 22 in 2022 challenge list and definitely knew I wanted to read it soon. So, searching for an audiobook to keep me motivated for my workouts last week, I decided to listen to this one and check it off my list.

Friends, I was wrong to have waited so long. This book is fantastic! A YA novel about high school girls taking back their agency and using their voices to stand up against sexual harassment and violence? Yes, please!

What I Loved about Moxie

  • The Message: I couldn’t help but think about my high school experiences while listening to this book. I was the target of several instances of sexual harassment. One moment in the library continues to haunt me. I didn’t stand up for myself out of embarrassment, but I wish I had. This book gives inspiration to young girls, and I want my daughters to read it so they know that they are empowered to stand up for themselves, if they ever experience sexual harassment, and that I will stand and fight with them.
  • The Characters: I loved the protagonist Vivian and how she gained inspiration to show moxie from her mom’s ‘90s Riot Grrrl past. I loved Lucy and Claudia. I loved Vic’s mom and grandparents. But most of all, I loved the message of this book: that girls can do anything.
  • The Setting: Moxie is set in a small town in Texas, and being a girl from Nebraska farm country, I could relate to the small-town politics and experiences.

Now that I’ve finished the book, I definitely want to watch the Netflix version of Moxie. I hope that it stays true to the novel!