Review: The Return

The Return by Nicholas Sparks
Publication: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: 9/29/2020

Disclaimer: I received a free finished copy of this book from Grand Central Publishing in exchange for my honest opinion. This has no effect on my opinion, review, or rating.

GoodReads Synopsis: Trevor Benson never intended to move back to New Bern, NC. But when a mortar blast outside the hospital where he worked as an orthopedic surgeon sent him home from Afghanistan with devastating injuries, the dilapidated cabin he inherited from his grandfather seemed as good a place to regroup as any.

Tending to his grandfather’s beloved bee hives while gearing up for a second stint in medical school, Trevor isn’t prepared to fall in love with a local . . . and yet, from their very first encounter, his connection with Natalie Masterson can’t be ignored. But even as she seems to reciprocate his feelings, she remains frustratingly distant, making Trevor wonder what she’s hiding.

Further complicating his stay in New Bern is the presence of a sullen teenage girl, Callie, who lives in the trailer park down the road from his grandfather’s cabin. Claiming to be 19, she works at the local sundries store and keeps to herself. When he discovers she was once befriended by his grandfather, Trevor hopes Callie can shed light on the mysterious circumstances of his grandfather’s death, but she offers few clues — until a crisis triggers a race that will uncover the true nature of Callie’s past, one more intertwined with the elderly man’s passing than Trevor could ever have anticipated.

In his quest to unravel Natalie and Callie’s secrets, Trevor will learn the true meaning of love and forgiveness . . . and that in life, to move forward, we must often return to the place where it all began.

Review: Nicholas Sparks’s latest novel, The Return, was my most anticipated autumn read. As a fan of his previous work, I had mixed feelings about this book. There were so many times I wanted to DNF this book in beginning, but I ended up finishing the book. Surprisingly, I liked the ending. First half the book is a one star, but I thought the second half of the book was four stars. The premise of the book seemed promising. I had two main issues with this book: 1) writing style and 2) main characters. In terms of the writing style, it’s told from male POV which I had no issue with, but often times the narration was tedious, most of the inner dialogue could have been skipped, and the dialogue between characters seemed forced and uncharacteristic. The second half of the book had more of the writing style that I’m familiar with from Nicholas Sparks and wished more of the book was written in this style. One of the biggest issues I had was with the main character, Trevor. Trevor was completely unlikable, too aggressive, and was trying too hard to be a southern gentleman when he isn’t one. It rubbed me the wrong way that he was basically stalking Natalie when he was perusing her. I also didn’t like that we barely knew much about Natalie and yet we are supposed to be okay with Trevor and Natalie’s sudden budding romance out of nowhere. However, I really loved the secondary characters, Callie, and Trevor’s grandfather, along with the mystery behind them. I was craving more of Callie’s story than Trevor’s. If you are a fan of his work, you may enjoy this one. If you aren’t familiar with Nicholas Sparks, I’d recommend checking out his previous books before diving into this one.

Rating: 3/5

3 Tips To Read Outside of Your Comfort Zone

This year I have stepped up my reading game by exploring genres that are out of my comfort zone. This has ultimately helped me diversify my reading and it’s helped me find some really amazing books along the way! Now I know reading genres that you don’t typically read may sound daunting, but it’s actually pretty easy. Reading out of our comfort zone can has a couple of great benefits such as encouraging us to learn new things, diversify our reading, and improving our emotional intelligence by learning to be more empathetic. Now you may be asking yourself, that sounds all great and dandy, but how do you actually do go about reading out of your comfort zone? Check out these helpful tips!

Read a book recommend by a friend or a loved one.
Reaching out to trusted friends or loved ones on book recommendations are always a great way to start. Not only does the recommendation get you out of your comfort zone, but it gives a bit of comfort knowing that someone else liked this book and it ends up being a great discussion to have with the person who recommended the book.

For example, one of my friends recommended that I watch the Hulu limited series 11/22/63 and then read the book by Stephen King. I really liked this approach because horror isn’t really thing, but the recommendation of historical fiction and sci-fi intrigued me. Once I watched the series and read the book, we had a great discussion about what aspects we loved from both and if we liked the show or the book more.


Join a buddy read/read-along.
Buddy reads on books that are out of your comfort zone are a perfect way to get a better perspective on what you’re reading. With buddy reads, there are some newbies who are reading the book for the first time and then there are others who are doing a re-read and have insights to share.

Buddy reads are super helpful to me especially for books that I wouldn’t typically pick up myself. The Jane Austen buddy reads that two of my friends hosted occasionally over the summer helped me develop my love for Jane Austen novels. Before that, I never thought I’d ever pick up a classic again because I was forced to read them for school and wasn’t sure how I felt about it. But I found buddy reads to be helpful because we were able to discuss how we felt about certain characters and interpretations of specific scenes.


Read a book from an author versus a genre.
If you can’t bring yourself to read a specific genre because you don’t know where to start or are wary of it, I’d suggest to start with an author instead. For example, for horror, you could start with Stephen King or for romance, start with Colleen Hoover or Alisha Rai.

Fantasy is out of my comfort zone, but earlier this year, I wanted to try it out. I decided to start with Neil Gaiman because I’ve heard incredible things about his work so I was very excited to pick up his books. The first book I picked up was Coraline because I loved the movie so I thought that this would be a great segue to his work. Turned it was and it opened the door to other fantasy books for me. Now fantasy has become one of my favorite genres to read!

What’s one genre that’s typically out of your comfort zone?

5 Ways To Kick Your Reading Slump To The Curb

Reading slumps…it happens to the best of us. Whether you are a professional reader or a novice, it happens to everyone at some point. Sometimes reading what would be passion then becomes a chore or something you dread. But never fear! Here are some helpful ways to get out of your slump.

What are other ways you try to get out of reading slumps? Share in the comments below.

6 Books To Celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage month in May, down below are some of my favorite books written by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Literary Fiction:
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
Contemporary Fiction:
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
Thriller:
The Eighth Girl by Maxine Mei-Fung Chung
Romance:
Girl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai
Historical Fiction / Classic:
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Young Adult:
Frankly In Love by David Yoon

Have you read any of these? What books would you add to the list?

Quarantine Memoir Challenge

I’ve been seeing this around Instagram and thought I’d attempt at the quarantine memoir challenge.

THE GREAT UNEXPECTED fell upon us and now we are living on this UNACCUSTOMED EARTH. I WONDER when we will be able to get back to living like NORMAL PEOPLE again.⁣

Now more than ever it’s great to see people sharing LOVE AND OTHER WORDS and reminding each other that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Though I’m staying at home, that hasn’t stopped me from having CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS virtually to help through these unprecedented times. It also helps that stores are temporarily making PLASTIC bags free in California (they’re usually 10 cents or we have to bring our own bags).⁣

I’ve been trying to stay positive, but I must CONFESS that sometimes it feels like our lives have been FOREVER, INTERRUPTED and there is NO EXIT from this quarantine. EVERY BREATH feels like a year and it feels like February was MAYBE ANOTHER LIFE. I’ve wanted to wander out into THE SIMPLE WILD, but DON’T LOOK FOR ME because I’ll be at home. IF ONLY I COULD TELL YOU the number of times I’ve seen people not take this pandemic seriously infuriates me. Remember that this is temporary and that only NECESSARY PEOPLE like essential workers should be out and it helps if the rest of us are at home for the time being. On a lighter note, I’ve learned quite more than what I’d like to know about my neighbors especially THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS 😂. ⁣

MAYBE SOMEDAY soon we will be able to enjoy THE SUN AND HER FLOWERS. We’ll look back at this and remember ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS from this quarantine.⁣
-⁣

5 Helpful Tips To Cull Down Your TBR List

Every bookish person I know has a never-ending TBR list. Sometimes looking at your TBR list can be quite daunting whether it’s a super long list on GoodReads or maybe you have huge piles of unread books at home staring at you and making you feel guilty. If your TBR list is causing you stress and turning you off from reading, then it’s time to clean it up a bit. Here are some tips to help cull down your TBR list and focus more on quality vs. quantity:

What tactics do you use to cull down your TBR list?

2019 Reading Reflection & 2020 Reading Goals

2019 has been a year of growth for me. I’ve learned so much about my reading preferences, stepped outside my comfort zone in exploring new genres, stepped up my blog and Instagram game, created my own book club, started going to author events, and have met some great bookish friends in the process.

Here were my 2019 goals:

  • GoodReads Reading Goal: Putting the goal at zero so I focus on books I truly want to read and not stress about getting to a specific number (updated as 1/8/19)
  • Join a book club I will enjoy and to meet new friends
  • Buy less books for myself – buy books for book swaps and utilize the library more

As for my GoodReads goal, I followed this and did not add a number I had to get to. Surprisingly, I surpassed the number of books I’ve read the past couple of years. However, I did notice that I put pressure on myself to try to read 12 books a month when I didn’t have to.

This past year I also learned the importance of DNF. I’m starting to get comfortable with the idea that if a book isn’t for me then it’s okay to not finish it. Life is too short to be wasted on a crummy book when there are so many great ones out there.

As for my second goal, I actually decided to create my own book club which I did back in August. So I’d say this one is accomplished as I met some great new friends and I enjoy my book club.

I pretty much failed my last goal as I ended up expanding my personal library. I also spent way more on books this year than I have in the past which is okay.

Going into 2020, I decided that I’m going to have one goal and it’s this:

Enjoy what I read.

I decided to have one simple goal for 2020 because I realized that reading is a hobby and it’s something I enjoy. I don’t want reading to become a task or something I dread. I look as reading as something to help me mentally unwind and destress and I’d like to keep it that way. There were a few times where I overwhelmed myself by committing to review books that I didn’t care for or didn’t have time to read. 2020 is going to be a year where I’ll take time to enjoy my reads. I want to make sure it’s quality over quantity and that I continue to get comfortable with the idea of DNF.

How was your 2019 reading year? What goals are you planning for 2020?

2019: Year In Review

This year I decided to switch up how I’d present reading year in review. I’ve read some amazing books this year and decided to split them up by categories. Enjoy!

A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum – This was such a powerful, emotional, and heartbreaking read. I love that this book shed light on a culture that isn’t discussed much in fiction. I was glad to hear when this was one 2019 BOTY finalists.

Recursion by Blake Crouch – I’m typically not into sci-fi, but I really loved this one! This book really makes you think about the power of memories, time, and to what extent are we willing to break our moral compass. This book was also selected as a 2019 BOTY finalist which I most definitely voted for!

The Great Unexpected by Dan Mooney – This deeply emotional and dark humorous contemporary novel brings up important topics that aren’t widely discussed, i.e. loneliness in senior citizens, living in a nursing home, the feeling of losing your freedom/independence once you live in a nursing home/dependent on caretakers, and grief. This was also our November #OCBooksandBrunch pick. We had a great insightful conversation about this.
Miracle Creek by Angie Kim – I throughly enjoyed reading this legal thriller. I also had the chance to not only meet Angie Kim in person, but she also spoke to #OCBooksandBrunch when we selected her book as our October pick. I really liked this book because it explores how far people would go to push the bounds of familial relationships and friendships, and parenthood.

Before She Was Found by Heather Gundenkauf – This is a great mystery thriller which truly makes you think about how much community, friendship, betrayal can take on with children, parents, and their relationships with each other.

The Wives by Tarryn Fisher – I have a soft spot for domestic thrillers / suspense. What set this book apart from the others is the way the author was able to bring out the emotion and Tarryn Fisher says it perfectly: “…how women emotionally bankrupt themselves for whom they love.”
The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren – This year I’ve discovered that I’m a huge fan of enemies turned lovers trope. This was my all-time favorite CLo book! It had all the things I wanted and more: lighthearted, hilarious, and full of romantic scenes. I also had a chance to meet Christina and Lauren back in July which was amazing!

Girl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai – This Book doesn’t release till 2020, but I’m counting it towards the year I read it. This romance read has been my all-time from Alisha Rai so far! I’m grateful that I’ve been able to meet Alisha twice this year ☺️
I love that Alisha incorporates a diverse set of characters in her book with complex backgrounds. I also love the way she incorporates supporting characters from previous books she’s written. What I loved about Girl Gone Viral the most was the main characters and the building of their emotional intimacy is captured so well.

Regretting You by Colleen Hoover – Colleen Hoover really knows how to tear your heart out and give it back to you. This has become one of my favorite CoHo novels to date. I love the strained mother-daughter relationship Colleen captures in here. I can’t wait for Colleen to come to LA for her Regretting You book tour in January!
Maybe You Should Talk To Someone by Lori Gottlieb – I had the chance of meeting the author earlier this year. However, when I met her, I haven’t read her book before. This is one my favorite nonfiction books this year because it really opened my eye to what therapy is all about and how it could truly help a person. Reading about the author’s experience through therapy and her going through sessions with her own patients helped bring perspective.

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou – This was my first read of 2019. Bad Blood initially piqued my interest as it was one of the top 5 books Bill Gates loved in 2018. I really liked how this nonfiction book read as a story so it kept my interest throughout. The author did an excellent job throughly researching. This book was one of the reasons I got into nonfiction this year.

A False Report : A True Story of Rape In America by T. Christian Miller & Ken Armstrong – I heard that show Netflix show, Unbelievable, is based off of this book. I wasn’t sure I would be able to watch the show so I opted to read the book instead. This nonfiction book was very fascinating and very eye opening for me. It really made me question about how rape cases are handled and false accusations.
Us Against You by Fredrik Backman – This is by far my ultimate favorite Backman novel. I can’t believe it took me till this year to discover him. I read all his books this year and he is such a talented writer. Us Against You is all-time favorite for several reasons. First, it’s the first time I ever LOVED a sequel of a book. I didn’t even think it was possible that the first and sequel could BOTH be 5 star reads. Second, I really loved how he took the story from Beartown into a more complex level and was able to eloquently bring up heavy issues.

Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney- I’m pleasantly surprised that this made it to my top 3 considering that I thought Normal People was mediocre. I’m glad I took a chance on this as the novel really stood out on resonating emotions. The complexities of emotional availability and self perception really stood out.

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover – Not only was this my first CoHo book I read, but it was so beautifully written. This is not your typical romance novel. The emotions that Colleen captures in here is insane and makes you really think. I love the way she captures strength and kindness in this novel.

Have you read any of these books? What were your favorite reads in 2019?