Book Review, Fiction, thriller, Uncategorized

Freefall by Jessica Barry ~ Book Review

Freefall and blondies from above

Freefall by Jessica Barry
Harper
Release Date: January 8, 2019
Genre: Thriller
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪

Freefall took a little while to suck me in. It starts with a depiction of a plane crash with one survivor, Ally, who is clearly on the run from someone. The chapters alternate between her point of view, and that of her mother, Maggie. Mother and daughter have not seen each other for several years, due to a falling out following the death of Ally’s father. We witness Maggie’s reaction to the news that her daughter has been presumed dead following the crash of a private plane owned by her fiancé, Ben, whom Maggie did not know existed.

Interspersed with Ally’s current narrative, we also get flashbacks into the past few years that her mother missed out on, during which she worked as a waitress at a seedy bar, and became involved in prostitution as a means to make ends meet. When she met Ben, the CEO of a major pharmaceutical company, he took her under his wing and began to provide for her in entirety, allowing her to quit her job and spend her days roaming their huge new house and waiting for him to come home. Their relationship was pretty typical of a domestic thriller, with Ben critiquing Ally’s body, buying expensive dresses he knew were too small for her so she would feel pressured to lose weight, and holding his financial security over her head. Their relationship felt a little clichéd for this genre, but it wasn’t a huge focal point of the plot.

For me, the story really picked up when we begin to get insight into Ben’s company, and their highest selling drug, an antidepressant for postpartum depression. We learn that they seem to have been bribing the FDA, and altering the results of their trials to downplay the serious psychosis that is a major side effect for a significant percentage of users. This driving force behind the plot and Ally’s disappearance is what made this book so hard for me to put down. It was a plotline that I had not seen before in this type of novel, and I was constantly trying to guess who was involved and how much each character knew.

Blondies with Freefall in background

The introduction of Tony, an older man who befriends Maggie, was especially interesting, and the way his character tied into the entire investigation at the end had me completely shocked. The role of Ben’s company in the plane crash, and Ally’s motivation to get back home to her mother after so many years kept me glued to the plot.

Despite a general enjoyment of this novel once it got going, Ally’s backstory seemed forced and unnecessary to me, and her relationship with Ben seemed to rely a little too heavily on details that have been used over and over again in similar stories. Nonetheless, the two very differing perspectives and stories of Ally and her mother kept the read interesting until the end and I would absolutely recommend this book, especially with a batch of these thick and chewy blondies.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪
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Book Review, Health, Nonfiction

Just Eat It by Laura Thomas ~ Book Review

Just Eat It with Girl Scout Cookies

Just Eat It by Laura Thomas PhD
Bluebird
Release Date: January 10, 2019
Genre: Nonfiction, Health
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪

Man this book is important. Growing up in a society that puts body image above all else and constantly reinforces diet culture and a single body type can be incredibly brainwashing. I was always aware of these massive flaws in society, aware that everywhere I turned someone or something was telling me I had to change my body because even if I felt pretty good about it, it could be “better,” I still didn’t fully grasp how ingrained it had all become in every fiber of my being. Laura Thomas is smart (see that PhD after her name? That’s there for a reason). She knows her stuff, she’s not just spitballing her thoughts and experiences (although those are there too!), she’s using her education and her professional knowledge to help the reader understand how their relationship with food may have gotten so very f****d up, and how they can work on fixing that. I’m “including strong language” in this review because Thomas swears, a lot, throughout this book and I loved every second of it. When you’re talking about such a problematic concept, I think it’s good to get fired up.

The chapters in this book were well sectioned out, each focusing on a specific aspect of intuitive eating, and walking us through the steps we need to take in order to approach them correctly: how to tell when you’re really hungry, how to tell when you’re full, how to deal with emotional eating, how to approach healthy movement. She uses a lot of graphs and charts, which help to break up the massive amount of knowledge she throws at us. Although some of them felt a little bit juvenile to me, I understand that people who have struggled even more with disordered eating might find them incredibly helpful. She also intersperses ideas for journaling exercises to be used outside of your reading time in order to really try to embrace the steps of learning to eat intuitively. I did not partake in any of these, for me journaling about what I’m eating would definitely hurt the cause more than anything else, but Thomas creates a way for you to really make a step-by-step lifestyle change with her as a guide.

I had never read anything like this book before, and many of the concepts Thomas delves into were very eye opening for me. I found the sections surrounding fat phobia incredibly important, and this concept in its entirety is something I don’t think is spoken about enough. Even some of her more simplistic thoughts, such as:

“harm caused by weight-focused interventions may outweigh the benefits, and from an individual and a public-health perspective, focusing on developing a healthy relationship to food, body image, and movement is exponentially more beneficial”

made me take a step back and think why has it taken me until now to realize this? The detrimental effects of our weight-obsessed society cannot be overstressed and Laura Thomas points out the glaring issues in a succinct, scientific, and very motivational manner. I learned a lot more about myself while engrossed in these pages than I was expecting to, and I will definitely be using my newfound insight to try to approach food and eating in a more healthy and intuitive manner. To start, I’ll be eating these Girl Scout cookies because they’re delicious, and I want to.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪
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Book Review, Nonfiction, Self Help

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis ~ Book Review

Girl, wash your face and snacks
Girl, Wash You Face by Rachel Hollis
Thomas Nelson
Genre: “Self-Help” (My review should clear up the reasoning for the quotation marks…)
Release Date: February 6, 2018
My Rating: 🍪🍪

I wanted to like this book so badly. It was recommended to me by a coworker, and after waiting months (yes, MONTHS!) to receive it off the hold list at the library, I was pumped to have some no-nonsense, motivational sense knocked into me. As soon as I started, I knew that wasn’t what was going to happen.

In retrospect, I really should have looked into what this book was about before I picked it up. Despite its catchy, empowering title, it is not a book that generally offers advice to women, and I for sure felt like I was not a part of the demographic the author was targeting. For one, I am not a mom. There were a lot of chapters dedicated to the idea that no one really knows how to be a mom, and everyone thinks they’re doing parenting wrong (spoiler alert, you’re not!), but as someone who is not a parent, I got no real value out of these sections. I did, however, like her pointed conversation about working moms, and the fact that they all tout their careers as a “hobby” or a side project even when they are really, really successful professionals. That needs to change! (And I know that is not just specific to mothers, many women tend to downplay their success to try to avoid seeming like they’re bragging. Ugh. Let’s all work on that, we’re awesome).

Girl, Wash Your Face Overlay

Anyway, I also had trouble relating to this narrative because I do not share the author’s faith. I found the (fairly consistent) references to God, and his plan for her life kind of jarring. She would offer an offhand comment for how those who aren’t religious might interpret whatever she was talking about, but the message of empowering yourself and creating a meaningful life for yourself was kind of lost on me when it was outlined as something God had planned out. If we all just sit around waiting for God’s plan for us to come into effect, isn’t that kind of negating the entire point of her book? I don’t really think that’s what she was going for, but it sure seemed like it. I have nothing against reading Christian writing, it was just hard for me to connect with as it was written. Like I said, a quick skim before I read this could’ve helped me avoid some disappointment.

There were a few sections of this book I liked or related to. The chapter about cardio fantasies in particular was refreshing (I knew I wasn’t alone). For the most part, however, this seemed like Hollis just kind of talking about how great she’s doing without offering much concrete motivation on how others should go about trying to make changes in their lives. The book was very short, which is the only reason I actually finished it, but I would advise others (at least of my age and demographic) to pass this one by. I hope the 80 other people waiting for it on hold at the library after me have a more positive reading experience.

My Rating: 🍪🍪
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Book Review, Fiction, thriller

Watching You by Lisa Jewell ~ Book Review

Watching You with cookies and plant

Watching You by Lisa Jewell
Atria Books
Genre: Thriller
Release Date: December 26, 2018
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪🍪

My first five star read of 2019! This book surpassed my every expectation for so many reasons! There are a lot of moving parts diving into this storyline. It follows a web of neighbors: Tom, Nicola, and Freddie Fitzwilliam, Joey and her new husband Alfie, who live with Joey’s brother Jack and his pregnant wife Rebecca, and Jenna, a teenager around Freddie’s age, and her mother, who is struggling with an undiagnosed paranoia similar to schizophrenia. These three households seem to orbit around each other at the start of the book, simply existing in the same periphery. As we delve deeper into the plot, we discover the extent of the voyeurism in this neighborhood: everyone is watching everyone.

As Jewell slowly introduced each family unit, I was immediately aware of just how many main characters there were. Each one had pretty equal importance to the story, which I found unusual. I was initially concerned that I would lose track of who was who, but Jewell is a master at character development. Every single person was so different, so distinct and unique. From Freddie, with his social isolation and intense focus on his passion projects, (we find out very late in the book that he actually has Asperger’s), to Joey with her careless impulsiveness, and Jenna’s mom with her propensity for e-cigarettes and double checking the house for clues that her “stalkers” have visited in the night, there was no getting these individuals confused. I was honestly in awe of how well these characters were developed and thought through.

I’m not even sure where to start on a plot-level analysis. As a classic psychological thriller, the reader is led to believe one interpretation of the story, in this case, that Tom Fitzwilliam is the antagonist. He is the head teacher at a local school, and the implication is that he has a history of inappropriate behavior towards teenage girls. As an avid reader of thrillers, I was hesitant to accept this narrative, but I honestly couldn’t foresee any other conclusion. Until the last few chapters. One technical aspect of this book that I loved was the chapter length. Each chapter was only a few pages long, making the book incredibly hard for me to put down (in fact, I read it in one day because I couldn’t put it down). By the end of the text, the chapters were even shorter, often less than a single page. I think I had an actual adrenaline rush flipping through these.

The story is too large and has too many moving pieces to try to distill into a summarized review, but the plot twists were explosive, and every single character was somehow involved. The last quarter of the book included murder, suicide, physical abuse, a heartfelt father-son conversation, a heartfelt best-friend conversation, a cheap blue bra, and a confession, among other things… It was a lot, but it was never too much. It worked. AND. The very end of the book. When everything is over and wrapped up and I was skimming the afterward. It changed everything. The last few lines somehow threw a wrench in the already shocking conclusion I thought I was done with. I can’t heap enough praise on this book. Just go read it. In the meantime, I’ll be reading everything else Lisa Jewell has ever written, and eating these leftover cookies from last week (I didn’t have time to bake anything new because I was so wrapped up in this read! See my last blog post for the recipe.)

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪🍪
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Book Review, Fiction

Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield

Once Upon a River Flatlay

Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield
Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Release Date: December 4, 2018
Genre: Fiction
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪

When I was little, I had a favorite set of short stories, The Princess Tales by Gail Carson Levine. Set in a mystical land, these lighthearted fantasies kept me captivated as I devoured them time and time again. Once Upon a River brought me to a similar place. Although I didn’t find it to be overtly a fantasy novel, it had similar elements, and reminded me that this is a genre I enjoy. The story starts at The Swan, an inn on the river Thames, that is known for the group of storytellers who gather there in the evening. On the night where our story begins, a large, disfigured man suddenly bursts through the door with a young child, presumed drowned, clutched in his arms. The disruption puts an end to the tale telling for the night, and the townspeople call upon Rita, a local nurse, to comes tend to the injured. Although she initially believes the child to be dead based on all her vital signs, the girl suddenly opens her eyes that night, setting off a series of interwoven mysteries as they try to determine who’s long lost child made extra challenging given her apparent inability to speak.

There are a myriad of characters in this book, too many to go into detail about, but many of them come to want the child for themselves, whether for better, or for worse. The Vaughn’s take her in initially, believing (or more aptly, hoping beyond hope) that she is their lost Amelia, who went missing one night. The Armstrong family come to be sure that the girl is their grandchild, come from their wayward son, and Lily White, who lives alone in a cottage in constant fear of a man unknown to the reader, believes the little girl to be her sister. The characters are the heart of this story. As they work to unravel the mystery of the girl who seemed to come back to life, we learn about the struggles each of them have faced, and the hopes that they hold for their futures. Each individual is carefully crafted with characteristics that set them apart from anyone else, whether it be a Seeing eye, or a short, broad stature. Even though there were a lot of people to keep track of, they were distinct enough that I was never confused.

I really enjoyed the element of mystery that ran through these pages, and intertwined with both the historical and fantastical themes. It’s hard for me to try to categorize this story into a genre, but I don’t think that is necessary. It’s a piece of fiction that flows seamlessly and easily together with Setterfield’s detailed and beautifully crafted prose. She takes her time with her writing, letting details of setting and time work their way out fully and never rushing the narrative. Reading this book felt much like floating down a lazy river to me, it wasn’t a wild ride, but it was steady and always moving and changing. With that being said, I am used to reading books that are a little more fast paced, which is why this one is a four star read for me instead of five. I never considered putting this book down, but it was definitely slow, and a little bit of an adjustment for me to read (which in hindsight, was probably good for me).

Snowball Surprise Cookies

Alongside this novel, I enjoyed these similarly whimsical Snowball Surprise Cookies. With only four ingredients, the dough comes together in no time, and the extra surprise of hidden chocolate makes them extra fun. The dough does need time to chill, and the hershey’s kisses need to be unwrapped and rolled individually into the cookies, so there is a little time involved with these, but they are an easy go-to recipe for me nonetheless.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪
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Book Review, Fiction, thriller

The Witch Elm by Tana French ~ Book Review

 

Witch Elm from Above

The Witch Elm by Tana French
Viking
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Release Date: October 9, 2018
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪.5

Big books scare me. There, I said it. When I went to collect this guy off the hold shelf at the library I immediately started to panic as I attempted to stuff the massive hardcover into my backpack. Over 500 pages? But, but what about all the other books I need to get to? I thought, mind flashing to the precariously towering TBR pile waiting for me at home. (Okay, maybe it wasn’t quite that dramatic). Bottom line, this is a long book, and I think that’s the main reason I had issues with it. Not because it was lengthy in and of itself, but because it didn’t need to be that long.

The story starts with Toby, grabbing some drinks at the pub with his pals, expositionally (if that’s not a real word, it should be) thinking about his girlfriend Melissa and some concerning work drama he has been dealing with, and then heading home for the night where he is ambushed by two thieves. Toby never recovers fully from the attack. The once popular, charming (a little too charming if you ask me), and attractive jock is now left with a drooping eye and a muddled mind. Instead of going back to work, he ends up moving to the Ivy House to be with his Uncle Hugo who is dying from a brain tumor. Toby spent his childhood summers running up and down the halls of the house with his cousins Suzanna and Leon, the closest things to siblings he has ever had.

One day, as Hugo calls a meeting with the adults in the extended family during one of their weekly Sunday dinners, Suzanna’s children discover a human skull hidden in the Witch Elm in the garden. And so our story really begins. Several hundred pages in. Why, oh why, could this not have happened much, much earlier? From there the narrative takes off with the investigation into the skull, and eventual discovery and identification of an entire skeleton of a boy who disappeared the summer after Toby and his cousins finished high school. Even though the story becomes much more dramatic in the second half of the book, it was still slow-going. Toby continuously bounces between wanting to incessantly badger his cousins about what happened that summer (due to his attack, his memory is very spotty), and being too befuddled to do much of anything except putter around the house with his uncle. It got a little too repetitive for me. I absolutely adore Tana French’s writing style. Her descriptive language is like nothing I have ever read before, and I was consistently pausing to jot down phrases she used because they were so lovely, interesting, or visceral. That being said, I could have used a fast forward button at some points.

My favorite section of the book was near the end, as Toby gets closer and closer to uncovering the truth about the disappearance. When we were finally getting answers, in the form of straight up, unencumbered narrative, I couldn’t look away from the text. I never guessed how the investigation was going to end, or who was responsible for the killing, and finding out the details alongside Toby had me biting my nails. That being said, I wish the story had ended there, or shortly thereafter. Instead, Toby has one final spurt of violence and (major spoiler alert!) kills the investigator who was looking into the attack. Much of the story focuses on what a stand up (if not oblivious) guy Toby is, and he takes a lot of time trying to convince himself he couldn’t have been responsible for a murder, but not really being sure. As a reader, I was relieved that it wasn’t him, so to have him turn around and kill someone was frustrating. He and I had just convinced ourselves (through pages and pages of investigation and introspection) that he was not capable of murder, so having him suddenly do exactly that made all those pages seem kind of pointless.

The Witch Elm and Brownies

This book gets a three and a half star rating for me. I loved French’s writing enough that it really elevated my enjoyment of the story, and the plot held me captivated once it got going. The ending, however, was not satisfying, and the book could’ve used a few significant chunks omitted to streamline the narrative. These Candy Cane Brownies get a five star rating, though. Not only did they help me use up the obscene number of candy canes I had left over from the holidays, they were also incredibly decadent. Consisting of two full chocolate bars surrounded by gooey brownie and crushed up candy canes, PLUS 6 ounces of melted chocolate in the actual batter, these guys are every chocolate lover’s dream.

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Book Review, Fiction, thriller

Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter ~ Book Review

Flatly of Pieces of Her

Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter
William Morrow
Genre: Thriller
Release Date: August 21, 2018
My Rating: 🍪

I couldn’t get enough of the first few chapters of this book. It opens with Andrea (Andy) and her mother, Laura, experiencing a shooting at the mall, during which Laura seems to totally change into a different person, a trained, stone-faced killer who takes down the shooter with no hesitation. From there, she shuts out her daughter, eventually giving her instructions to flee to a storage unit hours away where she will find everything she needs to lay low and survive. Andy’s experience uncovering the provisions her mother has left for her, including clothing, a car, and thousands of dollars, makes her realize perhaps she does not know the woman she grew up with at all. The storage unit also reveals photographs from her mother’s past, illustrating a history of intense physical abuse.

I was totally intrigued by this part of the novel, and excited to learn the secrets surrounding Laura’s identity. At this point, the book abruptly switches to flashbacks set in 1986, letting the reader in on Laura’s young adult life, and just how filled with trauma it truly was. This is where the story lost me. The chapters set in the past focused on a group of radical youths prone to outrageous acts of violence. Honestly, I didn’t care about any of the characters in these parts of the book, and I didn’t understand what the reader was supposed to connect with. There wasn’t a clear driving force behind the group’s actions, and the premise of their terrorism was so different from the present-day parts of the book, that I had trouble seeing how the same reader could be equally invested in the two. I stand firmly behind my decision not to finish the book. I read about 400 of the nearly 500 pages, and then realized I really did not care how this story ended.

PMS bars and book

The saving grace for me were these unreal PMS Bars (despite the quirky name choice). These bars are filled with m&ms, pretzels, peanut butter chips and a graham cracker crust, all glued together with sweetened condensed milk that gives them an unbelievably chewy, gooey texture even once they’ve cooled. Best of all, they’re crazy easy to make — there are only a handful of ingredients, and no mixing bowls needed! Even if I can’t get behind the book, this recipe is a five star read.

My Rating: 🍪
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Book Review, Fiction, Romance

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory ~ Book Review

The Wedding Date with candle

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
Berkley
Genre: Romane
Release Date: January 30, 2018
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪

The Wedding Date is an ideal Valentine’s Day read. The story opens with the perfectly rom-com meeting of Alexa and Drew in a hotel elevator that suddenly breaks down. *Sigh.* The two of them seem to be stuck there together for about five minutes, but nonetheless, it is somehow enough time for Drew to force Alexa to give him some of the cheese and crackers she brought for her sister (honestly, that’s just straight up rude), and for him to decide he wants to bring her as his date to the wedding of his best-friend and ex-girlfriend. I could pretty much see the opening credits unfurling across this scene (seriously, has anyone bought the rights to make this into a movie? If not, get on it).

Predictably, the story revolves around the ups and downs of the burgeoning relationship between our two main characters. Although each wants to have more than just a casual fling, their initial arrangement (during which Drew asks Alexa to pretend she is his girlfriend) confuses each as to how the other is really feeling. Neither one knows how much of their chemistry is real, and how much is a show put on to help legitimize their fake relationship to the rest of the wedding party. This added an interesting dynamic that made the story seem less clichéd than I initially anticipated it to be. Additionally, Alexa’s upfront attitude towards addressing their difference in race added some depth to the plot.

I whipped through this book in a day. It was cute and sexy, and I thoroughly enjoyed the banter between the two main characters. That being said, it definitely got repetitive towards the end. By the time I reached the final chapters, I wanted to shake Alexa to get her to stop thinking about how self-conscious she was about her body image. I’m not sure why there was so much stress placed on this matter. I get it, she’s insecure about her body, but Drew thinks she’s great, moving on…. It would have been nice to either address this issue more obviously (i.e. have the characters actually talk about it), or make it less heavy handed. There were also a lot of very similar scenes of Drew and Alexa seeing each other again for the first time in a week, waking up together, having coffee together etc. They were well written, but I could only read a different iteration of the same scene so many times.

The Wedding Date Flatlay

Despite these few setbacks, this was a fun read for me, and it was definitely different from the heavy grittiness of the thrillers I tend to lean towards. Since I went through this book so quickly, I did not have time to bake, but eating an absurd number of chocolates seemed like an appropriate choice to accompany it given the aggressively chocolate-heavy marketing of Valentine’s Day.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪
The Wedding Date on Goodreads
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Book Review, Fiction

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult ~ Book Review

M&M cookies and A Spark of Light

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult
Ballantine Books
Genre: Fiction
October 2, 2018
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪

The books I read are usually uncomfortable in a creepy, mysterious, “this could never happen” kind of way (if you haven’t noticed, I like thrillers). A Spark of Light was uncomfortable in a “this has happened and will happen again, and I have never been forced to think about it for 400 pages before” kind of way. The premise of the story revolves around a shooting at an abortion clinic in Mississippi, and utilizes a reverse-chronological timeline to explore the backstories surrounding how each person in the clinic (referred to as The Center) ended up there on that particular day.

Each character in The Center has a different reason for being there, a different set of circumstances that led up to them walking through the door that morning, and a painfully heartbreaking set of emotions surrounding their decisions. Picoult poignantly illustrates the fact that abortion is not an easy choice, it is not a choice anyone wants to make, but the right to have control over your own body is paramount. She also depicts the other services clinics like The Center offer, and debunks myths surrounding Planned Parenthood and what would happen if similar operations were defunded. The author’s note in the back of the book offers extensive insight into the facts and figures that make up the amount of abortions in the United States, and the related violence that sadly ensues each year. Her story is research based, but the characters she brings to life are uniquely her own.

Hugh, the hostage negotiator outside the clinic, is trying desperately to remain level-headed, while coaching the shooter, although he knows that his own daughter, Wren, and sister, Bex, are inside. Bex let Wren skip out of school early so she could take her to The Center to get birth control without needing to fumble through an awkward conversation with her dad. Also in the clinic are Olive, an older woman coming in for a checkup after a cancer diagnosis, a doctor, a nurse, and an undercover protestor who is trying to record incriminating information about what women experience when they go into the clinic for an abortion, among others. And then there’s the shooter. George looks like an ‘ordinary guy’ from the standpoint of the others in the clinic, someone you wouldn’t give a second look to if you passed him on the street. He’s a single dad, and his daughter just had an abortion without his knowledge.

Intertwined through the scenes at the clinic are chapters following a seventeen year old girl named Beth, who self-induced a chemical abortion using pills she bought online, and is now simultaneously in the hospital due to complications from the abortion, and awaiting a possible trial. I didn’t really give much thought to how these chapters fit into the goings on at The Clinic, but the way they tied in ultimately took my breath away when, in one of the final chapters (SPOILER ALERT!) we learn that Beth is George’s daughter.

Despite my discomfort while I read this book, I give it a rating of 4. The discomfort was good, it was necessary, and it was informative. We all need to read outside our comfort zones every so often. That being said, I didn’t love the way the storyline was laid out going backwards in time, for some reason it made things seem repetitive to me, and a little confusing at the beginning. I was also left wanting to know more about what exactly had happened when George found out about his daughter, and what he really knew surrounding her abortion before he went to The Clinic, since ultimately, that was not where her abortion was performed.

I matched the gorgeous watercolor cover of this book with some classic M&M cookies, although I didn’t have much of an appetite while pursuing such a heavy read.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪
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Book Review, Fiction, thriller

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware ~ Book Review

The Death of Mrs. Westaway book with 7 layer bar

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
Gallery/Scout Press
Genre: Thriller
Release Date: May 29, 2018
Book Rating: 🍪🍪🍪.5

The premise of this book is very different than my normal reads. Yes, it is a thriller and I read thrillers all the time, but throw in a broke tarot card reader and a (possibly) mistaken identity and you’ve got the premise of a novel I’ve never read anything quite like. The real meat of the story begins when Harriet (Hal) receives a letter indicating that she has been left some sort of inheritance from her grandmother, Mrs. Westaway, who recently passed away. Hal is fully aware that her grandparents died long ago, but weighs her options and decides heading over to the funeral sounds more promising for her future than dealing with her crippling debt and the creepy men who are after her to repay the loans she took out after her mother died.

Hal shows up at the Westaway estate and meets Mrs. Warren, the housekeeper, who shows her into a room in the attic and leaves her for the night. One detail that stood out to me about this book was the way the estate itself is portrayed. Described as a decrepit, sprawling mansion, the house also has a name, Trepassen (the similarity to the word ‘trespassing,’ did not go unnoticed) and is referred to as such throughout the story. The naming of the home aids in a personification, and thus, the fortress becomes its own character, a sort of antagonist who is with Hal throughout her adventure. I love the way the house comes alive in this narrative, and the way it embodies the secrets of Hal, her mother, and her grandmother.

When Hal comes downstairs from the attic on her first morning in the house, she meets Mrs. Westaway’s three sons, Ezra, Harding, and Abel. None of them seem particularly shocked that a stranger is in the house, my first major qualm with the writing. This detail aside, I was completely sucked into the storyline once it got underway. Hal’s narrative is interspersed with diary entries that are unlabeled, and therefore allow the reader to (potentially incorrectly) assume who wrote them. I love the way these segments were interwoven, it made me feel like I was uncovering the secrets of the Westaway family along with Hal.

The ending of this novel definitely caught me off guard. I found it a little bit extreme– the ultimate antagonist, Ezra, seemed to suddenly become a totally different character, and although we hear snippets about his angry outburts throughout the story, I wasn’t totally sold. He ended up being a really, really terrible/murderous person, and that just hadn’t come through in the slightest up until the last few chapters. Even so, I couldn’t read fast enough once Hal started to unwind the mistaken identity between Maud, the Westaway sister who disappeared, and Maggie, Hal’s mother who lived with the Westaway children for a time, although I did find it somewhat hard to follow who was who towards the end.

There were a few loose ends I thought needed wrapping up, like what happened with the men chasing Hal down to repay her loan, and why Abel and his previously unimportant wife Mitzi were suddenly so unbelievably open to Hal coming to live with them, but the writing was magnetic, nonetheless.

Book Rating: 🍪🍪🍪.5
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