Book Review, Fiction, thriller

The Woman Inside by E.G. Scott ~ Book Review

The Woman Inside Flatlay

The Woman Inside by E.G. Scott
Dutton
Genre: Thriller
Release Date: January 22, 2019
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪

I was beyond excited to jump into this read. The cover alone sent chills down my spine and the intrigue of a new author duo working in tandem was exciting (E.G. Scott is a pseudonym!). Two of my favorite thrillers I read last year, The Last Mrs. Parrish, and The Wife Between Us, were also written by author teams, so I had high hopes for my newfound ‘two brains are better than one at writing a psychological thriller’ theory. That being said, this book fell a little flat for me. Well actually it was more like the exact opposite of that, I felt like there was too much that was trying to happen.

The story follows Rebecca, who is fighting a daily battle with prescription drug addiction. Out of the gate, we see that she’s an unreliable narrator, more consumed with withdrawal symptoms and hatching a plan to get her next fix than on the reality of her life or relationships. She lives with her husband Paul, who she met when he was still in his first marriage, and who is now cheating on her with Sheila, a woman he met while on his daily walks with his dog as he dealt with unemployment. I need to take a moment to address the names in this book. Sheila and Sasha, really? Did it have to be two short S names that end with an A? I was constantly getting these two mixed up in my mind which led to a lot of flipping back and forth between pages. They seemed almost…. Interchangeable? (Okay, that might have been intentional).

The premise of the story revolves around Rebecca becoming increasingly suspicious about her husband’s behavior and convinced that he is planning to take their life savings and run away with another woman. When two women suddenly go missing from their town around the same time (surprise, it’s Sheila and Sasha!) two police officers are put on the case to investigate. Although I did love the witty banter between these men,  it didn’t really seem to fit within the flow of the rest of the book for me. I’m not sure if this was a result of the book being written by two authors with different writing styles, but delving from their sections back to Rebecca and Paul’s felt disjointed.

I did love the suspense in this book. As we learned the depth of Paul’s infidelity and Rebecca’s addiction I could feel their lives spiraling out of control, and I couldn’t flip the pages fast enough. I did not think the ending did the rest of the book justice. It was a huge twist, which I usually love, but I struggled to adjust my mindset to suddenly see Paul as a loving husband. There needed to be more insight into this earlier for me to really buy it. The final scene with Paul and Rebecca left me frustrated as well. It seemed too convenient. I wanted a confrontational scene, I didn’t want an easy out. Overall, I gave this book three stars because I couldn’t put it down, and it was very different from other domestic thrillers I have read, but in the big picture I just didn’t love it.

The Woman Inside with Hot Chocolate Cookies

This book is accompanied by Hot Chocolate Cookies. In an effort to use up the absurd amount of mini marshmallows I have somehow acquired, I added two of those to the top of each cookie instead of the marshmallow bits the recipe called for. I did like the addition, but if I were making these again I would definitely add the marshmallow bits as well. These cookies actually matched my feelings about the book pretty spot-on. They intrigued me and I really wanted to like them, but they were only okay.

My Book Rating: 🍪🍪🍪
Buy The Woman Inside on Amazon
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Book Review, Fiction, Humor

China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan ~ Book Review

China Rich Girlfriend Flatlay

China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan
Knopf Doubleday
Genre: Fiction
June 16, 2015
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪.5

When I turned the final page of China Rich Girlfriend I immediately wanted to slip right back into the glamorous world of the characters and continue to live vicariously through their uninhibited spending sprees and poignant observations and judgements of one another. I missed their world, I craved more.  Luckily for me, I knew I had the third book in the series waiting for be at the library, so I wouldn’t be away for long.

This book is an escape, above all else. Flying through pages filled with glamorous parties, extravagant private jets, and glossy descriptions of high brow life was very comfortable, and very amusing. Kwan’s descriptions are unreal in the best of ways. I ate up everything he told me, the images unfurling effortlessly in my imagination to accompany his writing. Furthermore, the countless footnotes he includes made me feel like I was actually learning, too. The cultural anecdotes, clarifications, and definitions helped to enrich his fictional narrative with actual insight into what life is like in the parts of China he depicted (obviously not for everyone who lives there). The use of the footnotes was unexpected from a light read about the uber-rich, and it added a lot for me.

This book moved away from the lives of  Rachel and Nick, the main characters of Crazy Rich Asians, and focused more on other characters who had previously existed only on the periphery of their narrative. I was a little disappointed by this, these two were a big reason I picked up the second book of the trilogy in the first place, but I did like the plot-line surrounding Astrid, Nick’s cousin, and Colette and Carlton. A third thread, focusing on Kitty Pong, a former soap opera star, did not interest me so much. Her storyline was bizarre and seemed very disconnected from the rest of the book. I really didn’t care about her family or her social standing, and would probably have enjoyed the nearly 400 page book more if her chapters were completely cut.

I definitely could have done with a little more action and actual plot in this book. I felt like nothing really happened until the last few chapters when a ton of unanticipated crazyness was suddenly crammed in (Rachel gets poisoned, reconciles with her father’s new wife, we find out that Bernard Tai got plastic surgery and has Kristen Bell’s face, and he treats his daughter like she lives on a commune, Kitty kidnaps her daughter and has a new boyfriend). I’m sorry, what?? Why couldn’t that have been sprinkled throughout the book? The way it was written did allow me to fly through the end of the story with literally no inkling of how it would end, but it felt very off-balanced.

I am excited to read the final novel in this series, although if it follows in the footsteps of China Rich Girlfriend and tells the stories of new characters, I’m not sure how much I’ll enjoy it. As much as I like the idea of slipping back into this upper crust of Chinese society, the endless descriptions of wealth may be getting old if there aren’t familiar characters I am invested in to help get me through them.

All in all, this was a fun read, and I would recommend it with the caveat that not a lot happens, and you have to be excited for the prospect of lots and lots of details about living large.

White Chocolate Snickerdoodle Blondies

This book comes accompanied by these crazy rich White Chocolate Snickerdoodle Blondies (see what I did there?). Studded with white chocolate chips and rippled with a layer of cinnamon sugar, these buttery bars are hefty in the best of ways. I threw in cinnamon chips to add some extra flavor, and this has quickly become one of my favorite bar recipes. They are super easy to throw together, but have an unexpected decadence that makes them seem fancy, which is exactly how you want to feel while perusing Kwan’s stories.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪.5
Buy China Rich Girlfriend on Amazon
China Rich Girlfriend on Goodreads

Book Review, Fiction, thriller

Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris ~ Book Review

Bring me back with book patterned bag and cookies

Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris
St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Thriller
June 19, 2018
My Rating: 🍪🍪
 

This book was an odd juxtaposition for me. I couldn’t put it down while I was in the midst of it, and with less than 300 pages that meant that I whipped through it quickly. That being said, I wasn’t really all that INTO it. I’m an avid reader of thrillers, so anything new and noteworthy in the genre generally catches my eye and gets me excited, but sadly this is one of the less compelling ones I’ve delved into recently. The story starts with Finn and his girlfriend Layla pulling off at a rest stop while they are on vacation. Finn gets out of the car to go to the bathroom, and when he returns, Layla is gone. We learn from the get-go that this story, the one the reader and the police are fed, is not fully true. Finn therefore sets himself up as somewhat unreliable (and I do love an unreliable narrator!)

We pick up with Finn years later, when he has moved in with Layla’s sister, Ellen, and proposed to her (whatttt!). Shortly thereafter, Ellen and Finn begin to find Russian nesting dolls around the town and near their home, and even start getting packages in the mail containing the dolls. To Ellen, these dolls symbolize her relationship with Layla, as the two of them each had a set when they were younger. Finn and Ellen slowly realize that they must be coming from Layla, who is somewhere very much still alive. Finn even starts to get emails from someone claiming to be Layla, and attempts to get her to reveal herself to him.

Now, Finn is a pretty sucky person. He openly admits that given the chance to have Layla back, he would choose her over Ellen, whom he keeps the emails secret from. You know, the emails with her sister who she has believed to be dead for years. We also get some insight into what happened the night Layla went missing. It turns out that she admitted to Finn that she slept with someone else, and he went crazy to the point that she feared for her life. 

Partway through the book, we also start to get some narration from Layla, although there is no insight into where she has been staked out. Now, as much as I wanted to know how this crazy love triangle was going to resolve, I found that I didn’t really care about Layla, or what happened to her. She was manipulative, and didn’t seem to have any interest in the wellbeing of her sister, who had finally found happiness after her loss. Maybe in that sense Finn and Layla were perfect for each other, both perfectly awful.

Bring Me Back Flatlay with chocolate cookies

The big reveal at the end of this book is that Layla and Ellen are actually the same person. It turns out that Layla went back to her father’s house after the incident with Finn at the rest stop, and while she was there, her abusive father killed her sister, and she just kind of… took her place? I had so many issues with this. It wasn’t believable (I get that a lot of thrillers aren’t super believable, but this really seemed out there to me even in the context of her situation). Furthermore, I don’t understand how Finn would not have realized “Ellen” was the same woman as Layla. Paris describes Ellen as having different food preferences, mannerisms, and weight than Layla, but in reality, someone’s choice of breakfast foods would not be enough to convince me (or anyone, I hope) that they were a different person. I’m getting angrier at this book the more I think about this.

In the end, we realize that all of Layla’s sections were actually narrated by the person we believed was Ellen, and that ‘Layla’ was ‘re-emerging’ or something? I didn’t follow what kind of mental breakdown the author was trying to get at here, and at that point I didn’t care enough to try to figure it out. Despite the speed at which I raced through this book, it is not one I would be quick to recommend.

I would, however, recommend these Sea Salt Caramel Chip Chocolate Cookies. Hershey’s Sea Salt Caramel Flavored Baking Chips are a game changer! You can throw these guys into any standard cookie dough and your recipe is instantly upgraded! If you’re looking for an easy way to impress people with your baking skills, grab yourself a bag of these chips and they will do the job for you.

 
My Rating: 🍪🍪
Buy Bring Me Back on Amazon
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Book Review, Fiction, thriller

The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine ~ Book Review

The Last Mrs. Parrish book and pretzel bars

The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine
Harper
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Publication Date: October 17, 2017
Book Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪🍪

Amber, Amber, Amber. From page one, the reader is groomed to dislike this slimy conniving narrator. Nearly the first words out of her mouth begin to spin a lie, and not just a fib, not just any little innocent stretching of the truth, nah, Amber lies about having had a sister who died of Cystic Fibrosis. Liv Constantine (actually a pair of sisters, Lynn and Valerie Constantine, but I’ll continue to refer to the author as one, as per the pseudonym’s wishes) makes the reader explicitly aware of where Amber stands from the get go, meaning that Daphne Parrish, our second narrator, is set up as an angelic juxtaposition of all things shiny and good.

Daphne is depicted as the classic golden girl who seems to have it all: the beautiful husband two little girls (bratty though they may be), money to spare, and looks on looks on looks. The main source of sadness in her life seems to be the memory of her sister Julie, who died from Cystic Fibrosis when she was a teenager, inspiring Daphne to start her foundation, Julie’s Smile. After the two women first encounter each other, Amber begins to worm her way deeper and deeper into Daphne’s life. She starts with the lie about her sister, the link that makes Daphne welcome her as a friend in the first place, and from there layers on the dishonesty in order to get closer to the Parrish family.

By about 100 pages into the nearly 400 page book, Amber has finagled her way into a job working with Daphne’s husband, Jackson, by spinning a tale about her previous boss sexually harassing her, and she begins to drug Jackson’s assistant in order to ultimately have the job herself, and thus work with him directly. From there, she surpasses the role of Mrs. Parrish’s friend, and begins to actually try to take Daphne’s place, specifically by (successfully) seducing Jackson. Like I said, we don’t like her.

Daphne’s narration starts a little over halfway through the book, and this is where the big reveal comes, the one I wait for with baited breath every time I’m reading a new thriller. That first line of Daphne’s narration was enough to keep me glued to the pages: “I didn’t use to be afraid of my husband.” What?! Where did that come from! In Daphne’s narration, she depicts Jackson’s history of emotional and physical torment beginning from the start of their marriage, and becoming more and more horrendous as the years have gone by. She outlines the way Jackson’s belittling comments have broken her down little by little, and how he’s estranged her from the people she loves most. Once the reader is appropriately dumbstruck by the incredible abuse Daphne has experienced, we get to see insight into how she views her friendship with Amber.

“If there’s one thing living with an abusive psychopath has taught me, it’s how to make the best of a bad situation,” Constantine, as Daphne, writes. From there, we learn just how assertive, clever, and strong-willed Daphne has been as she has primed both her husband and Amber to desire each other and effectively cut herself out of the picture. Did I for one moment during the first half of the book think that Daphne was anything more than the victim of Amber’s terrible scheme? Absolutely not. The twist that this story took had me reeling, and the ending felt like sweet, sweet justice. This book is one of my new go-to recommendations for all my fellow thriller-lovers. I paired it with these Sweet and Salty M&M Pretzel Bars, an homage to our two narrators and their multifaceted personalities. To mix things up even more, I altered the recipe by using caramel M&Ms instead of regular ones, 10/10 recommend! Careful not to overbake these guys, they should look a little underdone when you take them out of the oven (if they end up too dry they’ll crumble all over your book… Not speaking from experience or anything…). Let me know if you try the bars or the book, in the meantime I’ll just be sitting here waiting for Liv Constantine’s next one.

Book Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪🍪
Buy The Last Mrs. Parrish on Amazon
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Book Review, Fiction, Historical Fiction

The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis ~ Book Review

The Masterpiece flatlay with pie

The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis
Dutton
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: August 7, 2018
My Rating:4.5 cookie rating

I only really got into historical fiction over the course of this past year, and I’ve tended to be particularly drawn to stories focusing around art (B.A. Shapiro was my first introduction through The Art Forger, and more recently, The Collector’s Apprentice). I can’t remember how I heard about Fiona Davis’s new novel, I haven’t read any of her previous work, but the storyline, blurbed (is that a verb? Can I make it one?) as: a novel that “takes readers into the glamorous lost art school within Grand Central Terminal, where two very different women, fifty years apart, strive to make their mark on a world set against them,” definitely caught my eye.

Indeed, The Masterpiece takes the reader through the life of Clara Darden, an art teacher and aspiring artist, in the late 1920s and into the Great Depression, and Virgina Clay, a recently divorced mother of one, who is struggling to make ends meet in the 1970s. The common thread that runs throughout both stories is, as indicated above, Grand Central Terminal. In Clara’s time, the station is a piece of art in and of itself, and an exciting and bustling hub within the city. In it, lies her beloved Art School, at which she is the only female teacher, sharing her love of watercolor and illustration with the attending students. Her story explores her struggle to be taken seriously as a female artist, and highlights her successes as an illustrator for Vogue, and an interior designer for Dictator cars. Davis does not leave out the personal aspects of Clara’s life. Alongside her growing career, Clara meets Levon, a bull-headed and overly confident artist who seems a bit brusque and closed minded at times, but ultimately steals Clara’s heart, and Oliver, an aspiring poet born into wealth who makes Clara his muse, and introduces her to high society in a manner she never would have achieved on her own, fanning the flames of her success.

The Grand Central terminal Virginia experiences, fifty years after Clara worked there, is quite different. It is dirty and unsafe, and is teetering on the edge of losing its landmark status, leaving it susceptible to being torn down. As a new divorcee trying to support herself and her teenage daughter Ruby, Virginia initially tries to fake her way into a legal assistant position, before settling as a worker at the information booth in the middle of the terminal. Virginia’s character definitely grew on me as the story progressed. Having previously survived a battle with breast cancer, Virginia is the epitome of a fighter. Although initially dubious about her new role in a changing New York City, Virginia embraces her ability to work and to treat her relationships with men in a more laissez-faire manner than she was previously comfortable with. In fact, it’s during a tryst with the lawyer she nearly worked for, Dennis (who turns out to be a disgusting pig, but alas, such is life) when she stumbles upon the lost Art School above the terminal, and a piece of Clara Darden’s work that she instantly falls in love with. This discovery becomes the catalyst for Virginia’s hunt to discover not only what happened to Clara Darden, but also how her art may relate to the work of Levon.

Virginia and Clara both embrace their independence and femininity in hugely admirable ways. I loved what each character ended up representing in this regard. It also struck me that neither ended up with a man. Instead, the women struggled with their share of flawed men and heartbreak. Fiona Davis knows how to paint (no pun intended) and maintain strong female characters even in the face of hardship.

I wasn’t totally sold on the ending of this book (hence the missing half cookie in my rating). The fact that Clara was still alive let alone in New York City during Virginia’s time never ever occurred to me, and her character, known in the ‘70s as Totto, honestly didn’t seem important enough to me to give much notice to. Maybe that was the point, but it felt a little random to me, like a convenient, yet not fully planned way to end the story. Despite the slightly underwhelming final chapters, I absolutely plan to seek out Fiona Davis’s previous novels once I make a bit more of a dent in my current TBR list.

The Masterpiece with pie

As new as historical fiction is to me, pie baking is even newer. This was one of, if not, the first pies I have ever made. I opted for pecan, and, very uncreatively utilized the recipe on the back of the Karo corn syrup bottle. That being said, the crust is made from scratch, with lots of help from a friend, and the use her family recipe, which I didn’t have the foresight to write down. The fancy edges were created by cutting slits all along the overhanging crust that extended past the pan’s edge, and folding in every other resulting tab. The additional two minutes of work led to a resulting pie that I might even dare to call a Masterpiece.

My Rating: 4.5 cookie rating
Buy The Masterpiece on Amazon
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Book Review, Fiction, Romance

One Day in December by Josie Silver ~ Book Review

One Day in December with Cookie

One Day in December by Josie Silver
Broadway Books
Genre: Romance
Release Date: October 16, 2018
Book Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪🍪

Love stories are not usually my thing. I couldn’t even finish One Day, and I found The Light We Lost more infuriating than heartwarming. That being said, man did One Day in December surpass my expectations. Josie Silver captured my heart with her portrayal of Laurie and Jack’s ten year love story beginning with a chance encounter from the window of a crowded bus. When Laurie spots Jack, waiting at a bus stop, their twelve seconds of eye contact are enough for her to believe in love at first sight *sigh.* The rest of the book covers the next decade of their lives, alternating between Jack’s point of view and Laurie’s.

I’m a fan of many aspects of this book. The first is how quickly Jack and Laurie find each other again after their initial ‘meeting.’ I was expecting a long, arduous struggle of pining away for one another with no hope of really seeing each other again. After all, if I happened to glance out the window of a bus and see someone attractive, never in my wildest dreams would I expect to ever see them again. That’s just not how real life works. For Jack and Laurie though, fate brings them back together in a catastrophically unexpected manner: Laurie’s best friend, Sarah, introduces Jack as her new boyfriend, never realizing that he is the “bus boy” she has been tirelessly trying to help Laurie find. I’ll take pause her to address Josie Silver’s ability to craft unique, believable, fully formed characters like Sarah. Sarah, is vastly different from Laurie. Her outgoing and fiery personality, her striking red hair, and her fierce loyalty make her not only extremely different from our protagonist, Laurie, but also make her someone I would want to be friends with. The time that was put into creating each well-rounded persona is reflected again and again with each newcomer to the plot. Not only did Silver make me care about the characters, she made each of their actions seem like a believable extension of who they were.

One Day in December Flatlay

This novel does not tell a flimsy romantic story that allows the reader to comfortably float through a couple hundred pages with the assured knowledge that the two main characters will end up together — it has heft. Laurie and Jack deal with death, life-altering injury, career struggles, and extraneous relationship problems within the book’s 392 pages. Does this seem like too much? Is it drama after drama tossed onto a cute quirky love story to try to dress it up? No. Because in ten years, people do go through these rough patches, these sorrows, and these changes. When Jack was in a terrible accident, I was shocked and saddened. His lack of ability to bounce back and give Sarah the respect and attention she deserved was upsetting, but never felt like too much. Most heart-wrenching, Sarah’s reaction to finding out Jack was ‘bus boy,’ just before she was meant to be Maid of Honor in Laurie’s wedding, was realistic, and realistically painful. In fact, it physically hurt me to read it, and while the Sarah-Laurie relationship was on the line, I could’ve cared less about the Jack-Laurie relationship. The depth in this novel was unexpected and very welcome.

I don’t think I have much more to say about this story except, go read it! I didn’t even have time to bake during this read because I was too busy devouring every last page of Josie Silver’s writing. Instead, I grabbed a big old Panera chocolate chip cookie and called it a day. My first act as soon as I closed this novel was to frantically Google Josie Silver’s other books, of which, she has none. Fingers crossed that next time I check there will be an update about a forthcoming story I can start counting down to.

Book Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪🍪
Buy One Day in December on Amazon
One Day in December on Goodreads

Book Review, Fiction, Holiday, Humor

Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners by Gretchen Anthony ~ Book Review

Flatlay of Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners with cake

Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners by Gretchen Anthony
Park Row
Genre: Fiction/Humor/Holiday 
Release Date: October 16, 2018
Book Rating: 🍪🍪

This is not the type of book I would typically choose of my own accord, but I was sent an ARC, and the festive cover vibe and swirly calligraphy intrigued me, it is December after all. The first few chapters of this book absolutely delighted me. Gretchen Anthony is a master at creating a unique and delightfully humorous narrative voice. The style of her prose was refreshingly unlike anything I’ve read before. The main character of this story is the matriarch of the family, Violet Baumgartner. (Is it just me, or is this name weirdly similar to Violet Baudelaire from A Series of Unfortunate Events, and Violet Beauregarde from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory?? What’s up with these very unique, yet clearly not that unique Violets?).

Scattered throughout the book, are excerpts from Violet’s annual ‘Evergreen Tidings,’ holiday letters in which she writes extensively about her family, bragging shamelessly about how incredible and flawless each and every member is. Violet’s narrative makes it clear that she is utterly oblivious to the way that she puts her family up on a pedestal, and it made me kind of hate her, but I also got a lot of amusement out of each of her chapters.

The book alternates narrators, switching between various members of the Baumgartner family and close friends, but no voice is quite as strong as Violet’s. As much as I enjoyed the humor in this writing and the countless laugh-out-loud anecdotes (I would include some specifics, but I haven’t checked my advanced reader’s copy against the final published version, so I’ll refrain), that was the entire highlight of the book for me. When I closed the book, I honestly had no idea what had happened throughout the nearly 400 pages.

The main issue the Baumgartners are dealing with is Violet’s daughter, Cerise, and her partner, Barb, being pregnant. Violet is obsessed with figuring out who the father is, but the conversation surrounding this ‘problem’ seemed to me to happen over and over again, and I guessed who the father was a few hundred pages before the family figured it out. The back and forth between Cerise and her mother and then Cerise and Barb got repetitive quickly. There was also a random group of protesters setting up art installations throughout the narrative, some missing eyeglasses from Cerise’s best friend Kyle’s nonprofit, and Barb’s inappropriate and intoxicated parents popped in for a hot minute somewhere along the way.

The novel ended with a big reveal about the aforementioned protestors, and the missing glasses. It turns out, both things were orchestrated by Kyle’s ex-fiancé whom I did not care about in the least. Overall, this book did not leave me feeling festive and amused like I hoped, I was more so frustrated and disappointed that the strength of the writing did not translate into a more captivating narrative. It felt to me as if I read about the same disastrous dinner party/social event/baptism about seven different times.

Pumpkin cake with caramel frosting and book in background

Nonetheless, this browned butter pumpkin cake with salted caramel frosting, recipe brought to you by Cooking Classy, helped to lift my spirits (although I would suggest making more frosting than the recipe calls for if you’re a frosting fiend like I am… and full disclosure, I did not make my own caramel for this recipe, but rather “cheated” slightly by buying salted caramel sauce in a jar to save myself some stress). I do hope to read something else of  Gretchen Anthony’s in the future, she is truly a gifted writer, however this story, unlike this cake, was just not for me.

Book Rating: 🍪🍪
Buy Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners on Amazon
Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners on Goodreads

Book Review, Fiction, thriller

When the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica ~ Book Review

When the Lights Go Out Flatlay

When the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica
Park Row Books
Genre: Thriller
Release Date: September 4, 2018
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪

I finished Mary Kubica’s latest novel, When the Lights Go Out, yesterday and I’m still reeling from the ending. It seemed like a fitting juxtaposition to review a book whose title focuses on light (or lack thereof) during Hannukah, the festival of lights, so without further ado, let’s get on with it.

This is one of those stories where I finished the final page, and then opened right back up to the beginning to try to work my way through the details I missed that led up to the ending. I don’t really do that ever. I usually vaguely backtrack in my mind until I’ve convinced myself I see the threads that tie everything together, but this time I flipped back through the physical pages to reread several excerpts with my newfound insight. To me, that’s a sign of a good thriller. There was enough of a plot twist at the end that I was not only shocked, but also needed to piece everything together anew. I wasn’t tired of the story, I wasn’t done with the character’s lives just because Kubica’s narrative had come to a close, I wanted to actually understand. Now, the ending of this story is very controversial amongst reviewers, and I can definitely see why. I have mixed feelings too, but more about that later.

When the Lights Go Out flip-flops between the storylines of Jessie and Eden, her mother. Eden’s chapters take place before Jessie is born, when Eden and her husband Aaron have just moved into a new home, and are trying desperately for a baby. Upon Aaron’s recommendation, Eden has decided not to get a job, instead to just sit around waiting to get pregnant. Aaron’s character confused me somewhat. His relationship with Eden seemed wonderfully electric at the start, but the more we saw of him the less I liked him.  When he suddenly reappears at the end of the story, however, we’re meant to believe he was a sweet and caring man and husband. I’m still not sure what the reader was supposed to make of him… As Eden spends day after day alone and childless, she becomes obsessed with babies, and other people’s children. She goes so far as to nearly take another woman’s daughter at one point (at least one point), all the while telling the reader that she is not a bad person, but that there is something, something coming, that she did that was bad.

Meanwhile, Jessie’s plot line picks up the story years later when her mother is dying of cancer. Jessie sits in the hospital, unable to sleep until she receives a strong dose of medication from one of the nurses watching Eden. When she wakes up, Jessie finds out she has slept through her mother’s death. From there, she sets out to find her way in the world alone. Jessie is one of the most unreliable narrators I have ever had the pleasure of reading. She is unable to sleep for days on end, and begins to hallucinate very early on in her tale, seeing everything from dead birds to men watching her from windows. Each time Jessie began to describe what she was seeing, I had to ask myself how much I really trusted her, and by the time I was nearing the end of the novel, the answer was not at all.

Directly following her mom’s death, Jessie decides she wants to attend college, but, early on in the application process, she finds out that her social security number is on file as being that of a little girl who died when she was a toddler. From there, Jessie’s life spins into mayhem, as she convinces herself that she was kidnapped as a child, that she sees her father (whom she’s never met) everywhere she goes, and that there are voices speaking to her through the vents of her new home. As her mind becomes more and more garbled and sleep deprived, I almost started to believe that Eden must really have snatched someone else’s kid and passed Jessie off as her own. Until. That twist. If you have any intention of reading this novel, please stop here for your own sanity.

Never did I think that I would give a four star (err, cookie) rating to a book that uses the phrase “It was all a dream” as a non-ironic way to explain that actual contents of over 50% of the novel. Nonetheless, it turns out that Jessie actually was asleep during her entire psychotic journey, passed out on that medication she was given by a nurse (remember that?). I wasn’t totally enraged by this for a couple of reasons. One: Jessie’s plot was not making sense by the end. I knew nothing she was saying was real, which was frustrating. It felt like there was no way she would ever figure out her reality, and she was headed towards accidentally killing herself in the final dream sequence, which would have been an even more infuriating ending. The novel made a lot more sense knowing that Jessie’s experiences were not real. And two: The way that Kubica wove pieces of Jessie’s reality into her dream was so cool! The identity theft, the little girl killed in a hit and run, and her new friend with the “blue gum-ball eyes,” it was all reality based. These were details the reader could, theoretically, have picked out of the first chapter of Jessie’s narration and traced throughout the book. I definitely didn’t, but props to the author this clever incorporation of reality.

Milky Way Blondies

I whipped up a batch of chewy gooey Milky Way Blondies  (recipe by Crazy for Crust) while I was tearing through this novel. This is a super quick recipe to make. The most time consuming aspect was chopping up the milky way bars, and I ate so many pieces of them while I was doing so that I really didn’t mind… Once that was done, everything just got mixed up in a bowl, pressed into a 9×13 inch pan and thrown in the oven. I was settled back on the couch with my book in no time! If you’ve read this one, I want to hear your take on the ending, did you love it, hate it, somewhere in between? Let me know!

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪
Buy When the Lights Go Out on Amazon
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Book Review, Fiction, thriller

An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen ~ Book Review

Flatlay of Anonymous Girl Book and Insane Peanut Butter Cup Cake

An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Publication Date: January 8, 2019
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪

Let me preface this review by saying that I am a HUGE fan of this author team’s first publication, The Wife Between Us. That book is up there on my list of absolute favorite psychological thrillers ever, and I read a lot of psychological thrillers. That being said, I had no idea there was a second book in the making until a crisp, untouched paperback ARC of An Anonymous Girl landed on my desk. When I receive any new book, it’s usually enough to put me in a good mood for the rest of the day, so my general book-nerdy excitement coupled with the realization of who this book was by had me bouncing off the walls, and I am not a generally bouncy person.

Needless to say, my expectations were high, which for me, doesn’t usually work out in my favor. I folded a nice solid crease in the first page the minute I got home, and dug in, and I read this guy fast. Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen know how to build suspense and make a reader ask ‘what is really happening?’ The primary way that they do so, is by splitting up chapters between narratives. In and of itself, this is not an unusual tactic for an author to pursue, however, what makes it stand out in their writing is how extremely, unnaturally different the narrators are. Our protagonist is Jess, a young New Yorker, still grappling to find her footing in the city and in her career, strapped for money and living with the ever present guilt of a snap decision she made years ago. She has demons for sure, and she deals with them primarily by sleeping with men she doesn’t know, but the majority of her character traits are somewhat relatable.

Dr. Shields, on the other hand, narrates her chapters with a bone-chilling authority that makes you feel like you’re a five year old kid being reprimanded for stealing a cookie before dinner. Page after page after page. It’s impressive. The authors’ use of the second person voice in her segments is incredibly effective and unnerving. You know where Dr. Shields stands at all times, and it is always somewhere with more authority than you. Her segments had me looking over my own shoulder even when the book was closed.

The split in voice is what made this book most compelling for me. It was almost as if, bear with me here, there were two authors. Which could very easily lead me off on a tangent about how the whole co-author thing works, because I have enough trouble making writing decisions with myself. (Seriously, how do you pull a fictional story like this out of two different brains and somehow end up with one cohesive, enthralling narrative? I digress).

Getting back on track, this tale follows Jess as she *spoiler alert* decides to take the place of a stranger in an anonymous research project on ethics (ah, the irony) in order to make some extra, and much needed cash. The project ends up being not so anonymous, and not so ethical, and by the end of the story Jess’s life has been completely rerouted to fulfill Dr. Shields’ own personal agenda.

This novel is twisty and twisted, there is no denying that, however, it didn’t have that big “mic drop” moment that I was expecting from the authors given their last book (like I said, it’s never a good thing when my expectations get too high). I would be remiss if I didn’t commend this book for taking a unique approach to the psychological thriller. I’ve found that a lot of books in the genre tend to stick to very similar trends and motifs, so the ethical study situation had me thrown for a loop. Overall, An Anonymous Girl is another notable accomplishment by a tremendously talented author team.

Insane Peanut Butter Cup Cake with book

It felt appropriate to pair this book with the Insane Peanut Butter Cup Cake (recipe by Cookies and Cups) because not only are they both filled with unexpected layers (peep that hefty peanut butter frosting layer running through the middle of this cake), and finished all too soon, they also keep you guessing. How, you might ask, does a cake keep one guessing? Well this masterpiece somehow manages to contain 11 cups of powdered sugar. No, that is not a typo: ELEVEN. I still don’t fully understand how that’s possible, but if you’re planning to try making this epic dessert (which I highly recommend), you’re probably going to need to buy three bags of the stuff. I promise you it’s worth it, but if you’re simultaneously reading while devouring this treat, five to ten napkins may be appropriate companions. #treatyourshelf

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪

Buy An Anonymous Girl on Amazon
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