Book Review, Fiction, thriller, Uncategorized

The New Husband by D.J. Palmer ~ Book Review

The New Husband and cookies

St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Thriller
Release Date: April 14, 2020
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪.5

I’ve taken a little break from thrillers, so I was excited to jump into The New Husband (coming April 14!). The book follows a very typical domestic thriller setup. Nina Garrity moves in with her new boyfriend, Simon, two years after her husband Glen mysteriously disappeared. Her children, Connor and Maggie have extremely different views of Simon. Connor seems to love him, while Maggie is increasingly concerned about the flashes of intense anger she catches in his eyes. Who to believe…?

We get to see a few character’s points of view through different chapters, which really allowed the reader to see how they justified actions to themselves. This was alternately disturbing, and clarifying. It allowed me to get to know the characters and their motivations a lot better.

This book was almost 400 pages and the first half really dragged for me. We watch Simon’s manipulative ‘nice guy’ nature slowly chip away at Nina’s life and sanity, in a series of very repetitive vignettes. When the second half of the book hit, however, I was completely shocked. The twist was not at all something I saw coming, and the plot became next-level messed up.

Nina as a main character was not particularly likeable. She fell into a typical thriller ‘clueless female protagonist’ for the most part. I loved that Jewell had Maggie, instead, as the suspicious one who brought things into her own hands, and tried to protect her family. The push and pull between Maggie and her mom was extremely frustrating, but in a good way. I couldn’t wait to see how Maggie would be able to convince her mom that Simon wasn’t all he seemed.

By the end of this thrill-ride I was totally hooked, but the distribution of the action and excitement definitely felt uneven to me.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪.5
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Book Review, Fiction, Romance, Uncategorized

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary ~ Book Review

The Flatshare with pastry

Flatiron Books
Genre: Romance
Release Date: May 28, 2019
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪

The Flatshare is a very cute read. The premise sets up an inevitable (and predictable) romance between Tiffy and Leon — flatmates who never meet. Leon works at night and Tiffy works during the day, so they cohabitate like ships in the night. Until they don’t. The slow burn up to the romance is adorable. I loved that they communicated through sticky notes around the apartment, using them to comment on things that needed moving or cleaning, as well as emotionally checking in on each other and sharing food. I could feel the love blossoming.

I really appreciated how different the two main characters were, and how completely Beth O’Leary was able to emulate that through their different chapters. The sections narrated by Tiffy depict her eclectic style and nature, her big heart, and her emotional side. Leon, on the other hand, is very logical and straightforward. His narrative was much more choppy, which was jarring at first, but came to define his voice. It was always very clear which one was leading the story.

The ending of the book threw me off a little bit. Throughout the story, Tiffy’s crazy ex-boyfriend popped up a lot, but I felt like his role was pushed too far at the end. It was really powerful to see how O’Leary wove in flashbacks to the way Tiffy had been emotionally abused by her ex, and the repercussions of that treatment as she came to terms with what she had been through. I think this would have been just as powerful without the ex flying off the handle at the end of the story.

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

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell ~ Book Review

The Family Upstairs and Banana Bread
Atria Books
Genre: Thriller
Release Date: November 5, 2019
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪

At first glance, the premise of The Family Upstairs seems not unlike other thrillers: character X inherits mysterious giant mansion filled with secrets. Don’t be fooled! This book was nothing like I was expecting. I’ve never read anything quite like The Family Upstairs, and certainly wasn’t expecting to be thrown head over heels into a narrative chronicling a family-turned-cult. The horrifying and manipulative behavior that’s described within the walls of 16 Cheyne Walk is shocking. 

The story takes place across two time periods, one chronicling Lucy and Henry’s experience growing up in the mansion, and one following Libby as she begins to uncover the secrets surrounding her new inheritance. I loved the way that Jewell had Lucy and Henry hint at the sinister changes that were soon to befall them. The transformation from a happy, wholesome family unit to a disturbing, controlling prison was hard to look away from when narrated by the children.

Towards the end of the book, the two narratives begin to bleed into one another. It took me a while to connect all the threads, but the ultimate confusion, and cohesion of them was wonderfully constructed. This was one of the rare thrillers where every stray piece fits perfectly when reviewed after finishing the entire story. If you’re okay with being distinctly uncomfortable with the circumstances you’re reading about, I highly recommend delving into the darkness within 16 Cheyne Walk.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪
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Book Review, Memoir, Nonfiction, Uncategorized

Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs by Jennifer Finney Boylan ~ Book Review

Good Boy with Brownies

Celadon Books
Genre: Memoir
Release Date: April 21, 2020 (Thank you to Celadon Books and BookishFirst for the ARC)
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5

This book far and away exceeded my expectations. Jennifer Boylan’s writing is truly enjoyable to read. Not just clear and eloquent, enjoyable! Her humor and wit are wonderfully woven into the prose and snuck up on me. Boylan is a master at incorporating pithy quips and flippant cultural references into the midst of musings on her past.

The premise of this book was extremely unique. I know that Boylan has other memoirs, but this is the first I had read of her. The setup for this particular book included outlining her life through a timeline composed of the dogs she’s had. You might think that by dog number seven, it would be repetitive to hear another set of canine descriptors, but each dog was such a unique character, that this was not the case.

Boylan creates a web of relationships to each dog. They are more than just timeline benchmarks, they are parts of her family — however her family may be defined at any given time. Mother, father, sister, wife, each have a different relationship to, and take on, each dog. It shocked me how many strange and extremely disobedient dogs Boylan’s experienced over the years.

Beyond the canine aspect of this book, there is, of course, Boylan’s life story. Boylan wonderfully details a childhood as a boy, reacting and interacting with his sister and parents, and the fear surrounding transitioning to being female. Boylan narrates, in a very straightforward manner, all of her experiences, and the real, raw, emotional reactions around her. It was especially interesting hearing about her reaction to finding out that her son also identified as transgender. The scenes towards the end of the book with Boylan and her wife spending time with their children and friends were so incredibly well written. They were infused with painful emotion, but the outward actions reflected a joyful, supportive family.

I definitely recommend this book. If Boylan’s writing has not been on your radar before, it should be now!

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5
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Book Review, Fiction, Uncategorized

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff ~ Book Review

Fates and Furies w/ cookies

Riverhead Books
Genre: Literary Fiction
Release Date: September 15, 2015
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪

Lotto and Mathilde’s love story is unlike any I’ve read before. It’s an unusual story in both structure and content. Lotto and Mathilde impulsively get married at twenty-two, move to New York, and begin their lives as struggling artists. The narrative is told from start to finish with Lotto in the ‘Fates’ half of the book, and then retold with Mathilde’s insight in ‘Furies.’ The choice to set up the book in this way, rather than alternating perspectives by chapter means that the reader takes all of Lotto’s perceptions at face value, and Mathilde’s side of the story is accompanied by shock after shock.

It was really interesting to get to know each of the two main characters so deeply and separately from one another. From childhood through their meeting, and every step of their lives together, Lotto and Mathilde seemed like realistically complicated individuals. There were depths to each of them that were heartfelt and heartwarming. It was interesting to be privy to what they chose to share, or keep from each other. Reading the two different halves of the book was much like sinking into two distinct, but unified, character studies. There is no doubt that Groff knew Lotto and Mathilde really, really well.

Groff’s prose crackles with energy. Nothing about her writing is ordinary. The way her mind creates connections between objects and emotions leads to descriptions that are unique and thought-provoking. There were times when I lost sight of what was actually happening in the midst of a descriptive tangent, but these instances were few and far between. For the most part, they enriched the actions of the actual storyline.

I did feel that the narrative could have been a bit shorter. Especially with the repetitive nature of Mathilde’s perspective repeating their entire relationship, I felt that there were pieces that could perhaps have been cut. Other than that, I was thoroughly enthralled in this swirling eddy of prose.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪
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Book Review, Fiction, Romance, Uncategorized

The Honey-Don’t List by Christina Lauren ~ Book Review

The Honey-Don't List and brownies

Gallery Books
Genre: Romance
Release Date: March 24, 2020
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪

The Honey-Don’t List felt very pointedly like a fictional recounting of Chip and Joanna Gaines. The story centers around Melissa and Rusty Tripp, celebrity interior designers, and their respective assistants, Carey and James. I really enjoyed the world this story was set in, and the way the toxic addictiveness of celebrity was portrayed. With book and tv show deals on the line, character incentives often blurred lines. Carey is our protagonist, who has been working for the Tripps since she was a teenager. I liked the way her character’s arc was set up. Her job with the Tripps is all she’s ever known in her adult life, and she feels conflictingly loyal and trapped in her position supporting Melissa. Her motivations juxtapose well with those of James, who didn’t sign up to be in an assistant position, and is immediately looking for ways to move himself up the ladder, despite being new. 

I loved The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren, and I was expecting to eat up the romance in this book as eagerly as I did with this previous work. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel a believable buildup between Carey and James. The romance seemed to me to come out of nowhere — I didn’t have time to root for them! Even once it was established, I didn’t feel the passion I was hoping for.

The majority of the book takes place during the Tripps’ book tour, which was a unique plot element and made for a lot of drama given the close quarters of traveling together. Tensions between the very much no-longer-in-love Tripps are increasingly fraught, and their assistants are forced to go to greater and greater lengths to keep up public appearances. Unfortunately, I wasn’t grabbed by this one, but I’ll still be keeping an eye out for the next Christina Lauren installment!

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪
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Book Review, Fiction, Romance, Uncategorized

The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves ~ Book Review

The Girl He Used to Know and cookies

St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Romance
Release Date: April 2, 2019
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪

The Girl He Used to Know is not like anything I’ve read before. As an avid reader, it’s always refreshing to come across a book that feels fresh and unique. Annika’s experiences through college and beyond as someone undiagnosed on the Autism spectrum were really interesting. Although I can’t speak to the accuracy of the depiction, I felt like Graves did a wonderful job of explaining life through the eyes of someone who has trouble fitting in, and who’s not quite like everyone around her.

It was especially interesting to learn about Annika’s family dynamic and the ways that her parents chose to raise her in the most protective and supportive way possible. I liked seeing how her relationships with her mom, dad, and brother, each changed as she grew older. It was touching to see the ways that they grew to understand each other better over time.

I had a little bit of trouble with Jonathan’s romantic relationship with Annika. I wished we had some more insight into his feelings for her. He sometimes seemed fixated on trying to get her to fit into social situations, when I felt he should have been able to embrace her as she was more fully. Their story is split between two times periods: when they first meet in college, and when they are reconnected by chance years later in Chicago. I liked the way that the present day sequences were able to reflect on their experiences in college and shed light on them in different ways. This allowed for a lot of artfully depicted character development.

The last few chapters of this book were extremely unexpected. I would like to know the motivation behind this choice. I would have been more satisfied with an ending that didn’t dramatically change the tone and dynamic of the storyline.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪
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Book Review, Fiction, Romance, Uncategorized

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver ~ Book Review

Two Lives of Lydia Bird with cookies

Ballantine Books
Release Date: March 3, 2020
Genre: Romance
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪

I’ve been eagerly awaiting Josie Silver’s next book ever since I read One Day in December (the first time), so I was extremely thankful to Ballantine and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced copy of The Two Lives of Lydia Bird (out March 3!). The book opens up with the death of Lydia’s fiancé, Freddie (that’s not a spoiler, it’s in the synopsis, I promise!). The instant heartbreak that Lydia experiences gave me an immediate connection to her character, which sucked me in quickly.

The actual “two lives” thing threw me for a loop a little. As it turns out, the second life she experiences is a sleeping-pill induced dream-life. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting from the synopsis, but this whole premise took some getting used to for me. Nonetheless, I thought it was really interesting to watch Lydia dip back and forth between the two, and see as, little by little, she diverges as a person between the two ‘worlds.’ Silver does a wonderful job of creating a narrative that explores the strength that’s gained from overcoming loss.

As in her first book, Silver is also a master at crafting believable and heartwarming relationships, both romantic and platonic. I loved reading Lydia’s interactions with her mom and her sister. Both of them felt extremely real and distinct, and it was heart-wrenching to see the ways that they were each affected in their own way by Freddie’s loss.

It was beautiful to watch Lydia learn how to reclaim her life and reconnect with herself and her surroundings in the face of unimaginable loss. There were some points in the middle of the book that felt a bit slow to me, but the end had me feeling all the feelings (read: tears, so many tears).

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

The Two Lila Bennets by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke ~ Book Review

The Two Lila Bennetts with cake

Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Thriller
Release Date: July 23, 2019
My Rating: 🍪🍪.5

I strongly disliked the main character of this book. I do believe that you can have an unlikable main character and still have a great story, but unfortunately my annoyance with her kept getting in the way of my enjoyment of the plot. 

The book is split into parallel storylines, in two different “what-if” scenarios. We don’t know which one is “real,” and in fact, I am doubtful that the authors did either. I find it interesting that a book with two plots was written by two authors. It makes me wonder if one was ‘steering’ for each of the different narratives. I generally enjoy books written in this structure (think, Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid), but I had trouble with the way it was carried out here. Different pieces of the narratives kept popping up in one another. One version of Lila cuts her hand and the other one, in the totally separate, not concurrent storyline suddenly has pain in her hand. It made the story feel jumbled for me as a reader.

The general gist of the narrative was different than other thrillers I have read, which can tend to blur together. That was a welcome relief. Lila is a defense attorney and, as such, has made a lot of enemies as she fights to defend clients who are often guilty. And she does it well. It is understandable that she has made enemies, and I liked trying to figure out who, in particular might be after her. 

Lila’s job alone did not make her unlikeable, but her character was selfish and disloyal, and I did not care what happened to her. Essentially what I got from the end of this book is that bad people cannot change their ways. Although I was sucked into the storyline and finished the book, I closed it feeling pretty disheartened.

My Rating: 🍪🍪.5
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Book Review, Fiction, Romance, Uncategorized

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren ~ Book Review

Unhoneymooners and bun

Gallery Books
Release Date: May 14, 2019
Genre: Romance
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪

The Unhoneymooners was a delicious story centering around unlucky Olive and her twin sister, aggressively lucky Ami. Christina Lauren (actually a pseudonym for an author team) artfully creates the two sisters as (mostly) believable opposites. I wasn’t a huge fan of Ami (maybe because I related to Olive a little to much), but her character worked for the story.

When Ami’s fairytale wedding takes a sudden and very uncharacteristic turn including nearly every guest projectile vomiting, she and her new husband are unable to take their honeymoon. After much persuading, Olive eventually agrees to take her sister’s place on the trip, along with Ethan, her new brother-in-law. Predictably, the two of them hate each other, but their matched stubbornness keeps either one from stepping down from the trip. Olive accepts a new job just before she heads away on the vacation, and it feels like things might just be taking a turn for the lucky.

Olive and Ethan’s general storyline was somewhat predictable in the long run, but the way that Lauren got to the endpoint was studded with surprises, and nuggets of wonderful description and anticipation. I was on my toes waiting for their true feelings to come out. 

The ending of the story felt a little sudden and abrupt. It was maybe pushing things too much as far as the sisters shifting places went. In any case though, the majority of this story made me smile and flip through pages as fast as I could… and really want a tropical vacation.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪
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