Book Review, Fiction, thriller, Uncategorized

You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen ~ Book Review

You Are Not Alone with Oreos

St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Thriller
Release Date: March 3, 2020
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪

My very first bookstagram post was a review of An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, so the author pair has a special place in my heart for that reason at the very least. Their newest thriller, You Are Not Alone follows a young woman in New York who’s feeling a bit adrift. If this sounds familiar, that’s probably because it mimics the structure of their last book. I do not, however, find fault in this fact. They know this setup works for them, and I fully agree.

Shay Miller as a character did not stand out to me. Her personality seemed pretty watery and passive. The further into the narrative I got, the more I realized that this worked in her character’s storyline, but I still would have liked a little more depth so that I had a reason to really care about her. Shay is unlucky in love with her roommate who’s girlfriend has practically become a third member of their apartment. She’s been laid off from her job and then, the ultimate showstopper, she enters a subway station just in time to see a woman jump in front of the train. Shay can’t get the site of the woman’s vacant stare out of her head.

Shay becomes increasingly set on learning about the woman, Amanda. She attends her memorial service where she meets the mysterious Moore sisters. The two women are unbelievably chic and connected, and Shay, desperately needing something to cling to, becomes enamored with them.

The Moore sisters were an intriguing set of characters, used by Hendricks and Pekkanen to guide the story. I loved the way different threads from their past were woven in around Shay’s story, and did not foresee how they would tie together. 

Much of this book felt like watching Shay getting helplessly tangled in a spider’s web. The actions and mannerisms of the Moore sisters make it clear that Shay is being deceived, but it was not until the conclusion that the details of what exactly was happening clicked together, and the premise for the entire setup fell into place. Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for an ARC!

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

Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker ~ Book Review

Cork Dork and wine and pastry

Penguin Books
Genre: Nonfiction
Release Date: March 1, 2017
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪

The first time I checked out Cork Dork from the library I didn’t end up reading it. Although the topic interested me — I’ve always wanted to know more about wine (or anything about it, for that matter) I wasn’t sure the topic could sustain my interest for an entire book. More than anything though, Cork Dork is about Bosker’s journey to become a Sommelier. She quits her job as a journalist to fully immerse herself in the process, beginning with acting as a ‘cellar rat’ at a restaurant: keeping track of the location and inventory for hundreds of bottles of wine, and retrieving them as requested by customers.

It’s hard to actually learn about different wines without tasting them yourself, but this book brings to light everything that goes into tasting and truly understanding wine. Most of the time, I had no idea what Bosker was talking about. The flavor profiles used to describe the different wines were essentially meaningless to me. It would have been interesting to have a few bottles on hand, and have a more interactive experience with this book.

What struck me most about the core of this book, was the massive lifestyle change Bosker undertook in the spirit of learning how Sommeliers live and learn. First and foremost: how was she financing all this? Did her husband support her when she quit her job to work in a cellar? I wished this piece had at least been touched upon, rather than me chalking it up to privilege. Additionally, Bosker admits to being drunk most of every day at the height of her wine tasting practice. I wanted a more rounded picture of how this affected her physically and mentally. Did she ever question what she was doing with her life and wish she could backtrack?

I guess I was hoping for more of a memoir, and this was strictly outlining the steps and processes Bosker undertook as she slowly became a wine expert. I did enjoy hearing about the zaniness of the people she encountered, and learning how she had to crawl her way up from the very bottom of the New York City restaurant ladder to begin to be taken seriously. That being said, some of the chapters seemed a bit repetitive, and I’d had my fill by the end of the book.

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

The Poison Garden by A.J. Banner ~ Book Review

The Poison Garden with almond cookies

Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Thriller
Release Date: October 22, 2019
My Rating: 🍪🍪.5

The Poison Garden is a succinct read. At less than 200 pages, it felt like it was concluding as soon as it got under way. Elise Watters is caught between her husband Keiran, whom she catches cheating on her on their first wedding anniversary, and her ex-husband, who seems increasingly intent on stalking her. 

Elise’s habit of sleepwalking, combined with the herb garden in the backyard, sets up a very unstable setting with many possibilities for disaster. It felt like too much to me. The sleepwalking cliché plus a literal poison garden, plus a cheating husband, plus a stalking ex (and a few things I won’t spoil)? It may have all worked in a longer book, but in The Poison Garden it just felt crowded. For me, the reading experience felt disjointed.

The character motivations in the storyline felt too glossed over to me. I did not get a clear sense of thought process. I finished the book because of its brevity, but I never really got into it.

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

The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle ~ Book Review

The Dinner List with Cookies

Flatiron Books
Release Date: September 11, 2018
Genre: Fiction 
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5

I have never cried from a book before like I did with The Dinner List. It might just be where I’m at with relationships in my own life, but nonetheless, when I closed this book I didn’t know what to do with myself — besides cry.

The aforementioned was definitely not the reaction I expected from a story about a girl who’s having dinner with five people she selected out of anyone, living or dead, to share a meal with. The premise of this book does not do it justice.

Sabrina’s birthday dinner consists of her best friend, her dad, an influential professor, and her ex-boyfriend, Tobias. As the dinner conversation slowly unfolds, we cut to excerpts of Sabrina and Tobias’s years-long relationship. The ups and downs of their love were alternately heartwarming and heart wrenching. Their constant struggle between prioritizing themselves or their relationship hurt to read. It was raw and relatable.

Although the concept of the dinner seemed very weird to me for much of the start of the book, it slowly became clear what its purpose was. It may have been a plot device, but it was well used, and it worked. The connection between Tobias and Sabrina’s relationship, and the meal was revealed bit by bit as the narrative went along. Pieces slotted into place as the relationship unraveled and my heart hurt. The dinner conversation allowed Sabrina to open up, and examine her relationships with different people in her life, and the introspection was wonderfully woven in. The dialogue Serle crafts is thoughtful, believable, and vibrant, and this absolutely cemented her as a go-to author. Read this book!

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

The Other Mrs. by Mary Kubica ~ Book Review

IMG_3115Park Row
Genre: Thriller
Release Date: February 18, 2020
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪

When Will Foust’s sister passes way, she leaves her home, and custody of her daughter Imogen, to him. He and his wife Sadie uproot their own two children, and move to her remote home on an island in Maine. Teenage Imogen is moody and sullen, dressing in black and frequently skipping school. Sadie is so uncomfortable with her that she’s actually afraid. As she notices things amiss about the house, she fears what Imogen might do to her family, and how she responded to her mother’s death.

The setup is well constructed for a murder. Not only are the Fousts in a creepy, unfamiliar home that has recently seen death, they are also on an island. If, let’s just say, there were to be a storm preventing ferries from running, no one would be able to get in or out. When one of the Foust’s neighbors turns up murdered, Sadie is distinctly aware that the murderer remains on the island with her and her family.

The story is split between several different perspectives. Sadie seems to be the leader, as she adjusts to her creepy new island house, but we also get excerpts from Camille, who appears to be obsessed with Will Foust, and Mouse, a timid child in an abusive home. I somewhat guessed the relationship between these narrators fairly early on, but that did not take away from my enjoyment of the story and my impatience to understand how everything else fit together.

This was a fairly long book, and I was initially concerned as to how the story would be able to support itself for so long, but I was not disappointed. Mary Kubica knows how to layer on suspense, and surprise a reader with shocking character insights that are unexpected, but, in retrospect, believable.

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

One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus ~ Book Review

One of Us is Lying and Peppermint cookies

Delacorte Press
Genre: YA Thriller
Release Date: May 30, 2017
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪

I don’t generally read YA, but I’d been seeing One of Us is Lying all over the place, and the intrigue of a different style of thriller plus high school drama propelled me over to the library to pick it up.

The characters in this story really made it stand out for me. Writing about high schoolers can tend to fall into very pigeon-holed, stereotyping, but Karen McManus creates characters who are distinct and believable. They have layers. Even if they are outwardly trying to fit into stereotypical roles (because, high school), there is more to them than what is apparent at first glance.

The actual storyline here is a lot darker than I expected. We start out with a group of kids in detention (which felt very The Breakfast Club-esque to me at first), but throw in some anaphylactic shock and the (spoiler alert!) sudden death of a student notorious for posting nasty, secret-exposing blog posts about his classmates, and you’ve suddenly got a very twisted and tangled plot.

The explorations of mental health in this narrative were important. The characters each had very different struggles: familial pressure, insecurity, manipulative romantic relationships, or academic stress. I think that this would really resonate with readers of the same age as the characters, but even as someone older, I could recognize, to some extent, what was plaguing each person.

The story was set up as a mystery, and makes the reader feel kind of like a part of the group of kids, working with them to figure out what is going on. Let me just say, it was much more twisted than anticipated. 

I definitely liked this book more than I expected to, but I was also aware that it was YA while I was reading, and it clearly catered towards a younger audience than books I normally choose.

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

We Met in December by Rosie Curtis ~ Book Review

We Met in December flatlay

William Morrow Paperbacks
Genre: Romance
Release Date: November 5, 2019
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪

When my roommate saw me reading We Met in December, she said, “Oh, I read that one. It was [pause] sweet.” After having read it myself, I have to say that I think her response was spot on. Reading this felt sort of like re-reading One Day in December, if viewed through a fun-house mirror that distorted it so it felt vaguely, but not entirely, familiar. 

I was perfectly content to follow the will-they-won’t-they saga of Jess and Alex, who meet when they both move into the same house in London. Jess is taking a leap of faith to start a new job and leave the comfort zone of the seaside town she grew up in. She bonds with Alex about their decisions to change career paths, and he becomes her London tour guide, showing her everything the city has to offer.

For some reason, I just didn’t pick up on enough chemistry between these two characters to really, really care if they got together. The friendship Curtis created between them was lovely, but I wasn’t gasping at how perfect they were for one another. 

The setting Curtis chose, and the way that she wove London into her story was well done and fit into the story nicely. Jess’s life was also thoroughly constructed, with a network of friends and family she relied on and interacted with.

I don’t really have much more to say about this book without circling around the same conclusion over and over. It was cute, it was sweet, I was happy to read it, but it wasn’t standout.

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

A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler ~ Book Review

A Good Neighborhood with Cake

St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: February 4, 2020
Genre: Literary Fiction
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪

This book is real to the extreme. Fowler creates an artful and interesting depiction of race relations and class distinctions in America. The characters in A Good Neighborhood truly come to life. This isn’t to say they are all likeable, but they are all believable. Valerie Alston-Holt lives in ‘a good neighborhood,’ with her biracial son Xavier. Her husband, who was white, is no longer alive, and she is fiercely protective of her son. Xavier is a strong student and has recently received a scholarship to go to college for classical guitar, his true passion.

When the Whitman family moves in next door, life is turned upside-down for the Alston-Holts. It starts with a girl: Juniper Whitman. Xavier is immediately taken by her, despite his fierce internal stubborn conviction that it is a bad idea to get involved with someone right before he leaves for college. The Whitmans are nothing like him and his mom. Brad, the patriarch, is somewhat of a local celebrity, and initially assumes, as he lounges pale-skinned by his pool, that Xavier is hired help around the neighborhood.

Xavier and Juniper’s tumultuous relationship highlights the prevalent racism that can still be found in America– and the devastating consequences. Fowler depicts, in a straightforward manner, the way that religion, history, class, and wealth all work together to tilt the justice system. It’s heartbreaking, and very real.

Juniper and Xavier’s tale is a simple one: two teenagers fall in love and want to plan a future together. In another circumstance, that could have been, should have been, the whole story. Around them, their homes and families roil with their own problems. Valerie watches as her beloved oak tree begins to die following the construction the Whitman’s implemented to build their home. As a fierce environmentalist, she wants justice. Brad struggles with a lack of interest in his wife, Julia, and a less than appropriate interest elsewhere. Julia tries to adjust to her class-jump following her marriage to Brad. As chaos rains down on them, emotions run high, and Juniper and Xavier’s relationship becomes the eye of an ever-growing hurricane.

This is a love story gone wrong, a love story that highlights the darkest side of America. It hurts to read, but it also brings awareness that is sorely needed. 

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪
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