Book Review, Fiction, thriller, Uncategorized

The Safe Place by Anna Downes ~ Book Review

The Safe Place with Lemon Bars
Minotaur Books
Genre: Thriller
Release Date: July 14, 2020 (Thanks to BookishFirst for my ARC)
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5

I love an atmospheric thriller. When the setting takes on a life of its own, I am all about it (which I think I’ve reiterated in many reviews). The Safe Place absolutely has this characteristic. Emily, our down on her luck, broke, jobless protagonist jets off to a sprawling estate in France to be a housekeeper for a virtual stranger. Emily falls into a very overused thriller character mold, but I was mostly able to look past that as the story ramped up. Her ditziness and inability to take control of her life made me believe that her character would accept a job abroad when the handsome, charming CEO of the company she used to work for, Scott, offers it up suddenly. His special treatment makes her weak at the knees, and I could perfectly see how Scott’s charisma would have someone like Emily dangerously spellbound.

One aspect of the writing that really stood out to me is Downes’s ability to write incredibly unique characters. In sharp contrast to Emily’s airheadedness, was Scott with his shocking yet subtle self-injury practices. The constant state of pain he forces himself into allows the reader to see that he is deeply unsettled, and made me want to know why. Once Emily arrives at Querencia, the French estate, she meets Scott’s wife Nina and daughter Aurelia. Nina seems glamorous at first, but her compulsions about her daughters safety and mysterious illnesses indicate that all is not what it seems.

Emily is cut off from the outside world little by little, and believes she is forging a close connection with both Nina and Aurelia. The more she observes about their lives and their mysterious family house, which she is not supposed to enter, the more Emily begins to question what is really going on in their little slice of paradise. The contrast between the description of the beautiful setting and Nina and the house’s sinister qualities and occasional eerie scent of rot and decay, had shivers running up and down my spine.

The twists in this book strayed away from those common to other thrillers. I couldn’t guess all how the clues and secrets fit together and I was pleasantly shocked as the story unfolded. 
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5
Buy The Safe Place at an indie bookstore near you
The Safe Place on Goodreads

Book Review, Fiction, Uncategorized

The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger ~ Book Review

The Devil Wears Prada with brownies

Broadway
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Release Date: April 15, 2003
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪

I absolutely adore the movie adaptation of The Devil Wears Prada and yes, I did watch it before I read the book (many, many times in fact). I’m not sure why I never thought to pick up the book until now — I might have been a teensy bit scared of being disappointed.

I think the key for me to enjoy this story was to think of it as a standalone, and not consider its relation to the movie. Did I picture Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway while I read? Maybe a little bit. But I digress. The Devil Wears Prada follows Andrea Sachs as she embarks on her first job out of college, in New York City. She lands the role of assistant to Miranda Priestly, the editor of Runway, a glamorous fashion magazine. Andrea has dreams of someday being a writer for The New Yorker, but she figures a year at Runway will be a foot in the door of the publishing industry.

The majority of the book focuses on the insane errands and impossible tasks that Miranda tosses Andrea’s way, but Andrea’s personal life is fleshed out as well, much more so than the movie. She struggles with her relationships with her family and with her boyfriend, with trying to find an affordable apartment in Manhattan, and with a friend who is dealing with a drinking problem. This rounding-out of her character kept the scenes at the office from getting repetitive. 

There are some key plot differences between the movie and the book, especially near the end, and Andrea’s character is depicted very differently. As much as I did enjoy reading this, I think I actually prefer the movie, but that might just be because I’ve seen it so many times, and am used to the story going a certain way. Nonetheless, Miranda’s antics, and Andrea’s growth throughout her time working at Runway still make for an entertaining and interesting read for sure.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪
Buy The Devil Wears Prada at an indie bookstore near you
The Devil Wears Prada on Goodreads

Book Review, Fiction, Uncategorized

Destination Wedding by Diksha Basu ~ Book Review

image0

Ballantine Books 
Genre: Fiction
Release Date: June 30, 2020 (Happy Pub Day! Thanks to NetGalley and the Publisher for an ARC!)
My Rating: 🍪🍪.5

Destination Wedding is a meandering work of contemporary fiction that takes place over the course of a weeklong wedding celebration in Delhi, India. Above all, this felt to me like an exploration of Delhi, the characters who act as narrators, and the varied relationships they have with India. The descriptive imagery throughout the entire narrative was extremely detailed and characterized the writing and the entirety of the novel for me.

There are a lot of players who make up this storyline. Tina Das and Marianne lead the narrative, at least at the beginning. Tina’s cousin is getting married, and she brings along her best friend Marianne with her, both traveling from Manhattan. Tina’s divorced parents come along as well as her mom’s boyfriend. I did not like Tina and Marianne. Both seemed very entitled to me, and Marianne’s fixation with dating men of different races and cultures felt problematic. I think she was constructed that way on purpose, but I wished Tina had addressed it. While in Delhi, Tina’s dad is set up with a woman who has been widowed. Their storyline was my favorite. The budding romance is not traditionally the type that’s written about, given their age, and it was heartwarming to see their renewed faith in love. I also really appreciated Mr. Das’s relationship with his ex-wife and their ability to support each other despite their divorce.

I’m a very plot-oriented reader, and as such, I struggled with this book. The descriptive language is fantastic, I felt like I could see, smell and hear Delhi through Basu’s wonderful prose, but it was a bit rambly. The asides from various, seemingly inconsequential characters, also threw me for a loop. It felt disjointed to me to suddenly have a bit of insight from someone who was not a main character, but in hindsight, it added to the overall atmospheric element of the novel. As an exploration of Delhi, and different inhabitant’s thoughts about the city, this worked well and gave a more rounded view of the city. If you are looking for a fast paced, plot driven narrative, this one may not be your cup of tea.

My Rating: 🍪🍪.5
Buy Destination Wedding at an indie bookstore near you
Destination Wedding on Goodreads

Book Review, Fiction, Uncategorized

28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand ~ Book Review

IMG_4870

Little, Brown and Company
Genre: Romance
Release Date: June 16, 2020
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪

The prologue of this book shook me. It was undoubtedly updated just prior to publication with up-to-date news. I love, love, loved the structure of the chapter openings in this story. Each one explored a different year and asked, then answered the question “what are we talking about in [insert year].” It started with 2020, and hearing COVID-19, social distancing, and the US presidential election shocked me. The focus on the election was also a very interesting way to open the book. Everything in each chapter header was completely nonfiction, and made me smile as I recalled the books or song lyrics Hilderbrand brought up. Politics, however, were completely fictionalized in the narrative. Maybe this is because the current president is so controversial, or because one of the main characters was a politician herself, but in retrospect, it was an interesting choice for Hilderbrand to open up with this particular current event.

This unique writing style really drew me in. I felt like I was being let in on a secret story. Part of the experience may have had to do with the fact that I listened to the audiobook (thank you to Libro.fm for my copy!), but nonetheless, the tone was conversational and made it seem like you were being confided in.

This novel explores the romance of Mallory Blessing and Jake McCloud over the course of 28 summers spent on Nantucket. Each year, over Labor Day weekend, Jake returns to Mallory’s home there, and they spend three days together before parting ways for the entirety of the year. My first thought once I grasped this structure was “28?! That’s a lot” and it is. I liked the setting, and seeing how the two main character’s lives unfolded very separately, but Labor Day weekend drew them back to a sense of timelessness every year, but it got old for me by the end. There was a tremendous amount to cover and Hildebrand did an incredible job of fitting two full, detailed lives into the story, but I was ready to be done by the end. I was also distinctly uncomfortable with the fact that the two were not technically in a relationship, and therefore ended up being disloyal to anyone else in their lives over the course of those decades.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪
28 Summers on Goodreads
Buy the audiobook on Libro.fm
Buy 28 Summers at an indie bookstore near you

Book Review, Fiction, Romance, Uncategorized

Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan ~ Book Review

IMG_5143

Doubleday (Thanks to the publisher for an ARC!)
Genre: Fiction
Release Date: June 30, 2020
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪.5

I was a big fan of the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy (and movie!). When I first caught wind of Kevin Kwan’s new book, Sex and Vanity, I couldn’t wait to jump back into a world of over the top luxury, caricature-esque characters, and ways of life beyond my wildest imaginings. This is exactly what I got. Sex and Vanity is marketed as an homage to A Room with a View, and although I haven’t read E.M. Forster’s novel, after a brief skimming of the Wikipedia page, it looks like the general plot is closely followed, and many of the names of the main characters from the original book are used. Other than that, I can only speak to Sex and Vanity as a standalone story.

I will say that in retrospect, there are very few likable characters in this book. I loved the main characters of the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy, and the way they stood in stark contrast to the utter vanity of those around them. This book follows Lucie, starting when she is in high school and has a romantic trist with a boy named George while they’re at a wedding in Italy, and then skipping ahead to when she becomes engaged to Cecil. Cecil was way too much for me. He was inexcusably rude, vapid, and entitled, and the fact that Lucie could be engaged to him and keep brushing off the terrible way he treated her family made me very frustrated. Besides having little personality of her own, she came off as quite the meek pushover. Additionally, her cousin Charlotte’s character construction was extremely bizarre. She seemed incredibly old-fashioned and conservative for the modern setting. I wonder if this was a sort of carry-over from trying to adapt a novel from 1908. It didn’t quite work.

Besides the issues with the characters, I actually enjoyed this novel a lot. It was a wonderfully opulent escape from reality, with exquisite descriptions of decadence from Capri to the Hamptons. The plot was pretty predictable, but I liked the little dips and turns that were taken along the way. Lucie’s experience being biracial and feeling torn between the two sides of her family was also a thought-provoking and informative layer to her character and the story as a whole. Kevin Kwan’s descriptive language is masterful. I could practically see, taste, and smell everything he depicted, and the footnotes he includes in his writing allow the reader to have the same background knowledge as the kooky characters, without him including a bunch of exposition directly in the narrative.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪.5
Sex and Vanity on Goodreads 
Buy Sex and Vanity at an indie bookstore near you

Book Review, Fiction, Romance, Uncategorized

The Lies That Bind by Emily Griffin ~ Book Review

IMG_5234

Ballantine Books
Genre: Fiction
Release Date: June 2, 2020
My Rating: 🍪

Argh. It’s been several days since I finished The Lies that Bind and I am not quite sure where to start. I whipped through this book in record time for me. It starts off as a sexy, intoxicating romance set in Manhattan. Cecily, crushed by her recent breakup, takes herself to a bar to drink her sorrows away when she runs into Grant. It feels like fate. It is everything her past relationship was not. I couldn’t look away. The start of their relationship is deliciously written, it is raw and believable and wonderful. And then….

The use of 9/11 in this book felt distasteful to me. Of course I understand that it is a hugely significant event and it can be insightful and powerful to set stories during that time, but after having finished the book and understanding how the narrative unfolds, it felt gimmicky. I think there are more creative ways the same conclusion could have been reached. 

Following 9/11, the story changes dramatically as Cecily uncovers more and more about Grant. Things went wild from there. It’s hard to explain my frustration without giving away spoilers, but the whiplash of Grant-related problems was unbelievable. The sudden reappearance of Cecily’s ex-boyfriend made me want to shake her — this girl seemed to have no sense of self-worth, which may have been an intentional character trait, but I wanted to scream at her a lot.

As much as I loved the first 100 pages or so of this book, the rest was not for me.

My Rating: 🍪
Buy The Lies that Bind at an indie bookstore near you
The Lies that Bind on Goodreads

Book Review, Fiction, Romance, Uncategorized

The Sight of You by Holly Miller ~ Book Review

The Sight of You and Cake

G.P. Putnam’s Sons (thank you to the publisher for a review copy!)
Genre: Romance
Release Date: June 9, 2020
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪

The Sight of You sets up an emotional and beautiful love story with an unexpected premise unlike anything I’ve read before. One of the two main characters, Joel, has a peculiar ailment: he dreams about the futures of the people he loves. Although these are often wonderful and positive dreams, the ones that are sinister haunt him at all times of day. Plagued by the knowledge of what will happen to the people he is closest to, Joel tries to sleep as little as possible, and distances himself from close relationships. The emotional weight of this book reminded me of Me Before You. When Callie meets Joel, she is instantly attracted to him. I really appreciated seeing her side of the narrative as she struggles to understand Joel’s actions and reactions.

The narrative is split between the two of them in a heartbreaking depiction of two people who want, above all else, to be together, but who struggle to justify the pain and weight that their relationship carries. The way that their relationship affects each of them is really wonderfully portrayed. The novel shows how being together helps each of them become better versions of themselves: pursuing passions, travels, and experiences spurred by conversations they shared. The positive impacts they have on each other makes the arc of the story especially heart-wrenching.

The chapters are also interspersed with letters from Callie in the future, giving the reader some insight as to how her life has unfolded. These made me whip through the book, trying to understand the actions that led to her writing each letter. This book definitely sits heavy on the heart, but the beauty of Miller’s writing and uniquely descriptive prose makes it a truly enjoyable read.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪
Buy The Sight of You at an indie bookstore near you
The Sight of You on Goodreads

Book Review, Fiction, Romance, Uncategorized

The Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon ~ Book Review

IMG_5379
Forever
Genre: Romance
Release Date: June 9, 2020
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5

Thank you to Libro.fm for an audiobook of The Boyfriend Project. I absolutely loved the premise of this book. It begins with three women who discover, thanks to Twitter, that they’ve all been catfished by the same man. As they bond over their shared strife, they commiserate about how much time they’ve spent swiping through dating apps and going on wasted dates. Together, they decide to devote the next six months to their own passion projects and hobbies in an endeavor they title: The Boyfriend Project. Obviously, this is a romance, so this plan isn’t strictly upheld, but I loved the feeling of empowerment behind their decision and the way that it sets the stage for the three women’s friendship. I also really appreciate their frank conversations about the difficulties of finding strong friendships as an adult.

Samiah Brooks is our main character and largely leads the story. She works in the tech industry, and discusses the racism and sexism she’s experienced as a Black woman throughout her career. The weight of her struggle and her need to strive for nothing less than perfection is such an important addition to this story. The layers of this novel really impressed me. When Samiah meets a new hire at work, Daniel, their attraction is immediate. I was expecting her main qualm with pursuing a relationship with him to be The Boyfriend Project, but his storyline was much more complex than that (think a little bit of a double life). This was such a unique, intricate, and ~steamy~ romance and Je Nie Fleming’s narration truly brought Farrah Rochon’s work to life. I can’t wait for the next book in this series!

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5
Buy The Boyfriend Project at an indie bookstore near you
Buy the audiobook on Libro.fm
The Boyfriend Project on Goodreads

Book Review, Nonfiction, Uncategorized

How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi ~ Book Review

IMG_5463

One World
Genre: Nonfiction
Release Date: August 13, 2019

I really appreciated the way that Ibram X. Kendi framed How to be an Antiracist. The book begins with a chapter titled ‘My Racist Introduction,’ and takes the reader through Kendi’s own journey toward antiracism. The framing of the narrative is hopeful. By mapping his experiences realizing past biases and his subsequent growth, it allowed me to reflect on times when I may have acted similarly, and provided me with a wealth of new understanding. Each chapter begins with definitions, which are integral to becoming an antiracist. Before you can strive to be something, you need to fully educate yourself on what that means. 

The overall structure of this book was really informative and well done. The chapters are short and each focus on a different type of racism: cultural, behavioural, biological etc. The chapters identify a time in Kendi’s life when he was forced to face and grapple with this kind of racism, and then provides detailed research about what that type of racism looks like, its history, and how one can be antiracist through that specific lens. He defines a behavioral racist, for instance, as “one who is making individuals responsible for the perceived behavior of racial groups and making racial groups responsible for the behavior of individuals,” before delving into a related personal anecdote.

The amount of research and self reflection that went into this book is incredible. Kendi’s candor, and thoughtful approach to his own experience becoming an antiracist is remarkable. The succinct nature of the chapters allowed me to really sit with each one for a while before moving on to the next — I never felt too overwhelmed with information when reading just one at a time.

Kendi ends powerfully by comparing racism to the cancer that both he and his wife battled and won. He reminds us that “Neither failure nor success is written,” and reminded me that I still have a long way to go in my journey to educate myself. 

Buy How to be an Antiracist at an indie bookstore near you
How to be an Antiracist on Goodreads

Book Review, Memoir, Nonfiction, Uncategorized

The Groom Will Keep His Name by Matt Ortile ~ Book Review

Groom will keep his name and candy bars

Bold Type Books
Genre: Memoir
Release Date: June 2, 2020
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5

Thank you, thank you, thank you to Libro.fm for this incredible audiobook! Matt Ortile’s narration of his essay collection: The Groom Will Keep His Name: And Other Vows I’ve Made About Race, Resistance, and Romance is, in turns, incredibly powerful, informative, hilarious, and heart-wrenching. Rinse and repeat. This book covers so many important topics that I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around everything Matt touches on.

Matt moved to the United States from the Philippines at a young age and quickly came to hate his last name, which his new peers either did not know how to pronounce, or purposefully chose to mispronounce. From there, Matt goes on to explore the racism so prevalent in America through his own learning experiences. He identifies the times in his life he was complacent, and allied himself with the dominant culture instead of other immigrants, and indicates how easy it is to fall into this kind of behavior in this country. Matt is not scared of baring himself fully to the reader. He boldly chronicles his dating and sex-life living in New York City as a queer individual. His ability to reflect earnestly on past relationships and identify lessons that they taught him, good or bad, is extremely commendable and introspective.

From life as a self-proclaimed ‘Vassar Girl,’ to the hustle of being a millennial in Manhattan, to his annual trips to the Philippines, to an examination of the construct of marriage (especially from the queer perspective), Matt’s writing is consistently insightful and educational in a manner that feels effortless. He inspires action, he inspires sorrow, he inspired me to look deeply at my own life and privileges, and he is incredibly entertaining. Overall, this book is an incredible exploration of personal growth. The arc of the essays comes full circle as Matt reclaims the pride he feels in his last name and the connection it gives him to the Philippines and his family. I could not stop listening to this audiobook, and now that I’m done, I’m tempted to start it all over and try to absorb more. 

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5
Buy the audiobook on Libro.fm
Buy The Groom Will Keep His Name at an indie bookstore near you
The Groom Will Keep His Name on Goodreads