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, Uncategorized

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett ~ Book Review

The Dutch House and Pastry

Harper
Genre: Literary Fiction
Release Date: September 24, 2019
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪

The Dutch House is a steady read. The pacing is by no means fast, but the detail of the characters’ lives was deep enough to keep me fully invested. There’s not a particular build or climax, but there doesn’t need to be. This is deeply a character study of Danny and his sister Maeve from childhood all the way through their lives. The pacing and general format of the plot reminded me somewhat of Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff.

I found it really interesting that this book was named after the house that Danny and Maeve lived in as children, until they were kicked out by their stepmother. Patchett illustrates the ways that the house continues to influence their lives, and brings them back to it in a beautiful full circle by the end of their stories. The home is very much a character in Danny and Maeve’s lives and, as such, their relationships with it ebb and flow over the years. 

Patchett is able to carry the reader seamlessly through every new step in her characters’ lives: college, medical school, marriages, children, deaths, divorces, without the narrative ever feeling bogged down or too slow. There were times when I didn’t even realize how much time had passed until someone’s age was mentioned, which could feel a little startling.

Since I’m used to primarily reading thrillers, it is rare that a slow burn like The Dutch House will keep my interest and enjoyment the way this book did. It is clear that Patchett took time and care in truly getting to know her characters and mapping out their lives. I will say that the ending felt a little rushed compared to the rest of the narrative, but it was still a solid way to let the reader emerge from the lives they’d just been immersed in.

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, Memoir, Nonfiction, Uncategorized

Comfort Me with Apples by Ruth Reichl ~ Book Review

Comfort Me with Apples and Cheese Board

Random House
Genre: Nonfiction (Food Writing)
Release Date: April 10, 2001
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪.5

I read Ruth Reichl’s most recent memoir, Save Me the Plums, prior to this one, and adored it. I think it may have set my expectations a little too high. Comfort me with Apples was a very personal memoir (I get that that is essentially what all memoirs amount to, but I think I was expecting it to be more directly career focused). Much of the story chronicles Reichl’s time cheating on her husband with different men she meets through work. Their love affairs are described in a rather unemotional manner, and it was hard for me to connect with the lack of empathy being depicted. 

It’s always interesting for me to see how people’s careers shift, change, and grow, and I find food writing especially fascinating. Comfort me with Apples details Reichl’s different jobs, of course, which kept me reading. The characters she introduces are just that, characters. It was wonderful to read about such caricature-esque people who she encounters in her industry. 

The book is punctuated with recipes. I really enjoyed the way these were incorporated to directly relate to phases of Reichl’s life. Typically, she added in recipes that she was making frequently during the period being written about. Cooking acted as an emotional response to events in her life throughout the book, so including the recipes tied together career, and life in an interesting and accessible manner. Although I haven’t tried any of the recipes myself, I like knowing that they’re there for me to reference, should I feel the need to comfort myself with apples in the near future.

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

Anna K: A Love Story by Jenny Lee ~ Book Review

Anna K with Bun

Flatiron Books
Genre: YA Romance
Release Date: March 3, 2020
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪.5

Full disclosure: I have not read Anna Karenina, which Anna K. is based on. Although I can’t speak to how this adaptation compares to the original, I will say that there was definitely language throughout the story that felt reminiscent of a past century. Because I knew that this was a remake of an older novel, this really worked for me — I appreciated the sense of self awareness throughout the narrative. Some of the characters even uttered phrases (usually ironically or as jokes) that were fitting to the time period when Anna Karenina was written.

The back cover of the ARC I read says “In development as a TV series at HBO Max.” I’m not sure if that influenced my thinking, but the chapters of Anna K felt very much like episodes to me. Reading it felt like binge-watching a Gossip Girl-esque YA show about uber-rich teenagers living in Manhattan. Anna K has a broad range of characters who Lee weaves a tangled web around. Each character was unique enough that it was easy to keep track of them. They each came with a heavy load of baggage, both emotional and substance-based.

As can be expected from a book about ridiculously rich high schoolers, drugs, partying, and sex featured liberally throughout the plot. The main unifying theme was the pain caused by love. The narrative begins with Anna’s brother, Steven, asking for her help after his girlfriend finds out he’s been cheating on her. From that moment forward, the complications and heartbreak that result from being in love stayed a steady trope as the plot barreled forward.

About halfway through the book, things started to feel a little slow to me. It’s a long story, and I wasn’t sure that the really privileged characters who filled the pages could sustain something so big. A lot of the language became very “telling” (as opposed to showing), and entire scenes and conversations were just described instead of actually unfolding. It may have been a tactic to shorten the narrative, but it really annoyed me after a while. Because the story was not broken up into different perspectives, it was also a little jarring when the writing would bop around from one character’s emotions to another. I don’t think I would have had so much of an issue with these mechanical oddities if the book had been shortened a bit (although I’m aware that it is far shorter than Anna Karenina). 

Despite the length, reading Anna K felt like sinking into a guilty pleasure show, and I will for sure be jumping on board when it becomes just that.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪.5
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