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

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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Book Review, Fiction, thriller

Verity by Colleen Hoover ~ Book Review

Verity with cookies

Independently Published
Release Date: December 10, 2018
Genre: Thriller
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5

This book was the epitome of a thriller. It was a wild ride from start to finish, and I could not flip the pages fast enough. I will preface my review with this: I am not a big romance reader. Picking up a Colleen Hoover novel was distinctly out of character for me. That being said. This is not a romance. Sure, romance exists within the story, and there is (lots of very detailed) sex, but it doesn’t define the story enough to push it into the romance genre. I will repeat, however: there is a lot of sex. If you’re reading this on crowded public transportation, you’ve been warned. I was not warned. I kept the pages very close to my face on the train.

Lowen Ashleigh (what an epic character name — I would love to hear how Hoover comes up with names) is a writer. Well, a struggling writer. Her books have done fine, and she seems content with that reality. She does not aspire to be famous, or have a big fan base, and, in fact, gets utterly terrified when meeting readers. When her manager tells her he has set up a meeting with her and a client, Lowen doesn’t know what to expect. Her mother recently passed away, and she finds herself in solitude, and quickly running out of money. 

On the way to the meeting, Lowen runs into dreamy and caring Jeremy Crawford who, spoiler alert, just happens to be going to the same meeting. I smell romance. Crawford’s wife, Verity, an acclaimed author of thrillers (some writer inception going on here) was recently injured beyond the ability to complete her series. The request of Lowen is simple: complete the final books in Verity’s series. Although incredibly uncertain about the entire situation, the hefty payment Lowen is offered, along with the recurring eviction notices on her apartment door, push her to accept. 

The majority of this story takes place in the Crawford home, as Lowen struggles to get inside Verity’s head to understand her writing process, and hopefully discover where she intended to take her series. The Crawford’s house, although not described as inherently creepy, was a terrifying setting. Lowen sleeps alone on the first floor in Verity and Jeremy’s bedroom, while Jeremy stays upstairs with his son Crew, and Verity lays, practically comatose, in her own room. Behind the house sprawls a lake, from which Jeremy pulled one of his drowned daughters months earlier — following the death of her twin sister. If nothing else, the house seems cursed. Add to that Lowen’s history of sleepwalking, and her subsequent terror of herself. She requests that she be locked in her room each night to ensure she stays where she is supposed to. Yikes.

The attraction between Jeremy and Lowen is electric, and especially devilish with his wife barely conscious upstairs. It was hard to parse out how to feel about their relationship. Once Lowen discovers an unpublished autobiography hidden in Verity’s office, it appears that she may not be at all the wife and mother Jeremy believes her to be. Does that justify infidelity?

Lowen’s increasing paranoia constantly kept me guessing. I was a little incredulous about some of the discoveries in the final chapters, but the ultimate twist left me shocked. You know when you get to a crazy twist in a book only to discover that there’s another even bigger twist that negates the first one? Yeah, that happened. 

By the end of the story, I completely lost track of whether or not Lowen actually finished (or even started trying to finish) Verity’s series. Although that was the entire premise of the setup, it seemed to lose all relevance as the plot picked up. There is a distinct possibility that this was addressed, and I was just distracted by all the sex and secrecy.

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

The Man She Married by Alison James ~ Book Review

IMG_2758.JPG

Bookouture
Release Date: January 13, 2020
Genre: Thriller
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪

Alison James is a master at crafting compelling cliffhangers. The Man She Married is split into three sections, and the ending of each of the first two left me shocked. The first segment is narrated by sweet, trusting Alice as she is swept up into a whirlwind romance. It’s obvious that the relationship is unhealthy, to say the least, but Alice doesn’t have much of a support system in her life, and she embraces Dominic’s readiness to become her husband. Although she has a successful career running her own catering company, Alice is blinded by her apparent good fortune at finding a man as wonderful as her new husband.

Part two of the book is told by Dominic. His perspective of his courtship with Alice, and the backstory that led him to her, are both vastly different from the ‘Alice’ chapters. The layers of deception and deviance that sum up his life are shocking.

I enjoyed the way that James used Dominic’s section to go back and fill in the questions Alice posed through her thoughts and dialogue. It was done very neatly and cleverly, and tied the two perspectives together completely.

The third part of the story was slower than the other two, and dragged on a little longer than seemed strictly necessary. It became more of a detective plot at that point, as Alice tries to uncover the truth about Dominic, much of which the reader already knows. The setup felt like it may have been aiming to ensure that Alice had some semblance of a happy ending despite her (extremely) unfortunate circumstances, which I didn’t have a problem with. This was a very unique, twisted, and enthralling thriller that I highly recommend. Thank you to Bookouture and NetGalley for providing me with a free galley in exchange for my honest review.

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

Behind Every Lie by Christina McDonald ~ Book Review

 

Behind Every Lie with Jingle Jangle

Gallery Books
Release Date: February 4, 2020
Genre: Thriller
My Rating: 🍪🍪.5

What really knocked this book down for me was the dialogue. It was unrealistic to the point that I questioned whether the author was doing it on purpose. It felt incredibly stiff, and I was acutely aware that I was reading dialogue, not actually listening to a conversation. It was obvious to me from very early on who the true antagonist was, and I got bored waiting for the plot to catch up to me.

The storyline follows Eva, upon awakening in the hospital after having been struck by lightning. She comes to find out that her mother, Kat, has been murdered, and it soon becomes apparent that she is the prime suspect. Unable to recall anything from the night she was injured, Eva is easily able to convince herself that she is capable of murder, and must have been the one to kill her mom. I love a good unreliable narrator, but the plot was pushing Eva’s memory loss too hard for me to believe that she was as unreliable as she seemed convinced she was, if that makes sense? 

Eva goes on a hunt to discover the truth about her mom’s past. This portion of the narrative kept me intrigued. The segments from Kat’s youth, with baby Eva, and the heartbreaking abusive relationship she was involved with were difficult to read, but added a much appreciated level of depth to the book. It was an interesting secondary storyline to have in a thriller, and set the book apart from other similar stories.

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

Star-Crossed by Minnie Darke ~ Book Review

Star-Crossed with mug and blondies

Crown
Release Date: May 21, 2019
Genre: Romance
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪.5

I love books about writers, or people who work in publishing. It might be because I feel like we have a common interest, I’m not quite sure, but I was immediately drawn in by the prospect of Justine’s role trying to work her way up to be a journalist at a magazine. She spends most of her days running errands for the rest of the staff and endlessly crossing her fingers that one of their journalists retires. 

Above all, this is a love story. Justine runs into her old friend Nick, and is immediately plagued by memories of the last time they saw each other, when they spent an evening making out on the beach as angsty teenagers. And, as angsty teenagers do, they never spoke about it. Seeing Nick again reminds Justine of why she was so attracted to him.

Nick is a struggling actor, and he lives his life in accordance with his star-sign, religiously checking and trying to interpret his horoscope in newspapers and magazines. When Justine realizes how serious Nick is about the stars’ influence on his life, she wonders if she might be able to use the quirky tidbit to her advantage. 

As to be expected from a light romance, chaos ensues, and nothing goes as Justine plans. This story wasn’t deep, by any means, and you have to put aside any disbelief that someone would actually base large life choices off of horoscopes, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. Justine’s progression within the magazine was not entirely believable, but the characters were distinct and interesting. Justine’s propensity to run around the city with a pen correcting grammatical errors made her seem real to me.

Overall, I wouldn’t jump to recommend this book, but it was a nice, easy read that left me feeling satisfied.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪.5
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