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

This is How it Always is by Laurie Frankel ~ Book Review

This is How it Always is with blondies

Flatiron Books
Release Date: January 24, 2017
Genre: Fiction
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪

Frankel’s illustrative writing style drew me into this story from the get-go. I keep a note on my phone where I write down interesting descriptions while I’m reading, and I’ve never had so many come from the same book before. Her prose is unique, imaginative, and often humorous. Her ability to write childish conversation is impeccable and sometimes amusing, sometimes heartbreaking. 

This is How it Always Is explores the story of Rosie and Penn and their children: four boys, and then Claude. From a young age, Claude has a preference towards things that are stereotypically associated with females. He loves wearing dresses and putting barrettes in his hair, and would rather hear bedtime stories about princesses than princes. Rosie and Penn try to be as accepting of his choices as possible, but there is an ever-present fear in the back of their minds: a fear of what everyone else will think, and how he will be treated, or mistreated accordingly. After Penn and Rosie uproot the family to Seattle, Claude chooses to go by Poppy and proceeds to go to school identifying as a girl. 

One of the great struggles that Penn and Rosie grapple with is whether lying by omission really constitutes lying about who Poppy is. They think that by allowing her a fresh start in a new place where everyone assumes she is a girl, things will be easier and less confusing for her in the long run. It also means, however, that they spend their lives waiting for the other shoe to drop. The conversations between the two as they try to grapple with a layer of parenting they have never dealt with before was eloquently depicted and gave insight into the different possible approaches to their situation.

A steady thread throughout the plot is bedtime stories. Penn, an aspiring writer, makes up tales for his five kids before bed every night. He tells the story of Grumwald and, at Poppy’s insistence, Princess Stephanie. The story emulates the children’s own lives, with Princess Stephanie scared to admit to her friends that she is secretly a night fairy. I loved the image of all five kids curled up to listen to these thinly veiled life lessons that Penn tried to parse through along with them. 

I also enjoyed getting to see Rosie and Penn’s love story, and how their career choices make them question how their family has turned out. Rosie is a doctor, while Penn stays home with the kids, and writes on the side. They wonder if the way their gender roles don’t conform to norms is confusing for Poppy. I thought this was an interesting and heart wrenching addition to the book, as was the children’s naivity as they learn about gender discrimination in the workforce.

This book covered a lot of ground. Overall, it was an exceptional exploration of parenting, not only of a transgender child, but of any child, especially those who might be considered different in any way. 

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪
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(My FAVORITE blondie recipe)

Book Review, Memoir, Nonfiction, Uncategorized

Educated by Tara Westover ~ Book Review

Educated Book

Random House
Release Date: February 20, 2018
Genre: Memoir
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5

I am going to start off this review by addressing the half a star (err cookie) that I knocked off my rating. The only reason this memoir wasn’t a full five out of five for me is because of my own personal discomfort when reading about the violence and abuse Tara was subjected to. Her experiences are, of course, the essence of the book. The stories are told in a matter of fact and straightforward manner, but the descriptions of injuries and accidents were hard for me to swallow. That’s my problem, and not a problem with the writing or the book as a whole. That being said, this was an incredible book. I doubt there is much I can get down in a review that hasn’t been said already, but I’ll do my best.

Educated is a memoir about a girl growing up in rural Idaho. She is raised Mormon, with a father who is convinced the government is inherently evil, and the End Days are imminent. He works hard to try to prepare his family for the impending end of life as they know it, making sure they have access to weapons and water. For an income, he scraps metal, and employs his children as his team in this dangerous endeavor. The kids do not go to school. The education system is understood to be a means of government control. Most of the children don’t even have birth certificates, and, at least for a while, there is no record of their existence.

That thought in and of itself terrified me. If there’s no record that you are a person, no one external from your life is able to look out for you. Tara doesn’t even know her own birthdate, nor do her parents. One by one, Tara and her siblings become curious about education. Tara and several of her brothers take it upon themselves to study for the ACTs and enroll themselves in college. Despite not having any formal education until she steps into a college classroom for the first time, Tara becomes committed to her education. To me, the narrative read as if she were so starved for knowledge that she couldn’t get enough of it. She wanted to make up for the years when she had so little, and learn it all.

Cookie Bars with Educated Book

This is a story of incredible triumph as Tara studies abroad in England, and goes on to receive her PhD. There is an endless push and pull between her education and her family. The unbelievable abuse and closed-mindedness of her family, and her mother’s inability to stand up for herself were relentless. I kept hoping for Tara to see it, to see that she could walk away.

The writing in this memoir is elegant and straightforward. It is not meant to elicit pity, it simply outlines Tara’s life thus far. Almost as amazing as this book, were these Congo Bars. I made this particular batch with mini milk chocolate peanut butter cups from Trader Joe’s, instead of the baking melts called for in the recipe, and it is definitely a swap I will be making again in the future.

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

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides ~ Book Review

The Silent Patient

Celadon Books
Release Date: February 5, 2019
Genre: Thriller
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5

The Silent Patient was, simply put, fascinating. It opens with our narrator, Theo Faber, taking on a role as a psychotherapist at a facility called The Grove, that houses dangerous criminals. He is particularly interested in one woman there specifically, Alicia Berenson, and seems to be pursuing this job purely to work with her. Alicia was accused of shooting and killing her husband, and since the crime, six years prior, has refused to speak. From the reader’s point of view, it seems that Theo is oddly obsessed with the idea of ‘fixing’ her, and getting her to speak, despite the fact that no one else at the facility has been able to do so. 

Before the murder of her husband, Alicia was a renowned artist. As part of her therapy, Theo convinces the rest of the staff at The Grove to let her paint (I found it a little unconvincing that this wouldn’t have been done earlier). Alicia immediately takes to painting, and Theo feels confident that he will soon have her speaking as well. In his spare time, Theo essentially stalks a number of Alicia’s friends and family members, interrogating them about Alicia’s mood and actions around the time of the murder. He slowly learns that she was increasingly concerned at the time that there was a man following her, and standing outside her house at night.

There are also excerpts from Theo’s personal life and his increasingly tumultuous relationship with his wife, who he discovers is cheating on him. As we witness their interactions, and his life at home, as well as his obsession with Alicia’s past, it becomes clear that there is something ominous about Theo. He starts to follow his wife every time she leaves the house, hoping to catch her with the man she has been sleeping with. The more disturbed he seemed to become, the more I wondered what his true intentions were in trying to treat Alicia.

I absolutely did not guess the ending of this thriller, but I did start to piece together how a few things were related, which made me ever more excited to learn all the intricacies and details at the end. Although portrayed as a dangerous criminal throughout the entire book, I felt a semblance of pity for Alicia by its conclusion, as I was able to see how misunderstood and out of control of her own actions she had been for so long.

Tagalong Bars with The Silent Patient

The varying storylines within this narrative wove together seamlessly, and allowed for connections to be identified slowly and creatively. I read a lot of domestic thrillers, but this one was able to transcend the usual themes I find running through this sub-genre, and present a wholly original story. 

Along with this book, I devoured these tagalong bars, which were able to almost exactly replicate the taste of the Girl Scout Cookies for which they’re named. One tip in storing these: keep them at room temperature rather than refrigerated, so the shortbread base stays soft and chewy.

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My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5

Book Review, Fiction, thriller, Uncategorized

The Three Beths by Jeff Abbott ~ Book Review

The Three Beth's and PMS BarsThe Three Beths by Jeff Abbott
Grand Central Publishing
Release Date: October 23, 2018
Genre: Thriller 
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪

Most of the thrillers I read are clear cut domestic thrillers, so although being in line genre-wise with what I read most regularly, The Three Beths had a different feel to it. This book is definitely set up as more of a murder mystery (or, ‘disappearance mystery,’ since there are no bodies to speak of), and the central plot-line revolves around Mariah, as she seeks to figure out what happened to her mother, who vanished without a trace. This is the first Beth we are introduced to: Beth Dunning. Mariah’s father, Craig, has long been suspected of being behind the disappearance, and has largely isolated himself from the outside world as he continues to get threatening phone calls and messages from neighbors who want him out of the area. He disapproves of his daughter’s continued obsession with trying to crack the case, and believes it is preventing her from being able to move on with her life.

One day, Mariah is perusing the website of Chad, who she went to school with. Chad has created a real crime podcast and prefers to go by his pseudonym: Reveal. Reveal’s website has a one-off comment about the disappearance of Mariah’s mom, and another Beth in the area, about six months apart. This is enough for Mariah to feel as if she has some sort of lead, and she meets up with Reveal to discuss the possibility of a connection. From there, we are thrown into the whirlwind of Mariah’s investigation. She meets with Beth’s mom, Sharon, and fiancé, Jake, as well as several friends. She quickly learns that Beth was struggling at work, suspected of embezzlement, and dealing with substance abuse in the weeks leading up to her disappearance. She appeared to be spiraling out of control, and was planning to leave her husband, eventually boarding a flight to Houston never to be seen again. 

From the get go, we know that Sharon is hiding something. She keeps a gun on hand, and is clearly scared of Mariah digging into the life of her and her family. She believes that Jake is behind her daughter’s disappearance, but Mariah is not as quick to jump to conclusions, slowly growing closer to Jake as they talk through Beth’s life leading up to when she went missing. Mariah learns that Beth made a new friend during this time, Lizbeth Gonzales, the third Beth. 

The number of characters and tiny plot details woven into this mystery was staggering. At times, it was a little hard to keep everyone straight, and to follow all the connections being made, but by the end, I was thoroughly invested. There was no way I could have figured out how everything fit together on my own, but I loved seeing the picture get filled in, and making realizations along with Mariah. During Mariah’s intense investigation, her father is dealing with more frequent threatening messages being left in his yard, and even an attempt on his life. This subset of the book seemed pretty random and unnecessary to me, and I think most of that could have been cut (it’s a hefty book as is, so it wouldn’t have felt watered down at all without these extra chapters). This was my first Jeff Abbott read, and although a little confusing at times, I am definitely intrigued in looking into more of his books.

(For the recipe for these bars, see my review of Pieces of Her).

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

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris ~ Book Review

Behind Closed Doors Flatlay with Cake

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris
St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: August 9, 2016
Genre: Thriller
My Rating: 🍪🍪.5

I had a lot of free time when I was reading this book. For that reason, I flew through it, which made me falsely believe, at first, that I loved it. However. After a little internal reflection, I realized that I think I really just kind of missed reading thrillers. I’ve been trying to branch out more in my genre selection this year, so it’s been a minute since I read one of my classic picks (honestly not much more than a minute, but it feels like a long time to me). I recently read my first B.A. Paris book, and although that was a flop for me, I thought I’d give her a second chance. My main issue with this book, was that it felt forced, like the classic tropes of the genre were being hammered into my brain. The perfect husband? Who wants his wife to marry him quickly and then stop working and give up everything she loves? Who manipulates her friends and family until they truly believe she no longer cares about them? This is the story of Grace and Jack. And a thousand other domestic thriller couples.

Despite this somewhat scathing introduction, the story was well written. I was sucked in, and couldn’t wait to see how Grace ultimately triumphed as I knew she would based on the predictability of this plotline. I liked the classic approach to a domestic thriller, and the addition of Grace’s sister, Millie, added an interesting twist. Millie has Down’s Syndrome, and is ultimately the one who Jack is after. He hopes that by pretending to be doting friends to Millie, he and Grace will ultimately obtain custody of her when she turns 18 and he will thus have someone he can wholly control. I’m not sure how you get into such a twisted mindset, but Paris writes it with sickening clarity.

I also appreciated how everything tied together in this book. When we initially meet the couple as they host a dinner party, we know that Grace is acting peculiar, but it’s hard to tell why. Why does everything need to be perfectly cooked? Why does her husband dote over the painting she created that is hung on their wall? Why does she need to finish all the food on her plate? Each detail comes back later, as Grace walks us through the depth of Jack’s abuse, and the ways she has tried to either fight, or acquiesce to him.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake with Book

Although there wasn’t really much action in this book, I liked the way it slowly built on itself, offering the reader more and more insight into Grace and Jack’s relationship. It is first depicted as the fairytale Grace believe it is, and then we delve deeper and deeper into just how manipulative and terrifying Jack really is.

All in all, I would not recommend this book, but it was a decent thriller. The depth and detail was well written, but it was predictable, and not terribly unique to the genre. Read it if you feel like it, but don’t rush out to buy it. Maybe instead, use your reading time to bake a cake, like this crowd-pleasing Insane Peanut Butter Cup Cake. It may be time intensive, but it will never disappoint.

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

An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen ~ Book Review

Flatlay of Anonymous Girl Book and Insane Peanut Butter Cup Cake

An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Publication Date: January 8, 2019
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪

Let me preface this review by saying that I am a HUGE fan of this author team’s first publication, The Wife Between Us. That book is up there on my list of absolute favorite psychological thrillers ever, and I read a lot of psychological thrillers. That being said, I had no idea there was a second book in the making until a crisp, untouched paperback ARC of An Anonymous Girl landed on my desk. When I receive any new book, it’s usually enough to put me in a good mood for the rest of the day, so my general book-nerdy excitement coupled with the realization of who this book was by had me bouncing off the walls, and I am not a generally bouncy person.

Needless to say, my expectations were high, which for me, doesn’t usually work out in my favor. I folded a nice solid crease in the first page the minute I got home, and dug in, and I read this guy fast. Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen know how to build suspense and make a reader ask ‘what is really happening?’ The primary way that they do so, is by splitting up chapters between narratives. In and of itself, this is not an unusual tactic for an author to pursue, however, what makes it stand out in their writing is how extremely, unnaturally different the narrators are. Our protagonist is Jess, a young New Yorker, still grappling to find her footing in the city and in her career, strapped for money and living with the ever present guilt of a snap decision she made years ago. She has demons for sure, and she deals with them primarily by sleeping with men she doesn’t know, but the majority of her character traits are somewhat relatable.

Dr. Shields, on the other hand, narrates her chapters with a bone-chilling authority that makes you feel like you’re a five year old kid being reprimanded for stealing a cookie before dinner. Page after page after page. It’s impressive. The authors’ use of the second person voice in her segments is incredibly effective and unnerving. You know where Dr. Shields stands at all times, and it is always somewhere with more authority than you. Her segments had me looking over my own shoulder even when the book was closed.

The split in voice is what made this book most compelling for me. It was almost as if, bear with me here, there were two authors. Which could very easily lead me off on a tangent about how the whole co-author thing works, because I have enough trouble making writing decisions with myself. (Seriously, how do you pull a fictional story like this out of two different brains and somehow end up with one cohesive, enthralling narrative? I digress).

Getting back on track, this tale follows Jess as she *spoiler alert* decides to take the place of a stranger in an anonymous research project on ethics (ah, the irony) in order to make some extra, and much needed cash. The project ends up being not so anonymous, and not so ethical, and by the end of the story Jess’s life has been completely rerouted to fulfill Dr. Shields’ own personal agenda.

This novel is twisty and twisted, there is no denying that, however, it didn’t have that big “mic drop” moment that I was expecting from the authors given their last book (like I said, it’s never a good thing when my expectations get too high). I would be remiss if I didn’t commend this book for taking a unique approach to the psychological thriller. I’ve found that a lot of books in the genre tend to stick to very similar trends and motifs, so the ethical study situation had me thrown for a loop. Overall, An Anonymous Girl is another notable accomplishment by a tremendously talented author team.

Insane Peanut Butter Cup Cake with book

It felt appropriate to pair this book with the Insane Peanut Butter Cup Cake (recipe by Cookies and Cups) because not only are they both filled with unexpected layers (peep that hefty peanut butter frosting layer running through the middle of this cake), and finished all too soon, they also keep you guessing. How, you might ask, does a cake keep one guessing? Well this masterpiece somehow manages to contain 11 cups of powdered sugar. No, that is not a typo: ELEVEN. I still don’t fully understand how that’s possible, but if you’re planning to try making this epic dessert (which I highly recommend), you’re probably going to need to buy three bags of the stuff. I promise you it’s worth it, but if you’re simultaneously reading while devouring this treat, five to ten napkins may be appropriate companions. #treatyourshelf

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪

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