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, 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, 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, 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, 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, Uncategorized

The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager ~ Book Review

The Last Time I Lied with Halloween Cookies

Release Date: July 3, 2018
Genre: Thriller
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5

Riley Sager may well be climbing the ranks of my favorite thriller authors, and The Last Time I Lied did not disappoint. Sager puts a spin on the old ‘I see dead people’ trope with the main character, Emma Davis. Emma compulsively paints three girls: Vivian, Natalie, and Allison, who went missing from her cabin when they were all at camp together as teenagers. She paints them, and then she covers them up completely with other images, in essence, making them disappear over and over again. Emma’s art has become widely celebrated, but only she knows what lies beneath the scenes she paints. 

The creation of this cycle of constant disappearance is fascinating. It is a wonderful way to highlight Emma’s compulsion and obsession with the past, and make clear to the reader that although Emma no longer speaks about the events of Camp Nightingale, they are always on her mind. 

Sager splits the story between past and present, alternating chapters in Emma’s adult life, with those from fifteen years earlier. In the present, Emma is invited to return to Camp Nightingale as it reopens for the first time since her summer there. She accepts, and takes a position teaching painting to a new set of girls. Thus, each thread of the plot follows Emma as she adjusts to being at camp.

In each narrative, Emma meets the set of three girls staying in her cabin with her. As an adult, she reconnects with the family who owns the camp, including Frannie the director, and her son Theo, whom she had a crush on when she was little. Sager does a great job of not allowing the reader to fully trust anyone. Each character seems as if they could be guilty for one reason or another.

Emma begins to piece together research that Vivian was pursuing at the time of her disappearance. The discoveries Emma makes reminded me a little too much of the plot twist in Lock Every Door, Sager’s latest work. Just because an idea works phenomenally in one novel, doesn’t necessarily mean it should be reused (although technically, Lock Every Door would have been borrowing from The Last Time I Lied). Nonetheless, there were still enough twists and turns to keep me intrigued. Nothing was as straightforward as Emma is initially led to believe, which kept me a happy reader.

The best thrillers are those where the last few pages change everything, and this one definitely fits that bill. I was left rethinking the entire story. There was no way the ending could have been guessed ahead of time (I don’t think), but there were a few little loose ends that pointed in the right direction, once I looked back. Now on to the next Riley Sager book while I devour these cookie dough stuffed chocolate sprinkle cookies.

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My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5

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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