books and reading · reviews

Book Review: The City Baker’s Guide to County Living by Louise Miller

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Olivia Rawlings is a renowned baker at an exclusive Boston dinner club when she sets the room on fire instead of her Baked Alaska. That public embarrassment is the tip of the iceberg, so she flees to rural Vermont for a weekend away, but it becomes somewhat permanent when she begins to work for a woman who owns an inn. Even though she tells herself it’s temporary, Olivia soon finds herself drawn to the people in the small town of Guthrie, and she finds herself drawn to Martin, a man who says little but clearly feels a lot.

The first half of this debut novel by real-life pastry chef Loiuse Miller is charming, smart, and oftentimes very witty. A fresh take on the fish-out-of-water story, Olivia is a charming heroine with a sidekick in her giant dog. There’s a lot to like in this story about a city girl finding new life in the country, and the characters who populate the small town in Vermont provide much of the novel’s charm, even as they engage in petty jealousies and rivalries.

The slow-burn romance between Olivia and the mysterious Martin is also fairly compelling, with a genuine chemistry between the two characters. Although the end of the novel feels a bit too tidy (and maybe even overly-saccharine), the start of this romance is certainly interesting enough to keep the pages turning. An unhurried romance, as well as an unhurried plot, help illustrate the slower way things happen in rural life.

It’s not until the end of the book that the story goes off the rails slightly. What was a strong, smart, witty novel turns into one that’s a wee bit too sweet, and the ending is so tidy and provincial that it’s almost as though it’s two separate novels. Still, Miller is an author with promise, and it’s an enjoyable, if not totally believable, ride.

The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller. Pamela Dorman Books: 2016. Library copy.

 

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books and reading · reviews

Book Review: The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

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Drew Nichols and Alexa Monroe meet in an elevator when it stops working. They’re strangers, but when they leave the elevator some time later, Alexa has agreed to go to a wedding as Drew’s fake girlfriend. Destined to be a one-night thing, the two find themselves drawn to each other and embark on a long-distance fling that might actually have the makings of something real.

Guillory’s debut novel is a charming and sexy look at a fake romance that becomes totally real. Fully realized characters help flesh out this at times cyclical romance, creating a captivating story. The characters in this are likable, with hopes and dreams, and their chemistry leaps off the page. Readers will root for their deserved happy ending.

While on the whole the novel is fairly light in its tone and content, it doesn’t shy away from the fact that the two main characters are in an inter-racial relationship. Alexa experiences racial aggressions throughout the book, and when she tells Drew about them, he accepts what she says as fact, which is refreshing. In this, the book is more grounded than others, and it’s an appreciated touch.

A fast-paced plot keeps the pages turning, and the genuine chemistry between the leads makes it compelling. While the two start out their relationship as a casual hookup, their connection deepens in a satisfying way, and while there are plenty of love scenes, Guillory engages in a lot of fade-to-black writing, so this doesn’t fall into the “erotica” category.

Romance readers, rejoice: this modern-day rom-com is completely engrossing and really, really fun. I loved it.

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory. Berkley: 2018. ARC received from NetGalley.

 

books and reading

What I Read This Week

Back in the swing of things. Here’s what I read this week:

36595101Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff: Wolff spent much of the first year of Trump’s presidency inside the White House, privy to the “private” conversations the administration had as it fumbled throughout the first months and literally hemorrhaged people and classified information.

At times hilarious, infuriating, and terrifying, this sloppy book was a thrill ride of a read. It’s in desperate need of editing, but it’s also so timely and so fascinating it hardly matters. If even half of it is true (and it is), it’s worth reading. What a time to be alive.

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All the Dirty Parts by Daniel Handler:  Cole is in high school and obsessed with sex. Hooking up with girl after girl, he thinks about sex constantly, when he’s not watching or sharing clips with his best friend. But then he meets a girl that might actually be his match, and he starts to learn about consequences.

A one-sitting read, this experimental novel by the author also known as Lemony Snicket provides a very adult look at the teenage boy mind. I loved it: it was weird and sexy and disturbing and subversive. Definitely not for everyone: there’s a ton of explicit sex to be found in this slim little novel.

35099035Red Clocks by Leni Zumas: Abortion is illegal once again in America, and women who try to cross into Canada to seek abortion services are imprisoned. Four women living in this America try to do just that: live in it.

I wanted to love this one so much more than I did. It’s been called a modern take on The Handmaid’s Tale, but it isn’t, unless the only parallel readers are looking for is that women can’t have abortions. This is a much more stylized look at a theoretical future. It was hard to connect with the characters and some narratives were so much more compelling than the others that the plot as a whole suffered.

What did you read this week?

books and reading

The Best Picture Books I Read in January

As part of my goal of reading 365 picture books this year, I’m trying to start off strong (and maybe get a little ahead for when I inevitably slack in the future). This month, I read a lot of great picture books, and these were the best of the best:

31019568Lexie the Word Wrangler by Rebecca Van Slyke: Lexie is the best wrangler in the West–the best word wrangler, that is. She can turn a SPOT into a POST and make a CAT a CATTLE. When she finds that some bandit is changing words around her ranch, she sets off to solve the mystery.

Vivid, quirky illustrations and genuinely clever and funny wordplay make this one a hit. Kids and adults will like playing with the words in the book (there’s even a dictionary of “wrangler words” in the back) and pouring over the illustrations.

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Far Apart, Close in Heart: Being a Family When a Loved One is Incarcerated by Becky Birtha: A close look at what kinds of feelings and emotions children can experience when a parent is incarcerated. Told from multiple perspectives, the book aims to answer questions about what it’s like when a parent is away, and provide helpful tips on how to process and deal with feelings.

Exceedingly well done, with a diverse cast of children and parents, multiple perspectives are presented. A helpful author’s note at the end provides additional resources and tips for adults caring for children with incarcerated parents. It’s an issue book that’s done with great care and compassion.

34144489Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes: The barber shop is where boys go in “like lumps of clay” and come out princely in their form. It’s magic, and this book is magic, too.

Gorgeous illustrations accompany Barnes’ smart prose. This is a sweet, clever look at barbershops, black boys, and the power of a good haircut. I loved this one and think it’s an important title for every library serving kids to have on its shelves.

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After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat: The story of Humpty after he falls off the famous wall. The king’s men put him back together, but he develops a fear of heights, which puts him at a disadvantage as an avid birdwatcher.

Lots to like here as Santat twirls together his text and his images. There’s a lovely message to the story that doesn’t overwhelm the narrative, and the images, especially near the end, are breathtaking.

 

 

 

 

books and reading

What I Read this Week

These are the things I read this week. Without further ado:

28588390A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas: Charlotte Holmes is smart and asks a lot of questions. She’s never quite fit in with the expectations of society, but it isn’t until she ends up a social pariah that she realizes she’ll have to use all her wits to survive. Then there’s a rash of murders, and Charlotte’s sister is one of the suspects. It’s up to Charlotte to clear her sister’s name.

A smart re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes, this first book in a series by Sherry Thomas is pretty delightful. While historical fiction (and cozy mysteries) is not my preferred genre, I liked this sneakily feminist, smart take on the classic detective.

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The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn:  Anna Fox is an agoraphobic former child psychologist who hasn’t left her home in over ten months. She spends her days drinking wine, watching classic movies, and spying on her neighbors using her Nikon camera. When she witnesses something across the street–the apparent murder of her new neighbor–no one believes her. After all, she’s been mixing her medication and alcohol, and her memory isn’t what it once was. But she knows what she saw, and she might be in the killer’s crosshairs.

This is definitely another book written by a man using sneakily vague letters in his name in an attempt to cash in on the “grip-lit” phenomenon (his author bio in the back of the book lacks pronouns in a very conspicuous way), and that makes me feel weird about the book. That said, it’s certainly a fast-paced thrill ride, and it will find a readership. It’s way too long, clocking in at over 400 pages, and could have used a much stronger editing hand. But it was pretty fun, and it made me want to re-watch Rear Window.

books and reading · reviews

Book Review: Heather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner

Heather, the Totality (October 2017) by Matthew Weiner

Mark and Karen have built their family and their own marriage around their daughter Heather. Beautiful, smart, and compassionate, the world adores her as much as they do. But she’s so magnetic that she attracts unsavory elements as well, and it isn’t long before everything the Breakstones have worked for is in jeopardy.

Matthew Weiner’s (yes, the Mad Men guy) debut novel is very slight and is best read in a single sitting. A whip-fast pace helps this novel go down easier, but the fact remains that it’s short on many merits, including believable characters, and believable situations. Clearly aiming to fall into the “literary” side of fiction, it certainly succeeds in being “pretentious.”

The novel is on the whole not a particularly challenging read. While Weiner does well enough creating a sense of genuine suspense, it takes more than half of the book to get to the point, which is way too long in a novel that’s only 140 pages long. There’s also way too much time spent on the entire history of the Breakstones’s marriage, a marriage that is super boring and whose details don’t relate in any way to the central crux of the story. All of this seems to contradict the novel’s lofty aims of being one of those sparse suspense novels that are so eerily effective. By weirdly trying to do both, Weiner succeeds at neither.

There’s also the fact that the people populating this story are bizarrely vague in their characterization. There’s no real consistency in any of their actions or personalities, and the reader is not given much to go on, either. The result is that it’s hard to care about what fate awaits any of them.

The writing leaves a lot to be desired, too. Told in a stylized narration that will rankle most readers (there are a few critics out there who seem to think it’s brilliant, but they’re definitely in the minority). There’s virtually no showing done here. Instead, Weiner tells his readers–again and again–and the result is kind of like reading stage directions for a play. This reads like a treatment for a movie script more than it does a novel.

A total disappointment, and a hard pass. Maybe put it in the hands of hardcore Matthew Weiner fans, but even they deserve better.

Heather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner. Little, Brown & Company: 2017. Library copy.

 

books and reading

What I Read This Week

These are the books I finished this week:

31707102And We’re Off by Dana Schwartz: Nora is seventeen and an aspiring artist, about to take a trip to Europe on her grandfather’s dime. But at the last minute, her mom decides to tag along, throwing a huge wrench in all of her plans. Can the two get along and navigate Europe together?

Hailed as Gilmore Girls meets 13 Little Blue Envelopes, I really enjoyed this sweet story about mother-daughter relationships and traveling through Europe. It’s a totally enjoyable, if a bit forgettable YA novel that should appeal to a variety of teens.

 

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling: In Harry’s sixth year at1 Hogwarts, things are not good. Voldemort is returned to power, Dumbledore has special assignments for Harry, and a new Potions master means that Harry’s dealing with Snape as the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. And there’s something going on with Draco Malfoy, too.

I finished this on audio this week, which means I’m down to one more book (I haven’t decided if I’ll also re-read The Cursed Child, since there’s no audio for it). I’m excited/sad to finish listening to the series (my backlog of podcasts is getting ridiculous). Onward!

29010395I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez: Julia is not the perfect Mexican daughter the way her sister Olga is. She has big dreams: college, New York, a writing career…but now that her sister Olga is dead, Julia wonders if she can have any of it. Struggling with her grief over the loss of her sister while also trying to figure out the mysteries of Olga’s life, Julia uncovers a lot about herself in the process.

Well-written and moving, but I had a really hard time getting into it. I felt like this was a book that came to me at the wrong time, and it says more about me than about the book. Definitely an outstanding read from the last year, though.