8.20.2019

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal (ARC Review)

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal
Publisher: Atria Books (August 13, 2019)
Description from the publisher:
In 1850s London, the Great Exhibition is being erected in Hyde Park and, among the crowd watching the dazzling spectacle, two people meet by happenstance. For Iris, an arrestingly attractive aspiring artist, it is a brief and forgettable moment but for Silas, a curiosity collector enchanted by all things strange and beautiful, the meeting marks a new beginning.
When Iris is asked to model for Pre-Raphaelite artist Louis Frost, she agrees on the condition that he will also teach her to paint. Suddenly, her world begins to expand beyond her wildest dreams—but she has no idea that evil is waiting in the shadows. Silas has only thought of one thing since that chance meeting, and his obsession is darkening by the day.

Gothic novels are not usually my jam, but the buzz around The Doll Factory had me intrigued. I'm glad I gave it a chance, as I breezed through this oh so creepy and thrilling story.
Macneal's highly atmospheric Victorian era London leaps from the page, no question. But what I most appreciated about this novel was the richly layered characters, some becoming more empathetic and others becoming more and more sinister as the plot thickens. Silas is a villain that I won't soon forget, and felt reminiscent in many ways of Joe from Caroline Kepnes' You. But, unlike the aforementioned You, the object of obsession in The Doll Factory is given a complex personality. I felt a great deal of empathy for Iris, and the intricacies of her relationship with her sister, with Louis and with the requisite street urchin with a heart of gold, Albie - who also has a much more robust inner life than a typical Victorian scamp.
There is also a clear theme on feminism and the plight of an unmarried young woman that felt like a fresh take on historical fiction from this time period.
“she has been careful not to encourage men, but not to slight them either, always a little fearful of them. She is seen as an object to be gazed at or touched at leisure … something for which she should be grateful. She should appreciate the attentions of men more, but she should resist them too, subtly, in a way both to encourage and discourage, so as not to lead to doubts of her purity and goodness but not to make the men feel snubbed.”
This novel has a little something for everyone: multi dimensional characters, rich atmosphere, historical fiction, mystery, thrills, suspense, with a little horror thrown in (taxidermy description is not for the faint of heart). My only reservation would be for a reader that wants to be invested in romance. Yes there is a love story, but I did not feel invested in it, and I thought Iris could do better. 
Many thanks to Atria books for the complimentary review copy!


7.25.2019

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center (NetGalley Review)


Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center
Publisher: St. Martin's Press (August 13, 2019)
Description from the publisher: 
Cassie Hanwell was born for emergencies. As one of the only female firefighters in her Texas firehouse, she's seen her fair share of them, and she's a total pro at other people's tragedies. But when her estranged and ailing mother asks her to give up her whole life and move to Boston, Cassie suddenly has an emergency of her own.
The tough, old-school Boston firehouse is as different from Cassie's old job as it could possibly be. Hazing, a lack of funding, and poor facilities mean that the firemen aren't exactly thrilled to have a "lady" on the crew―even one as competent and smart as Cassie. Except for the infatuation-inspiring rookie, who doesn't seem to mind having Cassie around. But she can't think about that. Because love is girly, and it’s not her thing. And don’t forget the advice her old captain gave her: Never date firefighters. Cassie can feel her resolve slipping...and it means risking it all―the only job she’s ever loved, and the hero she’s worked like hell to become.

I quite enjoyed How to Walk Away last summer by Katherine Center, and was excited to read her latest this summer! Things You Save in a Fire did not disappoint, it lived up to it's predecessor and in some ways exceeded my expectations.
From the first pages I was drawn in by Cassie's inner monologue, and the witty dialogue she dishes out with her fellow firefighters. She is immediately likeable as the hero of this story: fierce, strong, hard working, yet so very vulnerable. The reason she has to leave Texas goes beyond her ailing mother, and makes for a dramatic opening scene in the book which hints at something that has shaped her entire adult life. That the process of confronting her trauma didn't hinge entirely on a romance was absolutely refreshing. Though, I absolutely adored the sweet and slightly cheesy romance with the rookie! If you are looking for a sweet romance, you will be completely satisfied! And if you also enjoy complex family relationships, there is definitely something there, too. The journey of forgiveness and understanding with her mother, as well as a mysterious harasser within the fire department, was so compelling and thought provoking.
"Maybe you need to find something new to add to your life, instead of just clutching so hard to the past that you strangle it."
Upon reading the acknowledgements, I realized that Katherine Center's husband is a firefighter and thought that was pretty cool. She must've had the absolute straight scoop and it was certainly interesting to learn a little bit about what it might be like inside a fire station. Also, if you read How to Walk Away, you might recognize Cassie from the early part of the book!
Thank you so much to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for a complimentary copy in exchange for my honest review - as well as my local Seattle bookstagrammer community for the hard copy from our book swap!

7.18.2019

Gravity is the Thing by Jaclyn Moriarty


Gravity Is the Thing by Jaclyn Moriarty
Publisher: Harper Books (July 23, 2019)
Description from the publisher:
Twenty years ago, Abigail Sorenson’s brother Robert went missing one day before her sixteenth birthday, never to be seen again. That same year, she began receiving scattered chapters in the mail of a self-help manual, the Guidebook, whose anonymous author promised to make her life soar to heights beyond her wildest dreams.
The Guidebook’s missives have remained a constant in Abi’s life—a befuddling yet oddly comforting voice through her family’s grief over her brother’s disappearance, a move across continents, the devastating dissolution of her marriage, and the new beginning as a single mother and cafĂ© owner in Sydney.
Now, two decades after receiving those first pages, Abi is invited to an all-expenses paid weekend retreat to learn “the truth” about the Guidebook. It’s an opportunity too intriguing to refuse. If Everything is Connected, then surely the twin mysteries of the Guidebook and a missing brother must be linked?
What follows is completely the opposite of what Abi expected––but it will lead her on a journey of discovery that will change her life––and enchant readers. Gravity Is the Thing is a smart, unusual, wickedly funny novel about the search for happiness that will break your heart into a million pieces and put it back together, bigger and better than before.

This was one of those odd books that was not at all my kind of read for about 90 percent of the pages, and I adored the last 10 percent. I am a big supporter of DNF'ing (did not finish) books that I don't enjoy, but sometimes there's a mystery that I want to get to the bottom of and I just keep going. The mystery in Gravity is the Thing is indeed solved, and with a magnificent sucker punch ending that completely changed my thoughts on this novel in the final few pages. So, I'm having a bit of conundrum on my overall opinion...
First, here's what didn't work for me. The story is told in a dual timeline, present day with revealing glimpses to the past that slowly reveal how Abi came be a single mother. Normally I really love a dual timeline, yet the structure of the past timeline utilizes Abigail's yearly 'reflections' (her responses to each year of chapters she receives from The Guidebook) which are written in  'stream of consciousness' style. She learned this particular technique during a class she took with her long lost brother, so it makes sense to employ, yet it is all over the place and just didn't flow. The present day sections are not much improved, even setting aside the absurd plot device that brings her together with her current love interest. The storylines seem disjointed and I felt as if so much could have been eliminated to improve the pacing. Whole sections are dedicated to Abigail reading several different self-help books and applying their advice in her everyday life. These were cute asides, but had nothing to do with the plot or character development and felt tedious. I would have liked more development with her love interests, of which I didn't feel terribly invested. 
What DID work for me, however, was the writing - there were some absolutely lovely and astute passages amid what felt like ramblings. And, the plot threads that Moriarty pulls together in the end to solve the mystery of Abigail's missing brother, are so well done. The reveal was so poignant and it just broke my heart. In the end, the absurdness of The Guidebook, and the gathering of characters who received the chapters, was needed to deliver said ending. I just think she could have drawn straighter lines to get there. Overall I wouldn't give this a hearty endorsement, because it took too much work to get to the resolution. I'd recommend this for readers who might enjoy stream of consciousness philosophical musings on self help.
Many thanks to Harper Books for a complimentary copy for review!

7.02.2019

Books I Read in June


Miracle Creek by Angie Kim
This was an utterly absorbing, stay up late turning the pages courtroom drama! Not only is it an unflinching dissection of modern parenthood, and how we can never truly understand each other’s complex experience, but a whodunnit that had me guessing until the very end. This is what I expect from thrillers, yet they don’t seem to deliver- perhaps I should read more courtroom dramas?

Almost Everything by Anne Lamott
I am admitting that, until now, I have not consumed any of Anne Lamott's work. The spiritual woo-woo is just so. not. my. bag. However, I think all of us can use a little soothing and hope in these ridiculous times and it's been a little stressful in my little corner of the world. I figured this would be as good a time as any to give her, and Notes on Hope, a shot. One of the reasons I don't jive with self-help style books is that I find them to be just stating the obvious but in a pretty way. Certainly Lamott falls into this category for me, but she was so darn funny and she states the obvious in a profound, not just pretty, way. "Expectations are resentments under construction." Dang.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Circe was one of absolute favorite books last year and I'm glad I finally got around to reading her first novel! This was just as readable and compelling as Circe, and I'm beginning to think I need to read more Greek mythology. Or is it just Miller's amazing storytelling? This account of Achilles and the Trojan war from the perspective of his companion and love, Patroclus, lends so much humanity and heart to the tale. I'd say I loved Circe a smidge more for her searing one liners and inherent feminism, though!

The Perfect Fraud by Ellen LaCorte
This was a decent summer thriller, not amazing but a breezy read. Full review here.

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui
I spotted this on the paperback picks shelf at the library and I'm so glad that I FINALLY read a graphic novel for adult readers. Certainly I have enjoyed a smattering of middle grade, and enjoyed them immensely. But this was on a completely different level, the emotions and perspective that Bui brings to her family story is downright visceral. It's a heartbreaking story about migrants, trauma, and family. I can't recommend it enough. 

From Scratch by Tembi Locke
Thanks to the buzz around this Reese's Book Club pick, I decided to listen to this audio book and it was lovely, and sad. Her vivid descriptions of young love, Italy, and food were lovely. Her story about losing her husband to cancer when their daughter was only seven broke my heart. It hit close to home, too, because I lost my own father (to a heart attack) when I was only seven. It made me ache for her daughter, for childhood me, for her as a mother, and for my own mother. The relationship with her Sicilian mother-in-law is especially touching and beautifully hopeful in the end.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
The only other book I've read by Gilbert was Eat, Pray, Love (shocker!) and I didn't care for it, for the same reason many others did not - it screamed of privilege and I'm not big on those 'stating the obvious' type of books. (See above re: Anne Lamott.) But, oh man, I am so very glad I put that aside to read City of Girls. I have such a hard time getting into the details of why I love a book when I LOVE IT SO MUCH. All the platitudes apply: vivid characters, sweeping sense of place, a propulsive story, etc. etc. At nearly 500 pages I burned through this in just a few days. This coming of age story is reminiscent of one of my long ago favorites: Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk, mashed with a recent favorite: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Gilbert just infuses such beautiful self awareness and 'HELL YEAH' into her characters - it's going into my all time greats, no doubt.
"When I was younger, I had wanted to be at the very center of all the action in New York, but I slowly came to realize that there is no one center. The center is everywhere - wherever people are living out their lives."

I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O'Farrell
I enjoyed O'Farrell's most recent fiction novel, This Must be the Place, and picked up her memoir after hearing so many (correct) rave reviews. Her 'Seventeen Brushes with Death' are harrowing, lyrical, wrenching and also life affirming. So often she brought me to tears or heart pounding fear with the terrible hardships she's suffered and I had a GREAT DEAL of righteous anger on her behalf - seriously, her story about birthing her first child is rage inducing, and the treatment by the other children when she returned to school after a life threatening illness is just terrible. I also did some googling after reading (always the sign of a great book) and she didn't set out to make this for public consumption, but an account of her life for her daughter who suffers terribly from life threatening allergies. To show her that we are all suffering in some way, so close to death an any moment. She didn't even take an advance on the book, well only one pound for legal reasons, in the event she did not want to publish. It's just all around remarkable.

6.18.2019

The Perfect Fraud by Ellen LaCorte (ARC Review)


The Perfect Fraud by Ellen LaCorte
Publisher: Harper Books (June 18, 2019)
Description from the publisher: 
Motherhood is tough. But then, so is daughterhood. When we first meet Claire, she’s living in Sedona, Arizona with her boyfriend Cal and ducking calls from her mother. Her mom is a world class psychic on the East Coast and Claire doesn’t want her to discover the truth. Claire works in the family business and calls herself a psychic, but she doesn’t really have “the gift” and hasn’t for a long time. She’s a fraud.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Rena, a young mother, has family issues of her own. She’s divorced and her four-year-old daughter, Stephanie, suffers from mysterious, seemingly incurable stomach problems. No matter how many specialists Rena drags her to, no matter how many mommy-blog posts she makes about her child’s health issues, trying to get help and support from her online community, Stephanie only gets sicker.
When Claire and Rena meet by chance on an airplane, their carefully constructed lives begin to explode. Can these two women help each other and can they help Stephanie before it’s too late?

I think it's a pretty well established fact that I'm rather picky about suspense or thriller novels. I have to be really invested in the plot, or really invested in the characters. I would say that this debut novel from Ellen LaCorte definitely grabbed my attention with her plotting. Even though it's pretty clear what's going on early in the novel, with some unreliable narration, I breezed through this book curious as to how she'd bring the two women together.
Dual narratives are a favorite of mine, especially when they seem like nearly unrelated accounts that dramatically collide in the final pages of a book. The author was a little heavy handed with Rena's unbearable personality and grammar (if you are a grammar nerd, it will make you CRINGE), and Claire's character felt somewhat wooden and cliched. However, I couldn't help but turn the pages in their increasingly fraught, increasingly sinister, cat and mouse dance.
If you're looking for a quick and easy thriller that doesn't require a lot of brain space for the beach this summer, this would certainly fit the bill. Trigger warning, though, for child abuse. Many thanks to Harper Books for a complimentary advance copy for my honest review!



6.12.2019

Ten Books For Summer (Five I Recommend, Five I'm Looking Forward to!)

I'm a little late to the party on adding my annual summer list to the pile! But I hate to break with tradition, and I like having this list handy. So without further ado, here's this year's list of five books I can vouch for (and you can probably score easily from the library) and five new summer releases I'm planning to gobble up this summer. Plus, you can find links to previous summer lists here

Books I'd recommend for summer reading:
Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
This is the third year in a row that Jenkins Reid has landed on my summer reading list, and her latest is one of my favorites of the year. This fictional oral history of a 70s rock band is full of frothy LA scenes and such a fast read that's perfect for summer.
review here

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
This breakout debut romance novel was so sweet and wonderful - and, fair warning, very steamy! I loved her unique perspective and lovable characters. It looks as if her latest, The Bride Test, will be just as great - perfect bonus summer read.
review here

Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren
Speaking of steamy... This was the first book I read by the writing team of Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings (yes, C-Lo is their combined pen name) and it still stands as my favorite after having read Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating. This story of 'the boy next door' has much more heft, but I think that any of their works would probably be great summer fare. Their current release, The Unhoneymooners is getting darn good reviews, too.
review here

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
Even if you've seen the movie (I mean, who HASN'T? If that's you, get on it!) this book will still seem fresh. It is a bit of a chunkster, with loads more detail than the film. Lush and fizzy fun detail that just screams indulgent summer read. This was on my to-read last summer and I'm glad I finally did!
review here

The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand
It ain't summer without an Elin novel to read, and I'd also recommend The Rumor and The Matchmaker (her other summer books I've read) which are all spectacularly immersive novels of summer on Nantucket. This was my favorite of these three, though - her first foray into a mystery was so much fun!
review here

Books I'm hoping to read this summer:
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
Let me preface this by saying that I read Eat, Pray, Love and found it INSUFFERABLE. Just. No. However, I have never read Gilbert's fiction and, given all the raves about this coming of age story set in 1940s New York City, I am intensely curious.

Recursion by Blake Crouch
This book is gonna be errrrrywhere this summer, as it's the follow up to Crouch's wildly successful Dark Matter (which ended up on my favorites of the year in 2016). This sounds fascinating, with a sci-fi twist on how our memories work. It seems to be receiving equally excellent reviews, and is already optioned for Netflix.

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center
Speaking of follow ups to wildly successful novels, this summer's novel by Center is a follow up to one of my favorite reads of last summer: How to Walk Away. A story about a female firefighter sounds especially intriguing and I'm looking forward to reviewing it for y'all, since I have an advance copy!

The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary
This romance novel that came out in April seems to have risen to the top as a favorite among the book community and I think it will make for a perfect beach read: two people sharing a room for rent that have opposite schedules, hijinks ensues. 

Summer of '69 by Elin Hilderbrand
Yes, Elin gets double billing because she is the queen of the summer novel (even though her winter books are some of my favorites). Last summer, I loved her take on a mystery novel and presume I'll love her take on historical fiction just as much!


6.04.2019

Books I Read in May


The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
This was a cute premise for a romance novel, and it’s funny because I lived THIS EXACT SCENARIO in my 20s: I was a production assistant at an awesome boutique advertising agency that was merged with a lame big box corporate one and became a true nemesis with the other production assistant. The difference here is a merging of two publishing firms (though boutique vs big box still stands) and the other assistant at my firm was truly an absolute troll (no hard abs with a soft heart to be found) and I high tailed it outta there, finding another job ASAP! Alas, I wish I had the forethought and talent to turn it into an adorable and steamy love story... 

Evicted by Matthew Desmond
I put this book off for a long time, because it’s not particularly uplifting material. I didn’t always reach for it, and it took me a long time to finish, but it is such an essential read. Poverty is so much more complicated than it seems and Desmond deftly crafts personal stories, of those he lived among to do his research, to elucidate this crisis. 

The Current by Tim Johnston
 I first heard about The Current on the From the Front Porch podcast, and it's made the What Should I Read Next summer reading guide - I can certainly see why: I’m not usually a thriller fan, but this one had excellent character development and a mesmerizing ethereal tone. It can feel languid it parts, and my expectations going in were for something fast paced, so I had to adjust those expectations. I also felt like the end was a little ambiguous and I wanted to know MORE! Sequel perhaps?

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
Loved this one! Full review here.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling
My expectations were pretty high going into this book, as I think Mindy is pretty awesome and I'm just now getting into The Office. I know, I know. We tried getting into it last year but it just made me so uncomfortable and, honestly, angry. Perhaps it's because I'm a former HR professional, but Michael Scott freaking sucks in the first season. How am I supposed to enjoy a show where the main character is awful? The endearing side has yet to appear because he's not much better in season two, but we're seeing some bright spots and I want to know what all the fuss is about, so we're sticking with it. ANYWAY. It was fun to get some inside baseball on her career, the show and some of the inner workings of Hollywood. But the tone just felt... juvenile? I just hated all of her self depreciating talk of her body, food, dating, etc. It makes me curious to check out her more recent book to see if her tone has matured.

A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny
Ahhh, back in Three Pines! Well, not exactly with this one in the series, but it still has all the familiar sumptuousness of the first three books and, of course, the incomparable Inspector Gamache. I was happy to have timed this for some warm weather reading (before the inevitable June-uary hits Seattle) as it’s set at a secluded lake resort in the summer. I also serendipitously timed it for a rather stressful week around here, and these are such cozy and comfortably familiar reads. I feel as if this series gets better with each book. This was book four and number 15 (!) comes out later this year. I'm so glad I can keep working my way through them for years to come.