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!


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!


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.


Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane (NetGalley Review)

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
Publisher: Scribner (May 28, 2019)
Description from the publisher:

Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope are two NYPD rookies assigned to the same Bronx precinct in 1973. They aren’t close friends on the job, but end up living next door to each other outside the city. What goes on behind closed doors in both houses—the loneliness of Francis’s wife, Lena, and the instability of Brian’s wife, Anne, sets the stage for the stunning events to come.
Ask Again, Yes by award-winning author Mary Beth Keane, is a beautifully moving exploration of the friendship and love that blossoms between Francis’s youngest daughter, Kate, and Brian’s son, Peter, who are born six months apart. In the spring of Kate and Peter’s eighth grade year a violent event divides the neighbors, the Stanhopes are forced to move away, and the children are forbidden to have any further contact.
But Kate and Peter find a way back to each other, and their relationship is tested by the echoes from their past. Ask Again, Yes reveals how the events of childhood look different when reexamined from the distance of adulthood—villains lose their menace, and those who appeared innocent seem less so. Kate and Peter’s love story is marked by tenderness, generosity, and grace.

I have stopped and started this review so many times over the last week! It’s hard to review a book I loved, to articulate what gives it that something that just resonates - much harder than reviewing one I disliked. I love a dysfunctional family drama, one that spans decades, one that has multiple narrators, and a gut punch ending. Ask Again, Yes checks all of these boxes and that 'something more' quality which keeps a book on my mind long after I've finished turning the pages. 
I think that what I found unique was the author's ability to take a narrative full of high drama (secret love, a gruesome shooting, a character sent to an asylum and more) and give it a nuanced, introspective tone that was so compelling. Normally I do not gravitate towards books that are heavy on characters inner lives and short on dialogue, but not in this case. It is such a quietly told, yet riveting story. Keane writes evocatively of each character's stage in life and I completely understood and empathized with their choices and emotions - especially Kate as she transforms from the stubborn little girl to the headstrong young woman, and eventually, the strong willed mother trying to keep her family together. And that's the crux of this story, that from one vantage point in your life you can see things in a completely different way than another: childhood versus adulthood, being a child versus being a parent, witnessing depression versus being caught in it's cross hairs. Every single character in this book can be considered villainous and also heroic at various points in the story. It's beautifully told, how none of us can be entirely one or the other, how humanity is fallible and also worthy of love. 
"...their worry for Peter, the person they each loved most, bound them, put them in the same boat together, and they could either row hard as one or else drift while he drowned nearby."
The title of this book is such perfection and I would so love to share the titular quote, but it would give too much away and I think it's so impactful after coming all this way with these characters. I will think on it often, how I wouldn't change a thing and think 'YES' to all the messiness that life throws our way.
Many, many thanks to Scribner books and Netgalley for a complimentary advance copy for review!


Recent Eats! Kitchen Express by Mark Bittman and Raddish Kids

Checking in after another long hiatus of cooking updates (since January)! As per usual, I was burning through cookbooks that didn't wow me or have more than one or two dishes to report back on - though Bittman's book has definitely turned the tide. 

But first I wanted to give a little plug for this awesome subscription service I got for the kids because they have become increasingly interested in getting into the kitchen. I got a few cookbooks geared towards children and we would help each kiddo make a dish of their choosing. This was fine, but they would inevitably pick meals like breaded chicken tenders or mac and cheese, not really broadening any horizons. I started searching for meal kits for kids (I mean, there are about one million options out there for adults) and came across Raddish - extra D not a typo, as in RAD dish! I got a six month subscription and it has been awesome. 
Each month we get a themed meal kit that includes a kitchen tool (pastry cutter, garlic press, silicone tart molds), a patch for their apron (which comes in the first box), dinner table conversation starter cards, and sturdy laminated recipes for a main dish, dessert and some sort of side or extra that fits the menu. 
I wasn't really interested in getting actual ingredients in the boxes, as I am already a weekly meal planner/grocery trip person, so this was perfect - and not terribly expensive. I also love that the menus are somewhat adventurous but still have kid appeal like mango sticky rice with chicken satay, or rainbow taco salad. Plus, there's no hemming and hawing about their choice - they get what they get and we help them make the meal. 
Not having the ingredients shipped also gives us a lot of flexibility. It's been a little busy around here with Spring Break and school sports, so I've saved the most recent delivery and might hold on to the next month's to break out over the summer. And, I do have a referral code which gives me some $$ off my next boxes if you are so inclined - you can use BB9H2W for $10 off a subscription. All this to say, that even if there was no referral code, I'd still be telling y'all about it! 
Okay, as for the rest of our meals, I have been over the moon about Mark Bittman's Kitchen Express. I don't think I've marked this many recipes in a cookbook EVER. Although there are over 400 recipes in there, so... He packs them in by eliminating pictures, long ingredient lists or step-by-step instructions. Just an easy paragraph explanation for each recipe. At first I was a little disappointed, because I usually look through recipe books based on the picture! But, I do cook in a more laid-back way, like the recipes are written. They are all so simple, obviously, but have unique ingredients. I can’t believe I’ve never used a Thai chili before, but I’ve used them twice already in recipes from this cookbook that appealed to me, such as fish with Thai pesto sauce.
And chicken in a basil coconut curry.
We've also used his simple spice rub and sauce for spicy chicken chipotle tacos, which I forgot to snap a picture of before gobbling them up. I look forward to trying at least a dozen more recipes from this book, so good!
I also picked up Milk Street: Tuesday Nights a few weeks ago and so far we've made the Lemongrass Tofu a half dozen times. DELICIOUS. Can't go wrong with America's Test Kitchen/Christopher Kimball.
And, folks inevitably ask about how our kids like these meals. And, I give my inevitable answer: they try it, but get a modified version such as chicken and rice without sauce, or chicken without the chipotle and a quesadilla, or fish sticks and a wee dip of pesto, etc. We might save tofu for a night they're eating pizza, though. Haha! They are coming around slowly but surely thanks to our modeling and their interest in getting involved in cooking!


Books I Read in April

There There by Tommy Orange
I normally love a novel that reads like connected short stories, but this one felt somewhat disjointed. I lost the thread of characters that I wanted to spend more time with, though the ideas within are so important and should be talked about more. 
"The wound that was made when white people came and took all that they took has never healed. An unattended wound gets infected. Becomes a new kind of wound like the history of what actually happened became a new kind of history. All these stories that we haven’t been telling all this time, that we haven’t been listening to, are just part of what we need to heal. Not that were broken. And don’t make the mistake of calling us resilient. To not have been destroyed, to not have given up, to have survived, is no badge of honor. Would you call an attempted murder victim resilient?"
I did find the writing to be absorbing and unique. The plot that follows a dozen native Americans on their way to a Powwow, which you can see coming from the first pages, is still a gut punch in the end, which is no small feat. I’m glad I finally read it after it has garnered so much attention and acclaim since it's publication.

Sisters First by Jenna Bush Haeger and Barbara Pierce Bush
The audiobooks I listened to in March were on the heavier side, so I was searching for something a little more lighthearted but still interesting. Sisters First definitely fit the bill, although I'd say interesting does not equal informative. I didn't have any grand revelations about the Bush family after listening, but there were definitely a range of well told stories that were funny, sad and heartwarming. Also, worth noting, I was constantly distracted by Jenna's voice because I think she used her television speaking voice (always emphasizing the last word in her sentences) instead of sounding more conversational, like Barbara. Perhaps the hard copy of this one is the way to go!

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty
Confession: I haven’t read Liane Moriarty since I read Big Little Lies, years before the tv show (which I thought was an EXCELLENT adaptation). The buzz around Truly Madly Guilty wasn’t great, so I never picked it up. Then I had the chance to catch Moriarty on tour for her latest, and absolutely loved hearing her talk about Nine Perfect Strangers. And STILL, I took forever to pick it up because of mixed reviews. I finally read it and absolutely tore through the pages. Yes, it’s a little kooky. No, it’s not Big Little Lies. But she writes such fast paced, wholly engaging stories. This one was also exceptionally hilarious, and I often barked a “HA!” out loud. Perhaps I saw Liane in the main character Frances, whom she said she identified with most, and I was able to invest in her journey. Either way, I definitely recommend this book for a fast, fun and crazy ride. Now maybe I’d better pick up Truly, Madly, Guilty...

The One by John Marrs
This book was CRAZY! What if genetic testing existed to find your true biological soul mate, your perfect match?? Marrs explores a whole host of chaotic scenarios that were really thought provoking. I was in the mood for a thriller and this one has a little sci-fi, a little romance, and a lot of food for thought. And of course, it’s coming to Netflix as a series in the near future - I definitely plan to tune in!

You'll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein
I was flailing for awhile this month, choosing an audiobook - starting and casting aside several that just weren’t doing it for me after feeling just so-so about Sisters First. I’m SO GLAD Annie Jones mentioned You’ll Grow Out of It on a recent episode of her From the Front Porch podcast! Indeed, this was HILARIOUS and made me guffaw repeatedly. Klein tells the most relatable stories about her career, motherhood, marriage, dating, friendship and just being a woman in the world. ‘Ma’am’ was probably my favorite chapter- highly recommend!

The Farm by Joanne Ramos
This was full of moral dilemmas to chew on, but not full of depth. Full review here!

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? Alyssa Mastromonaco
I love hearing Mastromonaco on Pod Save America and finally picked this one up on audio. This is exactly what I wish From the Corner of the Oval had been! I loved the inside look at the White House, the personal dramas and funny moments that shone through the truly fascinating inner workings of the government. While I found Beck Dorey-Stein frustrating, Matstromonaco comes across as humbled, hard working and full of wisdom from her experience. 

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
Oof. Home Fire is really well done and so tragic. Going in, I knew it was an interpretation of Antigone as a way to tell a story about immigrants and radicalism. I didn't remember much about it from my college mythology class, though it just so happened that my son was recently on the school production team of Antigone, refreshing my knowledge of the story. Still, knowing the bones of the plot and the ultimate fate of certain characters, it was gut wrenching. Shamsie brilliantly shows how shockingly easy it is to make Antigone relevant thousands of years later.


The Farm by Joanne Ramos (ARC Review)

The Farm by Joanne Ramos
Publisher: Random House (May 7, 2019)
Description from the publisher:
Nestled in New York’s Hudson Valley is a luxury retreat boasting every amenity: organic meals, personal fitness trainers, daily massages—and all of it for free. In fact, you’re paid big money to stay here—more than you’ve ever dreamed of. The catch? For nine months, you cannot leave the grounds, your movements are monitored, and you are cut off from your former life while you dedicate yourself to the task of producing the perfect baby. For someone else.
Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines, is in desperate search of a better future when she commits to being a “Host” at Golden Oaks—or the Farm, as residents call it. But now pregnant, fragile, consumed with worry for her family, Jane is determined to reconnect with her life outside. Yet she cannot leave the Farm or she will lose the life-changing fee she’ll receive on the delivery of her child.

The premise of this novel was gripping from the get-go. It certainly mirrors The Handmaid's Tale, and could very well be a precursor to how our society might easily fall into that particular brand of dystopia. The themes are also similar: power struggles between the wealthy and privileged vs the poor and desperate. With a more modern day take, the ethical and moral dilemmas abound, giving the reader a lot to chew on. Ramos' world building of Golden Oaks and all it entails was vivid and thought provoking. 
”Because in America you only have to know how to make money. Money buys everything else.” 
I also thought that there was a lot of food for thought about feminism, misogyny and racism. Yet it felt like more breadth than depth was given to these themes. Ramos utilizes archetypal characters rather than ones that really stand on their own as a fully fleshed out individuals. There was quite a large cast of characters in the book and I felt as if they could've been pared down significantly so that Jane could have been given a bit more oomph. Though she was somewhat unlikeable, Jane's cousin Ate has the most dynamic and full character arc. Alas, she is not who I wanted to be invested in, to be the hero of the story. I also felt frustrated by the ending, Jane's ending, even though it was probably the most plausible outcome for her and I turned the pages pretty furiously to get to the conclusion.
Overall this was an entertaining read that was driven by plot and juicy 'what if?' scenarios. It would make for an good summer read, and definitely a book club pick - lots of moral choices to dissect.
Many thanks to Random House for the complimentary advance copy in exchange for my honest review!