My Squirrel Days

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Thank you to Scribner for providing me with a copy of Ellie Kemper’s memoir, My Squirrel Days, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Comedian Ellie Kemper reflects on her childhood and shares stories from her journey towards success in the entertainment industry.

LIKE– I’m a huge fan of Ellie Kemper and I was happy to see that she is just as charming and funny the page, as she is in her acting roles.

My Squirrel Days strikes a good balance of stories from Kemper’s pre-fame years to tidbits from her professional career. I think this should be required reading for anyone who is interested in getting into the arts, as Kemper shares both rejections and triumphs, but most important she reveals her tenacity. I imagine that most people think that a regular role on a hit show like The Office, might bring instant fame and wealthy, but Kemper ( although not losing sight on her fortune in landing the role) keeps it in check and shows that not everything is as easy or glamorous as it seems. It reminded me of a similar sentiment that Anna Kendrick mentions in her memoir, Scrappy Little Nobody. Wealthy and fame do not always come quickly in the entertainment industry, even when you land a great role in a hit television series or film.

I really enjoyed the chapter on Tina Fey and the behind-the-scenes of Kemper’s show, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I love this quirky show and I wish that Kemper’s memoir had included even more about Kimmy.

Kemper’s writer’s voice is hilarious. She sets up early on that she was a curious and intense child, a personality trait that carried into her adulthood. She often pokes fun at her own uber-driven behavior. One chapter focuses on her Soul Cycle addiction and how she was very particular about needing a certain bike in the studio. I don’t do Soul Cycle, but as a very particular, routine person, I found myself relating to this chapter.

Her fan-girl love towards David Letterman and excitement over being a guest on his show is a delight to read. Her wacky idea to make him toast is just awesome.

DISLIKE– I hate to say this, but although I enjoyed reading Kemper’s book, I don’t feel that it is a memoir that will make a lasting impression. Even as I am writing this review, about a week after finishing her book, I needed to go back to remember details.

RECOMMEND– Yes, if you’re a fan of Kemper or breaking into the arts and needing to get a little encouragement. My Squirrel Days is a humorous, light-read that will brighten your day. Plus, gotta love anything with a squirrel on the cover!

A Terrible Country

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Thank You to Viking for providing me with a copy of Keith Gessen’s novel, A Terrible Country, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Andrei immigrated from Russia to the United States as a child and now in his early thirties, is a Russian Scholar. He’s struggling to find steady employment and to make his mark in academia, so when his brother calls on him to return to Moscow to care for their elderly grandmother, Andrei decides to go. Beyond caring for a grandmother whom he loves, he hopes that being in Russia will revive his career. Andrei is not prepared for the culture shock that he will encounter in his homeland. It teaches him that being born in a place and learning about it in books, is not the same as day-to-day living.

LIKE– Initially, I was drawn to Gessen’s novel by theme of caregiving. Like Andrei, I’ve been in the position of being caregiver and I could relate to both his frustrations and the joy from this precious time spent with a loved one. Andrei’s relationship with his grandmother, Baba Seva, is one of pure love and devotion. He gives her his all, even when he is struggling financially or is feeling doubtful about his own future. The best parts of A Terrible Country are the scenes between Andrei and Baba Seva. She has dementia and her confusion is heartbreaking.

I’m fairly familiar with famous Russian literature, but I don’t have a wide understanding of Russian history or what a modern Russia looks like. Gessen’s novel gave me a glimpse into Russia: the daily life in a major city and the culture. The title of the book is a refrain through-out the story, even Baba Seva tells Andrei that Russia is “A Terrible Country” urging him to leave, as she refuses to do so herself. This sentiment is multi-faceted. In the most simplistic sense, it is terrible because of the wealth disparity, the crime, and corruption. Andrei realizes that he has had it very easy in America. On the flip-side, this is the place of his birth, the place where he still has family. He feels a strong pull towards Russia. Andrei also manages to make friends during his year in Russia, including a girlfriend. He comes to see the beauty beyond the frustrations and he embraces Russia; warts and all. Russia is no longer a memory from his childhood or a mythology patched together from text books, but a place that is part of his soul. He has developed a strong bond with this terrible country.

DISLIKEA Terrible Country was uneven in keeping my interest. It took me several weeks to read. I suspect this was due to the heavy themes and slice-of-life style, but I kept reading it in spurts, a few chapters at a time and setting it aside in favor of other books. It wasn’t that I was disinterested, I just found the story world to be a place that I didn’t want remain for an extended stay.

RECOMMEND– Yes. Gessen is a talented writer and A Terrible Country is great for readers who want a deeper look at modern day Russia. It compels me to seek out non-fiction books on the subject.

When Life Gives You Lululemons

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Thank you to Simon & Schuster for providing me with a copy of Lauren Weisberger’s novel, When Life Gives You Lululemons, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT-Emily Charlton has left her job as Miranda Priestly’s assistant and is making a name for herself in Hollywood, working as an image consultant. When she loses a few high-profile clients  to a much younger ( and trendier) competitor, Emily heads to the suburbs of Connecticut to take refuge in the home of her dearest friend, Miriam. Miriam’s life as a suburban mom is completely different from Emily’s fast-paced lifestyle. While in Connecticut, Emily gets a career lead, when Miriam’s friend Karolina, a former super-model and wife to a Senator, becomes involved in a front-page scandal. Emily soon realizes that Karolina’s situation may have a sinister side. Can Emily survive living in the suburbs, while she works to repair Karolina’s tarnished reputation?

LIKE-Emily Charlton is one of the most entertaining characters in Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada,and I was thrilled to see her as a main character in When Life Gives You Lululemons. This isn’t a sequel, but a stand-alone book that you can definitely read without having read Prada, but fans will be excited for the return of both Charlton and the devil herself, Miranda Priestly.

When Life Gives You Lululemonshas a solid cast of three strong female leads. I felt the most sympathy for Karolina, who faces severe judgement in the public eye for a crime that she didn’t commit. The fact that she is both rich and beautiful, seems to give others the freedom to be hyper-critical and over look other aspects of her personality, like her intelligence and warm heart. Weisberger’s novels often deal with themes of celebrity, serving to push-back against the way society both obsesses and criticizes those in the public eye. Karolina’s situation is a sad one, made more so by the fact that her step-son, whom she adores and has raised for many years, is taken from her during the scandal.

Weisberger has a knack for clever titles. I enjoyed the fish-out-of-water scenario with Emily having to spend time in Greenwich, CT.. She may know how to handle Miranda Priestly, but suburban housewives are a new breed of high-maintenance women for her to master.

DISLIKE-  When Life Gives You Lululemonswas an enjoyable read, it is not one that is very memorable. I finished it a few weeks ago and even as I am writing this review, I’m struggling to recall key plot points or even how it ended.

RECOMMEND-Yes. I recommend When Life Gives You Lululemonsto fans of The Devil Wears Prada. It’s also a solid pick for a beach read.

Once Upon a Farm

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Thank you to Thomas Nelson- W Publishing for providing me with a copy of Rory Feek’s memoir, Once Upon a Farm, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT-Rory Feek reflects on his life after losing his wife and singing partner, Joey.

LIKE– Nearly a decade ago, I had the most amazing concert experience and actually met Rory and Joey Feek. They opened for the Zak Brown Band during a sold-out concert at the Universal Amphitheatre in California. The show was amazing and at the end of the concert, with a crowd of over six thousand, it was announced that the performers would head to the lobby to sign autographs for anyone who wanted to stick around. I’ve never seen something like that happen at a concert, especially one with so many people. Prior to that night, I had not heard of Rory and Joey, but I did recognize their songs. I waited about an hour in line to meet the performers and when I got to Rory and Joey, I was given the warmest handshake and smiles. They both were kind and humble, just happy to meet with fans. I was immediately smitten.

A few years ago, just weeks after giving birth to her daughter, Indiana, Joey was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cervical cancer. Rory shared their journey through her illness and eventually death, on social media. I followed Rory’s posts and was heartbroken. Truly, I was surprised by how the life of these strangers impacted me. I feel that it is a testament to the way that they opened up their lives through their art.

I was thrilled to come across Once Upon a Farm on Netgalley. Feek’s memoir is a constant affirmation of his love towards Joey and his three daughters. He does not shy away from discussing his grief or speaking about difficult times that he has had in his past.

A chapter that hit home was one in which Feek discusses love languages. Joey experienced difficulties as a stepmom and when they gave it more thought, they realized that it certainly wasn’t for lack of love, but that Joey and Feek’s daughters spoke different love languages. They had a communication problem. I read this book as we were in the middle of our summer visit with my step-kids, a visit where I was feeling very overwhelmed. Reading Feek’s words made me consider that perhaps I needed to figure out a better way to communicate. It gave me perspective.

Once Upon a Farm is a Christian memoir. I did not know this prior to reading it and although many of my family members are Christian, I am not religious. Although I did not always agree with Feek’s perspective, I did appreciate hearing a different view point. He is certainly a man with strong convictions and even had a local church move into the barn on his property. Feek’s entire lifestyle is polar opposite to mine, which is part of the charm of his memoir. I love hearing about different lifestyles and views. The Feek farm does sound like an idyllic slice of heaven.

DISLIKE– A majority of the book is a polished memoir, but a few chapters rambled and were repetitive with regard to content already mentioned in previous chapters.

RECOMMEND-Yes! If you’re a fan of Rory and Joey this is a must-read. I can imagine that some readers may find the Christian aspect to be off-putting ( and some will find it right up their alley!), either way, I encourage you to give Once Upon a Farm a read.

 

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Thank you to Atria Booksfor providing me with a copy of Fredrik Backman’s latest novel, Us Against You, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Fredrik Backman returns to his hockey obsessed Swedish town in Us Against You, the sequel to his 2017 novel, Beartown. Beartown is still experiencing the fallout of a scandal that pitted neighbor against neighbor: the rape of Maya, the daughter of the general manager of the Beartown Hockey Club, who accused the star player, Kevin, of attacking her. The town had divided loyalties, which only aided their biggest rival, the town of Hed, when some of the Beartown players defected to the enemy.

Months have passed and it is summer. Kevin’s family decided that it was best to leave town and although Maya will not longer have to see her rapist, she still feels hatred from those who supported him. Her father, Peter, is on the brink of having his hockey club shut down and is struggling to find a way to keep it going. He is approached by a business man with a proposition, yet the solution may come at the expense of the town residents.

LIKE– I love Fredrik Backman’s novels. He creates characters that have a way of invading your soul; characters that are not only memorable, but ones who become part of your world. I was very eager to go back to Beartown. I have to qualify this though, Beartown is not a happy place. It’s an economically depressed town in rural Sweden. Terrible and cruel things happen in Beartown. It is not a place that you’d want to visit on a vacation to Sweden! The characters are all rough around the edges and have a heavy distrust towards outsiders. They would not welcome you to Beartown. That said, they are also people who love fiercely and are protective towards their own. Beartown has a strong sense of community that is enviable. These are people who not only know their place in the world, but actively own it and are proud of it.

Us Against You is even better than Beartown. I think it has to do with the story. Beartownis more straight-forward, where asUs Against Youis all about the fall-out from the rape and people having to face how they initially reacted. It’s complicated. People do not like to be confronted with their mistakes. Change is hard, change is complicated. Us Against Youhas a large cast of characters and each is written with complexity.

I feel that Backman’s story is timely with regards to the current policy climate, both in America and around the world. It’s not a political story per-se , but it is a story about human emotions and about working with different view points or more than that, the idea that people value things at different levels. It seems simple that people would agree that Kevin should be punished for raping Maya, but it’s not simple. Beyond the idea that some people think Maya has lied, some characters feel that things like having a winning hockey team are more important than Maya’s pain. It’s not really the hockey though. For example, some of the parents of other kids on the team, kids that may not be as talented as Kevin, but who have worked hard for many years, will lose their opportunity to be on a winning team if Kevin isn’t allowed to play. They don’t see it as simple as a Kevin/Maya issue, now that their child is affected. Right or wrong, their value is on their own child, over Maya or Kevin. As in real life, Backman’s characters are complicated because they value different things at different levels, which can lead to not only misunderstandings, but an “Us Against You” attitude. Communication is impossible when people build up their walls.

I’ve been to a hockey game, but I can’t claim to know much about the sport. Us Against Youis a story about the people of the town, but it also has a lot about the game of hockey. It’s a testament to Backman’s writing skills that he can keep a non-hockey fan engaged in the parts of the story that involved the hockey games and practice. I felt energy in his writing that made me excited about the sport.

DISLIKE– My only negative is occasional bouts of sluggish pacing.

RECOMMEND– Yes! If you’ve not already read Beartown, read it first. Us Against Youis a must read for Beartownand Backman fans!

The Pisces

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Thank you to Crown Publishing for providing me with a copy of Melissa Broder’s novel, The Pisces, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Thirty-eight year old Lucy, has spent over a decade living in Arizona and working on her thesis involving the poetry of Sappho. Lucy is struggling with her thesis and when her boyfriend dumps her for a younger a woman, Lucy hits rock bottom.

Lucy needs a break from her desert life. Her sister, Annika, is spending the summer traveling and needs someone to dogsit, so Lucy moves into Annika’s California beach house for three months. While in California, she tries to get her life back on track by attending group therapy for sex addiciton. Nothing seems to be making her life better, until one evening while sitting on the rocks at the beach, she meets Theo, a handsome and mysterious man, who likes to swim by moonlight.

LIKE/DISLIKE– I usually separate what I liked and dislike about a book, but in the case of The Pisces, I feel the two are so intwined that I need to speak of them together.

I likely would not have read The Pisces, if I had realized that it was erotica. The description of the novel said that it was erotic, but did not list it as “Erotica,” which is a big distinction. I’m not a prude, but I also don’t read erotica. It’s not a genre that I’m familiar with, so perhaps someone who is familiar with the genre would have a very different reaction to The Pisces.

I found much of the erotica elements to be icky. There are plenty of vivid descriptions about fecal matter and period blood that are just gross. Broder writes incredible sensory descriptions, but they were often of things that I did not care to imagine. I thought erotica would be sexy and a turn-on, but there was nothing sexy about The Pisces. I felt that a lot of it was for shock value.

The Piscesis narrated by Lucy and she is a self-centered, bitchy character. She makes snide judgements about nearly ever other character in the story. She’s terrible to her sister, who loves her. The worst part is she neglects the elderly dog that is in her care. I’m not sure if I’ve ever read a story with blatant animal abuse. As an animal lover, this was hard to stomach. Although, I think all of this is Broder’s way of showing us that Lucy is a deeply disturbed person and as a reader, we really not supposed to like or connect with her. There is a subtle shift in her character in the last few chapters, but most of the novel she is not someone who is learning from her mistakes or even wishing to make changes.

I liked the colorful characters that Lucy meets in her group therapy, as they add another dynamic to the story. But the whole time the therapist and things there are being told to do in sex therapy, disturbed me. The advice was terrible, further damaging already damaged women. I kept looking for the plot or character that would redeem the story and shed some positive light, but this was hard to find. Annika seems to be the only normal, good-hearted character and her part is minor. The Piscesis a story about deeply damaged people.

This is also a fantasy novel with mythological creatures that requires a heavy suspension of disbelief. Logistically, there were elements that didn’t add up. The scenes with Theo hanging out with Lucy in Annika’s house were bizarre. I was paranoid about the white couch.  I wondered why Lucy didn’t question him more, she was too accepting.

I liked the ending. It’s creepy and unsettling. I didn’t anticipate the twist.

RECOMMEND– Probably not, although I think if you love to read the genre of erotica, maybe give The Piscesa try. This book wasn’t for me.

 

You Think It, I’ll Say It

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Thank you to Random House Publishing Groupfor providing me with a copy of Curtis Sittenfeld’s short story collection, You Think It, I’ll Say It, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT-You Think It, I’ll Say Itis a collection of short stories from acclaimed novelist, Curtis Sittenfeld.

LIKE– Sittenfeld is one of my favorite modern writers and I was absolutely thrilled to have an opportunity to review her latest book, a collection of short stories.

Sittenfeld doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable and many of her characters toy with emotional bombshells. They exist on the edge, often crossing the line by acting on their impulses.

In the story which provides the inspiration for title of the collection, The World Has Many Butterflies, friends begin to have an emotional affair by playing a strange game: “You Think it, I’ll Say It.” They secretly play this game when they come in contact at parties and their kid’s sporting events. Graham initiates the play by mentioning the title and then Julie begins to tear down the other people in the room, as if she and Graham are conspirators thinking the same thoughts. At first, Julie feels a sense of freedom in speaking as she wishes and saying what’s on her mind, but the game becomes increasingly intimate, as she speaks in a way that she wouldn’t dare reveal to her spouse.

Plausible Deniability plays on a similar theme, with Libby having an emotional affair with her brother-in-law. She feels in her gut that it is crossing the line, but for over a year she continues to send him text messages. At a certain point, they agree to only send one message a day and the message can only be about classical music. Libby sends these incredibly intimate texts about the music she loves. When she becomes pregnant and confronts her brother-in-law regarding this emotional affair and intimacy that they are having, he tries to make it seem like it isn’t a big deal. Libby admits that it is a big deal to her, she thinks about him romantically and even though he is devastated that she wants to cut it off, he won’t admit that they have crossed the line. He is the narrator of the story, so we know that he loves her more than he should and even more devastating, he realizes that his brother doesn’t really love her.

Old memories from high school and college also haunt Sittenfeld’s characters. A Regular Couple, involves two couples on their honeymoon who meet at a resort in the desert. The wives were high school classmates over two decades ago. The narrator, Maggie, is both intimidated and fascinated with Ashley, who was a very popular girl in their high school. Now, Maggie is a successful lawyer and immediately, Ashley mentions having seen Maggie in the news. Maggie and her husband are staying in the most expensive rooms, while Ashley and her much older husband, are staying in cheaper accommodations. Maggie knows she has reaches success in her career and she even has a “trophy husband”- She admits that her husband, Jason, is far more attractive than she is and she constantly worries that Jason, who does not have as successful of a career, is using her for her money. Maggie is insecure and spending time with Ashley turns her into a mess. Although Ashley seems to have nothing but goodwill towards Maggie, Maggie can’t help but try to seek retribution for the way that she was treated in high school.

Do-Over is a perfect story for our political climate. A few decades after they graduated from boarding school, Sylvia looks up her old classmate, Clay and they have dinner. Sylvia and Clay ran against each other in a school campaign and there was a tie vote. The school administrators gave the role to Clay, offering Sylvia a lesser leadership role. Years later, Sylvia, who also happened to have a crush on Clay back in high school, decides to confront him or rather, ambush him. Sylvia, feeling she has nothing to lose, lets Clay know exactly how she feels during a very tense and awkward dinner date.

You Think It, I’ll Say Itis a solid collection and every single story was excellent. No clunkers. I adore Sittenfeld. Her characters engage in cringe-worthy behavior, but their mindset and impulses are always relatable. She understands how people tick and I love to see how her stories play out. She always keeps me guessing and turning the page. Her wicked sense of humor also shines through.

DISLIKE– Not a single thing.

RECOMMEND– YES, YES, YES!!! I recommend You Think It, I’ll Say It and everything else that Sittenfeld has written. I can’t wait to read what she writes next. Sittenfeld is such a talent!

The Favorite Sister

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Thank you to Simon & Schuster for providing me with a copy of Jessica Knoll’s latest novel, The Favorite Sister, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– “Goal Diggers” is a reality show about a group of highly driven and successful entrepenurial women. All are successful in their careers, but the show creates a new format in which they can compete. The women backstab and lie in efforts to show that they are valuable enough for the network to cast them on the subsequent season of “Goal Diggers.” Those who do not prove their worth by being entertaining enough are ruthlessly shown the door.

Long time cast member Brett, owns a chain of cycle fitness centers with her older sister, Kelly. This season, we learn that Kelly has been added as a full-time cast member. This shocks the cast because Kelly is a single-mom and being a mother had never been part of the plan for any of the other “Goal Diggers”. Kelly’s teenage daughter is beautiful, sassy and bi-racial. Stephanie, the only African-American and the oldest member of the cast, immediately feels threatened, thinking that Kelly’s daughter might be her replacement.

Early in the novel, we learn through a flash-forward that Brett is dead and there is something very fishy regarding her death. However, to figure out how Brett died and who is responsible, we need to sit back and enjoy the current season of “Goal Diggers”: the most vicious and shocking season to date!

LIKE– I loved Jessica Knoll’s debut novel, Luckiest Girl Alive and I was thrilled to be granted a copy of The Favorite Sister. Knoll has a fabulous writer’s voice and excels at tone. The tone of The Favorite Sisteris snarky and bitchy, there are so many cutting remarks. It’s a black comedy and often very funny. I don’t remember the exact line, but a memorable comment that made me laugh-out-loud, was when one character uses the term “Bae” and another character cuts into her fear of being old, by telling her that no one under thirty uses “Bae” anymore. Knoll’s novel is filled with comedic moments.

The Favorite Sister made me feel stressed. All of the characters are constantly struggling to maintain their image and push their brand. Logically we know, and they probably know, that nothing that they ever do will be enough. It’s a never ending hamster wheel. However, to a much lesser degree, this is what a majority of us do when we waste time on social media. I think this is why I felt anxiety reading The Favorite Sister, it touches a nerve.

The characters are successful in their careers, yet it seems like none of that success counts, unless they are able to prove their worth on “Goal Diggers”. On the surface, “Goal Diggers” claims to be a show that lifts-up women and showcases their successes, but of course that is all a sham for a reality show that is just as dirty as the latest “Housewives of…” series. The participants on the show all willingly play into the charade, all desperate to keep in the spotlight.

I’m a Reality TV fan, so the overall theme appealed to me and I loved Knoll’s behind the scenes look at the fictitious “Goal Diggers.” It’s fun to see the manipulation on the production side. The ending was an unexpected surprise with great twists.

DISLIKEThe Favorite Sister was not an effortless read. It took me about half the book to really keep all of the characters straight. It didn’t help that I was trying to read it during my vacation in England: not a distraction free environment. If you plan to read The Favorite Sister, I suggest setting aside a large chunk of time to really get into the story.

Also making it difficult was the pacing. I found the middle of the story to be sluggish. I think it may be in part due to the nature of the story with regard to tone. None of the characters are even remotely likable and their ceaseless negative attitudes is draining on the reader. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of funny moments that comes with this territory and the story world dictates this behavior, but it’s also cumbersome. I couldn’t call this a page turner, because I had to set it aside, not wanting to spend too many minutes in this world at a time.

RECOMMEND– Maybe. I highly recommend Knoll’s first novel, Luckiest Girl Alive, but I’m hesitant to recommend The Favorite Sister. That said, Knoll is a very gifted writer and I will absolutely read her next book. I appreciate what she was trying to accomplish withThe Favorite Sister, but the negative energy drained me.

Sweetbitter

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PLOT– Just twenty-two and ready to strike out on her own, Tess moves to New York City and lands a job at a prestigious restaurant. As she learns the ropes, trying to work her way up to being a server, she gets a crash-course in the restaurant industry. Tess discovers that the world is a bigger place than she had imagined as she becomes exposed to new foods, wines, and an eclectic group of co-workers. However navigating this new world is not easy, especially when she begins a relationship with a sexy bartender.

LIKESweetbitterhas been on my radar for a long-time. It has gotten a lot of buzz and has recently been turned into a television series on the Starz network. I finally caved and bought it, when it got a great review from Gina B, co-host of theStories We’d Tell in Bars Podcast.It seemed like the perfect vacation read for my trip to England.

Gina was right, Sweetbitteris a page-turner. It’s a bit salacious and soap-opera esque, an escapism read. However, this is not to undermine Stephanie Danler’s writing skills. One of the pleasures in Sweet Bitter is the sensuous way that she describes food and drink. The joy of fine dining is not just in the taste, but also the presentation. There are so many vivid and beautiful descriptions in Sweetbitter.It’s food-porn. The delight isn’t just in the fine dining, but also how Tess and her coworkers steal away things to enjoy. For example, there is a scene where they steal fresh oysters and enjoy them on the sly in the kitchen. The message being that fine dining is not limited to the rich and that the pleasures of food are for everyone. Also, the pleasures of food are not only to be found in expensive restaurants, the characters eat at greasy spoon diners and create feasts in their own homes. Tess learns the need to develop her palate and experience a variety of flavors.

It’s easy for me to fall in love with stories of protagonist who are starting out in the world. i love the idea of fresh starts and how everything is exciting. Tess fits this role perfectly and although she starts to spiral into a dark territory towards the middle/end, I always found myself rooting for her to succeed. I wish she had maintained her innocence longer.

I love the setting of a restaurant. My ex-husband worked in the restaurant industry and I found myself feeling a familiarity with the way the staff had shift drinks after closing and developed a family atmosphere. I also recognized the dysfunction. There is so much dysfunction and extreme behavior.

Simone is the senior waitstaff, a woman with a cool exterior who seems to always have everything under control. She’s a great character. She’s a bit mysterious and always teetering on being either Tess’ friend or foe. I enjoyed the dynamic between Tess and Simone.

DISLIKE– I found Tess’ slide into drug and alcohol abuse to be a little quick. It made the story take a heavy turn than dragged down the pacing. I felt like something else needed to happen with the turn in the story. For example when Tess sits down with Simone at the end, it wasn’t a satisfying resolution, because I failed to believe that Tess had become strong enough to stand up to Simone. It needed another layer to make it believable.

RECOMMEND– Yes! Sweetbitter is a guilty-pleasure read that I fully embraced. I’m looking forward to watching the television series and I’m wondering how they will manage to capture Danler’s rich descriptions. You should read the book, just for the beautiful sensory elements.

Then She Was Gone

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Thank you to Atria Books for providing me with a copy of Lisa Jewell’s novel, Then She Was Gone, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT-Ellie Mack is a beautiful, smart, popular teenager, who seems to have everything going for her. One day, on her way to the library, she disappears and her case goes cold. A decade later. Ellie’s mother, Laurel, begins to date a man named Floyd, whose daughter, Poppy, bears a striking resemblance to Ellie. Laurel begins to revisit her daughter’s disappearance and discovers new facts of the case. Can Laurel finally find out what happened to daughter? Does Poppy hold the key?

LIKE-I’ve read several of Lisa Jewell’s other novels and I was very excited to be granted a copy of Then She Was Gone. Jewell is masterful at crafting great suspense and mysteries. However, where she really shines is with her characters. She has a gift at tapping into the human psyche and creating relatable, multi-deminisional characters.

Characters are what shine in Then She Was Gone. I was most drawn to Laurel, the grieving mother who not only lost her daughter, but also saw her marriage collapse under the weight of a missing child. Laurel is just getting her life back together when she meets Floyd and is shoved back down the rabbit hole of her daughter’s case. Her anxiety and grief is palpable.

We do not learn Ellie’s fate until late in the story, but she is the narrator in some of the flashback chapters. Of course as a reader, our bond with Ellie is not going to be strong, like her mother’s, however these chapters do serve to give us a clearer picture of Ellie and give us a chance to connect with her. Jewell is equally great at writing adults and children, letting us see Ellie’s frame of mind and motivations.

Then She Was Goneheads to some very dark places and is a story that made me anxious. I saw a blurb comparing it to Gone Girl, which was a little misleading. When I think of comparisons to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, I think that the story must have an unreliable narrator. Then She Was Gonehas narrators under duress, but they are not unreliable. I read another that compared it to Alice Sebold’s novel, The Lovely Bones,which is a much better comparison with regard to both theme and tone.

DISLIKE– I anticipated the twist early on and kept hoping that it would not be what I was expecting. It’s not that the story wasn’t intriguing, but it’s always a little bit of a let down when you manage to figure out the twist early on. I did not anticipate the creepy, disturbing aspects of the twist. It gave me chills.

RECOMMEND– Yes! Jewell is such a marvelous writer that I have to recommend all of her novels, including Then She Was Gone.