Showing posts with label netgalley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label netgalley. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

September Reads: Generation Chef, and new Herman Koch

In between all the craziness going on around my house this month, I've actually still managed to READ!  Here's the latest and greatest from 'round these parts lately:

Generation Chef by Karen Stabiner
Avery Books, 2016
copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Hey, remember how I love foodie nonfiction?  Yeah, you probably forgot, because it's been so long since I reviewed any!  But when Generation Chef was offered up to me for review, I absolutely could not resist.  Journalist Karen Stabiner shadowed up-and-coming New York City chef Jonah Miller as he embarked upon his life's dream: opening a restaurant of his own.  As Miller opened the door to his restaurant (Huertas), Stabiner bore witness to everything: the bureaucratic frustrations of real estate, investors, and liquor licenses; the continual management of both kitchen and service employees; the painstaking balance between making a menu that's true to the chef, and one that gets people in the door.  I was fully impressed by the depth of detail that she was able to include--this is one of those nonfiction books that almost reads like fiction, because so much emotion is embedded in the text.
The book stands out for another reason: Stabiner takes the story beyond Miller's journey with Huertas, and weaves in the journeys of other, more seasoned chefs, and how they did (or did not) find success.  All of these side stories compliment the central narrative perfectly, without taking away from the flow of the book.
Generation Chef will amaze you (with Miller's persistence and drive), amuse you (there's a fair amount of restaurant-style humor included), and make you incredibly hungry.  Seriously, if I didn't live 7 hours from NYC, I'd be at Huertas right now ordering nonstop pintxos.  Foodies and nonfiction fans alike will love this read!

Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch
Hogarth, 2016
copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

I am doing a bang-up terrible job of turning down ARCs lately, especially those from authors that I've enjoyed in the past.  I know Herman Koch's The Dinner was not for everyone, but I was a huge fan, and Summer House With Swimming Pool worked equally well for me.  I couldn't wait to see what Koch had in store with this latest release, Dear Mr. M, which deals with the disappearance of a high school teacher after he has an affair with one of his students.
Since this is a mini review, the short version is that I did not enjoy this one as much as Koch's other two novels.  It started off in typical Koch fashion: narrator is a creepy, possibly psychotic?, stalker-type, and the constant flashbacks make the storyline continuously more mysterious.  However, about halfway through the book, the narration switches to the girl who had the affair with her teacher, and Koch lost me.  Her story was too drawn out and lacked the suspense of the earlier section.  By the time we switched to other, more engaging narrators, it was hard for me to jump back on board and enjoy the (admittedly twisty) conclusion.  This one definitely had a whiff of the Herman Koch I remember from his first two books, but didn't pack the same punch.

What are you reading this month?

Monday, June 13, 2016

He Will Be My Ruin by K.A. Tucker


Title: He Will Be My Ruin
Author: K.A. Tucker
Publisher: Atria
Publication Date: February 2, 2016
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Twenty-eight-year-old Maggie Sparkes arrives in New York City to pack up what’s left of her best friend’s belongings after a suicide that has left everyone stunned. The police have deemed the evidence conclusive: Celine got into bed, downed a bottle of Xanax and a handle of Maker’s Mark, and never woke up. But when Maggie discovers secrets in the childhood lock box hidden in Celine’s apartment, she begins asking questions. Questions about the man Celine fell in love with. The man she never told anyone about, not even Maggie. The man who Celine herself claimed would be her ruin.

On the hunt for answers that will force the police to reopen the case, Maggie uncovers more than she bargained for about Celine’s private life—and inadvertently puts herself on the radar of a killer who will stop at nothing to keep his crimes undiscovered.


My Review:

I haven't jumped into the mystery genre in a while, but I was happy to give this one a shot after reading that description.  I'm new to K.A. Tucker's work, but recognized her name, and this was a great first novel of hers to jump into.  He Will Be My Ruin combines a sassy protagonist, several shady suspects, and of course, a few good red herrings along the way.  I was pleasantly surprised by the end result.

At first, I thought for sure that I had this mystery all figured out from the get-go.  I had it narrowed down to two possible suspects, and couldn't see how Tucker would manage to have it NOT be so predictably one of them.  However, even though I kept going back to my two main targets, by the end of the book I had suspected EVERYBODY (except maybe Maggie) at least once.  Tucker builds just enough oddity into each character that it's easy to concoct a motive for nearly any of them.  Plus, she creates unexpected side plots that flesh out the mystery more and more as the novel goes on.  I won't give away the ending, but I'll say that it was a spectacular finish that left me happy to have gone on the journey to get there.

This review is about as straightforward as it gets: if you love a good whodunit, with lots of quirky characters and a little bit of romantic spice thrown in, then He Will Be My Ruin is a good bet.

As always, much thanks to Lisa and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Want to find out more?  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE. And connect with K.A. Tucker via her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Nonfiction Mini-Reviews x3!

I didn't mean to do it, but my last 3 reads have all been nonfiction...and now that I've realized it, I'm pining for more!  Send me all your latest nonfiction recommendations, if you please.  In the meantime, here's some snapshots of what I've been reading lately:

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach
W.W. Norton, 2016
received from the publisher for an honest review


If you didn't see my review of Mary Roach's Packing for Mars a few months back, let me tell you that she specializes in hilarious, science-based nonfiction.  She generally chooses unconventional topics (the particulars of space travel, the science of human cadavers, etc), researches the minutiae behind them, and peppers her findings with off-color humor.  Now that is MY brand of nonfiction.

In Roach's latest release, the topic is war, but not in the way it's covered via politics or military strategy.  Instead, she's delved into the oft-not-discussed ways that our military uses science to provide for our soldiers at home and overseas.  For example: what happens when a Navy SEAL really, really has to poop during a mission?  (I'm dead serious.  She actually ASKED A NAVY SEAL THAT.)  How are military hospitals providing for soldiers that lose not just limbs, but also their genitals, during combat?  How do submariners in the Navy prepare for undersea conditions?  (Nice shout outs to my hometown of Groton, CT (Submarine Capital of the World, say heyyy) in that section!)  These are the questions that you didn't even know you had, but now you want them answered.

Overall I enjoyed this one, because Roach's humor was on point (as expected), and the research was interesting.  However, as a whole the book did not click with me quite as well as Packing for Mars did.  I felt like the chapters were a bit disjointed from each other, which disrupted the flow between topics.  Plus, I found it harder to laugh at her humor on this particular subject.  Giggling over space toilets is one thing, but finding the humor in genital reconstruction for wounded soldiers was a bit tougher.  Perhaps my humor has it's limits?  I never thought I'd see the day...

Anyway, this is worth the read for followers of Mary Roach, and I think anyone connected to the military would find it intriguing.  It's not my favorite of hers, but I'm still interested in reading her other work.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Knopf, 2012
borrowed from the good ol' public library

The latest read for my MOMS Club Book Club!  This is Cheryl Strayed's memoir of when, after dealing with her mother's sudden death, her own divorce, as well as a descent into drug addiction, she decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.  The trail runs from Mexico to Canada via California, Oregon, and Washington.  Strayed tackled the trail with no previous backpacking experience, in the hopes that she would find something to allow her to get her life back on track.

There is a ton of hype about this book (especially since the release of the Reese Witherspoon movie), but I understand why.  This is a very moving memoir, and Strayed is startlingly honest about her childhood, her failed marriage, and her ups and downs on the trail.  I found many of her experiences to be inspiring, even in her weakest moments.  The interesting cast of characters that she encounters during her trek will (mostly) raise your faith in humanity.  Plus, it's excellent hiking inspiration for the outdoorsy readers--I already told my husband that we must put the PCT on our bucket list!

Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon by Ed Caesar
Simon & Schuster, 2015
borrowed from the good ol' public library

Love me a good running read these days!  In Two Hours, Ed Caesar discusses exactly what it would take for a professional marathoner to eventually break the coveted 2:00 mark.  The current world record is 2:02:57, and while 2 minutes and 57 seconds doesn't sound like a long time to most, to elite marathoners it is an enormous divide.  Caesar looks into the science behind it--there are researchers who have done a variety of tests in order to estimate what they believe to be the absolute limit for how quickly a human can run 26.2 miles.  But alongside that, he follows the marathon pursuits of Geoffrey Mutai, an elite Kenyan runner who has his sights set on both a world record and the 2:00 wall.  This combination of scientific and personal perspectives on the upper limits of marathoning made for a fascinating book.

One of my favorite tidbits from this book is the discussion of how modern day road races do not provide favorable conditions for runners to get the fastest marathon time possible.  Many are hilly, provide very little shade, and don't allow the runners to employ pacers (non-racing runners who are hired to pace them at exactly what they need to hit a certain finish time--one racer will sometimes use a few different pacers throughout a race, if it is allowed).  Plus, they are weather dependent--you could be in the best shape of your life, but if you wake up and have to run your marathon on a sunny 80 degree day, the chances of a good time are nil.  This is just one of many fun discussions that got my brain turning in this book.  Two Hours is a quick read, and excellent brain food for anyone with running interests!

What are your current reads?  Any new nonfiction on the docket for you lately?  What's the best memoir you've read lately?

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Most Wanted by Lisa Scottoline


Title: Most Wanted
Author: Lisa Scottoline
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: April 12, 2016
Source: copy provided for an honest review by the publisher

Summary from Goodreads

When a woman and her husband, desperate for a baby, find themselves unable to conceive, they decide to take further steps. Since it is the husband who is infertile, the heroine decides to use a donor. And all seems to be well. Three months pass and she is happily pregnant. But a shocking revelation occurs when she discovers that a man arrested for a series of brutal murders is her donor - the biological father of the child she is carrying. Delving deeper to uncover the truth, the heroine must face her worst fears, and confront a terrifying truth.

My Review:

This is my third Lisa Scottoline novel, and the third one I've given 3 stars to on Goodreads.  I went through the exact same experience with this book as I did with the other two of hers that I've read.  Let me lay out my typical Lisa Scottoline chain of events for you, and maybe this time I will actually learn something from it...

1. Read book description, instantly be like "OMG I must read this NOW."
Done and done.  I found the book on NetGalley and despite the fact that I've been trying (note: mostly failing) at controlling my impulses over there, I took one look at the description for this book and knew that I HAD to request a review.  Serial killers and infertility and marital strife, oh my!!

2. Begin book, love explosive intro!
The novel opened, and I was fascinated by hot-button topics that Scottoline introduced: confidentiality of sperm/egg donors (especially interesting for me as I was thisclose to applying to be an egg donor when I was in college), the impact of nature vs nurture in psychological disorders, coping with male infertility, etc.  This is cool.  I'm on board.

3. Middle of book. Female protagonist is annoying. Completely unbelievable series of events start happening. Losing faith in my ability to choose good novels.
First, things got slow.  Christine was spending so much time debating what her next step should be that the entire plot hit the brakes for a bit too long.  Then things got moving again, and Christine proved herself to be absolutely insufferable and she continued to make one ridiculous decision after the next.  Not only did I find Christine's choices questionable, but their resulting odd consequences felt so far-fetched at times that I just couldn't play along.

4. Ending: good but not great.  Three star book for interesting concept but subpar execution.
I was pleased that the ending did not turn out as I predicted.  That said, I had trouble embracing Christine's "heroine" status after it was caused by so many flighty decisions beforehand (see above).
Plus...I don't want to give anything away, but suffice to say that there is one person in this book who brings the phrase "wrong place, wrong time" to a whole new (completely implausible) level.

In the end, Most Wanted was a solid 3 stars for me.  Great concept, but the execution left a lot to be desired.  I WANT to love Scottoline's novels so badly!!  She comes up with such compelling topics!  But I've had the same middle-of-the-road reaction to each of her books that I've tried so far, unfortunately.

Do you have an author that you keep trying over and over, in the hopes that maybe THIS time will be different??

Monday, April 11, 2016

3 Minis: A New Release, an Old(ish) Release, and More Zombies!

Hola, readers!  Most of my reviews lately have been for TLC Book Tours (which means they are a bit longer), but I finally have another set of mini reviews here for you today.  I hope you like reading them as much as I like writing them...sometimes it's nice to keep it short & concise!

Alice & Oliver by Charles Bock
Random House, 2016
received from publisher for an honest review

I read this book and now I am broken inside.  /review

Okay, I'll add a little more, but really, this book is heart-wrenchingly amazing.  I requested it via NetGalley and quickly realized that the online description of the novel does not do it justice.  Quickie synopsis: Alice and Oliver are happily married with a baby daughter, Doe, when Alice is diagnosed with cancer.  Alice & Oliver is not only the tale of their physical battle with the disease, but also a penetrating look at what happens when relationships are pushed to the brink.  It takes much more than physical strength and fierce mental fortitude to survive such suffering, and Bock's novel illustrates this better than any other that I've read on the subject.  I loved Alice.  I didn't love Oliver, but did come to understand him a bit more by the end.  Together, they have a connection that is uncommon, but is still illustrative of the myriad ways that couples muck their way through difficult, seemingly impossible problems.

There are parts of this book are funny, unique, and thought-provoking.  There are also parts that are harrowing, sorrowful, and difficult to read.  Read it anyway.  You'll likely be seeing this on my best-of lists at the end of the year.

All The Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld
Pantheon, 2014
borrowed from the library

This is the latest pick for my MOMS Club book club.  I'm interested to see how our discussion goes in a few weeks, because this novel left me feeling half in awe, and half totally scratching my head.  Jake Whyte is the female protagonist, currently a sheep farmer on an island off the coast of the UK.  However, she has a shady backstory that goes back several years and thousands of miles.  As present-day Jake tries to find out what is killing the sheep on her farm, the chapters also alternate back to her past, slowly opening the story of what brought her to the sheep farm, and what demons may still be lying in wait.

I was half in awe because this book is BEAUTIFULLY written.  It's a fairly quick read, but there is not one wasted word on these pages.  And I love how the chapters alternate between Jake past and present--the structure was perfect, as the action peaked in both timelines right at the end.  Jake is a fantastic character, terrifically complicated--watching her develop is amazing.

BUT (my one "but"): the ending.  Like really, what WAS that ending?  I am all for not tying up the loose ends and giving the reader something to chew on, but this was too much.  I could have used a little less symbolism and a little more closure.  Still--I'm happy I spent the time on this one, because it's a stellar read, the final pages notwithstanding.

The Walking Dead: Compendium Two by Robert Kirkman & co.
Image Comics, 2012
borrowed from the library

I've already discussed with you my recent love affair with The Walking Dead comics (here).  The affair has only grown as I finished the second compendium of the series.  It has been awesome to watch the major characters grow and change, and to see how well many of the comic scenes were translated to TV.  (And on the flip side, how many of them never even made it to TV.)  Gotta say that one of my favorite characters so far is Andrea--what a bad ass!  And that's hilarious, given how much I despised her TV persona.  I'd say the one downside is that I think Rick's character waxes philosophical on the same topics a bit too much--it gets repetitive after a while.  But beyond that, I'm loving this view of the Walking Dead world.

(And, for those who follow the show--this compendium ends just after Rick's group starts interacting with Hilltop.  Um, I NEED to get Compendium Three before Season 7 starts!!!  EEEEEKKK.)

What are your current reads?  Do you have any 2016 reads so far that you think will be on your end-of-year favorites list?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Fast Into the Night by Debbie Clarke Moderow


Title: Fast Into the Night: A Woman, Her Dogs, and Their Journey North on the Iditarod Trail
Author: Debbie Clarke Moderow
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: February 2, 2016
Source: copy provided for an honest review by the publisher via NetGalley

Summary from Goodreads

At age forty-seven, a mother of two, Debbie Moderow was not your average musher in the Iditarod, but that’s where she found herself when, less than 200 miles from the finish line, her dogs decided they didn’t want to run anymore. After all her preparation, after all the careful management of her team, and after their running so well for over a week, the huskies balked. But the sting of not completing the race after coming so far was nothing compared to the disappointment Moderow felt in having lost touch with her dogs.   

Fast into the Night is the gripping story of Moderow’s journeys along the Iditarod trail with her team of spunky huskies: Taiga and Su, Piney and Creek, Nacho and Zeppy, Juliet and the headstrong leader, Kanga. The first failed attempt crushed Moderow’s confidence, but after reconnecting with her dogs she returned and ventured again to Nome, pushing through injuries,  hallucinations, epic storms, flipped sleds, and clashing personalities, both human and canine. And she prevailed.   Part adventure, part love story, part inquiry into the mystery of the connection between humans and dogs, Fast into the Night is an exquisitely written memoir of a woman, her dogs, and what can happen when someone puts herself in that place between daring and doubt—and soldiers on.


My Review:

This is a different sort of nonfiction for me, considering that I had exactly zero familiarity with the Iditarod before picking it up.  (Well, I knew it was a dog sledding race.  In Alaska.  Probably pretty cold.  That's about it.)  However, I couldn't help giving it a go after reading the description.  Due to my obvious current interest in distance running, I was fascinated by the idea of all the training, preparation, and tenacity required to complete the Iditarod.  Running does not equal dog sledding, but both sports require a high level of athleticism and commitment, so I wanted to know more.

My curiosity was rewarded with an amazing story.  Moderow's two Iditarod journeys make for excellent reading on their own, but she also breaks up the telling of those races with the background on what led her into dog sledding.  From her childhood in Connecticut to her adulthood as a married mom of 2 in Alaska, she has a unique path to Iditarod racing that is full of both hard lessons and inspirational anecdotes.

In addition, my piqued interest in the sport of dog sledding was rewarded with Moderow's detailed accounts of her two Iditarods.  I had no concept of the months (sometimes years) of meticulous planning, the grueling training, and the thousands of dollars required to meet such a challenge head-on.  Not to mention the solid, caring bond that needs to be forged between a musher and his/her dog team--it was amazing to see how Moderow was constantly aware of the needs and quirks of each individual dog.  And Debbie Moderow did this TWICE!  After not finishing the first time!  That blows me away.  You'll certainly leave this book with an appreciation for the sport (and the 2016 Iditarod is in March, so read now and get excited for this year's race--I'm already following updates on Facebook!  Haha).

Fast Into the Night is both a moving memoir and an inspiring tale of strength and endurance, enhanced for me as it also became a learning experience about the world of dog sledding.  This may have been a subject outside of my usual nonfiction fare, but I'm so glad that I took a chance on it!

What's the last nonfiction book you read that taught you about a completely new-to-you subject?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova


Title: Inside the O'Briens
Author: Lisa Genova
Publisher: Gallery
Publication Date: April 7, 2015
Source: ARC received from the publisher via NetGalley for an honest review

Summary from Goodreads

Joe O’Brien is a forty-four-year-old police officer from the Irish Catholic neighborhood of Charlestown, Massachusetts. A devoted husband, proud father of four children in their twenties, and respected officer, Joe begins experiencing bouts of disorganized thinking, uncharacteristic temper outbursts, and strange, involuntary movements. He initially attributes these episodes to the stress of his job, but as these symptoms worsen, he agrees to see a neurologist and is handed a diagnosis that will change his and his family’s lives forever: Huntington’s Disease.

Huntington’s is a lethal neurodegenerative disease with no treatment and no cure. Each of Joe’s four children has a 50 percent chance of inheriting their father’s disease, and a simple blood test can reveal their genetic fate. While watching her potential future in her father’s escalating symptoms, twenty-one-year-old daughter Katie struggles with the questions this test imposes on her young adult life. Does she want to know? What if she’s gene positive? Can she live with the constant anxiety of not knowing?

As Joe’s symptoms worsen and he’s eventually stripped of his badge and more, Joe struggles to maintain hope and a sense of purpose, while Katie and her siblings must find the courage to either live a life “at risk” or learn their fate.


My Review:

I already mentioned a few days ago how much I enjoyed Inside the O'Briens.  If you've read any of Genova's other novels, you know that she does an excellent job of humanizing neurological disorders--bringing them to life through stories of (fictional) families forced to deal with the diseases' consequences in the everyday details of life.  That was certainly the case in this book as well.  Before reading, I already knew the "textbook" definition of Huntington's disease, but Inside the O'Briens opened my eyes to the devastating effects that this condition has not only on the person who has been diagnosed, but on all of their family and friends.

I like that Genova chose someone like Joe O'Brien as a protagonist, as well.  He's kind of a macho guy--police officer, patriarch of a large Irish family, doesn't really wear his emotions on his sleeve, and not real concerned about his health in general.  Not someone who might have coping mechanisms already in place for a disease like Huntington's--much less know what it is.  Watching him navigate his diagnosis, as well as its implications for his family, is heartbreaking.  Genova develops his character with amazing heart.

As much as I liked this book, I did feel that it dragged in some parts.  The narrative jumps back and forth between Joe and his youngest daughter Katie (who is trying to decide if she wants to do genetic testing to reveal if she will eventually get Huntington's).  Both Joe and Katie spend a lot of time wrestling with their internal dialogue.  For Joe, it's figuring out how he will cope with the disease as he gets sicker, and how he can best support his family.  For Katie, it's deciding if she should be tested, and if so, what that means for her future.  While their respective journeys of self-discovery do progress over time, I often felt like they got a bit repetitive and "stuck", debating the same points over and over.  I don't say that to lessen the importance of their struggles, but as a reader, it did slow the plot down quite a bit at times.

That said, the strong emotions and family struggles in this book absolutely outweighed the concerns I had about the slow movement of the plot.  This is an excellent read for anyone with an interest in familial drama, neurological disorders, or who just plain wants a good tug on the heartstrings.

**Lisa Genova is encouraging all readers of her book to donate to the Huntington's Disease Society of America, to further research into treatment and a cure for the disease.  Please check out THIS LINK if you're interested!

Have you read any of Lisa Genova's novels?  Has your life been affected by a family member with a neurodegenerative disorder?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

And then my heart burst. Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum


Title: Hausfrau
Author: Jill Alexander Essbaum
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: March 17, 2015
Source: review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Summary from Goodreads

Anna Benz, an American in her late thirties, lives with her Swiss husband Bruno and their three young children in a postcard-perfect suburb of Z├╝rich. Though she leads a comfortable, well-appointed life, Anna is falling apart inside. Adrift and increasingly unable to connect with the emotionally unavailable Bruno or even with her own thoughts and feelings, Anna tries to rouse herself with new experiences: German language classes, Jungian analysis, and a series of sexual affairs she enters into with an ease that surprises even her. Tensions escalate, and her lies start to spin out of control. Having crossed a moral threshold, Anna will discover where a woman goes when there’s no going back. 

My Review:

I read Hausfrau and now I AM BROKEN INSIDE.

Honestly, I was a bit unsure of this book during the first half.  Hausfrau is getting a ton of buzz right now, and as I jumped into the text, I had to spend some time unraveling Anna's inner turmoil.  At first, I found myself getting rather annoyed with her--what business does she have, cheating on her husband at every turn?  Ignoring her kids in favor of another tryst?  I even was (dare I say it?) bored for a chapter or two as things played out.  (And, I should note (for those who'd like the content warning), they do play out quite graphically.  It got a little 50 Shades of Grey up in there for a while.)  But as the details came together, I began to realize that Anna isn't a stereotypical desperate housewife.  Anna is really and truly depressed.  And this book captures her downward spiral in the most heartbreakingly stunning way.

I think that's the best thing to know going into this book: there is no catch here.  There's no mystery behind Anna's background that's going to explain her actions to you (I kept waiting for some big reveal about her past that didn't happen).  This book is a character study in depression, plain and simple.  And depression doesn't usually have one root cause that can be so quickly explained.

Even though there is no big revelation about Anna along the way, there is a rather significant plot change that occurs in the second half, and this is where my heart basically imploded and I could.not.stop.reading until the very end.  Oh, the sadness, my friends.  I felt so deeply for Anna by the end of this novel.  I don't get real attached to characters in novels most of the time, but I felt emotionally entrenched in her story for sure.

And the ending.  This book could make my favorites list for the year simply because of how well Essbaum wrote the last page.  I won't spoil it for you but just...amazingly poignant.

Do you like character-driven novels?  Do you like to feel all the feels (and I don't even like that phrase), especially the depressingly sad ones?  Then Hausfrau will be the most well-written novel to make you cry in 2015.  HANDS DOWN.

What's the last book that really and truly tugged at your heartstrings?  Made you cry?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir


Title: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
Publisher: Crown
Publication Date: February 11, 2014
Source: ARC received from the publisher via NetGalley for an honest review

Summary from Goodreads

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first man to die there.

It started with the dust storm that holed his suit and nearly killed him, and that forced his crew to leave him behind, sure he was already dead. Now he's stranded millions of miles from the nearest human being, with no way to even signal Earth that he's alive--and even if he could get word out, his food would be gone years before a rescue mission could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to get him first.

But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills--and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit--he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?


My Review:

Did you ever read a book and think, "This would make a great movie"?  Well, move over Apollo 13, because The Martian could totally be the next space-based blockbuster.  Is Kevin Bacon still available?

I have to admit it: at first, I was NOT understanding all the hype around this book.  I'd seen so many excellent reviews, but the first 13% or so nearly had me asleep at the wheel.  Our friendly astronaut Mark realizes on page 1 that he's been stranded on Mars.  Thought dead by the rest of his crew, they took off for Earth without him.  Not cool, right?  So Mark jumps into action, coming up with a plan for survival.  Mark is a botanist-slash-mechanical engineer, so he's got lots of knowledge that can help him fix his equipment and grow food.  That's great for him, but as a reader, it wasn't always great for me.  He descriptions of his survival plans are SO technical that unless chemistry is your forte, it's hard to follow along and keep interest.

However, after that initial section made me feel like I was going to drown in soil bacteria and atmospheric pressurization, the story suddenly switched perspectives, which jazzed things up quite a bit.  From then on, the book jumps between Mark's POV and that of a few other characters.  This fleshes out the plot a bit more, and when the technical knowledge starts making an appearance again, it blends into the narrative much more seamlessly.  Obviously, this is a book about NASA and space travel, so science-based knowledge is key--I'm not saying the author should have done without it.  But the book kept my interest a lot better when the science-y stuff was woven into the rest of the plot action a bit more, rather than taking center stage (as it does so much in the beginning).  By the end, I was left feeling extremely impressed by the immense amount of research that Andy Weir must have done to make this into a believable, science-based fiction novel.

There are two key features of The Martian that make it great: its ability to keep you guessing, and Mark Watney himself.  Because of the way the author switches POV throughout the novel, you're never sure if Mark is going to survive (and if he is, how he will manage to do it).  The closer I got to the ending, the less I wanted to put it down.  And Mark is pretty hilarious.  At first I thought his sense of humor was a little cheesy, but as you get to know him more, you see that his joking manner is completely fitting.

I read a few reviews that showed frustration at the fact that Mark never seems to grow/progress in the novel--his sense of humor is always the same, no matter how many obstacles he faces or how much time he spends on desolate Mars.  But honestly, this book NEEDS some humor.  Mark's situation is so inherently depressing that without his ability to take things lightly, this book would have been way too heavy.  Plus, you've got to be at least a little impressed by his tenacity.  Because I mean, hello?  If I was stranded on Mars, I'm pretty sure I'd be less inclined to start going all Survivorman, and more inclined to curl up in a ball of weepy, sobbing dismay.  So rock on with your bad self, Mark.

Overall: despite the slow start, The Martian picked up the pace and ended as an excellent, thrilling read.  Don't let the technical stuff scare you off, because it all comes together to make a fast-paced story and a heart-pounding conclusion.

So what do you think, readers?  Would you ever visit Mars if given the chance?  Or will you be leaving that to more adventurous types?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Book Review: Sous Chef by Michael Gibney


Title: Sous Chef
Author: Michael Gibney
Publisher: Ballantine
Publication Date: March 25, 2014
Source: ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley for an honest review

Summary from Goodreads

The back must slave to feed the belly. . . . In this urgent and unique book, chef Michael Gibney uses twenty-four hours to animate the intricate camaraderie and culinary choreography in an upscale New York restaurant kitchen. Here readers will find all the details, in rapid-fire succession, of what it takes to deliver an exceptional plate of food—the journey to excellence by way of exhaustion.

Told in second-person narrative, Sous Chef is an immersive, adrenaline-fueled run that offers a fly-on-the-wall perspective on the food service industry, allowing readers to briefly inhabit the hidden world behind the kitchen doors, in real time. This exhilarating account provides regular diners and food enthusiasts alike a detailed insider’s perspective, while offering fledgling professional cooks an honest picture of what the future holds, ultimately giving voice to the hard work and dedication around which chefs have built their careers.

In a kitchen where the highest standards are upheld and one misstep can result in disaster, Sous Chef conjures a greater appreciation for the thought, care, and focus that go into creating memorable and delicious fare. With grit, wit, and remarkable prose, Michael Gibney renders a beautiful and raw account of this demanding and sometimes overlooked profession, offering a nuanced perspective on the craft and art of food and service.


My Review:

As followers of this blog know, it's a big goal of mine to read down the massive pile of books from my at-home TBR this year.  This means less NetGalley surfing and more home-shelves selections.  But then NetGalley goes and sends me an email telling me all about Sous Chef, and I'm like, "FOODIE NONFICTION, GET IN MAH BELLEH."  Couldn't help myself.  Had to review.

I've read my fair share of books that take place in professional kitchens, but Gibney manages to make his POV unique.  He takes you through a full 24-hour period in the life of a sous chef in a Manhattan restaurant--presumably based on his own experiences as such.  It's written in the second-person, which you don't see very often, and in this case, it immerses you in the action of the kitchen from page one.

Despite that, I did have some reservations about the book when it first opened.  The beginning (when Gibney is walking you through the preparations for dinner before customers arrive) felt a little "textbooky" to me: a lot of very specific explanations about cooking techniques and sanitation regulations, which got bland after a while.  However, once the restaurant opened for business, I was transfixed.  Honestly, it left me rather in awe of the skill and synchronicity of the cooks in that kitchen.  I've read a lot of foodie nonfic, and I have a fairly good understanding of how difficult professional cooking can be, but this is the first book I've read that really brings you through that entire process, soup to nuts.  (Pun intended, because I am lame.)  The precision and attention to detail of these chefs is truly impressive, but is also balanced by the reality of how tough their jobs are, both physically and mentally.

The last part of the book focuses on after service--when the chef leaves the restaurant, goes out to get drinks with his fellow chefs, and later returns home.  This part of the book lost me a bit.  Gibney gets too overly poetic here, as he reflects upon how difficult it is to balance his job with his personal life.  His basic point is that this is a very demanding line of work, one that requires much of you and forces you to closely examine your priorities in life.  I can appreciate that.  However, I could have done without the over-the-top philosophizing, complete with contemplations of the moonbeams shining down on him as he walks home (yes, this was a thing).  It felt like he was trying too hard, and the points could have been made more simply.

So, if I break this book into three sections, I'd recap them like this:
Before Service: interesting and draws you in, though perhaps a little overly technical at times.
During Service: absolutely stellar, will leave you in awe of both the skill and difficulty of professional cooking.
After Service: makes some good points, but tries too hard to wax poetic.

Despite my back-and-forth reactions, this book sticks with me as a great read, probably because that middle section is so well done.  If you've had good luck with other foodie nonfiction (Bourdain, Ruhlman, etc.), Sous Chef is definitely the next one to add to your plate.  (Yes, more lame food puns!!)

Sous Chef is being released March 25.  Have you read any great 2014 releases yet this year?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Book Review: Above by Isla Morley


Title: Above
Author: Isla Morley
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication Date: March 4, 2014
Source: ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley for an honest review

Summary from Goodreads

I am a secret no one is able to tell.

Blythe Hallowell is sixteen when she is abducted by a survivalist and locked away in an aban­doned missile silo in Eudora, Kansas. At first, she focuses frantically on finding a way out, until the harrowing truth of her new existence settles in—the crushing loneliness, the terrifying madness of a captor who believes he is saving her from the end of the world, and the persistent temptation to give up. But nothing prepares Blythe for the burden of raising a child in confinement. Deter­mined to give the boy everything she has lost, she pushes aside the truth about a world he may never see for a myth that just might give mean­ing to their lives below ground. Years later, their lives are ambushed by an event at once promis­ing and devastating. As Blythe’s dream of going home hangs in the balance, she faces the ultimate choice—between survival and freedom.


My Review:

Wow.  WOW.  I am currently sitting in Starbucks, where I just finished Above as I was sipping my coffee, and now I'm looking around the cafe like...DID ANYONE ELSE JUST GET THEIR WORLD ROCKED BY A BOOK?  No, that was just me?  Sigh.

I couldn't help asking for an ARC of this book, because the reviews draw parallels with Emma Donoghue's Room--a novel that captivated me, but also one that is very unique in its premise, so I was hopeful that Above would finally give me something similar.

Honestly, the comparisons to Room are not entirely justified.  The novel centers around Blythe, who is kidnapped by an "extreme prepper" who locks her in a missile silo, convinced that the world will soon come to an end and they will one day need to repopulate the earth together.  The captivity theme is pretty much the only way that Room and Above can be compared.  After Blythe gets locked in the silo, her journey becomes very, very different from the one that Jack and his Ma go on in Emma Donoghue's novel.

So no, I won't be reviewing Above in comparison to Room, because it would be doing Isla Morley's novel a disservice...and Above is amazing all on its own, without need for comparison to anything.

Above is the EPITOME of not judging a book by its cover...or in this case, by its book jacket description.  My predictions for how this novel would progress (and eventually end) were entirely, completely, unabashedly WRONG.  Remember when I reviewed Gone Girl, and I said that I finished Part 1 and it was like the whole world exploded?  ABOVE IS LIKE THAT.  The book starts, and Blythe is abducted, and then after a while, I was like, where is this going?  I can only read about Blythe's years worth of struggles with her captor for so long, and I still have 70% of this book to finish...?  And then, BOOOOOOOM.  Major unpredictable game-changer midway through the book that changes your entire perspective of everything--Blythe, her captor, and really the whole central purpose of the novel.

Above does have its slow parts.  As I mentioned, the beginning portion of the novel started to drag for me before the plot got flipped on its head.  And towards the end, I started to feel the same way.  I think Morley tended to dwell on certain parts of Blythe's journey just a tad too long.  However, each transition in the plot action was good enough that I was able to forgive the slow bits pretty quickly.

I can't say much more without getting spoiler-y, but...Above.  Read it.  Love it.  Trust.  (Then come back here and talk to me about it!)

Readers: have you read any books lately that went in a completely different direction than you originally anticipated?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Book Review: Anything That Moves by Dana Goodyear


Title: Anything That Moves: Renegade Chefs, Fearless Eaters, and the Making of a New American Food Culture
Author: Dana Goodyear
Publisher: Riverhead
Publication Date: November 14, 2013
Source: ARC received from the publisher for an honest review

Summary from Goodreads:

A new American cuisine is forming. Animals never before considered or long since forgotten are emerging as delicacies. Parts that used to be for scrap are centerpieces. Ash and hay are fashionable ingredients, and you pay handsomely to breathe flavored air. Going out to a nice dinner now often precipitates a confrontation with a fundamental question: Is that food?

Dana Goodyear’s anticipated debut, Anything That Moves, is simultaneously a humorous adventure, a behind-the-scenes look at, and an attempt to understand the implications of the way we eat. This is a universe populated by insect-eaters and blood drinkers, avant-garde chefs who make food out of roadside leaves and wood, and others who serve endangered species and Schedule I drugs—a cast of characters, in other words, who flirt with danger, taboo, and disgust in pursuit of the sublime. Behind them is an intricate network of scavengers, dealers, and pitchmen responsible for introducing the rare and exotic into the marketplace. This is the fringe of the modern American meal, but to judge from history, it will not be long before it reaches the family table.Anything That Moves is a highly entertaining, revelatory look into the raucous, strange, fascinatingly complex world of contemporary American food culture, and the places where the extreme is bleeding into the mainstream.


My Review:

2013 is clearly my year for foodie nonfiction.  So much good food-related writing out there right now!

If you've tried some food-related nonfic before, and found it a little too serious or technical for your taste (I know that can happen, especially with authors like Michael Pollan, even though I ADORE his work), I think Dana Goodyear's debut might be a better place for you to start.  In Anything That Moves, she gives us a glimpse into the alternative, rebellious side of foodie-ism.  The food bloggers in LA that spend their time searching for the perfect hole-in-the-wall diner; people who insist that eating insects is the sustainable-eating wave of the future; and even a young chef who hosts an underground "restaurant" (of sorts) in his apartment, off the grid of health inspectors.  This book is a great way to get your foodie fix, without too much technical jargon.

As a whole, I did really enjoy this book, though I found some parts slower than others.  For example, the section at the end about Wolvesmouth (a culinary "experiment" hosted by young chef Craig Thornton) was awesome, made me salivate with hunger, and had me wishing that I lived in LA so that I could get on the list to try out his culinary experience.  However, much of the second section (about the raw/unprocessed food movement) was a tad boring for me...perhaps because I had already read about a lot of that in Michael Pollan's Cooked?  I suppose the thing about this book is that if you are already familiar with some of the topics covered within it, you may not find it quite so captivating...but if many of these culinary concepts are new to you, it will probably keep you hooked from cover to cover.

As far as writing style goes, Anything That Moves takes a much more informal approach to the foodie discussion than other culinary-inspired books I've read.  This is good, in some respects--it matches the rebellious nature of many of the people described within the pages.  However, it was also a little disorienting at times, because Goodyear has a tendency to jump around from anecdote to anecdote, making her train of thought occasionally difficult to follow.  Even so, she has a much different approach to the food discussion (even compared to someone as off-the-cuff as Anthony Bourdain), so it was refreshing to get a new perspective on the topic.

Added plus: Goodyear actually manages to write an "ending" that's a bit of a cliffhanger, which you don't often see in a nonfiction book.  Part of me is dying to call her up and demand to know how that last food experience ended.

Even though a few parts dragged for me, overall I definitely give a thumbs-up to Anything That Moves.  At best, it will have you reconsidering your food options...and at worst, it will make you gag a little.  You know, in the name of edible ant pupae.

Readers: what's the weirdest thing you've ever eaten?  Despite my love of foodie-ism, I'd have to say I've only gotten as adventurous as escargots...

Friday, September 20, 2013

Book Review: Expecting Better by Emily Oster


Title: Expecting Better
Author: Emily Oster
Publisher: Penguin Press
Publication Date: August 20, 2013
Source: copy received from the publisher via NetGalley for an honest review

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Pregnancy is full of rules. Pregnant women are often treated as if they were children, given long lists of items to avoid—alcohol, caffeine, sushi— without any real explanation from their doctors about why. They hear frightening and contradictory myths about everything from weight gain to sleeping on your back to bed rest from friends and pregnancy books. Award-winning economist Emily Oster believes there is a better way. In Expecting Better, Oster shows that the information given to pregnant women is sometimes wrong and almost always oversimplified, and she debunks a host of standard recommendations on everything from drinking to fetal testing.

When Oster was expecting her first child, she felt powerless to make the right decisions for her pregnancy. How doctors think and what patients need are two very different things. So Oster drew on her own experience and went in search of the real facts about pregnancy using an economist’s tools. Economics is not just a study of finance. It’s the science of determining value and making informed decisions. To make a good decision, you need to understand the information available to you and to know what it means to you as an individual.

Take alcohol. We all know that Americans are cautious about drinking during pregnancy. Official recommendations call for abstinence. But Oster argues that the medical research doesn’t support this; the vast majority of studies show no impact from an occasional drink. The few studies that do condemn light drinking are deeply flawed, including one in which the light drinkers were also heavy cocaine users.

Expecting Better overturns standard recommendations for alcohol, caffeine, sushi, bed rest, and induction while putting in context the blanket guidelines for fetal testing, weight gain, risks of pregnancy over the age of thirty-five, and nausea, among others.

Oster offers the real-world advice one would never get at the doctor’s office. Knowing that the health of your baby is paramount, readers can know more and worry less. Having the numbers is a tremendous relief—and so is the occasional glass of wine.

This groundbreaking guidebook is as fascinating as it is practical.


My Review:

Apologies in advance for the limited potential audience for this review book, readers.  However, when I first heard about this new release from Emily Oster (mostly through countless emails/texts from my friends that said "This is YOUR pregnancy book!"), I knew I had to read it ASAP.

Pregnant ladies, throw away your copy of What to Expect When You're Expecting, because Expecting Better is...better.

When I was pregnant with Small Fry, I often found myself frustrated with the advice in traditional pregnancy books.  WTEWYE, in my opinion, is basically a user's manual for everything that can potentially go wrong in your pregnancy--and often with no true indication of how likely/unlikely that is.  Others are somewhat better (my personal favorite was Your Pregnancy Week By Week), but still included annoyingly specific pregnancy diets (does anyone actually follow those?) and week-by-week ranges for how much weight you should have gained (spoiler alert: I was always (ALWAYS) heavier than the recommended range...woo, ego boost!).

Doctor's advice can help to counter the confusing info in these books, but is often just as difficult to interpret.  I remember asking my OB if I needed to avoid hot dogs due to listeria risk during pregnancy.  Her answer: "Well, in all my time as an OB, I've only seen one woman get listeria during pregnancy, so I think you are fine to eat them."  This cleared up nothing for me.  How long has she been practicing?  (Am I her 10th patient and that one listeria case happened last week?)  Did that one patient get listeria from hot dogs, or from something else?  I ended up avoiding them completely, much to my ballpark-frank-loving dissatisfaction.

Okay, so given all that, let's talk about Expecting Better.  If you want to really know the whys for all those pregnancy rules, this is YOUR pregnancy book.  Emily Oster is an economist, and approached her pregnancy with an economist's view of the rules.  So if her doctor told her that she couldn't drink alcohol--she wanted to know why.  She went into all the medical studies surrounding the topic, gathered the findings, and helpfully compiled them here for you to read.  She does NOT rewrite the rules, or tell you what you should/shouldn't be doing during your pregnancy.  Instead, she presents you with the scientific findings for each question, and it is then up to you, as the babymaker, to use those findings to make informed decisions.

Oster covers a long list of topics here: alcohol/caffeine/smoking during pregnancy, the foods that are most likely to include a listeria risk (not what you would think), the true risks involved with sleeping on your right side/left side/back, proper amounts of exercise, pros/cons of an episiotomy, etc.

Admittedly, some parts can get a little dry (this is a compilation of scientific studies, after all), but I learned more from this book than I did from every other pregnancy guide combined.  I feel like a smarter, more informed baby-baker.  Does this mean I'm going against all of my doctor's advice because of what Oster wrote?  No.  But it does mean that I can ask smarter questions when I'm having discussions with her during appointments, and can advocate more clearly for myself in various labor situations.  For that alone, this book is worth its weight in gold.

It is true that Oster has been slaughtered a bit in the media for going against the "traditional" pregnancy advice in some areas.  For example, her research on drinking during pregnancy shows that a few drinks in moderation do not have negative effects on the fetus--definitely NOT what your doctor usually tells you.  However, as I said earlier, the thing I like about this book is that Oster is not telling you to drink.  She's putting the facts on your radar, and then it's your job to use that information to make your own decisions.  I'd like to think I'm an intelligent person, and as such, I appreciate the fact that this book empowers me to use that intelligence in my pregnancy decision-making.

I think it's safe to say that every pregnant (or hopes-to-be-pregnant) woman should read this book.  It will give you a better understanding of your pregnancy, and allow you to make better decisions for your baby--who doesn't want that?

What's your favorite pregnancy "manual"?  And if you're not interested in pregnancy or being pregnant, tell me something awesome about penguins, or something.  Haha...

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Book Review: The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison


Title: The Silent Wife
Author: A.S.A. Harrison
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: June 25, 2013
Source: e-ARC received from the publisher via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review

Plot Summary from Goodreads: (kind of spoiler-y, does not get my seal of approval)

Jodi and Todd are at a bad place in their marriage. Much is at stake, including the affluent life they lead in their beautiful waterfront condo in Chicago, as she, the killer, and he, the victim, rush haplessly toward the main event. He is a committed cheater. She lives and breathes denial. He exists in dual worlds. She likes to settle scores. He decides to play for keeps. She has nothing left to lose. Told in alternating voices, The Silent Wife is about a marriage in the throes of dissolution, a couple headed for catastrophe, concessions that can’t be made, and promises that won’t be kept. Expertly plotted and reminiscent of Gone Girl and These Things Hidden, The Silent Wife ensnares the reader from page one and does not let go.

My Review:

"Jodi's great gift is her silence, and he has always loved this about her, that she knows how to mind her own business, keep her own counsel, but silence is also her weapon.  The woman who refuses to object, who doesn't yell and scream--there's strength in that, and power."

Anything that gets compared to Gone Girl = immediately added to my TBR list.  No questions asked.  Such was the case for The Silent Wife, which promised me a completely dysfunctional couple, lots of drama, and death.  COUNT ME IN.  (I am so morbid.)  Apologies if I contrast it a lot to Gillian Flynn's novel, but I think it's fair to use that as a comparison point when the book's own description mentions it, eh?

If you skipped reading the plot summary I provided above, GOOD--this is one of those instances where I think the plot description is way too spoiler-iffic.  It gives away a big event in the novel that I think is better approached without any forewarning.  As I've been known to do, I only skimmed the summary of this book before reading, so that particular event was a surprise for me.  This built the suspense of the novel more than if I had known about it from the start.  However, even if you did read the summary, I think you'll find this novel has more than enough drama to keep you glued to the pages.

Is The Silent Wife exactly like Gone Girl?  Nope.  It does have some similar elements: a very dark and foreboding atmosphere.  Two characters that are completely unreliable in their accounts of each other.  Terrible actions that each character finds justifiable in their own ways.  But beyond that, The Silent Wife is a drama all its own.

For one, it's not nearly so twisted as Gone Girl.  I know that a lot of people who didn't like Gone Girl were particularly turned off by the extremity of some of the twists--they were too much of a reach.  I never felt this way in The Silent Wife.  Dark, hateful, amoral things happen throughout the plot, but the characters almost seem to stumble into them innocently.  This keeps the plot action from feeling contrived, to the point where things like cheating, lying, and yes, even murder, seem completely natural for this cast of characters.

The two protagonists, Jodi and Todd, are endlessly interesting to me.  Jodi is calm and cool on the outside, but tension and suspense simmer around her constantly as you get further and further into her psyche.  She's a psychologist by trade, and as a therapist she feels that she knows deeply about herself; however, as the novel progresses it becomes clear that her persona is far more complex than she lets on.  On the flip side, Todd is so self-centered, he can never truly see how his actions impact others.  Jodi is self-centered too, but in a different way--her obsession with routine and neatness blinds her to reality much of the time:

"No need to stare reality in the face if there's a kinder, gentler way.  No need for all that grim urgency."

I could spend hours psychoanalyzing these two, and maybe that's half the fun of the novel.

The only downside, for me, was in the ending.  It's not bad, but I felt like there were a few too many coincidences thrown in at the end to tie it up.  I'm not a big fan of the "convenient" ending, and this had a tinge of that.  However, the book did manage to keep me thinking about it long after I read the last word--so it's not a loss by any means.

The Silent Wife was a winner for me.  Jodi and Todd aren't nearly as insane as Gone Girl's Amy and Nick, but their subtlety plays well on the page.  I needed a fix in the dark fiction department, and I got it in spades.  I may not have adored the ending, but the rest of the novel wormed itself so far into my brain that I'll forgive the conveniences that were thrown in at the end.

So, readers, what else can I read to follow up on my "dark fiction" fixation?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Book Review: Everybody Has Everything by Katrina Onstad


Title: Everybody Has Everything
Author: Katrina Onstad
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: June 25, 2013 (first published in 2012)
Source: copy received for honest review from the publisher via NetGalley

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

After years of unsuccessful attempts at conceiving a child, Ana and James become parents overnight, when a terrible accident makes them guardians to 2-year-old Finn. Suddenly, two people who were struggling to come to terms with childlessness are thrust into the opposite situation--responsible for a small toddler whose mother's survival is in question. 

Finn's crash-landing in their tidy, urban lives throws into high relief some troubling truths about their deepest selves, both separately and as a couple. Several chaotic, poignant, and life-changing weeks as a most unusual family give rise to an often unasked question: Can everyone be a parent?


My Review:

So here's my chronological thought process while I was reading this book:
1. "OMG, this is so sad."
2. "Holy crap, I love the little boy in this book, I want to give him all the hugs, and OMG this is so sad."
3. "OMG SO SAD, THERE IS NO WAY THIS BOOK WILL NOT END IN THE SADDEST OF SAD WAYS."
4. ((stunned silence as the ending manages to wrap up in a non-sad way that is not fairy-tale-ish at all))

YOU GUYS.  I loved it so much.

In the beginning, this book seems pretty straightforward: a tragic accident leaves Ana and James (unable to conceive children of their own) as the sole guardians to Finn, the 2-year-old son of their friends'.  I expected the book to take a typical dramatic-fiction path...sadness and struggles in the beginning, but then they find their way and become better parents for it in the end, ta-da!

What's awesome about this, though, is that it's not like that at all.  There is nothing typical about this novel.  Ana and James have a much more convoluted and murky relationship than I originally expected, and half the pleasure of reading this book is derived from watching it unfold.  Just when I thought I had them figured out, a new part of their pasts or personalities would come out to make me change my mind.  Their relationship certainly plays a central role in the novel, possibly more so than the car accident that originally sets the plot into motion.  It's also the reason that the plot takes such a sad turn, but as I mentioned above, Onstad amazingly finds a way to wrap things up that is neither too depressing nor too happy-go-lucky.

Much of Ana and James's relationship struggles center on one question: what does it mean to be a parent?  What makes a good parent?  And how do you know if you're meant to be a parent at all?  This book will definitely hold more interest for readers who are parents themselves, or wish to be in the near future.  Onstad does a great job of exploring these questions from a variety of different angles.  Her ability to dig at the emotional depths of each character is impressive.

Speaking of emotional depth, FINN.  Oh my gosh, I don't think I've ever loved a child character in a novel more than this little boy.  If he doesn't tug at your heart strings, I'm going to go ahead and clinically diagnose you as dead.  I find that most authors make (very young) child characters one-dimensional and peripheral to the story, but Finn is front and center, and just as well-rounded as the others in the novel.  He broke my heart on the regular.  Not to mention, there is a very dramatic scene with him near the end that left me glued to my Kindle long into the night until the event concluded.  Onstad gets huge kudos for her ability to build his character just as well as any adult's.

As is obvious by now, I swoon for this book.  Parents will certainly get more out of it, just given the subject matter, but if you're ready for an emotional and complex bit of dramatic fiction, you need to pick this up on-the-double.  This is the first Katrina Onstad novel I've read, and it won't be the last.

Have you discovered any great new-to-you writers lately?
 
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