Noteworthy by Riley Redgate
Rating: 5* stars
Jordan Sun is a first generation Asian-American girl on full scholarship at a performing arts centered boarding school. She is tall, broad bodied, and has a deep singing voice. Her concentration is in theater, but she never gets any parts because she doesn’t fit in the stereotypical female roles and her voice is too deep for even the ensemble parts. When the most prestigious of the campus male acapella groups sends out an email with word that they need to fill an open spot that just happens to fit her range, she comes up with the crazy idea to dress up as a boy and audition. And of course, she gets in. Which leads to an entire semester of desperately trying to hide her femininity, while also realizing how much more herself she feels when acting like a boy.
I expected this to be a very light-hearted and pretty straight forward YA novel. Girl dresses as boy, falls for another boy in the group, has some sort of embarrassing moment that leads to boy discovering girl is actually girl, and they eventually end up together. And in a way, that is what happens. But Jordan really has a lot of introspective moments as she starts becoming Julian, her male counterpart. She feels more comfortable in her skin, confident in who she truly is. She begins to question her own sexuality through a lot of confusing encounters. It’s interesting and heartfelt and a journey I loved being taken on.
Overall, I really loved this book. Jordan was a great character, but I really fell for all of the supporting roles – the seven other boys in the a capella group. They had such distinct and delightful personalities. And while you can assume that Jordan will eventually fall for one of them, I was really kept guessing on which one it would be because they were all so wonderful. The only thing that really bothered me is that Jordan is a female, in high school, in a boarding school. She is dressed as a boy more than half of her day. And yet nobody ever sees her going in and out of her female dorm room. We’re given an explanation why she never mixes with the guys during the day – she’s in the theater area and they’re in the music or visual arts areas. It was a minor thing, but it did seem a bit unbelievable. But besides that – I loved it! It might not be for everyone, especially if you’re not super into YA. But I highly recommend Noteworthy. It was one of my favorites of the year!
Roomies by Christina Lauren
Rating: 5 stars
Holland is a 23 year old living in New York with an MBA in Creative Writing that she doesn’t know what to do with. While she tries to figure out a direction for her life, she works for her uncle at a broadway theater. She has a major crush on an amazing guitar busker that she goes out of her way to watch and listen to every single time he plays in her closest subway station. Her infatuation is so deep that basically everyone she knows teases her about it. Near the end of his first run of an extremely successful musical, her uncle is suddenly in desperate need of a solo musician. Holland immediately drags him to see the busker and they officially meet Calvin, the Julliard taught Irish musician who has been living in NYC illegally for the past four years. In order to bring him into the show Holland hatches a crazy plan to marry Calvin to help both him and her uncle.
This book is definitely about the unique relationship that buds between Holland and Calvin. But it’s also about how much Holland struggles to find her own identity. She basically lives as a side character to the most important people in her life and finds that she’s pretty lost internally. From a career perspective, I felt that was incredibly relatable to both me and so many people I know. You go to school and have your dreams. And then you realize real life is pretty dang hard and you get lost on the way to making those dreams come true. Holland had so much passion for helping those she loves, but needed to learn how to also love herself.
I really enjoyed this book. I think I expected it to be more of a fluffy romance going into it, but it really had a lot of heart. Holland may have been working a dead end job that she really had no ambition for, but her priorities with putting her family first were honorable and sweet. She definitely had trust issues with Calvin’s intentions, but he was good through and through. They had a lot of ups and downs, but really learned how to communicate and fight to the end for what they both truly wanted. It was a sweet read.
Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge
Rating: 5 stars
Barry is an American who just left his finance career to pursue his true love of painting. Sophie is a French architect who is on her honeymoon. They are both in a small plane over the South Pacific when a lightning storm and lack of fuel causes their plane to crash. They are the lone survivors and both happen to end up on the same very tiny deserted island. They have almost no salvaged supplies and the only food available to them are bananas and the occasional clam. And yet somehow they manage to survive, suffering sadness and hopelessness which turns into a rabid hatred for each other, and eventually morphs into love and respect.
I really enjoyed this book. It’s told through the eyes of both characters as well as occasional chapters by a narrator pointing out random facts about the island and how it came to be. The more I read, the more I began to love the story. Barry and Sophie do not start as very likeable characters. They both have a lot of spunk and they do not like each other. At all. But over their years on the island, they become closer and start depending on each other in ways that only two people on a deserted island can. They develop a pure and beautiful love that holds them together through every challenge they face.
Overall, I would highly recommend this book. It’s a beautiful redemptive story about being abundantly happy with what’s in front of you and what you already have, no matter how little it might be. It’s about the purity of a relationship that can bloom without outside distractions. And it’s about doing everything you can to make another person smile as you challenge them to follow their dreams. Even when you’re fighting for mere survival on a tiny island with almost no hope of rescue. I loved this book and I know it will stay with me for a very long time.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (audiobook version)
Rating: 4.5 stars
I decided to give fiction audiobooks another try after hearing so many rave reviews about The Hate U Give. I’m sure I would have eventually read it because it’s being talked about everywhere, but the audio version was definitely worth the time I put into it (over eleven hours).
That being said – this is a hard book to read. It will challenge you, the way you think about everything. It’s about Starr, a 16 year old black girl who lives in a very rough neighborhood with her parents, older half brother, and younger brother. When she’s at home she’s Garden Heights Starr, black girl with black friends and a black family. But she goes to a predominately white prep school an hour away with her white boyfriend and white friends. She constantly feels split between her two worlds. Near the beginning of the book she is the sole witness to the death of her childhood best friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer. Six years earlier she witnessed the death of her other best friend by a drive by shooter. This horrific event spurs everything that happens for the rest of the book.
Overall, this is a very powerful and poignant book with a very strong voice. As a white woman in an almost entirely white small town, it was pretty eye opening. And heartbreaking. It’s so easy to judge the people that live in these kinds of neighborhoods, surrounded by drugs and thugs and violence. Dismiss them, group them together, push them out of your mind if you’re not in the middle of it. But this book brings everything to the surface, really pushing you to pay attention and want to join the fight for change. I loved learning more about Starr and was so intrigued by her family dynamics. It was hard for me to reconcile her loving father with the man he was before she was born. It really goes to show how powerful love and family can be, no matter what your external circumstances.
I thought this was a fantastic book. But it’s not something I necessarily enjoyed listening to. It was heavy, for sure. I had to take a day break in between huge chunks of listening. But I think it’s important and something that everybody should be required to read.
The Ghostwriter by Alessandra Torre
Rating: 5 stars
Helena is an extremely famous, but very difficult to like, romance author. She’s written 14 bestsellers in her 32 years of life. She lives by rules and is extreme in her privacy. But she is suddenly diagnosed with brain cancer and given three months to live. She knows that before she goes she has to write a final book – the truth about the death of her husband and loss of her daughter. She needs to confess her truth to alleviate the guilt that has weighed her down so much in the last four years. She also realizes that in order to get the book written in time, she’ll need the help of a ghostwriter. Someone who can write well, match her voice, and be fast. She finds that in her writing nemesis, Marka Vanske.
Helena is not a very likeable character. She is rigid, uncompromising, condescending, angry, and driven by her characters and the worlds she creates. And yet you feel so passionately sad by how she is living and how closed off she has become from everyone. In her final months she is forced to let in Kate – her agent, and Marka – her sworn enemy. They help her work through her most painful years and ultimately be able to die in peace.
I decided to read this book because it pops up on amazon every single time I search a Colleen Hoover novel. Hoover is my favorite, so I figured they must be similar in style. And they are! Unfortunately, there was no romance in this book. But you don’t miss it. The little bit of friendship and trust that buds between the characters is fantastic. The book is so well written. It’s marketed as a mystery, and there is a bit of it. You’re told at the beginning that Helena has killed her husband, but it takes you until the end of the book to figure out how and why. Overall, this was really a beautiful book and well worth picking up.
The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert
Rating: 4 stars
Lou is the owner of an up and coming French restaurant in Milwaukee, WI. Al is a British born food critic who is becoming well known for his scathing reviews of so many local restaurants. One day they meet by happenstance at a market, Lou later walks in on her fiance with his assistant, and goes to work a huge mess. Of course that happens to be the night Al is set to critique her restaurant – unaware that Lou is actually Elizabeth, the owner of Luella’s. They meet again after his horrendous review comes out and hit it off. Al writes under a pseudonym, so she doesn’t realize who he is either. They begin a friendship, agreeing to never discuss work. While Luella’s business is basically destroyed after the awful review, she distracts herself with touring Al around the best parts of Milwaukee in her days off. They become great friends as Al softens to life in Wisconsin and begins to enjoy many of the restaurants he frequents. But of course the truth eventually comes out and things get heated.
I liked this book because it felt very personal. I was born in Milwaukee, for one. I don’t spend a ton of time there as an adult, but many of the places they visited were also places I’ve been, which made reading about it a lot more fun. I also loved how excited all of the characters became when they were creating new meals. It’s an excitement that I can relate to and really want more of. While her business declines, Lou often talks about the restaurant choices she wished she had made. It frustrated me that instead of implementing those changes right away, she just let everything continue to fail. It felt like with some immediate changes she might have been able to turn things around. It also felt slightly unbelievable to me that two people can spend so much time together and never talk about their work. Especially since she was a chef! She spent mornings at markets picking out fresh food and all day and night at the restaurant. Al admits to being a writer, but doesn’t want anybody to make the connection that he’s also the revered, and sometimes hated, food critic.
Overall, this was a sweet book about finding the courage to own up to who you are and what you actually want out of life. I loved how vibrant the setting was and it made me want to further appreciate all the local festivals and restaurants that I visit. I was rooting for Al and Lou throughout the book and loved how their relationship developed over time. It’s a great book!
The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld
Rating: 5 stars
Naomi is well known among parents of missing children as “the child finder.” As a lost child herself, with no memory of what happened the first nine years of her life before she was found, she has an innate ability to get into the mindsets of the children that are gone and more often than not, is able to find them. Sometimes she finds them in time, and sometimes it’s too late. But she’s incredible at what she does. She’s optimistic and full of hope when looking for the lost children, but has a deeply hard time trusting and loving people that want to be close to her.
In The Child Finder, Naomi is hired to look for Madison Culver, a child who mysteriously disappeared in the northern Oregon woods three years ago at age five. It seems impossible that she would have survived a day, let alone three years, but her mother refuses to believe Madison dead. Soon after the book begins, you find that Madison did indeed survive, thanks to a rescue from a deaf and mute old man named B. Mr. B nurses Madison back to life and keeps her captive for his own comfort and pleasure. Madison learns how to keep him from getting angry by being whatever he needs from her. She doesn’t talk because seeing her lips form words makes him extremely angry. She starts to call herself “The Snow Girl” and constantly makes up stories and fairy tales in her mind to separate that persona from Madison, the girl she used to be.
This book is definitely a page turner. If you’re highly sensitive, you should know that Mr. B does use Madison for sex, but it’s never described and she does not seem truly aware of it happening, thanks to the imaginative nature of her mind. I did have a little bit of a hard time believing that a five year old could be as mature and intuitive as Madison became in the three years she was held captive. If she were a few years older to begin with it wouldn’t have felt like such a stretch to me. But at any rate, it was an excellent story. It’s the first book I abandoned all else for so I could keep reading in quite awhile. I really didn’t want it to end. I highly recommend it!
Without Merit by Colleen Hoover
Rating: 5 stars
I have to preface this book review by explaining my love for Colleen Hoover. So, I don’t usually read books in the actual romance genre. They always feel so shallow and unrealistic and I’m not interested in reading about people that just jump into bed together five seconds after they meet. Colleen Hoover romances, however? They are AMAZING. I’m not even sure if her books are usually categorized as romances. A lot of them might tread into YA waters. But intense YA. Very romantic YA. But the characters are always written so well. They have flaws, they have hopes, they are fleshed out and easy to identify with, no matter their story. And when they get together with the other love interest? Actual sparks will fly. Hoover writes love scenes that are so tantalizingly delicious without being corny and cliche. Bottom line? Read her books. ALL OF THEM. I don’t think I’ve ever rated any of her books below a 4.5. And I’m pretty stingy with my 5 star ratings! Slammed is the first one I read and still my absolute favorite. November 9 was another very memorable one. But they’re all fantastic. Read them.
Okay, all that being said – Without Merit isn’t actually a romance book. I was a little thrown off by the amazon description when I realized a few weeks ago she had a new book coming out. But I was sure it would still be a hit no matter what the subject matter, and I was right. This book is about Merit, a 17 year old girl who belongs to a pretty bizarre family. She lives with her dad, her step-mom who she hates, her older brother Utah, twin sister Honor, little half brother Moby, step-uncle who is only a few years older than her Luck, and Honor’s boyfriend, Sagan. Oh, and her agoraphobic mother lives in their basement. The Voss family is full of eccentricities and Merit holds a lot of judgement against all of them. As a person, she’s pretty flawed as you watch her learn to understand that she’s depressed and actually at fault for a lot of their family’s anger and drama. She’s not always a particularly likeable character, but you can also relate to how many times she says things she instantly regrets and has to live with the shame and embarrassment that comes with it.
While the main theme does not revolve around romance, it does exist! At the beginning of the book Sagan (before he lives with them and knows they are twins) mistakes Merit for being Honor and kisses her. This sparks a bit of infatuation on Merit’s part and she has to deal with wanting what she can’t have. Their relationship is one of the driving forces behind the book and what really pushes Merit to see that she needs help.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I’m never quite sure how I feel about domestic/family life books. They’re not something I’m usually drawn to initially, but I rarely regret actually reading them. I loved all of the characters. I enjoyed watching the family members interact with each other and thought Luck and Sagan’s presence was so essential to making the story great. It was a little hard to understand how a dad who is “doing his best” doesn’t actually have a problem with the way his kids are living. But I like how they begin to resolve their family craziness at the end. I’m definitely recommending this book. And all the rest of her books while you’re at it!
Sourdough by Robin Sloan
Rating: 3.5 stars
Lois is a woman who spends most of her life at work. She recently moved to San Francisco to be a programmer at a robotics company. She and her co-workers are expected to spend about every waking minute at work, including sleeping over and spending weekends at the office. She falls into a pattern where all she does is program, doesn’t have any friends, eats a nutritional “slurry” for all her meals, and feels sluggish and ill all the time. One day she has a flyer at her door for a local delivery only restaurant that sells sandwiches, soups, and sourdough. She orders her first meal and instantly feels more alive. She starts ordering the same meal every single night and her life begins to change. One day she receives news that the restaurant owners need to close and move back to Europe, but as a gift for being their number one customer, they give her their sourdough starter. Lois has never baked a thing in her life, but she looks up directions online and is startled to realize how satisfying it is to bake a nourishing and delicious loaf of bread.
Sourdough follows Lois’ journey and she embarks on a new side business making and selling her own sourdough from the magical starter. With almost no planning, she makes her own outdoor oven, researches bread baking books, and instantly has a reputation for her talent. At the suggestion of her office chef, she auditions to work in one of the Bay area farmer’s markets. She is given a spot at a new upcoming destination called The Marrow Market. On one condition – she has to bring one of her robotic arms to help her bake.
I really enjoyed the beginning of this book. It’s so delightful to see someone discover a piece of themselves they didn’t realize they were missing. As someone who also loves to bake, I enjoyed learning more about sourdough and the bread baking process. It felt slightly unbelievable that someone could start baking and days later be offered a position in a new market, in San Francisco (sourdough central!) of all places. But I rolled with it and it was fun to watch her journey. The second half of the book, however, got a bit odd. The Marrow Market was a collection of people finding new ways to produce food. Everyone had an angle to make them more unique than what you could find at a regular farmer’s market. I didn’t really care for any of the robotics stuff. It didn’t seem to serve any purpose other than an interesting novelty to customers. Lois also starts mixing her starter with other starters to be able to produce larger quantities of bread and everything gets a bit crazy at that point. A lot of weird stuff happens and it’s so abstractly described that it kind of lost me. I really had no real idea what was happening at one point. I feel like at that point, most of the heart that the first half held, was gone.
Overall, this is a fast and easy read. I like how it encourages readers to go after their own hobbies and dreams, even if they’re not as financially adequate as a soul destroying career they might currently have. If you like to bake, you’ll probably enjoy this book. Though fair warning – it will also make you want to have a piece of bread in your hand and mouth as soon as possible!!
Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley
Rating: 2.5 stars
This is a book about Ted, a single gay man in his early forties whose partner in life is his 12 year old dachshund, Lily. He struggles with forming and keeping relationships without just about everybody except for Lily and his best friend. As the years went on he became so close to Lily that he would hold constant conversations with her and was fairly certain that she spoke back. He didn’t need anyone else in his life. Until the day he realized Lily had an “octopus” on her head. He knew that her days were coming to an end which sparked the downward spiral of Ted discovering how isolated and alone he truly is and how he’ll ever manage to cope without Lily in his life.
This book felt, to me, like a creative writing assignment that went too far. At the beginning I found the conversations Ted and Lily had, observing their weekly routines, to be endearing. Sweet almost. If I were living alone with a dog I’d have a fairly similar lifestyle, I bet. But after awhile, I just got so angry with Ted for insisting Lily’s tumor was an octopus to anybody and everybody he came into contact with. The octopus’s ability to talk and taunt Ted was absurdly annoying. At one point you lose sight of what’s reality and what was just fantasy in Ted’s head. I’m still not sure if their “last journey” was entirely a figment of Ted’s imagination or not. It just got to be way too over the top for me.
That being said, it was still a sweet ode to a life well lived with the companionship of a good dog. And even though you know the entire time that the octopus will eventually get the best of Lily, it still wrecked me when it happened. Overall, I liked parts of the story, simply because it was about a dog and I happen to love dogs. But all the creativity and assigning a tumor the evil identity of an octopus was beyond what I could really enjoy in a book. I will, however, never think of octopuses the same way again.