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.