Mid-Summer Memoirs and More


Summer is always a fast and slow reading time for me… some books I zip right through when the time is right, others I feel like it’s taking me weeks to finish a single novel. Nonetheless, here’s what I’ve read lately…

–Marissa

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs is a memoir about Lisa’s growing up with her bohemian mother and her (famous) father Steve Jobs in California. She talks about her relationship with both her parents, her struggles to reconcile her father’s wealth, emotions and affections towards her, her work in school and what California was like during her childhood. Though I’m not a huge Steve Jobs devotee, I was fascinated by his part in her memoir and in shaping who she has become. Very interesting!

Karamo by Karamo Brown is of course the memoir of the fabulous Brown from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy on Bravo, and is such a warm, kind, introspective memoir without being too heavy-handed or self-aggrandizing. I loved getting to know more about Karamo and his point of view that he brings to the show. Great!

Shamed by Linda Castillo is the latest Kate Burkholder mystery in the series, and is another solid entry in the lineup. I really love going back to this series and visiting with Kate, her police team, her relationship with Tomasetti, and the village of Painters Mill, Ohio… it’s like visiting an old friend for a few hours. 🙂

Very Nice by Marcy Dermansky is such a summery read about money, affairs, relationships, the Hamptons, and the lies we tell to get (and keep) what we want. I zipped through this one in no time – a quick “beach read” filled with short, sharp sentences and pithy observations!

The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger took me an AGE to read, but is a timely novel in the vein of Big Little Lies and its telling of privileged people who will do anything to give their children a step ahead. This time, we’re in affluent Colorado where a new gifted school will be opening up, but not before stringent testing and review – which spins out both the parents and their children. It was a fine novel, but maaaan, I got bogged down in it and it took me forever to finally plow through to the finish!

After the End by Clare Mackintosh is a departure from her usual police procedurals, but is an excellent piece of women’s fiction told in a Sliding Doors style. Max and Pip are a solid couple who are raising their terminally ill child as strongly as they can. When a treatment *could* extend his life (but not the QUALITY of life), they are divided on which road to take. The book then splits into both perspectives, and what happens to their son – and their relationship – down each path. Very thought provoking and well-written – highly recommended!

The Chain by Adrian McKinty has been SUCH a buzzy book this summer, and why not? It’s such a great premise! Rachel is heading to her oncologist when she gets word her only daughter has been kidnapped… and in order to get her back, she must pay a ransom AND kidnap someone else’s child… thus becoming a part of “The Chain”. Fast-paced, twisty, and OMG, I really zipped through this suspense novel!

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo is definitely deserving of all the praise that has been heaped on this non-fiction work, and is one I’ve thought of again and again since I finished it. Taddeo spent years with three women, digging into and detailing their disparate intimate lives – one who begins an affair after a decade of being physically ignored by her husband; one who is seduced by her high school English teacher; and one who has a strong, loving marriage, in which her husband enjoys watching her have sex with other people. Taddeo really delves into the emotion, desperation, and decision-making of these women, not to vilify, but instead to illustrate that just because women are meant to be virginal and pure they don’t have their own sexual needs, emotional anguish or need for more. This is NOT for everyone – some of the encounters are not white-washed and are very detailed – but I’ve really thought about it a lot, and wondered…. where are these women now? Very highly recommended!

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman was just… charming. 🙂 This speedy read is about a girl who works in a bookshop, is part of a trivia team, and is content with her cozy, quiet life… until things go upside down, of course. I loved all the literary references, the laugh out loud humor, and the romance at the heart of the story (both with a guy, and with books!). Lovely!

Cosy : The British Art of Comfort by Laura Weir is the England-version of the Hygge book, all about how to be cosy in England (hint: tea is involved!). It was lovely and cosy and just what I needed, despite reading it in the heat of summer!

Supper Club by Lara Williams ended up being such a bummer when I had high hopes for it. I was psyched to see women embracing the creation and enjoyment of food just for enjoyment’s sake, in female relationships, and in embracing their bodies, but it just devolved into something… uglier. I struggled to finish this one, honestly. :-/

I also read The Middle Matters by Lisa-Jo Baker (unless you are a 40-something Christian woman with multiple children and a long-time husband, you’ll probably struggle to find relevance like I did)… Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas (the first book in a wildly popular Young Adult series)… How Could She by Lauren Mechling (disappointing, meandering women’s fiction novel)… The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (based on a true story but would be more impactful as a screenplay, I think)…Her Daughter’s Mother by Daniela Petrova (though-provoking, twisty and page-turning) and The Collected Schizophrenias Esme Weijun Wang (an interesting non-fiction account of her experiences with schizoaffective disorder).

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Whirlwind Trip to Cincinnati

Earlier this spring to celebrate my birthday, Wes (the still newish husband!) and I decided to head out of town for a quick weekend in Cincinnati. It’s impossible to see it all in this cool river town, but we did our best to pack in what we could!

We headed to the Cincinnati Zoo (mostly to see Fiona!) and I again marveled at what an amazing facility it is, and one I haven’t visited in many, many years. We also made sure to visit the original Jungle Jim’s to stock up on “British food” and all manner of tasty nibbles!

We also visited the Newport Aquarium, right across the river from Cincinnati, which gives visitors a great view of the skyline, and is an impressive aquarium for its size. We wound down our weekend with a visit to to the Cincinnati Art Museum, where admission is always free!

There are still so many things we want to do when we visit Cincinnati again (eat at Skyline Chili again! Visit the Rhinegeist brewery! Carew Observation Deck!), but for a quick weekend, it felt like we packed a lot in!

–Marissa

 

Summer Stories


I feel like my reading of late has been really up and down… I blaze through a book or two, and then I seem to get mired in a book for a week or two while life gets in the way or I’m not compelling forward by the story. In any case, here’s what I’ve read of late…

–Marissa

High Country by Nevada Barr is another great Anna Pigeon novel, this time set in Yosemite National Park. Reading an Anna Pigeon novel is like visiting an old friend for a few hours…

The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister feels like a good companion to Where the Crawdads Sing or books by Sarah Addison Allen. I really loved The School of Essential Ingredients, so I was eager to read this latest, which definitely kept me guessing throughout. Beautiful prose, evocative scenery, this is great women’s fiction!

Mine by Courtney Cole was a super fast read, and though it wildly pulled at the strings of plausability, it was a solid suspense novel of the wronged wife taking revenge into her own hands!

Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis is a collection of (often NSFW) essays about, well, being a southern lady, and not so much of a lady at times. Definitely funny in places, and poignant in places, this is a great one to pick up and put down to read along.

Naturally Tan by Tan France is his breezy autobiography about growing up gay in England, meeting his husband, fashion advice, and being on Queer Eye. Fast and fun!

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary is just a delightful romance. 🙂 A boy and a girl share a flat, but work opposite schedules and thus never meet, but communicate solely through Post-It note. You know how it’ll end, but it’s utterly charming.

The Farm by Joanne Ramos is probably supposed to spark more ire than it actually did (I even discussed it with a fellow reading buddy!), but didn’t really strike me as implausible… a “farm” in upstate New York takes exceptional care of women who are serving as surrogates for the rich and famous, though they must stay for the duration of their pregnancy. And? :-/

How Not to Die Alone by Richard Roper could have been a serious downer, but instead was a quite charming British story of a bloke who clears flats after someone had died without family and who once told a fib… which has blossomed into a large, large lie. When he falls for the “new girl” in the office, he has to decide how to live – a lovely story!

Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach knocked my socks of, in a good way! I thought it would be just a cookbook (and for the record, I rarely “read” cookbooks, no matter who it is), but I was so pulled into her story, her commitment to family dinner, and to her easy, breezy recipes then I read it cover to cover, marking recipes and reading passages to my husband. I aspire to be Jenny, and I’ve definitely been making dinner more at home thanks to her cookbook!

May Day! New Book Reviews!


Mayday, mayday, I haven’t updated my book reviews in a bit! Here’s what’s been on my Kindle/nightstand lately… I’ve been zipping through a lot of titles, so let’s get going!

–Marissa

When You Read This by Mary Adkins was a great, one-day read. This epistolary novel (told entirely in emails, texts, journal entries, etc.) chronicles what happens when PR assistant Iris passes away from cancer at 33, and leaves behind a blog journal she’d like published. Bittersweet, funny at times, this novel had a lot of heart.

The Better Sister by Alafair Burke was a solid, satisfying suspense novel that was perfect to take on vacation with me. This stand-alone is about two sisters who, years apart, married the same man and are raising a son. When he’s murdered, the past and the present collide as we try to figure out what exactly happened to the perfect man. I really enjoyed this one!

Cape May by Chip Cheek isn’t going to be for everyone, but I enjoyed the slow burn of this 1950s novel set in New Jersey. Honeymooners Henry and Effie are awkwardly finding their way into marriage when they get pulled into a dazzling group of people who are also vacationing on the coast – but with very different attitudes from prudish Henry and Effie. Sex, lies, and lots of gin burn through this novel…

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi – look, I’m just going to say it. I suffered through half of it, tried to hang in there, but absolutely HATED it. I don’t care if it’s being hailed as the next Great American Novel, it sucked.

My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing is a delicious and dark suspense novel! On the outside, Millicent and her husband are leading a picture-perfect life. But, you know, when the marriage gets a little stale, you have to spice it up – by conspiring together to murder people. But you know that’s not going to end well… when you don’t know if you can really trust who you’re married to. I loved this one!

The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves was just such a gentle, sweet (without being saccharine) romance novel that jumps back and forth in time between when Annika and Jonathan meet in college and fall for each other, and when they meet again ten years later, both dealing with their own idiosyncrasies and loss. I really loved this one…

Before She Was Found by Heather Gudenkauf was an easy-to-get-into page turner suspense novel about what really happened the night three girls went to a deserted train depot… and one of them ended up in the hospital with stab wounds. I really love a novel that changes character POVs with each chapter, showing the motivation and mistakes of all those involved. Lots of red herrings… I didn’t predict the end of this one!

The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton is a perfect suspense-y novel for The Fatal Attraction set! Juliette loves Nate and goes to enormous lengths to make him happy and take care of him… except that he dumped her six months ago. This one is bananapants, and was totally satisfying. 🙂

The Mother-In-Law by Sally Hepworth grabbed me right away, and I devoured this novel in a night! I can’t summarize it better than Amazon, so here you go: “A twisty, compelling new novel about one woman’s complicated relationship with her mother-in-law that ends in death.” I absolutely LOVED this novel (changing character POVs, red herrings everywhere, easy writing) and totally recommend it!

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang was another charming romance novel from the author of The Kiss Quotient. Esme is brought to America from Vietnam as a potential match for Khai, who’s autism makes him process emotions and feelings differently. Will these two polar opposites make a perfect match? Sweet and charming…

I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella is another winning stand-alone from bestselling “chick lit” author Kinsella, about a favor between two strangers that blossoms into much, much more. Charming and sweet, this is light reading at it’s finest!

Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee was a great non-fiction book to dip in and out of, as Lee recounts ways in which we find joy in everyday life, and small changes we can make to our surroundings to make us more joyful. She travels around the world and recounts unique ways people are doing just that. I really enjoyed this happy non-fiction book!

I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott just… completely filled my bucket. This memoir is more a collection of essays about being in your 40s, having kids, being married, being a high achiever, anxiety and happiness, and just… it’s about everything, and it’s so charming and funny and SPOT ON that I didn’t want to finish it. Love, love, love!

Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid lives up to the hype…. I finished it in less than a day! Told as an oral history of one of the biggest (fictional) rock groups in the 1970s, this perfectly captures the voices of those involved, the drugs and partying that being rock and roll meant, the VH1 “Behind the Music” vibe, everything. I loveloveloved this one, and you’ll burn through it just like I did!

Grace After Henry by Eithne Shortall is a lovely not-quite-romance novel about Grace moving on after her boyfriend Henry is tragically killed on his way to meet her, and those who surround her, confuse her, and support her during the year following. Gentle and warm, I really liked this one.

The Sun is a Compass by Caroline Van Hemert sounded SO compelling – a non-fiction account of her and her husband’s plan to travel 4,000 miles (under their own power) through Alaska to the Arctic Circle, chronicling what they see. I loved the premise, but found it a bit… repetitive after a while. Admirable, though!

Beautiful Bad by Annie Ward has gotten lots of hype, much of it deserved, as this isn’t a typical whodunit mystery novel, though you know from the start that *someone* is dead. Ward mixes up the setting and timeline (the Balkans, Kansas, NYC) and keeps the story fresh and interesting, even as there is a sense of menace throughout. I dug it!

I also read Blood Lure and Hunting Season by Nevada Barr (always good to spend time with old friends…), Life Admin by Elizabeth Emens (such a great premise that totally didn’t deliver what I wanted)… Bare by Susan Hyatt (a local author)… Your Dad Stole My Rake by Tom Papa (funny, funny essays about life!), Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson (eh, not his favorite of mine), and Outer Order, Inner Calm by Gretchen Rubin (a slim self-help book from one of my fave podcasters).

A Weekend in Montreal

My new husband has never had a passport before this year, has never left the US, has never gone on much in the way of travel adventures. It’s time to change that!

After some flight searching and destination debating, we settled on Montreal in French Canada – the closest we can get to France right now with our budget! We had a fantastic long weekend there, and though it was rainy, it didn’t dampen our impression of this beautiful city! We packed a ton into the weekend…

We stayed at Hotel Zero 1 right next to Chinatown (recommended!), and ate our way through Chinatown (soup dumplings! bibimbap!) and beyond! We marveled at the Notre-Dame Basilica and  the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel, we wandered the streets of Vieux Montreal (Old Montreal), and lost a few dollars in the casino.

We hiked around Mount Royal to find an amazing view of the Montreal skyline, we visited the St. Joseph Oratory (the largest church in Canada), wandered around the Jean Talon Market (oh, so envious…), ate in Little Italy, and got a bit lost in the Underground City.

We ambled through the Museum of Fine Arts (and I adored the special Thierry Mugler exhibit!), wandered the nearby neighborhoods, ate the best tapas of our lives, did some souvenir shopping near Place D’Armes, and enjoyed sleeping a leisurely 9 hours a night whilst on vacation!

For us, Montreal isn’t far (just a few hours in a plane), but it felt half a world away, and I got to practice my high school/college French, eat lots of tasty meals, see the sights, and introduce my husband to the wonders of travel. What a treat!

–Marissa

February Finds


Here’s what been on my TBR pile lately!

–Marissa

Inheritance by Dani Shapiro has been getting tons of press, and deservedly so. This beautifully written memoir is about Shapiro’s discovery – at age 54 – that her father, the father she adored, is not actually her biological father. After taking a DNA test and discovering this, she went on a quest to find her true biological father, and to understand the decisions her parents made in bringing her into the world. Throughout the process, she went down a rabbit hole of discovery, self-examination, and lots and lots of emotions to make peace with who she thought she was, and who she truly is. Engaging and interesting throughout, I recommend this memoir to any and all!

Open Your Eyes by Paula Daly was a swift and satisfying read! Jane and Leon – both writers living in domestic bliss in Liverpool – seem to have an idyllic life, but when Leon is attacked in their driveway one day, Jane finds that Leon not only may not survive, but that there was secret after secret creeping through his life that she was completely unaware of. This novel was super fast to get into, and I liked how the narrative took the reader back and forth on an emotional roller coaster to see if Jane can unravel things while still being grounded in good old suspense. Recommended!

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann was all over bestseller lists when it was released last spring, so I’m just super late to the party! This is a fascinating non-fiction account of a piece of history I knew nothing about – the murder of dozens (or more) wealthy Osage Indians in the early 1920s, all due to headrights for oil found on their land. This account also weaves in the burgeoning growth of the FBI (which was in an infancy when this was happening) under J. Edgar Hoover, and how it was critical to finding perpetrators and bring them to trial, though there is a lot of this story that feels unsolved and understood. We’re discussing this in my book club soon, and I think we’ll have lots to say!

Latest Titles…


Here’s what’s been lighting up my Kindle lately…

–Marissa

Late in the Day by Tessa Hadley is a bit of an enigma to me. I found the style (no quotation marks, very, very long descriptive paragraphs where very little happens) slow to read and hard to really get into. I was intrigued by the premise though – two tight-knit couples who have to navigate life after one of them unexpectedly dies. I really tried to get with the flow of the novel, but it never coalesced for me… because nothing really ever happened throughout the course of the novel. This might be for some readers, it just wasn’t for me.

The Girls of 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib was just compulsively readable, despite the difficult subject matter. Parisienne Anna – a former dancer – has followed the love of her life ,Matthias, to the States, and while he works at a great job, she begins to slide down the slope of anorexia and self-punishment until she lands as an inpatient at 17 Swann Street alongside other women struggling with eating disorders. This novel is immersive, emotional, difficult, but so easy to get into and stay with until the last page. The author does such a great job of really putting the reader into the mind of Anna, and how every bite of food is a struggle – and a triumph. I really loved this one.

Heavy by Kiese Laymon has been lauded for his examination of being black, gay, and overweight in America, so I really wanted to love this… but the writing style just wasn’t for me, and I really struggled to get into, follow and have all the feels for this story. Just not the right book for me…

The Au Pair by Emma Rous was the perfect book to dive into for a weekend! Taking place on the coast of England, this novel is totally atmospheric and engaging as Laura, a shy college au pair, becomes entangled with the Mayes family and their young child (her charge). She ebbs and flows in her relationships with all the family members, until one shocking day that ends in both birth and death. But what really happened that day? Told in present day and flashbacks, this novel keeps the reader engrossed in the characters, the emotions, and the “whodunit” of that fateful day. I totally devoured this, and loved the setting and “locked room mystery” aspect of the story. This novel has been getting a lot of advanced praise, and deservedly so!