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!

First Reads of 2019…


Okay, let’s see if I can stay consistently on top of my book reviews (says she, optimistically!)…

–Marissa

Every Monday Matters by Matthew Emerzian feels like a bunch of fortune cookie quotations and wisdom wrapped up in a feel-good book. It annoyed me. LOL

The Lost Man by Jane Harper is the new stand-alone suspense novel from this breakout Australian author, and it did not disappoint. Two brothers meet at a remote point of their farm in the Australian back country… and their third brother lays dead at their feet. What exactly happened out in the nothingness?! The setting of this novel is as much a character as those featured on the page – recommended!

An Anonymous Girl by Sarah Pekkanen and Greer Hendricks was a must-read for me after devouring “The Wife Between Us” and loving it, and this was another twisty, suspens-y game of cat and mouse with the authors and the reader. It didn’t have the same *jaw dropper* moment that the previous did, but I definitely enjoyed watching the threads twist to see who was going to do what to whom. Very enjoyable!

Playing with FIRE by Scott Rieckens was an interesting memoir cum financial guide, as Rieckens and his wife embark on a journey to FIRE – Financial Independence Retire Early. I’ve heard of this movement, but this gives a more “boots on the ground” view of really going hard to save and save to retire early.

One Day in December by Josie Silver just charmed the socks off of me, and was the perfect book at the perfect time. 🙂 Boy and girl spot each other at a London bus stop… are pulled apart before they can meet… girl searches for boy, only to find him a year later… as the boyfriend of her best friend. Nooooo! This novel traces the lives of all the characters over the course of at least a decade, so you really get immersed in their emotions, relationships and actions – I just loved it beginning to end!

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker was a good read, but a perplexing one. A mystery illness causes people to fall asleep in a small college town with no rhyme or reason. I really got invested in some of the characters and liked the meandering style of the writing, but found myself somewhat frustrated by the end. Still recommended though!

The Nature Fix by Florence Williams was a read after hearing about it on the “By the Book” podcast, about how being in nature (a little or a lot) affects our mood and physiology. I liked her visits to various experiments, experiences and green spaces around the globe, but this was a bit of a dry read at times. Very thought provoking though!

A Few Faves From 2018…

I wanted to call out some fave reads from 2018 for a lengthier review… did you check any of these out in 2018?
–Marissa
Bad Blood by John Carreyrou was just… man, truth is stranger than fiction. This is a retelling of Elizabeth Holmes and the Theranos scandal. I remember hearing just a teeny bit about this story, but diving into it just took my fascinating/horror to a whole new level as Holmes convinced tons of investors to give her millions and millions on promised technology… that never worked. If you’ve gotten sucked into the Fyre Festival documentaries lately, this is right up your alley!
The White Darkness by David Grann is a teeny, tiny nonfiction story, but it really stuck with me. In it, Grann follows the trials and travails of Henry Worsley, as he tries to break several records in crossing the Antarctic, one of them completely solo. I love a good man-versus-nature story, and this is just great storytelling coupled with that very spirit. I really enjoyed it (and it only took a little while to read!)
The Darkness by Ragnar Jonasson is unlike any other mystery I read this year. First, it’s set in Iceland (which, of course, I’m into since Johnna and I visited), and features an unlikely heroine… a female police inspector in her 60s being pushed out of her position. She decides to investigate just one last case… and the ending of this novel as stuck with me all year long! If you read it, I wanna know your thoughts!
Buttermilk Graffiti by Edward Lee was a special read… first, I met Lee (and got his autograph) on this copy at a conference, then eagerly devoured it chapter by chapter, smiling in particular at the one set in a restaurant in Indianapolis that I LOVE. Lee does such a beautiful job of combining food culture, the immigrant experience, recipes, and evoking what every bite tastes like with a completely approachable, unpretentious air. I loved every page, and wish I’d been along for the ride!
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens was just… magic. I was reluctant to read it after ALL the hype, but was immediately sucked into the setting, the story of the “Marsh Girl”, and the community that keeps her at a distance. I couldn’t stop reading and friends, I actually *cried* at the end – both at the ending, and at the fact the story, the setting was leaving me. So highly recommended…

Hang On, We’re Going Big!

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That’s right… in order to assuage my guilt over my lack of book reviews, I’m going to try and cram lots (and lots) of one-sentence book reviews into this one post as I look back over my 2018 reads so I can start 2019 with a “fresh slate”, as it were. Here we go!

–Marissa

Anthony, Gretchen. Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners – Quirky family drama, but enjoyable!
Armstrong, Heather B. The Valedictorian of Being Dead – Absolutely LOVED this non-fiction memoir dealing with depression and family
Auvinen, Karen. Rough Beauty – Single girl in the Rockies… wanted *more* from it…

Bloom, Amy. White Houses – fictionalized Eleanor Roosevelt love story… felt a bit… stilted?
Burton, Tara Isabella. Social Creature –  Instagram, FOMO and murder!
Byrne, Kerrigan. The Duke with the Dragon Tattoo – LOVE any of her books!

Carlino, Renee. Blind Kiss – Fun romance premise, but didn’t deliver the *zing* I wanted…
Candlish, Louise. Our House – Such an interesting suspense premise, I enjoyed it!
Chiklis, Autumn. Smothered – Overbearing mother, figuring-it-out millenial…
Clarkson, Sarah. Book Girl – Eh.
Clinton, Bill and Patterson, James. The President is Missing – Surprisingly fun and suspenseful, and felt very authentic!

Dalcher, Christina. Vox – Didn’t live up to the hype…
Dare, Tessa. The Governess Game – Tessa writes, and I’ll always read it!
Dare, Tessa et al. How the Dukes Stole Christmas – Same!
Dare, Tessa. Once Upon a Winter’s Eve – Same!
de Rosnay, Tatiana. The Rain Watcher – Quiet but powerful family drama…
Doan, Amy Mason. The Summer List – Loved the premise of this “women’s fiction” story…

Enger, Leif. Virgil Wander – Meandering but sweet…

Faye, Gael. Small Country – A tough read on the immigrant experience…
Frear, Caz. Sweet Little Lies – I don’t even remember this one :-/

Giffin, Emily. All We Ever Wanted – Full of depth and tough choices for an affluent family…
Grisham, John. The Reckoning – I slogged through ALL those pages… FOR THAT?!
Guillory, Jasmine. The Proposal – Fun, sexy, frothy, foodie, lovely!

Han, Jenny. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – In anticipation of the Netflix movie!
Harris, Anstey. Goodbye, Paris – I don’t remember it :-/
Hoover, Colleen. All Your Perfects – I really loved the two main characters, they became friends to me…

James, Eloisa. Born to be Wilde – Always love Eloisa!
Jeffries, Sabrina. ‘Twas the Night After Christmas – A lovely reread!
Jones, Tayari. An American Marriage – Difficult subject matter, but beautifully rendered, recommended!

Kor, Eva. Surviving the Angel of Death – An amazing survivor story from the Holocaust…
Kubica, Mary. When the Lights Go Out – This one’s ending just flat out PISSED ME OFF!

Land, Stephanie. Maid – Thought provoking and engaging…
Lee, Min Jin. Pachinko – So glad I read this sweeping family drama over generations in Korea…
Lynes, S.E. The Proposal – Eh, it was fine for the time…

Mailhot, Terese Marie. Heart Berries – I just flat didn’t like it, no matter the accolades…
Mastromonaco, Alyssa. Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? – fun peek behind the Obama White House curtain…
Michaelides, Alex. The Silent Patient. – I wasn’t feeling the hype as much as everyone else…
Miller, Jennifer and Feifer, Jason. Mr. Nice Guy – Cute-ish
Mohammadi, Kamin. Bella Figura – loved this memoir of a year in Italy…
Moriarty, Liane. Nine Perfect Strangers – NOT what I expected, but still I totally got into it!
Moritsugu, Kim. The Showrunner – Frothy and silly, but fun!
Mustich, James. 1000 Books to Read Before You Die – Takes itself VERY seriously…

Osborn, John Jay. Listen to the Marriage – Interesting point of view for a “marriage in crisis” book…

Perri, Camille. When Katie Met Cassidy – Quirky but unique love story… felt authentic…
Perry, S.K. Let Me Be Like Water – Sad but sweet…
Pinborough, Sarah. Cross Her Heart – Eh.

Rosenbloom, Stephanie. Alone Time – Loved this memoir of travel and self reflection…

Sedaris, David. Calypso – LOVED. IT.
Serle, Rebecca. The Dinner List – Thought provoking and warm…
Sims, Thomas J. On Call In the Arctic – Absolutely loved this memoir – think “Northern Exposure”!
Soule, Charles. The Oracle Year – Eh, it was fun enough.
Steadman, Catherine. Something in the Water – Suspenseful and page-turning!
Summers, Courtney. Sadie – Sad, just beautifully done

Tamblyn, Amber. Any Man – Not my jam
Thayne, RaeAnne. Season of Wonder – Lovely little Christmas story…
Tomlinson, Tommy. The Elephant in the Room – Really loved this honest weight-loss memoir…
Tracy, PJ. The Guilty Dead – Another Monkeewrench novel!

Unger, Lisa. Under My Skin – Don’t remember it :-/

Weiss, Piper. You All Grow Up and Leave Me – Creepy memoir, but super slow moving and ultimately kinda boring…
Witherspoon, Reese. Whiskey in a Teacup – Fun lifestyle book from Reese!

Youngson, Anne. Meet Me at the Museum – Lovely, soft, warm epistolary novel

Zinovieff, Sofka. Putney – Icky, and not really in a good way…