Tag Archives: Books

Book Review: Kitchens Of The Great Midwest + I’ll Give You The Sun

April 27, 2016

Hello to the sevenish book lovers who still read these book reviews! I have two good ones for you today. One was inspired by book club (and by “inspired” I mean it was chosen for me and I had to read it) and the other was recommended by a friend. Both worth the time and energy it took to not get anything else done.

I believe it was Emily Dickinson who said, “To read is to not do the laundry, and that is okay because others are capable.” (Just kidding, it was me).

As always, all book reviews are spoiler free.

Happy reading.


1. Kitchens Of The Great Midwest.


If You’re Looking For: Fiction, Foodie Fiction, Contemporary Fiction

If You Liked: Olive Kitteridge, The Amateur Marriage

My Review: I read this book after a lot of positive buzz but without any background knowledge on what it was about. For a long time I thought it was a cookbook so I tuned it out, but then my local book club picked it for this month’s read and informed me that it’s actually a novel and to maybe pay attention when people talk. Truth: it’s slow to start, and if it wasn’t for book club–I might have given up due to the overwhelming number of books waiting to be read on my nightstand. That’s why I love book club. It forces me to read the things I might have otherwise returned to the library without a fair chance. About halfway through Kitchens, I started to really love the pacing and story. I couldn’t put it down! Warm, entertaining, interesting narrative structure (reminded me a lot of Olive), and solid writing. It made me hungry for good food and more books about foodies and food culture. 4/5 stars. Definitely recommend.

Their Review: “Kitchens of the Great Midwest is a terrific reminder of what can be wrested from suffering and struggle – not only success, but also considerable irony, a fair amount of wisdom and a decent meal.”—Jane Smiley, The Guardian

Quoted: When Lars first held her, his heart melted over her like butter on warm bread, and he would never get it back. When mother and baby were asleep in the hospital room, he went out to the parking lot, sat in his Dodge Omni, and cried like a man who had never wanted anything in his life until now.

Goodreads Summary: When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine–and a dashing sommelier–he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter–starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience. Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal’s startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity. By turns quirky, hilarious, and vividly sensory, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is an unexpected mother-daughter story about the bittersweet nature of life–its missed opportunities and its joyful surprises. It marks the entry of a brilliant new talent.


2. I’ll Give You The Sun.


If You’re Looking For: Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction

If You Liked: Eleanor and Park, Fangirl, some John Green books

My Review: I love finding a Young Adult book that isn’t too young adult (if you know what I mean). I’ll Give You The Sun is just that; emotional, entertaining, surprising, and funny. One of those books you pass around to help everyone get in the reading mood again. Most noteworthy is the unique writing style. Very contemporary, very figurative, very oh-she’s-doing-something-different. I found it wonderful, others might find it annoying. I would suggest keeping an open mind and being prepared for predictable coming-of-age romance with well written dialogue and a few twists. Mostly it’s a great example of showing verses telling and layering two points of views in a way that keeps you reading all night long. 4/5 stars.

Their Review: “Both structurally virtuosic . . . and emotionally wrenching. That alone is a rare combination in literature, YA or otherwise. But then add in the characters . . . This book is a rebuttal to anyone suggesting YA, because it tells stories of young people, is somehow of lesser stuff. I’ll Give You The Sun is literature. Full stop. In my opinion, it’s not just the best YA book of the year, but one of the best books of the year.”—Gayle Forman for Parade

Quoted: Or maybe a person is just made up of a lot of people,” I say. “Maybe we’re accumulating these new selves all the time.” Hauling them in as we make choices, good and bad, as we screw up, step up, lose our minds, find our minds, fall apart, fall in love, as we grieve, grow, retreat from the world, dive into the world, as we make things, as we break things.

Goodreads Summary: Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world. This radiant novel from the acclaimed, award-winning author of The Sky Is Everywhere will leave you breathless and teary and laughing—often all at once.



Favorite Books

All Book Reviews

Book Review: When Breath Becomes Air + At The Water’s Edge + The Amateur Marriage

March 30, 2016


Another book review and this one isn’t nearly as grim as last time, making these reads so much sweeter. Thank you for all the help! I knew I could count on you.

Today: Three very different books on marriage, love, and loss. 4/5 stars across the board. All worth the read.

As always, all book reviews are spoiler free.

Happy reading.


1. When Breath Becomes Air.


If You’re Looking For: Memoir, non-fiction, medical culture, doc lit

If You Liked: This glimpse of the book.

My Review: Paul Kalanithi was 35 years old and finishing his training as a neurosurgeon when he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. As he was living out the end of his life, he wrote this brief but powerful memoir as a reflection on his life as a father and husband as well as his career in medicine. Not the easiest book to read if you’re married to a resident, but written in a way that keeps you engaged and inspired. The last few pages alone are worth the read. Got me good. 4/5 stars.

Their Review: “Paul Kalanithi’s memoir, When Breath Becomes Air, written as he faced a terminal cancer diagnosis, is inherently sad. But it’s an emotional investment well worth making: a moving and thoughtful memoir of family, medicine and literature. It is, despite its grim undertone, accidentally inspiring.”—The Washington Post

Quoted: That message is simple: When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.


2. At The Water’s Edge.

at the water's edge

If You’re Looking For: Suspense, love, fiction, historical fiction

If You Liked: The Royal We

My Review: I almost quit this book a dozen times in the first 100 pages because the main characters are so nauseating. Everyone is typecast and frustrating and self-involved. I just wanted it to be over! The plot seemed ridiculous too. Then, slowly, and probably on purpose–I couldn’t put it down. I think it was about halfway through the novel when I thought, “Oh, this is why everyone is talking about this book.” My guess is the way you are approach this novel will likely impact your reading experience. If you’re looking for serious historical fiction–there’s a good chance you’ll be let down. This is more historic ‘lite’ fiction, with a strong romantic storyline. 4/5 for being entertaining and surprising me into speed reading until the end. Minus one point for heavy handed information dumps to remind us what was happening in Europe (just a tad clumsy). A very fun book club book.

Their Review: “I devoured this book. Once again Sara Gruen has proven herself to be one of America’s most compelling storytellers. You might be tempted to rush to get to the answers at the end—but don’t, or you’ll miss the delectable journey that is Gruen’s prose.”—Kathryn Stockett, New York Times bestselling author of The Help

Quoted: Life. There it was. In all it’s beautiful, tragic fragility, there was still life, and those of us who’d been lucky enough to survive opened our arms wide and embraced it.


3. The Amateur Marriage.

amateur marriage

If You’re Looking For: Fiction, books on marriage, character development, strong literary fiction

If You Liked: The Accidental Tourist, Boyhood (film), Olive Kitteridge 

My Review: Anne Tyler is a national treasure. Her books are thoughtful, well paced, and character driven–and this one is no exception. The Amateur Marriage is the story of an American family that spans over six decades. It begins in a Polish neighborhood of Baltimore with reverberations of the Pearl Harbor, triggering the marriage that informs the plot. As always, the genius of Tyler is in her understated approach to the great themes of life; love, loss, marriage, parenting, grief, happiness, heartache. Behind the seemingly trivial details of the character’s everyday lives, we are shown familiar pathos and suffering through brilliant writing and storytelling. To be frank, this is the kind of book I recommend to everyone but only half will end up enjoying. A solid 4.5/5 stars for the kind of literature I can’t possibly dream of writing.

Their Review: “This ‘wickedly good’ author has come to represent the best of today’s American literature. She is an exquisite chronicler of the everyday. Her characters are at once infuriating and endearing, conservative yet quietly eccentric.” –Lisa Allardice, The Observer

Quoted: Sometimes he fantasised that at the end of his life, he would be shown a home movie of all the roads he had not taken, and where they would have led.


Favorite Books

All Book Reviews


Book Review: In A Dark, Dark Wood + The Fever

March 8, 2016

Blah Blah It Is Scary I Guess

Have you ever read a few lackluster books back to back and wanted to give up on your library list all together? My guilt over writing negative novel reviews while trying to write an actual novel myself is at a full 100%–but I’m sure karma will work itself out just fine.

Fiction lovers, I know you’re out there. Help me out of this slump? I need a good book yesterday.

As always, all book reviews are spoiler free.

Happy reading.


1) In A Dark, Dark Wood.

in a dark dark wood

If You’re Looking For: Crime thriller, suspense, mystery, fiction

If You Liked: Luckiest Girl Alive, Cartwheel, Pretty Is

My Review: I’ll start with the good news. Despite its flaws, In a Dark, Dark Wood does contain the germ of a good story, and that story was not so bad that I did not finish. I read all the way to the end and was glad I did. The bad news is that the story is predicable, formulaic, and dull. This could be in part because it is marketed as a thriller when it’s not the slightest bit thrilling. Don’t let the comparison to a Gillian Flynn novel lead you to believe it’s anything like a Gillian Flynn novel. Comparing authors is faulty regardless. Maybe the movie will be good? 2/5 stars.

Their Review: “WARNING: This book is hot. Do not pick it up late at night or if you are in a dark, dark wood…Ruth Ware has a gift. This British author’s first foray into fiction is a hit…it delivers a punch and keeps you guessing—an ideal August psychodrama that reminds us why mysteries remain such fun—except at night.” –The New York Journal of Books

Quoted: I hate being driven—driving is like karaoke—your own is epic, other people’s is just embarrassing or alarming.


2) The Fever.

the fever

If You’re Looking For: Mystery, thriller, young adult, fiction

If You Liked: Divergent 

My Review: I finished this novel because it was our book club book and I didn’t want to be girl who doesn’t finish because the book isn’t “her style.” I have nothing else to say. 2/5 stars.

Their Review: “With The Fever, Megan Abbott has created a mesmerizing, modern portrait of teenage life today: Brutal crushes, competing allegiances and first-bloom sensuality, all magnified by the rush and crush of technology. The Fever holds true to its title: It’s dark, disturbing, strangely beautiful and utterly unshakeable.”―Gillian Flynn

Quoted: I have another friend who gets what I’m really like, and I get her. She scares me. Did you ever see yourself times ten in another person and want to cover your eyes?


Favorite Books

All Book Reviews

Book Review: Cartwheel + Brave Enough

January 4, 2016

Behold: my Christmas reading list. A bit lofty, but unrealistic expectations are what the holidays are all about.

One murder mystery and one book of quotes that I can’t stop talking about.

As always, all book reviews are spoiler free.

Happy reading.


1. Cartwheel.


If You’re Looking For: Crime thriller, suspense, mystery

If You Liked: Luckiest Girl Alive, The Girl On The Train, Her, Sharp Objects

My Review: Mindy Kaling recently tweeted that being obsessed with crime shows is the new green drink for girls. It made me laugh. Do you know anyone who isn’t watching Making A Murderer? I do not. Since having kids I don’t watch any scary tv shows or movies, but I do enjoy the podcast Serial and crimey suspense novels written for millennial girls. I picked up this book after reading over a list of pageturners to read in 2015. The novel is inspired by the real life story of Amanda Knox, the American accused of murdering her roommate while living abroad in Italy. Although it’s fiction, the similarities are abundant–contributing to much of the book’s negative reviews. As a whole, I enjoyed Cartwheel. It was gripping from the first few pages and I zipped through it in a few days. Basically it did what it was designed to do–hold my attention. I wouldn’t say it’s the best book I’ve read in its genre, but I didn’t mind the similarities to Knox case and I thought the writing style was great. If anything, the book is unmemorable.

Their Review: Cartwheel is so gripping, so fantastically evocative, that I could not, would not, put it down. Jennifer duBois is a writer of thrilling psychological precision. She dares to pause a moment, digging into the mess of crime and accusation, culture and personality, the known and unknown, and coming up with a sensational novel of profound depth.”—Justin Torres, New York Times bestselling author of We the Animals

Quoted: This was the elasticity and permanence of parental love; everything vile about your children was to some degree something vile about yourself, and disowning your child for their failings could only compound your own.


2. Brave Enough.

brave enough

If You’re Looking For: Non-fiction, gifts for women, self-help, humor, philosophy

If You Liked: Tiny Beautiful Things, Wild, Rising Strong

My Review: I got this book in the mail a few days ago from a friend/soulmate who knew I’d love every page. Brave Enough is a collection of quotes from bestselling author Cheryl Strayed, drawn from the wide range of her writings. The book captures her wisdom, humor, and insight and is presented in a lovely gift-sized package that’s as fun to give as it is to receive. Open to any page and at the very least—be amused. As Cheryl so bluntly puts it in the introduction, “Read it like a motherfucker.” I read it in a day, and will continue to reread to find the gems that spoke to me the most. Themes include body image, friendship, inner strength, and love. If you haven’t read Tiny Beautiful Things, read that first. Five out of five stars. The perfect gift for a sister or friend.

Their Review: “A short, taut, Swiss Army knife [book] of quotations, one that applies to deciding whether to have a third doughnut or an extramarital affair, make a mean-spirited joke—or get up from the desk before a book review is finished. Cheryl Strayed is a tough-love truth-teller. In the introduction she writes that a good quote can provide in a sentence or two ‘a clear eyed perspective, or a swift kick in the pants.’ Hers do both. Brave Enough amount[s] to a galvanizing call to be bigger, bolder, more generous. We already know what to do, Strayed believes; we just need to heed that inner voice . . . ‘I believe in the power of words to help us reset our intentions, clarify our thoughts, and create a counternarrative to the voice of doubt in our heads—the one that says, You can’t, you won’t, you shouldn’t have,’ she writes. [This book] helps you create that counternarrative. [It shouts,] ‘Yes!” —Jennifer Reese, The Washington Post 

Quoted: Stop worrying about whether you’re fat. You’re not fat. Or, rather, you’re sometimes a little bit fat, but who gives a shit? There is nothing more boring and fruitless than a woman lamenting the fact that her stomach is round. Feed yourself. Literally. The sort of people worthy of your love will love you more for this.


Favorite Books

All Book Reviews


Book Review: The Heart Goes Last + Who Do You Love

November 30, 2015


Hello reader friends! I devoured two novels this November and oh–they were exquisite. By complete chance, they were both love stories. And if you haven’t read a good love story in a while, I highly recommend a little romance to warm up the winter blues. It had been a long, long time and two in a row reminded me what I was missing.

If you are familiar with the authors, you might guess these books are opposites. This is true in some ways, but at their cores–they are about the same thing: love held and love lost over the course of many years.

Let me preface the Atwood review with the following caveat: Our lady Margaret Atwood is my favorite author and I’ve loved everything she’s ever written with my whole heart. There is no work in her very long list of works that I have not read and then rated with five golden stars due to incredible writing and story-telling. She is everything I’ve ever wanted a hero to be.

That said, my success rate recommending her novels to others gets a solid B-. Approximately half of my reader friends do not enjoy her books, which is truly fine with me. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I’m not a book snob. As long as you get lost in your vampire novels, historical fiction, or teen pregnancy memoirs–keep on reading. Try new things, but don’t be afraid to voice your opinion. That’s the point of art. It’s supposed to be subjective.

As always, all book reviews are spoiler free.

Happy reading.


1. The Heart Goes Last.

the heart goes last

If You’re Looking For: Science fiction, dystopian fiction, adult fiction, love story

If You Liked: The One I Love (film),  Oryx And Crake, The Handmaid’s Tale, Never Let Me Go

My Review: Every time I start a new Margaret Atwood book, I hold my breath and think– Will this be the one I won’t enjoy? Her latest novel is another dystopian tale, but with a lighter tone than The Handmaid’s Tale or the MaddAddam Trilogy (my favorites). Even though it’s still littered with dark and creepy moments, at its heart it’s a love story. A story about marriage and trust and sometimes hating your spouse because they’re kind of annoying. It’s also a cautionary tale, as most dystopian novels are, causing the reader to stop and temporarily panic every few chapters about genetic engineering. Contemporary, satirical, horrifying, and fun. Five out of five golden stars for pure entertainment.

Their Review: “A gripping, psychologically acute portrayal of our own future gone totally wrong, and the eternal constant of flawed humanity.” —Huffington Post

Quoted: “Powerful but insecure men don’t take well to rejection. Rage could result.”


2. Who Do You Love.

Who Do You Love

If You’re Looking For: Chick lit, fiction, escape, beach read, romance

If You Like: Rom coms, The Fault In Our Stars, The Royal We

My Review: I hate to call this book chick-lit (so does Jennifer Weiner), so my apologies to the author. It’s the only way I can think of to describe the tone and story without giving it all away. I’ve followed Jennifer on Twitter for years (she’s hilarious), but this is the first time I’ve read one of her novels and I’m so glad I did. Who Do You Love is her 12th book and has gotten a lot of press for its fresh and funny take on modern romance. It’s also a page-turner, a very “will they or won’t they” tale with fate seeming to constantly work against them. It’s a great story to get lost in, especially if you’re tired of heavy reads. Bonus: the sexy parts make you appreciate sexy writing done well. 4/5 stars for fulfilling its intended purpose. 

Their Review: “Overwhelmingly this is an affecting novel about how people carry the heavy burdens that came with their lives — and how they set them down so they can goon… Weiner draws her characters with empathy and nuance. We take the 30-year journey with them, and root for them along the way.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer

Quoted: “Your first love is important. It’s part of your story. The story you’ll tell yourself, the one you’ll tell about yourself, for the rest of your life.”



Favorite Books

All Book Reviews