Bonfire by Krysten Ritter

Should you ever go back?

It has been ten years since Abby Williams left home and scrubbed away all visible evidence of her small town roots. Now working as an environmental lawyer in Chicago, she has a thriving career, a modern apartment, and her pick of meaningless one-night stands.

But when a new case takes her back home to Barrens, Indiana, the life Abby painstakingly created begins to crack. Tasked with investigating Optimal Plastics, the town’s most high-profile company and economic heart, Abby begins to find strange connections to Barrens’ biggest scandal from more than a decade ago involving the popular Kaycee Mitchell and her closest friends—just before Kaycee disappeared for good.

Abby knows the key to solving any case lies in the weak spots, the unanswered questions. But as Abby tries to find out what really happened to Kaycee, she unearths an even more disturbing secret—a ritual called “The Game,” which will threaten the reputations, and lives, of the community and risk exposing a darkness that may consume her.

With tantalizing twists, slow-burning suspense, and a remote, rural town of just five claustrophobic miles, Bonfire is a dark exploration of the question: can you ever outrun your past?

Disclaimer: I received an ARC from Book Con 2017 so I can’t say how this differs from the final printed version.
My friend borrowed my ARC and read it first. She’s a fan of Krysten’s acting work but was disappointed in her first novel. She said there was too much environmental stuff. She just wanted the hometown story.
That lowered my expectations about the novel. I thought I would be bored with environmental jargon.  I felt the opposite.  Abby leaves most of the environmental research to her team, and 3/4 of the way through they go back to Chicago to continue investigating there. Abby becomes more and more obsessed with what happened to her friend, Kaycee, ten years ago, and the scholarship conspiracy at Optimal.
**Minor spoilers below**

Continue reading

Advertisements

Bellwether by Connie Willis

Pop culture, chaos theory and matters of the heart collide in this unique novella from the Hugo and Nebula winning author of Doomsday Book.

Sandra Foster studies fads and their meanings for the HiTek corporation. Bennet O’Reilly works with monkey group behavior and chaos theory for the same company. When the two are thrust together due to a misdelivered package and a run of seemingly bad luck, they find a joint project in a flock of sheep. But series of setbacks and disappointments arise before they are able to find answers to their questions.

I got Bellwether at a signing at NYCC 2016. It was a double author signing and I was really there for the other book, but this was a happy surprise.

I liked that it was a short and fast read (the only reason it took me so long to finish was because work was busy and NYCC 2017 had me put the book on the back burner. Otherwise I could have easily read this over a weekend. I sailed through it to finish this weekend.)

It was really funny. The satire had me really laughing out loud at a few moments. The actions and herd mentality of some of the characters was amusing and comical.

I liked how each chapter began with a bit of history of a fad or trend. It was like a mini encyclopedia.

I was unsure about the time period it took place in because I often wondered, “Why don’t they just order this on amazon?” It was published in 1996. Surly people ordered things online 20 years ago?

Anyway, the romance is minimal and predictable, but the plot is simple and if you’re looking for a fast read that will keep you amused and give you some chuckles., this is it.

3 out of 5 Sheep.

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl

23875796.jpg

 

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Includes an exclusive conversation between Ruth Reichl and Emily Giffin

Ruth Reichl is a born storyteller. Through her restaurant reviews, where she celebrated the pleasures of a well-made meal, and her bestselling memoirs that address our universal feelings of love and loss, Reichl has achieved a special place in the hearts of hundreds of thousands of readers. Now, with this magical debut novel, she has created a sumptuous, wholly realized world that will enchant you.

Billie Breslin has traveled far from her home in California to take a job at Delicious!, New York’s most iconic food magazine. Away from her family, particularly her older sister, Genie, Billie feels like a fish out of water—until she is welcomed by the magazine’s colorful staff. She is also seduced by the vibrant downtown food scene, especially by Fontanari’s, the famous Italian food shop where she works on weekends. Then Delicious! is abruptly shut down, but Billie agrees to stay on in the empty office, maintaining the hotline for reader complaints in order to pay her bills.

To Billie’s surprise, the lonely job becomes the portal to a miraculous discovery. In a hidden room in the magazine’s library, Billie finds a cache of letters written during World War II by Lulu Swan, a plucky twelve-year-old, to the legendary chef James Beard. Lulu’s letters provide Billie with a richer understanding of history, and a feeling of deep connection to the young writer whose courage in the face of hardship inspires Billie to comes to terms with her fears, her big sister and her ability to open her heart to love.

 

I picked this up at Book Con 2015.

I loved this story. I wish it came with some of the meals mentioned. Instead of scratch and sniff stickers I want read and eat books. It’s also a good history lesson, learning about the food during World War II, with the rationing. I loved the way Lulu was so resourceful using pumpkin leaves, growing a garden, and finding milkweed in the wild.

It wasn’t just the talk of food that I loved. The hidden room in the library is a dream of mine. I was so engulfed in the mystery of the letters from Lulu, as well as the scavenger hunt on the index cards that Bertie created.

I also loved the group of friends that became Billie’s family. I became attached to them. No surprise here, I especially loved the Italians: the Fontanari and the Cappuzzelli families. Those names are so much fun to say.

Another thing I thought was an important part was the subject of how during WWII there was such a deep prejudice against anything Italian that, in some parts of the U.S., spaghetti, lasagna, and other pastas were considered “enemy food”.
Your loss, prejudice jerks. Italians have the best food in the world. I am not being bias.

(I need to read more WWII historical fiction books that focus on Italy and Italian Americans.)

I liked the way it ended. I don’t want to spoil it so I’ll be very cryptic, I felt the way it left off with a certain character was realistic, and there is still a chance for Billie to write her book, one day when she is an older woman.

My one critique is that in the real world the publication would have transferred Billie to an office to deal with the Delicious! Guarantee. Or it would have been the responsibility of the customer service department at another publication. But then that would defeat the whole point of finding the secret room and reading the letters while alone in that big mansion. Which was cool and mysterious because the mansion had it’s own history and story.

I am glad that some recipes are included (maybe I’ll try to make them, though that gingerbread cake sounds complicated!), as well as a conversation between Ruth Reichl and Emily Giffin, and a reader’s guide.

4.5 out of 5 Gingerbread Cakes.

 

 

The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi

360240.jpg

Jessamy “Jess” Harrison is eight years old. Sensitive, whimsical, possessed of an extraordinary and powerful imagination, she spends hours writing haiku, reading Shakespeare, or simply hiding in the dark warmth of the airing cupboard. As the child of an English father and a Nigerian mother, Jess just can’t shake off the feeling of being alone wherever she goes, and the other kids in her class are wary of her tendency to succumb to terrified fits of screaming. Believing that a change from her English environment might be the perfect antidote to Jess’s alarming mood swings, her parents whisk her off to Nigeria for the first time where she meets her mother’s family–including her formidable grandfather.

Jess’s adjustment to Nigeria is only beginning when she encounters Titiola, or TillyTilly, a ragged little girl her own age. To Jess, it seems that, at last, she has found someone who will understand her. But gradually, TillyTilly’s visits become more disturbing, making Jess start to realize that she doesn’t know who TillyTilly is at all.
Helen Oyeyemi draws on Nigerian mythology to present a strikingly original variation on a classic literary theme: the existence of “doubles,” both real and spiritual, who play havoc with our perceptions and our lives. Lyrical, haunting, and compelling, “The Icarus Girl” is a story of twins and ghosts, of a little girl growing up between cultures and colors. It heralds the arrival of a remarkable new talent.

I am going to start at the beginning to make this easier. I bought this novel (and it is signed by the author) 11 years ago. I still have the receipt in the book from Housing Works. I bought it August 15, 2005.

It has been on my to-be-read piles all this time (along with other books I’ve had for years.)

Back when I bought it the synopsis sparked my interest, but for many reasons, procrastination and reading hundreds of other books instead, it fell to the back of the piles.

Recently I did a Top Ten Tuesday list for my friend’s blog, Lazy Book Lovers. That week’s theme was: Top Ten Tuesday! Books That Have Been On Your Shelf (Or TBR) From Before You Started Blogging That You STILL Haven’t Read Yet.

That made me finally read it. But I found I didn’t like it very much. Which is a heartbreaking disappointment. I feel like I should have read it when I first bought it. Sometimes reading a story at a certain point in your life brings out different feeling about it. I might have felt differently 11 years ago, but I will never really know.

To be honest I was expecting something more eerie and supernatural and I ended up bored. I would put it down for days, and now I am 4 books behind on my Goodreads goal.

The thing that made me want to push through and finish was guilt. This book has been collecting dust in my room for a little more than a decade so I felt I owed it something. If I didn’t have this guilt I would have given up sooner and moved on.

So my issues: Which might be somewhat spoiler-ish.

Continue reading

The Secret Ways of Perfume by Cristina Caboni

30648353.jpgunnamed.jpg

From Goodreads: From Florence to Paris, a scent like no other can take you unexpected places . . .

Ten-year-old Elena lives in Florence with her cold and distant perfumier grandmother. Only when enveloped in aromas does Elena feel at home, and she has nurtured a unique gift: the ability to decipher the ingredients of a perfume, and experience the feelings it evokes.

Years later, Elena’s talent leads her to the cobbled streets of Paris. There she rediscovers an old, secret family perfume recipe that no other perfumier has been able to replicate.

As Elena begins to open her heart to new adventures she meets a man who is guarding his own secrets. From France’s sun-drenched lavender fields to the ancient heart of Italy, together they will follow a path of secret scents, distant memories and new hopes . . .

From Penguin:

Scents evoke the memories that linger in our minds and our hearts in this evocative, romantic, international bestselling novel.

“Remember Elena, perfume is the truth. The only thing that really counts. Perfume never lies, perfume is what we are, it’s our true essence.”

Elena Rossini has a rare gift: She has the ability to decipher the ingredients of a perfume from its scent alone. Passed down through generations of her family, Elena’s ability delights as easily as it overwhelms, especially when she catches a scent in the air that evokes painful memories of her mother.

For so long, Elena has avoided the world that was her past. But when a betrayal destroys her dreams for the future, her best friend lures her from Florence to Paris. There, Elena finds that when she is wrapped in the essences of flowers, herbs, and spices, she doesn’t feel quite so alone.

Once again immersed in the ancient craft of perfumery, Elena searches for a celebrated family recipe that no perfumer has been able to replicate. And as she opens herself up to secret scents and distant memories, Elena discovers the very essence of the woman she could become…

I received an ARC from Penguin’s First to Read.

I like both of those covers. The one with the Eiffel Tower is the Hardcover edition and the woman in the field is the Kindle edition.

The story was a bit clichéd and formulaic (ha – a pun), but I still enjoyed it very much. Some parts were repetitive and dragged, but overall I liked the characters and the journeys they went on.

I was invested in the mystery about Elena’s ancestor, Beatrice, and her lost Perfect Perfume, and how it affected generations of the Rossini women. The outcome was plausible and satisfying.

There were a few things I nitpicked about. I would have liked Elena and her mother to reconcile sooner so that the epilogue could have taken place a few years into the future. But I have my own head cannon for that.

The descriptions about the perfumes themselves were divine and delightful. I would usually read while commuting and I swear I could smell people’s perfumes more acutely than usual because of the beautiful prose. It made me want to have my own personalized perfume. There was even one part of the story that took place in a bakery, and I swear I could smell pastries.

4 out 5 Perfect Perfumes.

The After Party by Anton DiSclafani

26150788.jpg

 

From the nationally bestselling author of The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls comes a story of 1950s Texas socialites and the one irresistible, controversial woman at the bright, hot center of it all.

Fortier is the epitome of Texas glamour and the center of the 1950s Houston social scene. Tall, blonde, beautiful, and strong, she dominates the room and the gossip columns. Every man who sees her seems to want her; every woman just wants to be her. But this is a highly ordered world of garden clubs and debutante balls. The money may flow as freely as the oil, but the freedom and power all belong to the men. What happens when a woman of indecorous appetites and desires like Joan wants more? What does it do to her best friend?

Devoted to Joan since childhood, Cece Buchanan is either her chaperone or her partner in crime, depending on whom you ask. But as Joan’s radical behavior escalates, Cece’s perspective shifts—forcing one provocative choice to appear the only one there is.

A thrilling glimpse into the sphere of the rich and beautiful at a memorable moment in history, The After Party unfurls a story of friendship as obsessive, euphoric, consuming, and complicated as any romance.

The After Party was a fast read. I got through 100 pages in a day easily – which was a plus.

They story was entertaining in a Real Housewives of Houston way, only set in the 1950’s. The women take care of their families, go to social functions and gossip.

My thoughts on the two main women:
Cece, given her childhood and family life I get her attachment to Joan, but it crossed over into a self-distructive obsession.

The secret Joan withheld was easy to guess before it was revealed. While it was tragic I didn’t feel overly sorry for her. Perhaps because she was spoiled. I guess, though, that her decisions are more true to life. Not everyone gets to pick themselves up when they hit rock bottom. In a more inspirational story she would have achieved her dreams to “go where the ideas are.”

I loved the descriptions of the fashion of the day. DiSclafani painted a clear picture for my mind to imagine the glamor and elegance. I thought of fashion sketches and illustrations of the 1950’s.

Overall I was luke-warm about The After Party. I liked it well enough, especially that I finished it in 4 days, but it’s not added to the favorite list.

3 out 5 cocktails.

A Fine Imitation, by Amber Brock

26053121

Set in the glamorous 1920s, A Fine Imitation is an intoxicating debut that sweeps readers into a privileged Manhattan socialite’s restless life and the affair with a mysterious painter that upends her world, flashing back to her years at Vassar and the friendship that brought her to the brink of ruin.

Vera Bellington has beauty, pedigree, and a penthouse at The Angelus—the most coveted address on Park Avenue. But behind the sparkling social whirl, Vera is living a life of quiet desperation. Her days are an unbroken loop of empty, champagne-soaked socializing, while her nights are silent and cold, spent waiting alone in her cavernous apartment for a husband who seldom comes home.

Then Emil Hallan arrives at The Angelus to paint a mural above its glittering subterranean pool. The handsome French artist moves into the building, shrouds his work in secrecy, and piques Vera’s curiosity, especially when the painter keeps dodging questions about his past. Is he the man he claims to be? Even as she finds herself increasingly drawn to Hallan’s warmth and passion, Vera can’t supress her suspicions. After all, she has plenty of secrets, too—and some of them involve art forgers like her bold, artistically talented former friend, Bea, who years ago, at Vassar, brought Vera to the brink of catastrophe and social exile.

When the dangerous mysteries of Emil’s past are revealed, Vera faces an impossible choice—whether to cling to her familiar world of privilege and propriety or to risk her future with the enigmatic man who has taken her heart. A Fine Imitation explores what happens when we realize that the life we’ve always led is not the life we want to have.

I received an ARC of A Fine Imitation through First to Read.

This is the first time I have enjoyed a book I received from First to Read. Though to be fair, this is only the fourth book I have received from them.

I got caught up in the mystery of the past and present. My predictions about were Emil were mostly correct, though the details were off.
I was complete correct about Vera’s husband, Arthur, and that gave me satisfaction. I felt a range of emotions for the characters.I certainly liked Vera and rooted her to be free. Her mother was cold. Bea was entertaining, but also lost and untamed.

The people in the building were amusing because they were exactly how one would expect high society to behave. It sort of reminded me of Downton Abbey (in New York City) meets Edward Scissorhands. Emil being like Scissorhands, the shiny new toy to amuse the tenants. Once they grew bored they question who he was, and their feelings quickly turned.

Overall I thought it was a good story. The pacing was steady, the jump back and forth in time was smooth, some of the prose was poetic, and the ending was not only plausible but what I was hoping for.

4 out of 5 murals.