{Review}: Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel

Quick Review: Chick lit that hits the nail on the head with a likeable heroine, A fast-paced plot and an ending with a twist.

What is it about chick lit that lends itself so well to themes of redemption? Like Faithful by Alice Hoffman, here’s a story set against the backdrop of my favorite city, featuring a girl down on her luck after a traumatic experience that upends her very existence and forces her to question everything she took for granted.

As always, there’s a Small Admissions | Good Chick Litguy but it’s not about the guy…is it ever, ladies? (No, it’s about us!) Oh, and the OTHER guy, the one that surprises us all and proves to be the gem.
There’s the overbearing but well-meaning  family member, wearing a martyr crown and feeling misunderstood.
The best friends are there, at odds with each other and themselves, helping us readers out with backstory.
 Oh, and let’s not forget the patient sage that can see something in our heroine that we dear readers can’t.  And even he needed to be convinced.
Sounds good, right? It’s a perfect vacation read. You can start it on the plane, read it by the pool or in the ski lodge by the fire, and finish it on the plane ride home.
I love me some good chick lit, and Amy Poeppel hits all the right notes in this one.
Check out the book trailer for Small Admissions and enter to win a copy of this book! The  link to the Rafflecopter is below the trailer!

Enter the Giveaway Here!

 

More about Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel:

Small Admissions | Amy Poeppel

Amy Poeppel is a graduate of Wellesley College. She lives with her husband and three sons in New York City, where she worked in the admissions department of a prestigious independent school. She workshopped a theatrical version of SMALL ADMISSIONS at the Actors Studio Playwrights/Directors Unit. She later expanded it into this novel.

Website: http://www.amypoeppel.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/amypoeppelauthor/
Twitter: @AmyPoeppel
Instagram: @AmyPoeppel

 

{I received an e-book version of this novel for review purposes and to participate in this blog tour. The giveaway is administered and managed  solely by the publisher Atria Books. This post contains Amazon affiliate links. }

{Review}: Home Cooked by Anya Fernald

Quick Review: A thoughtful, approachable, visually appealing cookbook that makes even The Most exotic recipe seem  within reach.

(This post contains affiliate links. That means when you click on a link, I get a small commission.)

Isn’t this book pretty? I’m definitely guilty of judging a book by it’s cover. The photographs and layout inside Home Cooked by Anya Fernald are gorgeous, too. A cookbook is more than just  recipes– good ones also tell a story (unless it’s the Joy of Cooking or How To Make Everything, my favorite go-to for regular old recipes).

Anya Fernald is the founder of Belcampo Meat Co., founded in 2011 with the mission of creating sustainable pathways to meat processing through its slaughterhouse, farm and restaurants. In writing this cookbook, Fernald showcases the simplest of ingredients and elevates home cooking without putting it out of reach for the everyday home cook.

I admit, though, not every recipe in this book is for me. There are a fair amount of recipes that involve ingredients that have never found their way into my kitchen, like pig feet (for trotter broth) or chicken hearts (to be sautéed in brown butter), but to Fernald’s credit, she makes even offal seem appealing. (Still not going to be made in my kitchen, though.)

There are plenty more recipes that I do plan to make!  So far, I’ve been able to try two of the recipes. One was the farinata, a chickpea flour pancake, which proved to be an excellent vehicle for almost anything. With only five ingredients, plus one optional ingredient (mortadella!), and a fast cooking time (ten minutes), it’s a simple, affordable, highly adaptable addition to my repertoire of dinner accompaniments.

The other recipe was for pickled beets, but instead of beets, I pickled beautiful radishes from my weekly produce box.

A quick flip through the book reveals that nearly all the recipes consistent of ten ingredients or less, which makes even the most intimidating-sounding recipe feel do-able. No fancy, hard-to-find ingredients (offal notwithstanding…) or specialty cooking tools needed here!

More about Home Cooked by Anya Fernald, from Penguin Random House:

A recipe collection and how-to guide for preparing base ingredients that can be used to make simple, weeknight meals, while also teaching skills like building and cooking over a fire, and preserving meat and produce, written by a sustainable food expert and founder of Belcampo Meat Co.

 

{I received a review copy of this book from Blogging for Books for review purposes. All opinions are my own.}

{Review}: Faithful by Alice Hoffman


Quick Review: A book about regret, transformation and redemption that will have you rooting for the main character.  

I’ve read quite a few Alice Hoffman novels in my day. (Will I ever read them all? I don’t know! She’s so prolific, I can’t keep up.)  This month, I read two of Alice’s novels back to back: 2011’s The Dovekeepers, and the upcoming Faithful, out from Simon & Schuster in November 2016. The Dovekeepers, if you haven’t read it, is an epic saga that tells the story of four women who sought refuge on Masada, escaping from Roman persecution after the destruction of the Second Temple.  Faithful, on the other hand, is short and sweet, with one endearing character.  Two books on opposite ends of the novel spectrum but here’s what I’ve come to learn about Alice’s novels: they are all about regret, transformation and redemption.

Faithful is the story of Shelby, who is left reeling from a tragedy and because she cannot forgive herself, she starts to self-destruct. In her journey back to herself, she is supported by a cast of characters that see something in her that she cannot see in herself. And once again, Alice is the queen of the plot twist. Shelby receives a series of anonymous postcards, and the reveal of the sender will surprise you, reader!

While Faithful is not the deep, profound prose of Alice’s longer, meticulously researched historical novels, it was easy to become attached to Shelby and become emotionally invested in the outcome of her path– I cried several times during the novel because I felt her pain acutely, thanks to Alice’s ability to give Shelby a voice that we can hear. We can all root for a  heroine that makes regretful life choices, flounders a bit in the aftermath, then struggles to overcome and ultimately redeem herself.

 

More About Faithful by Alice Hoffman:

Faithful by Alice Hoffman is available for pre-order on Amazon, and will be released on November 1, 2016, by Simon & Schuster. 

“From the New York Times bestselling author of The Marriage of Opposites and The Dovekeepers comes a soul-searching story about a young woman struggling to redefine herself and the power of love, family, and fate.

Growing up on Long Island, Shelby Richmond is an ordinary girl until one night an extraordinary tragedy changes her fate. Her best friend’s future is destroyed in an accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt.

What happens when a life is turned inside out? When love is something so distant it may as well be a star in the sky? Faithful is the story of a survivor, filled with emotion—from dark suffering to true happiness—a moving portrait of a young woman finding her way in the modern world. A fan of Chinese food, dogs, bookstores, and men she should stay away from, Shelby has to fight her way back to her own future. In New York City she finds a circle of lost and found souls—including an angel who’s been watching over her ever since that fateful icy night.

Here is a character you will fall in love with, so believable and real and endearing, that she captures both the ache of loneliness and the joy of finding yourself at last. For anyone who’s ever been a hurt teenager, for every mother of a daughter who has lost her way, Faithful is a roadmap.

Alice Hoffman’s “trademark alchemy” (USA TODAY) and her ability to write about the “delicate balance between the everyday world and the extraordinary” (WBUR) make this an unforgettable story. With beautifully crafted prose, Alice Hoffman spins hope from heartbreak in this profoundly moving novel.”  (via Amazon)

 

{I requested an ARC from the publisher, and was not obligated, nor compensated,  to write this review. This post contains Amazon affiliate links. }

{Review}: The Girls

The Girls, out from Random House on June 14th, left me with the nagging feeling of familiarity. I’m only 36, so it’s not because I lived the heyday of the 60s and 70s. Set in Northern California, at the end of the 1960’s, Evie’s story hits all the hallmarks of teenage angst– friend drama, divorcing parents, sexual awareness, self-consciousness and endless navel-gazing.  But it has this particular heady sheen that seems gloss over anything set in the 60s and 70s.

We begin with two backstories: an introduction to the novel’s antagonists, a roaming band of gypsies that capture Evie’s bored imagination, and we get a glimpse into a sensational ending. From there, we go back to the beginning: Evie’s life fraying at the edges, her father out the door with a younger woman and her mother taking benign neglect to a whole new level.

After awhile, I began to realize where the familiarity came from. Last year, I read We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves, and The Interestings. Both of these books are about angsty adolescents in the 60s and 70s, and they convey that same sort of dream-like quality, a looseness that comes from an age where things were just plain weird and everyone was high and figuring out how to be liberated, in mind and in body.

Not that I have a problem with that. It works for this book. Evie has a lost summer before being shipped off to boarding school, taking up with the members of a cult living in a run-down house in a remote place. Her mother is too busy finding herself a man, and her father…well, her father is doing his own thing too, so where does that leave Evie?

Left to her own devices, Evie learns a thing or two about herself through compare and contrast, and developing a low-level sense of self-loathing, ashamed of her privilege. Her vulnerability is ruthlessly exploited as she tries to convince herself that she belongs. The shocking events at the end of her lost summer disabuses her of that notion.

When we meet Evie, she is in her 60s, approaching 70, revisiting some hazy time when she was 14 and it was the 60s in California, and some crazy stuff was going down and how did she even get swept up in all of it? But now her life is sad, lonely, aimless. And I can see her so vividly, thanks to Emma Cline’s gift for drawing characters with words that evoke a forlorn, pathetic mood, a kind of grayness over everything, even in sunny, bright, optimistic California.

{I received a copy of this book for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links.}

{Review}: The Age of Reinvention

What is the difference between a lie of omission and a lie, period? And is one worse than the other?

I would argue that both are no good, but that a lie of omission has technicality going for it. Technically, one did not utter a falsehood. One merely failed to correct an assumption, which places the responsibility on the other party to do due diligence.

Then, when happens when one has an attack of conscious and feels a desire to finally correct the assumption, but at the risk of losing everything, including the identity that was reinvented?

When Samir Tahar shortens his name to Sam, walks into a French law firm and is given the persona of a Sephardic Jew and a job, whatever hesitation he had is overshadowed by his new prestige as he is taken under the wing of his avuncular boss. And I did wonder, what kind of world is it when being a Jew is an advantage? As much as I embrace my own Jewish-ness, I have never once felt that it was an advantage or bestowed some kind of social privilege on me. I guess, better to be a Jew than a Muslim, which is the exact scenario that Sam enters into in this novel by Karine Tuil, translated from the French by Sam Taylor.

Clocking in at just shy of 400 pages, The Age of Reinvention maintains a frenetic pace throughout that mirrors the runaway train that Sam finds himself on, after he cannot bring himself to correct an assumption, and he puts on his new life like the expensive suits he can now afford. It all comes to a head in the most ludicrous of ways but the scary part is that we readers can easily believe it might happen, in this age of Islamophobia and terrorism. Nothing seems surprising anymore; shocking, maybe but hardly surprising to find out the extremes to which our government might go in the fight against terrorism.

And what international thriller would be complete without a love triangle? Sam’s arrogance, his willingness to parade himself around becomes his downfall as he grows vulnerable to exposure and becomes visible to the other two-thirds of the love triangle. Hell hath no fury like a man scorned. The love triangle would be a subplot, but Karine Tuil masterfully draws a thin but substantial line between events that put the plot into overdrive, so that we fall headlong with our characters past a point of no return, especially when a third plot line is uncovered, that proves to be the loose nut that brings it all crashing down around Sam. 
In this book, the reader is treated to a richly painted world that offers an immersive literary experiece that won’t soon be forgotten as we turn over my original question: what’s worse, a lie of omission or an outright lie?

{I requested a copy of this book for review purposes from Atria Books/Simon and Schuster. This post contains affiliate links.}

{Review}: Writing My Wrongs

We love redemption stories. We love the triumph of the will. We watch the fall from grace salaciously, with judgement but we cheer when grace is restored. Why? Because all of us have redemption stories. Some of them are big, like rags to riches or a life of crime to a life of honesty, but a lot are small, quiet moments in our everyday relationships. We build trust, break trust and restore it again. We disappoint each other, apologize, kiss and make up. In every redemption story, big or small, we see ourselves.

And in Writing My Wrongs, we see how a stubborn streak and parental neglect leads to a fatal mistake that brings the killer low, though it takes Shaka Senghor many years to accept that he has hit rock bottom. His stints in solitary confinement, his realization that he has made an avoidable mistake, his willingness to confront his demons and let go of his anger allows for a degree of introspection that is admirable and difficult. Senghor comes to realize that small, meaningful interventions early in his life would’ve made all the difference, something as simple as “Are you okay?” “Why are you so angry?” Indeed, the world would be a more peaceful place if we stopped reacting and started listening, looking, wondering, getting at the root of a conflict instead of hitting back.

Writing My Wrongs is a compelling, engaging read that doesn’t radically stand out from any other redemption story out there, but the voice carries the reader along. Redemption stories are, by their very nature, predictably full of plot lines that crest, dip then crest again. However, this is the first time that I’ve really understood how the prison system is designed to rob people of their humanity. The constant upheaval, the threat of violence from all corners, the social isolation– all of this serves to set inmates up to fail. Should someone be punished for committing a crime? Yes. Should someone be made to feel that there’s no hope for change? No. What good does it do to return angry, demoralized people to society? Not much, as far as I can tell, and neither can Senghor, who has made it his mission in life to help children find a way to express their anger, frustration and disappointment without succumbing to violence.

So read this book for the story itself, and for a reality check.

{I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links.}

{Review}: The Vegetarian

The Vegetarian is full of powerful and graphic imagery but nothing gory, nothing overly disturbing as alluded to in the many rave reviews of this book. I wondered if something was lost in translation.
The words that come to mind when I think of this book, post-read, are minimalist and sparse. Yet the imagery is vivid, and in sharp relief. Each word has been carefully selected, each phrase carefully turned. There is a distinct lack of superfluity.
At the core of this novel is a woman who we don’t really get to understand on her own terms. She is defined by her relationship with others. Her husband is quietly unsatisfied with her, though he cannot say she is a bad wife. Her sister pities her, and feels responsible for her. Her father cares little until he cares too much, refusing to understand her.  There are three voices in this book, and none of them belong to Yeong-hye, as central as she is to the book. 
Yeong-hye commits herself obsessively to being a vegetarian, as the result of a dream. The confusion,  wrath and indignation this elicits from her family is outsized. The more she is excoriated for not conforming, the deeper she digs her heels in, turning herself inside out and driving herself insane.
But is she really insane? Or is that an identity foisted on her by those around her as way of understanding her refusal to be like everyone else? It’s hard to tell in this novel. We get the sense that she has discovered something about herself and has become attuned to her own sexuality, in a way that was never revealed to her husband. An inverse relationship develops. As Yeong-hye begins to fall together,  those around her who were so sure of themselves begin to doubt themselves and fall apart.

{I received a copy of this book for review purposes from Blogging for Books. This post contains affiliate links.}