A Tasty Bite

The Chicken Sisters by KJ Dell’Antonia was a fun brain break after my heavier reads of late. This book was recently introduced in Reese’s book club. 

Readers will feel hooked from the start comparable to watching a reality tv show (which is actually part of the story)!  It is about a family feud which started years ago between two sisters and their rival chicken restaurants, Frannie’s and Mimi’s.  The feud has lasted through generations. Amanda is one of two daughters of the current Mimi’s owner. She hasn’t been allowed back since marrying into Frannie’s family. 

Amanda contacted the show Food Wars to have the two restaurants filmed.  When they are chosen to be in the show all heck breaks loose. Her sister comes back from NYC to be part of the show. Old conflicts and drama resurface while new issues arise too. I was interested until the very end to find out who would win and if the family could reach any semblance of agreement.  While this is a “lighter” read, it definitely includes deeper topics around family dynamics, self-realization and mental illness. 

One book left from my holiday splurge, and then I really need to get back on track with my homework!

Intrigue

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn is a well-researched historical fiction story. Past and present(ish) characters connect in an unexpected and riveting way. 

The Alice Network is the name of a group of spies run by the incredible Lili (one of her aliases and based on a true person). This is not really Lili’s story, although she is an important figure in the book. Eve is one of the main (fictional) characters and her story is fascinating. She is discovered by a British officer who feels that her stutter combined with her innocent appearance and ability to speak three languages will serve them well. She is brought in for training and then is stationed at a French restaurant known for catering to German soldiers. She is an excellent spy willing to put herself at great risk for her country (and there is so much about how she does this). 

Her story is gradually told to the other main character, Charlie.  Charlie is traveling overseas from the States with her mother to hide her unplanned pregnancy. Being overseas pushes Charlie to rebel against her parents in order to investigate the disappearance of her cousin Rose (who was like a sister to her and who lived in France). She is determined to find out what happened to her, and Eve was the last person to fill out some paperwork about Rose. 

Eve and Charlie make an unlikely connection  in their quest to both find Rose and to avenge wrongs. This becomes a story of unexpected friendship, rebellion, adventure and strength. Eve’s story is what kept me turning pages. The author’s attention to detail around the time period and the people (explained in the author’s note at the end of the story) is evident and appreciated.  

Touring the Multiverse

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig continues my philosophical reading flow as Nora is caught between life and death following a suicide attempt. She finds herself in a massive library where she is assisted by her former school librarian.  After reviewing her massive book of regrets, she has the chance to undo a regret by selecting another life choice.  Each book represents an opportunity to experience other paths her life may have taken, and there are infinite possibilities. She arrives in each new life at midnight and may stay in that life for minutes or days.  The moment she feels unsatisfied she is transported back to the library where she can choose another book/life to experience. 

Nora encounters interesting situations and people along the way, in one case another “slider” such as herself.  She joins her life in numerous scenarios that address her long list of regrets or what ifs, including: if she moved to Australia with her friend instead of staying in her hometown, married her fiancée instead of backing out two days before the wedding, pursued swimming and became an Olympic medalist, became a glaciologist or a famous musician instead of studying philosophy (there are many pertinent philosophical quotes scattered throughout the story).  Some experiences are better than others, but even the best one doesn’t seem quite right. Time is critical because in reality she is close to death.  This leads to Nora’s final takeaway; she wants to live her own life.

I love the premise of this story. The concept of how a different choice might alter our lives is one I imagine most of us ponder from time to time.  There is a strong theme of appreciating life and making one’s own happiness which is so true, but may strike some as obvious or preachy.  Luckily, Nora learns this lesson before it’s too late.

Tragic Knowledge

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin is a philosophical treat. Four siblings (Simon, Klara, Daniel and Varya) visit a fortune teller who is known for her ability to tell people the day they will die. We then follow each character in their death order from first to last which also coincides with the youngest to oldest child. Spoilers abound in this review which only glosses the surface of the story’s depth.

After their father’s death, Simon and Klara run away to San Francisco while Simon is only sixteen. Simon rapidly falls into a gay lifestyle, becoming a dancer in one of the many clubs and also pursuing ballet. Readers follow his escapades which ultimately lead to his death at a very young age.

Klara has always been fascinated by magic. Inspired by a grandmother she never met, she pursues the Iron Jaw act, which involves using her mouth to swing from a rope. She is a talented magician, but sick. Her life revolves around small time shows and alcoholism until she meets her eventual costar, husband and father of her daughter Ruby. He pushes them to take their act, The Immortalists, to Vegas. This leads to her death right before their first big show.

Daniel is full of anger toward the fortune teller. He feels that his siblings’ lives may have gone differently without her interference. He also feels guilt since it was his idea to go to her in the first place. Daniel ends up seeking out the woman which leads to his death.

This leaves Varya. She is the oldest sibling and her lifespan is predicted to be the longest, but her portion of the story is the shortest, and in my opinion, the saddest. She has spent her life with OCD and a fear of building relationships with anyone. Her only family interactions are with her mother and brother Daniel. She gave away a child for adoption following a one-night stand. Her main focus is on her work. She works with lab animals to discover how to lengthen one’s life through a limited diet. This part of the book was tough for me because of the animal involvement. Varya ends up working her way through her deeply psychological issues, but it takes a rough awakening.

Is there any benefit to knowing one’s own death date? Would knowing it shape people differently and lead them to make different choices than they would without knowing? I think the answer to the latter question is probably yes. This story is a tragedy with some glimmers of light through the strength of love and family. Unfortunately, this discovery is too late for most involved.

Rough Landing

The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian was one of two books I picked up for myself while Christmas shopping at Barnes and Noble. This book was yet another perfect break from schoolwork. 

The opening scene plunges readers directly into the scene of the crime. Cassie wakes up hungover from another of her many one-night stands. This time is much different considering the man beside her is murdered and she is in the United Emirates. 

After deliberating, Cassie leaves the scene with uncertainty about whether she committed the crime or not. The previous night is a blurred memory since she drank to the point of blacking out. She decides not to take the chance of being locked up while overseas.  She is a flight attendant due to return home to NYC in just a couple hours, so she leaves without telling anyone. She might be home free, until the case hits the news including pictures of her entering and leaving the hotel. 

The FBI is involved because the murdered man, Alex, had his own secrets.  Meanwhile, the woman who we learn did commit the murder, Miranda, is facing the quiet wrath of her Russian mob for letting Cassie go. 

The story follows Cassie’s life as she tries to build her defense while continuing to drink herself numb, alongside Miranda’s involvement and pursuit of Cassie. It was full of the secrets and twists one would expect in a world of murder, undercover agents and spies. There were a couple of unsatisfactory parts in the ending for me, but in no way did they take away from my overall enjoyment of this book (which I heard is also a series)! 

Cat and Mouse

The Dancing Girls by M.M. Chouinard is my first read in a long time and how I’ve missed it!!  I was caught up on work and homework making this book a perfect fit during the long Thanksgiving weekend.

Jo Fournier is a lieutenant, but dearly misses her role as detective. She can’t help but get involved in a murder case which is seemingly impossible to solve. The case brings her and her former partner to the victim’s home state as they search for clues or possible suspects. 

The book switches back and forth between the investigative view and the killer’s view. Martin’s background is pretty terrible and has led him to a lifestyle focused on ridding the world of evil women. His hunt involves slowly reeling in women who are unhappy in their marriages and their lives. These women are susceptible to his charms and looking for attention- the perfect victim.  

Martin has gotten very good at outsmarting the system, until he must suddenly face a true enemy. I won’t give the spoiler away on this one, but will say this book was just what I needed- a page turner with some twists and maybe a hint of redemption along the way. 

Dangerous Relationships

Here’s a two in one:

Sisters by Daisy Johnson is a fast-paced, brain-twisting read. 

July and September are sisters born just ten months apart. They are joined at the hip with older sister September basically calling all the shots. September’s ways are often hurtful/dangerous but July seems programmed to go along with anything she is told. We find out more of the family dynamics as events unfold. 

One key is constant allusion to a terrible incident which forced their mom to move them away from their home. Slowly the incident is revealed. This revelation upsets everything one thinks about story events, leaving the reader to worry and wonder about the main character’s future self. 

I think I read this would become a movie; I will check it out!

The Housekeeper by Natalie Barelli is a revenge story that I finished a few weeks back so I’m a bit rusty on the details. 

Claire has hit rock bottom in her life when she suddenly catches a glimpse of the cause of her demise, Hannah Wilson. Claire takes on a new identity to infiltrate Hannah’s home with a plan to destroy her marriage and lifestyle. 

The more that Claire gets to know Hannah, the more she realizes that Hannah is more disturbed than she imagined. Maybe even more disturbed than she is herself. The strangeness keeps piling up until the sudden twist at the end. 

Claire finally figures out who is really crazy. The story ties itself up in a neat little package by the end with Claire finally pulling herself out of her years-long slump while finding forgiveness and love.

Girl Power

I read these three books over the past month or so. There is a common thread of female strength, accomplishing self-love, and introspection in all of them. Meanwhile, they are all very different in their plot lines! They are here in one post considering so much time has passed since reading the first title and it makes the most sense for me to keep them together.

Luster by Raven Leilani is a book I saw on a list of top new reads. Unfortunately, my memory is a bit foggy on this one since it is my earliest read of this set.

Edie is a black woman in her early twenties who is trying to figure it all out. She ends up involved with a married, white man (not the first time), but this experience is much different. After being discovered in the man’s home, she slowly becomes part of his household. She loses her job and her apartment and is scooped up by his wife. She moves in to their home while he is away on business, and begins building relationships with his wife and adopted daughter. Throughout this very odd experience, Edie is trying to reconcile who she is and what she wants to do with her life. Her mother’s artistic talents are in her, but she struggles to let them take over.

There are so many other nuances to this book. It’s definitely a unique voice and plot about people and their eccentricities.

Cleo McDougal Regrets Nothing by Allison Winn Scotch is Cleo’s story of righting wrongs. She is considering a run for governor (I think??? I finished it several weeks ago). Cleo is an extremely driven woman, with a strong work ethic while also raising her teenage son as a single mom.

A former high school friend decides to make a public admonition against her in an attempt to tarnish her campaign. Cleo and her good friend/adviser decide she should publicly address the accusation to make a point of showing her humanity to gain votes. They travel back to her hometown in Oregon so that she can apologize to her former friend and set the record straight. Doing so does not result in forgiveness, but it does bring Cleo back to her roots. She realizes how much she has in common with her dad, including keeping a lengthy list of regrets. She begins tackling many of these regrets, while acknowledging her own truths and those that affect her son.

Similar to Luster, this book becomes a journey of self-discovery while also affirming her role as a political figure.

Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner is my most recent read, so it is freshest in my mind. Daphne is a plus-size social media influencer. She built her following and her brand after a potentially humiliating experience went viral. The terrible experience was the breaking point of her friendship with the very beautiful and wealthy Drue Lathrop. Drue was supposed to be her friend, but she was far from kind.

Everything is going along well for Daphne, until Drue suddenly seeks her out.

Drue is planning a very public, expensive wedding at the Cape. She asks for Daphne’s forgiveness and for her to be one of her bridesmaids. Daphne goes along with it, knowing that it will help her with the new fashion deal she is publicizing. Their friendship seems to be rekindling as the wedding draws closer. The weekend has the potential to be amazing, until Daphne finds Drue dead the morning of her wedding day.

Daphne works with her close friend Darshi and her new friend Nick to uncover the murderer. This is important considering she appears to be a possible suspect. Their sleuthing uncovers unexpected information, while also reminding Daphne that perfection is often an illusion.

This is a book that perfectly fits the beach read category.

Treehouse Ten

The Great Treehouse War by Lisa Graff is my final Intermediate Nutmeg read!

Winnie’s parents are so competitive and spiteful of each other, that they decide to handle their divorce by splitting Winnie’s time equally between them. This leaves an odd day every week in which Winnie lives in her incredible, apartment-like tree house between her parents’ homes.

Her parents start trying to outdo each other during their days with Winnie, leaving her no time for schoolwork. She is in danger of failing fifth grade. She decides to make a stand by not leaving her tree house and soon her nine best friends join her for their own reasons. It is a standoff between parents and their children.

Everything seems great until they reach almost twenty days at a stalemate. Winnie decides to do what’s best for her friends, and ultimately herself. She finally attempts to get her parents to listen to her side.

The story is written as a collective “memoir” by Winnie and her friends. There are cute touches throughout the book which keep it engaging and fun, such as artwork, post-it notes, how-to sections (everything from how to build a sock lizard to how to make Cheetos marshmallow squares), news clippings and more. Elements of the story were a bit far fetched for me, but I guess there is nothing impossible these days! This story will appeal to young readers who crave independence and taking a stand against their parents.

Personality Switch

Restart by Gordon Korman is my penultimate Nutmeg nominee.

Chase Ambrose goes from star football player to amnesia patient after a nasty fall from his roof.  He can’t remember anything from before his fall, but his classmates sure do. He was one of the school’s worst bullies along with his two best buddies. Now he isn’t able to play football due to concussion protocol. He finds himself hanging out with the very kids he used to terrorize while still trying to keep a foot in his former life, all while trying to remember what happened before the fall.

Major changes in his character include becoming a member of the film club, as well as befriending a war veteran at the senior living facility. This facility is the same spot where Chase and his football buddies were doing community service for a terrible bullying prank.

His football friends think he might be faking the whole thing for his own gain. It all comes to a head when they devise a way to implicate Chase in another bullying episode.

Will he resort to his former antics or has he truly changed?  What caused him to fall in the first place? This is a solid middle school read including relatable topics and important themes such as standing up for oneself and making positive changes.