Review: The Dinner List

The Dinner List, Rebecca Searle

Hardcover, 288 pages

Expected publication: September 11th 2018 by Flatiron Books

Source: ARC from Shelf Awareness

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When Sabrina Nielsen arrives at her thirtieth birthday dinner she finds at the table not just her best friend, but also her favorite professor from college, her father, her ex-fiance, Tobias, and Audrey Hepburn.

At one point or another, we’ve all been asked to name five people, living or dead, with whom we’d like to have dinner. Why do we choose the people we do? And what if that dinner was to actually happen? These are the questions Sabrina contends with in Rebecca Serle’s utterly captivating novel, The Dinner List, a story imbued with the same delightful magical realism as Sliding Doors, and The Rosie Project.

As the appetizers are served, wine poured, and dinner table conversation begins, it becomes clear that there’s a reason these six people have been gathered together, and as Rebecca Serle masterfully traces Sabrina’s love affair with Tobias and her coming of age in New York City, The Dinner List grapples with the definition of romance, the expectations of love, and how we navigate our way through it to happiness. Oh, and of course, wisdom from Audrey Hepburn.

Who among us would pass up dinner with Audrey Hepburn?  I know I could not miss that chance, so I was ready for this book the minute I read the description.  I was expecting a fluffier more “chick lit” book than this really was.  I found The Dinner List to be a book about love and loss, about growing up and friendship, and about what we learn to love from our parents.  I loved this book so much.  I laughed, I cried – I actually ignored my kid while I was riding the train with her so I could read it – something that has never happened.

Even though the night was of course magical – hello Audrey – it didn’t have so much whimsy as magical realism can.  Not like reading Sarah Addison Allen for example.  If magical realism isn’t your jam I wouldn’t let that steer you away.  We move back and forth from the dinner party to Sabrina’s time with each guest.  We see her falling in love, realizing she’s an adult and learning to say goodbye.  I really did cry when the party ended and this will be a book I read again.

Listing the guests at my fantasy dinner party is a favorite game of mine.  My husband and I fight about who would be worth the invitation or not. As of right now my fantasy dinner party guests are: Lucrezia Borgia, Madeleine Albright, Neil Gaiman and my dad. Fascinating conversation all around I am sure! I’d bring my husband as an honorable mention. Tell me who you’d invite to your party?

Thank you Shelf Awareness and Flatiron Books for this advanced copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

 

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Review: Sparrow Hill Road

Sparrow Hill Road, Seanan McGuire

Published May 6th 2014 by DAW

Paperback, 312 pages

Source: Purchased

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Rose Marshall died in 1952 in Buckley Township, Michigan, run off the road by a man named Bobby Cross—a man who had sold his soul to live forever, and intended to use her death to pay the price of his immortality. Trouble was, he didn’t ask Rose what she thought of the idea.

It’s been more than sixty years since that night, and she’s still sixteen, and she’s still running.

They have names for her all over the country: the Girl in the Diner. The Phantom Prom Date. The Girl in the Green Silk Gown. Mostly she just goes by “Rose,” a hitchhiking ghost girl with her thumb out and her eyes fixed on the horizon, trying to outrace a man who never sleeps, never stops, and never gives up on the idea of claiming what’s his. She’s the angel of the overpass, she’s the darling of the truck stops, and she’s going to figure out a way to win her freedom. After all, it’s not like it can kill her.

You know how sometimes you get so excited when one of your autobuy authors has a new book that you preorder it and wait and wait and wait and then you’re so excited you think you’ve already read it?  Just me? I danced in my chair when I got my hands on an ARC of Seanan McGuire’s The Girl in the Green Silk Gown and decided to “reread” Sparrow Hill Road in anticipation.  Imagine my surprise when I realized I was reading a brand new book!  So… on to Rose’s story.

Rose Marshall is a beloved ghost aunt to the Price family in McGuire’s Incryptid series – one of my favorites – I know a ghost aunt sounds odd but just read them!  When we meet Rose she’s been dead much longer than she’s been alive and she has tons of stories to tell.  She rides the roads as a hitchhiking ghost preventing accidents when she can and when she can’t she tries to guide other souls home.

I should have known McGuire would write ghost stories that touch my heart rather than scare me.  This is the author that got me obsessed with zombies (just her zombies – and just read Feed if you haven’t!).  Rose tells her story going back and forth in time until we find out what happened on Sparrow Hill Road the night she died and why Bobby Cross still won’t let her be – that’s the part of this ghost story that gave me chills.   We learn ghosts can make families of choice and that being dead doesn’t stop hurt and regrets. Listen to Rose’s stories – maybe you’ve seen her on the road in her green silk gown.  

You can’t kill what’s already dead.

All the news is garbage – but I love my library!

I am reading the news in short snippets these days because unless it’s about Serena Williams or maybe Prince Louis’ christening it all gives me panic attacks. I’ve been reading fiction voraciously to escape (and a few nonfic too) and The Chicago Public Library is giving me everything.  Here’s a list of what I’ve been loving – other than reading Goodnight Moon on repeat.

Fiction

Non-Fiction

With Babycakes 

  • Ranger in Time series by Kate Messner – what is there not to love about a golden retriever traveling through time and space to help people in need?

What else is out there that I should be reading to avoid reality?

Review: The English Wife

The English Wife, Lauren Willig

Published January 9th 2018 by St. Martin’s Press

Hardcover, 376 pages

Source: Goodreads giveaway

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Annabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil live a charmed life: he’s the scion of an old Knickerbocker family, she grew up in a Tudor manor in England, they had a whirlwind romance in London, they have three year old twins on whom they dote, and he’s recreated her family home on the banks of the Hudson and renamed it Illyria. Yes, there are rumors that she’s having an affair with the architect, but rumors are rumors and people will gossip. But then Bayard is found dead with a knife in his chest on the night of their Twelfth Night Ball, Annabelle goes missing, presumed drowned, and the papers go mad. Bay’s sister, Janie, forms an unlikely alliance with a reporter to uncover the truth, convinced that Bay would never have killed his wife, that it must be a third party, but the more she learns about her brother and his wife, the more everything she thought she knew about them starts to unravel. Who were her brother and his wife, really? And why did her brother die with the name George on his lips?

Holly and I have made no secrets that we’re Lauren Willig fangirls.   Though I do think the Pink Carnation series ended at just the right time I have missed Willig’s flirtatious banter and witty women.  The English Wife started a bit slow  but in the end I found it was just the right book at the right time for me. The romance and flirting – with just enough cheesiness was pure Willig and despite the sad mystery this book left me with a smile on my face.  

We have a murder, a missing wife, the possibility of a blatant affair (or more than one), and the drama of old New England money.  I loved the tension with the muckraking press and the overbearing mother who thought her class should rule the day.  And oh my – the freaking ending – I had definite theories as I read as to what could have happened to Annabelle and Bay and let me just say I did not expect what the ending was at all.  

Now I will go back to a Pink Carnation re-read while I wait to see what Lauren Willig writes next!

Thank you St. Martin’s Press for this advance copy!

Review: Young Jane Young

Young Jane Young, Gabrielle Zevin

Published August 22nd 2017 by Algonquin Books

Hardcover, 294 pages

Source: ARC from ALA Annual Meeting

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Young Jane Young‘s heroine is Aviva Grossman, an ambitious Congressional intern in Florida who makes the life-changing mistake of having an affair with her boss‑‑who is beloved, admired, successful, and very married‑‑and blogging about it. When the affair comes to light, the Congressman doesn’t take the fall, but Aviva does, and her life is over before it hardly begins. She becomes a late‑night talk show punchline; she is slut‑shamed, labeled as fat and ugly, and considered a blight on politics in general.

How does one go on after this? In Aviva’s case, she sees no way out but to change her name and move to a remote town in Maine. She tries to start over as a wedding planner, to be smarter about her life, and to raise her daughter to be strong and confident. But when, at the urging of others, she decides to run for public office herself, that long‑ago mistake trails her via the Internet like a scarlet A. For in our age, Google guarantees that the past is never, ever, truly past, that everything you’ve done will live on for everyone to know about for all eternity. And it’s only a matter of time until Aviva/Jane’s daughter, Ruby, finds out who her mother was, and is, and must decide whether she can still respect her.

Gabrielle Zevin’s Storied Life of AJ Fikry was one my favorites that I’ve read in the last several years so I was very excited to get to Young Jane Young.  What a completely different book! If you were not hiding under a rock during the Clinton years then Aviva’s story will sound remarkably familiar to the Monica Lewinsky happenings.  Aviva’s story is told in alternating perspectives from her own side of things as well as that of her mother, her daughter, and the wife of the cheating Congressman. Everyone’s life is rocked by the Congressman’s inability to keep his pants on, yet life just goes on for him. Aviva’s life can’t go on as it was thanks to the media coverage and so she changes it.  She does what she has to do so that she can start to live again – becoming Jane Young. 

Jane/Aviva’s part of the book is told in a kind of Choose Your Own Adventure format which I loved.  Aviva knows as she’s diarying her life that she isn’t making great choices – we all sometimes know that though right?  I appreciated that Zevin made Aviva smart enough that she had all her thoughts laid out and though she makes some truly bad choices she finds a way past them.  I remember reading that Sarah at Sarah’s Book Shelves couldn’t get past the style so it wasn’t for everyone, but I thought it was a clever way to get inside Aviva’s head and decision making.  I enjoyed following the repercussions of the affair through the other characters and over time.  

Aviva’s story didn’t move me to tears like AJ Fikry but instead had me laughing at some of the snark.  Definitely still a great read. Now I really have to get on to Gabrielle Zevin’s backlist of books.

Thank you Algonquin Books for this advance copy in exchange for a long overdue review! 

Review: Sourdough

Sourdough, Robin Sloan

Published September 5th 2017 by MCD Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Hardcover, 262 pages

Source: Library!

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Lois Clary, a software engineer at a San Francisco robotics company, codes all day and collapses at night. When her favourite sandwich shop closes up, the owners leave her with the starter for their mouthwatering sourdough bread.
Lois becomes the unlikely hero tasked to care for it, bake with it and keep this needy colony of microorganisms alive.  Soon she is baking loaves daily and taking them to the farmer’s market, where an exclusive close-knit club runs the show.
When Lois discovers another, more secret market, aiming to fuse food and technology, a whole other world opens up. But who are these people, exactly?
 

So I have a new love in my life.  A few months ago off a neighborhood Facebook page I claimed a container of sourdough starter.  His name is Bruce – Bruce Rauner to be specific thanks to my 7 year-old.  I’m obsessed.  Like Lois in the book I didn’t know quite what to expect of my starter but have learned it is like having a pet.  A stinky yet delicious pet full of possibilities.  I haven’t been brave enough to actually bake a loaf of bread but I’m having so much fun baking other things with Bruce.

So you see why I HAD to read Sourdough when I read in a review that this book is about a sourdough starter that wants to take over the world.  Lois lives a lonely existence aside from a nightly delivery of amazing spicy soup and sourdough.  When the brothers cooking the food move on, they gift Lois with some sourdough starter and instructions to bake her own bread.  She just starts baking!  As someone who has watched a number of how to bake sourdough videos on YouTube and started obsessively listening to baking podcasts this threw me.  But she bakes her own magical sourdough and life changes dramatically from there.   

This book was delightfully quirky and just what I needed.  Now I have to finally pick-up Sloan’s other book, Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Book Shop and work-up the nerve to bake a loaf of bread.  Any bread bakers want to advise me?

Maybe the title should have clued me in…

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, Balli Kaur Jaswal

Published June 13th 2017 by William Morrow
Hardcover, 304 pages
Source: Library!
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Every woman has a secret life . . .Nikki lives in cosmopolitan West London, where she tends bar at the local pub. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she’s spent most of her twenty-odd years distancing herself from the traditional Sikh community of her childhood, preferring a more independent (that is, Western) life. When her father’s death leaves the family financially strapped, Nikki, a law school dropout, impulsively takes a job teaching a “creative writing” course at the community center in the beating heart of London’s close-knit Punjabi community.

Because of a miscommunication, the proper Sikh widows who show up are expecting to learn basic English literacy, not the art of short-story writing. When one of the widows finds a book of sexy stories in English and shares it with the class, Nikki realizes that beneath their white dupattas, her students have a wealth of fantasies and memories. Eager to liberate these modest women, she teaches them how to express their untold stories, unleashing creativity of the most unexpected—and exciting—kind.

As more women are drawn to the class, Nikki warns her students to keep their work secret from the Brotherhood, a group of highly conservative young men who have appointed themselves the community’s “moral police.” But when the widows’ gossip offers shocking insights into the death of a young wife—a modern woman like Nikki—and some of the class erotica is shared among friends, it sparks a scandal that threatens them all.

I’m pretty positive the delightful Reading with Hippos pointed me to this book.  The title is amazing – but really it should have tipped me off that that there were actual – you know EROTIC STORIES.  I was expecting the family dynamics, marital stress, the complicated lives of immigrants living in London.  I wasn’t shocked by the racism experienced, the religious bias, or even the question of possible murder.  But some of those stories – whoa were those a surprise!
Yes things got a bit cheesy or moved too quickly maybe – but overall this was just a fun read with more depth than you’d expect to go with the erotic stories.  When you need a book that will make you laugh and reconsider all the produce in your fridge check this out.