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!

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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?

Review: Spy on History: Victor Dowd and the WWII Ghost Army

I’ve been reading a lot of middle grade fiction lately, maybe I’m just way too excited for my big 7 year-old to be reading with me.  When asked to look at this middle grade non-fiction book I was way too curious to pass it up.

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Spy on History: Victor Dowd and the WWII Ghost Army, Enigma Alberti

Published January 23rd 2018 by Workman Publishing Company
Hardcover, 96 pages
Source: Finished copy received from publisher

Your mission: Find Victor Dowd’s missing sketchbook. And discover one of the most unusual stories of World War II.

Meet the 603rd Camouflage Engineers, better known as the Ghost Army. This group of artists and sound engineers were trained to deceive the Germans in World War II with everything from fake tanks to loudspeakers broadcasting the sound of marching troops. And meet Victor Dowd, a real-life sergeant who with his fellow Ghost Army troops fought his way from Normandy, through France, and eventually across the Rhine.

First of all, why have I not heard of the Ghost Army?  A whole unit devoted to fooling Hitler and the Nazis with artwork, sound effects and clever camouflage – what an amazing story!  I read this almost entirely in a train ride, so less than an hour, a fast read but I was completely engrossed.  Yes, this was written for kids but my interest is piqued and I will be finding some more titles on this unit to read soon.
This book didn’t talk down to the young reader but made the Ghost Army’s story engaging by talking about Victor Dowd and his experiences as an artist being used to paint planes and trucks to trick the Nazis about the soldiers and units in place.  I haven’t looked at kids’ nonfiction since I was a kid and I wasn’t sure how it would come together.  Victor’s individual story made it compelling on an individual level I think and then makes the branching out into the rest of the Ghost Army easier for a young reader who might not be used to nonfiction.  
And then there are the spy tools.  Spy tools!  My daughter wasn’t interested in the topic – she is too young and this isn’t her thing – but even she was ready to break out the spy tools to solve the mystery of the missing sketchbook.  These were awesome!
I loved this book! I will definitely be gifting copies to some young readers in my life and sending it to my daughter’s school.  I can’t wait to pick up Enigma Alberti’s first Spy on History book, Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring -that is a topic we’ve talked about at home so I hope the kid is ready. 
Thank you so much Workman Publishing for this copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Overdue Reviews: Two Books About Crowns

One I loved – and one not so much… Both have sequels out too so you can not have to wait like I did for reading!

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First – the good.

Three Dark Crowns

When kingdom come, there will be one.

In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born—three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins.

The last queen standing gets the crown. 

I mean I’ve never wanted to kill my sister (I swear Holly!) but that doesn’t mean this build up to battles to the death between triplets isn’t fun to read about.  These sisters are separated at a young age knowing that when they come back together two will die for one to become queen.  That’s a lot to live with!  The magic is cool, the scheming from all sides is great and I feel like the battles to come will be epic. 

I would have liked more about the history of the island and the queens – but I feel like there must be depth still to come.  I thought this was a duology but it turns out there are 4 books planned. As, as I’m so slow, the sequel, One Dark Throne, is also out and it was equally creepy and violent.  Things definitely did not go the way I expected for these sisters and my feelings totally changed about them.  I can’t want to see what happens next!

And the other…

The Crown’s Game, Evelyn Skye

Published May 17th 2016 by Balzer + Bray

Hardcover, 399 pages

Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the Tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the Tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love… or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear… the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

Between this gorgeous cover and this description I was dying to get my hands onto The Crowns Game – Imperial Russia and magic AND romance?  Yes please.  I was really sad that this wasn’t the magical and romantic book I wanted it to be.  Yes, the magic was really cool at times, but at the heart of it this was two magicians dueling – and nowhere near as cool as the Night Circus.  The romance was just kind of meh here and the love triangle boring too.  I might pick up the sequel if I came across it on a library shelf – but this isn’t one to seek out I’d say.  If you want a Russian story and not dueling magicians go for The Bear and The Nightingale (which I need to review)!

Overdue Review: Among the Ruins

Among the Ruins,  (Rachel Getty & Esa Khattak #3) by Ausma Zehanat Khan

Published February 14th 2017 by Minotaur Books

Hardcover, 368 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley

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On leave from Canada’s Community Policing department, Esa Khattak is traveling in Iran, reconnecting with his cultural heritage and seeking peace in the country’s beautiful mosques and gardens. But Khattak’s supposed break from work is cut short when he’s approached by a Canadian government agent in Iran, asking him to look into the death of renowned Canadian-Iranian filmmaker Zahra Sobhani. Zahra was murdered at Iran’s notorious Evin prison, where she’d been seeking the release of a well-known political prisoner. Khattak quickly finds himself embroiled in Iran’s tumultuous politics and under surveillance by the regime, but when the trail leads back to Zahra’s family in Canada, Khattak calls on his partner, Detective Rachel Getty, for help.

Rachel uncovers a conspiracy linked to the Shah of Iran and the decades-old murders of a group of Iran’s most famous dissidents. Historic letters, a connection to the Royal Ontario Museum, and a smuggling operation on the Caspian Sea are just some of the threads Rachel and Khattak begin unraveling, while the list of suspects stretches from Tehran to Toronto. But as Khattak gets caught up in the fate of Iran’s political prisoners, Rachel sees through to the heart of the matter: Zahra’s murder may not have been a political crime at all.

It is not easy to try to review a series from the middle so I will mostly just tell you that if you like mysteries and haven’t read these books YOU SHOULD START!  Book one of Esa and Rachel’s partnership, The Unquiet Dead, blew me away and The Language of Secrets was a worthy follow-up.  Now Esa has found his way into a new mystery while vacationing in Iran and Rachel tries to help as best she can from home in Canada.   As they had to work to communicate I found myself uncomfortably tense with worry about what would happen.  I was also 9 months pregnant when reading this – I might recommend against combination on reflection.  Too much anxiety!  We had deeply corrupt government figures, international drama, possibly stolen royal jewels and then family dramas – all wrapped up with murder.   

I have of course found myself emotionally caught up by characters in mysteries, even tearful (Flavia  de Luce I’m looking at you).  But I can’t think of a mystery book or series that gets me so caught up in the real fate of a group of people or nation or really just what the fuck is wrong with humanity sometimes.  Khan had me terrified and sad for the plight of prisoners in Iran – so much so I’d never want to go there- and at the same time longing to see the sights she described. Thankfully she started posting pictures on Facebook and saved me the searching time!  What a beautifully sad place.  

I’m also currently reading Khan’s foray into fantasy, The Bloodprint, and I’m really enjoying it.  Definitely getting flashbacks to the setting for Among the Ruins which is cool and different. 

Are you reading this series?  Any other good mysteries I should pick-up?  I think that’s the mood I’m heading into for fall.

Thank you Minotaur Books and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review! 

Review: Generation Chef

Generation Chef, Karen Stabiner

Published September 13th 2016 by Avery

Hardcover, 288 pages

Source: e-ARC received from publisher

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Inside what life is really like for the new generation of professional cooks—a captivating tale of the make-or-break first year at a young chef’s new restaurant.

For many young people, being a chef is as compelling a dream as being a rock star or professional athlete. Skill and creativity in the kitchen are more profitable than ever before, as cooks scramble to reach the top—but talent isn’t enough. Today’s chef needs the business savvy of a high-risk entrepreneur, determination, and big dose of luck.

The heart of Generation Chef is the story of Jonah Miller, who at age twenty-four attempts to fulfill a lifelong dream by opening the Basque restaurant Huertas in New York City, still the high-stakes center of the restaurant business for an ambitious young chef. Miller, a rising star who has been named to the 30-Under-30 list of both Forbes and Zagat, quits his job as a sous chef, creates a business plan, lines up investors, leases a space, hires a staff, and gets ready to put his reputation and his future on the line.

Journalist and food writer Karen Stabiner takes us inside Huertas’s roller-coaster first year, but also provides insight into the challenging world a young chef faces today—the intense financial pressures, the overcrowded field of aspiring cooks, and the impact of reviews and social media, which can dictate who survives.

I’ve become a Top Chef addict and I love trying the food of Chicago’s celebrity chefs like Rick Bayless and Stephanie Izard so I was really excited to read this story of a new NYC restaurant opening and through their first year.  My husband jokes about opening a diner one day and I think this book proves my nerves could never handle it!  From the attempts to find backers, to find the perfect location and then to both hire and retain the best staff – that’s not even getting into the cooking.  You clearly need nerves of steel to open your own kitchen especially on this kind of scale, in New York – at age 26!

The access Stabiner had to the Huertas staff to put this book out was fantastic.  I can’t imagine how she basically lived at the restaurant for a year and didn’t insert herself into the story.  Just reading along I was so nervous for the critics reviews to come in so I can’t imagine how Stabiner didn’t let her own emotions show.  I thought it was so interesting to follow how Miller first conceived of Huertas and then let the concept flow a bit to meet the wants of both his customers and reviews.  I also enjoyed the glimpses into the paths that other chefs took from Izard to others in California or Minnesota; it was very cool to see how differently things move all over the country.  

I would have liked the personal stories between Miller and his partners and staff to be more in depth, but that’s just me being kind of voyeuristic perhaps.  After all these people were still working together largely when the book was published and that might have been a bit much.  I really felt like I needed to follow this with a reread of Sweetbitter for a really juicy peak behind the kitchen walls.   

Let me just say I am hugely proud of myself for stifling the urge to Google Huertas until I finished this book!  As I read I was so extremely curious to know if they were still in business or what might have happened.  I managed to control myself – yes I don’t peak at Christmas presents either – but it was satisfying search to run as soon as I put my kindle down.  Now I know where I’d like to go when I finally visit New York one day because Miller’s food sounds delicious. If you like food and watching the restaurant industry this is definitely a fun read – and hungry read. Have snacks handy!   

Thank you Avery for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review!