• Book Reviews,  Recommendations,  Writing

    Evvie Drake Starts Over: a book review


    The tag on her chamomile teabag said, There is no trouble that a good cup of tea can’t solve. It sounded like what a gentleman on Downton Abbey would say right before his wife got an impacted tooth and elegantly perished in bed.

    Evvie Drake Starts Over – a book by Linda Holmes in which a large quantity of tea is consumed and is paired well with witty and sharp writing.

    Evvie’s husband and high school sweetheart, Tim, is a successfull and well-liked doctor in their Maine community. The book opens with Evvie packing up her car to leave him for a fresh start when she gets the call.

    Her husband has been killed and while it isn’t the fresh start she planned, Evvie is forced to start over in the town she grew up, surrounded by memories of her husband who unbeknownst to most others, wasn’t so nice to her.

    Evvie’s best friend Andy and Saturday morning standing bruch date is a single father after his wife left him and his two young girls.

    Andy has arguably done a better job of moving on while Evvie is gripped with guilt over her secret almost-decision. She spends many nights on the floor of her guest apartment room overwhelmed by anxiety and confused grief.

    So when Andy’s friend Dean, a professional baseball player needs a fresh start after forgetting how to pitch, Andy suggests that Dean rent Evvie’s spare room.

    On the surface this book sounded fairly predictable and quite honestly, outside my typical read. But referring back to the quote at the beginning of this review, you will get a sense of the author’s quick wit and fresh approach to writing about starting over and the grief and anxiety that accompanies life changes.

    I saw myself in the characters. I know a lot about loss, failure, starting over, anxiety, grief, guilt, and shame that almost keeps you from second chances. And like Evvie, I was even married to someone named Tim who wasn’t nice to me and nearly destroyed me – a side effect of what goes on behind closed doors.

    This book made me laugh, tear up, and root hard for the characters find their ways. The writing was poingant and never overly saccharine – the biggest reason I usually avoid these books. And the added sports element, written accurately, rounded this book out and made it a 5 ✂️ book for me.

    The characters were well developed and the other element the author did particularly well was in capturing the Maine coast with more than just words. You could taste, smell, and hear the coastal town in her writing.

    If you enjoyed Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, Things You Save in a Fire, or How Not to Die Alone you should enjoy Evvie Drake Starts Over.

  • ARC's,  Book Reviews

    Devotion: a book review


    Devotion by Madeline Stevens

    Ella is young, broke, and trying to make it in New York City. Originally from a small town in Oregon, she finds herself out of her element when she is hired by a wealthy family as a nanny for their baby, William.

    Lonnie, William’s mother, is a writer and is 26 – the same age as Ella. James is her successful and handsome husband and on the surface they appear to have the perfect life.

    Lonnie crosses all the boundaries of the employer/employee relationship and the two become friends. Ella is captivated by Lonnie, her talent, old family wealth, and the social circles she moves in. What starts as a fascination, slowly moves into an obsession as Ella meticulously documents Lonnie’s possessions, writings, and relationships – ultimately becoming so enmeshed that it may be impossible to remove herself without serious consequences.

    I’ve seen this book billed as a thriller and for me, it was a slow burn. Told from the perspective of an unreliable narrator, I could not tell where the book was headed. I wasn’t trying to anticipate the twist in the traditional way that thrillers like to hook the reader.

    I wanted to know what happened next and that is what made this a page turner for me.

    An unreliable narrator written well is difficult to do and Madeline Stevens did this brilliantly. All the characters were well developed and while each had questionable motives, they were all likable at some point in the book. For me, that is usually the downfall of a book like this – I end up hating everyone and rooting for no one. But by the end of Devotion, I was still pulling for one character which is a sign of a good plot in my opinion.

    So while I wouldn’t call this a heart pounding summer thriller, it’s a smoldering story that will keep you guessing to the end. I read this debut novel in less than 24 hours and I am looking forward to the author’s next book!

    If you enjoy books like The Talented Mr. Ripley, A Ladder to The Sky, or The End of The Affair, you will enjoy Devotion. Look for it in your bookstore on August 13th.


  • Book Reviews

    The Gifted School: a book review


    The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger


    Set in a fictional, but an all too familiar affluent town of Crystal, Colorado, The Gifted School follows four families through the competitive admissions process for a new charter school for exceptionally gifted children.

    Rose, Samantha, Azra, and Lauren have been best friends since their kids were babies. Together they have supported each other through death, divorce, failures, and the challenges of raising children who may or may not be profoundly gifted. But when each family begins the arduous admissions process for this new school, their friendships will be put to the ultimate test.

    The dynamics of each family are slowly revealed, unraveled, and then put back together, skillfully told through multiple points of view.

    The Gifted School is packed with juicy drama, flawed characters, and precocious kids with obnoxious parents that were at times downright unlikeable. But as a parent myself, I found this book utterly believable as I have seen firsthand the lengths some parents will go to advance their child’s academic career, and the monsters created.

    The author did a fantastic job addressing issues of privilege, and while it was uncomfortable to read at times, he exposed the internal narrative prevalent in affluent communities. He also provided contrast with a fifth family – the housekeeper for two of the families – who also had a gifted son competing for a coveted spot in the new school.

    The inclusion of this storyline is what turned this from a juicy poolside book to an excellent book for me. I went into the book afraid that it would be yet another story of rich, badly behaving parents who never understood just how privileged they were. I appreciated that he tackled the issue instead of glossing over it for the sake of telling a story for the popular masses.

    The multiple points of view style worked well for this book and allowed for rich character development. But with that said, so much development revealed some terrible personality flaws. I didn’t mind that because again, I found it all sadly but completely believable given the recent college admissions scandal.

    My one small issue was that the unraveling of some characters was a bit drawn out and slowed the pace of the book a bit. It bogged me down a few times but only enough to cause me to skim some because…

    I get it – this guy is falling apart in every way possible.

    This book has something for everyone and if you are a parent of a school-aged kid, you will probably inhale this book as I did. If you enjoyed Big Little Lies, Miracle Creek, and multiple points of view plots, you should enjoy The Gifted School.

  • Book Reviews

    The Last Book Party: a book review

    I ran my hands along the spines… I pulled out a mystery with a bright red cover and opened it, hearing the slight crack in the binding. I took a deep breath and smelled the paper, which, despite being printed just weeks ago, had the same inky, musty scent of the picture books I’d loved as a child.

    Karen Dukess – The Last Book Party

    If you can smell that same smell just by reading that quote, you are probably going to enjoy The Last Book Party.

    It’s the summer of 1987. Eve Rosen is an aspiring writer and a floundering 25-year-old working as an assistant for a publisher in New York. She has grown up vacationing in Cape Cod – Truro to be exact – and is keenly aware of the social circles in this town.

    There is the elite circle of writers, artists, and socialites and then there are families like her own who are more modest in their income but are constantly striving to make it into that elusive inner circle.

    One evening she is invited to a party at the summer home of Henry Grey, a long-time writer for The New Yorker. Eve works for the publisher that Henry has submitted his memoir to and as a result, they regularly correspond.

    At the party, in passing, Henry offers Eve a job as essentially his research assistant. But as summer comes to a close, she returns to the city and her job with the publisher Hodder, Strike.

    But after being passed over for a promotion, Eve takes Henry up on his offer; looking for a change and even inspiration to finally begin writing.

    The characters in this book are both flawed and intriguing.

    Jeremy Grand is a young author and a phenom on the brink of publishing his first novel with Eve’s former employer. He is both arrogant and charming.

    Henry and his wife Tillie, a famous poet in her own right, are not all that they appear to be in public and Eve quickly discovers this when she begins working in Henry’s home.

    And Eve’s parents – ever aware of the class-like system in Cape Cod, raise Eve in the shadow of her mathematical genius of an older brother. They are not subtle about their wishes for her to find a husband and show little interest in her writing aspirations.

    I almost always enjoy books about writers, the writing and publishing process, and the flawed individuals behind their work. This book has no shortage of these things. And Henry as a writer for my favorite magazine?

    Yes, please!

    There is a thread of romance, a thread of struggling creatives, a thread of commentary on social classes, and of course a thread of writing and the frustrations that come with that process.

    At times I didn’t see how these threads were going to weave together but they did at Henry and Tillie’s Book Party. This party was invitation only where the guests came dressed as book characters – which was fun for me as a lover of literature – and wow, did those threads connect and unravel all at the same time.

    This book was such a pleasant surprise to me! It is on the short side but packed with complex relationships and multiple storylines. I highly recommend it to readers who enjoy books about writing and the authors that create the stories for us to read. It is well written and reads like a book written by a friend.

    I finished it in less than 24 hours and it’s one of my favorite books of the summer!


  • Book Reviews

    Blog Tour: The Scent Keeper

    Welcome to the blog tour of The Scent Keeper!

    About the Book:
    Erica Bauermeister, the national bestselling author of The School of Essential Ingredients, presents a moving and evocative coming-of-age novel about childhood stories, families lost and found, and how a fragrance conjures memories capable of shaping the course of our lives. 
    Emmeline lives an enchanted childhood on a remote island with her father, who teaches her about the natural world through her senses. What he won’t explain are the mysterious scents stored in the drawers that line the walls of their cabin, or the origin of the machine that creates them.  As Emmeline grows, however, so too does her curiosity, until one day the unforeseen happens, and Emmeline is vaulted out into the real world–a place of love, betrayal, ambition, and revenge. To understand her past, Emmeline must unlock the clues to her identity, a quest that challenges the limits of her heart and imagination.
    Lyrical and immersive, The Scent Keeper explores the provocative beauty of scent, the way it can reveal hidden truths, lead us to the person we seek, and even help us find our way back home.
    Buy Links:
    I don’t remember arriving on the island myself; I was too young. I only remember living there. I remember the paths that wandered through those watchful trees, the odor of the dirt beneath our feet, as dark and complicated as fairy tales. I remember our one-room cabin, the big chair by the woodstove, and our collection of stories and science books. I remember the smell of wood smoke and pine pitch in my father’s beard as he read to me at night, and the ghostly aroma of the runaway’s pipe tobacco, an olfactory reminder that had sunk into the walls and never quite disappeared. I remember the way the rain seemed to talk to the roof as I fell asleep, and how the fire would snap and tell it to be quiet.
    The Scent Keeper – Bauermeister
    As someone who has always tied memories to scents, I was immediately captured by the descriptive writing of this book.
    Broken into three parts, this coming of age story wove scent into the plotline but it didn’t overpower the characters – a concern of mine when I started the book.
    I thoroughly enjoyed the magical elements of part one. It was easy to imagine living on the island as a girl and I appreciated the way that Emmeline’s father did his best to make her childhood rich and imaginative, even on a remote island.
    Part two began the coming of age story as Emmeline is thrust into the real world. With such strong writing, I got a Where the Crawdads Sing vibe – which I loved as that was one of my favorite books last year.
    Part three was the only part I struggled a bit with but I’ll let the individual readers decide that for themselves. The end felt somewhat rushed but because the writing was so well done and the strong character development, I didn’t have an issue drawing my own conclusions.
    All in all, I was pleasantly surprised with where this book took me. Putting scents into words is not an easy thing to do and that alone makes this book a unique experience. Even as I opened the package containing this book, I swear there was a scent other than a new book scent. Probably just my imagination but if not, then well played by the publisher and their marketing group.
    I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for the opportunity to read this book and participate in this blog tour!
    If you enjoyed Where the Crawdads Sing, The Hazel Wood, or The Rules of MagicThe Scent Keeper is definitely a book worth adding to your To-Be-Read list.
    About the Author:
    Erica Bauermeister is the author of the bestselling novel The School of Essential Ingredients, Joy for Beginners, and The Lost Art of Mixing. She is also the co-author of the non-fiction works, 500 Great Books by Women: A Reader’s Guide and Let’s Hear It For the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14. She has a PhD in literature from the University of Washington, and has taught there and at Antioch University. She is a founding member of the Seattle7Writers and currently lives in Port Townsend, Washington.
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