Wish You Were Here

I had given up on Jodi Picoult a while ago after really loving a lot of her early works. Her books became too predictable and formulaic. However, I read good reviews of Wish You Were Here and thought I would give it a try. “Diana O’Toole is perfectly on track. She will be married by thirty, done having kids by thirty-five, and move out to the New York City suburbs, all while climbing the professional ladder in the cutthroat art auction world. She’s an associate specialist at Sotheby’s now, but her boss has hinted at a promotion if she can close a deal with a high-profile client. She’s not engaged just yet, but she knows her boyfriend, Finn, a surgical resident, is about to propose on their romantic getaway to the Galápagos—days before her thirtieth birthday. Right on time. But then a virus that felt worlds away has appeared in the city, and on the eve of their departure, Finn breaks the news: It’s all hands on deck at the hospital. He has to stay behind. You should still go, he assures her, since it would be a shame for all of their nonrefundable trip to go to waste. And so, reluctantly, she goes. Almost immediately, Diana’s dream vacation goes awry. Her luggage is lost, the Wi-Fi is nearly nonexistent, and the hotel they’d booked is shut down due to the pandemic. In fact, the whole island is now under quarantine, and she is stranded until the borders reopen. Completely isolated, she must venture beyond her comfort zone. Slowly, she carves out a connection with a local family when a teenager with a secret opens up to Diana, despite her father’s suspicion of outsiders.” (Amazon) This story was really engrossing and had a surprise twist that I am still thinking about. In ways, I was annoyed by the twist/ending, and in ways, I really liked it. So, overall, I would really recommend it.

Finding Freedom

Finding Freedom by Erin French came with very high recommendations from a friend and, you all know how much I love a good memoir. “Long before The Lost Kitchen became a world dining destination with every seating filled the day the reservation book opens each spring, Erin French was a girl roaming barefoot on a 25-acre farm, a teenager falling in love with food while working the line at her dad’s diner and a young woman finding her calling as a professional chef at her tiny restaurant tucked into a 19th century mill. This singular memoir—a classic American story—invites readers to Erin’s corner of her beloved Maine to share the real person behind the “girl from Freedom” fairytale, and the not-so-picture-perfect struggles that have taken every ounce of her strength to overcome, and that make Erin’s life triumphant. In Finding Freedom, Erin opens up to the challenges, stumbles, and victories that have led her to the exact place she was ever meant to be, telling stories of multiple rock-bottoms, of darkness and anxiety, of survival as a jobless single mother, of pills that promised release but delivered addiction, of a man who seemed to offer salvation but in the end ripped away her very sense of self. And of the beautiful son who was her guiding light as she slowly rebuilt her personal and culinary life around the solace she found in food—as a source of comfort, a sense of place, as a way of bringing goodness into the world. Erin’s experiences with deep loss and abiding hope, told with both honesty and humor, will resonate with women everywhere who are determined to find their voices, create community, grow stronger and discover their best-selves despite seemingly impossible odds. Set against the backdrop of rural Maine and its lushly intense, bountiful seasons, Erin reveals the passion and courage needed to invent oneself anew, and the poignant, timeless connections between food and generosity, renewal and freedom.” STOP EVERYTHING AND READ THIS BOOK. I haven’t had many five star books this year and this one is all that and more. SO GOOD. Now, someone tell me how to score a reservation…

Honor

Honor by Thrity Umrigar was a Reese Witherspoon pick (usually a good sign). Amazon: “Indian American journalist Smita has returned to India to cover a story, but reluctantly: long ago she and her family left the country with no intention of ever coming back. As she follows the case of Meena—a Hindu woman attacked by members of her own village and her own family for marrying a Muslim man—Smita comes face to face with a society where tradition carries more weight than one’s own heart, and a story that threatens to unearth the painful secrets of Smita’s own past. While Meena’s fate hangs in the balance, Smita tries in every way she can to right the scales. She also finds herself increasingly drawn to Mohan, an Indian man she meets while on assignment. But the dual love stories of Honor are as different as the cultures of Meena and Smita themselves: Smita realizes she has the freedom to enter into a casual affair, knowing she can decide later how much it means to her.” This was a great book, while a smidge too long. I really enjoyed it and highly recommend it.

Just Last Night

Just Last Night by Mhairi McFarlane was a recommendation from my favorite book blogger that was a HIT! It’s a romantic comedy with some depth and an enjoyable read (thinking ahead to the beach already…). “Eve, Justin, Susie, and Ed have been friends since they were teenagers. Now in their thirties, the four are as close as ever, Thursday night bar trivia is sacred, and Eve is still secretly in love with Ed. Maybe she should have moved on by now, but she can’t stop thinking about what could have been. And she knows Ed still thinks about it, too.But then, in an instant, their lives are changed forever. In the aftermath, Eve’s world is upended. As stunning secrets are revealed, she begins to wonder if she really knew her friends as well as she thought. And when someone from the past comes back into her life, Eve’s future veers in a surprising new direction…” (Amazon) Looking for a heart-felt easy read? This one’s it.

Finlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead

Finlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead by Elle Cosimano is the second in the Finlay Donovan series. They are light, funny, and irreverent in the best way. “Finlay Donovan is—once again—struggling to finish her next novel and keep her head above water as a single mother of two. On the bright side, she has her live-in nanny and confidant Vero to rely on, and the only dead body she’s dealt with lately is that of her daughter’s pet goldfish. On the not-so-bright side, someone out there wants her ex-husband, Steven, out of the picture. Permanently. Whatever else Steven may be, he’s a good father, but saving him will send her down a rabbit hole of hit-women disguised as soccer moms, and a little bit more involvement with the Russian mob than she’d like. Meanwhile, Vero’s keeping secrets, and Detective Nick Anthony seems determined to get back into her life. He may be a hot cop, but Finlay’s first priority is preventing her family from sleeping with the fishes… and if that means bending a few laws then so be it.” (Amazon) At first, I wasn’t sure I was going to like this one, but in the end, I really did. Clever, and a nice diversion. A good beach read.

The Golden Couple

I needed something quick and easy and The Golden Couple by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen was it. It was a good story and the pages kept turning. Amazon: “Wealthy Washington suburbanites Marissa and Matthew Bishop seem to have it all—until Marissa is unfaithful. Beneath their veneer of perfection is a relationship riven by work and a lack of intimacy. She wants to repair things for the sake of their eight-year-old son and because she loves her husband. Enter Avery Chambers. Avery is a therapist who lost her professional license. Still, it doesn’t stop her from counseling those in crisis, though they have to adhere to her unorthodox methods. And the Bishops are desperate. When they glide through Avery’s door and Marissa reveals her infidelity, all three are set on a collision course. Because the biggest secrets in the room are still hidden, and it’s no longer simply a marriage that’s in danger.” The mystery was engaging and surprising and it was a good beach read.

The Fortunate Ones

I picked up The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington on a recommendation from my favorite blogger. Amazon: “When Charlie Boykin was young, he thought his life with his single mother on the working-class side of Nashville was perfectly fine. But when his mother arranges for him to be admitted as a scholarship student to an elite private school, he is suddenly introduced to what the world can feel like to someone cushioned by money. That world, he discovers, is an almost irresistible place where one can bend—and break—rules and still end up untarnished. As he gets drawn into a friendship with a charismatic upperclassman, Archer Creigh, and an affluent family that treats him like an adopted son, Charlie quickly adapts to life in the upper echelons of Nashville society. Under their charming and alcohol-soaked spell, how can he not relax and enjoy it all—the lack of anxiety over money, the easy summers spent poolside at perfectly appointed mansions, the lavish parties, the freedom to make mistakes knowing that everything can be glossed over or fixed? But over time, Charlie is increasingly pulled into covering for Archer’s constant deceits and his casual bigotry. At what point will the attraction of wealth and prestige wear off enough for Charlie to take a stand—and will he?” I liked this choice, but I didn’t love it. It just overall made me sad.

West with Giraffes

West with Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge was another crowdsourced title. I enjoyed aspects of it, but I didn’t love it overall. Reminiscent of Water for Elephants, it was a creative and interesting book. “Woodrow Wilson Nickel, age 105, feels his life ebbing away. But when he learns giraffes are going extinct, he finds himself recalling the unforgettable experience he cannot take to his grave. It’s 1938. The Great Depression lingers. Hitler is threatening Europe, and world-weary Americans long for wonder. They find it in two giraffes who miraculously survive a hurricane while crossing the Atlantic. What follows is a twelve-day road trip in a custom truck to deliver Southern California’s first giraffes to the San Diego Zoo. Behind the wheel is the young Dust Bowl rowdy Woodrow. Inspired by true events, the tale weaves real-life figures with fictional ones, including the world’s first female zoo director, a crusty old man with a past, a young female photographer with a secret, and assorted reprobates as spotty as the giraffes. Part adventure, part historical saga, and part coming-of-age love story, West with Giraffes explores what it means to be changed by the grace of animals, the kindness of strangers, the passing of time, and a story told before it’s too late.” (Amazon) My issue was it was too long and just incident after incident (which you would have expected) to get to the end of the journey. About halfway through, I almost gave up and did skim to get to the resolution. I think maybe if I hadn’t had such a long pile of books to read right now, I might have enjoyed it more (less pressure), but as it was, it didn’t need to be as long to be enjoyable.

Last Resort

I wish I had read the Amazon reviews before I picked this one up. Only 3.5 stars. I have learned that Amazon is pretty solid on this front and I don’t usually read books lower than 4. “Caleb Horowitz is twenty-seven, and his wildest dreams are about to come true. His manuscript has caught the attention of the agent, who offers him money, acclaim, and a taste of the literary life. He can’t wait for his book to be shopped to every editor in New York, except one: Avi Deitsch, an old college rival and the novel’s “inspiration.” When Avi gets his hands on it, he sees nothing but theft—and opportunity. Caleb is forced to make a Faustian bargain, one that tests his theories of success, ambition, and the limits of art.” (Amazon) I wanted to like this story, but it was too much like The Plot, which I really enjoyed, and often quite dull. The characters were too unlikeable in general and I only finished to find out the ending.

An Elderly Lady Is Up To No Good

A few weeks ago, in a reading void, I crowdsourced recommendations from FB. And, how delightful it was to find many of them available at the library. An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten was one of these recommendations. It’s a quick read of connected short stories, and it’s a hoot. “Ever since her darling father’s untimely death when she was only eighteen, Maud has lived in the family’s spacious apartment in downtown Gothenburg rent-free, thanks to a minor clause in a hastily negotiated contract. That was how Maud learned that good things can come from tragedy. Now in her late eighties, Maud contents herself with traveling the world and surfing the net from the comfort of her father’s ancient armchair. It’s a solitary existence, and she likes it that way. Over the course of her adventures—or misadventures—this little bold lady will handle a crisis with a local celebrity who has her eyes on Maud’s apartment, foil the engagement of her long-ago lover, and dispose of some pesky neighbors. But when the local authorities are called to investigate a dead body found in Maud’s apartment, will Maud finally become a suspect?” (Amazon) This is a fun read and I will be sure to pick up the second volume as well.