Book Review: All We Ever Wanted

All We Ever WantedAll We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received an advance copy of this book for my honest review.

This book feels really timely. In the era of black lives matter and MeToo, it’s interesting to have a story like this that touches on race and rape, as well as class, among other issues. What I really was intrigued by when reading this book was the way it makes you examine bias. As the reader we come to different parts of the story without all the facts and yet we make judgments, which is natural, but this novel does a good job of exposing our bias. I am not saying anything is what it seems in this novel and I don’t want to give anything away.

I suggest reading this book if you want to spend a bit of time struggling with issues of class, sexual assault, and race/ethnicity. It’s not that these issues are the only focus of the book as the story is much more about our protagonist, Nina and the younger female Lyla (Tom’s daughter) and their journey to finding themselves.

It’s also a book about the elite and what money can do and what it does do – i.e. the opportunities it brings and the spoliation it causes.

It is a thought provoking read. It doesn’t shy away from topics like suicide and what it is like to be a teenager today. At the same time, it’s filled with love, fun, sadness, and joy.

I found that I came away feeling like the book offered a very bright outlook on a feminist future but honestly portrayed a few of the many set backs that women face today. I do find it hard to discuss this book without including any spoilers. I recommend it.

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Book Review: Lust & Wonder

Lust & WonderLust & Wonder by Augusten Burroughs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once upon a time I stumbled upon Augusten Burroughs’ memoir Dry and loved it. It was shocking, funny, and in the end heartening. I recommended it to many friends instantly.

So, I was interested in this newest memoir by Burroughs – What is he up to? Is he still Sober?

The book is a fascinating insight into relationships and what it means to be satisfied in a relationship, what it means to settle, when to move on, and how to attain love. In many ways, it could be summed up by saying: listen to your gut even if it’s scary.

Traveling with Burroughs through some of his longest/most meaningful relationships (and a few of his shortest) is emotionally charged, honest, often both hilarious and devastating. I found that even though I was not sure about Augusten and Dennis working out, I was still worried about Dennis being embarrassed by his portrayal in this book. Empathy is good, right?

This book shows the many errors we all make while dating, committing to relationships, and finding love. There’s a big curve to sorting out how to love and be loved, and Augusten seems to find what he’s looking for after many missteps: breaking sobriety, cheating, on-line chicanery, and living in fear.

It is somewhat difficult to talk to much about this book with out giving anything away but it is a good read. Burroughs is honest and some how beyond vulnerable, to the point that he exposes himself in such a raw manner that I worried about his boyfriends and lovers being able to handle being so exposed themselves.

It is a love story, with many tragic and funny parts, but nonetheless a love story. I would recommend it!

Thank you to both St. Martin’s Press and Netgalley for providing me with a free advance copy of this book in exchange for this honest review.

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Book Review: The Restaurant Critic’s Wife

The Restaurant Critic's WifeThe Restaurant Critic’s Wife by Elizabeth LaBan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book draws on themes that are close to my heart: the struggle between work-life and being a mother, the effect of parenthood on marriage, and the necessity of tending to friendships and your spouse.

That said, the characters weren’t always my favorite. Lila is our protagonist, a former hotel crisis executive who is currently, begrudgingly, a stay-at-home mother in Philadelphia where she has recently moved with her family to support her husband’s job as a restaurant critic. Sam is Lila’s husband and the restaurant critic. Lila is lonely and secretive. Sam is controlling and obtuse.

It feels like there is very little interaction between Lila and Sam throughout the book. Lila occasionally tries to reach Sam but he is both literally, since he is often in disguise, and figuratively, unavailable.

Perhaps this is what it is like to support your partner or become a mother and lose your old identity, in some ways. But, you find ways back to each other, if you are with the right person. I suppose in their own way they do find their way back to each other anew. Yet, their relationship seems secondary to everything else: jobs, food, aunts, spy gear, everything. Even when Lila and Sam finally do sit down to get everything on the table, I felt like Lila does not even tell Sam how she feels and Sam just makes a bunch of assumptions. It feels too quick and tidy and unrealistic.

Sam bothers me. I really want to like him since I would think being a restaurant critic would be a very unique and interesting job. But he’s controlling of whom Lila befriends to the point of absurdity. He is barely around for his own kids. His communication with his wife is always an afterthought. Was his father like this to his mother (and that’s why she left)? I think the parents are provided to offer some insight into our main characters. Perhaps Sam should listen to his dad and get off the grid.

I get the feeling that when Lila and Sam fell in love that Sam was dynamic and interesting and caring but that man rarely shows up, if at all. Even when he does finally cook Thanksgiving dinner, he is incredibly distracted. I had hoped to meet the original Sam that swept Lila off her feet again but he appears to be gone and the replacement does not cut it (for me).

Lila is an interesting woman. She’s smart and not too sure about motherhood, even two kids in. She has an interesting journey which I enjoyed. She tries to define herself given the new dual role of mother and supportive wife that has stolen away her need for her custom-made suitcase and access to most of her friends. Lila works very hard to handle all that she is asked to balance. Sometimes she drops things. Sometimes she is far too secretive and should communicate better with Sam. But she labors to find a way to give everyone in her life what they need while still finding a tiny space for the parts of herself she once loved. Lila does come to some realizations and does begin to transition comfortably from her former high powered self to a newer less polished mom.

But I wanted more for her and Sam. Or perhaps a deeper connection between Lila and one of her neighbors. Those connections may be on the horizon but it would have been nicer for me, to see them blossom (or return).

The twist about who stole the picture of Sam and gave it to some of the restaurants was a good one.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. If this book has a sequel, I’d read it if it focused on the good things that motherhood can bring: deeper friendships with woman, a stronger sense of partnership with your spouse, among others. The account of what kids and careers can do to your life and how things change feels honest including the overwhelming, unrelenting loneliness that Lila often feels.

Thank you to both Lake Union Publishing and Netgalley for providing me with a free advance copy of this book in exchange for this honest review.

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Book Review: The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss


The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia MossThe Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is great. Full disclosure, I received an advance digital copy of this book for an honest review.

I truly enjoyed this original book that I would describe as a suspense novel geared toward young adults (20s and maybe early 30s).

The novel is a detective story in many ways, first in that Dahlia is hired to locate the Bejeweled Spear of Infinite Piercing and then later due to an untimely death (who is the murderer and is it related to the spear??). There are plot twists and mysteries within mysteries. It is also , like many books and like life, in part, a love story.

Dahlia is a poor, out of work, living with a rich roommate, 20 something quasi-gamer geek who is lonely and takes on the bizarre challenge of becoming a detective to find a virtual spear for a young man, Jonah, she hardly knows because he is willing to pay her $2,000, which in her world is akin to gold.

Then the story takes off, we are subject to many, many (I am sure I missed some) literary references (and probably gaming references – which I surely missed) which offer their own amusement, though even more divine are the characters. Some (though not even close to all) of my favorite characters (other than Dahlia, whom I loved) were: Charice: the zany, rich, charming, oft adored roommate who may have a naked gay choir singing in a bedroom somewhere as I type, Masako: the mysterious ex-girlfriend who comes off somewhat cold at times but her intrigue is beguiling, and Nathan: the seemingly nice guy who somehow can endearingly poke fun at murder, live with his ex-girlfriend while trying to get a new one, and make you like him even more because of it. There are many other great characters: Threadwork, Clemency, Orchardary, the detective, the lawyer hired by Jonah’s mom, Emily, and more. Really if you enjoy quirky characters, this book is for you!

The story takes place in three places : the real world, the gaming world as it exists in the real world (think comic con for gamers), and the virtual world of Zoth. Thus many characters inhabit two or three of these worlds in various forms. I think this would make a great movie since there are so many costumes and visual aspects of interest and I want to see the ever important spear brought to life :)

There were some grammatical and spelling errors in my advance copy but I imagine they are fixed in the print/for sale copies.

I would highly recommend this to anyone who likes stories about the trials of becoming an adult, a good mystery, a gamer, or is well-read. I will read the next Max Wirestone book! I found myself impressed that the protagonist is a woman when the author appears to be a man, since Dahlia feels quite authentic.

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