Book Review: Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

Happy Wednesday! I’m currently sitting in my favorite local coffee shop, drinking a Mexican cappuccino awaiting to go to a Lexington Legends baseball game for my company’s employee appreciation day. Not a bad way to spend a Wednesday morning, and it allows me some time to get my latest book review posted.

Goodbye, Vitamin has been buried in my TBR list since I received it from Book of the Month last June. It’s not quiet my normal read which is why I put it off but I finally picked it up last Friday. The novel follows Ruth, a thirty-year-old who is recently disengaged and a little lost with what to do with her life. She moves home with her parents to care for her father who has been diagnosed with dementia. The narrative follows her for the year living with her declining father and her strong but exhausted mother and secrets are unearthed from the past that affects the family’s relationship.

This novel was a big change from what I’ve been reading lately mainly because it isn’t plot driven. Ruth comes home to care for her father but not a lot of action takes place. Normally a lack of plot turns me off from a book but it really worked here for me. The novel is pretty short, under 300 pages and is told in a stream of consciousness style which keeps it moving forward.

The heart of this book is the taboo subject of caring for ailing parents. This is so common but it isn’t written about a lot, I think because it is painful. Truth is I was avoiding the novel because it hits close to home. I don’t have a parent with Dementia or Alzheimers but my father is aging and his physical health is definitely declining. As a child it’s hard to see your parents deteriorate, knowing you can’t do anything about it.

The other main idea in this novel is betrayal and what do you do when what you’ve believed about your parents is a lie? I think a phenomenon in everyone’s life is when we realize that our parents are not perfect. And as children we have to decide what we can forgive and what we can’t and it’s different for everyone. Ruth loves her father but has to face the fact that he was not the perfect man that she always thought he was and as he declines in health she has to decide if that fact affects her love for him going forward.

I found this story incredibly powerful. My critique would be that we didn’t get enough from Ruth’s mother and brother and I think they had a crucial story to tell from the little information that we are given. This was Ruth’s story however I think the story brushed with the idea that everyone’s familial experience is different and I would’ve liked that to be a fully realized idea.

I recommend that everyone picks up this book – no matter your own family situation. This topic is so relevant and definitely not discussed enough and Khong’s novel explores it beautifully with injections of humor and light.

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Book Review: The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy

Another sunny week – another summer thriller added to the books read pile. I’ve been living poolside these past couple weeks which has really increased my book time. This week’s novel is about as buzz worthy as they come – this best seller already has a movie in the works produced by and starring the Scandal megastar Kerry Washington. The Perfect Mother is one part The Couple Next Door meets one part Not that I Could Tell with an injection of The Mothers

The Perfect Mother is centered around a Brooklyn mommy group called the May Mothers. The women meet in the park twice a week with their babies to discuss motherhood. One night they decide to go out without the babies and have a drink – the first time since they had their children. All is going well until it is discovered that one of the babies has gone missing.

The May Mothers are thrown into a frenzy as they search for baby Midas. As more time passes, tensions rise and everyone has a secret that will be unearthed before the story concludes. What happened to the baby? But more importantly, who is to blame? The only thing stronger than the mystery surrounding the disappearance are the opinions on motherhood.

I didn’t expect to enjoy this book very much, the plot line is very familiar, there didn’t seem to be anything unique about this novel. And to be fair, the mystery itself was mediocre. There wasn’t much shock and it seemed to go back on a lot of track laid throughout the novel. What I found myself really enjoying was the commentary on motherhood. We live in an age where everyone has an opinion on what being a good mother needs. In this novel we are given a cast of very different mothers, all facing their own challenges and judgments all facing the critical eye of the people around them. I think this book really gives a great look into mommy-shaming culture and pushes the reader to realize that good motherhood has more than one look.

 

Book Review: Still Lives by Maria Hummel

Happy Monday! I hope you had a good weekend. Mine was low-key, mostly hanging by the pool and getting a nasty sunburn. It was worth it though. My time poolside allowed me to finish another book even if my body paid the price for my persistence to finish the novel. I could’ve finished the book inside but there isn’t as much fun in that.

My most recent read was a May Book of the Month pick, Still Lives by Maria Hummel. This mystery novel is set in the early 2000’s in Los Angeles. Our narrator is Maggie Richter is an editor at a trendy art museum prepping for the event of the year, the opening of the  buzzworthy artist Kim Lord’s latest collection – Still Lives. The collection consists of paintings of Lord dressed as famous murdered women including Nicole Brown Simpson and Chandra Levy.

Maggie doesn’t want to be anywhere near the opening, she isn’t a huge fan of Kim Lord and it has a lot to do with the fact that Lord is dating Maggie’s ex – Greg Shaw who also works at the museum. Of course, Maggie is pulled in to work the event, escorting a New York journalist. But the opening doesn’t go as planned, the star of the show doesn’t show up. At first if feels like a stunt for publicity but soon Kim is believed to be missing. Suspicion falls on Greg and Maggie gets entangled in the disappearance and finds herself also in danger.

I’m about the furthest thing from an art connoisseur but I do enjoy reading novels with art as a backdrop, the world is foreign but also very interesting to me. Hummel sets up this story beautifully. Maggie is likeable but also fallible. She immerses us in the art world and builds out the small details. The characters are rounded and captivating.

This is another mystery where I feel that she built an intricate and fascinating arc but didn’t follow through on the final act. Hummel puts a lot of people at play in this mystery but seems to fall back on an easy conclusion instead of completing the complexity that she started from the beginning. She also introduced a character in the first act that we never see again which would be fine except this character was given a lot of time and backstory for them just to disappear.  I enjoyed the ride, just not the destination.

Book Review: The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Whenever I travel, I get anxiety about not bringing enough reading material. Last week I traveled to San Diego too work a trade show and I packed my current read at the time, The Oracle Year by Charles Soule (review of that book can be found here). At more than 400 pages, I figured that it would be enough to tide me over for the trip – but just in case I packed another book. By the time I was ready for the trip home, I had finished The Oracle Year and wasn’t feeling my second choice so I dropped into a bookstore and grabbed this much talked about novel, The Woman in Cabin Ten by Ruth Ware.

If you’ve read my book reviews before you know that I, like many avid readers, hate the trend of every unreliable female protagonist driven mystery being compared to Gone Girl and even Girl on the Train. This genre is really growing right now and I really like unreliable narrators and I’m always here for a female protagonist – but let the genre live on it’s own without tying it to one or two popular novels that happen to be made into movies. That being said, I am going to compare this book to Girl on the Train – do as I say, not as I do.

The Woman in Cabin 10 follows Lo Blacklock, a journalist for a travel magazine who nails a dream assignment on a boutique cruise to the Fjords while her boss is on maternity leave. Lo has a history with anxiety and depression and before she leaves on assignment she gets burgled (note: I love this word) and gets in a bad fight with her boyfriend so she isn’t in the best frame of mind. The rest of the guests on the ship are a mix of journalists including Lo’s ex-boyfriend, Ben. In her first night on the ship, she borrows mascara from a mysterious woman in cabin 10 before heading to dinner. A lot of alcohol later, Lo hears a scream and something hitting the water. She is determined that someone has been thrown overboard. The head of security doesn’t seem to take her seriously and the only person she thinks she can trust is Ben – but can she? The tension builds as the cruise continues and Lo becomes in danger herself as the plot hurdles to it’s climax and conclusion.

I really liked how this novel began. It felt like a mix between the classic Agatha Christie closed loop murder mystery (all suspects are contained so no possibility of an outside character committing the crime) and the shaky unreliable narration from The Girl on the Train. Lo is a complicated character, as a reader you can sympathize with her but also not understand why she puts herself in bad situations (like drinking all night while on antidepressants on a work trip). She is determined that a murder took place but has no evidence to back her up. The set-up is wonderful but I think Ware looses it in the execution. I wish we would’ve explored the characters on the ship more (more Agatha Christie) and I wish the reveal was more unexpected.

It’s a good read but I think it could’ve been an amazing read if some different plot choices were made in the back half of the book.

Book Review: The Oracle Year by Charles Soule

Greetings friends! These past few weeks have been incredibly busy and I have a lot to add to my blog but haven’t had the time to do it. But I’ve found rime in the form of getting sick. A combination of what my co-worked and friend Abby calls “the travel crud”, lovely Kentucky allergies, and just downright being rundown has knocked me on my butt. So I’ve made myself a home on the couch and I’m heavily armed with Mucinex, my heating pad, and Halls cough drops. Here is my first of two book reviews.

Last week I traveled to San Diego, California to work the 2018 Association of Talent Development Conference. The cross-country trip gave me the perfect opportunity to return to my TBR list. On tap was the much hyped freshman novel, The Oracle Year by comic book author Charles Soule.

The Oracle Year follows New York bassist Will Dando who wakes up one morning with 108 predictions about the future. He creates a website and slowly doles out these predictions while staying completely anonymous. As you can imagine, chaos ensues. Everyone is after the mysterious character that has been dubbed “the oracle.” Financial institutions are after any information they can use to maximize their stock portfolios, a famous preacher denounces the oracle and wants to expose him, even the President of the United States is after Will. As more predictions are released, the tension rises and the danger for Will and his friends becomes more imminent until finally crashing toward a conclusion.

This novel is a very fast paced adventure. From page one, the reader is thrust into the middle of the action and it doesn’t slow down for 400+ pages. The plot gets incredulous at times but I was able to overlook it for the entertainment factor. I particularly enjoyed the diversity of the characters. In plot heavy adventure novels like this one, it is rare to get many characters that aren’t straight white males. Let me be clear, the protagonist of this novel is a straight while male however, his supporting cast is much more diverse than I was expecting. It was a nice surprise.

I really enjoyed this novel, I think it’s a great book for summer. It feels like a movie – charismatic characters, high stakes, fast-paced. The ending wasn’t anything special in my opinion but the ride of the plot was enough to make up for a lackluster ending. I’d recommend it for a beach read or in my case, a plane read.

Book Review: Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall

Can you believe it’s May? 2018 is just flying by, we are almost halfway through it and I still feel like I’m in 2017. I seem to be on a bit of a hot streak in reading which is great, I used to plow through book after book but lately life has gotten in the way – so it’s nice to be back.

My latest read is Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall. In this novel, we follow our protagonist and narrator Mike Hays, a fit, good-looking, and successful banker who is obsessed with his ex-girlfriend Verity. The problem is that Verity is engaged to marry another man and has not spoken to Mike since their breakup. Mike is convinced that she still wants him and that her engagement is an elaborate form of the game, Crave, that they used to play. Crave consisted of the couple going to a bar, leaving Verity alone until a guy came to hit on her, after flirting, she would give a signal and Mike would swoop in and “rescue” her.

As the novel progresses, Mike becomes more and more unstable, obsessed, and agitated. He resorts to harassment, stalking, and alcoholism as he tries to figure out how to get Verity to drop the game. The tension builds to an explosive climax and the aftermath which reveals secrets and lies. Is Mike just a mentally ill stalker or is Verity manipulating him?

I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed this novel. Mike is an unreliable narrator and should be completely unlikeable. He’s arrogant, obsessive, rude, and thoughtless. But   Hall gives us just enough context and background to feel sorry for him a bit. The reader roots for him even though you know you shouldn’t.

The central mystery on what exactly is going on between Mike and Verity is never fully explained but there is more than enough evidence to make conclusions. And I think every reader’s conclusion can be different. I found the story riveting and I tore through this book in a few days. Definitely a very compelling read that will leave you with questions at the end.

Book Review: The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

Happy Spring! Here in Lexington, the weather seems to finally have turned for the season after a tough winter. This past week I actually left the Bluegrass for a few days to attend a conference in Washington D.C. One of the most exciting things about traveling, at least for me, is picking out which book (or books) that I’m going to read on the trip. I read on flights, in airports, and before bed when I’m trying to fall asleep in a strange hotel – so traveling is the perfect opportunity to immerse myself in a good story. For this trip I picked a short, intense thriller – The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor.

The Chalk Man follows protagonist Eddie Adams and his crew of bike riding friends in a small England town in 1986 (very much a Stranger Things vibe) and follows this same group as adults in 2016. In 1986, Eddie and co. are approximately twelve years old and decide to communicate with one another by drawing “chalk men” on their driveways as a secret language. That summer strange deaths begin to occur, culminating in the discovery of a dismembered girl which the crew were led to by chalk men. Fast forward to 2016, the same people receive letters with chalk men and one of them ends up dead. This development thrusts them back into their past on a quest for answers.

This novel was the perfect choice to bring on a short trip. The book itself is under 300 pages, the plot moved very quickly, and it kept my attention. As usual with thrillers, I wanted more character development. Even Eddie, our protagonist seemed to be pretty stock for a character though I did see leanings to darker traits – I wished those had been explored more. The plot gets a little messy toward the end and I think there were ends that weren’t tied up and that didn’t seem like an intentional choice to me.

I did enjoy the dual timeline narrative and I think Tudor made that work really well. I could feel the young child camaraderie in the 1986 chapters and I wish more atmosphere clarity was given to the 2016 chapters. I thought the final reveal on the mystery was effective – I think Tudor almost tried to set up this reveal too much. There were some extraneous scenes before the climax that I felt were unnecessary.

This is a great unique thriller – perfect for a vacation read. I’d recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the thriller genre.