Summer of a Thousand Pies

Finished Summer of a Thousand Pies by Margaret Dilloway.  I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A heartfelt contemporary middle grade novel, perfect for fans of The Thing About Jellyfish and Fish in a Tree, about a girl who is sent to live with her aunt and must try to save their failing pie shop.

When twelve-year-old Cady Bennett is sent to live with the aunt she didn’t even know she had in the quaint mountain town of Julian, she doesn’t know what to expect. Cady isn’t used to stability, or even living inside, after growing up homeless in San Diego with her dad.

Now she’s staying in her mother’s old room, exploring the countryside filled with apple orchards and pie shops, making friends, and working in Aunt Shell’s own pie shop—and soon, Cady starts to feel like she belongs. Then she finds out that Aunt Shell’s pie shop is failing. Saving the business and protecting the first place she’s ever really felt safe will take everything she’s learned and the help of all her new friends. But are there some things even the perfect pie just can’t fix?

Summer of a Thousand Pies is a sweet and satisfying treat of a novel full of friendship, family, and, of course, pie.”

Kids today have so many better book choices than I did when I was their age! Middlegrade books are amazing now, and I’m honestly jealous.

I loved Margaret Dilloway’s first two adult novels (and just found out that there’s a third I haven’t read!) and so getting to read her middlegrade book—I think it’s a debut!—was a no-brainer. Her ability to make her characters immediately seem so vibrant is incredibly rare.

I felt like I had known Cady forever, and felt her nervousness at going with an aunt she’d never met and had barely heard of to a town she’s never been while her dad is out of the picture. I completely understood why she barely trusted anyone (she had basically one friend back home; people and especially young kids aren’t exactly kind to homeless people, even if one of them is a kid, too) and how she didn’t really understand the concept of…well, anything.

Her only real treasured possession is a cookbook of her mom’s (who died when Cady was five) and so learning that her aunt Shell was a baker too was a dream come true. It’s how they initially connect and so Cady decides (OK, more accurately is told) that she will make a thousand pies over the summer because that’s the best way to become great at something. (Which is true—practice and repetition goes pretty far in love.)

I loved the town and its residents (it almost seemed like a west coast Stars Hollow, in that everyone genuinely cared for each other and it’s also far less quirky).

Highly recommended.

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Miracle Creek

Finished Miracle Creek by Angie Kim. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A literary courtroom drama about a Korean immigrant family and a young, single mother accused of murdering her eight-year-old autistic son

My husband asked me to lie. Not a big lie. He probably didn’t even consider it a lie, and neither did I, at first . . .

In the small town of Miracle Creek, Virginia, Young and Pak Yoo run an experimental medical treatment device known as the Miracle Submarine—a pressurized oxygen chamber that patients enter for therapeutic “dives” with the hopes of curing issues like autism or infertility. But when the Miracle Submarine mysteriously explodes, killing two people, a dramatic murder trial upends the Yoos’ small community.

Who or what caused the explosion? Was it the mother of one of the patients, who claimed to be sick that day but was smoking down by the creek? Or was it Young and Pak themselves, hoping to cash in on a big insurance payment and send their daughter to college? The ensuing trial uncovers unimaginable secrets from that night—trysts in the woods, mysterious notes, child-abuse charges—as well as tense rivalries and alliances among a group of people driven to extraordinary degrees of desperation and sacrifice.

Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek is a thoroughly contemporary take on the courtroom drama, drawing on the author’s own life as a Korean immigrant, former trial lawyer, and mother of a real-life “submarine” patient. An addictive debut novel for fans of Liane Moriarty and Celeste Ng, Miracle Creek is both a twisty page-turner and a deeply moving story about the way inconsequential lies and secrets can add up—with tragic consequences.”

I’m so happy I heard people talk about how amazing this book was, because it wasn’t on my radar at all. It’s hard to quantify—it’s mostly courtroom drama, but there’s a bit of domestic suspense and obviously a ton of literary fiction. I mention that because if you think “Oh, this doesn’t sound like my thing,” try it anyway. It’s probably just about everyone’s thing. It’s also impossible to talk about because literally every plot point is two steps from a spoiler.

I loved this book immediately but it was also really hard to not try and figure out who was responsible for the explosion. It felt like that scene in Scream where Randy yells “EVERYBODY’S A SUSPECT!”

I’m going to be recommending this to every actively literate person I know. Highly recommended.

The Flatshare

Finished The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Tiffy Moore needs a cheap flat, and fast. Leon Twomey works nights and needs cash. Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time.

But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want the perfect home you need to throw the rulebook out the window… ”

I went into this expecting a sweet, fun rom-com. It’s that, but there’s also a lot more. Tiffy’s ex isn’t the general type of guy who breaks your heart. He’s emotionally abusive and is really scary. He’s done incredible damage to Tiffy and it’s a lot to overcome.

But while there are definitely dark and emotional parts, overall, this book is still a delight. I loved Leon so much (introverts unite!) and, while Tiffy is the exact opposite of me, I also immediately loved her. I really wanted a happy ending for them (and for her friends, Gerty and Mo, and for his brother, Richie). I loved everyone here (except for Justin the ex, and like one other person) and wanted great things for them (except for Justin and the other person).

I’m guessing this book is going to be accompanying a lot of people on a lot of vacations, and it’s going to make that plane ride a lot more enjoyable. Recommended.

Speed

Speed is #99 on AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Thrills list. I’ve seen it before but not in ages (I would say at least a decade and probably more like 15-20 years) so it was mostly a new movie for me.

I remembered some parts really well and then there were some things I completely forgot (I thought Harry died earlier than he did, for example, and the third act on the train).

I am not a huge, huge fan of action movies but this is still really fun. (But wow, Keanu Reeves is really not a good actor.)

Girls on the Verge

Finished Girls on the Verge by Sharon Biggs Waller. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“A powerful, timely coming-of-age story about a young woman from Texas who goes on a road trip with two friends to get an abortion, from award-winning author Sharon Biggs Waller.

Camille couldn’t be having a better summer. But on the very night she learns she got into a prestigious theater program, she also finds out she’s pregnant. She definitely can’t tell her parents. And her best friend, Bea, doesn’t agree with the decision Camille has made.

Camille is forced to try to solve her problem alone . . . and the system is very much working against her. At her most vulnerable, Camille reaches out to Annabelle Ponsonby, a girl she only barely knows from the theater. Happily, Annabelle agrees to drive her wherever she needs to go. And in a last-minute change of heart, Bea decides to come with.

Girls on the Verge is an incredibly timely novel about a woman’s right to choose. Sharon Biggs Waller brings to life a narrative that has to continue to fight for its right to be told, and honored.”

I loved this book and it broke my heart and infuriated me.

Camille is pregnant and she doesn’t want to be. She’s seventeen and can’t have a baby. And even if she could, she doesn’t want to. She doesn’t want her entire life ruined because of a condom error. So, abortion it is.

Except Camille lives in Texas, where they don’t really let you do that without jumping through a million hoops. So it will require a major road trip and, as it happens, two friends. Annabelle is a new friend and someone Camille really respects; Bea is her best friend, though it’s very complicated right now.

I loved seeing Camille and Bea work on fixing their friendship and I loved Annabelle get to know them. I love all three of them so much, and books about friendship make me really happy.

But Texas doesn’t come across well in this story. It wasn’t ever going to be likely that I’d live there but now I definitely wouldn’t want to. It’s gross the things that Camille had to go through and “crisis centers” are really the worst things and staffed by the worst people.

This is a hard book to read, but so worth it. We need to be diligent to make sure this doesn’t become a reality nationwide.

Highly recommended.

Serious Moonlight

Finished Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“After an awkward first encounter, Birdie and Daniel are forced to work together in a Seattle hotel where a famous author leads a mysterious and secluded life in this romantic contemporary novel from the author of Alex, Approximately.

Mystery-book aficionado Birdie Lindberg has an overactive imagination. Raised in isolation and homeschooled by strict grandparents, she’s cultivated a whimsical fantasy life in which she plays the heroic detective and every stranger is a suspect. But her solitary world expands when she takes a job the summer before college, working the graveyard shift at a historic Seattle hotel.

In her new job, Birdie hopes to blossom from introverted dreamer to brave pioneer, and gregarious Daniel Aoki volunteers to be her guide. The hotel’s charismatic young van driver shares the same nocturnal shift and patronizes the waterfront Moonlight Diner where she waits for the early morning ferry after work. Daniel also shares her appetite for intrigue, and he’s stumbled upon a real-life mystery: a famous reclusive writer—never before seen in public—might be secretly meeting someone at the hotel.

To uncover the writer’s puzzling identity, Birdie must come out of her shell…discovering that most confounding mystery of all may be her growing feelings for the elusive riddle that is Daniel.”

I’ve only read two of Jenn Bennett’s books but I loved both. I overidentified with Birdie (introvert who loves mysteries? Hi, can we be friends?) and I immediately rooted for her and Daniel to get over themselves and be a thing.

The actual mystery plot was the least interesting part of the book (I wanted more time with Birdie’s grandpa and Mona, and with Daniel’s family and with the people at the hotel—except for Chuck. I had more than enough time with Chuck).

Jenn Bennett writes these incredibly sweet love stories but I think the best part of her books are the way she draws these amazing characters and makes them feel real or possibly better than real. They tend to be over 400 pages but it doesn’t feel like enough. I’m never ready for the books to be over.

Highly recommended.

Weekend Update

I’m really excited for my weekend—my uncle and niece are coming up for the night! I just saw him a couple of weeks ago but I haven’t seen her in ages. It’ll be really good to see her, even if we won’t get a ton of time together.

I’ve started watching What We Do in the Shadows, which is really funny. It’s a documentary-style show (think The Office) but with vampires. It’s by the same people who did the movie (which I still haven’t seen) but with new characters. I’ve also started the second season of The Last OG (I like it even more than the first season!) and am also halfway through the second season of Friday Night Lights. The FNL watch is back in earnest and I’m hoping to start Game of Thrones next? We’ll see. I’m also super obsessed with the new season of Good Girls, which was just renewed for season three.

I’m also listening to some new podcasts. I think I talked about Redhanded last time, but it’s my second favorite true crime podcast. I also really love One Great Book (Anne Bogel talks about a book she loves), Jensen & Holes: The Murder Squad (Billy Jensen and Paul Holes talk cold cases) and You’re Wrong About (the hosts pick a famous event or person—Terri Schiavo or the Challenger explosion—and discuss how everything we think we know is wrong or incomeplete).

I just started reading Miracle Creek by Angie Kim and it is AMAZING. It has some Little Fires Everywhere vibes going.

Movie-wise, I’m hoping to see The Curse of La Llarona sometime soon. Ideally this weekend but maybe while everyone else is seeing The Avengers?

Saving Meghan

Finished Saving Meghan by DJ Palmer. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Can you love someone to death?

Some would say Becky Gerard is a devoted mother and would do anything for her only child. Others claim she’s obsessed and can’t stop the vicious circle of finding a cure at her daughter’s expense.

Fifteen-year-old Meghan has been in and out of hospitals with a plague of unexplained illnesses. But when the ailments take a sharp turn, doctors intervene and immediately suspect Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a rare behavioral disorder where the primary caretaker, typically the mother, seeks medical help for made-up symptoms of a child. Is this what’s going on? Or is there something even more sinister at hand?”

This book is beyond intense. I believed Becky that Meghan was sick, but no one had any idea what was wrong with her and that meant that it was impossible to fix. Also, her symptoms were so vague that it could be anything or nothing.

I love Daniel Palmer’s books (this is his first one writing as DJ Palmer) and this is no exception. It’s so smart and so thrilling and I had no idea what was coming or who was responsible. (I did not call the ending at all.)

I absolutely recommend this and all my thriller-loving friends will be getting copies for Christmas or their birthdays. Clear your schedules for this one; you won’t want to stop until you finish.

Murder From Scratch

Finished Murder From Scratch by Leslie Karst. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Restaurateur Sally Solari’s cousin Evelyn may be blind, but she can see all too clearly that her chef mother’s death wasn’t an accidental overdose―she was murdered.

Santa Cruz restaurateur Sally Solari’s life is already boiling over as she deals with irate cooks and other staffing issues at the busy Gauguin restaurant. The rainy December weather isn’t cooling things down, either. So she’s steamed when her dad persuades her to take in Evelyn, her estranged blind cousin whose mother has just died of a drug overdose.

But Evelyn proves to be lots of fun and she’s a terrific cook. Back at the house she’d shared with her mom, Evelyn’s heightened sense of touch tells her that various objects―a bottle of cranberry juice, her grandfather’s jazz records―are out of place. She and her mom always kept things in the same place so Evelyn could find them. So she suspects that her mother’s death was neither accident nor suicide, no matter what the police believe.

The cousins’ sleuthing takes Sally and Evelyn into the world of macho commercial kitchens, and the cutthroat competitiveness that can flame up between chefs. In Leslie Karst’s scrumptious fourth Sally Solari mystery, Sally will have to chop a long list of suspects down to size or end up getting burned.”

This is my first Leslie Karst mystery, but that won’t be true for much longer. I want to read the other three immediately or sooner. I loved Sally Solari and her restaurant and her friends and her dog.

Even though this is the fourth in a series, it still works incredibly well as a standalone. There are references to the other books, but no spoilers.

The only problem is that this book is almost guaranteed to make you hungry. (There are recipes at the end, so there’s that. But you’ll still be hungry while reading. The food descriptions are perfection.)

Highly recommended.

 

In the Neighborhood of True

Finished In the Neighborhood of True by Susan Kaplan Carlton. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A powerful story of love, identity, and the price of fitting in or speaking out.

After her father’s death, Ruth Robb and her family transplant themselves in the summer of 1958 from New York City to Atlanta—the land of debutantes, sweet tea, and the Ku Klux Klan. In her new hometown, Ruth quickly figures out she can be Jewish or she can be popular, but she can’t be both. Eager to fit in with the blond girls in the “pastel posse,” Ruth decides to hide her religion. Before she knows it, she is falling for the handsome and charming Davis and sipping Cokes with him and his friends at the all-white, all-Christian Club.

Does it matter that Ruth’s mother makes her attend services at the local synagogue every week? Not as long as nobody outside her family knows the truth. At temple Ruth meets Max, who is serious and intense about the fight for social justice, and now she is caught between two worlds, two religions, and two boys. But when a violent hate crime brings the different parts of Ruth’s life into sharp conflict, she will have to choose between all she’s come to love about her new life and standing up for what she believes.”

This is historical fiction but feels very, very relevant to today. There are a lot of anti-Semitic hate crimes now and a temple being bombed feels very plausible.

Ruth is Jewish. She’s never had a problem before but once she and her family move to the south, she starts to hide it. She still goes to temple with her mom and sister, but she doesn’t advertise it. She rationalizes it as being fine because it’s not like she’s lying; it’s just that no one asks. (Except that’s not true because someone asks what church she goes to and she mentions her grandmother’s church—her mom converted to Judaism when she married Ruth’s dad.)

She becomes increasingly uncomfortable, though, when Klan activity starts to ramp up. (Someone in her friend group calls cross burnings “lightings” and says they reflect Southern spirit. When Ruth repeats it to her mom, she replies, “I hope she’s not a close friend” and all I can say is I want a spinoff of Ruth’s journalism mother because she is the actual best.)

This is an amazing book and I’m glad I got a chance to review it.

Highly recommended.