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Archive for the ‘average but on the longer side’ Category

Book Review: Good Eggs by Rebecca Hardiman

Image of a digital book cover. A man stands at the top of a road with his hand like a visor. The road curves down the cover and shows a woman with a bag and items falling out of it all down the road.

Summary:
When Kevin Gogarty’s irrepressible eighty-three-year-old mother, Millie, is caught shoplifting yet again, he has no choice but to hire a caretaker to keep an eye on her. Kevin, recently unemployed, is already at his wits’ end tending to a full house while his wife travels to exotic locales for work, leaving him solo with his sulky, misbehaved teenaged daughter, Aideen, whose troubles escalate when she befriends the campus rebel at her new boarding school.

Into the Gogarty fray steps Sylvia, Millie’s upbeat American home aide, who appears at first to be their saving grace—until she catapults the Gogarty clan into their greatest crisis yet.

Review:
This crossed my radar as a “feel good” read, and I do think it fits that bill, although I could see it potentially not being feel good to some readers.

This is told in third person from three different perspectives – Aideen, Millie, and Kevin. All three are flawed characters. Aideen is easily swayed by those around her, being drawn into other people’s shenanigans. She also has a hot temper and feels very overshadowed by her twin sister. This is even more easy to empathize with when one sees how Kevin treats her. (He really does treat her differently than the other three children).

Millie shoplifts. It isn’t treated by any of the characters in the book as kleptomania but rather as “attention seeking” behavior. She’s also very reticent to admit to needing help and very much doesn’t want to end up in an old folk’s home – something she’s convinced Kevin has planned for her. Overall, I find Millie very sympathetic.

Kevin is having a midlife crisis spurned on by his chosen career field changing so much that it feels to him as if it is vanishing. (His job certainly has). Do I have sympathy for him wondering how his life and career ended up like this? Yes. Do I have sympathy for him immediately pivoting to considering an affair while his wife is working hard at the only income in the family? No. Do I think he’s at the core of most of the family’s problems? Yes.

But that’s what I think works so well in the book. The problem isn’t that Kevin doesn’t have a job. The problem is that Kevin isn’t living up to his very important other familial roles. As a parent equally to all his children. As a loving spouse to his wife in the time she has outside of work. And as a child to his mother who’s lonely after his father’s death and very afraid of how old age is going to turn out for her now. He starts to develop an understanding of all of these women’s perspectives over the course of the book, but it’s subtle. And that’s what I like about it. The book is really just a – hey here’s a few months in this family’s life – picture. It just so happens that those few months change Kevin for the better, and thus change the whole family for the better too. Put another way, it’s a book about a house with a bad foundation and what happens everywhere else and then, oh look, how much better it is when the foundation is fixed.

So to me it was a feel good book. I do think some readers might be so bothered by Kevin’s mistakes and Millie’s trials that they lose the good overall vibes of the book. But if you’re ok with a flawed family then this is in general a feel good read.

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4 out of 5 stars

Length: 336 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: Library

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Book Review: I’ll Be You by Janelle Brown

Image of a digital book cover. There is a beautiful sunset behind a desert plant.

Summary:
Two identical twin sisters and former child actors have grown apart—until one disappears, and the other is forced to confront the secrets they’ve kept from each other.

Review:
I previously read Janelle Brown’s Pretty Things and really enjoyed its delightful thriller take on Instagram influencers. I was excited to see another of her books on NetGalley and even more excited to see it using a child star identical twins plot. I smashed that request button, let me tell you, and this did not disappoint. In fact, between the two sisters, it covered two of my other favorite plots – a person with addiction in recovery and a person falling for a cult.

Imagine if the Olsen twins were identical (they’re not) and had a falling out right after they stopped acting. That’s the basic set-up of this book. Sam continues to try to act and also continues to fall into a hole of addiction. Elli pursues a regular life, going to college, setting up a florist business, and marrying. We find this all out in flashbacks, as the book starts with a bang with Sam, who we quickly find out is just past a year in recovery, getting a phone call from her parents to come help take care of her niece. Elli brought her newly adopted toddler daughter to them to go on a quick spa retreat in Ojai, but is gone longer than expected. Sam is shocked by all of this because she and Elli haven’t spoken in over a year for ominous reasons we don’t know yet.

I loved this book. I was immediately enamored with Sam. What a tough situation to get plopped in your lap just over a year into recovery. She suspects something is amiss with Ellie, but Ellie has always been the stable one and Sam the untrustworthy addict, so her parents don’t take her concerns seriously. But we, the readers, quickly see that Sam is likely right. There’s something fishy going on. Why would Ellie and her husband suddenly separate right when they adopt after years of infertility? How likely is it that a woman who struggled with infertility for years would suddenly disappear to a retreat for more than a week, barely speaking to those caring for her long hoped-for daughter? Why won’t Sam and Elli’s mom and dad admit something is off? There’s a lot of delicious suspense immediately.

Most of the beginning of the book is from Sam’s perspective, but partway through we swap to Elli’s. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this, because I was so invested in Sam, but it worked. Eventually, we swap back to Sam’s toward the end. Sam’s characterization is just so strong and relatable to me, whereas Elli’s is a more difficult character for me to relate to. But the reason it worked is Sam needs to come to understand Elli and so, getting inside Elli’s head and perspective helped me see that, so that I started to root for Sam’s attempts to rebond with Elli in a way I hadn’t before.

The only reason this is getting four stars and not five from me is because of one scene where a secondary lesbian character is biphobic. It was hurtful to me to read that scene, and I just didn’t think it was necessary to the plot of the book. I’m ok with characters being imperfect when it serves needs of character and plot development, but the exact same plot device could have worked without the biphobia. (Essentially, this character exacts revenge on her ex-wife. While the revenge is spurred on by multiple things the ex-wife did, the tipping point is that she got together with a man after the divorce, and the character is extra upset because it’s a man and she’d “hid” being bisexual from her. Ick. We could have just….had something else be the tipping point. There are plenty of options. An example of biphobia I would have been ok with seeing would have been if Sam and Elli’s big fight was about one of them being bisexual and the other not being able to handle it. That’s important character development. This wasn’t.)

Overall, this was a fun, different read with a main character I really enjoyed and a different take on some common thriller plot devices. I recommend it, and I think I myself might go back and read more of Janelle Brown’s back catalog.

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4 out of 5 stars

Length: 368 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: The Younger Wife by Sally Hepworth

April 12, 2022 4 comments

Summary:
Tully and Rachel Aston look upon their father’s fiancée, Heather, as nothing but an interloper. Heather is younger than both of them. Clearly, she’s after their heart surgeon father’s money. They understand why he might want to date, given that their mother is in a care home due to rapidly advancing early onset Alzheimer’s, but it feels disrespectful that he’s going to divorce her to marry another. Meanwhile, they’re each struggling with a secret. Plus, Heather has secrets of her own. Will getting to the truth unleash the most dangerous impulses in all of them?

Review:
I have a soft spot for Australian psychological thrillers. This is the fourth Sally Hepworth one I’ve read. It ranks near but not quite at the top among her works for me. (My favorite being The Mother-in-Law). It’s pretty obvious early on that Heather is not the big bad, so then the main mystery remains – who is? And of course, what is Rachel’s secret? And when will everyone find out Tully’s secret?

We find out almost immediately that Tully struggles with kleptomania and that Rachel used to date but suddenly abruptly stopped. So the main issues surrounding the two sisters is when will others find out about Tully’s uncontrollable shoplifting and what exactly made Rachel stop dating. I thought the former was handled better than the latter. Tully seeks out therapy and her problems don’t disappear overnight. Rachel meets a nice guy and with him is able to overcome her trauma. That frustrated me a bit. Especially since Rachel is set up as being so strong. One can be strong and also find help in therapy. Or even in a support group structure. It shouldn’t all be on the significant other to help someone heal. So it was a little bit hit and miss for me with the two sisters.

I thought the main mystery of what was actually going on in the weird triangle of the dad, Heather, and the mom was quite well done. I especially appreciated the handling of Alzheimer’s. I do think this book falls prey to the old idea of alcoholism – that one can only have an alcohol problem if one is at rock bottom. Beating a spouse or getting delirium tremens (the shakes) when going too long without it. There are definitely characters in this book who display problems with alcohol, but the narration brushes off the idea that they might have a problem.

The structure starts with a bang – at the wedding, someone is injured, and we don’t know who. The wedding is put on hold, the police are called. We then flash back to Heather meeting the daughters and build back up to the wedding. This is a multiple point of view book. Rachel, Tully, Heather, even the mother get a turn narrating.

This book confronts the problem looming for a lot of new contemporary fiction – do we or do we not acknowledge the pandemic? This strikes a gentle balance of what to do. The characters talk about not shaking hands anymore, one character had a big career setback due to lockdowns, and another character’s marriage is a bit impacted by the work-from-home situation. No major details are mentioned (for example, masks are never discussed, no deaths from the pandemic are mentioned). I envisioned it as happening in 2021 or early 2022. Post lockdowns but not far flung future. I thought it worked fairly well.

Overall, this was a fun read with a different enough plot to keep me engaged. It was a little bit of a mixed bag, which is what kept me from loving it. I put content warnings in for this book over on Storygraph if you’re interested in those. I did wish I’d had them myself.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 352 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

A digital book cover featuring the head of a deer with the title written between the antlers.

Summary:
Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way.

Review:
This book really kept me on the edge of my seat. I never knew what was going to happen next. I kept glancing at my Libby app (I listened to the audiobook) to check how much was left, because I felt certain the only remaining plot was about to wrap up without much left to say. But then a whole new twist would occur, and I’d find myself with an entirely different situation to choose sides in.

The author is Blackfoot Native American, and so this is an own voices book about these four Blackfoot men in Montana. My father and brother lived in Montana for a few years, and I visited them there, and I found myself smiling at how rapidly and well the scenes were set in Great Falls. In spite of the surrounding fantastical element of – is there or is there not a mythical creature after these young men – everything read as authentic and real.

Something I worried about slightly going into a horror, because I always worry about this going into horror books, was about what level of violence might be seen against women. Although women are not entirely safe from the mystical creature, it felt to me like a flip-flop of what is normally seen in horror. With men being the ones more likely to fall victim than women. I couldn’t articulate exactly why I felt this way, but I felt a respect toward women in the book. This is reflected in the author’s note at the end, where he notes his deep love and respect for Native women. I especially liked the character Denorah – the daughter of one of the men who wants to make it good.

Although who and how the horror happens was a refreshing change, this is definitely a gory horror read. This mystical creature has no empathy for anyone, including dogs. This is no fault of the author. That’s what’s expected of horror. I think a few years ago I would have given this five stars, in fact. But personally I’m finding myself less able to handle gore than I once was. So keep that in mind as you go into it.

There’s also a strong connecting subplot regarding basketball. A lot of characters play it, and some important scenes happen on the court. Now, I simply am not interested in basketball. Ok, it goes beyond a lack of interest. I detest the sound of basketballs being dribbled and actively stay away from basketball courts if I can. So for me those scenes detracted from the book, because I had to pay attention to them because important plot points were occurring. But it was basketball. That said, I think a reader who loves basketball would be super into this book for this reason. It’s not a basketball book per se but it’s a book with characters who love the game and have important moments on the court.

Overall, this is a delightful addition to the horror genre that showcases all that makes own voices books so great. It brings fresh plots and perspectives, a fantastical mystical creature, but is still grounded in a realistic today. Particularly recommended to readers who don’t mind gore and love basketball.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 336 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: Library

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Book Review: Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin (Series, #1)

March 8, 2022 2 comments
Image of a digital book cover with a cartoon drawing of a street in San Francisco.

Summary:
San Francisco, 1976. A naïve young secretary, fresh out of Cleveland, tumbles headlong into a brave new world of laundromat Lotharios, pot-growing landladies, cut throat debutantes, and Jockey Shorts dance contests. The saga that ensues is manic, romantic, tawdry, touching, and outrageous

Review:
This was first published as a novel in 1978, although it was published prior to that as a serialized story in a San Francisco newspaper. It is considered a classic of LGBTQIA+ literature. The first tv show miniseries based upon it that premiered in 1994 had a same-sex kiss made history and was also protested (source). The Netflix reboot/update in 2019 brought fresh attention to it, and I thought it was high-time I read the classic.

It’s clear that some restraints were placed upon Maupin, either by the newspaper or simply the culture of the time. Our window into the queer world in San Francisco is given to us by Mary Ann Singleton – a single cis straight woman who comes from Cleveland for a visit and decides to stay. She’s invited into Barbary Lane and declared one of us, although why exactly she’s considered part of the found family is not resolved in the first book.

The book is definitely a product of the 1970s. 1970s fashion and freewheeling culture are everywhere. Lack of acceptance of queer people is a real threat and concern, and the AIDS crisis had not yet hit. It’s an interesting snapshot of a very particular point in time.

While characters are quite loose about who they will sleep with, there’s also a lack of diversity in the cast of main characters that’s jarring. Especially for a story set in a city that’s so diverse. Particularly noticeable to me was how the Asian-American characters are all peripheral, even with this being San Francisco. I don’t think this lack of diversity is a product of its time – there were other very forward-thinking works of fiction at the same time as this. This lack of diversity is something to keep in mind when approaching the book.

There are also two plot twists that revolve around race, and I don’t think either is handled with particular grace. The race of someone’s lover is identified by pointing to a yellow flower. This is obviously offensive. While it seems to me that the character who does this is someone we’re supposed to think badly of, on the other hand, it seemed to me that this was supposed to be a funny moment. And it definitely was not. In the other case, a character reveals that they believe that the only way to become a successful model is to be Black. It is unclear what the other character they are speaking to thinks of that. I think this instance may be intentionally leaving it up to the reader to decide what they think, but it’s also a strange plot point in a book that’s mostly about hookups and very little about careers.

This reminded me very much of other books and tv shows that have dramatic, gasp-inducing storylines with large casts of characters whose lives intertwine and overlap in mysterious ways. Think Jane the Virgin or Desperate Housewives just with fewer identical twins and less murder (so far…..) and more queer characters. If you like that type of storytelling, then you’ll likely find this hilarious and engaging. If you don’t, then you probably won’t.

I personally found it to be a rapid read with an engaging storyline and funny chapter titles. I wished it had been more forward-thinking and intersectional, but I also respect that the mere depiction of queer people in a soap opera like story was quite groundbreaking. I appreciate it for what it is, and it was a fun, quick read.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 386 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: Library

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Book Review: Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

A digital book cover shows the words "Atomic Habits" built out of many tiny dots.

Summary:
James Clear, one of the world’s leading experts on habit formation, reveals practical strategies that will teach you exactly how to form good habits, break bad ones, and master the tiny behaviors that lead to remarkable results.

Review:
This book is well-loved (just look at its rating on GoodReads), and I had heard a lot of good things about it on decluttering and organizing YouTube channels. So I was surprised to find that I myself felt very meh about the book. I want you to have the context that I am an outlier opinion in this case.

This book is basically a collection of tips on how to become more consistent with your good habits and drop your bad ones. A lot of the tips aren’t off-base, it’s just that I already knew them myself. Things like make the bad habit inconvenient and the good one convenient. For example, change your commute route so it doesn’t go directly by the liquor store (bad habit becomes inconvenient) and select a gym that is on your commute (make the good habit convenient). I probably should have read the four rules he states before reading the book itself, and I would have realized I knew these things already. The four rules are:

  1. Make it obvious
  2. Make it attractive
  3. Make it easy
  4. Make it satisfying

With bad habits being the inverse of all four.

The two tips that I did get out of this that were meaningful to me were first, habit stacking. So take a habit you already do regularly well and attach another habit you want to have to it. So I have a cup of tea every night. If I was interested in a regular meditation practice, I could decide that I meditate right after I’ve had my tea. That’s habit stacking. I like that it attaches something new to something you already do well. A sound idea. The second thing I got was that being something – like being a musician – isn’t about the achievement (recording an album), it’s about what you do every day (music things like play an instrument, compose music, study music theory). This focus meant a lot to me, and made me do better about writing regularly. A writer writes! Simple but helpful.

So let’s talk about the things I didn’t like, because I haven’t seen people talk about that very much. First, a lot of the examples are about sports and fitness. Not all of them, but a lot of them. I would have liked greater variety. Especially since a lot of the examples are about sports teams, and even the author has a footnote in the first chapter that directs to his website about how the British bicycle team he spends so long talking about actually started winning because they were doping. Given the large amount of doping and cheating in professional sports, I just think more regular, everyday people examples would have been more meaningful. I would have preferred him interviewing regular people who did something simple with their habits that radically changed their lives. There’s a brief glimpse of this when he mentions having lunch with someone who successfully quit smoking and asking them how they did it, but that’s the only instance. I wish the whole book had been that.

Second, I found the advice to aim for streaks (never ever missing a day if you can avoid it) troubling. Human beings need rest days to avoid burnout. It’s not healthy to do some things every day (like his very well-loved example of working out). I recommend those who read this book read Laziness Does Not Exist, as well as the work of The Nap Ministry, to provide some balance to the “do it every day” mantra in this book. I’m not saying working hard and consistency aren’t important, but human beings need rest as well. I honestly hope the author has become less tough on himself about maintaining his streaks.

I hope this review helps you sort out if this book is right for you. But I also do hope you’ll give it some balance with the two reads recommended above.

3 out of 5 stars

Length: 319 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: Library

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Book Review: Getting Clean with Stevie Green by Swan Huntley

February 22, 2022 Leave a comment
A digital book cover. There is a blue background with a cartoon drawing of a white woman holding a stack of four pillows in front of her face.

Summary:
At thirty-seven, Stevie Green has had it with binge drinking and sleeping with strange men. She’s confused about her sexuality and her purpose in life. When her mother asks her to return to her hometown of La Jolla to help her move into a new house, she’s desperate enough to say yes. The move goes so well that Stevie decides to start her own decluttering business. She stops drinking. She hires her formerly estranged sister, Bonnie, to be her business partner. She rekindles a romance with her high school sweetheart, Brad. Things are better than ever—except for the complicated past that Stevie can’t seem to outrun.

Who was responsible for the high school scandal that caused her life to take a nosedive twenty years earlier? Why is she so secretive about the circumstances of her father’s death? Why are her feelings for her ex-best friend, Chris, so mystifying? If she’s done drinking, then why can’t she seem to declutter the mini wine bottles from her car?

Review:
I smashed the request button on NetGalley when I read this description. A mixture of quit lit (literature about addiction and recovery) and decluttering? Sign me up! And it did not disappoint. In fact, it surprised me with delightful queer content I wasn’t expecting.

It’s important to know that Stevie’s ex-best friend Chris is a woman. Chris also came out in high school as a lesbian around the time of the scandal that so traumatized Stevie. Stevie has also slept with women, although only the men are mentioned in the description. The only hang-ups about Stevie’s sexuality seen in her circle of family, friends, and even lovers, come from Stevie herself. This is a great example of how addiction can freeze someone’s self-awareness and self-acceptance. Stevie began drinking in high school, and it’s a trueism in recovery circles that you freeze at the age of development you were at when you began drinking until you stop. Then you can begin maturing again. So is it a bit frustrating that Stevie is 37 and kind of acting like a teenager? Yes. But is it realistic? Also yes.

When we meet Stevie she is newly sober and running her decluttering business. I loved the depiction of how Type A Stevie is about her days and routines. This is so accurate to early recovery. One of my favorite parts is how she starts every day by standing in a Wonder Woman pose and saying affirmations to herself repeatedly.

How had I become a woman who chanted affirmations to herself while doing this ridiculous pose? Because it was supposed to make me feel better. I would have done anything to feel better.

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Early recovery really is this incredible moment of being willing to do anything to feel better, and this is wonderfully depicted here.

The scenes with Stevie decluttering with her clients also shine. I’m a fan of decluttering YouTube videos and tv shows, and these gave me the same thrill as watching those. I loved seeing the variety of types of clutter the clients had, their personalities, and how Stevie interacted with them. She also quickly ends up working with her sister, Bonnie, who is also going through it after her boyfriend of 15 years left her for a younger woman. Bonnie and Stevie have great sisterly chemistry, and her addition to the business helps keep the pace moving forward.

Ultimately, it’s only when Stevie fully faces both her past and her father’s death that she can really begin to heal and move on. I thought this requirement hit her in the right way and with the right force. The pacing of this book really was quite good. And while there’s always the concern when reading queer lit that there will be a tragic ending, don’t worry, readers, there’s a happy ever after for Stevie. This is truly a lighthearted queer romance that also tackles the serious topic of recovery. It was like eating a salted caramel ice cream – sweet with just the right amount of savory.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 304 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: The Other Family by Wendy Corsi Staub

February 15, 2022 2 comments
Digital book cover that shows two brick homes side by side with a tree in the middle. Each home shows the silhouette of a person in the window.

Summary:
It’s the perfect home for the perfect family: pretty Nora Howell, her handsome husband, their two teenage daughters, and lovable dog. As California transplants making a fresh start in Brooklyn, they expected to live in a shoebox, but the brownstone has a huge kitchen, lots of light, and a backyard. The catch: its previous residents were victims of a grisly triple homicide that remains unsolved. But all that is in the past and has nothing to do with them, right? Oldest daughter Stacey doesn’t think so. She thinks she’s seen a man watching her with binoculars from a neighboring roof. But will anyone believe her when she has an obsession with true crime, and she’s overheard her mother worrying about her mental state?

Review:
This is a slow burn with most of the action happening at the end. It is told through multiple viewpoints – daughter Stacey, mom Nora, and the man watching the house Jacob. You would think this many viewpoints would remove all surprises, but it does not.

There are a few main conflicts in the book. If you like how these conflicts sound, then you will likely enjoy the read even though it’s a slower burn.

First, there’s Stacey and her mom, Nora. Nora doesn’t like Stacey’s appearance and worries about her psychological state. From Stacey’s viewpoint, she’s just a geekier girl who happens to be into true crime.

Second, there’s Nora and her husband. Their marriage was on thin ice in LA, and they’re hoping the change of scenery to NYC will help. But will it? And who is this Teddy person that Nora keeps secretly calling?

Third, there’s Stacey and her new boyfriend Lennon. He falls head over heels really quickly, but it’s unclear to Stacey if the things he asks for are loving or controlling.

Finally there’s the neighbors down the street who are also Lennon’s moms. His moms seem a bit too pushily friendly to Nora. Is it really just friendship they’re after?

For most of the book, in spite of the watcher, it really reads more like a contemporary women’s fiction. It’s not until the last 10% or so that the thrills come out. They definitely surprised me, but I would have preferred more intensity throughout the book.

If a contemporary women’s fiction covering the types of conflicts described above that ends with a thriller style ending sounds engaging to you, give this one a chance.

3 out of 5 stars

Length: 384 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: The Night Train to Berlin by Melanie Hudson

February 8, 2022 Leave a comment
Image of a digital book cover. A white woman in 1940s clothing approaches a train with steam from the train flowing toward her. Two WWII airplanes are silhouetted in the sky above her.

Summary:
A train journey into the past. A love that echoes through time….

Paddington Station, present day:
A young woman boards the sleeper train to Cornwall with only a beautiful emerald silk evening dress and an old, well-read diary full of sketches. Ellie Nightingale is a shy violinist who plays like her heart is broken. But when she meets fellow passenger Joe she feels like she has been given that rarest of gifts…a second chance.

Paddington Station, 1944:
Beneath the shadow of the war which rages across Europe, Alex and Eliza meet by chance. She is a gutsy painter desperate to get to the frontline as a war artist and he is a wounded RAF pilot now commissioned as a war correspondent. With time slipping away they make only one promise: to meet in Berlin when this is all over. But this is a time when promises are hard to keep, and hope is all you can hold in your heart.

Review:
This book tells two love stories by alternating between the two different timelines – present day and 1944. It strongly hints that present day Ellie and Joe are reincarnations of 1944 Eliza and Alex.

I liked both storylines for the majority of the book, although the 1944 appealed more to me. It had more action and covered a larger period of time. The present day storyline is basically just the day of the night party train and the day immediately after. Because so much more was happening in 1944 with such greater risk to Eliza and Alex, I found myself wanting to skip over the present day to go to the past. Plus, the present day takes on greater meaning the more you get to know Eliza and Alex. For this reason, I think it would have been better to have completely told Eliza and Alex’s story and then end the book with an epilogue short version of Ellie and Joe’s.

There are also two things that I think it’s important to know before picking up the book. First, there is no train to Berlin. The train to Berlin in the title is a metaphor. Eliza and Alex meet on a night train to Cornwall and then later promise to see each other in Berlin alongside the liberating forces. (Eliza as a nurse and war artist, Alex as a war correspondent). But of course the liberators didn’t take trains. There are two trains in this book. One is the train to Cornwall ridden at two different time periods. The other is a train in Europe but its destination is not Berlin.

Second, we do not actually get closure on Eliza and Alex’s story. We never find out exactly what happened to them – either as a couple or how and when they died. There’s a passing mention that Ellie’s grandmother (great-grandmother?) who was friends with Eliza inherited the Cornwall property from her a few years ago. It could be implied that she passed a few years ago or it could be understood to mean something different. The other confusing thing about this is if Ellie is Eliza reincarnated, Eliza passing a few years ago when Ellie is in her 20s at the moment doesn’t make sense for a reincarnation. So there’s a lot of loose ends with regards to Eliza and Alex that are frustrating.

I’m not a complete stickler for total historic accuracy in historic fiction and even less so with a historic romance, but I will mention there was one plot point in particular that was so unlikely given what we know about WWII that it did make me grumpy. I can’t discuss in detail without plot spoiling. Perhaps you would feel more able to give it a pass than me. It comes toward the very end of the book.

So, overall, while I enjoyed the experience of the read right up until the end, I did feel like it could have been a better story with some rearrangement and a less metaphorical title.

3 out of 5 stars

Length: 400 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: The Arctic Curry Club by Dani Redd

January 4, 2022 3 comments
Digital cover of The Arctic Curry Club. Features a brown skinned woman holding a dish in front of a table of three people (three white, one brown skinned) in the snow. A house and a polar bear are in the background.

Summary:
Soon after upending her life to accompany her boyfriend Ryan to the Arctic, Maya realises it’s not all Northern Lights and husky sleigh rides. Instead, she’s facing sub-zero temperatures, 24-hour darkness, crippling anxiety – and a distant boyfriend as a result.

In her loneliest moment, Maya opens her late mother’s recipe book and cooks Indian food for the first time. Through this, her confidence unexpectedly grows – she makes friends, secures a job as a chef, and life in the Arctic no longer freezes her with fear.

But there’s a cost: the aromatic cuisine rekindles memories of her enigmatic mother and her childhood in Bangalore. Can Maya face the past and forge a future for herself in this new town? After all, there’s now high demand for a Curry Club in the Arctic, and just one person with the know-how to run it…

Review:
Fun destinations, delicious descriptions of homemade Indian cuisine, and a plot that you think is going to mainly be about a boyfriend but then isn’t. This book was a real treat!

Maya starts the book out as one of those women who has lost her own identity and just kind of follows her boyfriend around in his life. Not great! But it soon becomes apparent that she’s struggling like this due to mental illness (anxiety) and childhood trauma. When challenges begin to arise, Maya surprises by rising to them, and in delightful ways. I was pleasantly surprised by the trajectory of the book. I started it out thinking I was going to be reading a romance and by the end I felt like I read a story about self-actualization. It kind of reminded me of Talia Hibbert only without the steamy scenes. Plus, Maya is biracial. She’s half Indian and half white British.

The handling of mental illness in this book is really adept. There is a perfect combination of sympathy but also the realization that, even with a mental illness, you have to self-advocate and push yourself. I especially appreciated that getting set up with a therapist on Zoom (due to being in the Arctic) was featured. But do take the trigger warning that some traumatic events are briefly described that feature some of the darker sides of mental illness. They are a necessary part of the story, but they are there.

The settings of the Arctic and India were both wonderfully written. I truly felt like I was in both places – the good and the bad! I loved the juxtaposition of the two as well. The descriptions of the food were divine, leaving me hungry. Finally, I found myself rooting for Maya as she found footing in her career.

Overall, this was a fun reading trip to two interesting locations, featuring lots of delicious sounding food, artful and realistic depictions of mental illness, and a gal who’s about herself, rather than changing for a guy.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 400 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: NetGalley

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