The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy Reichert

coconutIt’s the premise of You’ve Got Mail + involves a coconut cake and lots of food descriptions-a winning combo for me! I really enjoyed this a lot. No, there was nothing wildly unexpected or surprising about the storyline, but I enjoy a good You’ve Got Mail scenario and I especially enjoyed how this one played out.
Lou is a chef with a fledgling restaurant that is on the cusp of success.  Al is newly arrived from England and is a restaurant critic (for an actual physical paper and writes often enough that it is a full time job that supports him and he goes into the office for a full day. I found all of that most surprising in the whole book!) Lou is a wonderful chef, but after discovering her revolting and smug fiance in a compromising position she’s nutty and cooks the worst meal of her life. Which of course is the night Al is dining at her restaurant. He skewers Louella’s and to say it was bad for business would be an understatement. They meet, they hit it off, and due to a “let’s never talk about work” agreement, each never knows the truth about how they are connected. Until of course it all comes crashing down, as it always does. But meanwhile… the two get to know each other as Lou shows Al around all her cherished favorite spots in Milwaukee, her beloved hometown.  And she does such a good job of it, that she made me want to go visit. And eat at every place she describes. I mean, it just sounds awesome.  And the food descriptions! Sometimes food writing can be a bit too much, but for the most part all the food parts just made me want to eat whatever was being described and I liked how often food showed up in it.  I thought Al and Lou were also genuinely nice people (even if they are fictional) and very likable. I also really liked the timeline of this book. Lou and Al may have hit it off right away, but their relationship develops over many months, and that just seemed more realistic that many romances. Clearly this would make a WONDERFUL movie and rights have probably already been snapped up. Perhaps Amy Adams as Lou?

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

saintI really like Sarah Dessen’s books, and if they all share a few too many of the same characteristics, I’m ok with that because I like her style of writing and I pretty much always like the story she creates.
So in this latest book we have Sydney as the main character. Her family set up is that they are wealthy and her mom is a micro-manager who expects a lot of achievement out of her kids and will do whatever it takes to make that happen.  Her older brother Peyton has always been a charmer, very charismatic, very popular. Sydney very much was in his shadow. And then continued to be in his shadow when he got attention for all the wrong reasons, ultimately landing in prison.  I found this angle of the story fascinating and new to me (I hate stories-movies, tv, books-set in prison, but this is different.) What must it be like to have a sibling/child commit an act that causes tragedy, grief, and guilt and results in prison? Sydney is the only one who struggles with what her brother did and the burden of carrying that guilt is immense. Fortunately, she meets [insert trope here] a quirky loving family who warmly accept her and provide her with not only a really good girlfriend, but also a handsome brother to the friend who Sydney can fall for. I have to admit, though, that just like Sydney I was charmed by the family as well. Especially because her own parents were sorely lacking by then.  I really had issue with what a shitty mom her mother was being. Unreasonable, driven, blind to her daughter’s situation.  I felt disappointed in Sydney that she didn’t say “hey! Quit it or I will turn out like Peyton!” Particularly because of how Sydney’s parents ignored how incredibly creepy Peyton’s weird friend, Ames was. To the point that I felt like they were setting her up to be raped and honestly, how guilty would her mom feel then?!
Nonetheless, I really enjoyed this story, the charming and quirky friends, and how Peyton and Sydney struggle to find honesty and healing.

The Doomsday Book By Connie Willis

doomsdayThis was a re-read for me,and one that was a long time coming. I probably first read this back in college and have been fondly remembering and referring to it ever since! I love time travel stories, and especially enjoy Willis’s version of time travel-set in Oxford, it’s for academics and historians.As usual with Willis the history in this story is impeccably researched and lavishly detailed. It’s easy to imagine her sitting in the Bodleian Library poring over prime sources and ancient original documents, to make sure that everything-village names, distances between villages, geography, speech patterns, etc.-are authentic and accurate.
Kivrin is an eager historian at the University ready to take her first trip to the Middle Ages, a trip her informal mentor thinks is ill-advised and dangerous. She’s confident that since her destination is before the plague is known to have arrived she’ll be fine. Once she goes through, though, things go wrong in both times and you find yourself quite caught up in the mysteries and race against time. The parallel plague stories are heartbreakingly similar, something I either didn’t remember or possibly didn’t even notice the first time I read this?
I was pleased to find that it had been so long since I read this that I didn’t remember the ending! There were bits and pieces that did come back to me as I read though. (One detail my mom and I never forgot is that they wanted to cauterize Kivrin’s nostrils, or inside I guess, thinking the odor of the Middle Ages would be too intense for a modern person.)This was every bit as wonderful as I remembered and I shall continue to recommend it and think well of it for another twenty years!

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (almost) by Felicia Day

dayIn this book Day talks a lot about being “situationally famous”-that at certain places and among certain crowds she is hugely famous, but anyone out of that setting just doesn’t know who she is. So as you read this entry you either know who she is, or don’t. In a nutshell, Day is an actress/writer/producer best known for creating (and starring in) the web series The Guild, and also co-starred in Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog (a Joss Whedon production), and then she headed up a big YouTube channel called Geek & Sundry. She’s known for being a big part of the gaming/geek world and HUGE in the Twitter world.  Somehow I never looked at a single thing on Geek & Sundry and I kind of hate Twitter so I miss out on her there, but I was a fan of The Guild and Dr. Horrible. She runs with the Wil Wheaton/Joss Whedon crowd (and in the last season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was one of the new slayers!) And add to that list of things she does, talented writer. Because this was a super enjoyable, engaging, funny book. I hesitate to say memoir, that term doesn’t seem right, though it is about her and it is in the Biography section, so there you have it.

So yes, it is a memoir in that Day recounts growing up as a weird homeschooled kid and her rise to fame. But what I think makes this good and enjoyable for all, is that she tells the stories and anecdotes as a way to embrace her differences and show how being weird and different is totally ok and makes you who you are. I’m kind of in total awe of her now after learning that in addition to all the stuff I already knew about her, it turns out she’s super smart and a violin prodigy as well. She went to college at 16 and ended with a 4.0. So she’s brilliant and funny, but you get the feeling that in real life she wouldn’t be intimidating but could be your friend. Although maybe not, because you also find out that she’s pretty neurotic and her drive to succeed led to some pretty serious depression and mental health problems.

I loved finding out how The Guild came about and how it was created. Fascinating details! The book ends on a bit of a downer when she talks about #GamerGate, a terrible phenomenon that I hadn’t even been aware of happening, but makes you lose your faith in people.

So, would you enjoy this book if you are not part of that world? Absolutely yes. It’s funny, thoughtful about the internet, and also an interesting look at a particular moment in time when web series were new and YouTube was also brand new.  And perhaps also if you enjoyed Mindy Kaling’s memoir Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me? or Tina Fey’s Bossypants, this would be up your alley as well.

Rapture Practice: A True Story about Growing Up Gay in an Evangelical Family by Aaron Hartzler

raptureI admit that I began reading this with undisguised fascination for the inner rules and workings of an evangelical Christian family. But it really ended up being more than that. Hartzler is a good writer and manages to convey his genuine love and affection for his family, all while beginning to question the very tenets of his faith. He is also gay, something he is slowly realizing (though never comes out and acknowledges during the book.) I did find myself fascinated and horrified by his parents’ strict rules and thought it was pretty amazing that raised as he was he was able to question the logic of the actions of God (for example, if everything is preordained, why would God bother to create a world that would require the bloody sacrifice of his son? and, best of all, if his parents felt he was damaging his soul by listening to an Amy Grant cd, how could it be that serial killer Ted Bundy could accept Jesus before being put to death and get into the same heaven?)
Well written, but it definitely left me wanting more (something he acknowledges in the afterword. Though I will add a different question I want answered-did he remain friends with Bradley?)

Making Your Mind Up by Jill Mansell

makingI really enjoyed this a lot-a nice long book, nothing too strenuous or worrisome, lots of good cheeky fun-just like I like a British rom com. Speaking critically though, I found it bizarre that there was a second story (I wouldn’t even call it a subplot) that was never tied in to the main story. It was strange-as if the author wanted to tell this other story but it wasn’t big enough for its own book so she just stuck it in there and then for one page had the the main character of that story and the main character of the main story show they were friends by hanging out together. I also found it unusual (not necessarily bad) that a main event, anticipated, happens, and there is quite a lot more of the story to go. Over the top characters, of course, but like I said, I really enjoyed this and I kind of liked how long and rambling it was.

I am Princess X by Cherie Priest

Remember how on my birthday I responded to every Facebook birthday wish with a book recommendation? I was so tickled this summer when one of my librarian friends said she liked the idea so much that she did the same thing on her birthday! And this is the book she recommended to me.

princessxI LOVED this. Some graphic novel pages thrown in, a mystery [two girls create Princess X in story and pictures, one girl dies, the other one doesn’t believe it, and a few years later she sees Princess X pasted up all over the city), and a wild story. I loved how it came together and the girls’ friendship. Isn’t it convenient, though, how often in fiction (books or tv or movies) some teenager is always an amazing hacker? Have you ever known one in real life? I haven’t, but the world of fiction is lousy with these geniuses. I couldn’t wait to find out what happened and was super caught up in it. Terrific story.