The Holiday Swap by Maggie Knox

It’s well past Christmas but this only just came in for me at the library and I had nothing else to read, so… And you know what? It was still delightful to read about Christmassy things and it’s still winter and snowy, so that’s nice. This book was completely ridiculous and predictable and I loved it.

Identical twin sisters, both incredible bakers, one on a tv show when in their hometown at their family’s much loved bakery. The town, Starlight Peak, might as well be Stars Hollow. I mean, town square with gazebo and twinkly lights and everyone knows each other and it’s so small that their bakery just gives every family a free loaf of their special holiday bread on Christmas Eve? Unrealistically charming. After a head injury the twins swap places and of course both find a wake up call to the life she wants, as well as love.

Perfect light holiday fare. And added bonus if you enjoy food or baking or food tv shows, because there are many details of the delicious foods they all bake. Very enjoyable.

French Braid by Anne Tyler

A new Anne Tyler! I was pretty giddy about this. The most recent book of hers felt like a tease-it was good Tyler writing, but somewhat short and unsatisfying. I’m pleased to say, this book was the real Anne Tyler deal. A multigenerational story, slightly dysfunctional family, of course set in Baltimore. Her writing was as good as ever and I wish I could share some specific sentences, but I can’t. In part because I read this on my Kindle (and don’t know how to use any note taking features of it.) In fact, because I read it on the kindle and couldn’t flip through pages I had a bit of a mishap. I read the first chapter and liked it very much, but then it was several days before I could pick it up again. I didn’t remember names or dates from the first chapter, so wasn’t quite sure how it connected to the story I started reading in chapter 2. I ended up reading chapter 1 again after I finished the book, which was kind of neat. Also, knowing nothing going in the entire story and timeline were just a total surprise to me.
One part reminded me so much of Ladder of Years-a woman creating a spare space outside her family home, distancing herself from them (which makes it seem like I yearn for that and I do not.)
Tempting to say “what a bunch of weirdos” about the characters, but they are not terrible people. I loved seeing their quirks (and yes, some frankly weird behavior) and just being swept up in this family story. I think what’s interesting about her books is that there really aren’t any huge exciting plot moments or suspense, I just love her way with words and characterization.

Light Years from Home by Mike Chen

I really like Mike Chen’s books and was really excited to be able to read this via NetGalley. (thank you, Net Galley!)

In this one a family has been deeply affected by their son and father’s disappearance many years ago while on a camping trip. The father returned a couple days later, the son never did. The father maintained they were taken by aliens. The one daughter and mother didn’t believe that at all, but the other daughter has made a career out of tracking potential alien encounters. Because of all this the family has fractured. Now, years later, the son returns from outer space where he’s some kind of amazing alien warrior. Mind blowing! Btw, none of this is a spoiler, it’s all told on the summary and first page. 

So here’s the thing–I did not like this nearly as much as any of his other books. But in reading the author’s afterward I’d have to say my lukewarm response is not due to his writing or anything, just that I didn’t love what this was all about. In the afterward he explains that he very deliberately was writing a story about a family and he definitely achieved that. It’s just that he gives you a taste of what the abducted guy’s life has been like fighting in a big space battle with incredible technology, and that was what I wanted to read more about. I became tired very quickly of the bitchy eldest sister (but who could blamer her?) and her relationship with the younger sister. 

So, while it was well written, it just wasn’t the story I wanted.

*I will say, re: very good writing, having only read the summary and no other reviews, I got to a point in the story where I thought maybe the story was going to be entirely different than I thought (trying not to give anything away here) and Chen had me wonderfully confused and invested in the outcome. 

 

In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren

This was totally delightful-like a Hallmark Christmas movie. In fact, I’d bet it’s already being turned into a movie. If you like snowy cabins and Christmas traditions and a little romance this book is for you. Best of all, it has a time loop (Groundhog Day) premise. I found out about this from an IG friend who said she liked it a lot, but wished there were more of the repeated days and I agree with that.

Maelyn’s family has spent every Christmas at an idyllic cabin in Utah with her parents’ college friends. This tight group has grown up together and though they are family Maelyn has long had a crush on one of the sons. Now they are in their 20s. This Christmas ends terribly-she hooks up with the brother of the guy she really likes and she finds out the cabin is being sold. She desperately wishes for things to change and poof! she wakes up at the start of the trip.

Pour yourself some hot chocolate and stir it up with a candy cane and get cozy on the couch with this nice easy holiday read.

The No-Show by Beth O’Leary

Read 10/30/21

Thank you NetGalley for the prepub!

I loved the Flatmate and the Switch and was really excited when The Road Trip came in for me at the library. I started it and just read it somewhat half heartedly. I couldn’t get into it, which was really disappointing. Then I saw that there was a new O’Leary coming out in the spring and I could get this copy. I’m delighted to report that The Road Trip must have just not clicked with me, not that she’s suddenly not writing great, because I was immediately hooked by the No Show and I LOVED it.

I will say that one thing that was very fun for me was that I had not read a single thing about this-not a Goodreads description, ad, or other review. I had no idea what was going on and I liked that. I can say this: It’s about 3 women in love with the same man, and he seems like quite a catch (maybe.) (That is clear from the get go.)

This feels like a more ambitious book than her other novels and I think she succeeds.

The Incredible Winston Browne by Sean Dietrich

Read 10/22/21

Absolutely wonderful. It was like The Last Days of Summer + Field of Dreams + A Man Called Ove (with a splash of a fascinating religious cult for a little suspense.)

I really loved everything about this. It was super touching. Winston Browne is the sheriff of a very small town in Florida. It’s modern enough that women could (though don’t unless they want to shock people) wear pants, but also close enough to WWII that the adult characters have served in the war. So, it’s the early 50s in a very rural very small town. Kind of Mayberry like. And they all love baseball and the Brooklyn Dodgers and Winston doesn’t have much policing to do, he’s more like a kindly father to all.Alas, (not a spoiler, it’s in the blurg) he’s dying. It’s kind of nutty that everyone is sad he’s clearly dying of lung cancer, but they all smoke like crazy. Um…connection? Anyway, there’s love and new life and a runaway child from a weird cult and Jackie Robinson and Mark Twain and oh it’s just wonderful.

The Guncle by Stephen Rowley

Read 9/30/21

This book got so much buzz it was almost a turn off, but honestly it was terrific. The only thing I didn’t like about it was the title, which I found stupid, because I find Guncle a stupid term. I went into this thinking it would just be a fluffy fun story, and while it was certainly fun and made me laugh out loud, it really had a lot more going on. The gay uncle in question, Patrick, is a bit of a reclusive star, once famous on tv, now basically in hiding in Palm Springs due to a truly sad tragedy. Meanwhile his brother has a tragedy as well-losing his wife (coincidentally a bff of Patrick’s) and entering rehab for a drug problem. Patrick is the unlikely person chosen to care for his two young children. I liked it that right up front Patrick was skeptical of them being some kind of tv movie cute plot of the cute kids breaking down his cold heart or whatever. Because of course, that’s sort of what is happening, but in a very natural, fun, and sensitive way. All the characters-the adults and children-have a ton of grief to process and how they do is thoughtful and kind and believable. I really enjoyed this and also shout out to caftan life.

Band of Sisters by Lauren Willig

Read August 22 2021

Talk about being behind in writing my reviews! I read this at the end of the summer and now it’s November. Fortunately, I liked this book so much, have since recommended it to others, and it made such an impression on me that it will be easy to recall and write about.

This is some solid historical fiction all about the Smith college alumni who formed a group to go aid French villages in WWI. There is an excellent afterword which explains what was true, what was made up, and the research the author did. I did also visit her website to look the historical maps of the area to better visualize what was going on. This was all equally as fascinating as the fictional story.
The story is told from different points of views, including the one girl who has always felt a bit of an imposter, coming from a poorer family. What was especially interesting to me was that these women were no 18 year olds-they’d been graduated for a while. Also, the socialite women who didn’t have paid jobs but worked very hard basically in social services in the tenements, tending to poor immigrants, were total heroes and then used that “overlooked women’s work” when they were in France. It was also interesting just how much hard work they all did. Their job was to go help villages that had been destroyed by the Germans. As a reader in 2021, I kept thinking, “but…but…I know the war isn’t over yet and it’s really too soon to rebuild because I’m pretty sure it’s all going to be destroyed again.” But they don’t know that! And they worked so hard to help everyone plant crops, build shelters, find food, and have services. Despite the sadness that comes with war stories, this managed to not be a depressing story. I thought it was great and filled with historical detail.

Very Sincerely Yours by Kerry Winfrey

Read: Late September 2021

Absolutely Charming. Vintage toy store + woman who is single after a hilariously terrible relationship + a really quirky smart kid + an absolutely kind man who all he wants to do is make puppets that help children like a 2020 Mr. Rogers. (“To invite the comparison would be disrespectful” he says of someone suggesting he dress like Fred for Halloween.) It sounds silly, but I just really loved that the main characters were just genuinely NICE people. Drama/conflict really came from outside sources and even that was mild. A delightful romance as comforting as Mr. Fred Rogers himself.

Mercy Street by Jennifer Haigh

Read 9/25/21

I really like Haigh’s writing and was thrilled to be able to read this on my Kindle as an advance reading copy from NetGalley. Thank you, NG!

I had not read any summaries or reviews prior to picking this up so I went in totally blind, which added a layer of suspense to what I felt was already a mildly suspenseful book. If not suspenseful, then definitely a book where I so wanted to know what would happen next and really had a hard time putting it down.

Mercy Street is a women’s health clinic in Boston and Claudia has worked there a long time. She is very familiar with the die hard abortion protestors. She is the main character, but the story is also told from the p.o.v. of a few other people who are connected to Claudia. I love when authors show you how characters are connected in ways that maybe even the characters don’t know. In this case there’s Claudia’s pot dealer, who seems very cool and amiable, even if his living conditions and career aren’t great choices. And there’s also a protestor as well as a total wackadoo guy who seems ready to unleash violence everywhere. I believe this character has a tie in to Baker Towers, which I loved. Will these characters all meet up? Will they see the connections? Will the violence unfold? Those were the questions that made me want to keep reading quickly, but, as in her other books, Haigh’s writing made me want to read slowly, savoring the descriptions and insights.
I would like everyone in Texas to read this book. In fact, I would like everyone to read this book, especially those who believe it’s ok to try to make decisions about other women’s healthcare. This was marvelously and honestly written.