The Food Explorer: The True Adventures of the Globe-Trotting Botanist Who Transformed What America Eats by Daniel Stone – Review

Cover- The Food Explorer

Published: February 20, 2018

Publisher: Dutton Books

Series: Stand alone

Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography

Pages: 397 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

Synopsis:

The true adventures of David Fairchild, a late-nineteenth-century food explorer who traveled the globe and introduced diverse crops like avocados, mangoes, seedless grapes–and thousands more–to the American plate.

In the nineteenth century, American meals were about subsistence, not enjoyment. But as a new century approached, appetites broadened, and David Fairchild, a young botanist with an insatiable lust to explore and experience the world, set out in search of foods that would enrich the American farmer and enchant the American eater.

Kale from Croatia, mangoes from India, and hops from Bavaria. Peaches from China, avocados from Chile, and pomegranates from Malta. Fairchild’s finds weren’t just limited to food: From Egypt he sent back a variety of cotton that revolutionized an industry, and via Japan he introduced the cherry blossom tree, forever brightening America’s capital. Along the way, he was arrested, caught diseases, and bargained with island tribes. But his culinary ambition came during a formative era, and through him, America transformed into the most diverse food system ever created.


LOOK AT ME, I’M READING NON-FICTION! I picked up a couple food-related non-fiction books during an Audible sale last month and I was pretty excited to read this one. This is the story of David Fairchild, a young up and coming botanist that went to travel the world searching for plants to send back to the United States. This man lived an absolutely fascinating life and his travels resulted in SO MANY DELICIOUS FOODS being popularized in the United States.

I can’t imagine how bland the culinary arts were before the introduction and hybridization of many of the foods mentioned in this book. While the food is fascinating, Fairchild’s travels, acquaintances, and the political nightmare of the USDA were the real showstoppers. Originally from Kansas, Fairchild moved to the east coast to live with family and hopefully start a successful career. He ends up crossing the Atlantic, meeting the wealthy Barbour Lathrop, and beginning his career of plant piracy (it wasn’t always theft). Fairchild and Lathrop became fast friends and ended up travelling together for years, circumnavigating the globe several times and sending back thousands upon thousands of plants to the Department of Agriculture. The USDA would cultivate the plants and distribute them to farmers across the country in hopes of having successful money-making crops. Mangos, avocados, dates, new varieties of cotton, and superior hops from around the world drastically changed agriculture and diet in the US.

This was a fascinating (if not always thrilling) book documenting Fairchild’s work and I’m really glad I picked it up. I honestly couldn’t stand Barbour Lathrop for much of the book because good grief, he was bossy and self-centered. As Fairchild grew more confident during his travels and experiences the interactions between the two became more of a peer to peer thing rather than a student and mentor relationship. Fairchild eventually has mentees of his own and they were even more adventurous than he was. One guy spent years travelling around China during severe political unrest and he was robbed and beaten on SO many occasions. Wild times, man, wild times.

If you’re looking for an interesting non-fiction book to check and you like botany/science/knowing where your food comes from or are just interested in American history, you may want to check this out. The audiobook was a solid performance and helped to maintain my attention, whereas I think as a print book this may have been a little less attention grabbing.

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Seven Blades in Black by Sam Sykes – Review

Cover- Seven Blades in Black

Published: April 9, 2019

Publisher: Orbit Books

Series: The Grave of Empires #1

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 608 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

Sam Sykes returns with a new fantasy that introduces to an unforgettable outcast magician caught between two warring empires.

Among humans, none have power like mages. And among mages, none have will like Sal the Cacophony. Once revered, now vagrant, she walks a wasteland scarred by generations of magical warfare. The Scar, a land torn between powerful empires, is where rogue mages go to disappear, disgraced soldiers go to die and Sal went with a blade, a gun and a list of names she intended to use both on. But vengeance is a flame swift extinguished. Betrayed by those she trusted most, her magic torn from her and awaiting execution, Sal the Cacophony has one last tale to tell before they take her head. All she has left is her name, her story and the weapon she used to carved both.

Vengeance is its own reward.


If you’re looking for a fantasy vengeance story with a dash of Clint Eastwood thrown in, this might just be the book you’re looking for. This is a gritty world both literally and figuratively and the characters are a wild and dangerous bunch. I was intrigued by the synopsis, appalled by the cover, and remain curious about Sam Sykes’s other books so overall, I have a good impression.

Sal the Cacophony is a vagrant mage and bounty hunter. She takes on jobs that involve killing other vagrant mages hailing from the empire she used to call home and trust me, these are the most dangerous of jobs. Stripped of her magic and out for revenge, Sal totes her trusty sword named Jeff (not kidding) and the Cacophony, a massive and ancient gun with a mind of its own. Sal has a list of names, those who wronged her most directly, and she has her sights set on ridding the world of them at any cost… thus is the gist of this tale.

Sal is a mouthy, angry woman narrating the path that led her to be sitting in a cell at the very beginning of the story. You end up wondering things like, did she get her vengeance? Is she giving up? Is this where the story ends, with a firing squad?  Well, if I answered any of those it would spoil all the joy of reading a 600 page book. WORK YOUR WAY THROUGH THAT TOME AND GET THOSE ANSWERS! I liked Sal well enough, though her flaws were frustrating at times. Liette was a masterpiece and in my opinion her talents were a far sight more interesting than those of the traditional mages. Don’t get me wrong, the mages were pretty darn cool as well – the whole trade of power was an excellent touch, but this bookish yet tough woman makes excellent explosives and uses freaky healing potions made out of dead mage dust. WAYYYY COOLER. Did I mention the birds? Sal basically rides a dirty, furious, meat eating chocobo.

There is so much epic darkness from this book and I could see this working as a dark fantasy (with a dash of western) movie. Saloon doors slamming open, Sal stalking in with her luck scarf and the Cacophony whispering for blood at her hip…. Yeah I can see that working. Do yourself a favor and check this out.

The Naturalist by Andrew Mayne – Review

Cover- The Naturalist

Published: October 1, 2017

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Series: The Naturalist #1

Genre: Mystery

Pages: 380 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

Synopsis:

Professor Theo Cray is trained to see patterns where others see chaos. So when mutilated bodies found deep in the Montana woods leave the cops searching blindly for clues, Theo sees something they missed. Something unnatural. Something only he can stop.

As a computational biologist, Theo is more familiar with digital code and microbes than the dark arts of forensic sleuthing. But a field trip to Montana suddenly lands him in the middle of an investigation into the bloody killing of one of his former students. As more details, and bodies, come to light, the local cops determine that the killer is either a grizzly gone rogue… or Theo himself. Racing to stay one step ahead of the police, Theo must use his scientific acumen to uncover the killer. Will he be able to become as cunning as the predator he hunts—before he becomes its prey?


I SPENT SO LONG GOING “GET A LAWYER IDIOT AND STOP TALKING” throughout the entire book and the whole thing was rather harrowing and I just couldn’t stop listening, so that was definitely a plus. This was also a delightful departure from my usual fantasy or scifi reads. I find it refreshing to stray into different genres from time to time and always enjoy these new finds.

Theo Cray is a computational biologist working on research in Montana, minding his own business when he gets pulled into a murder investigation as a prime suspect. A former student of his, one Juniper Parsons, was found dead in the woods and while Theo is initially suspected it turns out to have been an unfortunate bear attack. OR WAS IT? Theo has reason to believe that there’s actually a sadistic and clever serial killer in the area who’s been active for decades and he’s determined to prove that Juniper’s death was not the work of a killer grizzly.

This was an intense story and man, Theo Cray stressed me out. He was CONSTANTLY on the brink of getting himself arrested or looking like a lunatic in front of important people. Heck, I thought he was crazy for a while myself. Theo and even the side characters were really well written. Everything about them was plausible, from motive to character flaws to dialogue.

Like I said, this was a thrilling read and I liked the characters and the overall mystery quite a lot. I plan on continuing on with the series this year though perhaps not quite immediately. I admit, I was almost expecting a supernatural element to this book because the synopsis made it sound as if the murderer could have been a not entirely human monster. Rest assured it was not supernatural, just a good old fashioned murder thriller.

Soulkeeper by David Dalglish – Review

Cover- Soulkeeper

Published: March 19, 2019

Publisher: Orbit Books

Series: The Keepers #1

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 704 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

In the first book of USA Today bestseller David Dalglish’s epic fantasy trilogy, a warrior priest must answer the call and protect his world from monsters, when ancient magic suddenly returns to his land.

Devin Eveson is a Soulkeeper, travelling through remote villages as a preacher and healer. But when a dragon awakens – the size of a mountain and leaving great chasms in its wake – the veil is torn, flooding the land with ancient magic and forgotten races. Now Devin must set aside his words of peace and accept his new role: slayer of monsters and protector of the human race.

But not all the creatures that have re-awakened mean humanity harm. And as Devin slowly befriends people of these new races, his discomfort in his role grows. But Soulkeepers must slay without mercy. And even sympathisers risk their wrath.


I took this absolute chonk of a book on vacation with me a few weeks back and read it in TWO DAYS. It’s over 700 pages and I was hooked the whole duration of the book. I was thoroughly taken with the story, the characters, and the idea of a world where magical creatures have suddenly reemerged long after they had become mere myth.

Devin Eveson is a soulkeeper, essentially a travelling preacher and healer that also sort of shoos souls from the deceased so that they may be burned rather than buried. When a sudden change washes through the world (somewhat literally in places), Devin is in a remote mountain village. His location affords him an up close and rather horrifying encounter with the newly returned magic and he swiftly travels to the town where his borther-in-law resides to see if he survived. They two then travel to the main city, where things have changed just as drastically, though perhaps not as obviously at first. Some humans have acquired powers of healing and elemental control and a dragon the size of a mountain – one that I actually imagined as a mountain sized hermit crab – has parked itself outside the city gates. A green-clad murderer is stalking the streets and turning his victims into ghastly “art” and monstrous owls hunt the streets at night. This book was quite the amalgam of supernatural entities and plot threads.

There were quite a few POVs in this book, the majority of which I greatly enjoyed. I thought some of the dialogue was a little cheesy and things felt a bit “extra” or over the top at times, which is really saying something because this is a fantasy book and that practically guarantees something a teensy bit ridiculous. There was so much going on in this book that it was a bit overwhelming, though not difficult to keep up with if that makes any sense. I was pretty invested in this book by the end and I’ll definitely be reading the next one, meaning this was good enough for the time investment to be worth it!

Overall, this was a fun book that went extra heavy on the fantastical creatures, though their sudden presence was justified well. It wasn’t a perfect read for me though it was a solid one and honestly lived up appropriately to my expectations. For me this was a perfect vacation read – not too serious and one that could easily keep me occupied without my attention wandering at all!

Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie – Review

Cover- Before They Are Hanged

Published: September 8, 2015

Publisher: Orbit

Series: The First Law #2

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 515 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

Synopsis:

Superior Glokta has a problem. How do you defend a city surrounded by enemies and riddled with traitors, when your allies can by no means be trusted, and your predecessor vanished without a trace? It’s enough to make a torturer want to run – if he could even walk without a stick.

Northmen have spilled over the border of Angland and are spreading fire and death across the frozen country. Crown Prince Ladisla is poised to drive them back and win undying glory. There is only one problem – he commands the worst-armed, worst-trained, worst-led army in the world.

And Bayaz, the First of the Magi, is leading a party of bold adventurers on a perilous mission through the ruins of the past. The most hated woman in the South, the most feared man in the North, and the most selfish boy in the Union make a strange alliance, but a deadly one. They might even stand a chance of saving mankind from the Eaters. If they didn’t hate each other quite so much.

Ancient secrets will be uncovered. Bloody battles will be won and lost. Bitter enemies will be forgiven – but not before they are hanged.


Before They Are Hanged is like the grimdark interpretation of The Fellowship of the Ring, except they’re going to pick up a magical object instead of pitching it into a volcano. Oh, and instead of a band of likeminded, wholesome adventurers they all hate each other and have some pretty serious character flaws. With that said, I can’t say I was disappointed because it was a pretty great book and the travelling for ages is only a small part of the story.

Like I said, half our characters are on an Unexpected Journey and it’s filled with misery, rain, and violence with just a touch of redemption. Out of all of them, Logen is still the most pleasant and he goes into berserker rages, killing all those who cross him. In Dagoska our most beloved Sand dan Glokta is trying to uncover treasonous plots and keep the Gurkish out of the city for as long as possible. To the north Colonel West is trying unsuccessfully to manage His Royal Highness and not get murdered by Bethod. Everything’s on the brink of crisis and it made it so hard to put the book down.

While the story and character arcs are overall quite good, I will say this suffered from middle book syndrome just a little. So long was spent travelling across the stupid continent to find Bayaz’s magical object that I got a little bored with those POV chapters from time to time. There was enough action to keep it from being a total slog, but it was much slower than either Glokta or West/the Northmen chapters. Once again I’m surprised at how much I loved Glokta’s POV. He’s cynical and hilarious – without his internal commentary on life the book (and his character) would be less.

Before They Are Hanged was an excellent read/listen and if you like audiobooks I would highly recommend that format as Steven Pacey’s narration is on point. As always. I’m currently finishing up Last Argument of Kings and should have a review of that up in a couple weeks!

The Beast’s Heart by Leife Shallcross – Review

Cover- The Beast's Heart

Published: February 12, 2019

Publisher: Berkley

Series: Stand alone

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 416 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

A sumptuously magical, brand new take on a tale as old as time—read the Beast’s side of the story at long last.

I am neither monster nor man—yet I am both.

I am the Beast.

The day I was cursed to this wretched existence was the day I was saved—although it did not feel so at the time.

My redemption sprung from contemptible roots; I am not proud of what I did the day her father happened upon my crumbling, isolated chateau. But if loneliness breeds desperation then I was desperate indeed, and I did what I felt I must. My shameful behaviour was unjustly rewarded.

My Isabeau. She opened my eyes, my mind and my heart; she taught me how to be human again.

And now I might lose her forever.


The whole fairytale retelling subgenre has kind of calmed down as of late which I’m glad of- there were just too many slapped together, highly derivative YA books being released. The Beast’s Heart was a mature and well executed book that brought me great delight. I enjoyed it so much that once I was finished I passed it along to my mom and told her to check it out as well.

Finally, a Beauty and the Beast retelling where the Beast is the main POV and the female character isn’t an ultra-talented huntress, mistress of the bow, and/or doesn’t instantly fall in love with the Beast. I mean, who would fall in love with a bear-dog-man who’s holding you hostage? That would be like a grotesque amalgamation of Stockholm syndrome and Pavlov’s experiments (totally making that up, Pavlov was more of conditioning to stimuli kind of guy rather than just the dogs). This story was quite a bit better than that. The Beast saves a traveler in his woods and demands he bring his youngest daughter to meet him as payment or he will be killed. Isabeau, the aforementioned daughter, goes to see the Beast in order to save her father and sisters from further misfortune. She is wary of the Beast, but believes he will not hurt her and she agrees to stay for one year. They become more comfortable with one another, though they each keep secrets and eventually the Beast is told by a fairy that he will be freed from his curse if he can convince Isabeau to marry him. This is a very traditional retelling of the story and I greatly enjoyed it.

I can’t express how happy I was that Isabeau didn’t try to murder the Beast in his sleep or sneak out or decide she had the hots for a bear-dog-man she hardly knew. Isabeau hung out, played music, read book, and went for long walks in the gardens for days on end. I like the Beast’s perspective on all this and all the doubts and worries he had, especially once he found out she was the key to breaking his curse. Learning his history and how he ended up in such a state was also pretty cool. All of these things really did an excellent job of fleshing out his character. Just as interesting as the goings on at his forest manor were the lives of Isabeau’s sisters. They had to quickly adjust to life without her and in doing so, repaired their own lives.

Overall, this was a perfectly enjoyable book that would make for a perfect snowy day re-read in a year or so. This is a classic retelling that any fairytale lover should have on their shelves, especially since it has such lovely cover art.

The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie – Review

Cover- The Raven Tower

Published: February 26, 2019

Publisher: Orbit Books

Series: Untitled #1

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 432 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

Gods meddle in the fates of men, men play with the fates of gods, and a pretender must be cast down from the throne in this breathtaking first fantasy novel from Ann Leckie, New York Times bestselling author and winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke Awards.

For centuries, the kingdom of Iraden has been protected by the god known as the Raven. He watches over his territory from atop a tower in the powerful port of Vastai. His will is enacted through the Raven’s Lease, a human ruler chosen by the god himself. His magic is sustained via the blood sacrifice that every Lease must offer. And under the Raven’s watch, the city flourishes.

But the power of the Raven is weakening. A usurper has claimed the throne. The kingdom borders are tested by invaders who long for the prosperity that Vastai boasts. And they have made their own alliances with other gods.

It is into this unrest that the warrior Eolo–aide to Mawat, the true Lease–arrives. And in seeking to help Mawat reclaim his city, Eolo discovers that the Raven’s Tower holds a secret. Its foundations conceal a dark history that has been waiting to reveal itself…and to set in motion a chain of events that could destroy Iraden forever.


The Raven Tower stands out as one of the weirdest books I’ve read in awhile and in this case, it’s not a bad thing. For one thing, finding a book written in second person is not only rare, but also takes a second to get used to. And by second I mean at least 50 pages. It’s just weird, and it gets even weirder when you realize that a rock is narrating the story. Yep, a sentient ancient god-rock.

The aforementioned rock is narrating the how Eolo and Mawat come back to Vastai and find that Mawat’s position as Raven’s Lease (basically a sacrifice) has been taken by his uncle. While that story is unfolding, the rock god also tells the reader of its inception and slow journey to its current resting place. Honestly, that was just as interesting (if not more so) than the current events with Eolo and Mawat.

The whole concept of the gods building power through offerings – whether they be small tokens or human sacrifice isn’t exactly new, but the way it was present in The Raven Tower was so logical. Things were neat and orderly and followed a hierarchy. Now once you start looking at the human side of things, like the Raven’s Lease position, it makes you wonder why anyone would accept such a position if they have to die when the bird representation of the Raven dies. Aside from the obvious power and wealth aspects anyway.

Overall, this was a unique read and a fine foray into fantasy for Ann Leckie. I’ll definitely check out the next book in the series and I’d like to check out her scifi books as well.

Someone Like Me by M.R. Carey – Review

Woman wearing a red hoodie by a river

Published: November 6, 2018

Publisher: Orbit Books

Series: Stand alone

Genre: Horror, Thriller

Pages: 512 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

SHE LOOKS LIKE ME. SHE SOUNDS LIKE ME. NOW SHE’S TRYING TO TAKE MY PLACE.

Liz Kendall wouldn’t hurt a fly. She’s a gentle woman devoted to bringing up her kids in the right way, no matter how hard times get.

But there’s another side to Liz—one which is dark and malicious. A version of her who will do anything to get her way, no matter how extreme or violent.

And when this other side of her takes control, the consequences are devastating.

The only way Liz can save herself and her family is if she can find out where this new alter-ego has come from, and how she can stop it.


If you’re looking for a psychological thriller with a twisty bit of speculative fiction thrown in, you might just want to pick up Someone Like Me. M.R. Carey’s latest novel is on a different plane of existence from The Girl With All the Gifts, but it is no less thrilling and at times terrifying. This guy knows how to hit those obscure points of terror that absolutely freak me out – from the parasitic fungi zombie apocalypse to the evil spirit twin possession going on here.

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

Someone Like Me follows two main perspectives – that of Liz Kendall, a mother of two who has divorced from her abusive husband and Fran Watts, a teenage girl with psychological trauma from a kidnapping that occurred a decade or more prior. Both characters are extremely likable and I quickly began to sympathize with them. Liz is attacked by her ex-husband Mark and during the altercation it feels as if her body was being controlled by someone else – someone one much angrier and vengeful than she could ever be. About the same time, Fran has some disturbing issues of her own and they end up at the same doctor’s office to see the same psychologist. Thus we have the first moment Fran and Zach (Liz’s son) are actually aware of one another. The two become friends and their friendship ends up being rather important to the plot and thank goodness it remains mostly platonic! No sense in throwing in a pointless love story when it would be a distraction from all the other madness.

Fran’s portion of the story is primarily her dealing with the demons of her past. She was kidnapped as a young girl by a man who thought she was evil because she had something wrong with her shadow. Fran has coped with this for years and her imaginary friend, Lady Jinx (a cartoon fox knight) has helped and provided her solace. Liz’s part is a bit more dramatic, as she struggles with a few more dissociative episodes and finally realizes the situation is a bit more complicated than that. She’s essentially struggling with her evil twin Beth. Beth was killed by Mark in her world and somehow moved on and invaded Liz’s mind when Mark tried to choke her out and kill her. I hated Beth. SO MUCH. She was absolutely horrid and so selfish and as I read more and more I just kept thinking of all the mess she would leave behind for Liz to clean up (because I just knew Liz had to win in the end).

Someone Like Me was a great story that would make an excellent mini-series (HEY NETFLIX!) and makes for an equally entertaining audiobook. The added emotion of the narrator really takes this to the next level and prevents me from peeking ahead. I did find myself wishing the story would get on with it already from time to time, and I’ll be honest I’m not sure that it was really a pacing issue so much as it was an I’m impatient issue. I would totally recommend this and can’t wait to see what M.R. Carey has in store for readers next.

The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks – Review

cover-the-way-of-shadows

Published: October 1, 2008

Publisher: Orbit

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 645 (Mass Market)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

 

Synopsis:

From New York Times Bestselling author Brent Weeks…
For Durzo Blint, assassination is an art-and he is the city’s most accomplished artist.

For Azoth, survival is precarious. Something you never take for granted. As a guild rat, he’s grown up in the slums, and learned to judge people quickly – and to take risks. Risks like apprenticing himself to Durzo Blint.

But to be accepted, Azoth must turn his back on his old life and embrace a new identity and name. As Kylar Stern, he must learn to navigate the assassins’ world of dangerous politics and strange magics – and cultivate a flair for death.


In one of the recent Audible 3 for 2 sales I picked up the entire Night Angel trilogy by Brent Weeks because I discovered that I loved his book The Black Prism. The Way of Shadows is the first book in the Night Angel trilogy and follows Kylar Stern, the apprentice to the city’s best wetboy (magically talented assassin), as he grows up and into his role.

Azoth is a child of the streets and the gangs, and certain rather traumatizing events lead him to becoming the apprentice to Durzo Blint, a talented and cold killer. Durzo takes Kylar (formerly Azoth) under his wing and teaches him the necessary skills to take lives professionally- deception, disguise, herb lore, and blade work. Kylar masquerades a landless noble, befriending Logan Gyre, the new Lord of House Gyre. What I love is that the only false part of their friendship is Kylar’s true identity- he doesn’t use Logan because he genuinely likes him. I love books with a good solid friendship.

The plot of the book is pretty intense and spans over many years. Kylar is growing up and becoming a formidable wetboy, while the other characters like Logan, Durzo, and Elene are maturing in their own ways. Not that Durzo really needs to mature much since he’s a grown man, but he’s got his own special set of circumstances. The true beginning of the events that will carry on in the rest of the trilogy doesn’t begin until the latter third of the book. This book is a great set up and gives the reader time to really get to know the characters and develop some empathetic feelings towards them.

I will say that at first I DID NOT like the audio version of the book- I didn’t think the Paul Boehmer’s voice fit the characters well or conveyed enough emotion. I recommend checking out the audio sample before you commit to the audiobook version of the series, which I did not do (Shame on me, but they were on sale!). After I got into books 2 and 3 I wasn’t as bothered by the narration. Brent Weeks’ writing still managed to wring some serious emotion out of me (mostly gasps of horror), which I applaud him for. I love those shocking moments! I definitely think Weeks’ writing has matured since this series and find that his character building seems to have improved between the Night Angel trilogy and the Lightbringer series. I’ve already begun and will probably have finished the second book, Shadow’s Edge by the time this is posted!

Review- Don’t I Know You? by Marni Jackson

cover-dont-i-know-you

Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Published: September 27, 2016

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Genre: Fiction

Pages: 256 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

Synopsis:

A debut novel in stories that follows one woman’s life from age 16 to 60, and what happens when certain celebrities—Neil Young, Meryl Streep, John Updike, Taylor Swift, Karl Ove Knausgaard—start turning up in her private life, at the spa, in the middle of a break-up, even on the operating table.

Rose McEwan has lived her life out of the spotlight—daughter, wife, mother, ex-wife, journeyman writer trying to make ends meet. But even so, fame has come to her.

When she is 16, Rose’s parents send her to an arts school where a writing class with John Updike takes an extracurricular turn. After college she goes backpacking around the world with a boyfriend, and while their relationship implodes, she finds herself camping in a cave near the young, pre-famous Joni Mitchell. When she is back home waitressing, Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd show up and whisk her away for some synchronized swimming. Bob Dylan crashes her summer cottage and won’t buy groceries, but at least teaches her son how to play the guitar. During a trip to the Cannes Film Festival, where her husband’s film will premiere, Rose becomes convinced she is being stalked by Charlotte Rampling. Treating herself to a weekend at a spa after the publication of her first novel, Rose is befriended a little too quickly by Meryl Streep. Having failed in her marriage (Gwyneth Paltrow dispenses romantic and skin care advice) and as a thriller writer, she applies for a job writing ad copy but en route to the interview, Van Morrison hijacks her bus. And in the somehow totally plausible final chapter, Rose finds herself on a camping trip with Leonard Cohen, Taylor Swift, and Karl Ove Knausgaard.

Filled with spot-on social commentary, Jackson shows how the famous serve us in ways we don’t recognize. But, more importantly, she shows how the daily dramas of an ordinary woman’s life are as engrossing and poignant as any luminary tell-all. Unputdownable, deliciously fun, and incredibly thought provoking, Don’t I Know You? puts an unremarkable woman center stage, and shows how in the end, an ordinary life might be the most extraordinary one.


Very rarely I come across a book that inspires such wanderlust in me that I can barely keep from throwing necessities in a bag and rushing out the door, never to be seen again. Inexplicably, Don’t I Know You? was one of those  books. It’s not even a book that’s specifically about travelling, though there a few chapters that the character, Rose McEwan, spends abroad. Don’t I Know You? is strange- Rose McEwan is a writer with a number of relationship faux pas under her belt, but the curious thing is how celebrities just seem to show up throughout her life.

The celebrities aren’t specially designed fictional characters; they’re actual celebrities like Bob Dylan, Taylor Swift, Keith Richards, and Meryl Streep. Of course, they’ve been fictionalized for this story and the encounters certainly aren’t real, or based of anything real. The funny thing is that, for the most part these people just pop into Rose’s life in one interesting way or another, but they’re just so normal. They aren’t being red carpet superstars- Bob Dylan decides to take Rose’s air mattress for a paddle around the lake and becomes a house guest for an unacceptable length of time. Meryl Streep is her spa buddy. You can get the picture.

I liked the format of the book because each chapter was kind of a short story unto itself. The chapters follow the courses of Rose’s life, but we never get bogged down in one period for too long, and her boyfriends, husband, and children remain somewhat distant, like extras in a movie. I’ll be honest, Rose’s life made me really sad because it seemed like love was a failed endeavour for her. She had a moderately successful life, children that seemed distant, and a heck of a lot of stories to tell her friends but the overall tone was melancholy. The setting frequently changed- Canada, to France, to Greece, to perhaps somewhere in the US. The constant change kept me on my toes and never once did I get bored.

Don’t I Know You? was a great change in pace for me and a good little break from tons of Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Young Adult books. If anyone has recommendations for some good contemporary fiction, I would appreciate your suggestions! I look forward to adding some more things like this to my reading list, just for some novelty (pun not intended). This is definitely unlike anything I’ve ever read before and enjoyed it immensely. Huge thanks to Flatiron Books for sending this to me- it was a great surprise!