It’s time for my quarterly book round-up! Heading off on Spring Break this week? Pick up one of these reads before you go:
Gizelle’s Bucket List: My Life with a Very Large Dog by Lauren Fern Watt
When Lauren Fern Watt reached out and asked if I’d give her book a read, I took one look at the premise—a Tennessean-turned-New Yorker finding herself in the wiles of New York with a 160-pound companion, her English mastiff Gizelle, in tow—and immediately liked this girl. It turned out we had even more in common than initially met the eye, too. Our Nashville area roots aside, Lauren also graduated from the grand ol’ University of Tennessee with a communications degree and also went on Semester at Sea (though as a student, not staff). Upon graduation, she moved up to New York to launch a career in media, starting first at Gap corporate and then transitioning into the travel industry in a PR role (is this sounding even more familiar?). She also was struggling to come to terms with her mom’s addiction issues (something I’m also, unfortunately, all too acquainted with on a personal level).
The one constant through all those years is that Gizelle was by her side—until Lauren learned that her best friend had terminal bone cancer. Her solution? Create an epic list of adventures—from see snow on the beach to take a canoe ride together—that the pair would embark upon during Gizelle’s last months on Earth. While sad at the end, of course (grab a tissue), Lauren’s memoir is delightful, well-written, more upbeat than you might think and worth picking up as your next read, particularly if you like dogs, lived in New York, and/or have had a parent who has struggled with alcohol or drug abuse.
One day Ella hopes I’ll write a memoir about our lives together, but for now, I’ll cheer on Lauren’s and wait for it to release on the big screen (it’s already been optioned!). For those of you interested in reading my full interview with the debut author, you can check that out here in the Knox News Sentinel.
My rating: 4.5 out of 5
The Girl in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
I don’t know if I found this book engaging because it chronicles those in my profession—travel writers on a press trip in the middle of the sea off the coast of Norway—or because of the plot: A young journalist, Lo, on her first “big break” assignment who may or may not have an alcohol problem may (or may not) have witnessed a murder—just hours after they set sail for a week-long cruise on a small luxury liner. Whether or not she’s just plain crazy is one of the lingering questions as no one on the ship seems to have seen the missing girl ever; she appears to be someone Lo dreamed up entirely.
What follows is her trying to figure out the culprit through a haze of alcohol abuse as she attempts to not be the next victim. The writing was choppy in parts but overall, I liked the “whodunnit?” element to this novel. It’s an easy, fast read as you’ll likely want to get to the bottom of it, too, and won’t stop until you’ve found out who has blood on his or her (or their?) hands. If you liked The Girl on the Train or Gone Girl (lots of “girl” novels of late, are there not?), you’ll likely find this read entertaining, though bear in mind that the writing isn’t quite the same caliber as Gillian Flynn or Mary Kubica.
My rating: 3.5 out of 5
The Futures by Anna Pitoniak
Written by a book editor at Random House, The Futures chronicles a young twenty-something couple who meets at and graduates from Yale, before moving to Manhattan in the wake of the 2008 crash. Through family connections, WASP-born Julia lands a job with a non-profit through which she finds herself intertwined in a bit of a scandal, while Canadian outsider Evan has to work twice as hard to find himself embedded in the hedge fund world (and accordingly, a scandal, as well). Pitoniak knits together their lives in two opposing points-of-view as they fall in love, face hardships, and fall back out again (no spoiler alerts as to how it ends, though).
This coming-of-age novel was entertaining while also being a bit of an emotional roller coaster and even a bit hard to read at times; if you liked Three-Martini Lunch (recommended in my last book post), you’re guaranteed to like The Futures, too.
My rating: 4 out of 5
The Whole Town’s Talking by Fannie Flagg
I love me the crap out of some Fannie Flagg. I’ve read nearly every book she’s ever written—except, oddly enough, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe—and I drop everything else I’m reading when she publishes a new book. The Whole Town’s Talking is no different; part of the Elmwood Springs series—which spans different characters, locations and eras, all of which somehow link back to the tiny Missouri town—this is (allegedly) Flagg’s last novel to write. (She’s also said that before.) It begins in 1800s with the town being settled by Swedish immigrants who establish a dairy farm in Middle America and goes all the way through 2020, bringing in every character Flagg has ever written into an Elmwood Springs book and weaving them into an ongoing narrative that spans 150 years—from introduction to the time each enters the ground and finds his/her oldest, long-departed friends also residing in the plots up at Still Meadows (hence the name of the novel).
It’s adorable, it’s charming, it’s hilarious, and it’s touching—but if you haven’t read a previous Elmwood Springs book, do yourself a favor and start with Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!, followed by Standing in the Rainbow and Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven. While each can be read as a standalone, this was truly Flagg’s reward to her readers who have stuck with her all these decades and would be best enjoyed with a little context to who these characters are exactly. Separate from the Elmwood series—though the heroine makes an appearance in The Whole Town’s Talking—and one of my favorite books of the past decade is The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion.
My rating: 4.5 out of 5