Jane of Austin by Hillary Manton Lodge

41YfuWko3xL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Jane of Austin: A Novel of Sweet Tea and Sensibility
Hillary Manton Lodge

Just a few years after their father’s business scandal shatters their lives, Jane and Celia Woodward find themselves forced out of their San Francisco tea shop. The last thing Jane wants is to leave their beloved shop on Valencia Street, but when Celia insists on a move to Austin, Texas, the sisters pack up their kid sister Margot and Jane’s tea plants, determined to start over yet again.

But life in Austin isn’t all sweet tea and breakfast tacos. Their unusual living situation is challenging and unspoken words begin to fester between Jane and Celia. When Jane meets and falls for up-and-coming musician Sean Willis, the chasm grows deeper.

While Sean seems to charm everyone in his path, one person is immune – retired Marine Captain Callum Beckett. Callum never meant to leave the military, but the twin losses of his father and his left leg have returned him to the place he least expected—Texas.

In this modern spin on the Austen classic, Sense and Sensibility, the Woodward sisters must contend with new ingredients in unfamiliar kitchens, a dash of heartbreak, and the fragile hope that maybe home isn’t so far away.

Look, I love Sense and Sensibility. It is my favorite of Jane Austen’s novels (Lady Susan and P&P come next). I am always going to give any adaptation or modernization a little bit of extra scrutiny.

I did enjoy that the characters weren’t 100% straight reproductions from the original. I like that the dad is still alive and basically a disaster/neglectful human and that the mother being dead means we don’t have to deal with a needlessly hand-wringing older woman who can’t adapt. That change was needed to bring it to the 21st century or else it would be incredibly annoying. There are too many social changes that have happened to keep that status quo.

First person POV is always going to be hard sell for me, though I do like that it bounced between Jane (the Marianne) and Captain Callum Beckett (the Col Brandon). That helped. There were some details that left me rolling my eyes so hard they nearly popped out of my head. Overall it was a solid, fluffy book that made for a quick read. Would I read it again? Probably never. But that’s just because I can go for the original.


Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

015AF4D2-C734-489B-9469-23F38D429FCCUniversal Harvester
John Darnielle

Life in a small town takes a dark turn when mysterious footage begins appearing on VHS cassettes at the local Video Hut

Jeremy works at the counter of Video Hut in Nevada, Iowa. It’s a small town—the first “a” in the name is pronounced ay—smack in the center of the state. This is the late 1990s, pre-DVD, and the Hollywood Video in Ames poses an existential threat to Video Hut. But there are regular customers, a predictable rush in the late afternoon. It’s good enough for Jeremy: It’s a job; it’s quiet and regular; he gets to watch movies; he likes the owner, Sarah Jane; it gets him out of the house, where he and his dad try to avoid missing Mom, who died six years ago in a car wreck.

But when Stephanie Parsons, a local schoolteacher, comes in to return her copy of Targets, starring Boris Karloff—an old movie, one Jeremy himself had ordered for the store—she has an odd complaint: “There’s something on it,” she says, but doesn’t elaborate. Two days later, Lindsey Redinius brings back She’s All That, a new release, and complains that there’s something wrong with it: “There’s another movie on this tape.”

So Jeremy takes a look. And indeed, in the middle of the movie the screen blinks dark for a moment and She’s All That is replaced by a black-and-white scene, shot in a barn, with only the faint sounds of someone breathing. Four minutes later, She’s All That is back. But there is something profoundly disturbing about that scene; Jeremy’s compelled to watch it three or four times. The scenes recorded onto Targets are similar, undoubtedly created by the same hand. Creepy. And the barn looks a lot like a barn just outside of town.

Jeremy doesn’t want to be curious. In truth, it freaks him out, deeply. This has gone far enough, maybe too far already. But Stephanie is pushing, and once Sarah Jane takes a look and becomes obsessed, there’s no more ignoring the disturbing scenes on the videos. And all of a sudden, what had once been the placid, regular old Iowa fields and farmhouses now feels haunted and threatening, imbued with loss and instability and profound foreboding. For Jeremy, and all those around him, life will never be the same .

Look at that beast of a blurb. It’s massive, but does the trick of setting up what’s going on that the start of the books. You’re not losing anything by reading it. If anything it sets you up for Universal Harvester being a different book than it actually is. It seems more like a horror novel, but it’s not.

I read this one a few months ago and I’m still trying to fully wrap my brain around it. There is the issue/fact that I was watching a lot of Twin Peaks at the same time. Both Twin Peaks and Universal  Harvester share the same ambiance (small towns and weird things tend to project similar vibes), but are ultimately not at all alike. There is something sinister (the cult) but that never gets satisfyingly resolved.

That’s the biggest review/warning I can give on this book. It’s about a mood and if that mood doesn’t gel for you at that moment, then the book falls apart. It doesn’t provide satisfying resolutions or tidy endings. It isn’t even written in an orderly matter. You just have to go along for the ride.

Still Star-Crossed by Melinda Taub

16085488Still Star-Crossed
Melinda Taub

Despite the “glooming peace” that has settled on Verona following Romeo’s and Juliet’s tragic deaths, the ancient grudge between the Montagues and Capulets refuses to die: the two houses are brawling in the streets again within a fortnight. Faced anew with “hate’s proceedings,” Prince Escalus concludes that the only way to marry the fortunes of these two families is to literally marry a Montague to a Capulet. But the couple he selects is uninterested in matrimony, for the most eligible Montague bachelor is Benvolio, still anguished by the loss of his friends, and the chosen Capulet maid is Rosaline, whose refusal of Romeo’s affection paved the way for bloodshed. In contrast to their late cousins, there’s no love lost between these two, and so they find a common purpose—resolving the city’s strife in a way that doesn’t end with them at the altar.

But like Romeo and Juliet before them, Rosaline, Benvolio, and the prince find that the path to peace is tortuous, and that in Verona, true love lies where it’s least expected.

This fast-paced and insightful Shakespearean homage, filled with clandestine meetings, romantic encounters, and duels over family honor, will delight and captivate readers

For a book that I picked up after watching the first two episodes of the Shondaland series on Hulu at 4am after my toddler wakes me up crying, this was better than I expected! When I first heard about the book years ago and the show, I rolled my eyes so hard it actually hurt. Still for a bit of fluffy nonsense, it was enjoyable. Not actual Shakespeare, but even he was a bit of a hack. This book plays a bit of fan fiction trope bingo for a while, but if you know that going in then it’s quite fun.

The ending is just so delightfully over the top that I can’t even be mad about it. If it had ended in a more subdued way, then I would be upset. There is a bit of an issue with the pacing. Not the amount of stuff that happens as time actually passes unlike the less than a week of its source material, but the abrupt way that it “ends” only for the epilogue to pick up. I suppose it was the ending of the main story, but it was so clearly not an ending that it irked. Like just cut forward a few weeks! Not everything needs an epilogue! Especially not one that is clearly coming from ten miles off.



Blind Item by Kevin Dickson & Jack Ketsoyan

IMG_6143Blind Item
Kevin Dickson & Jack Ketsoyan

No one knows her name, but now everyone wants to.

As an assistant publicist in Hollywood, Nicola spends her days (and nights) sweeping up the scandals of singers, movie stars, and TV actors. Fresh from Ohio, she’s rapidly discovering the real Hollywood is rotten under its glittering skin. Everyone is a hustler with a hard bottom line and a soap opera sob story.

When she breaks her own rules and starts dating a movie star, the Los Angeles scene starts to spill into her own life. As the paparazzi begin the hunt for sexy star Seamus O’Riordan’s new mystery girl, Nicola’s best friend Billy has her back while he prowls parties for the latest scoop to sell to the tabloids. Her roommate Kara keeps tabs on things too—in between befriending a former child star and transforming herself from stylist to reality TV sensation.

As the scandals pile up behind them, their pasts will be exposed… And every secret can be sold.

Written by two Hollywood insiders, the jaw-dropping scandals are real, but the names are not. And they’ll never tell.

Having a pull quote from Kristin Cavallari on the cover pretty accurately sums up the target demographic of this novel.

It’s not a bad book by any means. It’s just a very specific type of book for a specific mood. The authors do their best Jackie Collins impression and it mostly works out. Most of the characters lean a bit more towards being tropes than realism would call for, but that’s par for the celebrity gossip course. Which this is. Celebrity gossip. It’s the literary equivalent of gorging on rosé and popcorn. There’s no real nutritional value, but you have fun and won’t really regret it.

It was a great frothy beach read that I didn’t actually read on a beach.

Butter: A Rich History by Elaine Khosrova

IMG_6090 Butter: A Rich History
Elaine Khosrova

It’s a culinary catalyst, an agent of change, a gastronomic rock star. Ubiquitous in the world’s most fabulous cuisines, butter is boss. Here, it finally gets its due.

After traveling across three continents to stalk the modern story of butter, award-winning food writer and former pastry chef Elaine Khosrova serves up a story as rich, textured, and culturally relevant as butter itself.

From its humble agrarian origins to its present-day artisanal glory, butter has a fascinating story to tell, and Khosrova is the perfect person to tell it. With tales about the ancient butter bogs of Ireland, the pleasure dairies of France, and the sacred butter sculptures of Tibet, Khosrova details butter’s role in history, politics, economics, nutrition, and even spirituality and art. Readers will also find the essential collection of core butter recipes, including beurre manié, croissants, pâte brisée, and the only buttercream frosting anyone will ever need, as well as practical how-tos for making various types of butter at home–or shopping for the best.


Pretty certain that the simple act of reading this book, let alone enjoying it as much as I did next levels my nerd game. The historian/anthropologist in me got to come out and play, roll around a bit in this, and then carry on. I have a soft spot for domestic history, especially well written ones as it is such a deceptively simple part of our lives that we take it for granted.

Sometimes histories aimed at the general public suffer from being incredibly dully, overly repetitive, or just kind of smarmy. This was none of those things! You can tell that Khosrova is passionate about her subject. This book practically oozes enthusiasm (like melted butter).

It isn’t for everyone. You probably have to be into nonfiction and food histories to start with, but I liked it. Now I’m going to bore my friends and family with butter facts until the end of time. Whee!

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

IMG_6089In a Dark, Dark Wood
Ruth Ware

In a dark, dark wood

Nora hasn’t seen Clare for ten years. Not since Nora walked out of school one day and never went back.

There was a dark, dark house

Until, out of the blue, an invitation to Clare’s hen do arrives. Is this a chance for Nora to finally put her past behind her?

And in the dark, dark house there was a dark, dark room

But something goes wrong. Very wrong.

And in the dark, dark room….

Some things can’t stay secret for ever.

Well then.

Admittedly this is not a book that I would’ve picked up if I hadn’t been outvoted by my book club. However, I read Gone Girl and I loved how awful everyone was. This book is covered in pull quotes about how it’s the next Gone Girl! Those pull quotes are garbage!

Like setting aside the trying too hard writing style, the POV protagonist is so grating, the mystery is obvious, and it is about twice the length it needs to be.

A good rule of thumb is if someone you’ve never spoken to invites you to a bachelorette party/hen night that is also a weekend away for someone you haven’t spoken to in 10 years then don’t fucking go. Just don’t. Own the fact that you are not 16 anymore and just not go. Especially when you had no idea that they’re getting married because a basic internet search is beyond you.

Most of us do not regress to our teen selves when confronted with people from our pasts. Then again, most of us actually grow up.

Underground Airlines, by Ben H. Winters

Underground Airlines
Ben H. Winters

From Goodreads

It is the present-day, and the world is as we know it: smartphones, social networking and Happy Meals. Save for one thing: the Civil War never occurred.

A gifted young black man calling himself Victor has struck a bargain with federal law enforcement, working as a bounty hunter for the US Marshall Service. He’s got plenty of work. In this version of America, slavery continues in four states called “the Hard Four.” On the trail of a runaway known as Jackdaw, Victor arrives in Indianapolis knowing that something isn’t right–with the case file, with his work, and with the country itself.

A mystery to himself, Victor suppresses his memories of his childhood on a plantation, and works to infiltrate the local cell of a abolitionist movement called the Underground Airlines. Tracking Jackdaw through the back rooms of churches, empty parking garages, hotels, and medical offices, Victor believes he’s hot on the trail. But his strange, increasingly uncanny pursuit is complicated by a boss who won’t reveal the extraordinary stakes of Jackdaw’s case, as well as by a heartbreaking young woman and her child who may be Victor’s salvation. Victor himself may be the biggest obstacle of all–though his true self remains buried, it threatens to surface.

Victor believes himself to be a good man doing bad work, unwilling to give up the freedom he has worked so hard to earn. But in pursuing Jackdaw, Victor discovers secrets at the core of the country’s arrangement with the Hard Four, secrets the government will preserve at any cost.


This book had a lot of potential that was just wasted. An intriguing universe that seemed to be relatively well thought out (the little glimpses we got of it suggested there was more thought behind the scenes than on the page).

Unfortunately, in the quest to make this a thriller/mystery Winters ended up disappointing. The narrator was underdeveloped, nothing more than a cipher to let the greater story unfold upon. The argument could be made that that was the point, that our narrator was “no one” out of necessity, and therefore he was “everyone”. But at the end of the day it was hard to care about him or the bigger search of the novel. Caring about anything in this book was a lot harder than it should. The alternative history had so much potential!