Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross – Book Review

Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross
Published by Knopf, an imprint of Random House

When David Pepin’s wife is found dead from her peanut allergy, he is immediately suspected of her murder. After all, he was in the room with her when she sat down and ate a plate full of peanuts, knowing full well she was allergic to them, and who would believe that she did it herself to commit suicide? As the investigation progresses, Ross plays with repetition and interweaving of story lines to keep the reader guessing as to what is real, what is not, and how exactly everything will fit together.

“Mr. Peanut” has been getting a lot of love lately, but you’re not going to find any of that here.

Don’t get me wrong, I admired the way that Ross wove his story together. It cannot have been easy to keep all of the threads working together and making something that resembled sense. He is either very gifted or has a fabulous editor (or both, most likely). The creativity of the entire thing was great, really. Part of the problem was one of expectations. As I mentioned, I had been hearing people absolutely rave about this book, calling it a spectacular mindf*ck (essentially, something that twists and turns and comes back to absolutely blow your mind, because you never saw any of it coming). Perhaps it would have been, had I not been expecting to be blown away. As it was, I could admire the cleverness, but nothing particularly shocked me. Not that I necessarily foresaw what was going to happen, but when such things did happen, my response was always more “ah, yes, that makes sense” than “WOW!”

I also had a big problem with the relationships and the way that women were depicted. Many people have called “Mr. Peanut” anti-marriage for the dysfunctional relationships and the way all of the men either contemplate or are accused of killing their wives. He has argued that it is actually pro-marriage and showing that you have to work at it, which I can buy, although that is nothing that ever crossed my mind while reading. I’m not sure what redeeming message was behind the characterizations of the wives, however. The third wife was not so bad, but the first two are the worst stereotype of women in relationships, essentially telling their husbands over and over “if you don’t know, I’m not going to tell you!” when the hapless men inquired as to what was wrong. Their husbands seemed to be working at the relationships while the women were content just to be annoyed and not do anything about it, and, honestly, it really turned me off of the book.

Between the expectation gap and the female characters, I felt pretty profoundly ‘meh’ about “Mr. Peanut.” Yes, Ross’s structuring of the story was top-notch, but it wasn’t quite enough for me – and itself was mitigated by the heavy-handed references to mobius strips that made me feel less valued as a reader, as if I need it to be spelled out for me.  I would advise giving this one a pass, but also being on the lookout for future projects from Adam Ross.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound
.*
Amazon
.*

This review was done with a book borrowed from the library.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

The Stuff That Never Happened by Maddie Dawson – Book Review

The Stuff That Never Happened by Maddie Dawson
Published by Shaye Areheart Books, an imprint of Random House

Every life is bound to have some regret, and Annabelle McKay’s life is no exception. She loves her husband Grant, of course, but she also loves Jeremiah, a man from her past. Now that Grant and Annabelle’s children are gone, either off to college or married and expecting a child, she isn’t sure exactly what she and Grant are doing together. He’s distant, more interested in his book than in Annabelle. The growing gulf between them leads Annabelle to think more and more about Jeremiah, and what might have been. She promised Grant twenty-six years ago that they would never speak again of what was between her and Jeremiah, but they just may have to confront it sooner rather than later.

I thought this was a very good debut novel. Dawson does a good job weaving past into the present, and developing Annabelle’s character while simultaneously developing the plot. I might have liked to see more depth for the men in Annabelle’s life, but since we were seeing everything from her perspective and she didn’t have a very good grasp on them herself, so it would have been unrealistic for us to have a better understanding of Grant or Jeremiah.

I got frustrated with Annabelle from time to time, because she certainly made some bad decisions, but I also empathized with her to a certain extent, because she often felt trapped by the circumstances of her life. Not trapped in the sense that she had no choices, but trapped in the sense that she was not where she wanted to be and she wasn’t sure that she knew how to change her life.

The writing, characterization, and story were all quite good, but “The Stuff That Never Happened” fell ever so slightly short of ‘love’ for me. I would, however, recommend this for fans of literary women’s fiction.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound
.*
Amazon
.*

This review was done with a book received from the publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin – Book Review

Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin
Published by St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of Macmillan

When Nick has to leave in the middle of their anniversary dinner, Tessa doesn’t really mind. That is, after all, the price of being married to a pediatric surgeon: when other families have emergencies, their family often loses his attention. This time, though, his attention isn’t just lost for an evening. Things have been a little difficult at home where Tessa feels less than fulfilled as a stay-at-home mom and they have two small children, and Nick finds himself drawn to Valerie, the single mother of his newest patient, Charlie.

This is my first experience with Emily Giffin. In the past, I have passed over her books due to the pastel covers. They looked like just the sort of chick lit that I don’t enjoy. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised when I actually opened “Heart of the Matter.” I really liked her style, characterizations, and writing in general. I thought that having both Tessa and Valerie narrate the book was a good decision for this story, as was telling Tessa’s story in the first person and Valerie’s in the third, which made it easy to immediately tell who was speaking since both narrators were women in similar places in their lives.

Although I was impressed by Giffin’s writing, I’m still somewhat conflicted about “Heart of the Matter” overall. The premise seems to be that Tessa was at least equally responsible with Nick and Valerie for her husband’s cheating, which is a somewhat reprehensible idea to me. Tessa’s earlier broken engagement for Nick and the fact that her brother cheated on his once-fiancee with the woman who is now his wife, along with her father’s cheating on her mother when she were younger also adds to this interpretation. Valerie knew she was doing wrong the entire time, but never actually bothered to put the brakes on what was going on with her and another woman’s husband. Of course, Nick is the one who actually had a responsibility to Tessa and his family to remain faithful. I really wish that he had been one of our narrators as well, so we could have gotten a better idea of what he was thinking.

If the cheating doesn’t bother you, then I recommend “Heart of the Matter,” but if it is a hot button topic with you, I don’t think you’ll like how Giffin approaches it, so stay away.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.
*
Amazon
.*

This review was done with a book received from the publisher for my participation in the SheKnows Book Club.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Commuters by Emily Gray Tedrowe – Book Review

Commuters by Emily Gray Tedrowe

Winnie McClelland and Jerry Trevis’s families aren’t particularly happy when they marry in their 70s. Jerry’s daughter in particular feels that she is being abandoned – or that her family’s fortune is going to abandon her, she doesn’t seem to have fully admitted to herself what her motivations are. This, of course, makes things slightly awkward for her son Avery who ends up between Annette and Jerry. The tension with Annette doesn’t just affect Jerry’s side of the family, though, but Winnie’s family too. And, really, Winnie’s daughter Rachel has enough drama going on in her life already. Her husband had a debilitating accident that left him unable to work full time, putting a huge strain on the family’s finances and their marriage.

This was an admirable debut novel. Tedrowe had three narrators of varying ages, genders, and circumstances: Avery, Rachel, and Winnie. The three of them were not even related by blood, although they did all have a connection through Jerry. Tedrowe was able to keep the three narrators distinct and yet interwoven. All of the characters were well-written and realistic, as well as relate-able.

Although the novel was well-written and well-crafted, something about it failed to absolutely wow me. It may have just been me, since I really can’t place my finger on it, but it just didn’t grab me in the way I was hoping it would. It was a character-driven novel, rather than a plot-driven novel and I was interested in the characters, but I didn’t love them enough to get completely caught up in their lives.

I liked this well enough that I will be on the lookout for Tedrowe’s next book and I would recommend this to people looking for a well-written, character-driven novel, but it isn’t my favorite thing I read this year.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound
.*
Amazon
.*

I read this book as part of a TLC Book Tour.  Check out some of the other tour hosts for more reviews.  Links go to the host’s site, not to their specific review.

Thursday, July 1st: Devourer of Books

Monday, July 5th: My Random Acts of Reading

Tuesday, July 6th: Til We Read Again

Wednesday, July 7th: Books Like Breathing

Tuesday, July 13th: Booksie’s Blog

Wednesday, July 14th: Sara’s Organized Chaos

Thursday, July 15th: Take Me Away

Wednesday, July 21st: Chaotic Compendiums

Thursday, July 22nd: lit*chick

Wednesday, July 28th: Bookstack

Thursday, July 29th: Reading at the Beach

Thursday, August 5th: Life Is A Patchwork Quilt

* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda – Book Review

Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

In rural India, Kavita Merchant’s first child is born a girl, causing her husband Javu to take the baby from her and give it to his brother to dispose of. Javu rationalizes that they need a son to help in the fields, and they would have to pay a dowry to get any girl married off, a daughter would be nothing more than a burden. Kavita does not accept this reasoning so easily, however. When her second pregnancy comes to term, she first hides her labor from him, and then demands to be given one night with the baby she has named Usha. Instead of allowing her second daughter to be killed as well, this newly delivered mother walks from her rural village to Mumbai in order to place Usha in an orphanage where she might have hope of a better life.

Meanwhile, in California Somer and her husband Krishnan are struggling with infertility. Krishnan was born and raised in Mumbai, coming to America only for undergraduate and medical school, until he fell in love with and married Somer, also a physician. After Somer repeatedly fails to get pregnant, or to carry a pregnancy to term, Krishnan suggests that they might want to turn to adoption, and recommends that they use an orphanage his mother patronizes in Mumbai. Other than bringing home their precious Asha, however, their trip to India is somewhat of a disaster. Somer feels ignored and left out, that she doesn’t fit in, and this remnant of her time in India carries over into her life with her husband and child going forward, leads her to attempt to keep both of them away from India.

This was an incredibly moving book. I nearly cried for both Kavita and for Somer within the first 50 pages of the book: Kavita for the loss of her first daughter and the deep sadness of having to give up Usha; Somer for the pain of being able to have the child she wanted so dearly. Somer was a bit of a cold character for much of the middle of the book, which made her somewhat hard to connect to, but she felt very real to me, regardless. She was so afraid of losing what she had that she all but pushed it away for her.

I loved Gowda’s writing and got completely carried away with the story she was telling. Often Somer’s coldness would keep me from immersing myself fully into the book, but the emotional beginning to “Secret Daughter” pulled me in before I had a chance to get turned off by my lack of connection with one of the main characters. It let me see Somer as a real person whose motivations I could understand, even if i didn’t always agree with her behavior.

This was a fabulous story from a very talented debut author. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound
.*
Amazon
.*

This review was done with a book received from a friend.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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