LUCKY YOU by Erika Carter

Publisher: Counterpoint
Release Date: March 1, 2017
Source: Book of the Month Club Selection
Rating: ★★½

Three women, early twenties, find themselves aimlessly adrift in Erika Carter’s fierce and darkly funny debut novel, Lucky You. Ellie, Chloe and Rachel are friends (sort of); waitresses at the same tired bar in the Arkansas college town they’ve stuck around in too long. Each is becoming unmoored in her own way: Ellie obliterates all feeling with alcohol and self-destructive acts of sexual promiscuity; Chloe pulls out patches of her hair and struggles to keep incipient mental illness at bay; changeable Rachel has fallen under the sway of a messianic boyfriend with whom she’s agreed to live off-grid for a year in order to return to “health” and asks Ellie and Chloe to join them in “The Project”. In a remote, rural house in the Ozarks, nearly undone by boredom and the brewing tension between them, each tries to solve the conundrum of being alive.

By turns funny, knowing and hauntingly sad, Lucky You delivers the kind of study in damage and detachment that made Mary Gaitskill’s Bad Behavior or Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays so memorable. With startling exactitude and wickedly deadpan humor, it lays bare the emotional core of its characters with surgical precision. The writing is deft and controlled, as natural and unforced as breath–which makes it impossible to look away.

I’ve been debating over how to rate this book. (This was my January 2017 Book of the Month Club selection.) It held my attention, but at the same time I had problems with it. It left me shaking my head, thinking what was the point?

Normally I would pass on a book about twenty-somethings trying to find themselves, but LUCKY YOU is set in Arkansas, and I have a thing for Arkansas, especially the Ozark Mountains. So, I gave it a try. The setting was wonderful, loved the descriptions, but the characters and plot were another story.

Ellie, Chloe, and Rachel were just flat-out unpleasant, and their backstories were lacking. It wasn’t clear to me why they behaved as they did. So, they become part of a project, living off the grid to escape the “Old World” and all the “unhealth” in it. Sounds fine, but I was disappointed in the results. The chapters alternate between each woman, then about halfway through, Chloe disappears, and the others have to finish up her story. Why ignore a main character?

Sad story. Sad characters. Unfortunately I missed the dark humor the blurb mentions. Haunting ― maybe, funny ― no.

A SHATTERING CRIME by Jennifer McAndrews

A Shattering Crime (Stained-Glass Mystery, #3)
A SHATTERING CRIME by Jennifer McAndrews
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

I’d give this one 2.5 stars. The mystery was weak, and it wasn’t until two-thirds of the way through that any sleuthing took place. A SHATTERING CRIME begins with the murder of a protester, a man against a new development in town. After that, a big chunk of the book was about Georgia’s relationship dilemmas, her kooky pets, and her stained glass art – which is great! Those kinds of things are what give cozies their personalities. However, I still want the focus of the plot to be solving the murder mystery, which wasn’t the case here. Unfortunately, this mystery just didn’t work for me.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: THE MEMORY GARDEN by Mary Rickert

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Released: May 6, 2014
Source: Review copy from publisher
Rating: ★★½

An atmospheric and eerie crossover debut of mothers and daughters, friendship and forgiveness, that’s being compared to early Alice Hoffman and classics like The Witch of Blackbird Pond.

 Sixteen-year-old Bay Singer doesn’t believe the rumors that her eccentric mother, Nan, is a witch. It’s just the gossip of their small town, Bay thinks, until two eccentric friends from Nan’s past unexpectedly appear one afternoon. The curious reunion summons haunting memories: of an oath the three women took years ago, when they were girls themselves, and the devastating secret they promised to protect. What they unearth has already claimed one life, leaving Bay wondering who the real witches are, and who is truly wicked.

THE MEMORY GARDEN is a curious coming-of-age story threaded through with magical realism, unsettling memories, and herbal folklore. At the heart of the story is Bay, a teenage girl being raised by her adoptive mother Nan, an elderly woman thought to be a witch. Nan has spent many years harboring guilt over a tragedy from her girlhood. Just after Bay’s 15th birthday, Nan invites the two friends who share her dark secret to visit, hoping to put the ghosts of the past to rest.

I was very intrigued by the premise of THE MEMORY GARDEN, but unfortunately the story and characters never quite clicked with me. The book had a slow start, and much of what was going on was hard for me to follow. After the big build up, the revelation at the end was a bit disappointing. I also wish the prose had flowed smoother than it did. The odd, choppy dialogue between characters didn’t help my confusion.

That said, there were parts of the book I enjoyed. I loved the strange atmosphere the author created with Nan’s rustic old house, her eccentric garden of mismatched shoe planters, and the restless spirits drawn to Bay and Nan. I also liked how the book highlighted the friendship between Nan, Ruthie, and Mavis that couldn’t be broken, even after decades apart.

Even though this book didn’t work for me, readers who like quirky tales, ghost stories, and magical realism might want to give it a try.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Book Review: THE TASTE OF APPLE SEEDS by Katharina Hagena

Publisher: William Morrow & Company
Release Date: February 4th 2014
Source: Review copy from the Amazon Vine Program

The internationally bestselling tale of love, loss, and memories that run deep.

When Iris inherits her grandmother’s house in the country, she also inherits the painful memories that live there. Iris gives herself a one-week stay at the old house, after which she’ll make a decision: keep it or sell it. The choice is not so simple, though, for her grandmother’s cottage is an enchanting place, where currant jam tastes of tears, sparks fly from fingertips, love’s embrace makes apple trees blossom, and the darkest family secrets never stay buried…


When I read the blurb for THE TASTE OF APPLE SEEDS, I immediately thought of Alice Hoffman and her enchanting tales filled with magical realism. Though this book seemed to have all the right elements, unfortunately it didn’t live up to my expectations. It was originally written in German, so I’m wondering if it just didn’t translate well into English.

Iris inherits her grandmother’s cottage in northern Germany, and at first she doesn’t know whether to keep it. At its heart, this is a saga about the women of Iris’s family and their connection to the cottage and to each other. The house is filled with Iris’s family’s memories, but with the good comes the bad. A week’s stay in the house should help Iris decide what to do, and she spends her time there remembering. The story alternates between past memories and the present, and also between characters.

While the author did a beautiful job describing the sights, sounds, and tastes of this weird and wonderful place, the plot was weak and the story tended to ramble without direction. There is a big secret, the main memory that Iris is scared to remember, that is finally revealed at the end. While it was very sad, I was left thinking…and? Iris didn’t seem to learn anything from remembering, and I was just confused by all the unanswered questions. There was also a serious accusation made about Iris’s grandfather and his involvement in the Nazi party, but it never went anywhere.

I enjoyed most of the elements of magical realism, like the enchanted apple trees and the garden’s tear flavored currants, though I’m still trying to figure out Iris’s Aunt Inga’s special “gift.” I also liked the sweet romance between Iris and a long-lost childhood friend. It made me giggle how he was always catching her in awkward situations.

Though it had some memorable moments, ultimately I felt like I missed the point of this story. Gorgeous descriptions of rural Germany though.

Rating: 2.5 Stars

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book through the Amazon Vine Program in exchange for an honest review.