Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: Between Me and You by Allison Winn Scotch

Ben knows my story, Ben knows my soul. I want him to write for that, to that, to me. Because when he taps into me, and I braid myself to him, we are a galaxy unto and of ourselves.

Sometimes she’s like a firework, explosive but still mesmerizing, and it’s not like I don’t want to sit back and watch the show.

I like author Allison Winn Scotch for a number of reasons—her books are always fun and fast-paced escapes, often with a touch of the mystical (The One That I Want, Time of My Life) and tackle the popular topics of “What if?” I enjoyed her last novel, In Twenty Years,  where a group of college friends reunite after twenty years (think “The Big Chill” in a modern-day setting). She’s also a funny presence on social media, having first started out as a freelance journalist for big-name magazines like InStyle, Redbook, Shape, etc. (my dream job!) before becoming a best-selling author. When I heard about her latest book, Between Me and You, and how its plot centers on an actress and a screenwriter and their complicated relationship, I knew it was for me, the gal who has piles of celebrity gossip magazines around her house at any given moment. (In Touch and UsWeekly are my favorites.) I was lucky enough to get an advance digital copy of Between Me and You to read and review and I dove right in.

Synopsis:

When their paths first cross, Ben Livingston is a fledgling screenwriter on the brink of success; Tatum Connelly is a struggling actress tending bar in a New York City dive. They fall in love, they marry, they become parents, and they think only of the future. But as the years go by, Tatum’s stardom rises while Ben’s fades. In a marriage that bears the fallout of ambition and fame, Ben and Tatum are at a crossroads. Now all they can do is think back…

A life of passion, joy, tragedy, and loss—once shared—becomes one as shifting and unpredictable as a memory. As the pieces of their past come together, as they explore the ways love can bend and break, Ben and Tatum come to see how it all went wrong—and wonder what they can do now to make it all right.

Review:

The book starts out in the present day, when Ben and Tatum are in their early 40s and have been separated for some time. Ben is waiting for Tatum on the beach, reliving their history together in his mind, but then someone else shows up instead. From there the book alternates chapters telling both Tatum and Ben’s stories. Tatum’s chapters propel the narrative forward (1999 to present) while Ben’s work backward (2016 back down to 1999). We learn how they met by chance in a bar in 1999, when Tatum was a theater student and part-time bartender and Ben working on an MFA. He was also in the process of breaking up with his long-term girlfriend when he meets Tatum.

Through the years, we watch as both of their stars rise after their move from New York to Los Angeles, like the quintessential Hollywood couple. The relationship of Brad Pitt and Angelina came to mind (Tatum goes from struggling actress to Oscar winner to influential director throughout the course of the book, much like Angelina) as well as Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck (this one because of the infidelity that invades the marriage and because Tatum is from a small town much like Garner). I did read an article  not long ago that said she interviewed several different celebrity couples while researching this book to help provide authenticity, and she thanked Jennifer Garner and Judy Greer in the acknowledgements section.

Throughout the book, Ben and Tatum face their share of challenges, from the death of Tatum’s mother, to her alcoholic father, to a loved one lost in 9/11 and a family member with a heartbreaking drug addiction. They also have a son and struggle with the balance of parenthood while Tatum is often away filming or directing and Ben gets frustrated with his job of writing for TV when he really wants to be writing the screenplay that will put him on the map. The chapters kept me guessing, as each one dropped crumbs of the story along the way. I found myself rooting for Tatum and Ben and also cursing them for the foolish decisions they made and refused to communicate with one another. I was on the edge of my seat by the time I got to the end.

I will say that if you are going to read this book, don’t read it on a Kindle like I did. Because of the way the chapters alternate time periods, I found myself wanting to quickly flip back and forth to double-check information, and that’s not easy to do on a digital device. So read this in the print version and you will feel much less frustrated.

Thank you to NetGalley and Scotch’s publicity team for allowing me the opportunity to read this book in advance, I enjoyed it and will read it again now that I have a better handle on the way the timeline worked, I’m sure I can pick up on even more tidbits the second time around!

Book Review: 100 Days of Real Food-Fast and Fabulous

Anyone who knows me knows I love to cook. This wasn’t always the case–ask my husband about the slop I used to try and whip up for us when we first got married. There was a LOT of processed food and frozen dinners thrown in there. Then when I was pregnant with our first child and we were both working demanding jobs, there was mostly take-out. Slowly I started cooking more, little by little, but I was still using a lot of processed ingredients (like those yummy condensed soups) because that’s all I knew. Several years ago I came across the 100 Days of Real Food blog and was happy to find recipes that included nothing but whole food ingredients. If you don’t know about the family behind the blog, including mom and Charlotte, N.C. resident Lisa Leake, you can read more about their story here.

I absolutely loved the first cookbook and learned so much about what is considered real food and what has added ingredients. I found so many great recipes I added into my usual rotation, such as the Slow Cooker Potato Soup, Slow Cooker Fajitas, Mini Quiches (my daughter even makes these herself now!), Whole-Wheat Pasta with Kale-Pesto Cream Sauce, etc. I also learned how to make my own whipped cream and it is yummy!

The second cookbook Lisa Leake released, 100 Days of Real Food: Fast & Fabulous, features a whole slew of ways to help you integrate healthy, real food into the household with quick and simple recipes. I ordered this cookbook the second I realized it was coming out. Some of my favorite recipes include Layered Jar Salad with White Beans, Quick Cauliflower Soup, Kale, Sausage and White Bean Soup, the Orange Cream Bundt Cake, Fresh Ranch Dressing (my kids won’t eat the stuff out of a bottle now–they will only eat this!) and much more.

Orange Cream Bundt Cake with Whipped Cream

One recipe I’m dying to make but haven’t yet is the Cheesy Hash Brown Casserole (like Cracker Barrel’s but without the MSG and other additives). Also, these brownies are delicious and my kids can make them without my help!

Simple Salad Mix

The book also includes make-ahead meal suggestions that don’t require a recipe, such as hard-boiled eggs, cooked quinoa, granola, hummus–things that are great for lunch boxes and the days/nights when you want to feed everyone quickly but without grabbing fast food.  There are also meal plans for each season that include shopping lists to make things so much easier.

These two cookbooks have become a staple in our house when meal planning and I can’t wait for her next one to come out.

Book Review: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

I remember running down a road on my way to a nursery of flowers.

I remember her smile and her laugh when I was my best self and she looked at me like I could do no wrong and was whole.

I remember how she looked at me the same way even when I wasn’t.

I remember her hand in mine and how that felt, as if something and someone belonged to me.

-Theodore Finch, All the Bright Places

I don’t know any other way to describe this book except that it broke my heart in a million little pieces and left me crying for hours. You may read this and think, “Well, I won’t be reading THAT book.” But if you’re like me, and sometimes you seek out certain songs, books, movies, etc., so that you can feel something more deeply than you’ve ever felt before, then maybe you’ll consider this beautifully-written book that gives the best depiction of bipolar disorder that I’ve ever seen.

All the Bright Places is told from two viewpoints—Violet and Theodore Finch (a.k.a. “Finch). When the book opens they have both snuck up to the bell tower on their school’s campus—Violet, because she is still reeling from the death of her older sister in a car accident, and Finch, because as he so bluntly puts it, is wondering if “Today is a good day to die.” Finch is surprised to find himself talking Violet into climbing back off the ledge, as he knows the crowd she hangs out with is pretty popular and she doesn’t strike him as the depressed type. After their encounter, he becomes curious to learn more about her and pursues her until they are paired together on a class project where they are challenged to learn more about their home state of Indiana. He even pens a set of “Rules for Wandering” for them both.

Chapter by chapter, the layers of Violet and Finch are revealed. Their home lives couldn’t be more different, and Violet watches as her ex-boyfriend and his teammates relentlessly bully Finch for reasons she can’t understand. Listening to Finch describe the way he feels when he is “awake” versus when he is “asleep” gives the reader an enlightening picture of the highs and lows of someone with bipolar disorder (Finch never says he has it but it becomes more and more clear throughout the book that he is undiagnosed and should probably be medicated).

Violet and Finch work together on their class project where they wander all over the state (this takes some doing at first, as Violet hasn’t ridden in a car since she and her sister’s accident) visiting unusual places like Hoosier Hill (with its elevation of 1,257 feet) to a farm where a man has built one-person amusement parks ride out of scrap metal. Finch’s hard work pays off—he slowly starts to pull Violet out of her shell and against her wishes, she finds herself drawn to him. She also learns a few of the family secrets he’s been hiding all his life, and begins to realize the highs and lows of his personality may be doing him more harm than good.

This book is a difficult read for anyone who has ever watched a loved one go through a mental illness. Violet is a normal teenage girl who truly believes love can help them both overcome their obstacles. Unfortunately, the novel does not have a happy ending. Author Jennifer Niven shared her own personal story at the end of the book which sheds lot of light on the trajectory of the story.

In that moment, I’m thankful I’m not a parent and I wonder if I ever will be. What a terrible feeling to love someone and not be able to help them.

Actually, I know exactly how that feels.

–Violet Markey, All the Bright Places

This young adult novel is a painful read, but the prose and the love between the characters is so beautiful and haunting and realistic that I think it expands far beyond the scope of teenage readers. There is one scene where Violet and Finch quote Virginia Woolf to one another on a computer chat and I couldn’t help but think what I would have done if a boy had spoken my language in such a way at that age. He also calls her “Ultraviolet.”

If you look at this book in my Kindle, you’ll see pages upon pages of highlighted material that made me pause. It’s one of those books that you wish you had the courage and talent to write yourself. Bravo, Jennifer Niven, and I’m sorry for what you had to go through to get to this place.

Book Review: The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand

Digging in with my afternoon cup of coffee! #elinhilderbrand #theidenticals #summerreading

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“The most underrated force at work in the universe is that of coincidence. And yet who among us hasn’t been at its mercy?” – The Identicals

Elin Hilderbrand is one of my favorite authors, and every summer I look forward to meeting a new set of characters in her latest novel. In my favorite book, The Blue Bistro, it was Adrienne, Thatcher, the mysterious chef Fiona, and the whole colorful front and back of the house staff at the restaurant. In The Castaways it was Tess and Greg, Addison and Delilah, Addison and Phoebe and Andrea and Jeffrey, a group of couples who had all grown too close for their own good—I almost couldn’t keep up with all their secrets! In A Summer Affair it was the illicit romance between Claire and Lock as they worked together on a summer gala, even though both were married and had a lot to lose if their secret was discovered. The list goes on and on. This year, I couldn’t hold myself back when I heard about The Identicals, a tale of two identical twins who were raised on the separate islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.

In fact, both Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard each serve as narrators in different parts of the book. Nantucket says things like, “Famous residents: Prefer not be named,” while Martha’s Vineyard adds, “Famous residents: Meg Ryan, Lady Gaga, Carly Simon, James Taylor, John Belushi,” etc. The book is also told from the points of view of twins Tabitha (raised on Nantucket with her mom after her parents’ divorce when she was a teenager), Harper (who traveled to Martha’s Vineyard with the twins’ dad) and Ainsley, who is Tabitha’s 16-year-old daughter and quite the handful.

Both women are 39 and have lives that couldn’t be more different. Tabitha never married but had two children with her ex-boyfriend Wyatt, Ainsley and an infant son who only lived a few months. She also followed in her mother’s business trying to keep a clothing line (think Lilly Pulitzer variety) afloat, while Harper never really settled on a career and got into one scrape after another, including a drug trafficking charge. When the book begins the two women are united when their father Billy dies, and the reader learns the women haven’t spent any time together since the death of Tabitha’s son—a death for which she blames Harper for some mysterious reason. When their mother Eleanor falls and breaks her hip, there is no one to stay and watch over Ainsley, who has become quite a rebellious and indulgent teenager, on Nantucket. Harper ends up traveling to Nantucket to help out against Tabitha’s wishes while Tabitha first helps her mother in Boston, and then makes her way to Martha’s Vineyard.

I enjoyed reading about the dynamic between the two sisters, especially their complicated love lives. The character of Ainsley had the most growth throughout the novel, which was a nice surprise. I did grow a little frustrated at the hints of what happened the night Tabitha’s son died, because at the end blaming Harper was a little more than misplaced. It also reminded me a little of the storyline in Summerland that involved Ava and Jordan’s infant son who also died.

As usual, Hilderbrand’s love of food comes into play (Harper is a great cook and the meals she prepares are decadent) and it was a change of pace to read about Martha’s Vineyard this time along with Nantucket. It made me add one more place to my travel bucket list! I also purchased the book from Barnes and Noble and it featured bonus content at the end that gave a little backstory to the Tabitha and Harper’s parents, Eleanor and Billy.

Have you read any Elin Hilderbrand books? Which was your favorite? If you haven’t, what is your favorite author famous for writing “beach reads?”