Winter Reads: Two Books I Read Recently

Hello, World.

I’m sorry for my hiatus toward the end of last semester. I had a terrible finals schedule, which meant I was studying from about November 4th until I went home for the holidays. The holiday season flew by, and before I knew it I was back in Williamsburg for the spring semester. Honestly, I had so many blog posts planned for November and December and they just didn’t happen. As most of my planned posts dealt with the holiday season or were more relevant in the past months, I’ve decided to start fresh with a new slew of posts in the new year.

First and foremost, I wanted to share two books I read while I was home in California over the holiday break. One book I picked up with the intention of reading post-finals and the other I had on my shelf for a while before picking it up. One of my goals for myself this year is spending less money, and that includes not purchasing new books. I have quite a few books on my shelves I haven’t picked up, so I’m hoping that if I’m not buying new books it will force me to reach for books I own but haven’t read.

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Anyway, onto the books I read recently. First up is The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Lousie Miller. I picked this novel up after seeing it on Carly the Prepster’s Instagram stories. I was also sold by the Bon Appetit review on the cover that reads: “Ok, it’s Gilmore Girls.” Anything with Gilmore Girls on it is something I will purchase! So, I ordered the novel from Penguin and allowed it to gather dust on my shelf until finals were finally over and I packed it in my tote bag to head to the airport. Once I started the novel, I loved it. For reference, the book’s summary is as follows:

When Olivia Rawlings—baker extraordinaire for an exclusive Boston dinner club—sets not just her flambéed dessert but the entire building alight, she takes a much-needed weekend break in the idyllic leafy town of Guthrie, Vermont. A weekend soon turns into something more permanent when Margaret Hurley, the cantankerous, sweater-set-wearing owner of the Sugar Maple Inn, needs to recruit a new baker who can help her reclaim the inn’s blue ribbon status at the annual county fair apple pie contest. On paper, at least, Livvy seems to be just who she was looking for.

Livvy’s love life’s a mess and so she does what she does best: relocate. Along with Salty, her gigantic, uber-enthusuastic dog with almost too much personality, Livvy, as the Sugar Maple’s new baker, brings her mouthwatering desserts to the residents of Guthrie, home of Bag Balm, the country’s longest-running contra dance, and her best friend, Hannah. And when Olivia meets Martin McCracken, the Guthrie native who has returned from New York to nurse his ailing father, Livvy comes to understand that she may not be as alone in this world as she once thought. With the joys of a warm, fragrant kitchen, the sound of banjos and fiddles being tuned in a barn, and the crisp scent of the orchard just outside the front door, Olivia Rawlings may finally find that the life you want may not be the one you expected—it could be even better.”

I loved the storytelling and cozy vibes that leaped from the page. While it may not have been the most well-written book I’ve read, I appreciated the pacing and development of the story. I adored the cast of characters, and I had a hankering to uproot to small-town Vermont by the book’s close! This was the first book in a while that I thoroughly enjoyed cover to cover. While there was a plot twist that took me by surprise, I ended up appreciating the decision. I highly recommend this read to anyone who needs a cozy story with great characters.

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Second, I read Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. This book sat on my shelf for a while before I finally picked it up. I think I bought it last summer because it was showing up everywhere on my Instagram feed. I love a good family drama, and I was excited to start this. Though I wish some of the storylines lasted a bit longer or were delved into a bit deeper, I enjoyed the book. The writing was very good and it was easy to keep the characters straight because they were written so distinctly. I would recommend this book to people who like family dramas, who are interested in how family dynamics change and impact our lives, or to someone who just loves a well-written novel that makes us reflect on our own lives.

For reference, the inside flap for this novel is as follows:

“One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly – thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.

When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.

Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together.”

So, what have you read lately? Any books I should add to my to-be-read list?

Truly,
Callie Coker

What I’m Reading

Hello, World.

Summer is going so quickly (insert very panicked, on-the-verge-of–hyperventilating face). One of my goals for this summer was to get in a decent amount of “for pleasure” reading. While in law school, I read constantly. All the time. But, I read dense case-law related material, which is I also enjoy, but sometimes it’s nice to just get back into reading a book for fun, falling into someone else’s story or life and getting swept up in it. So, I wanted to share what I’ve read so far. The second book took me a little too long. I partly blame it on my mindless Netflix sessions and also on the lack of desire to read after work. However, on Thursday, I decided I was going to finish it before the weekend was over. And I did! You’ll probably notice both books have to do with Paris. Well, I’ve always wanted to go, and I think lately my wanderlust is getting the best of me. I inadvertently, perhaps subconsciously bought four (that’s right, more to come) books that have to do with Paris in some way. Now… let’s get to my reviews of the first two books.

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The first book I read this summer I picked up in Williamsburg before I flew home. My original plan was to read on my flights home. However, I quickly realized that was an ambitious plan. After finals and the joint journal competition (more on that to come), I was a wee bit tired and did not have the brain power to read a new book. So, instead, I watched movies and chatted with the woman sitting next to me, who is getting her Ph.D. in Florida, but was flying to CA to help her fiancé move to Switzerland (so so fascinating).

Lunch In Paris is the memoir of Elizabeth Bard’s swift and romantic love affair with a Frenchman. It’s the American girl goes abroad and doesn’t come home because she finds love kind of book. I loved it. I was very selective about what book I read first because I was so looking forward to reading something non-legal. I read the excerpt on Amazon and knew immediately I loved Bard’s style. It was conversational but intoxicating. It was to the point but romanticized. I am not typically a non-fiction guru, but I ate up the story of finding yourself someone new and trying to make the most of it even if it feels like an off balance tap dance for the first stretch.

While at some points I felt like Bard came off a bit condescending or superior… the minute I felt this, she was self-aware and vulnerable, speaking her truth of being a size 10, food-loving American in petite, food-savoring France. I laughed frequently but also related quite strongly to the feeling Bard shares of feeling like she has to ground herself in something in order to establish herself in her new home. For Bard, it is the French markets that lend her refuge. Bard also pays homage to said markets by including recipes at the close of each chapter, recipes rooted discoveries of new produce, new flavor mixtures, and new twists on old, American favorites.

I would give this book four out of five stars simply because it lagged in areas. However, I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys travel (it is the romance-based version of Under the Tuscan Sun or Eat, Pray, Love) or who feels or has felt uncertain in a new place. My final thought is this: I admired how Bard illustrated the relationship between herself and her lover. The areas of life they inherently understood about each other, the areas where cultural difference caused friction, and the areas where cultural difference caused growth. I enjoyed Bard’s exploration into preconceived notions and how they are dealt with while balancing the serious topics with light-hearted trip-ups on both [her and her lover] their parts. 9B1CD9EF-1B2B-441B-8EBC-286C1673BDAE.jpg

To be blunt, I bought this book for two main reasons: I loved the cover and the author went to William and Mary. A bit vain, I know. However, I’ll See You in Paris by Michelle Gable took me about three weeks. It’s a bit long and a bit slow, to be honest. Upfront, I want to say if you are someone who prefers gripping, quick-reads, this may not be the book for you. While the last 50 or so pages made me glad I stuck it out and finished the story, I wanted to stop about 200 pages in. I sort of guessed where the story was headed around page 60, and then had to get through 250 pages-ish of the groundwork for the story to get to its final pathway to the end. I guessed all but one plot twist that came at the end. That’s not typically a good thing while reading. I like to be kept guessing, and I certainly don’t want to guess what’s going to happen well before the writer fully lays the foundation.

However, it was rooted in historical tales, so I understand Gable wanting to give the reader a very thorough outline of the story. The other aspect to this novel I struggled with a bit was that it switched between 1973 and 2001. So, while Annie (one of the protagonists) was hearing the 1973 story in 2001, the reader was taken back to 1973 and hearing a more fleshed out version through the eyes of the participants. The problem with this was I often cared way more about the story occurring in 2001 and didn’t really want to know every detail of the 1973 story. Obviously, when stories track each other in this manner, they are meant to intercept, and they do, which made all the switches in time worth the reading. Still, I think the tale could be a little more abbreviated. It just lagged a bit too much in the middle that I was having trouble keeping it all straight and wanting to continue.

My opinion may be making you think this book sucked and isn’t worth picking up. I don’t want that opinion to come across because I did enjoy the ending enough that it made up for the lag. So, if you pick up this book, just know that when it gets slow, you just have to power through and you should enjoy the ending as I did. Recommending books can be difficult because people have different tastes! This book got so many reviews that said “I couldn’t put it down!!” whereas I felt like I couldn’t pick it back up at times. I will also say do not expect a journey through Paris. Paris is very much part of the story and important to the underlying story, but not until much later than expected. A majority of the novel takes place in Banbury, England, and the States.

Interestingly, once I finished the novel, I looked at Gable’s other two novels. I wanted to read more of her. So, though I struggled with aspects of the story and the length, I enjoyed Gable’s writing enough that I wanted more of it in my library.

What are you currently reading?

Truly,
Callie leigh