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The Coincidence of a Love Story

[This post is the fourth in a six-part series of Book Reviews of books by some of our 2016 Midwest Writers faculty. The MWW interns wrote the reviews as one of their assignments for the Ball State University class “Literary Citizenship in a Digital Age,” taught by MWW Director Jama Kehoe Bigger.]

 

Warning: Do not read on an empty stomach. Amy E. Reichert’s debut novel The Coincidence of Coconut Cake not only contains descriptions of food that makes you want to taste them yourself, but is also a delicious meal containing perfect servings of humor, romance and drama.

Coincidence bookLou is the owner of a small French restaurant in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Lou is living the dream, owning her own kitchen, despite the conflicts with her fiancés plans. Her dream is shattered when she decided to surprise him on his birthday with a coconut cake, only to find him with a half naked intern. She tried to get her mind off the betrayal by working, but ended up only making the worst dish she had ever made (unknowingly) for the snarky new restaurant critic in town. When Lou goes to a bar to wallow in the sorrow of her broken relationship, she meets Al, a British newcomer. After some drunken flirtation she promises him to show him the best of Milwaukee. After a series of non-dates around Milwaukee, Al falls in love with Lou and the city, only to find out her true identity and to discover his review of her restaurant had ruined her business while also crushing her dreams.

Amy Reichert’s own experience in the kitchen served her well when writing this novel. She gives a look at what happens backstage in the kitchen, while also showing the different kinds of people that work there. Her many descriptions of food making making readers want to try the dishes she described. I do like the pace in the book because it shows a realistic sense of dating and falling in love. The plot was well written, with two plot lines being mixed into one, one plot about romance, the other about Lou trying to save her restaurant. The story keeps you interested in the plot while leading up to the climax. Reichert wraps up the ending quickly with a glimmer of hope, which works well for this book. The novel focuses on building their relationship, until they finally realize they were truly in love.

By Kara Harris

Dumplin’ Redefines the Word “Beautiful”

[This post is the third in a six-part series of Book Reviews of books by some of our 2016 Midwest Writers faculty. The MWW interns wrote the reviews as one of their assignments for the Ball State University class “Literary Citizenship in a Digital Age,” taught by MWW Director Jama Kehoe Bigger.]

 

Dumplin’ Redefines the Word “Beautiful”

Dumplin bookIn this real-world story about high school drama, love, weight issues, and loving yourself, Willowdean seeks to prove that she can be just as beautiful as the pageant girls her mother coordinates.

Following Willowdean through her awkward high school years brings forward a memory of that girl we all remember. She is the girl that longs to fit in with the crowd, but finds herself being picked out. In the beginning of Dumplin’, Julie Murphy writes Willowdean to be this open-to-imagination character where the readers only know she’s fat. This allows anyone, plus sized or not, to go through the trials that the main character goes through.

In the story, Willowdean is very open about her weight and it doesn’t seem to bother her until more and more people comment on it. She says, “But that’s me. I’m fat. It’s not a cuss word. It’s not an insult. At least when I say it. So I always figure why not get it out of the way?”

Her hatred of the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant slowly begins to fade as she realizes that she has just as much of a right to be included and feel beautiful as the other girls. Through this entry of the pageant, she believes more in herself, finds confidence, and allows herself to be who she wants to be. Murphy does well in creating this character that most can relate to. The readers can place themselves into Willowdean’s shoes and relate to at least one of the many situations pushed upon the main character.

Though the situations may be many, they aren’t too much for Willowdean. She powers through each of them and shows the reader that being yourself is enough.

 By Amanda Byk

Little Pretty Things Tests the Waters Between Friendship and Rivalry

[This post is the second in a six-part series of Book Reviews of books by some of our 2016 Midwest Writers faculty. The MWW interns wrote the reviews as one of their assignments for the Ball State University class “Literary Citizenship in a Digital Age,” taught by MWW Director Jama Kehoe Bigger.]

 

Little Pretty Things Tests the Waters Between Friendship and Rivalry

Juliet Townsend has always been jealous of Madeleine Bell.

Lori Rader-Day PLTLiving in Maddy’s shadow since they were fierce competitors on their high school track team, Juliet  now works a dead-end job at a hotel, cleaning rooms. One night, Maddy checks into the Mid-Night Inn, well-dressed and sporting a diamond ring on her left finger. Maddy has it all and Juliet wants it. The next morning, however, Juliet is more than just a jealous best friend – she’s the main suspect in Maddy’s murder.

Juliet gets stuck in a rut for ten years, dealing with low self-esteem and it takes the murder of her friend to force her to decide it is time to take charge and change her life. She takes advantage of her daily running routine to discover secrets of a painful past. So it doesn’t surprise her when the police pursue her as a suspect in the murder of her close friend. After discovering details of events leading to Maddy’s murder, she decides it’s time to find the real killer and clear her good name.

Lori Rader-Day, author of the Anthony Award-winning The Black Hour, teaches mystery writing at Story Studio Chicago. Day takes readers on a tour of crime and mystery in Little Pretty Things. With a well-planned plot, a rollercoaster of emotion, and a twist you won’t soon forget, the mystery is solid, every detail in place. The characters are developed and relatable. But it’s the relationships the protagonist has with other women that will resonate for a long time after reading this book, like the pretty little things we tend to overlook.

Little Pretty Things is a summer must read.  

 

By CarolineDelk

From Concrete to Debris: Side Effects May Vary

[This post is the first in a six-part series of Book Reviews of books by some of our 2016 Midwest Writers faculty. The MWW interns wrote the reviews as one of their assignments for the Ball State University class “Literary Citizenship in a Digital Age,” taught by MWW Director Jama Kehoe Bigger.]

 

“I knew what this looked like. It looked like I was using Harvey. But here was the reality of the situation: the minute my life went from semipermanent to most likely temporary, I decided to latch on to everything in my world that had always been permanent, and for me, Harvey was so permanent he was concrete.”

In Julie Murphy’s first novel Side Effects May Vary, childhood best friends Alice and Harvey find themselves together again after Alice is diagnosed with leukemia. Divided between Alice and Harvey’s perspectives in chapters titled “then” and “now,” the novel follows the two on every path of Alice’s journey with cancer, from the beginning of high school and her revenge-filled kick-the-bucket list to the other side, where Alice learns she’s in remission.

side effects bookBut is remission the good news it should be? For Alice, who was preparing to die, the situation is bittersweet as she must now deal with the repercussions of her actions and face the realities of her relationship with Harvey, especially as he struggles with his feelings for her, reflecting, “But, really, I loved her, and that hurt the worst of all because I was tired of being her debris.” Will she lose the best friend she finally connected with again when she was dying? Or will she find a way to adjust to truly living once more without pushing Harvey and his love away?

Murphy has crafted narrators that both fight and balance each other as they struggle to find their footing in their own past and present. Alice’s narration is particularly polarizing, allowing for Harvey’s emotions to inform the reader as Alice breaks down both the manic pixie dream girl trope and the interplay of likable and realistic narrators, as she describes, “I was rotten on the inside, and I didn’t know if that had happened over time or if it had always been so.” While the novel hinges on Alice’s diagnosis, the real meat of the plot concerns the very side effects of the diagnosis, pre- and post-remission, and how it impacts each character as they collide with Alice and Harvey’s story.

By Rachel Lauve