Jen Miller

Book 49 of 52: Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty begins with a disappearance: Joy Delaney, retired tennis instructor and mom of four vanishes from the family home. She doesn’t leave a note. Her cell phone is found under her bed. She sent her kids a text message of nonsense, and then poof was gone.

What happened to her? Was her perfect marriage not so? Did she finally have it with her husband and leave? And what about a strange young woman who showed up one night, a few months before, barefoot and cold, saying she was running away from an abusive boyfriend? Did she have something to do with a woman who built her life on routines suddenly going missing?

I read most of Apples Never Fall while sick with a horrible, throat ripping cold (not COVID, trust me, I was tested many times). I could do little else but read, so the book did entertain me while I was ill. Moriarty is good at building a mystery by dropping hints throughout the narrative, and I enjoyed that part, even if the building was a little late to start. The first jaw dropping moment didn’t come until page 115 of 532 (and yes I […]

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Book 48 of 52: The Stone Boudoir: Travels through the Hidden Villages of Sicily by Theresa Maggio

After a break, I am back on my quest to read every book written about Italy in the English language. Up at the plate: The Stone Boudoir: Travels through the Hidden Villages of Sicily by Theresa Maggio.

Maggio, like a lot of people I know, is the descendant of Italian immigrants who came to the U.S. and settled in New Jersey. Also like a lot of us, she felt a pull to go back to where her family came from. But instead of making just a visit or two, or buying a house there, she embedded herself in different towns and villages of Sicily, often showing up in a piazza with just a name, and asking if anyone in town could put her up (every time, it worked).

The Stone Boudoir is a collection of reported essays about these towns, told by someone who is both a lyrical writer, and who also has the research and reporting chops to go into great detail about these places, including the history, politics and people. Unlike Marlena De Blasi does in A Thousand Days in Venice, which I read earlier this year, Maggio doesn’t treat the people she meets like props. They’re real, […]

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Book 47 of 52: Knockout by Sarah MacLean

Knockout is the third in the Hell’s Belles books, a historical romance series about a group of (mostly) aristocratic women who don’t hold much power in official circles, but unofficially are doing things like helping women escape abusive situations, obtain abortions, and organize against unfair labor practices. Of course this has also made them a target, which comes to a head in this book, as the Belles figure out who is blowing up their clandestine establishments. Seems outlandish? MacLean said in the epilogue that they’re based on a real group!

Our hero is Imogen Loveless, an explosions expert; our hero, Thomas Peck, a detective who is hired by her brother to “protect” her until she finally finds a husband. Can you guess who that husband ends up being? Of course you can! It’s a romance after all!

And it was…here it is again…aggressively fine. MacLean’s writing is a bit spicier than I usually read, but I still keep up with her books because they’re fun, and I always learn something. This one ends with a tease as to the next book, which is about a woman usually referred to as just “Duchess,” the Belle I’ve been most curious about this […]

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Book 46 of 52: The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach by Pam Jenoff

After my dog died, I was looking to sink into a book that I knew would keep me occupied while I also tried to get used to being down the shore without her. I’ve read a bunch of Pam Jenoff’s books, and have marked them all “aggressively fine.” I saw the title of The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach and thought great: sweep me away to WW II England, ahoy!

Except Chelsea Beach doesn’t refer to anything in England. Instead, it’s Chelsea Beach in Atlantic City, about 30 miles from where I took this picture.

My fault! Though the book does eventually move to England, the bulk of the narrative is set in Philadelphia and in this part of Absecon Island. Adelia Montforte is a 16-year-old Italian teenager whose parents somehow get her on a boat to the U.S. in 1941. She’s Jewish, and her parents are political activists. They know the writing is on the wall and send her to safety. Adelia arrives in Philadelphia to stay with an aunt and uncle, who also rent a place down the shore in the summer.

Next door is the Connally family, a boisterous group with four sons. She spends the summer with them, […]

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Book 45 of 52: TBA

Hey readers! I can’t talk about the book I just finished, because it’s for work. But when that piece is out, I’ll update here, and in a new post. Read on!

Nov. 6 update: here’s the review!

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Book 44 of 52: The Pet Loss Companion by Ken Dolan-Del Vecchio and Nancy Saxton-Lopez

When Emily, my first dog, died in 2017, I wrote about her death for The New York Times. In the process of putting it together, someone recommended that I read The Loss of a Pet: A Guide to Coping with the Grieving Process When a Pet Dies by Wallace Sife. The book started out okay, reassuring me that the profound grief I was under was normal. Then he veered into misogyny, particularly when writing about to child free women and grief about the death of their pets. I was so mad I almost threw it across the room.

When I went to put Annie down, I was lead into a room the animal hospital has set up for that purpose. And there it was, on the shelf: The Loss of a Pet.

“Are you fucking kidding me?!” I yelled through my tears.

I’m not happy to report that The Pet Loss Companion by Ken Dolan-Vecchio and Nancy Saxton-Lopez is a much better book,  because that means I needed it. Losing one dog did not prepare me for going through it again, especially because it happened far sooner than I ever imagined. Emily was 15 years old when she died. Annie […]

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Book 43 of 52: The Mothers by Brit Bennett

I don’t know if it’s fair for me to write a review of The Mothers by Brit Bennett. When I started the book, my dog was either lying next to me on the grass when I read outside; or at my feet when I read inside. When I finished it, she was gone. I still read the book, but my brain was only making a glancing connection with the material.

But here’s what I can say:

The Mothers is about Nadia [corrected thanks to a reader], a 17 year old whose mother just died by suicide. The Mothers of the title are olden women who are members of a Black church, and they act as an omnipotent Greek chorus narrating the novel. Her father is the guy with a truck who helps everyone out. From the jump, we know that Aubrey had an abortion, and that news of it eventually gets out.

When and how is part of the plot, so I won’t spoil it here. I’ve seen other contemporary writers try to use a Greek chorus before, and Bennett is the best one to do it yet.

However, the last third of the story unraveled, with the primary players making decisions that […]

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On hiatus

Hey folks, I’m going to take some time off from writing the blog, for a very sad reason. Annie Oakley Tater Tot, the action adventure wonder dog, died on Tuesday. She was only nine years old. It was very fast and sudden. I had six years with her, and it’ll never feel like enough.

I’ve shared more here. In addition to being the perfect travel companion, she was also my reading buddy, usually snuggled up right to me while I did so. I already miss her so much.

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Book 42 of 52: The Guest by Emma Cline

I was interviewing someone for a story yesterday and we got onto a tangent about books we loved, and books we didn’t. We both agreed that perhaps we have reached an age where certain books are Not For Us because we are Old. I felt that way about Sally Rooney’s Normal People. And I also felt that way, though to a lesser extent, about Emma Cline’s The Guest.

It’s a novel about Alex, a sex worker who has joined her much older boyfriend at his beach house in Long Island. Even though he isn’t paying here, there is clearly an exchange. She can live with him without holding down a job, and he buys her jewelry, bags and clothes. They’re not what she would purchase for herself, but they represent what he wants her to be, as appropriate arm candy for dinners and parties he takes her to around the island.

After doing something he didn’t like at one such party, he tells her to go back to New York. She pretends to, but doesn’t. The rest of the book is what she does while waiting until his big Labor Day party, where she assumes he’ll welcome her back with […]

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Friday Folio: August 25, 2023

Stephen King has some things to say about his books being used to train AI, via The Atlantic.

Here are the 13 most banned books in the country, per the American Library Association.

Speaking of, hundreds of complaints about books in Florida are coming mostly from two people, the Tampa Bay Times found.

Fuck em. them has a round up of LGBTQ+ books to read this fall. Let’s read them all! (or at least read what Zach Wilcha tell us to in his newsletter).

Pop Culture Happy Hour did another episode on books they love.

Happen to have $25 million lying around? You could buy some rare books, if you’d like. I may be more inclined to use that money towards feeding people, and filling abortion fund coffers, but I’d leave enough to go to buying and moving this Princeton mid-century modern home.

Can you help a bitch out — in trying to name this romance novel? My favorite recurring feature on Smart Bitches Trashy Books.

Reminder that as we turn into fall (oy!) that it’s almost library book sale season. Haddonfield, N.J.’s is September 8 and 9 this year.

And this isn’t exactly book related, […]

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