Book Review: American Dream by Adriana Herrera

Cover of Adriana Herrera's American Dreamer

American Dreamer by Adriana Herrera is the first novel in The Dreamers series, each following a character that featured in the previous text. Our story centers around Nesto Vasquez, a long time New Yorker, who has decided to move to Albany in order to pursue his dream of running a Dominican food truck. Nesto’s decision is aided by the fact that his family has moved to the suburbs. On the day that Nesto drives to Ithaca, he runs into a cute man at the gas station named Jude. Later in the day, Nesto is surprised to see the man walk up to his food truck with his friend Carmen. Jude and Carmen work in the one of Ithaca’s libraries. When Jude’s salad gets eaten by a disrespectful colleague Carmen suggests that they check out the Afro-Carribean food truck, OuNYe, parked nearby. Carmen is Dominican American and is always excited to test out Dominican food to see if it is authentic. Both Nesto and Jude are surprised to see one another again, and the instant chemistry that they have prompts Jude to be uncharacteristically flirty. American Dreamer was such a pleasant surprise. I absolutely love the characters. Nesto’s determination to make his dream of cooking food for a living come true was wonderfully realistic. I loved the banter Nesto has with his family. Herrera’s descriptions felt warm and enveloping. As for Jude, well, it seems like I have a love for characters named Jude. While Jude of American Dreamer is very different from Jude of A Little Life, I find myself relating to them. Maybe it’s Jude of American Dreamer being a librarian, and I am in my third week of librarian school. Maybe it’s that I read Jude as somewhat neurodiverse, but please know that the text does not intend for the reader to interpret him in this manner.

If you are looking for a romance that explicitly features a m/m relationship with one of the partners being on the autistic spectrum, then I would recommend Carry the Ocean by Heidi Cullinan. Unfortunately, it isn’t own voices, but I felt like the portrayal was respectful. Carry the Ocean also portrays someone who struggles with long-term depression.

It was a joy to listen to American DreamerAmerican Dreamer is a romance, so readers aren’t surprised when our leading men end up together, but it was lovely to watch them grow together. While Nesto and Jude fall into one another fairly quickly, there are still clear changes in their relationship: trust gained, problems addressed and surmounted. Nesto’s friends have no qualms informing him that he has commitment issues, and they believe that part of the reason he has given himself three months to have a successful business is because part of him doesn’t want to believe that his dream is possible and he doesn’t want to leave New York City.  Jude learns to share his vulnerabilities with Nesto. The appreciation Nesto has for his mother, the descriptions of food and the care there, the way Herrera ties in the microaggressions and pressures to do well for his family. Jude’s navigation of the bureaucratic library board. Heck, I even like how Herrera portrayed, Misty, the grant writer at the library, whose infuriating, racist, and pompous characteristics felt true to life. All these pieces contributed to my enjoyment of Herrera’s American Dreamer and to me giving it 4 out of 5 stars. I’m hopeful that Carmen will be one of the characters whose story we get to delve further into in the next installments of The Dreamers

Book Review: Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

For one reason or another, I decided to continue my exploration of thrillers in audio format. My second pick this month ended up being Lock Every Door by Riley Sager. Lock Every Door is Sager’s third and latest book, and the premise is what caught my attention. What would you do if you were offered 1,000 a week to house sit a luxury apartment? Would you accept it? What if you lived in New York City and were without a job and with a lot of debt? Would you accept it? Well, our main protagonist, Jules Larsen, responds to a craigslist advertisement for an apartment sitter. When Jules goes to the address that she is provided, she ends up at a upper Manhattan apartment overlooking central park, The Bartholomew. When Jules realizes where she is, she immediately recognizes the building from her  older  sister Jane ‘s favorite book Heart of a Dreamer by Greta Manville. There, she interviews with Leslie Evelyn, who offers her the job with the clause that there are three rules that every sitter must follow. All apartment “occupiers”  must: 1) be present in the apartment every night 2) never have visitors at the apartment 3) never discuss or disturb the true residences of the building. She has no commitments, her boyfriend cheated on her, and she lost her job on the same day. You see, Jules  has been sleeping on her only friend, Chloe’s apartment, and she is feeling like a burden. Leslie Evelyn further explains an old rule of the Bartholomew is that none of the apartments can be unoccupied for more than a month, having temporary tenants in the apartment is like “an insurance policy” to prevent robberies from occurring. Very quickly, you learn that Jules situation is further complicated by her being an orphan without any family to aid her. Both of her parents died and her sister disappeared when she was a teenager. Jules, understandably, accepts the position and moves into the apartment.  Once she is there, she finds out the building has a history of deaths and is viewed by a lot of folks as cursed. Some go as far as crossing the street when passing it. With a title like Lock Every Door, you know this can’t possible go well. I’ll let you read it to find out more. I ended up liking this, but not loving it. It was a solid three out of five stars. I liked how Sager kept you guessing as to what was really happening in the Bartholomew and made the reveals in a paced manner. I don’t like my thrillers to be too fast paced. The cast of characters here were interesting, though not especially likable. What can you expect when you are looking into a cursed luxury hotel? The ongoing image and theme of the Ouroborus was also tied in well to the story. All in all I preferred Riley Sager’s Final Girls (minus the last reveal) to Lock Every Door, but it was a decent read.

Book Review: The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

Dear Mr Wrexham,

You have no idea how many times I’ve started this letter and screwed up the resulting mess, but I’ve realised there is no magic formula here. There is no way I can make you listen to my case. So I’m just going to have to do my best to set things out. However long it takes, however much I mess this up, I’m just going to keep going, and tell the truth.
        My name is… And here I stop, wanting to tear up the page again.
        Because if I tell you my name, you will know why I am writing to you. My case has been all over the papers, my name in every headline, my agonised face staring out of every front page and every single article insinuating my guilt in a way that falls only just short of contempt of court. If I tell you my name, I have a horrible feeling you might write me off as a lost cause, and throw my letter away. I wouldn’t entirely blame you, but please – before you do that, hear me out.

If you’ve been following me on my BookTube channel, you’ll know that 2019 has been the year where I’ve discovered my love of mystery/thrillers. From Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs to Dwayne Alexander Smith’s 40 acres to Riley Sager’s Final Girls, I’ve tried an exponential number of mysteries/thrillers compared to years prior. I’ve also started grad school recently, and I’ve felt very sleep deprived even if it is only two weeks into the program. Why am I sharing this? Well, at work one day I wanted to force myself to focus through adrenaline and went on the hunt for a thriller to listen to. I quickly came across The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware and narrated by Imogen Church. I had heard of Ruth Ware’s 2016 release The Women in Cabin 13 , but I haven’t read it yet. Her newest novel, The Turn of the Key, opens with a letter from our protagonist, Rowan Caine, to a solicitor (lawyer) called Mr. Wrexham. We quickly learn that Rowan has been imprisoned for a crime. We don’t know what the crime is, but it is linked to the Heatherbrae House where she once was a nanny for the Elincourt family. Rowan explains how she came to respond to a news advert and to interview with the Sandra Elincourt in the Elincourt’s Scottish highland estate. The Elincourt’s generous offer (£55,000 a year for a live-in nanny with all daily expenses covered) helps Rowan overlook aspects of the Elincourt’s home like the doors that don’t have locks, cameras placed in every room, technology trickled into every aspect of their life. When Rowan questions Sandra why the Victorian estate has been transformed into a smart house, Sandra states that, since she and her husband, Bill, are architects, they must say up to date with the modern trends. Coming from the blusterous London setting where she works for a corporate day care, Little Nippers, it is an offer that Rowan can’t resist. Once Rowan accepts the position as a nanny to Petra (18 months), Maddie (8 years), and Ellie (5 years), Sandra immediately leaves to go on a business trip. The Elincourt’s also have a 14-year-old daughter, Rhiannon, who goes to boarding school during the work week. Very early on, Rowan notices that multiple nannies have came and went at the Elincourt estate. This, paired with the odd sounds and technological glitches, makes for a very eerie and jarring setting. The setting is also very disjointed with the Victorian architecture blended with the modern technology of the house. Gene McKenzie, the housekeeper, and Jack Grant, the groundskeeper, are the only ones that Rowan sees regularly. After her first night there, Rowen begins to experience strange, unexplainable events: YouTube videos playing through the house’s intercom, light controls not functioning properly, pacing in the middle of the night. The Turn of the Key managed to keep me on the edge of my seat without feeling rushed. I didn’t see the ending and was complete taken by surprise. I think that the plot twist is aided by how Ware’s ability to make the protagonist seem unreliable. Not only with the fact that Rowan is in prison, but that she is only giving us an explanation of what happened at Heatherbrae house and doesn’t share any information from her past. I also found the way that Ware wrote the children felt very realistic. The Turn of the Key is a retelling of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, but I have unfortunately not read that novel yet. I’m interested to reading the original and better understanding how it has influenced Ware’s version. Overall, I gave this novel 4/5 stars and will be listening to more of Ruth Ware in the future.