Sunday, April 5, 2020

Book Review: "Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me" by Gae Polisner

Aren’t friends and family supposed to be there for you? Why do you have to face things alone?

In Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me, JL (short for Jean-Louise) is 15, and at a time when she’s supposed to be experiencing the carefree fun of being a teenager, her life is full of angst and worry, including and beyond the typical teenager stuff.

Her mother suffers from a dissociative disorder, which leaves her often depressed or in a fog, writing letters to someone who no longer exists. Her father has been out of town on business for months, which only adds to her mother’s despair.

No one seems to notice that JL’s childhood best friend Aubrey has shunned her, or that JL is dating Max, a 19-year-old senior who seems rough around the edges but is far more intelligent than anyone realizes. The only thing that gives JL peace of mind is spending time with the tropical butterflies she raises.

Max wants to go to California when he graduates, and wants JL to come with him. Of course, she can’t leave her mother alone, can she? Would anyone notice? At what point should she think of her own happiness before others?

As Max starts making plans to leave, and her mother slips further and further into despair, JL doesn’t know what to choose. When there’s no one to guide you, how do you decide?

This is a poignant, beautifully written book about the fragility of young friendship, the challenges of having to take responsibility for your parents when you’re still a child, the secrets we keep hidden from ourselves and others, and the feeling that you’re all alone, and no one is there to help you. Gae Polisner so adroitly captures those emotions.

My only quibble with the book is the way the narration meanders. One chapter takes place in middle school, one in the present, one in the slightly recent past—it took a little while to get used to. But Polisner—whose previous books (especially The Memory of Things) blew me away—keeps you hooked on this story.

I am grateful to have been part of the blog tour for this book. Thanks to NetGalley and Wednesday Books for giving me an advanced copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. The book publishes 4/7!

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Book Review: "The Upside of Falling" by Alex Light

Sometimes pretending to fall in love can be as difficult as actually doing so! At least that's the concept of Alex Light's new book, The Upside of Falling.

Becca doesn’t believe in love. Well, she knows it exists but she doesn’t think it’s worth the risk. Someone always ends it and someone always gets hurt, right? But she loves to read romance novels, because between the pages of a book things are safe and the heartbreak is contained. Lives aren't ruined like they are in real life when love goes wrong, as she knows all too well from her parents' divorce.

When her former best friend publicly ridicules her for never having a real-life romance and just sticking to books, Becca claims to have a boyfriend. And just as she’s about to embellish her story, Brett, the school’s star football player, comes over and kisses her. In front of everyone. Becca is about as flummoxed as everyone else.

Becca is utterly unprepared for the real manifestation of her fictional romance, but for some reason, Brett seems determined to continue with the charade. She doesn't understand why he decided to do this, but it turns out he's been looking for a chance to have a girlfriend, but didn't really know where to look. She’s suddenly being challenged to live outside her comfort zone (eating in the cafeteria, attending football games, etc.) and surprisingly, it’s not as bad as she thought it would be.

The longer they continue pretending to date, the more she realizes that Brett has so much more depth than she imagined, and he has his share of problems, too. And Brett realizes that trying to make someone else happy is actually a pretty wonderful thing.

Things get complicated when pretend feelings threaten to turn into real ones, and when each of them faces personal challenges. Will they go back to their “regular” lives or will they realize that being in a relationship means supporting each other no matter how tough things get?

I thought this was such a sweet, fun book. It didn’t matter that I pretty much knew how everything would unfold. This fake-dating rom-com totally hit the spot, and I enjoyed every minute.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Book Review: "The Association" by Sharon Ann Ziegler

This one will make you think twice the next time you pay your homeowners’ association dues!!

A young lawyer, disillusioned with her profession, decides to try a fresh start when she and her husband move to Georgia. Her first clients are an elderly couple who moved into a lakeside community on the promise of an idyllic retirement in a beautiful home, surrounded by beautiful landscaping and high-end amenities.

The truth is, of the three neighborhoods in this community called Covington Commons, only one, Eagle’s Nest, has been maintained well and offers its residents access to top-notch services and benefits. The other two, including the one where her clients live, have fallen into disarray and disrepair, residents have to pay exorbitant fees to access the amenities, and their property values have declined drastically since no one will want to move into such a dilapidated community. It's tragic because in many cases, these individuals have invested their retirement savings into these homes.

The more digging she does, the more she finds that all is not right at Covington Commons, and it’s all at the hands of the Association, the group in charge of the community, which treats the neighborhood like their own personal slush fund and resort. The Association’s misdeeds have gone unchecked forever—and there are a lot of scandals that go far beyond the usual complaints. Can one young, female lawyer take on a system that has been awash in corruption and cronyism (on the legal and judicial levels, too) and get justice?

She doesn’t realize what she’s stumbled into, but she won’t stop, even as she puts herself further and further into danger.

I love a good underdog story. The Association is well-paced and suspenseful, and Sharon Ann Ziegler’s storytelling leaves you feeling like you can’t put the book down until you’re done. I devoured the book in just a few hours.

Thanks to Sharon Ann Ziegler for providing me with a complimentary (and beautiful) copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!!

Book Review: "I Know You Know Who I Am" by Peter Kispert

Why do we lie? What is it that causes some of us to reinvent ourselves, our past experiences, responses to people or situations, or something else? And why is it so hard for some to acknowledge these lies, instead being forced to live with a falsehood, sometimes for years?

The concept of lying is at the heart of Peter Kispert's debut short story collection, I Know You Know Who I Am. It was the object of much fanfare even before it was published in mid-February.

In Kispert's collection, each story centers around a lie that a character has told. In some cases it's a lie that was told in a split second, but in some cases, these lies have been carried around for months, sometimes years. How they handle these lies and convince others of their truthfulness poses an interesting dilemma for many of the characters in these stories.

The one story in this collection I was completely enamored was the title story, which opens the book. In this one, a man, desperate to prove to his lover that he was a likable person with friends, hires someone to portray a friend whom he invented. Will the scheme work or will his lie be discovered? It's a taut, funny, slightly bittersweet story and Kispert did such a great job hooking me from the first few sentences.

Unfortunately, for some reason, none of the other stories made me feel this way. Some of the stories are a page or two, so they were over before I was able to ascertain what they were about, while others I fully understood yet they seemed to hold me at some emotional distance, and I almost felt like I was reading them through some gauzy filter. Each story seemed to hint at something big but then never got there.

I'm a big fan of short stories and I eagerly anticipated this collection, but it fell really short for me. I tried reading it over a few different days in case it was my mood or external factors that were distracting me, but each time my feelings were the same. I've seen others give this a phenomenal review, so I'd definitely encourage you to read this and not be dissuaded by my reaction.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Book Review: "Perfectly Famous" by Emily Liebert

To me, there's nothing more disappointing than when a thriller with tremendous potential veers off course into utter soap opera melodrama. That's what happened with Emily Liebert's upcoming book, Perfectly Famous. I was on the edge of my seat for a while, then I started to suspect what I thought would happen, and then...darn it. But is a book that gives you a good ride almost the whole way still worth a read? I think so.

Ward DeFleur is a best-selling author and a household name. Her books have been made into movies and become instant hits. Her fans are eagerly anticipating her 15-stop book tour for her latest release, and although Ward is a little bit nervous, she's determined that nothing is going to go wrong, and the tour will be a surefire success.

And then, the night of her first book signing, something goes very wrong—her teenage daughter, Stevie, is found brutally beaten (she was supposed to be spending the night at a friend's house) and ultimately, succumbs to her injuries. Ward is devastated, unable to get past this tragedy, and retreats from the world, cutting off contact with her agent and publisher and everyone else.

Bree attended Ward's book signing the night Stevie was assaulted. Having a hard time dealing with the end of her marriage and her teenage daughter's increasingly hostile attitude, she broke down in tears at the signing and Ward comforted her. Now, as she tries to build a new life for herself, she begins writing for the local newspaper, and decides what she'd like to do is tell Ward's story.

The challenge is, Ward isn't interested in being found. But Bree is resourceful, almost obsessive in her desire to track Ward down. Even as people warn her that Ward may not want her to tell her story, or even try to locate her, Bree feels this is her chance to prove something to herself again. The deeper she digs, the more danger she puts herself in, because Stevie's killer is still out there...and doesn't want Bree in the way.

Liebert really ratchets up the tension through the start of the book. And although some tired subplots threaten to derail the suspense, the story is pretty fascinating and I couldn't put it down...until things started getting tied up and all I wanted was to put the book down. This is the first of Liebert's books I've read so I don't know if this is something that happens often in her books or if this is just a fluke, but I was really disappointed.

NetGalley and Gallery Books provided an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

Perfectly Famous publishes June 2.

Book Review: "The Honey-Don't List" by Christina Lauren

Some people make their assistants do everything, even save their marriage!

Rusty and Melissa Tripp are the darlings of the design world. They’ve taken the world by storm with their designs and their coupledom, starring in a hit show and becoming their own brand. Things are about to take off for real though, as they’re about to release a new book about marriage as well as a new show of their own.

Carey has worked for the Tripps since she was 16, starting out in their first store in Wyoming before anyone knew their names. Ten years later, although officially she’s Melissa’s assistant, her contributions to the Rusty and Melissa brand are far more immeasurable than most know or will acknowledge. And in many ways, she needs the job about as much as they need her.

The thing is, the Tripp’s’ marriage isn’t as solid as it appears. In fact, Rusty wants out, and is doing everything he can to sabotage their relationship. But Melissa will let nothing derail her ambitions, not even her husband. With so much riding on the book and the show, it’s up to Carey and James, the handsome engineer who has become Rusty’s assistant, to protect their image and save them from a public meltdown before the television show premieres.

Stuck working together, little by little they overcome their initial dislike and misconceptions of each other. And as camaraderie grows into something else, just as the Tripps seem to be publicly imploding, Carey and James have to decide—is their own chance at happiness more or less important than saving their jobs and perhaps the Tripps' relationship?

I love the way Christina Lauren writes. (If you've never heard of them before, it's actually two writers behind the Christina Lauren name.) I love how they mesh humor, steam, and emotional depth. While I enjoyed The Honey-Don't List and tore through it, it didn’t really move me like their others. But it’s still fun and sexy.

If you've never read Christina Lauren before, I'd encourage you to read, in particular, Love and Other Words, Josh & Hazel's Guide to Not Dating, The Unhoneymooners, and My Favorite Half-Night Stand. They're a great team.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Book Review: "The Alice Network" by Kate Quinn

"Why did it matter if something scared you, when it simply had to be done anyway?"

Bravery can come from the least likely of sources. And in Kate Quinn's The Alice Network, she weaves together a story of some brave but unknown women from history with some fictitious ones.

In 1947, Charlotte “Charlie” St. Clair has been dragged to Europe by her mother. Charlie is 19, pregnant, and unmarried, and the plan is to go to Switzerland to have her “little problem” taken care of. But Charlie is less interested in dealing with her own issues and would rather try to find her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared during WWII.

Charlie escapes her mother’s clutches and flees to London to try and find a woman who supposedly can help her. When she meets Eve Gardiner, the woman is drunk, angry, and pointing a gun at Charlie, and refuses to help her. But when Charlie utters one man’s name, and the French city where Rose had supposedly gone during the war, Eve reluctantly agrees to help.

It turns out that Eve isn’t just a drunk older woman—during WWI she was a spy, part of the Alice Network, a group of women trained to ferret out information from the most dangerous of sources. Stationed in France, Eve was excellent at her job, until something goes awry, and a betrayal tears down the whole network. She bears the physical and emotional scars all these years later.

This is a great historical fiction book, alternating between Eve’s time in France in 1915 and Charlie’s 1947 efforts to find Rose. It’s intense, suspenseful, and emotional, and although it was a tiny bit too long, I really devoured it. I've heard Quinn's other book, The Huntress, is good as well.

It's funny: I often say that historical fiction isn't my thing because I'd much rather read contemporary stories than anything else. But strangely enough, all of the historical fiction I've read lately (without really considering it "historical") has been pretty great. So now I'm just a big contradiction, lol.