Saturday, January 23, 2021

Book Review: "Alex Six" by Vince Taplin

In the immortal words of Keanu Reeves, “Whoa.” What a crazy ride Alex Six took me on!

Vick Miller is a former college professor. He now owns a number of properties that he rents, and he and his wife are raising their infant son. Life isn't perfect, but it's good.

Alexa Livingston is the wealthy daughter of a real estate magnate. She and her husband Francis were in love, but he died tragically before they could start a family. When she sees Vick at a grocery store one day, she nearly falls apart emotionally, practically brought to her knees by his resemblance to her late husband.

Desperate to have a child that reminds her of Francis, she offers to pay Vick handsomely if he’ll give her a specimen. But he can’t tell anyone, including his wife. The price is too good to pass up, so what's the downside?

As Alexa’s requests continue and her offers increase, Vick feels trapped. Does he have a price? Can he say no? Will Alexa allow it?

I'm going to stop here with the plot summary, but let's just say that Alex Six is a crazy book I couldn’t stop reading. The characters aren’t likable in the slightest but that doesn’t matter one iota—I needed to know what would happen next, even as I was a little creeped out by the possibilities. And I’ll never look at vanilla extract the same way again!!

The author, Vince Taplin, sent me a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

Book Review: "Concrete Rose" by Angie Thomas

Angie Thomas' new book, Concrete Rose, is simply amazing. This is a powerful look at the life and challenges faced by a young Black man.

This prequel to The Hate U Give (but you don't need to have read that book first) takes us back to Garden Heights 17 years earlier. Maverick Carter knows his responsibility is to take care of his mom while his father, a former gang legend, is in prison. But the only way for a 17-year-old to truly help his mom is to sell drugs on the side for his gang, the King Lords.

While Maverick knows his life could be better—he’d love people to stop looking at him as a pale imitation of his father—he’s happy with his girlfriend and he has a cousin who looks out for him. And then his life is completely upended when he finds out he’s the father of a three-month-old boy.

How can he be a father when he’s still a child himself? While it completely changes his life, he’s determined to be a better father than the one he had. But he can’t be a father if he’s dealing drugs, so as much as “real work” pains him, when he’s given the chance to walk away from the gang life, he does.

When tragedy strikes and Maverick makes a foolish mistake, he’s faced with a decision: does he do what he needs to in order to survive and take care of his family, or does he continue to walk the right path, even if it may be the harder one?

Concrete Rose was just a fantastic book. I will never know the challenges faced by young Black men, but Thomas takes the reader into that world and gives a glimpse of the struggle between right and wrong, between boyhood and manhood, between being tough and being right.

Thomas never ceases to dazzle me with her power as a storyteller, her ability to make you think and make you feel and make you root for her characters. With this book, she has created another masterpiece that will resonate for long afterward.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Book Review: "Better Luck Next Time" by Julia Claiborne Johnson

Better Luck Next Time, Julia Claiborne Johnson's new book, is a fun and poignant look at marriage, divorce, friendship, love, and finding yourself.

In 1938, if women wanted a quick divorce they had to go to Reno, Nevada, where after a six-week stay which gave them residency, their divorce would be granted. Some of the wealthier women stayed at the Flying Leap, a dude ranch (also known as a “divorce ranch”), where they could enjoy pampering and companionship until their six-week time period was complete.

The women who come to the Flying Leap are either completely determined to get a divorce or they’re wavering; they either have confidence or lack it; and nearly all have moments of weakness. (Some, however, seem to be repeat customers.) Some warm to and make connections with their fellow guests, but some let the strain get to them.

The story is told through the eyes of Ward, a young, handsome man who works as a ranch hand at the Flying Leap. He recollects this time many years later as well as his encounters with Emily, a timid woman who drove herself from San Francisco after she had had enough of her cheating husband, and Nina, an heiress back for her third divorce. The relationships among the three form the crux of the story.

I thought this book offered really interesting social commentary and a fun look at women’s role in society in the 1930s. I don’t think this was necessarily “historical fiction” per se, but it was an interesting time for women in particular. There’s some romance, some emotion, some fun—it was a slow-paced but engaging read.

Custom House Books provided me a complimentary copy of Better Luck Next Time in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks so much for making it available!

Book Review: "Shipped" by Angie Hockman

Angie Hockman's newest book, Shipped, is a fun, emotional, enemies-to-lovers rom-com which tackled some serious issues along the way.

Rom-com fans, what’s your favorite trope? I’m partial to enemies-to-lovers when there’s a real reason one doesn’t like the other, and I also love friends-to-lovers and fake dating.

Henley (yes, like the shirt) Evans is a list-maker, a goal-setter. She has to be in order to pursue her MBA and succeed in her marketing job for a cruise line. The constant thorn in her side is the company’s social media specialist, Graeme Crawford-Collins, who works remotely but never fails to anger her. They’re constantly battling over email over him getting to the things she asks of him, not to mention the smarmy way he sucks up to their boss.

When Henley finds out she’s being considered for a major promotion, she’s thrilled—and then she finds out her competition is Graeme. They each have to put together a proposal on how to increase bookings for the company's Galapagos cruises—and in order to do that, they both have to go on one of the cruises. Together.

Henley desperately wants this promotion and doesn’t want to lose to Graeme. But the more time she spends with him, she realizes she might have been wrong about him, and he’s never understood why she hates him. Is she working for something that really will make her happy, at the expense of someone who could? Does she even want this job?

Well, you know what’s going to happen. But along the way there’s humor, romance, family issues, steam, and even some exploration of dealing with grief and workplace discrimination. It all adds up to a terrific book, plus I must add the Galapagos to my bucket list of places to visit!!

Shipped is definitely a great rom-com to add to your list!!

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Book Review: "At the Edge of the Haight" by Katherine Seligman

Katherine Seligman's At the Edge of the Haight is a well-written, sometimes emotional look at homeless young people and the challenges they face.

Maddy has been living on the streets in San Francisco for a while now, generally living around Golden Gate Park. She and her friends have their routines—they know when to wake up so they don’t get rousted by the cops, they know where to find food, where they can go for shelter or peace and quiet, and they know whom to avoid. Her closest companion is her dog, Root, who protects her.

One morning when trying to pull Root out of some bushes she finds a homeless boy who has been stabbed to death. The perpetrator sees her and threatens her, and it sends Maddy into a whirlwind of fear. Does she tell the police what she saw and invite scrutiny and danger into her life and the lives of her friends, or can she go along pretending nothing happened?

But gossip travels, even on the streets, and it’s not long before the boy’s parents want to talk to her to understand their son, and the police want her help in catching the murderer. What does Maddy want? Does she want someone to save her, like the boy’s parents would like to do, or does she want to continue the life she’s living? Is there middle ground?

I found this book to be very compelling, and what I enjoyed most is it didn’t seem to fall into so many of the clichés about homelessness that I expected. Maddy is complex and flawed, but not yet cynical, and her story is very compelling. You can understand her indecisiveness given what she’s been through. Not all of the characters are as appealing, but the story hooked me.

This was a thought-provoking read given the number of homeless you see all over—particularly in the San Francisco area. Seligman really did a great job making me feel and making me think.

I was fortunate to be part of the blog tour for At the Edge of the Haight. Algonquin Books provided me a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!!

Monday, January 18, 2021

Book Review: "The Office of Historical Corrections" by Danielle Evans

Danielle Evans' The Office of Historical Corrections includes six beautifully written, powerful stories and a novella which move you and leave you thinking.

These are stories about race, racism, family, love, relationships, identity, history, and how we are perceived. In many cases they touch on complex, thorny subjects but they are never heavy-handed.

While not all of the six stories worked equally for me, my favorites included “Anything Could Disappear,” about a woman who finds herself in some unexpected roles; “Boys Go to Jupiter,” in which a woman inadvertently winds up in the middle of a furor when a photo of her wearing a Confederate flag bikini goes viral; "Happily Ever After," which followed a woman with a life-altering decision to make; and “Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain,” about a photojournalist in the midst of wedding drama (not her own).

The title novella is fantastic as well. It follows a former university professor now working for a federal agency committed to correcting historical inaccuracies. It’s particularly meaningful and powerful in a time when we’re plagued with claims of “fake news” and people worried about rewriting history when monuments and statues are taken down.

Danielle Evans is an amazing storyteller. The Office of Historical Corrections will stick in my mind for a while.

It has been a while since I’ve read short stories but a number of these really moved me and made me think. I know short stories don't appeal to everyone for various reasons, but if you’re thinking of giving them a shot, this book might be worth a try!

Book Review: "Life's Too Short" by Abby Jimenez

Life's Too Short, Abby Jimenez's upcomiing third novel, is fun, sexy, moving, romantic, thought-provoking—boy, did I love it!!

Vanessa is a wildly famous travel YouTuber who has to put her career on hold when her sister decides to leave her infant daughter in her care. For an adventure lover and adrenaline junkie like Vanessa, however, instant motherhood is a challenge like none other.

When she finally meets Adrian, her brooding, ridiculously sexy next-door neighbor, it’s 4:00 am, the baby has been crying nonstop for hours, she hasn’t slept in forever, and she has baby vomit in her hair. Yet he gives her the opportunity to shower while he magically gets the baby to stop crying.

It’s not long before spending time with Adrian becomes a regular part of her day that she loves—and not just because he’s ridiculously good with the baby. But with a 50 percent chance of having a disease that killed her mother and sister before they turned 30, and with the possibility that symptoms are already developing, the last thing she wants is a relationship that can’t last.

For Adrian, work has always been his refuge, the one thing he can control when his life circumstances go awry. Yet all he can think about is Vanessa and being with her and the baby. But as he lets down his guard with her, she keeps reminding him she’s not interested in a relationship. Why does she keep pushing him away?

Y’all, Life's Too Short was just so good. Jimenez is such a great writer and I love the way she balances romance and fun with real emotion and issues that make you wonder how you’d react in a similar situation. Her books (The Friend Zone and The Happy Ever After Playlist) are all so great—they make me laugh, smile, cry, maybe even blush a little.

And here’s what I know. If she bases her male characters on people she knows, I’m totally going to hang out with her because, damn, these men. (Whatever.)

Abby Jimenez and Forever provided me with a complimentary advance copy of Life's Too Short in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

The book publishes 4/6/2021.