Saturday, December 14, 2019

Book Review: "Reverie" by Ryan La Sala

When you read as much as I do, at times you wonder whether there are still books out there which are totally original, because quite often books tend to feel similar. And then a book like Ryan La Sala's Reverie comes along, which truly knocked me on my ass with its originality, camp, and downright craziness. I marveled at La Sala's storytelling and the creativity of this story, which is billed as Inception meets The Magicians.

"Reveries are what happens when a person’s imagined world becomes real. They’re like miniature realities, with their own plots and rules and perils."

Kane Montgomery is a high school student who has amnesia following a car accident. He can't remember much, which makes his day-to-day existence even more difficult than it has been, given the fact that he's a gay student in a small town. As he deals with bullying by his classmates and trying to figure out whom to trust, he starts to notice that things in his life don't seem to be adding up. He realizes that among the many things he's forgotten about his life before the accident is that he was part of a group called The Others, who are supposed to help save people from reveries, which are fantasies that become alternate realities.

This is one of those books that is more enjoyable when you don't know much about the plot, and instead you let La Sala transport you into a whole different world of sorts. The characters are truly unforgettable, none so much as Poesy, the drag queen who may or may not be a villainness. She's a sorceress, prone to lofty speech and trickery, and I was utterly FASCINATED every time she appeared in the story.

As crazy of a fantasy as Reverie is, it also deals with some pretty weighty issues, including bullying and homophobia. It's nice to have a book like this in which LGBTQIA+ issues and characters are at the forefront.

I love the way La Sala writes, but at times there was so much going on it was a little difficult to keep focused. I can't even imagine where he came up with these ideas, but this is one of those unforgettable stories that will stay in my mind for a long time. This isn't a book for everyone, but if you like a mash-up of fantasy and camp, Reverie might be right up your alley.

NetGalley and Sourcebooks Fire gave me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

Book Review: "In Five Years" by Rebecca Serle

Good god, I loved this book even if it left me crying on the plane!

"You mistake love. Do you think it has to have a future in order to matter, but it doesn’t. It’s the only thing that does not need to be come at all. It matters only insofar as it exists. Here. Now. Love doesn’t require a future."

Dannie is a planner. Everything in her life is meticulously mapped out—the job she wants at the law firm she wants, her dream apartment in NYC, when she and her boyfriend will get engaged and married. That’s the way she’s always been.

She and her boyfriend David get engaged the night she interviews for her dream job at a highly prestigious law firm. Everything seems right. She and David have the same vision for their future, they like the same things, they're comfortable in their routines as a couple.

When Dannie and David get home from dinner she falls asleep and awakens to a dream in which she’s in another NYC apartment, wearing a different engagement ring, and she’s with another man. She finds out the dream is taking place five years in the future. And then she wakes up.

Dannie is utterly shaken by this dream. Who was this man? What happened to the future she planned? As time hurtles toward that date five years later she learns a lot about things she can and cannot control, and how those things shape her life. She doesn't know whether to accept the dream as an inevitable reflection of her fate or if she should fight the things that lead to its realization.

In Five Years was an amazing, emotional story full of twists and turns. It was a story about love in its many forms, friendship, ambition, and destiny. Truly an unforgettable book, and one I read in about two hours while waiting at the airport and on my plane.

Rebecca Serle is an amazing writer. Her last book, The Dinner List, also blew me away and left me an emotional mess. She's definitely an author worth reading.

My thanks to Atria Books for providing an advance copy of this book via a Bookstagram giveaway. The book will publish on March 3, 2020.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Book Review: "Reputation" by Sara Shepard

Did you ever see the recurring sketch on Saturday Night Live where they spoofed soap operas and telenovelas? They make every single incident overly melodramatic, with pauses, emotional outbursts, and campy looks.

As it roared toward its conclusion, I felt like Reputation was very similar to that sketch. Every single character had one, if not multiple secrets, and as each one was revealed I felt like dramatic music should be turned up as the other characters reacted.

Aldrich University is a small school in Pittsburgh on par with the better-known Ivy League schools. One day hackers break into the university's email system and expose countless faculty, students, staff, even those who work in the university hospital, by dumping their emails into a searchable database. The same thing happened with Harvard, Yale, and other schools, but that's no consolation to those affected by the email dump.

Among those exposed was Dr. Greg Strasser, a handsome, successful surgeon who is married to Kit Manning-Strasser, the daughter of the university president and a development officer at the school. Apparently Greg's emails contained multiple communications with someone called "Lolita," and they get pretty sexually explicit. Even though Kit and Greg's marriage was on shaky ground, the public discovery of her husband's betrayal embarrasses and upsets her, and is one of the things which throws her off balance at the school's fundraising gala. Yet when she awakens at home from a strange stupor after the gala, she finds Greg suffering from a serious stab wound, and he dies from his injuries shortly thereafter.

Who killed Greg? Was it Kit, in the midst of a jealous, drunken rage that she doesn't remember? Or was it one of the myriad others in town who had issues with him? Kit's sister Willa, an investigative journalist, returns home to help Kit, but also can't resist doing some digging into the hack as well as Greg's murder. But it turns out Willa has her own secrets, too, including why she fled town so long ago and rarely returns.

Reputation is a soapy, campy look at the secrets and lies of a small town and those who inhabit it. It's a story of infidelity, betrayal, jealousy, attempted blackmail, questions about paternity, sexual assault, and so much more. No one is safe from prying eyes, and no one is wholly innocent, so you really don't know whom you should suspect.

Sara Shepard, who created the Pretty Little Liars series, is no stranger to gossip and scandal, and she demonstrates her skills with great aplomb here. I was hooked on the book from the start, but somewhere around the middle I felt like there were just so many crazy secrets and scandals that it got a bit ridiculous, and I really didn't care about the characters. Talk about a bunch of seriously screwed-up people!

"Maybe the best reputation is no reputation. Maybe it's best not to care whatsoever how people see you. Maybe the only thing that really matters is how you see yourself."

If you're a fan of soap opera or melodrama, you'll definitely find something to sink your teeth into with Reputation.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Book Review: "The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse" by Charlie Mackesy

This unforgettable book with the memorable title is a book about friendship, kindness, and self-esteem told in the most special of ways.

First there is a boy. He is alone. He comes upon a mole, whom it seems loves cake more than anything else. The mole becomes the boy’s friend and companion, his coach and confidante. The boy shares his fears, the mole shares advice and his love of cake.

When they meet the fox, it is caught in a snare. Instinctively both the fox and the mole know if the mole frees the fox, the fox should then kill it, but if the mole leaves the fox in the snare, it will die. Sometimes you can override your instincts, and the fox becomes a (mostly silent) companion on their wanderings. Then they meet the horse, who has hidden some of its special abilities for far too long.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse isn’t as much a story as it is a book of advice, encouragement, and lessons accompanied by whimsical hand-drawn illustrations. The advice and lessons are beautiful and meaningful, and the entire book is a genuinely heartfelt experience.

"What do you think is the biggest waste of time?"

"Comparing yourself to others," said the mole.

The book is written in a handwriting-type font so it’s a little difficult for even older eyes to read, so this is definitely a book that should be read together and shared. Almost every page has something special on it.

I really think this will be the perfect gift for those you want to share a message of encouragement or love with. It’s similar to Winnie the Pooh in its content but not so much in narrative or illustration. This will be one you won't be able to forget.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Book Review: "We Met in December" by Rosie Curtis

Rosie Curtis' We Met in December was a cute rom-com that almost felt like a Hallmark movie (in a good way).

"The trouble with me is I've always been a daydreamer. Always been a sucker for a romantic film, always loved a book with a good old-fashioned happy ever after ending."

Jess is embarking on a new adventure in her life. She’s moved away from her hometown to London, leaving her beloved grandmother and her melodramatic mother, to pursue a dream job in publishing and live in a group house in Notting Hill, for far less rent than she should pay, since the house is owned by her friend Becky.

When she meets Becky’s other housemates, she is immediately attracted to Alex, a handsome man who ditched a successful career as a lawyer to train as a nurse. But even though the mere sight of him makes her insides feel fizzy, Becky has a strict no-relationships policy in the house. Jess moves into the house after the holidays only to discover that Alex seems to be having a dalliance with Emma, another of their housemates. While she is sad about losing her (unrealistic) chance with the man of her dreams, she’s content to let their friendship grow.

As she tries to get hold of her new job and fend off her best friends’ attempts to set her up, she wishes Alex were available. But every time it seems he might be, complications ensue. Should she wait forever for something that probably won’t happen, or should she try and find someone for her? Will she find someone who catches her fancy and her heart more than Alex does?

We Met in December is narrated by both Jess and Alex. If you’ve read any rom-coms you know what will happen, but that doesn’t take away from the book’s charm. The whole friends-to-lovers theme is enjoyable and the characters are fun and memorable.

But while the spark between Jess and Alex was definitely evident, this book didn’t quite wow me as much as I had hoped. Those who shy away from steamy romance will find this book a good departure, as there's romance but no sex scenes. It’s definitely sweet and fun, though, and I know others have loved it.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Book Review: "Forever, Interrupted" by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Taylor Jenkins Reid does it again—she weaves a beautiful story and tears my heart out in the process!

"Things happen in your life that you can’t possibly imagine. But time goes on and time changes you and the times change and the next thing you know, you’re smack in the middle of a life you never saw coming."

When Elsie meets Ben at a pizza place one night she has no idea how significantly her life will change. The two are attracted to each other instantly but their connection goes far beyond that. They can’t get enough of each other and want to spend every waking moment in each other’s company.

Their relationship truly is a whirlwind, and unbelievably, six months later they get married. And then one night two weeks later Ben is killed in an accident, and the life they had planned is now over.

Elsie is consumed with grief. How could she have known Ben for such a short time yet felt so completely known and loved? To complicate matters, Ben never told his mother, despite their closeness, that Elsie existed, let alone became his wife.

As Elsie tries to figure out how to face life without Ben, she tries to bridge the gap with his mother, to see if somehow grieving together, even with someone she doesn’t know, might help them both.

This is a beautiful story. It’s emotional but not as maudlin as I thought it might get. The book alternates between tracing the course of Elsie and Ben's relationship and the present day, as she navigates her new reality.

"No matter how strong you are, no matter how smart you are or tough you can be, the world will find a way to break you. And when it does, the only thing you can do is hold on."

I love the way Reid writes. This is the third book of hers I've read this year, and two of them will definitely be on my year-end best list, with this one close behind. I’m making my way through her backlist—two more to go, I think!!

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Book Review: "The Nobodies" by Liza Palmer

When life knocks you to your knees, you can completely fall to pieces or you can hang on to at least a shred of self-esteem and dignity. Joan Dixon may be closer to the former than the latter at this point, since her journalism career continues to go nowhere, she's had to move back in with her parents, and she's applying for jobs that are far, far more junior than she should consider. But what choice does she have?

After landing an internship at a newspaper right out of high school, she thought she'd have a glorious career as a journalist, but it never materialized. And when a meeting with her old mentor leaves her wondering if she ever really had any talent, she's considering any opportunity, even working as a bar back (she apparently only needs to show one breast, which seems like a good compromise for her).

Joan applies to be a junior copywriter at Bloom, a startup tech company in Los Angeles founded by two college best friends, which is about to go public. She's easily one of the oldest people working there and she finds the culture intriguing, bewildering, and frustrating. She should feel good about the office's fancy coffee machine and the unlimited supply of snacks and beverages, but how can she reconcile a workplace where the employees care more about why the cafeteria stopped carrying a certain variety of ramen noodles than serious issues?

Even as she becomes close with her team, and may even be in the midst of a flirtation with a colleague, the journalist in Joan can't rest. So when she can't quite figure out what Bloom does beyond the buzzwordy descriptions she gets, she asks questions. When the answers to those questions don't satisfy her she starts to dig deeper. And then she realizes there may be some reality behind her sneaking suspicions.

When Joan starts doing some surreptitious investigating, she starts to wonder whether she's subconsciously trying to sabotage her chance at stability. Does she really think there's something worth digging into, and even if it is, could it be worth the possibility of hundreds of people losing their jobs if what she finds signals the end of Bloom? And when her newfound friends join in to help her investigation, should she let them risk their jobs just for the sake of companionship?

The Nobodies is an interesting character study about a woman relentless in her pursuit of her dreams who worries she might not have the stuff to make her dreams come true. Joan is so focused that throughout her life she's neglected relationships, friendships, family, and she wonders if all of those sacrifices were worth it given that she's left with nothing. But does that mean she should give up for good?

This was a quick read, and I enjoyed Liza Palmer's storytelling ability. I'll admit I had trouble figuring out just what Bloom did, too, so Joan's investigation was interesting, but it went on a little longer than it needed to. I loved the supporting characters in this story perhaps a little more than Joan herself, but I was still completely drawn into her story.