Friday, June 18, 2021

Book Review: "Satisfaction Guaranteed" by Karelia Stetz-Waters

As Karelia Stetz-Waters shows us in her new rom-com, Satisfaction Guaranteed, sometimes, to find happiness, you have to step outside your comfort zone. Way outside.

Cade is an anomaly in her family—the type-A, business-oriented one in a sea of free spirits. She singlehandedly runs her parents’ renowned gallery and basically spends her time working or, well, working. Who has time for a relationship? And it’s been far too long since she’s had good sex, or any sex, for that matter. (And don't even mention orgasms.)

When her aunt Ruth leaves her a failing sex toy store (which also sells cookware and Christmas decorations), Cade wants to cut her losses immediately. But there’s a catch—Cade now co-owns the store with Selena, a gorgeous friend of Ruth’s who helped care for her in the last days of her life. And Selena is determined to keep the store open and keep following Ruth’s vision, even if it hasn’t succeeded to date.

Selena has her own share of issues, too. As someone who has always used sex as a way of solving (or avoiding) problems, she’s taken a vow of celibacy. And it seems to be working—until she meets Cade.

Can Cade and Selena both agree to compromise on their vision for the store to perhaps make it successful and follow Ruth’s vision? And what complications would ensue if their relationship turned from colleagues to something more serious? Will the shop succeed? Will they?

I thought Satisfaction Guaranteed was a fun, sweet, and, of course, sexy rom-com. The cast of characters is diverse and fun and wacky, and you know there are secrets to be revealed, so even though you can predict how things will unfold, it was fun to go along for the ride.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Book Review: "Instructions for Dancing" by Nicola Yoon

Nicola Yoon's new YA novel, Instructions for Dancing, is beautiful, emotional, thought-provoking, and so much more than the simple YA romance I was expecting.

Ever since her parents got divorced and she discovered it was because her father met someone else, Evie stopped believing in love and happy ever after. She’s even giving all of her romance books away.

At a strange Little Free Library, she is left with a manual called Instructions for Dancing. But that’s not all—when she sees her sister kissing her boyfriend, suddenly Evie can see the entire arc of their relationship, from joyful, romantic start to sad finish. And what she sees turns out to be a completely accurate picture of what happened before and what comes after.

Suddenly she is bombarded by seeing what eventually will happen to happy couples in love, and it shakes her. Why would anyone want to fall in love if it is just destined to end in heartbreak?

In an effort to figure out what is happening to her, she winds up at a dance studio, and starts taking ballroom dance lessons. It’s not long before she’s paired up with X, short for Xavier, for a dance competition. X is a confident, sexy, funny musician, and his philosophy is to say yes to everything, so this sudden ramp-up for a ballroom competition with a girl he has never met before doesn’t faze him.

As the two draw closer and her resistance to live starts to create problems with family and friends, Evie has to wonder whether taking a leap of faith with X is worth the probability of failure and sadness. Should she just trust her heart?

I finished Instructions for Dancing early this morning and really loved it. It made me smile, laugh, and it definitely made me cry. Nicola Yoon continues to dazzle me with her storytelling and slay me emotionally.

Book Review: "¡Hola Papi!: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons" by John Paul Brammer

¡Hola Papi! is a series of reflections and recollections from John Paul Brammer, an online advice columnist who could’ve used his own advice a time or two.

Do you ever feel like a book speaks to you? Sometimes I completely identify with a character or situation in a book (like one of my last reads, Pumpkin). But rarely have I felt so seen by a book like I did with ¡Hola Papi! and, truthfully, I didn’t expect this in the least.

In this terrific book, Brammer shares what it was like to grow up biracial in Oklahoma. It was not a good place to struggle with your sexuality, and of course, deal with the related struggles with self-confidence and loving yourself. Far too many times these struggles took their toll on his mental health.

Brammer shares the problems he faced and the discoveries he made about life and himself, and presents them as answers to some of life’s questions, like how to let go of the past, how to forgive those who wronged you, how to find yourself worthy of love and happiness, and what to do when your high-school bully hits you up on Grindr. (Substitute “summer camp” for “high school” and I’m so there!)

I found this book funny, insightful, emotional, and so on point in so many ways. Even though on the surface Brammer and I couldn’t be more different, it’s amazing how much of what he had to say truly resonated and moved me.

I don’t read a lot of nonfiction but this is definitely one I’ll really remember.

Book Review: "When We Blinked" by Stephanie Mack

After you’ve both been through so much, is a second (or maybe a third) chance at happy ever after possible? This is a question at the heart of Stephanie Mack's debut novel, When We Blinked.

Seraphina Jones thought she had it all, including marriage to her childhood sweetheart, a beautiful daughter after many fertility issues, and a great career. But after four years as a stay-at-home mom, she returns to her job with her marriage over and her daughter facing challenges due to her high sensitivity.

Encouraged by her friend and colleague to start dating again, she agrees to try a new dating app called Blinde, where no photos are exchanged so people build connections without physical attraction being the primary driver.

As she starts speaking to men on the app, things are going well at work—so well, in fact, that Graham, the handsome heir to the hotel company she works for, is interested in her. (Romantically, too.) Before she knows it she’s juggling a man named Jack on the app, flirting with Graham, and considering whether to try again with Connor, her not-quite-ex.

The thing is, Connor is actually pretending to be Jack in an effort for Sera to see another side of him she might have forgotten existed. Could this be the jumpstart they need to try again, or is Sera more interested in a fresh start?

Alternating narration between Connor and Sera, we see their relationship from its dreamy start through all of the challenges and heartbreaks they faced. And we see how both have changed—but is that enough?

I thought When We Blinked was a compelling and romantic story, with some drama. Faith also plays a role with these characters but it isn’t obtrusive, for those who don't prefer religious undertones. These characters and their story are very believable; you could imagine at least some of this happening to people you know.

I enjoyed being part of the tour for this book. Thanks to Suzy Approved Book Tours and Stephanie Mack for providing a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Book Review: "Pumpkin" by Julie Murphy

Holy hell! Pumpkin, Julie Murphy's latest book, is an absolutely amazing book about living your life as unabashedly you as you can.

Waylon Brewer is a flamboyantly gay (and fat) high school senior from a small Texas town. Being gay at his high school isn’t ideal but it’s not too traumatizing; while he has to endure some taunting, having his twin sister Clementine (who is also gay) by his side makes everything more endurable.

“There are times when I feel like I can’t be me. I can’t simply exist. I have to offer something in exchange. Something that absolves me of being fat and gay and even worse—both of those things at once.”

When the audition video he made one night for his favorite TV drag show is accidentally shared with the entire school, he gains a little more notoriety and takes a few more insults. But ultimately, he is nominated for prom queen, and Hannah, Clem’s girlfriend, is nominated for prom king.

Although they were nominated as a joke or insult (or maybe a little of both), Waylon and Hannah decide they’re going to do anything they can to win. And when Waylon is paired up with Tucker, one of his nemeses, on prom court projects, he learns that sometimes first impressions of a person don’t always reveal the truth of who they are.

Pumpkin is so funny, so sensitive, so utterly squee-worthy, I can’t find enough words to express how much I loved it. I’ve been that fat gay kid too, and I didn’t handle it with even a fraction of the flair Waylon did. Every single one of these characters is so exceptional in their own way. This is definitely a book I wish existed when I was growing up.

I hope we get a sequel someday! I love buddy reads with my friend Louis because the discussion is always so great, and this certainly was no exception!!

Book Review: "The Lucky List" by Rachael Lippincott

As I was reading Rachael Lippincott's new YA novel, The Lucky List, I was thinking, "I’m not crying, I’m just moistening my eyes." (Darned pollen!)

There was a time where Emily had never met a prank not worth pulling or a risk not worth taking. She felt like she and her mom were the luckiest people in their small town. Until three years ago, when her mom’s luck ran out and she died of cancer.

But the summer before senior year of high school, everything has fallen apart. Emily very publicly wrecked her relationship with her boyfriend at junior prom so her friends are all mad at her, and her father has decided it’s time for a fresh start, so he’s selling their house and giving away all of her mom’s stuff.

When she finds her mother’s high school bucket list in a box in her closet, she believes that if she completes the things on that list, it may bring her closer to her mom. And when Blake, the daughter of her father’s best friend, volunteers to help her accomplish the tasks, she feels closer to her mom than she has in a long time, but she also feels an unexpected connection with Blake.

As Emily tries to complete everything on her mom’s list, she has to decide what she wants the ultimate outcome to be. Does she want to go back to the life she thinks her mother would want for her, even if she might not, or is it time to acknowledge the feelings she has for Blake and take a risk?

I loved The Lucky List, this story of grief, friendship, fresh starts, and having the courage to be exactly who you are. My mom died when I was very young, before I knew her, and so some of the emotions described in the book really resonated with me. But I wasn’t crying, you were!

I should’ve expected an emotional read from the coauthor of Five Feet Apart, but it wasn't too sad. I found this sweet, special, and so moving.

Book Review: "Seven Days in June" by Tia Williams

In Tia Williams' latest novel, Seven Days in June, a second chance at their love story gives them everything to gain—and everything to lose.

“I remember that I’m not lonely. I’m alone. When I’m comatose from writing and mothering, when I’m hurting too badly to cook, talk, or smile, I curl up with ‘alone’ like a security blanket…Alone never gets disappointed by me.”

Eva is the bestselling author of an erotica series featuring a vampire and a witch. She’s struggling to finish book 15, dealing with chronic pain, which is a disability she’s lived with her whole life, and she's trying to be the best single mom to her precocious preteen daughter. She doesn’t feel she’s succeeding anywhere.

When prizewinning author Shane Hall shows up at a literary panel where Eva is speaking and begins waxing poetic about her work, it sets the Black literary community afire. But what no one other than Shane and Eva know is that 15 years ago they fell madly in love over the period of a week, only to have everything fall apart. The fact is, each has been using the other as inspiration for their work since then.

Shane’s return throws Eva’s life into upheaval. Their chemistry is still undeniable and the thought of letting each other go again is something neither wants to consider. But Eva is not sure she wants to leave herself vulnerable again, not sure if she can take the risks he could bring to her life and her daughter’s.

Over the course of seven days, they try to decide whether to let themselves fall again and what that vulnerability will mean. At the same time, the story looks back on the first seven days they spent together all those years before, and how indelibly it changed them.

Boy, this was so fantastic. It was poetic and steamy and beautiful and sad, really just amazing. Shane and Eva are such complex characters and their story hooked me from start to finish. I didn't want this to end!