Thursday, September 16, 2021

Book Review: "Better to Trust" by Heather Frimmer

In Heather Frimmer's upcoming novel, Better to Trust, a woman’s medical crisis lays bare a multitude of issues in her life and her family.

After Alison collapses while teaching one day, she discovers she has a brain bleed which requires surgery. Since her brother-in-law Grant is an acclaimed neurosurgeon, it seems only natural to ask him to take her case.

When complications arise after her surgery leaving her with significant physical and cognitive issues, at first they’re accepted as the risks associated with brain surgery. But it’s not long before Grant’s secret is discovered: he’s addicted to pain pills, and this addiction may have caused negative outcomes in Alison’s case as well as with other patients.

Amidst a difficult rehabilitation and the revelation which threatens to tear her family apart, Alison also has to think about her attraction to a female teacher, which was just starting to progress when she collapsed. What does this mean for her future, or her marriage?

Meanwhile, Grant’s teenage daughter Sadie is becoming friends with a troubled classmate who pushes her to do things she doesn’t want. What will be the ramifications of these risky choices?

I really liked this book. It so accurately captures the challenges faced by individuals recovering from brain injuries, both physical and emotional. But the added issues provided even more depth and tension to the story. The multiple narrations, by Alison, Grant, and Sadie really worked for me.

Thanks to Suzy Approved Book Tours, Heather Frimmer, and Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing for inviting me on the tour and providing me a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!!

Better to Trust publishes 9/21.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Book Review: "When I Ran Away" by Ilona Bannister

For a powerfully emotional story about grief, love, motherhood, and guilt, look no further than When I Ran Away.

Gigi and Harry meet on the Staten Island Ferry not long after both have fled the chaos following the collapse of the first tower on 9/11. Harry used to visit Gigi's favorite coffee shop but they never met officially, and yet here both are, covered in ash and not truly comprehending the magnitude of what is happening on that day.

Harry, an Englishman living in NYC, has nowhere to go, so Gigi brings him to her dysfunctional family home in Staten Island. But when the family discovers her younger brother was somehow in the Twin Towers that day and won’t ever come home, Harry helps them through one of the most painful moments in their lives, and then leaves them with their friends to process their grief.

When Gigi and Harry meet by chance 10 years later, she’s a single mother raising a young boy. They fall deeply in love, and Harry ultimately asks Gigi to move to London with him. It’s a very different atmosphere than what she’s used to, but she’s determined to make their marriage work, and to raise her son and their new baby right.

But after a while, the pressure of balancing motherhood, marriage, career, and her own happiness, all in an unfamiliar place away from friends and family, becomes too much to bear. She is faced with a crucial moment where she doesn’t know how to handle any of it, not to mention her and her family’s unresolved grief over her brother’s death 15 years earlier.

When I Ran Away is a beautifully told story, searing and poignant, but with flashes of sly humor. I’ll admit I thought it would be sadder and I was glad it wasn’t, especially having spent the weekend in a funk mourning friends lost on 9/11. But I’d imagine that for many mothers out there this will be an even more emotional and relevant read, one which will make many feel seen.

I’m glad I finally read this after it sat on my TBR stack for a while. Definitely one worth discussing with others.

Book Review: "Tomorrow There Will Be Sun" by Dana Reinhardt

As Dana Reinhardt shows us in Tomorrow There Will Be Sun, sometimes the vacation you need isn’t quite the one you get.

⁣ ⁣ Jenna has organized the perfect trip to Puerto Vallarta to celebrate her husband Peter’s 50th birthday. They’ll be traveling with their teenage daughter, Clementine, as well as the family of Peter’s best friend and business partner, Solly.

⁣ ⁣ The villa is as beautiful as promised and the staff are tremendously attentive. So why isn’t Jenna enjoying herself? Why is Solly’s braggadocio annoying her more than normal? Why is Clementine suddenly cozying up to Solly’s teenage son Malcolm when she has a boyfriend she won’t stop texting? Why can’t she get her fourth book done while Solly’s much-younger new wife has written a manuscript while raising a young child? (And of course, it’s good.)⁣

⁣ Things come to a head when Peter keeps getting mysterious phone calls from his beautiful assistant, and then unrest in Puerto Vallarta threatens their whole vacation. This isn’t quite the celebration Jenna imagined—and she’s not even sure this is the life she wants any longer.⁣

⁣ I tend to enjoy stories about dysfunctional family vacations but I just never warmed to Tomorrow There Will Be Sun. The characters aren’t particularly appealing but I feel like the author also threw in far too much—like there had to be violence and chaos in Puerto Vallarta with drug cartels, etc., on top of everything else? It seemed a wee bit stereotypical to me.⁣

⁣ Still, the villa sounded amazing. And I wouldn’t mind someone to hand me a margarita every now and again! ⁣ ⁣

Book Review: "Plot Twist" by Bethany Turner

As Bethany Turner's new rom-com, Plot Twist, goes to show you, a lot can happen in 10 years.

February 4, 2003: Greeting card writer and aspiring screenwriter Olivia Ross has a meet-cute with a handsome actor at a coffee shop. They share some friendly, flirty banter and vow to reunite at the same coffee shop in 10 years, on the same day, and he will star in her screenplay.

One drawback? They never traded names or contact info.

Every year on February 4, Olivia finds herself in an uncertain position in her life. The day is full of coincidences, wacky events, and romance gone awry. Sometime during the 10-year period, she finds out that the “sexy Irish guy” (her words) she met back in 2003 might actually be Scottish actor Hamish MacDougal, whose star is on the rise.

Could Hamish be what she’s looking for, career- and life-wise? Or is knowing that possibility is out there keeping her from appreciating what’s around her now? Will she find the success she dreams of?

I thought Plot Twist was a fun concept and a cute book, with a few surprises up its sleeve. I didn’t really love the characters all the time, and I wanted things to move a little quicker, but darned if I didn’t get choked up at the end! (Stupid emotions.)

This was a fun read to lighten the mood after a few heavier books.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Book Review: "Rock Paper Scissors" by Alice Feeney

Rock Paper Scissors, the new thriller from Alice Feeney is worth every bit of the hype it’s getting—and more!

“I love my wife. I just don’t think we like each other as much as we used to.”

Adam and Amelia’s marriage is in trouble. Adam is tired of her nagging him about working too much. She’s tired of his singular focus on work, plus the fact that he suffers from prosopagnosia, or face blindness, means he doesn’t even recognize her in a crowd or even a room. She’s tired of not being seen.

The couple wins a weekend getaway in Scotland. Both know it’s their last chance to save their marriage. Neither is sure they want to. But the getaway doesn’t quite seem as appealing as they thought it might be. Does someone else not want their marriage—or perhaps them—to survive?

I’ll leave it at that since it’s best to let the plot unfold. The story is interspersed with letters written to Adam for every year of their marriage, letters that up to this point he hasn’t seen.

I thought Rock Paper Scissors was absolutely great. I had my suspicions but most of them were wrong, and I just couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. I always love when a thriller makes me say, “Wait, what?”

Given the hype and my uneasy relationship with thrillers I was nervous about this book but it definitely delivered. I’ll definitely go back and read some of Feeney’s earlier stuff!!

Book Review: "Fraternity" by Benjamin Nugent

Benjamin Nugent's collection, Fraternity is full of quirky, thought-provoking, and, at times, surprisingly sensitive stories about the goings-on in—yep, you guessed it—a fraternity.

If you went to college/university, did it have fraternities and sororities? Were you in one? I worked full-time in college so I didn’t participate but I’ll admit there was always something so intriguing and, dare I say, hot (I was a closeted college kid, so don't judge) about fraternities.

Nugent’s short story collection takes place at the Delta Zeta Chi house on the campus of a college in Massachusetts. The interconnected stories follow a motley crew of characters—Newton (aka Nutella), the charismatic fraternity president; Oprah, so named because he likes to read and ask a lot of questions; even a girl the fraternity calls God.

As you might expect, many of the stories involve some sort of drug- and/or alcohol-fueled antics, but even within those, serious issues are touched on. There’s discussion about sexual insecurity and coming to terms with one’s sexuality; what constitutes sexual assault; friendship and loyalty; and missing the glory days of youth.

Not all of the stories work as well as some do, but overall, Fraternity is a good collection. I was impressed at how well the stories actually treated women for the most part, not something you traditionally expect of fraternities.

Sometimes an unexpected bookstore find reaps great dividends!

Book Review: "In Polite Company" by Gervais Hagerty

You’ll want to head to Charleston after reading Gervais Hagerty's debut novel, In Polite Company!!

“Here’s the thing about Charleston families: we regard civility above all else. No matter what is said or done, we remain in polite company. It’s what we’ve been bred to do: hide our disagreements beneath the smiles. Not say what we mean.”

Simons Smythe was born and raised to do the right things. Her family has been part of Charleston society for generations, and everyone knows the role they are expected to play. Her older sister is having her second baby while her younger sister is scheduled to make her debut into society shortly, which puts her family in the center of the public eye, just the way they like it.

But Simons has always been the one to question expectations. She never quite followed the route her parents wanted, but now she’s engaged to a suitable man and will have the wedding and the life she’s supposed to. The challenge is, she doesn’t think she loves Trip, her fiancé—but is that enough to stop the marriage? (She's also not interested in stopping working once she gets married.)

As a producer for a local television news station, she’s inclined to dig deeper and ask probing questions. But sometimes her work crosses the line and tests the mores of the genteel society she’s supposed to uphold, and that creates tension among her family.

What do you do when you find yourself wanting something different than you’re expected to, when bucking the status quo could mean risking it all? How do you balance what you want with what you need?

In Polite Company is both the story of one woman’s struggle to find her own path and a love letter to Charleston, South Carolina. I really enjoyed this as I love books that provide social commentary about societies I don’t live in. (Plus I love Charleston!)

Thanks to William Morrow Books for the complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!!