Thursday, January 20, 2022

Book Review: "The Last House on the Street" by Diane Chamberlain

The newest book from sensational storyteller Diane Chamberlain, The Last House on the Street, is worthy of every bit of the praise it’s getting!! Secrets, lies, family drama, tragedies, and a dual timeline? I was there for ALL OF IT.

In 1965, Ellie has grown up in a life of privilege in the small town of Round Hill, NC. She’s a university student studying pharmacology, but ultimately she’s expected to get married and raise a family. But when she learns about an effort that’s bringing northern college students to the south to register Black voters before the Voting Rights Act is signed, she decides to spend her summer break making a difference. She isn't interested in the same life that her mother and her best friend want for her.

This decision is met with anger from her parents and causes a scandal in her small town. But despite the danger her activities pose to her safety, she’s determined to move forward against her family and friends’ wishes. And when she falls for a volunteer, she quickly sees the depravity and anger of those she knows and those she doesn’t, driven by racism, ignorance, and fear.

Meanwhile, in 2010, Kayla and her husband were supposed to move into a beautiful new home they designed in Round Hill’s new development, but he died in a tragic accident while the house was being completed. Now, a stranger is warning her against moving into the house, and once she does, strange things seem to be happening. Her house is vandalized and she worries that she and her young daughter could be in danger. What secrets are people, including her father and her neighbor, hiding?

I loved this book and the way the two storylines intertwined. The Last House on the Street was a twisty mystery that was very timely given all of the voting rights issues that are in the news lately. There were some surprises and some things I saw coming, but I was completely immersed in the story.

I just love the way Chamberlain writes!

Book Review: "Legends of the North Cascades" by Jonathan Evison

Legends of the North Cascades is a beautifully written, ambitious story about love, survival, and recovery.

After his third tour in Iraq, Dave is coming apart at the seams. His PTSD is getting more intense, his marriage to Nadene is on the rocks. The only thing that’s going right is that, despite all the chaos, his 7-1/2-year-old daughter Bella seems to be flourishing.

When tragedy strikes, the only way Dave seems to find peace is through hiking in the North Cascades. The more time he spends there, the more he thinks that retreat from the world around them is the answer, so he makes the decision to move with Bella to an isolated cave in the mountains.

"Dave no longer wished to be around anybody, except for his daughter. And what was left for a child down there but a world that would likely forsake her, a world that would wring the wonder and humanity right out of her, as it sought to reduce her life force to an algorithm? The modern world held no more promise for Bella than it did for Dave."

It’s a beautiful setting but a difficult life, and people become more concerned about Bella’s safety. But as the two grow more comfortable living off the land, Bella starts to have visions, of a mother and son who lived in the same cave during the Ice Age. Both families will need to have strength in order to survive the world around them.

Jonathan Evison is a beautiful writer. I’ve enjoyed a few of his other books in the past, but his prose here is particularly luminous and poetic. I liked the different components of the story, and it brought attention to the treatment of veterans in this country. However, I felt like the pieces of the story lacked cohesion and it all didn’t quite flow together.

Thanks to Algonquin Books for inviting me on the tour and providing a complimentary copy of Legends of the North Cascades in exchange for an unbiased review!!

Book Review: "The Boyfriend Project" by Farrah Rochon

Farrah Rochon's The Boyfriend Project is a fun rom-com which deals with honesty, friendship, following your dreams, and the challenges of women in the STEM field.

At the start of 2022, I resolved to read more backlist books (not that I won’t go out and hit the bookstores) and get through a significant number (if not all) of my unread Boof of the Month picks. With this book I accomplished both!!

Samiah’s evening plans with the new guy she’s been dating take a turn when she discovers (via Twitter) that he’s been dating at least two other women simultaneously. The video of her confronting him in a restaurant quickly goes viral; while that is annoying (but not necessarily surprising), she is unprepared for the friendship that develops between her and the two other scorned women.

They vow to swear off dating and men for a while and focus on themselves, which is perfect for Samiah, since she has dreams of creating an app, and she never seems to have the time to work on it. Of course, with timing being everything, her newest colleague, Daniel, is seriously sexy and smart and sincere…what’s a woman to do?

Daniel is immediately attracted to Samiah but he is determined not to let a workplace romance keep him from his goal. On top of that, though, he has secrets that can’t be revealed. Is he a good guy or just another deceiver bound to break Samiah's heart?

I enjoyed this story and the characters. I thought the chemistry between Samiah and Daniel was really intense. However, I felt like the pacing was off for me—given all that was going on (and there really were a lot of subplots), the book dragged more often than not. But I felt what Rochon had to say about women—particularly minority women—in STEM was important.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Book Review: "Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun" by Jonny Garza Villa

Get ready for an emotional, powerful story about coming out, finding your way, and finding love!

I’ve been meaning to read Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun for a while. And how can you not love an author who writes this in their author’s note? “So, as the writer of the words that form this journey, I ask you to do me a favor and check in with yourself before starting. And I want you to know that it’s okay if you’re not ready for this book yet. It’s okay if you never are.”

Julián is a high school senior growing up in Corpus Christi, Texas. He can’t wait to graduate and get as far away as he can—hopefully to college in California—so he can finally feel free to be himself. He’s tired of his father’s expectations, criticisms, even occasional abuse, constantly telling him to act more like a man, not to be emotional, find a girlfriend, etc.

His best friends probably know he’s gay, but if he tells them, will everything change? He knows things with his father will only get worse, so he’s just biding his time. And then one night, with one drunken tweet, he throws his plans away, forcing it all—and himself—out into the open.

His friends are well-meaning, but when the abuse from classmates begins, they’re not as supportive as Jules expected them to be. But before his closet-smashing tweet he had met Mat, a high school student from California, by sliding into his DMs on Twitter. Little by little, this online friendship blossoms into something more serious, so Jules has someone to rely on as everything starts to come apart.

This is a beautiful story about taking control of your own life, about chosen family, and knowing that you have people in your corner. It’s tough at times, but I had faith that Jules would find his way.

Once again, I’m thankful that this generation has books like Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun to show them that they deserve love and friends and everything that they dream of, no matter how they identify themselves, no matter who they love.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Book Review: "Seasonal Work" by Laura Lippman

Seasonal Work is a collection of intriguing, thought-provoking short stories, some with a tinge of mystery. But they're not about seasonal work, lol.

Do you enjoy when authors you like take a bit of a departure from their usual stuff? I’ve read a lot of Laura Lippman’s mysteries, but in this, her latest book, she focuses more on fiction than on crime, although one of her most well-known protagonists, Tess Monaghan, makes an appearance in two stories.

The collection includes 12 stories. Some blew me away, some were really good, and a few didn’t quite click for me. There’s some element of deviousness or deception in each of the stories, which brings some added depth. Among my favorites in the collection: “Just One More,” in which a couple quarantining during COVID decide to join a dating app to see how compatible they really are; “Slow Burner,” about a woman who finds her husband’s burner phone; “Five Fires,” in which a spate of fires rock a small town; “Cougar,” about a woman whose no-good son moves back in and brings his girlfriend; and “Seasonal Work,” the title story, in which a scheming single father might have met his match.

As I’ve discussed a few times recently, I’m a fan of short stories but at times they leave me wanting more. And while that was the case with some stories, I love the way Lippman writes and some of the stories in this collection just hit that sweet spot for me.

Book Review: "The Violin Conspiracy" by Brendan Slocumb

When a gifted musician’s priceless Stradivarius violin disappears before a prestigious competition, who is responsible?

Growing up Black in rural North Carolina, there didn’t seem to be a lot of options for Ray. And when he discovered his talent as a violin player, the chance of him succeeding was almost zero. His mother wanted him to "stop that racket" and get a real job, and he couldn’t afford a real violin to practice on, not to mention the racist way people in the classical music world treated him.

But when his grandmother gave him a fiddle belonging to his great-great-grandfather, he was hooked. He caught the eye of the right teachers and started to get the training he needed to hone his talent. And then he discovered that this beat-up violin was actually a Stradivarius worth millions of dollars. Suddenly not only did his family want to get their hands on it, but so did the family whose ancestors enslaved Ray’s great-great-grandfather. They claim the man stole the violin from their family and are suing Ray.

As Ray prepares for the prestigious Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow, his violin is stolen, with a ransom note in its place. Who stole the violin—his family, the family suing for the return of what they claim is theirs, or someone else? Can it be found before he has to compete with another violin in its place?

This was a fascinating story. While I figured out the mystery part pretty early, I really liked Ray’s character and the book’s discussion of racism in the world of classical music. Since the author is a classical musician, this felt very authentic.

NetGalley, Knopf Doubleday, and Anchor Books provided me a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

The Violin Conspiracy publishes 2/1/22.

Book Review: "Hang the Moon" by Alexandria Bellefleur

Can a man who believes in romance and true love convince someone who doesn’t? That's the question at the core of Alexandria Bellefleur's Hang the Moon.

Why did I wait so long to pick up this follow-up to Written in the Stars? And as much as I enjoyed that one, this one had me crying on an airplane!!

Brendon is a hopeless romantic, so much so that he created a dating app to help people find “the one.” He has yet to find his, though, but he knows she’s out there. And then Annie, his sister’s best friend and his teenage crush, comes to town.

The chemistry between the two is immediate. (Annie can’t believe Brendon went from a gangly teenager to someone so hot!) But Annie is only visiting Seattle for two weeks before she starts a new job in London. Plus, she doesn’t believe in true love, and isn’t a fan of the grand romantic gestures that Brendon lives for. He wants forever and she can’t think that far ahead.

Can a rom-com lover convince someone who doesn’t believe there’s necessarily the right one for everyone that he’s right for her? Can someone who thinks she’s got it all figured out realize she might be making a mistake if she doesn’t open her eyes to the possibilities?

Hang the Moon was funny, emotional, sexy, and just so freaking romantic. I love these characters and look forward to Count Your Lucky Stars, the third book in the series, featuring Brendon’s best friend, Margot. If you’re a rom-com fan, get these books!