Sunday, October 27, 2019

Book Review: "Verity" by Colleen Hoover

Since this book was published last year, I have seen some people absolutely rave about it, while others didn't quite get it. I often heard people say, "This book is completely nuts," or "I was totally shook by this book." Too many mixed reviews made me somewhat reluctant to dive in, until just recently, when I decided it was time to take the plunge and read Verity.

"That's why I stay at home and write. I think the idea of me is better than the reality of me."

Lowen is a struggling writer desperate for money. She's a talented writer, but she isn't willing to do any publicity for her books, so they don't sell very much. When she is given the chance to write the rest of a wildly popular book series written by best-selling author Verity Crawford, she knows she can’t pass up the opportunity, given the money offered. Verity, who was injured in a car accident, can no longer move or speak, and no one is sure she is even aware of her surroundings.

Lowen is nervous about the pressure of having to write at Verity’s level. Verity’s handsome husband, Jeremy, invites Lowen to stay with them in their Vermont home so she can go through Verity’s notes to help her with the last three books. There's something about Jeremy that Lowen can't put her finger on, but she's drawn to him despite the fact that he's married to a woman in a serious condition, and that his family has experienced some significant tragedies.

When she finds an unfinished manuscript, Lowen can’t help but read it. It appears to be Verity’s autobiography, full of startling confessions which horrify Lowen. Should she tell Jeremy what she’s found, or should she allow him to continue seeing his wife through the prism of his own memories?

But as strange things keep happening in the house, and Lowen’s feelings for Jeremy intensify, she suspects that Verity might not be quite as disabled as she appears. Lowen must make the choice whether to reveal what she believes about Verity, no matter how crazy it sounds, and she also must decide whether to share Verity's written confessions with him. Of course, she has no idea whether doing so could put her—or even Jeremy and his son—in danger.

I couldn’t put this book down and read it in just a few hours. I guess, however, the hype made me expect a lot crazier of a book than this was. There were some twists and turns, but I was hoping that the book would have a few more surprises. There were also a few plotlines that never went anywhere, unless I missed something, so that disappointed me. I guess I’ve read too many thrillers!!

Clearly Hoover is a great writer, as she hooked me from the very start. I look forward to reading more of her books (which I understand are very different). I definitely give kudos to writers who venture out of their usual genre to try something new.

Book Review: "Faker" by Sarah Smith

This is a cute, light, steamy rom-com in the hate-to-love sub-genre.

Emmie spends her days faking it—being tough, that is. As one of only a few women working for a company that sells power tools, she needs to show everyone that she’s no-nonsense, and that nothing anyone says or does bothers her. It’s exhausting hiding your true self from people.

One person she doesn’t hide her feelings from is her colleague, Tate. For reasons Emmie can’t understand, he seems to hate her and always has. He takes whatever chance he can to ignore, belittle, or simply be rude to her, so she gives it right back to him.

When they have to work together on a major company initiative, it’s a disaster. They can’t even meet with each other without sniping. But every so often, Tate lets his guard down and Emmie can’t figure out what his true feelings really are.

If you’ve read a rom-com or two, you know what comes next. Is there more to Tate than a gorgeous exterior and a mean interior? Should she let her guard down? Why does he hate her in the first place?

"Faker" is sweet and there are a lot of steamy scenes to be had. Emmie and Tate have good chemistry, too. I guess my criticism is that there just didn’t seem to be enough to why Tate was such a jerk in the first place. Even the usual obstacle in the middle of happiness didn’t quite seem as insurmountable as they often do.

This is still a fun read, though, and it certainly entertained me on my flight home—and kept me hiding the book so my seat mate couldn’t read the sex scenes over my shoulder!

Book Review: "This Tender Land" by William Kent Krueger

For some reason I held off reading this book, but man, was it amazing.

"Everything that’s been done to us we carry forever. Most of us do our damnedest to hold on to the good and forget the rest. But somewhere in the vault of our hearts, in a place our brains can’t or won’t touch, the worst is stored, and the only sure key to it is in our dreams."

Minnesota, 1932.

Odie and his brother Albert are orphans, left in the care of a school for Native American children taken from their parents, despite the fact the two of them are white. This school uses the children as slave labor, treats them cruelly, makes them believe they are less than human, and tries to break them of ties to their heritage.

Strong-willed and searching for fairness in a cruel world, Odie is one of the targets of the school’s director, a woman he calls the Black Witch, and her henchmen.

When one day in the midst of a cruel punishment things go horribly awry, Odie realizes he must flee the school. Albert accompanies him on his escape, along with their friend Mose, a Native American boy who cannot speak, and Emmy, a young orphan girl.

The four head out on a journey, an odyssey to get as far from the school as possible. They experience more than their share of trouble as they try to elude capture, but they also encounter people down on their luck, people who teach them that first impressions do not always equal truth. They learn a lot about themselves and their relationships with each other, and how they ultimately must let themselves have hope.

I can’t get this one out of my head. This is such a beautiful, thought-provoking, emotional book, the story of a harrowing journey, children forced to find the bravery of adults, with a little of the mystical thrown in for good measure. I’m once again reminded how talented of a writer Krueger is.

Book Review: "Seven Letters" by J.P. Monninger

One of those books you devour but you don’t want it to end.

"There’s no cure for love but to love more."

Kate, on sabbatical from her teaching position at Dartmouth, travels to Ireland to do research for her doctoral dissertation about the Blasket Islands, a remote part of the country that the government migrated everyone away from years ago.

Shortly after arriving she meets Ozzie, the immensely handsome, part Irish-part American grandson of a woman she met on her journey. Ozzie is intense, mercurial, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. He has fled to Ireland in the hopes he can put the memories of the war behind him.

Kate and Ozzie fall intensely in love. She knows she’s only in Ireland for a short while and knows she needs to concentrate on her research. But her love overwhelms her, and the two try to build a life on one of the islands away from everyone else. It is idyllic at times, at times challenging, and when Ozzie is unable to escape the pain of his memories, it tears at the fibers of their relationship.

When Ozzie’s impulsive nature puts both of them at risk, Kate returns to America and tries to put the memories behind her. And while they creep back from time to time, she is doing somewhat well—until she gets word that Ozzie is lost at sea, presumed dead, and she feels the need to travel to Europe to find out what happened to him. She must decide whether she’s ready to move on fully or whether she needs to be tethered to his memory for her own sake.

I’m a total sap, and this book was utterly up my alley. I thought it was beautifully written—having the gorgeousness of Ireland as a backdrop doesn’t hurt—and it captured me fully. The instant-love plot thread may seem a little overly dramatic and/or unrealistic for some but you can totally see two people be utterly consumed by the fire of their love without thinking.

I can’t get this one out of my head. I've never read anything J.P. Monninger has written before, but I'll definitely do so again.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Book Review: "The Giver of Stars" by Jojo Moyes

"Just a little homesick, Alice answered. It was the truth, she thought. She just wasn't sure she had yet been to the place she was homesick for."

Alice Wright was suffocating in England. Her parents always treated her as an embarrassment, seeing her "emotional" nature and her free spirit as a definite liability, something which needed to be quashed. When she met handsome athlete Bennett Van Cleve, who is visiting England with his father, their whirlwind romance surprises Alice yet gives her a reason to escape her stifling life.

She quickly realizes that living in rural Kentucky in the midst of the Depression isn't much more exciting. She stands out like a sore thumb in their small town, and she and Bennett live with his domineering father, who sticks his nose into everything that goes on in his household. Alice isn't interested in attending teas with the other women, many of whom hate her for landing a man like Bennett, nor is she content simply to sit at home and be idle.

When Eleanor Roosevelt's traveling library program is brought to their town, and volunteers are sought, Alice quickly signs up, much to the chagrin of Bennett and his father. She strikes up a friendship with the library's leader, Margery O'Hare, a tough-talking, independent woman who was the daughter of the town's most notorious moonshiner, and someone who will never let anyone—especially a man—tell her what to do.

After recruiting other women to help, the library program becomes something many residents value, not only for the books, but for the companionship these so-called packhorse librarians bring. But not everyone in the area approves—some, including Bennett’s father—don’t like the "ideas" that these books put in women’s heads.

As Alice’s marriage continues to disintegrate, the library and her fellow librarians become her only source of comfort. But things are becoming more fragile at home and in town, and the librarians, particularly Margery, find themselves in danger and the library is at risk.

This was a fascinating and poignant story that I raced through. It’s funny, I am not much of a fan of historical fiction yet I’ve now read two of Moyes’ historical novels and loved both. There is mystery, romance, emotion, injustice—enough to get nearly anyone fully immersed.

I really do love the way Moyes writes, and these characters felt so real to me. I’m so glad I read this.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Book Review: "The Last True Poets of the Sea" by Julia Drake

Holy hell, I loved this book so much.

Violet and Sam Larkin’s great-great-great-grandmother Fidelia survived a shipwreck off the coast of Maine. Her arrival in the town of Lyric, and her subsequent marriage, are the stuff of legend. And Fidelia’s story has always made the family believe they’re survivors.

"I didn't even have a driver's license, but I was an expert in the art of catastrophe."

Yet as Violet becomes wilder, experimenting with drugs and sex, Sam’s emotional problems become more serious, and it’s clear neither is surviving that well. When Sam tries to take his own life, and Violet responds with inappropriate behavior, their parents send her to Lyric for the summer, the place where their mother grew up and Violet and Sam’s family used to vacation.

Violet’s goal is to become more invisible, which is hard to do when you’re beautiful, musical, and nearly six feet tall. Yet she shaves her head and tries to take up as little space as possible. Working at the town’s struggling aquarium and trying to find the courage to write to Sam, she meets a circle of friends who make her want to open up, even just a little. Among them is Liv, an amateur history buff who has been obsessed with the mysteries behind Fidelia’s shipwreck and what transpired when she came to town and met the man who would be Violet and Sam's great-great-great-grandfather.

Inspired by the desire to help Sam, Violet gets drawn into Liv’s obsession, and they decide to find the shipwreck despite the fact it never was found. Along the way Violet will realize where her heart lies and understand how worthy she is, and how much she needs to be seen.

This book was so beautiful and emotional and I loved it from the start. There’s so much to this story—the need to be loved and understood, family dysfunction, emotional issues, sexuality—and Julia Drake has done such a terrific job with it. Her writing is imbued with such rich emotion, her prose is poetic at times, and her characters are fascinating—they're layered, complex, and not entirely sympathetic.

While reading this book I was reminded of two of my favorite YA books, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson and Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley. Both of those books, as well as this one, mesmerized me with their power, left me emotional, and touched my heart in an unforgettable way.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Book Review: "Fix Her Up" by Tessa Bailey

Wow, I might need some aloe to cool down after the steaminess of this one!!

When she was younger, Georgie Castle was in LOVE with Travis Ford, the handsome best friend of her older brother. Those feelings didn’t diminish when he went to play major league baseball; in fact, she was probably his biggest fan. No one could talk to her during his games, she knew all of his stats, and she even was well-versed on all of the gossip about his exploits.

But when an injury forces his retirement at 28, and he comes back to town to wallow/plan his next steps, he’s not interested in dating any of the women who throw themselves at him (and they even have a competition to see who can land him first). Georgie tries her best to make him feel better but he’s not so interested in his best friend’s kid sister hanging around either. She wants to help him cope with the issues he's dealing with, but it doesn't hurt that he's gotten sexier in the meantime.

However, as Georgie starts to prove she's more than his best friend's little sister, the more he starts to see Georgie as an adult (something no one in her family seems to do), and the more he realizes there’s so much more to her. Suddenly he's finding it hard not to think about her, especially sexually. But he knows her brother will kill him.

When he needs to project a stable, family-friendly image in order to land a commentating job (he once asked out a reporter during a press conference), Georgie suggests they pretend to be dating. This, too, will help her get the respect she needs from her family since they’ll see her as a woman and not a kid, and it may carry over into her professional life, where she's looking to expand her children's party entertainment business into a full-scale operation.

As you might expect, the charade becomes more complicated when they can’t keep their hands off each other. And then feelings get in the way, but before they can deal with that, there’s some baggage that has to be dealt with on both sides. (Not to mention her brother.)

This was a fun, immensely hot rom-com, but it also deals with self-belief, self-esteem, and not letting people interfere with your dreams. Nothing really earth-shattering in terms of the genre (although this may be the first book I’ve read where the female character is a clown for children’s parties) but that doesn’t matter one bit.

I'm super excited for her next book to come out in January, as it will feature characters that played a bit part in Fix Her Up. Tessa Bailey definitely knows how to create sexual tension between her characters, that's for sure!!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Book Review: "Look Both Ways" by Jason Reynolds

For many children, when the bell rings at the end of the day, it signifies excitement, the start of fun and adventure. When children walk home from school, the freedoms are sometimes greater since they’re not limited by the confines of the bus. However, there are other risk factors as well.

Jason Reynolds’ newest book, Look Both Ways, which was recently named a National Book Award finalist, looks at 10 different journeys home—each characterized by a different block on the way home from school—and what they signify. They are somewhat interrelated, in that characters are mentioned in more than one story.

From the boy plotting a "safe" route home to escape a dog he’s afraid of to a girl returning back to school after being out with sickle-cell disease, the stories are at times humorous, at times poignant, and at times powerful.

In just under 200 pages, Reynolds tackles homophobia, parental illness, letting friends know they have hygiene issues, fear about a parent’s safety, and other heavy issues, yet he doesn’t do it in a heavy-handed way.

This is the first middle-grade book I’ve read and I was impressed with Reynolds’ deft storytelling. This book didn’t quite click for me, however, but I did feel the balance between humor and seriousness that Reynolds tried to convey.

This will be a good book for the middle-grade audience, as they may identify with one or more of the stories yet won’t feel singled out as they might if they read a whole book about a parent dying or bullying. Definitely one worth discussing with your children or your students.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Book Review: "The Ten Thousand Doors of January" by Alix R. Harrow

"There's only one way to run away from your own story, and that's to sneak into someone else's."

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a wild, magical, fascinating story about incredible journeys, love, family, loss, and loyalty.

At the turn of the 20th century January Scaller is a young, curious girl whose father travels for business, hunting the world for antiquities and oddities, so he leaves her in the care of his employer, the eccentric collector of artifacts, Mr. Locke. Locke treats January with some indulgence until he realizes she has a wild spirit that requires taming.

One day she finds a door in the middle of an abandoned field. When she steps through the door she finds herself in an entirely different world, a phenomenon she can hardly explain. Yet when she does try to share her find with Locke, she doesn’t understand the vehemence of his reaction or the punishment that follows.

Of course, when you are forbidden to act or think a certain way, it only exacerbates your need to do so. January starts to find that she has inexplicable skills that help her when needed.

One day she finds a strange book which talks of journeys between different worlds, mysterious doors, and ultimately, a love story, and she starts to see some similarities to things in her own life. But the more she tries to pursue these worlds, and find these doors, the more she is pursued, putting herself and those she cares about in grave danger.

This is a pretty magical story about the ability to travel through time and different worlds. It’s the story of finding courage when you are at your most vulnerable, and realizing that our assumptions about how people feel about us can often be wrong.

But as crazy as this story is, at its core it’s a love story, an adventure, a story of friendship, family, and how easy it is to fear the things we cannot understand. This book has memorable characters and is beautifully written. One trigger warning: there is some animal cruelty in the book, but it’s not a significant part of the book.

I enjoyed The Ten Thousand Doors of January, although I found it a bit confusing from time to time. It definitely requires you to suspend your disbelief. But if this type of book appeals to you it’s definitely worth the journey.

Book Review: "Twenty-one Truths about Love" by Matthew Dicks

Things I enjoyed about this book:
  1. The fact the book was written entirely in lists was really creative.
  2. Amidst everything that went on in the book, it’s really a story about love, fear, and family.
  3. Many of Dan’s thoughts are surprisingly on par with mine.
Things I didn’t enjoy about this book:
  1. The list format started to wear me down.
  2. There was one particular plotline that I found really irksome.
  3. Darned book made me cry...
Dan left his teaching job to run a bookstore. It wasn’t as easy or profitable as he thought it would be. (Of course, he thought teaching would be easy, too, but...) He's afraid to reveal the extent of his financial struggles to his wife, Jill.

Much of Dan’s life is characterized by running away from his problems. He’s the master of not saying what needs to be said. He has feelings about his father, who is suddenly trying to reconnect with him after years of estrangement. He has feelings about the specter of Jill's first husband, who died, hanging over their heads.

When Jill gets pregnant he knows he must do something to get money or he’ll lose her—but his idea is a desperate one. He struggles with the reality of the situation and every possible solution, but he keeps coming back to the least-certain and riskiest one. And he knows the ramifications of his actions may be worse than his current situation.

Twenty-one Truths about Love is a poignant, sometimes scattered, sometimes disturbing look into the mind of a man who is struggling in so many ways. While some of the lists in the book illustrate where Dan's heart and mind are, some are a little quirky and bizarre. And some are downright funny.

Matthew Dicks is a great writer (his Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend still haunts me). I loved the concept and the heart of this story. It’s just, the list thing dragged the story down a bit, to the point where I skimmed through the lists when the subject seemed extraneous. (Some of the lists ran way too long, too.)

Despite my ultimate weariness with the lasting power of this concept, this was a really creative twist in storytelling and I’ll think of this book for a long while.

NetGalley and St. Martins Press gave me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

The book will publish on November 19.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Book Review: "Searching for Sylvie Lee" by Jean Kwok

While its title suggests this book is a mystery, and certainly there is a mystery component, Jean Kwok's Searching for Sylvie Lee is also a study of family dynamics and an exploration of how secrets can destroy relationships.

Sylvie Lee is the daughter of Chinese immigrants. When she was very young, her parents were too poor to raise her in America, so they allowed her to be raised by cousins and her maternal grandmother in the Netherlands. Life wasn't easy there for Sylvie—an awkward child, she faced a lot of ridicule as well as racism, being one of very few Chinese among her Dutch classmates and neighbors.

While Sylvie's grandmother and her cousin Willem treated her with love, Willem's wife Helena took an instant dislike to her, and seemed to single her out for mistreatment. Sylvie didn't understand why she was deserving of such cruelty, but she took comfort in her relationship with Willem and Helena's son, Lukas.

At age nine, Sylvie returns home to the U.S. She now has a younger sister, Amy, for whom she becomes a protector, and despite there being a seven-year age difference, the two forge a very close relationship. Sylvie encourages Amy at every turn, gives her the courage and support to do anything she wants, since their parents spend most of their time working to make ends meet.

Years later, Sylvie returns to the Netherlands when she learns her grandmother is dying. As much as she has changed from the awkward, ugly girl to a beautiful, intelligent woman, returning to the Netherlands reopens old resentments with Helena, and confuses her heart. And then Sylvie vanishes. Her Dutch cousins assumed she was on her way home; her family in America thought she was still in the Netherlands.

"That had always been Sylvie's role, to go forth and have adventures. My job was to wait for her to return home safely. Now the country mouse has been forced into the great devouring world."

As Amy tries to figure out what happened to Sylvie, she begins uncovering secrets that Sylvie kept hidden from them all, things that showed her life wasn't as successful and happy as she had led everyone to believe. When Amy travels to the Netherlands—her first time traveling anywhere, much less internationally—she finds herself in the midst of the tensions of her Dutch relatives, and discovers that in the Netherlands, things for Sylvie were confusing and painful beyond simply grieving for her grandmother.

What happened to Sylvie? Did she simply need to take a break from it all, as some suggested, or was something more nefarious at play? Did someone harm her? Is someone responsible for her disappearance and perhaps her death? Amy is a stranger in an unfamiliar country surrounded by people with secrets, and yet there's even more she doesn't know.

Searching for Sylvie Lee is narrated by Amy, Sylvie, and their mother, and shifts back and forth through time. Through each woman's eyes you see things that go unsaid, emotions that are hidden, and fear of the truth being exposed. There are some powerful emotions in this story, and so many places where if only people had spoken up, things could have been different.

I'm always a fan of stories about family dysfunction, and this is certainly one of those! Kwok is a very talented storyteller; I read one of her previous books, Girl in Translation, a number of years ago, and her skills have gotten even stronger since then. Even though there is a great deal of melodrama in the plot, none of what occurs seems far-fetched or unrealistic.

I definitely figured out some of the mystery before it was revealed, and while I wasn't necessarily surprised by how things ultimately unfolded, I had hoped for a different conclusion. At times, too, the book's pacing was very slow, and I wanted less flashbacks and more focusing on Sylvie's disappearance.

If you're looking for a mystery, I don't know that this will foot the bill, but if you're looking for a well-told story of a family shattered by secrets, Searching for Sylvie Lee may be just the book for you.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Book Review: "The Weight of a Moment" by Michael Bowe

"...most lifetimes could be summed up by ten to twenty moments, meaningful snippets ranging from a handful of seconds to a few spins around the clock face that contained both the best and worst of one's character and experiences. Like a home movie on Super 8 film, twenty impactful moments that told the story of a life. Often those moments were first glances, tearful goodbyes, fortunate turns, unfortunate accidents, promises kept, promises broken, triumphs, failures, and regrets."

We often do not recognize the most profound moments in our lives until after they've passed us by. Sometimes they are defined by actual occurrences, while other times they are defined by connections.

When Nick Sterling and Tom Corbett meet one day in a small Pennsylvania town, they have no idea how that encounter will change both of their lives. Nick is a prize-winning journalist who unwittingly causes a man's death because of something he published. He can do nothing more than flee his old life, although he is left with feelings of guilt every day. Tom is an antiques dealer who realizes the indelible reach and effect of the internet, when a video of him melting down on a group of college students after he experienced a difficult day goes viral and jeopardizes his livelihood, his marriage, and his relationship with his family.

Tom has fled to the small town of Shelbyville after he inherits a farm from his uncle. While his initial intention is to check out the situation and leave again, something compels him to want to renovate the dilapidated farm. He and Nick start working on it, and in the process, two men from different walks of life, with different philosophies, become friends. In the midst of their work on the farm they uncover some long-hidden secrets in Tom's family, and then they make an amazing discovery of their own on the farmland, one that has real impact in their lives.

The Weight of a Moment is an interesting, powerful read for many reasons. How many of us haven't had a "bad moment" when we've done something we've regretted? How many of us feel utterly crushed under the ramifications of our mistakes?

In his second novel (after the terrific Skyscraper of a Man), Michael Bowe explores the way relationships unfold, how they can lift us at our darkest of times, and help to heal us. Not many novels explore the psyche of men when they've been dealt a major blow, and Bowe does a great job with this exploration.

Above all, the greatest strength of this novel are Bowe's characters, which are complex, flawed, and feel tremendously genuine. This is one of those books that draws you in immediately and doesn't let you go. There was one plot twist I didn't particularly love, but for the most part this is a well-told, emotional story that will stay in my mind for a long time after it's done.

The author gave me a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Book Review: "American Royals" by Katharine McGee

"From now on, you are two people at once: Beatrice the girl, and Beatrice, heir to the Crown. When they want different things, the Crown must win. Always."

Katharine McGee's American Royals is an entertaining, soapy romp built on a terrific concept: when the Revolutionary War ended, the American people offered George Washington a crown, and he accepted. The House of Washington has remained on the throne for more than two-and-a-half centuries, and America is as obsessed with stories about the royal family as other countries with monarchies are.

Princess Beatrice is next in line for the throne. Thanks to an edict from her grandfather, the crown will now pass to the oldest child regardless of gender. Beatrice will become the country's first queen regnant, a role she has been preparing for her entire life. But while she's always been the dutiful daughter, doing whatever has been expected of her, whatever her parents have asked her to do, the closer she comes to the moment she'll rule, the more she wonders whether the sacrifices she has had to make were truly worth it.

When her parents tell her it's time she choose a suitable husband (read: a member of the nobility) she prepares to be the dutiful daughter as always. But then she realizes her heart wants to go in a different direction, and then she can think of nothing else. Is her choice either to ignore her heart and find someone she someday might fall in love with, or follow her heart and disobey her parents—and risk losing the throne? The choice she must make impacts more than just her, and she knows she's bound to hurt someone in the process.

Her younger twin siblings, Jefferson and Samantha, have it a little easier, since they're considered "the spares" with Beatrice as heir to the throne. Both struggle with their identities—what are they expected to do if they won't rule the country? Why does it really matter what they do?

Even more than that, however, both siblings have their own romantic struggles. Samantha, who has always been the carefree, impulsive one, is in love with the one man she cannot have, and Jeff, despite the intense attention from a beautiful and suitable young woman who is determined to land him, is in love with a young woman who wants nothing to do with the scrutiny that would be aimed at someone dating a prince, no matter how much she loves him back.

I was hooked on American Royals from the first few pages. McGee has created a compelling, fascinating story that reminds me of all the reasons people are so fascinated by stories about William and Kate, Harry and Megan, and Charles and Camilla. Nothing particularly surprising happens in the book but it's just so well-told, with healthy doses of melodrama, that I couldn't put it down.

There is one character in the book I absolutely loathed, and of course, you were supposed to feel that way, but I honestly began skimming the sections where she appeared after a while. But other than that, I really enjoyed this book, despite the fact that the ending didn't quite feel complete, since it was merely setting up McGee's next book, which is due out in the fall of 2020.

If you find yourself unable to turn away when the news media covers the latest news about what Princess Kate is wearing, or a trip that Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan are taking, if you woke up super-early to watch one of the royal weddings, American Royals is definitely for you. Can't wait for the next book!!

Friday, October 4, 2019

Book Review: "The Dutch House" by Ann Patchett

"But we overlay the present onto the past. We look back through the lens of what we know now, so we're not seeing it as the people we were, we're seeing it as the people we are, and that means the past has been radically altered."

Siblings Danny and Maeve Conroy grew up in The Dutch House, a lavish home in the Philadelphia suburbs. Once the home of a Dutch family that owned most of the area, their artwork and interior decorating still remain throughout the infamous estate. While their real-estate-investor father loves the house and sees it as a jewel in his empire, their mother was repulsed by all the infamous home represented, and she left when Danny was very young.

Left with a father generally incapable of doing more than providing the material comforts for his children, Maeve helped raise Danny, with the help of the family's two housekeepers. The two siblings, despite their age difference, formed an unshakable bond, one which became even more crucial when their father married again, this time a younger woman with two young daughters of her own. Their stepmother's dislike of them was apparent to them from the very start, although their father seemed oblivious and/or disinterested in her treatment of them, as he was more interested in keeping the peace in his household than anything else.

When their stepmother gets the opportunity, she exiles Danny and Maeve from the house—and cuts off their access to any of the money that should be theirs. Left with nothing, they are forced to fend for themselves and have only each other to survive. And while they cannot seem to get The Dutch House out of their minds, given that it was such an enormous part of their lives, they want more than anything to understand the actions of their parents, which led them to where they are now.

While this isn't a suspenseful book, there are a few surprises that are better to unfold as you read it rather than have them revealed. This is a book that was paced a lot slower than I like, but there is a lot of richness to behold, including emotion, nostalgia, family dynamics, and even a little humor. What fascinated me even more is what a major character the house itself played, much like in Howards End or Rebecca.

I've been a big fan of Ann Patchett's since reading Bel Canto a number of years ago. I love the way she tells a story. (Her nonfiction is excellent, too—check out Truth and Beauty or This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.) I have enjoyed some of her other books more than this one, but it's still worth a read, and I believe both Patchett fans and those who've never read her work will enjoy this, especially those who like stories of family relationships gone awry.

Book Review: "Royal Holiday" by Jasmine Guillory

Okay, now how long do I have to wait for Jasmine Guillory's next book?

It’s crazy to think at this time last year while I had heard of Guillory I hadn’t read any of her books, and now here I am having read all four.

Maddie (a main character in Guillory's last book, The Wedding Party) is a stylist who gets an incredible opportunity to dress a royal duchess in England for the holidays. She takes her mother, Vivian, along, as she rarely does anything for herself and has never been out of the country.

Vivian quickly becomes enamored of Sandringham, the royal estate where they are staying, not to mention the scones baked by the cottage's chef. She becomes even more charmed when she meets Malcolm, the Queen’s private secretary. They form a quick friendship that surprises both of them, as does the intensity of their attraction to one another. Both are willing to step outside their comfort zones for perhaps the first time in a long time, to positive results.

And although Vivian is falling for Malcolm she is always practical and knows that a relationship like this—at their age and given the fact that she lives in California—will never be more than a fling. Malcolm knows the same, but it’s rare that he’s opened himself up to someone, particularly so quickly. They also realize that they are two very different yet similar people in many ways, and that's both a positive and a negative.

When you’re a practical person, do you throw caution to the wind and let your heart do what it wants, even if you know it probably won’t work? Can you teach yourself to be as impulsive as your heart instead?

Guillory brings her signature charm to this book, once again creating characters you root for. I love the fact that all four of her books are interconnected in that they share characters, yet you don't have to read them in order. And while this book seems a little more fairytale-like (read: unrealistic) than the others, I like that she dealt with more mature characters who had lifetimes of baggage to deal with.

If you're a fan of rom-coms, you should check out Guillory's books. They're fun, charming, and heartwarming.

Now I go through withdrawal until her next book!!