Thursday, December 31, 2020

Book Review: "The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett" by Annie Lyons

The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett by Annie Lyons is one of those books that makes you feel like you're getting a big hug even as you may be tearing up.

Eudora Honeysett is 85 years old. She’s lived alone since her mother died 13 years earlier, and she has only a cantankerous cat to keep her company. She’s very particular of things, including the way people behave, and she doesn’t have friends. That’s just fine with her.

She’s decided she’s ready to die, and has found a clinic in Switzerland to help her reach the end of her life on her own terms. She has to convince them she’s not making this decision lightly or because she’s depressed.

The last thing she’s prepared for is new next-door neighbors, including an irrepressible 10-year-old girl named Rose. Rose takes an immediate interest in Eudora and wants to be friends with her, and before Eudora knows it, this whirlwind and her family—as well as another neighbor—have worked their way into her life.

But while Eudora genuinely enjoys the companionship and Rose’s constant enthusiasm, she’s not going to let anything derail her plans. And she also tries to keep her heart protected after it was damaged by hurt and guilt earlier in life.

This is a wonderfully heartwarming, emotional book, which shifts back and forth between the present and Eudora’s memories of growing up during WWII and her relationships with family and friends that still shape who she is and how she reacts to people and situations.

Yes, we’ve seen this story before. Eudora isn’t quite as curmudgeonly as Ove (of A Man Called Ove) or other similar characters, but there are themes you’ll recognize. However, this didn’t matter one bit to me. This book made me smile and it made me cry a little (something was in my eye, lol), and I enjoyed it a great deal.

William Morrow Books provided me a complimentary copy of The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

Book Review: "Vanessa Yu's Magical Paris Tea Shop" by Roselle Lim

Roselle Lim's second novel, Vanessa Yu's Magical Paris Tea Shop, has a little romance, a little drama, a little clairvoyance—and lots of yummy-sounding food!!

Ever since Vanessa was young she has been able to see people’s fortunes at the bottom of her teacups. But blurting out prophecies hasn’t always worked for her—so much so, she switched to coffee and has tried to sublimate her skills, much to the anger of her Aunt Evelyn, a talented clairvoyant.

Now Vanessa is facing pressure from her mother to find a husband, but even the matchmaker can’t figure her out, because clairvoyants aren't supposed to be able to find matches. And when Vanessa predicts death for the first time, she is so overwhelmed that she realizes she has to try and control her abilities, so she turns to her aunt.

Evelyn is ready to train Vanessa but there is a lot of work to be done since she’s tried to fight her abilities for so long. Vanessa goes to Paris to help Evelyn open her new tea shop. While falling in love with all that the City of Light has to offer (not to mention a handsome man), she learns a lot about what destiny truly means—how to follow it but how not to let it consume her life. At the same time she realizes where her talents lie, and how she may find happiness, something she has always dreamed of but never believed it could happen.

I loved this book. I loved the family drama, the romance, the clairvoyance stuff, the setting, even the predictability of it all. Don’t read this book if you’re the slightest bit hungry because it is FULL of descriptions of phenomenal food and French pastries.

Lim is a terrifically engaging writer whose books leave you feeling happy. I enjoyed her first book (Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune) and I look forward to seeing what comes next in her career!

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Book Review: "Pigeon-Blood Red" by Ed Duncan

Ed Duncan's Pigeon-Blood Red is a compelling, enjoyable crime novel with a fascinating protagonist.

His name was Rico...(I’ll bet there are some other Barry Manilow fans out there who want to sing “Copacabana” with me.)

Rico is an enforcer for Litvack, a gangster in Chicago. Litvack asks him to hang on to a priceless pigeon-blood red ruby necklace. Seems like an easy job, right? But somehow he manages to lose it to a guy who owes Litvack a ton of money. (Rico can't always seem to keep his priorities straight.)

So now all Rico has to do is track the guy down, get the necklace back, and make him pay. But in settling another score along the way, Rico misses his chance to take care of the thief in Chicago and has to follow the guy to Honolulu, where he's trying to reunite with his estranged wife. And then everything gets a lot messier and more complicated.

Before he knows it there are more people in the middle of the mess and Litvack orders Rico to take care of them, too. But are these just innocent bystanders, or is there more to them than meets the eye?

Pigeon-Blood Red was a really quick and enjoyable read, and it's the first book in a trilogy. Rico is definitely a character I’d love to see again—he’s a bit of a loose cannon but he also wants to do things his own way, which makes things fascinating and a bit messier than they need to be.

Book Publicity Services and the author, Ed Duncan, sent me a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

Book Review: "Kept Animals" by Kate Milliken

Kept Animals, Kate Milliken's debut novel, is a powerful, gorgeously told story of desire, loss, secrets, and the toll we take on nature.

In 1993, 15-year-old Rory Ramos is living in Topanga Canyon, California, and working as a ranch hand at a stable her stepfather runs. She’s talented with horses but mostly rides for rich people, including wealthy twin siblings June and Wade. June, who is openly gay, takes an interest in Rory, who is struggling with her own sexuality, but often Rory is caught in the manipulation between the siblings.

But Rory is more intrigued by Vivian, the beautiful daughter of an actor, whose house Rory can see from her bedroom window. At night she can catch glimpses of Vivian swimming.

After a tragic accident occurs which creates strange ties among Rory, Vivian, June, and Wade, Rory’s equestrian skills grow stronger and she discovers her talent for photography. And as the relationships among the four grow more complicated, one night everything comes to a head, and a dangerous forest fire occurs, threatening to destroy the canyon and beyond.

In 2015, Rory’s daughter, Charlie, is left with more secrets about her mother than memories, as her mother is on the road more than she is home. The more she starts to question and dig into things, the more she realizes that to understand her mother, and perhaps herself, she needs to understand what happened more than 20 years before.

This book was so beautifully written. Milliken’s imagery is so evocative you can taste the dust and feel the dryness in the air. There is a lot of tension among characters that you can feel as well—I had my suspicions about what might happen but couldn’t wait to see things unfold. Issues of race and class, inequity and prejudice are also touched on.

I really enjoyed Kept Animals and stayed up late to finish it. (Story of my life in 2020.) This was a book I wouldn’t have heard of were it not for Bookstagram, so I’m grateful.

Kate Milliken provided me with a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!!

Monday, December 28, 2020

Book Review: "We Were Promised Spotlights" by Lindsay Sproul

Lindsay Sproul's We Were Promised Spotlights is a story about owning who you are and making your own choices.

It’s 1999 in the small town of Hopuonk, Massachusetts. Taylor is the most popular girl in school. She’s beautiful—everyone tells her so—and everyone wants to be her and/or be near her. It’s expected she’ll be crowned prom queen and homecoming queen, and date the most handsome and popular boys in school.

It seems like the perfect life from the outside looking in, and even her future is determined—she should go to school to become a dental hygenist and marry the prom king. Who wouldn’t want that?

The only obstacle to all of this is Taylor herself. She doesn’t even like the smell of dentists’ offices. She hates her life, the constant pressure to party, look good, be popular. And she’s in love with her best friend, Susan. But of course, no one wants to know any of that, not Taylor's friends, not her waitress mother who also was crowned prom queen years before.

As senior year of high school draws to a close, Taylor is getting less satisfied with the idea of following the expected path. But how much is she willing to destroy everything and everyone else around her in an effort to be who she wants to be?

We Were Promised Spotlights was a well-written story about the pressures of “fitting in” when everyone thinks you’ve got it made. Certainly having to tell people you’re not who they think you are—or even if they have suspicions—is hard. Many of us have been there.

The thing is, I just really disliked all of the characters. I get the whole disaffected teenager thing but I just can’t find sympathy for people who are mean and allow others to bully people because they’re unhappy with themselves, afraid they’ll be exposed, or they’re just assholes. The whole “ridicule the gay people because you’re afraid someone will think you're gay” is real, I know (I've been a victim of it), but it wasn't enjoyable for me to read about.

Some have really praised the book, however, so maybe those with more distance from this kind of plot may enjoy it more.

Book Review: "Greenlights" by Matthew McConaughey

Alright, alright, alright...

Greenlights is exactly what you’d expect a memoir from Matthew McConaughey to be like, and that’s pretty great.

I’ve been a McConaughey fan since he appeared as Drew Barrymore’s boyfriend in the movie Boys on the Side. Aside from his obvious aesthetic gifts (I saw him once in person during his dirty, shoeless days in Austin and he was still totally magnetic) and his acting talent, I’ve always thought him to be one of the bluntest, funniest, most cerebral celebrities out there. (Look up his Oscar acceptance speech on YouTube to see what I mean.)

Greenlights is, as he puts it, “fifty years of my sights and seems, felts and figured-outs, cools and shamefuls. Graces, truths, and beauties of brutality. Getting away withs, getting caughts, and getting wets while trying to dance between the raindrops. It’s a love letter. To life.”

This is at turns funny, blunt, insightful, emotional, and even so outrageous you wonder if he’s being completely truthful (although it wouldn’t surprise you if he is). But while he’s definitely a what-you-see is what-you-get type of guy, what you get is a man who clearly operates by the strong code of morals and behaviors he was raised with.

I thought this was such a great read, but don’t go in expecting a tell-all: he has nothing to say about any of his costars or collaborators. And that honestly was fine with me, because I wouldn't expect him to be that type of guy.

I’m not normally an audiobook guy, but how could I pass up buying the audio of this to hear that voice read his own words? Obviously if you're not a fan of his this may not work, but I really enjoyed it. And I don't read very many memoirs at all!

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Book Review: "Cemetery Boys" by Aiden Thomas

Aiden Thomas' Cemetery Boys is a magical, emotional story about finding the courage to show everyone—including yourself—who you really are, with some terrifically creative fantasy thrown in.

First, let me say that I cannot believe I’ve read 300(!) books so far this year. I will read a few more (I’m one of those who reads up until the very end of the year) but this is the most I’ve ever read—and I don’t expect to ever read this amount again! (COVID has really messed with my sleep patterns.)

Now back to the book review...

Yadriel’s family has a hard enough time accepting that he’s trans, and they definitely won’t allow him to participate in the traditional ritual where he becomes a brujo. Determined to prove his worth, he performs the ritual himself, and then, with his best friend Maritza, he plans to find the ghost of his murdered cousin, Miguel, so he can set his soul free.

One problem: he summons the wrong ghost. Instead he summons Julian, a troublemaker from his high school. Julian doesn’t know why or how he died, and wants to figure things out, not to mention ensure his friends are taken care of. He asks for Yadriel’s help. Yadriel reluctantly agrees, but things start to get more complicated when he realizes he has feelings for Julian, and doesn’t want to have to release his soul.

Cemetery Boys was a beautifully told story, about the difficulties in getting your family to accept you and love you for who you are. It’s also a truly inventive fantasy, full of Latinx traditions, and the story is richly drawn and evocative.

I can’t wait to see what Aiden Thomas does next. They are such a talented storyteller!

Book Review: "Mistletoe and Mr. Right" by Sarah Morgenthaler

Mistletoe and Mr. Right by Sarah Morgenthaler is adorable and fun, and another example of why I’ve been loving holiday rom-coms lately.

In this book, we return to the quirky small town of Moose Springs, Alaska. Lana isn’t the most popular person in town since her family’s company bought up most of the town, and she plans to build luxury condominiums in Moose Springs. Many town residents would prefer to keep tourists away even if it causes businesses to struggle more.

And while the town makes its displeasure with Lana known, there’s something else wreaking havoc. Apparently there’s a moose in town that isn’t fond of Christmas decorations—so much so that it keeps destroying everyone’s displays. Lana volunteers to catch the moose in the hope that it might win her some fans. Yeah, that should go well.

One such person she doesn’t have to worry about is Rick, who owns the town’s struggling pool hall. He’s always had a thing for Lana, even though he gets totally tongue-tied around her. He knows they come from totally different worlds, and she’ll probably not be in town long, but he can’t help but fall for her, and she definitely feels the same.

How could you not love a rom-com that has a blind border collie that loves to wear clothes and matching hats, and a Christmas sweater-wearing hedgehog named Darla, not to mention a sweet love story? I love the town of Moose Springs (the setting of Morgenthaler’s last book, The Tourist Attraction) and the characters are just great. The one interesting thing is that I always feel like the characters seem much older than they actually area—I would have pegged Lana and Rick for their mid-40s, but that wasn't the case.

Mistletoe and Mr. Right took a little while to get going but I really enjoyed it and can’t wait for Morgenthaler’s third book in January!!

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Book Review: "Death in the Family" by Tessa Wegert

It was a dark and stormy day...

In Tessa Wegert's Death in the Family, Shana Merchant used to be a police detective in NYC, until she was abducted by the serial killer she was hunting. After being held for a week she was rescued, but the subsequent PTSD ended her career in the city.

Now she works as an investigator in the Thousand Islands region of upstate New York, and only her boss knows what happened to her on her old job. And while her fiancé thinks she’s not ready to be in the thick of a crime scene, she’s determined to prove it to everyone—including herself.

She and her partner get called to a wealthy private island, where a young man has gone missing. Blood at the scene indicates he was harmed and could be dead, but where could he be? Could he have somehow gotten off the island? Is this a disappearance or a murder?

All of the man’s family and friends who were staying at their mansion are on edge, and more than happy to point suspicion at someone else. And with a powerful nor’easter wreaking havoc, Shana and her partner could be stuck on the island with a murderer who has nowhere to escape to.

But as she tries to make sense of the lies and double-crosses, Shana also has to deal with the flashbacks that the stress of the crime scene are triggering. Is she really ready to be back in this job? Can she trust her partner not to pity her if she tells him about what happened to her in NUC? And more importantly, is there a killer that they must protect the rest of the family—and themselves—from?

I thought this was a great, intense mystery with lots of twists and turns. It’s the locked-room mystery I’d been hoping for after reading some pretenders and Shana’s struggles kept this fascinating and compelling. You’re not sure whom to trust, but everyone is pretty hateful! Wegert really did a great job with this story.

I’ll be buying the second book in the series immediately! (Update: I bought it this afternoon.)

Book Review: "The 12 Dates of Christmas" by Jenny Bayliss

It seems like everyone on Bookstagram has been reading this, and holiday rom-coms are such fun this year, so I picked up Jenny Bayliss' The 12 Dates of Christmas.

It’s not that Kate needs a man per se, but she wouldn’t mind being in a relationship again. And in her small English town, she doesn’t have a lot of options, so at her friend’s persuasion, she signs up for a dating agency that will match her up with 12 different men on 12 different dates before the holidays. One of them has to go well, right?

While some of the dates start off promising (some look bad from the get-go), very few have appear to have any long-term potential. And of course, it’s not easy when the whole town knows the story of every date shortly after it happens!

As Kate starts to wonder whether she might have found a possibility, at the same time, she starts to realize that perhaps she’s been looking in the wrong place all along. But what are the chances that she can finally find the right man, and one who feels the same way?

I thought this was absolutely adorable and fun, even if I literally predicted what would happen within the first 5 pages. But as I’ve said before, while I hate predictability if I’m reading a thriller, I’m fine when reading a rom-com!

While there was so much that was charming about this book (I love books that take place in small English towns), what I loved best were the details that Jenny Bayliss incorporated into her story, related to Kate’s career as a textiles designer and her part-time baking gig. The imagery she evoked is really fantastic. (Plus, there were a few recipes, so I was totally sold.)

This reminded me a little of one of my favorite YA novels of the year, 10 Blind Dates. Definitely a fun, sappy, Christmas rom-com!

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Book Review: "Here the Whole Time" by Vitor Martins, translated by Larissa Helena

Here the Whole Time literally made me happy cry.

From its dedication, which read, “For anyone who has ever gotten into a pool with their shirt on,” I knew this book was for me. I haven't found a book that spoke to me so directly in a while.

At school, Felipe is teased constantly about his weight. He knows there are people in his home country of Brazil with bigger problems, but he can’t think about those because of the constant abuse he takes from his classmates, even the stares from people on the street. He's just so tired of being self-conscious all the time.

Winter break is nearly here and he’s looking forward to two weeks away from the hell of school, of doing little but binge-watching Netflix. But that excitement dies quickly when he learns that Caio, a boy who lives in his apartment building, will be staying with Felipe and his mother while his parents are on vacation.

Felipe has had a crush on Caio for as long as he can remember. They even used to be friends when they were younger, until Felipe became self-conscious about his weight. But Caio is handsome and there’s no way he’d be interested in him. For Felipe, who is painfully shy about how he looks, to have to share a room with his crush for two weeks, will be torture. Or will it?

Having struggled with my weight for most of my life, especially in high school, I felt this story so strongly. I loved these characters and their laughs and struggles and fears, what it feels like to be the target of ridicule and even better, how magical it feels to click with someone.

Like with rom-coms, you know what will happen here but you enjoy the journey of getting there. Vitor Martins created such a terrifically beautiful story. This was just so special, funny, and lovely. I'll be thinking of Here the Whole Time for a long time!

Book Review: "The Christmas Backup Plan" by Lori Wilde

Lori Wilde's The Christmas Backup Plan is a cute, steamy, and surprisingly emotional romance where opposites attract.

Aria Alzate is a wedding planner ready to create the perfect wedding for her best friend, but when a concussion prohibits her from driving to the town of Twilight, Texas, she’s worried the whole event may collapse. And when she finds out that Remington Lockhart will be (begrudgingly) driving her to Twilight, she’s even less thrilled.

Aria and Remy have known each other since childhood—her three sisters are even married to his three brothers, and everyone is fairly convinced that Remy and Aria are destined to be together. But Remy, recently discharged from the Army after a career-ending injury, is as uptight as they come, and he can’t handle Aria’s casual, fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants style. How can a wedding planner not believe in backup plans?

Despite their obvious chemistry (which they deny vehemently), the ride to Twilight is difficult because of their constant need to get under each other’s skin. And when they’re waylaid by an ice storm, they have to decide whether to give in to their attraction or fight it every step of the way—and what doing either will mean in the long run.

Will they get to Twilight on time for the wedding? Will everything go off without a hitch? Are Aria and Remy truly meant for each other as their siblings have been?

Unless you’ve never read a rom-com, you can figure out all those answers. But along the way, Lori Wilde throws in some serious steam and some moving conversations about PTSD and grief that don’t often happen in a rom-com.

The Christmas Backup Plan was a sweet, fun read that might have caused a tear or two (whatever). I look forward to exploring more of Wilde’s Twilight, Texas series!

Avon Books provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Book Review: "Layla" by Colleen Hoover

Colleen Hoover's newest book, Layla, is a very different kind of love story.

Hoover is an author I might never have heard of were it not for Bookstagram. Since reading Verity last fall, I’ve read and loved a number of her older books and some subsequent releases. She’s definitely become one of my auto-buy authors. (I still have a ways to go with her backlist, which is great.)

I’ve been eagerly awaiting Layla, and was excited to see the raves coming in from folks. A paranormal romance at that? How cool! But hype is a fickle friend. This one was...not for me.

From the moment he sees her at a wedding, Leeds falls for Layla. (I love the names CoHo gives her characters!) The more time they spend with each other, the more they know they’re destined to be together forever. And then an unexpected incident occurs which leaves Layla fighting for her life.

After Layla recovers from her injuries physically, she still suffers from anxiety and other emotional issues, so Leeds takes her to the bed-and-breakfast where they first met, hoping they can recapture some of their initial fun and passion. But instead, strange things start happening and Layla’s behavior changes dramatically.

I'll stop my plot summary here, even though you can find more online, because I think it's better to let things unfold as you read.

Sadly, this book never really captured my interest. I don’t know if it was the pacing of the story, which I found slow, or the paranormal aspects, although I don’t normally have issues with those. I do love the way Hoover writes, however, and I love her willingness to experiment and push genres. There certainly were elements of the story I enjoyed.

I know mine is an unpopular opinion and in some cases an outlier, so if you give this a try, I hope you enjoy it!!

I won a copy in a giveaway on Bookstagram, so thanks to Montlake Publishing for the complimentary copy!

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Book Review: "You're Completely Normal" by Shannon Leyko

If you're looking to learn (or perhaps remember) how to trade where you think you should be for where you want to go, You're Completely Normal is for you.

We’ve all done it. At some point in our lives most of us have thought to ourselves, “I thought I’d be [fill-in-the-blank] by now.” I usually do it around milestone birthdays—30 was the toughest for me—but I definitely find myself uttering those words every now and again. (And if you've never done that, I tip my cap to you.)

As we all inherently know, there’s no prescribed path for anyone, no “right way” to be a spouse, a partner, a parent, an employee, a child, a person of faith, a friend. Yet all too often we get caught up comparing our journey and our lives to others, and social media adds to that pressure. (How many of us have thought, “I should have as many followers/friends as that person, I’ve been here longer!”)

Shannon Leyko knows these feelings all too well, and she encapsulates how she navigated (and still does) those feelings of fear and inadequacy, of measuring up to others, in this funny, insightful, and moving new book.

At first glance you might think this former Miss New York and mom of two is the last person who knows what it’s like to feel off-track, but you couldn’t be more wrong. In this book, she looks at nine overarching areas, including career, relationships, health and fitness, parenthood, friendship, and faith—where many tend to worry about how they measure up.

Maybe you’ve heard all of this before. But this book serves as a great reminder, a course correction of sorts, a reinforcement that no matter where you are and what path you’re on, you can find your own way without worrying about what others are doing. You're Completely Normal would make a great gift for the New Year!

Thanks to Shannon Leyko for a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!

Book Review: "The Wife Upstairs" by Rachel Hawkins

Rachel Hawkins' upcoming thriller, The Wife Upstairs, is compelling and twisty, and a bit of a retelling of Jane Eyre.

Jane has had a chaotic life, being raised by a number of foster families and in a few group homes. She’s hoping for a new start in Birmingham, Alabama, working as a dog walker for the wealthy families of Thornfield Estates. They’re so wealthy, they don’t even notice that she is helping herself to some of their neglected possessions.

Then she meets Eddie Rochester. He’s handsome, confident, and he’s mourning the recent disappearance of his wife, Bea, and her best friend, Blanche, in what appears to be an accident at their lake house. It is presumed that both have drowned.

Jane and Eddie have chemistry together, and after they start dating, she looks forward to the security—financial and otherwise—that this relationship brings her. But she can’t seem to compete with the image of Bea, a successful businesswoman, that looms over the community—and the house that Jane now shares with Eddie.

As their relationship starts to deepen, questions about what really happened to Bea and Blanche that night continue to emerge. Could Eddie have been responsible? Is Jane in danger? And what secrets does Jane have that could be exposed if Eddie is under suspicion?

This book hooked me from the very first page and didn’t let up. I had some suspicions about how things might play out—I was right in some cases and wrong in others—but I couldn’t stop reading it. It's definitely one of the better thrillers I've read this year.

I read Jane Eyre years and years ago so the comparisons were a little fuzzy for me, and the book definitely isn’t a completely faithful retelling, but I liked the twists Rachel Hawkins brought to the story.

The Wife Upstairs publishes 1/5/2021.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Book Review: "This Close to Okay" by Leesa Cross-Smith

Wow. Leesa Cross-Smith's upcoming novel, This Close to Okay, is so emotional and thought-provoking.

One rainy October night therapist Tallie Clark is driving home from work when she sees a man standing on a bridge, looking ready to jump. She gets out of her car and runs to the man, begging him not to jump. Miraculously, she is able to get him to come down and he agrees to go with her to get some coffee and perhaps talk about his feelings.

After coffee, the man agrees to come back to Tallie’s house with her. He’s not interested in talking about what pushed him to contemplate suicide, but he does tell her that his name is Emmett.

Over the course of the weekend, Tallie tries to help Emmett, to try and get him to open up so she can determine whether he’s still thinking about dying, and he does in small doses. But over this same weekend, the two form an intense bond, despite the fact that both are hiding things from one another.

This was an intense, beautiful, moving book. Alternating between Tallie and Emmett’s narration, it’s a story of grief, anger, hope, recovery, and secrets, and how sometimes the right person comes along at the moment we need them most.

There are a lot of things happening in this book but I was immersed completely from the first few pages. I didn’t love everything the characters did but I wonder how I might react in these situations. The funny thing is, I picked this as my Book of the Month club choice on the strength of its description (and its cover) but I knew nothing about it. Sometimes that gamble pays off!!

Cross-Smith is an amazing writer, and I have to read more of her work!!

This Close to Okay publishes 2/2/2021.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Book Review: "Winter in Paradise" by Elin Hilderbrand

It’s never fun to find out your life isn’t what you think it is. At least that's what happens in Elin Hilderbrand's Winter in Paradise.

It’s New Year’s Eve. With her workaholic husband traveling for business, Irene meets a friend for dinner and then heads home for a quiet, solitary evening. But her peace is shattered when she learns her husband Russ has died in a helicopter crash near St. John in the US Virgin Islands.

What was her husband doing in the Virgin Islands when he was supposedly working? Who was the "local woman" that was with him on the helicopter? Why is she being discouraged from coming to St. John by local people who notified her of Russ’ death?

Irene and her two adult sons, Baker and Cash, travel to this unfamiliar island paradise. While they are taken by its beauty, they’re shocked by what they found out about Russ and his secret life. As the three try to figure out what happened, they must navigate through their grief and anger and disbelief, as well as come to terms with their own secrets. The trip will upend their lives in many different ways.

I’ve definitely become hooked on Hilderbrand’s books this year, and I really liked this one. It’s a departure in that the majority of her books are set in Nantucket, but her ability to create fascinating, emotional stories and complex characters didn’t change.

I’m so glad Winter in Paradise is the first book in a trilogy because I’m loving this story. (I purchased book 2 last night when I finished reading this one!)

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Book Review: "Silver Heights" by J.L. Cole

Silver Heights, J.L. Cole's debut novel, is a moving and compelling story of navigating life's ups and downs, and how sometimes you have to trust your instincts to get you through.

Rayna dreams of being a writer, and dreams of having a more stable relationship and marriage than her parents do. Their toxic relationship has affected her tremendously. But she’s not expecting how quickly her life changes when she meets Ethan, her best friend’s brother.

Although the two couldn’t be more different, they fall in love quickly, and before she knows it, Rayna and Ethan get married and she is moving to his small Canadian town and living on a ranch. It’s not long before she realizes how smothering small-town life could be, how she’s judged for what she wears, what she says, and what she does and does not do. (And the judgment is mostly negative.)

Ethan’s very conservative mother, Carol, doesn’t approve of Rayna and makes that clear. She hates the way Rayna dresses, doesn't like that she uses foul language, and disapproves that Rayna isn't interested in going to church every Sunday. But even with the odds stacked against her she is determined to make her marriage work and ignore the naysayers. Easier said than done, though, right? And if she loves her husband why does she keep trying to sabotage her marriage?

Silver Heights is a quietly moving story about letting go of the past and doing the best you can in the present. It’s the story of how hard it can be to make marriage and other relationships work when challenges stand in the way. And it’s also a love story, a story of family, and a story of self--belief.

At 224 pages, this can be read fairly quickly, and even if the characters aren’t always likable, it’s still compelling and beautifully written. It’s hard to believe this is a debut!

I was excited to be part of the tour for this book. Kate Rock Book Tours, J.L. Cole, and Black Rose Writing provided me with a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!!

Monday, December 14, 2020

Book Review: ""The Forever Girl" by Jill Shalvis

The Forever Girl, Jill Shalvis' new book, is a story of friendship, family, love, and honesty.

Once they were all a family. Heather, Walker, and Maze were all foster children taken in by Caitlin’s parents, and they were inseparable. Then tragedy tore them apart and they went their separate ways. But while some reunited or at least kept tabs on one another, Maze has always kept everyone at arm’s length.

Now Caitlin is getting married and she is determined to have the siblings of her heart with her. The reunion is awkward at first, especially for Maze, who carries the burdens of guilt and hurt with her everywhere. But Maze quickly realizes that each of them has secrets and hurts and even resentments they’ve kept to themselves for far too long. And she also realizes her feelings for Walker have never abated.

When you’ve always been hurt and disappointed, how do you find the courage to still let people in? How do you know when to trust people that say they love you? When is it time to stop running every time something gets difficult?

The Forever Girl was a moving story about chosen family and the bonds of friendship and love. It’s also a story about recognizing that everyone makes mistakes, and sometimes we can’t make decisions based on what we assume people think and feel.

I really liked the characters and felt emotionally invested in this story. My only criticism is that everyone tiptoed around their issues and didn’t want to be honest about what they felt about anything. But in many cases you can see why.

I’ve been meaning to read a Jill Shalvis book for a long while since so many people rave about her, and now I can go through her backlist!!

William Morrow Books provided me a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!!

The book publishes 1/12/2021.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Book Review: "Jingle Wars" by R. Holmes and Veronica Eden

Jingle Wars, by R. Holmes and Veronica Eden, is a steamy but poignant rom-com to put you in the holiday spirit!

Finn was raised by his grandparents, and their Montana inn, The Mayberry Inn, has been a part of his life for a long time. With his grandparents getting older and the inn needing more attention, he moves back to the inn and starts working on the improvements it so desperately needs, and tries to keep his grandparents from worrying.

Freya (amazingly, this is the third book I’ve read in 2020 with a character named Freya) is a daughter of privilege, but she can never get her hotelier father’s attention. She finally gets a chance to run their newest property, The Alpine Mountain Resort, and she wants to prove herself to her father.

Finn and Freya meet cute when Freya, a California girl unused to Montana winters, literally falls into him. Their chemistry is utterly intense—and then Finn discovers that Freya is the competition, and could harm his grandparents’ inn. Even though they can’t take their eyes or their minds off one another, Finn would rather keep her from succeeding.

Of course, this is a rom-com, so you know what will happen. Throw in a donkey dressed up for Christmas, a reality show competition to get people in the holiday spirit, a beautiful Montana winter, and lots of emotion, and you’ll have a great story, full of fun and sexual tension.

Jingle Wars was a fun, romantic, and sexy story. There’s also more emotion than I would have expected, as well as some serious steam. Freya says at one point, “From thirsty bitches everywhere, thank god for sweatpants season.” (Same, girl, same.) Also, I've never heard of the term WSE (wall-sex energy) but I am totally using it now!

You can always count on an enemies-to-lovers story to give you a smile and maybe wipe away a tear, too!

Book Review: "Goodnight Beautiful" by Aimee Molloy

What did I just read? After finishing Aimee Molloy's Goodnight Beautiful, I'm left wondering if my health insurance will cover fixing my whiplash from all the twists and turns in this book!

Sam and Annie didn’t date long before they got married, and shortly thereafter they decided to leave New York City and move back to Chestnut Hill, Sam’s small hometown upstate.

Life is slow now—especially for Annie, since she doesn’t have a job or any friends in town. Sam’s days are full as his therapy practice is going like gangbusters. (He’s so handsome, one woman joked she needed to get a personality disorder so she could be one of his patients.)

One day in a little-used room in the house, it’s discovered that all of Sam’s sessions can be heard, word-for-word, through an air vent. This is an interesting discovery and one that’s hard to turn away from. When a young French woman begins sessions with Sam, things start to get a little risky. Then one night during a bad storm, Sam disappears.

I’ll leave it at that. Aimee Molloy throws some wild twists into the plot that kept me guessing—and at times made me re-read certain portions to be sure I understood what was happening. I don’t surprise easily but she really kept the tension and the pace up.

Goodnight Beautiful is a book I've seen lots of people raving about, and now I see why! It was really wild. Not everyone loves it, but this came at a perfect time for me.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Book Review: "Charming as a Verb" by Ben Philippe

In Ben Philippe's new book, Charming as a Verb, making it look like everything comes easy for you is often really hard work.

At first glance, Henri Haltiwanger (otherwise known as “Halti” or “HH”) seems to have life in the palm of his hand. He’s first-generation American, the son of hard-working Haitian immigrants; he’s a good student at the prestigious FATE Academy, where he’s well-liked; and he runs a dog-walking business for upscale New Yorkers.

The one thing he wants more than anything is to go to Columbia University. It’s also his father’s dream for Henri, so there’s added pressure and worry about whether he’ll get in.

But one person isn’t impressed with Halti—his fellow student and neighbor, Corinne Troy. Super-smart and “intense,” she discovers the scheme Halti has been running with his dog walking business, so she blackmails him. She wants him to help her become more likable and appear to be less driven to her peers.

Before long, “Cori” is actually pleasant to be around, and she and Halti start to lean on each other more and more, and share their personal challenges and fears. She helps Halti see what his dreams could be instead of what he thinks they must be, and they both let down their guard to let each other in.

But when Halti cracks under the pressure, things fall apart. It's time for him to prove that he’s more than just a charming guy, and that he is deserving of the opportunities he so desperately seeks.

I really liked this book. I enjoy Ben Philippe’s storytelling (I enjoyed his first book, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager) and thought these characters were terrific. (I especially loved Halti’s bromance with his best friend, Ming.)

Charming as a Verb really captured the pressures that teenagers face, particularly the children of immigrants. I’ll admit I was annoyed by one thing Halti did and it almost made me stop reading, but after a bit I realized how someone in his position might do the same.

Philippe is so talented, so I can’t wait to see what he does next!

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Book Review: "500 Miles from You" by Jenny Colgan

According to Jenny Colgan's 500 Miles from You, sometimes a change of perspective can do you good—and sometimes it’s even better.

Lissa is a nurse in London, working in some of the city's grittier neighborhoods. She’s been having trouble keeping it together, though, since witnessing a horrible crime. Her PTSD is making it impossible for her to focus, so her supervisors think a change of scenery will help, and they arrange for her to swap jobs with another nurse.

Cormac is a nurse and former army medic in the small Scottish town of Kirrinfief. He’s easygoing and friendly, a gentle giant, but that calm hides some deeper issues he keeps silent about. He’s only spent a day or two in London but now he’ll be taking Lissa's place while she moves to Kirrinfief.

Although Cormac has an easier time getting acclimated than Lissa, both feel like a fish out of water. Lissa, in particular, is finding it hard to get comfortable in a place where everyone knows everyone’s business and everyone is so friendly and laid back. But little by little, she starts to warm to the town and its people, and they stop thinking she's totally standoffish.

After some initial awkwardness, Cormac and Lissa start emailing each other about their patients, daily occurrences, every little thing, which leads to texting each other. Why is it so easy to unburden yourself to someone you’ve never met?

What happens when they meet each other? And what happens when they have to return to their original homes and jobs?

Unless you’ve never read a rom-com before, you pretty much know what will happen. And even though I did, there is so much charm here to fall for. The characters—not only Lissa and Cormac, but the supporting characters in both London and Kirrinfief—are just so endearing. It took a little longer for Lissa to stop being impolite and disoriented than I would’ve liked, and the roadblocks she and Cormac encounter at one point made me roll my eyes, but I still enjoyed this so much.

I’ve been wanting to read a Jenny Colgan book for so long and now I see why she’s so loved!

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Book Review: "The Broken Girls" by Simone St. James

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James is part ghost story, part murder mystery, and all a bit creepy!

Idlewild Hall used to be a boarding school in Vermont where “certain” girls were sent—the ones whose parents didn’t want them around, the troubled or mischievous or emotionally wounded ones. Rumor is the school is haunted by a ghost named Mary Hand—many have seen her or heard her through the years.

In 1950, a group of friends is trying to survive life at Idlewild. Then one night, one of them disappears—while the rest try to make sense of what happened even though no one else wants them to.

In 2014, freelance journalist Fiona Sheridan is still mourning the murder of her sister Deb 20 years earlier. Deb’s body was found dumped on the deserted ruins of Idlewild Hall, and her boyfriend was convicted of her murder, but Fiona was never convinced of his guilt.

When she learns that someone will be renovating Idlewild Hall, Fiona wants to cover the story, even though those closest to her think she needs to give up her obsession. But secrets are uncovered, some long-hidden and some more recent, which may point to a startling truth.

Having read and loved St. James’ newest book, The Sun Down Motel, I was looking forward to this one. It certainly didn’t disappoint. Once again, she did such a great job of meshing mystery with paranormal elements.

I was really hooked on this book for the first three-quarters of it. As it reached its conclusion, there were a few too many coincidences to take in, but ultimately I wasn’t disappointed. This was a compelling and slightly creepy read!

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Book Review: "Rodham" by Curtis Sittenfeld

Rodham is a fascinating and thought-provoking look at what could have been, at least filtered through Curtis Sittenfeld's mind.

Nearly everyone has an opinion of Hillary Clinton. Some love her, some admire her, some think she’s truly evil and corrupt. But no matter how polarizing a figure she is, there’s no denying the world’s interest in the Clinton family.

In 1971, Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham met at Yale Law School. She’s a highly intellectual activist; he’s already planning a political future. He's flirtatious and magnetic, she was once told by a boy that she had a crush on that he thought of her as a guy. They’re drawn to each other passionately, and for Hillary, this relationship leaves her undone in ways she never expected.

In real life, Bill proposed to Hillary several times, and she ultimately said yes. But Rodham imagines a different scenario—in the book, Sittenfeld explores what might have happened if Hillary ultimately said no to Bill’s proposal. What does the trajectory of her life look like? What happens to Bill?

The book follows Hillary through 2016 and charts a very interesting personal and political path. She and Bill encounter each other through the years, and there’s no denying the pull they feel for one another. But is it possible to have everything you want all at the same time?

This was a fascinating read. Sittenfeld did a great job imagining Hillary as a woman and a politician, and how those two roles both mesh and clash. The life she created for Hillary was both admirable and bleak, and the “what-if” scenario was utterly compelling.

There are some steamy sex scenes which made me uncomfortable, because it was like reading about your parents having sex. But other than that, I’m a fan of Sittenfeld’s writing, and in Rodham, she has created a powerful character from a powerful woman.

Book Review: "The Cul-de-Sac" by BJ Irons

Steamy sex and drama on Calumny Court! Who says the suburbs are boring? Not BJ Irons, in his new book, The Cul-de-Sac.

Like many married couples, Lucas and Bennett have decided it’s time to abandon their wild city life for a fancy house in the suburbs. And the house on Calumny Court, a well-appointed cul-de-sac, seems perfect.

What they don’t count on are Zach and Skyler. Both of their families live on the cul-de-sac, and both are used to playing mind games and getting exactly what they want. Zach and Skyler are both gay, and love to compete with each other, so they set their sights on Lucas and Bennett. Who can seduce one half of the new neighbor couple first? But does this rivalry mask real feelings?

The Cul-de-Sac is deliciously soapy and it was a great change of pace for me. The sex scenes (all M/M) are pretty hot and steamy.

I’m glad I don’t live on Calumny Court but I sure enjoyed reading about it! Book 2 is forthcoming...

The author provided me a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!!

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Book Review: “The Girl with the Louding Voice” by Abi Daré

Abi Daré's The Girl with the Louding Voice lives up to all the hype and praise, and then some!!

Adunni is a 14-year-old girl growing up poor in Nigeria. Her mother recognized Adunni’s intelligence and fought for her to get an education, but that ended when she died. Regardless of what she wants from her future, because of their poverty, her father sells her into marriage as the third wife of an old man desperate for male children.

“My mama say education will give me a voice. I want more than just a voice, Ms. Tia. I want a louding voice. I want to enter a room and people will hear me even before I open my mouth to be speaking. I want to live in this life and help many people so that when I grow old and die, I will still be living through the people I am helping."

Marriage, the demands of a husband, and the cruelty of one of his other wives are almost too much for Adunni to bear. And when tragedy strikes in her new home, she must flee, although she knows as a young woman most view her as nothing but property.

She winds up being taken to Lagos and is sold into servitude to a rich, cruel woman. She is treated horribly aand beaten routinely, but she tries not to let this woman or her philandering husband steal her dreams or make her believe she is nothing. It takes two people—the household chef and a woman in the same social group as her employer—to help try and save Adunni, but will it be too late?

What a book this was. It was brutal and emotional and utterly beautiful, but Adunni’s spirit is a shining light. She is honestly one of the most memorable characters I’ve ever read about. At times this is difficult to read and at times her broken English is distracting, but as she works to better herself it becomes easier to understand her.

Daré has created a masterpiece. The Girl with the Louding Voice is truly one of the best books I've read this year.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Book Review: "The Houseplant: A Short Story" by Jeremy Ray

The Houseplant is a surprisingly heartwarming story about the most unlikely of subjects. (Yes, the title is literally what the story is about.)

Do you have plants in your house? If so, do your plants have names and do you talk to them? I have one small plant, Mr. Indestructo, so named because he puts up with my periodic neglect and thrives anyway. (And he’s a good listener when I break into an impromptu karaoke session.)

Jeremy Ray’s terrific story is narrated by George, a fern who was brought home against his will by Brenda. After he struggled through her initial missteps at caring for him, eventually he and Brenda built a solid relationship of companionship and trust, and she was always bragging to friends about George’s ability to thrive.

But in a split second, everything changes and George’s life is turned upside down. Can things go back to how they were before, or will George have to suffer the consequences?

I seriously loved this story. I never thought I’d get attached to a story narrated by a houseplant but Jeremy Ray created such a terrific character! I gave Mr. Indestructo a little more water after I finished the story.

The author provided me with a complimentary advance copy of the story in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available! For details on how to win a signed, first-print edition of The Houseplant, visit @jeremyraystories on Instagram.

The story publishes 12/14.

Book Review: "The Cousins" by Karen M. McManus

Looking for a healthy helping of twisty family drama? If your answer is "Yes, please," you'll want to pick up Karen McManus' newest YA mystery, The Cousins.

Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah have never met their grandmother, the immensely wealthy Mildred Story. Ever since she disowned all four of her children more than 20 years ago, she’s rebuffed any effort their parents have made through the years to reconcile or meet her grandchildren. Even their parents—all siblings—barely speak to each other.

But one day each of the grandchildren gets a letter from Mildred inviting them to spend the summer working at the island resort she owns in New England. While each is mildly intrigued, no one particularly wants to spend their summer working for a woman they don’t know, one who has never cared about them.

Their parents, however, seize the opportunity, thinking this could be the first step to their mother welcoming them all back into the family, so the cousins have no choice. And considering that they haven’t seen each other in years either, at least misery will love company!

What the cousins don’t count on is how their grandmother will interact with them, how others are trying to manipulate the situation, and just how many dark secrets the Story family wants to keep hidden.

Why did their grandmother disinherit her children? Why did she send for her grandchildren after so long? The Cousins is full of family drama, twists, and secrets, and you don’t know if there's anyone you should trust.

I love the way Karen McManus writes. (I particularly loved One of Us is Lying and Two Can Keep a Secret.) She hooks you right away and keeps you guessing, and while I don’t know that I loved the way everything wrapped up in this book, I still couldn’t get enough. I’m curious to see if she writes a follow-up to this one, because she set it up perfectly!

Book Review: "Forever Wild" by K.A. Tucker

Did I love The Forever Wild as much as I hoped I would? Yes, yes, a million times, yes!

Calla and Jonah return in this novella, the third installment following The Simple Wild and Wild at Heart. Not that I needed reminding, but I love this series and these characters so much!!

Christmas is almost here in Trapper's Crossing, Alaska, and Calla and Jonah are getting ready for a full house of guests. Jonah’s mother and stepfather are coming from Norway, Calla’s mother and stepfather are coming from Canada, and Agnes and Mabel are coming, too. Calla can't believe it's been a year since her family dropped her off at the airport so she could begin her new life.

Of course, there’s family tension to be had (Jonah is not a fan of his stepfather), but the biggest topic of conversation is when—and where—Calla and Jonah will get married. Throw in some meddling from Muriel and some typical curmudgeon-like behavior from Roy, as well as a massive snowstorm, and it’s going to be quite a holiday!

The Forever Wild was just so good. Everything was familiar, sure, but K.A. Tucker hooked me from start to finish. If I had any criticism it was that the book was too short, but luckily she has a fourth book featuring Marie, a recurring character and former almost-flame of Jonah's, coming in 2021.

If you like romances with sexy pilots and stories that take place in Alaska, pick this series up. I wouldn’t mind a movie version to see what Jonah would look like in the flesh!

Book Review: "Flying the Nest" by Joy Norstrom

Joy Norstrom's newest novel, Flying the Nest, gave me all of the feels!

Since his mother died, Chad’s life hasn’t been going well. His wife left him for another man, and he’s not really blazing much of a trail at work. His main activity has been visiting his Uncle Martin at the Eldernest Assisted Living Lodge.

But make no mistake—Martin is hardly languishing. He’s quite the ladies’ man and has his nephew stopping at the drugstore for various needs each week. Chad wishes some of that confidence would rub off on him, as he can’t seem to work up the nerve to talk to Lila, one of the employees at the ‘Nest.

The ‘Nest is full of colorful personalities, from Rosie, who seems to meddle in everyone’s business yet has secrets of her own; Clara, who wants to be loyal to her stroke-impaired husband but also wants more; Felicity, the haughty resident whose attitude masks unhappiness; and Grant, who needs to hide who he really is for fear of trouble and being treated differently by his friends and fellow residents.

Chad starts discovering that some of his closest friends are the elderly residents at the ‘Nest, and he tries to help everyone through their problems. This isn’t your typical assisted living facility—there’s lots of drama!

The book is narrated by multiple characters and you get to see things from their different perspectives. I really enjoyed most of the characters and their stories. I liked how Chad grew throughout the book as well.

I really loved how much depth Norstrom gave these characters. Too often elderly people in books are viewed as infirm or incapable of “real lives,” but that’s not the case here. From trying to keep control of your life to not giving up on the ideas of sex and companionship, these characters wanted it all, and fought for it.

This was a sometimes-poignant, sometimes-funny book that really hooked me. It’s just one of those good reads that catches you by surprise with all it has to offer.

I was grateful to have been part of the blog tour for Flying the Nest. Kate Rock Book Tours and Joy Norstrom provided me a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Book Review: "The Bridge Club" by Patricia Sands

If you like stories of strong female friendships, Patricia Sands' The Bridge Club is one for you!

“The Bridge Club: eight women, close to hitting their sixty-five-year speed bump. They were never anything remotely resembling Desperate Housewives or Ya-Ya candidates but simply great friends since their footloose days of finding the way through their early twenties.”

Eight women—Bonnie, Cass, Danielle, Dee, Jane, Lynn, Marti, and Pam—have been friends for more than five decades. What started out as a monthly bridge game turned into something much deeper. They’ve celebrated momentous occasions in each other’s lives, and have provided comfort and even more substantial help in times of crisis.

In the story each character recounts their “SOS”—the moment when each felt they could only rely on the Bridge Club to help them. These stories range from marital troubles and divorce, illness, addiction, and many others, and each chapter reinforces the intense bond they have. (For those of you who actually play bridge, there are even bridge hands at the end of each chapter.)

The Bridge Club was originally written in 2010, and marked the celebration of everyone’s 65th birthdays, as well as one sad note in an epilogue. In this 10th anniversary edition, Sands includes the epilogue as part of the book and writes an updated final chapter that takes place in 2020. It's a very interesting decision which really works.

This was a really well-told story. I love books about strong relationships and these friendships truly weathered some storms. It made me grateful for the friends in my life!

I was grateful to be part of the blog tour for this book. Kate Rock Book Tours and Patricia Sands provided me a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks so much for making it available!

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Book Review: "The Green Beach File" by K.A. Perry

K.A. Perry's The Green Beach File is a mystery that makes you think—gotta love it!

Jenn is an environmental attorney who is more comfortable with nature than socializing with others. But as she’s headed to meet a blind date, she finds a rare form of moss in a bookstore parking lot. And upon looking closer at the moss, she stumbles upon a dead body stashed in a cooler.

It turns out the body is that of a noted amphibian expert who has been employed by Jenn’s law firm to render an opinion about whether a proposed development on acres of beachfront should move forward. Shortly after this murder, another occurs—this time it’s a well-respected community leader who was against the development.

Two murders in this small town so close together leave everyone shaken. While some townspeople believe the murders are totally unrelated to the development project, Jenn isn’t so sure. And even though she knows she’s not an investigator, she can’t help but start looking into the murders, and keeps blundering into things. It turns out there was a lot of behind-the-scenes manipulation going on, but was that enough to provoke murder?

I really enjoyed this book and read it in one sitting. I loved Perry’s imagery and how much joy Jenn derived from the nature around her. It also was a very thought-provoking look at the debate between expansion and preserving and protecting nature.

While I had my suspicions about how the book would resolve itself, I still enjoyed the way Perry tied everything together. I’d love to see Jenn and these characters (maybe not her sister-in-law, lol) again!!

I was pleased to be part of the blog tour for The Green Beach File. Kate Rock Book Tours and K.A. Perry provided me a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks so much for making it available!

Monday, November 30, 2020

Book Review: "Love Sold Separately" by Ellen Meister

Dana may be close to hitting rock-bottom—if you consider getting fired from Hot Topic because of your attitude to be a bad thing. But the twentysomething aspiring actress is still hoping she'll hit it big. And when her best friend-turned-manager convinces her to audition to be a host for the Shopping Channel, that could be the chance she's looking for.

After she aces the audition and lands the job, she proves on her first day that she's a natural when it comes to selling clothing, jewelry, and accessories on television. But her first day is a bit turbulent, because the star host—a total diva who terrorized everyone—is found dead at her desk. And Dana is the alibi for one of the prime suspects.

Dana tries to settle in to her new job and be a success, but she can't seem to keep her nose out of the murder investigation, especially when she catches a glimpse of the handsome cop in charge. But even though their attraction is mutual, he thinks she's lying to protect a colleague (or is it a romantic interest), while she is determined to uncover the true killer.

In the midst of impressive sales records, Dana has to contend with a ruthless studio executive who doesn't seem to like her, an overly emotional assistant, and colleagues who seem to be sabotaging her while on air. All the while she's juggling her job with a secret acting gig, trying to earn her snobby father's approval, and hoping the detective will fall for her—if only she can keep herself and her friend out of trouble! It's a lot to handle, especially when she's determined not to fail again like everyone expects.

Love Sold Separately is an enjoyable romp through the world of home shopping. It's a little more of a mystery than the rom-com I was expecting from the title, but that didn't bother me. Of course, I'm always a little bit dubious when a person who was getting stoned on the roof of her office building on her first day of work can suddenly investigate a murder, but of course, you have to suspend your disbelief a bit.

I will admit that I've been a fan of QVC for a long time, although I don't watch much anymore. I definitely found this amusing, and it was pretty respectful of the whole home-shopping genre. Dana is a fascinating, flawed character, but it was good to see her come into her own.

Love Sold Separately was a light read, a fun mystery/rom-com combo that was never boring.

Book Review: "This Time Next Year" by Sophie Cousens

Sophie Cousens' debut novel, This Time Next Year, is a slow-burn rom-com about destiny, luck, and realizing you’re worthy of real love.

Quinn and Minnie were both born just moments into 1990 in the same hospital. Because Quinn was the first baby born in the new year his family won money—money that should have been Minnie’s, her family believes. And as a further injustice, Minnie was supposed to be named Quinn, but Quinn's mother “stole” the name from Minnie's mom. (So instead of naming her Quinn Cooper they named her Minnie Cooper. Yep.)

Minnie has always been led to believe that her birthday is unlucky, and it becomes a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, with things going wrong or falling apart. When she finally meets Quinn at a party on their mutual 30th birthday, after losing her coat and having someone vomit on her shirt, it seems like luck has followed this handsome man through the years, while Minnie is barely hanging on, and trying to hold her pie-making business together.

Of course, appearances can be deceiving, and as they keep running into each other, they find themselves inexplicably drawn to each other. But will fate—and real struggles—intervene or serve as a matchmaker?

I loved the concept of this book and found the characters so fascinating and appealing. The book’s narration shifts back and forth between Minnie and Quinn, recalling past birthdays for each and not-quite encounters, then returning to the present.

This is definitely a slow-burn romance—a little slower than I would’ve liked—but it’s still really enjoyable. (And I might’ve teared up, but I’ll never tell.)

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Book Review: "Admission" by Julie Buxbaum

Julie Buxbaum's new YA novel, Admission, is a fictional look at the recent college admissions scandal.

Chloe doesn’t love school. She enjoys spending time with her friends and all the perks of going to an exclusive private school, but schoolwork doesn’t come easy to her, and her grades and SAT scores reflect that. She doesn’t know what she wants out of life or if she even wants to go to college.

Her mother is a B-list television actress and her dad is a wealthy businessman, and they want Chloe to go to a good college. So they hire a special college counselor to help Chloe with improving her test scores, strengthening her applications, etc. And when she gets in to the school of her dreams, she’s excited and relieved.

But the next thing she knows, the FBI is swarming her house and arresting her mother for being part of a massive college admissions bribery scandal. This threatens Chloe and her dad, too, and there’s a chance she could even be prosecuted.

Suddenly everything Chloe has held dear is in ruins. It forces her to confront her privilege, and come to terms with what she actually knew about the whole thing, and what she did about it. But more than that she needs to understand why her parents felt they needed to do this for her. Did they think she’d fail otherwise, and would that be embarrassing for them?

"Under all this lies the terrible quicksand of fear. What if they are right? What if it's true that we are terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad people? If I allow myself to dip my toes into that idea, that I am not actually the hero of my own story but a villain, I quickly find myself neck deep."

Even though this book has a very ripped-from-the-headlines feel I was really hooked on it. It’s crazy to read about the strings that get pulled for families with money, putting others at a disadvantage. None of the characters are particularly sympathetic but this still was an interesting story about how blind we are to our privilege. It also was entertaining to see how “the other half” lives.

NetGalley and Delacorte Press provided me with a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

The book publishes 12/1/2020.

Book Review: "He Started It" by Samantha Downing

Whoa. Samantha Downing's He Started It definitely makes me want to think twice about ever going on a road trip with my family!

Their grandfather has died, but in order to inherit his sizable estate, Eddie, Beth, and Portia must take a cross-country road trip and scatter his ashes at the end. The trip is a duplicate of one they took with their grandfather when they were younger, and they’re expected not to deviate from the original travel plans. If they don't complete the trip, they will lose the inheritance.

The original road trip wasn’t an entirely pleasant experience, to say the very least. And as they visit the sites they once did, old memories and resentments are rehashed, while new challenges emerge.

Along the way, they’ll deal with spouses who just don’t get it, stay in run-down motels, confront a menacing trio of people, and more. Little by little, Downing reveals the multiple layers of this story and these characters, particularly Beth, the narrator.

The book switches from past to present. I didn’t know what to expect, but I devoured this book because I needed to know what was going to happen.

While I didn’t love the ending, I couldn’t get enough of the tension and mystery that unfolded. Sure, these characters are unlikeable, and you don’t know whom to root for (if anyone), but Downing hooked me completely.

This was a crazy book!!

Friday, November 27, 2020

Book Review: "The Flip Side" by James Bailey

James Bailey's The Flip Side is a funny and poignant look at a man who has decided to let fate call the shots in his life.

He had the perfect plan. Josh is going to propose to his longtime girlfriend on New Year’s Eve on The London Eye, which she has always wanted to visit. The next thing he knows, his relationship is over, he’s lost his job and his apartment (although he gets to keep their obese pet rabbit), and he’s moved back in with his parents. Disaster on all fronts.

As he laments about how his life has fallen apart and the choices he has made, he decides to decide no longer. Instead he’s going to leave every decision to chance—to determine his path through each day of his life, he’ll flip a coin. Whatever the coin decides, he’ll follow.

But what starts out as a bit of a joke to his family, friends, and others around him becomes more serious when they realize Josh intends to keep flipping that coin. Where will it lead him? Will it help him plan his future or guide him into further trouble and despair?

I really enjoyed this concept. Sometimes I think we plan too much and it causes fate to step in and mess things up, so would a coin toss be better?

This is a slightly wacky, but fun and good-hearted story, with memorable characters that made me laugh occasionally. It was a good book to read in the midst of being depressed because I missed family Thanksgiving!! Bailey is a really engaging writer, and I look forward to seeing what's next for him.

William Morrow Books provided me with a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review.. Thanks for making it available!!

Book Review: "Forever Eve" by JB Lexington

Forever Eve is a super-steamy and thought-provoking book about a woman’s search for true love and happiness.

Izabel thought she had it all when she met Bo. He’s handsome, sexy, and well-connected, and his father is grooming him to be the future governor of Illinois. Izabel has had to make sacrifices because of his and his father’s ambitions—like postponing their wedding until Bo has made a name for himself politically—but she knows it will all be worth it.

But the pressures on Bo cause him to have anger and control issues, and Izabel feels like she’s walking on eggshells all the time. Even their wedding night turns into a nightmare when Bo’s anger gets the best of him, and he tries to keep her from seeing her free-spirited best friend, Natalie, whose lifestyle he disapproves of. (He also knows Natalie hates him.)

When Bo is out of town for business, Natalie convinces Izabel to attend a session with a Past Life Regression therapist. Izabel is unprepared for how this session will rock her world. And when she meets a handsome and familiar man, it opens her eyes to the things she has been keeping bottled up—and the things she so desperately wants.

While the scenes of abuse may be triggers for some, there aren’t many and they’re not too extreme. There’s some serious steam here, but at its heart this is a book about a woman realizing she deserves so much more than she is getting.

The author provided me with a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!!

Book Review: "Rachel to the Rescue" by Elinor Lipman

Well, you knew the novels about working in the Trump White House were imminent. And with Elinor Lipman's Rachel to the Rescue, the game is underway!

Rachel Klein has a job at the Trump White House, where she essentially has to scotch tape all of the letters and documents the president tears up. She's not too fond of her job. One night she sends an email to a colleague in which she complains and insults the president. But of course, instead of simply replying to his email, she hits “reply to all” instead. Oops.

It's not long before Rachel is escorted off the premises. As she is leaving, she is hit by a car. The car, it turns out, was driven by an optometrist who happens to be a “special friend” of Trump’s. While Rachel is recovering, she is approached by an attorney for the driver, who quickly wants to settle the case off the books. And although Rachel isn't really interested in causing a fuss, she knows she's worth more than what they're offering. Which, of course, makes everyone nervous.

After a brief stint recovering at home with her meddlesome but well-meaning parents, Rachel is ready to get back to the job market. She lands a job with a journalist known for his torrid exposés—and he has a particular venom for the current president. It's not long before she's dipping her toe in the muckraking department herself, but is this what she's cut out for?

In this wacky yet outrageously believable book, Rachel has to put herself out there, and isn't sure what she'll get in return. Along the way she has to deal with matchmaking roommates and a new love interest, and wait to see what happens when all the dust settles.

I tend not to love so-called "funny" books because my sense of humor leans more toward the sarcastic than the silly. And while I don't know how ready I was to start reading about Trump when he's still the president, Rachel to the Rescue was definitely a zany story that made me laugh more than a few times.

I was fortunate to be on the blog tour for this book. Wunderkind PR provided me a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks to them, along with Storygram Tours, Eye & Lightning Books, and Elinor Lipman for making it available!

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Book Review: "The Inheritance Games" by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Jennifer Lynn Barnes' The Inheritance Games was so good I stayed up until 2:00 a.m. to finish it!

Avery Grambs’ life hasn’t been great since her mom died. She’s hoping to nail a scholarship for college so she can become an actuary, but in the meantime she’s barely getting by. She works as much as possible to eke out a living, and every time her half-sister takes her abusive boyfriend back, she sleeps in her car to avoid him.

All that changes in an instant when she is summoned by the attorneys for multibillionaire philanthropist Tobias Hawthorne, whom she has never met. It turns out this man bypassed his daughters and his four grandsons and left the bulk of his massive estate to Avery. With no explanation.

But of course, there’s a catch. The will stipulates she must live in Hawthorne House, his sprawling mansion, with his grandsons and his daughters, for one year, or everything is null and void.

Why would a man she had never met leave this enormous fortune to her? Avery is just as determined to find out the truth as Hawthorne’s family is. It turns out that the man never met a riddle or puzzle he didn’t like and he used to challenge his grandsons to use their intellect, so it’s going to be quite an ordeal to get to the bottom of everything. His family doesn't know what to think: did she somehow bewitch Hawthorne, is she a long-lost relative, or just a con artist?

As she partners with three of the four grandsons—each of whom she’s drawn to in some way—she doesn’t know where the danger will come from, or whom she can trust. And the secrets she doesn’t know are just as confusing.

This book felt like a YA version of the movie Knives Out. It was really twisty and fun and emotional in parts, and it hooked me completely. I heard The Inheritance Games may be the first book in a series, and I definitely hope so!!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Book Review: "Bitter Falls" by Rachel Caine

I think my heart rate needed a few hours to return to normal after reading this book!

Gwen Proctor and her family are back in Bitter Falls, Book 4 of Rachel Caine’s Stillhouse Lake series.

While Gwen and her children, as well as her partner, are trying to put all of the past horrors of their lives behind them, everyone around them won’t let them forget. Her kids are constantly bullied at school and their neighbors want them gone, because the more attention they attract, the more it hampers everyone else’s unsavory activities. And of course, they're subject to constant online harassment and horribly violent threats.

Still, Gwen is working as a private investigator and hoping the hubbub will eventually die down. She lands a cold case of a young man who went missing three years ago in Tennessee, after telling his family he was trying to help a girl he met at church. The family has no clues but they’ve not given up hope even if it seems they should.

What Gwen stumbles into is far more lethal and widespread than she even imagined. Once again, those she loves wind up in the crossfire, and the result could prove deadly. It’s going to require every last bit of strength and cunning she has, not to mention an alliance with an unsavory group of people. But Gwen will stop at nothing to save those she loves, and perhaps solve the case at the same time.

I’ve really enjoyed this series, and find Gwen in particular a fascinating character. These books are intense but I can’t get enough of them, and Caine ratchets up the pace and the tension throughout.

The one thing that is starting to frustrate me with the last few books is that so much trouble is caused by Gwen's kids. I get that they have been through so much trauma and are chafing from all the restrictions on their lives but after a while it gets annoying when one of their actions sets trouble in motion.

I found out today that Caine lost her battle with cancer earlier this month. I'm so sad to hear this news, as I've really been enjoying her books. The good news is that Book 5 in this series will be published in the spring of 2021.

If you love thrillers, this is a great series to explore. Gwen is definitely a badass!