Saturday, February 29, 2020

Book Review: "Heartstopper Volume 3" by Alice Oseman

Volume 3 of Alice Oseman's amazing Heartstopper series hit me square in the feels, just like the last two books!

Nick and Charlie and their friends return in this, the third volume of Oseman’s amazing graphic novel series about young love, struggling with your identity, and finding the courage to be who you are and be with whom you choose.

Nick has just come out to his mother and he and Charlie take tentative steps toward becoming boyfriends. But both are nervous about how everyone—their friends and other classmates—will react to their being together, especially Charlie, who remembers being bullied horribly when he came out last year.

On a school trip to Paris, Nick and Charlie become more comfortable with their relationship and each other—and being open about it with their friends. And Nick and Charlie aren’t the only ones feeling romantically inspired in the City of Love!!

This series is so wonderfully drawn and is so beautifully heartfelt. Volume 3 touches lightly on mental illness and eating disorders and I imagine Volume 4 will address those issues more. (I hope I don't have to wait a long time for Volume 4. I don't know what I'll do!)

Even in moments of seriousness this book is so full of joy and love and wonder. I’ll trot out my broken record and say I wish books like these existed when I was younger, but I’m so glad LGBTQIA kids have them now.

This series doesn’t stop my heart, it makes it grow 10 sizes larger!! Kudos to Oseman for another beautiful, meaningful book.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Book Review: "Maybe Someday" by Colleen Hoover

Maybe Someday is another home run from Colleen Hoover, leaving me sniffling and teary-eyed!! (This has become a regular occurrence when reading her books!)

From the moment she seems him playing the guitar on his apartment balcony, something about Ridge mesmerizes Sydney. He’s handsome, sure, but he has an indescribable appeal which, coupled with his talent, draws Sydney out on to her balcony across the way so she can listen to him play. She's embarrassed to admit this to her best friend and roommate, so she just pretends to study on the balcony a lot.

When Ridge notices Sydney singing words to the songs which don’t exist, he seeks her help with lyrics. Since she has a serious boyfriend, they just text back and forth, and songs are born.

One night everything falls apart for Sydney when she discovers her boyfriend and her roommate have been sleeping together. Ridge sweeps in to help his valuable lyricist and she temporarily moves in with him and his roommates. But what ensues is far more complex, intense, and emotional than it seems on the surface, leaving both of them to decide what path is the right one to take.

"How can two good people who both have such good intentions end up with feelings, derived from all the goodness, that are so incredibly bad?"

This book surprised me with a few of the twists Hoover threw in. They really brought a fascinating and utterly compelling perspective to the book and the love stories within it. Maybe Someday is super steamy at times, utterly poignant at others, and it really makes you wonder how even with the best of intentions you can hurt someone else so deeply.

I’ve become an enormous CoHo fan, having read five or six of her books in the last several months. I need to keep diving into her backlist! Any recommendations on which book of hers to read next?

Book Review:"Love, Unscripted" by Owen Nicholls

Wouldn’t it be nice if love were like the movies? Or is that not really such a good thing? In Love, Unscripted, Owen Nicholls weighs in on that debate.

Nick and Ellie meet on Election Day in 2008, at a party to watch the results come in (despite the fact they live in London). He’s a projectionist at a movie theater, an enormous movie buff, and an aspiring screenwriter, and wouldn’t mind living a romantic comedy of his own. It seems to Nick that Ellie ticks all the boxes for the perfect modern romantic comedy heroine.

The two are quickly drawn to one another. Nick is romantic, thoughtful, while Ellie helps keep things grounded. But four years later, Ellie has moved out, saying the fire is gone, which leaves Nick bereft, trying to figure out why their relationship didn’t have the happy ending he expected. Suddenly he finds himself without a job, without a place to live, and without the woman he hoped to spend the rest of his life with. Is there any way to get her back?

Love, Unscripted shifts between the past, starting with Nick and Ellie's very first meeting, and the present, as Nick sifts through the detritus of their relationship, trying to figure out what went wrong.

I wanted to love this book, because I thought the concept was really cute. As a movie fan it’s right up my alley, but I was bored. Nick becomes such an unappealing, sad-sack character, a jerk to everyone, that you don’t understand why Ellie would want to be with him. You certainly see that it wasn't all his fault, but his downward spiral isn't fun to read about, nor does it make him any more sympathetic.

This book taught me one thing: it’s hard to enjoy a rom-com when you don’t root for the relationship at the core of the story!

Ah, well. On to the next.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Book Review: "Only Mostly Devastated" by Sophie Gonzales

This book is all kinds of adorable!!

"It was late afternoon, on the very last Wednesday of August, when I realized Disney had been lying to me for quite some time about Happily Ever Afters. Because, you see, I was four days into mine, and my prince was nowhere to be found. Gone. Vanished."

Ollie and his parents moved to North Carolina from California for the summer when his aunt becomes ill. He spends most of his summer at the beach, taking care of his young cousins. There he meets Will—handsome, kind, athletic, and fun—and it's not too long before the two have completely fallen for one another. But after Will leaves the beach to head home, Ollie never hears from him again—no calls, texts, nothing.

As if that's not enough for Ollie to deal with, his family has decided to stay in North Carolina to help care for his aunt for a year. Now he has to do his senior year in a completely new school, which seems like the worst possible scenario. Then he discovers that it's the same school Will attends, which is fantastic...until he discovers that no one knows Will is gay, and worse than that, this version of Will—the cocky, clownish, closeted bro—isn't someone that Ollie likes at all.

Ollie makes friends with a circle of girls, each with their own challenges to deal with. Will is torn between wanting to spend time with Ollie and overcompensating whenever one of his friends from the basketball team comes by and could possibly suspect the truth about Will. It gets to the point where Ollie is tired of being treated like dirt by Will, tired of being jerked around so Will can maintain his reputation.

Meanwhile, as things with Ollie's family get tougher and tougher to deal with, Will's on-again, off-again feelings become a challenge for Ollie, too. He understands what it's like not to be ready to share your sexuality with others, but Ollie doesn't deserve to be an afterthought. But how many times can he be the butt of a joke from Will's friends or, worse, Will himself? How can he stand by and watch as Will pretends to be someone he's not at Ollie's expense?

Only Mostly Devastated is a really sweet and funny book, with an added layer of poignancy. I like the complexities that Sophie Gonzales gave her characters, so this was a little bit more than just a high school rom-com. Once again, when I read this book I found myself wishing something like this existed when I was younger and wondered whether there was anyone else out there who felt the way I did, and once again I'm grateful we live in a world where books like these are plentiful.

I've got to question the marketing of this one, though: it's being billed as Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda meets Clueless in this boy-meets-boy spin on Grease. The only similarity I see between any of those and the book is when Will's new friends realize that the boy he's been talking about is someone from their own school—a slight parallel to that scenario in the movie Grease.

As with many rom-coms, there's nothing earth-shattering about Only Mostly Devastated, but Gonzales' writing is so engaging, and its story is one you want to root for. Can you ask for much more than that?

NetGalley and Wednesday Books gave me an advance copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

Only Mostly Devastated publishes March 3.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Book Review: "More Than Words" by Jill Santopolo

What happens when you start to discover the person you most admired, the truths you most believed in, aren’t what you thought? In Jill Santopolo's More Than Words that question is examined in great detail.

Nina Gregory is the third-generation of the famed Gregory family, owners of two of New York City’s most celebrated hotels. Her father—and her mother, when she was alive—were treated like royalty in the city, and Nina has been raised in that life, to know she’ll take over the company someday. She was always expected to behave the proper way, as if the spotlight was always on her.

Someday may be coming sooner than later, as her father's cancer has returned. She’s worshipped him all her life, and lived her entire life the way he has wanted her to. She's studied what he wanted her to, dressed the way he thinks she should, even dated (or not dated) the men he deemed appropriate. Now she’s in love with her childhood best friend, Tim, whom her father loves as if he was his own son, and whose family is closely intertwined with theirs and the hotels.

But why is it that Nina seems to feel more excitement for her current job as a political speechwriter? And why does any attention from the mayoral candidate for whom she works send her heart racing when she simply feels safe with Tim?

When her father dies, it feels as her world has been torn out from under her, so it makes sense she should lean on Tim and be with him, just as her father always wanted. And she loves Tim, so it makes sense, right?

But as she finds out things in her father’s life and business weren’t what she believed, it leads her to question everything, especially the person she’s become and the love she deserves. She's no longer interested in automatically doing everything she's always done, and that threatens some in her life, especially Tim.

Jill Santopolo sure knows how to tug at the heartstrings, much as she did in her last book, The Light We Lost. This is a well-written book with some serious steam, and it’s pretty compelling. It’s also poignant and emotional and a little predictable, too. Definitely had me hooked though!!

Book Review: "Tell Me Three Things" by Julie Buxbaum

If only we could say the things we most need and want to, to those who most need to hear it.

"...I will continue to power through it—all the stagnant, soul-crushing grief—but it will never be okay that my mom is not here. That she will not be at my high school graduation; that she will never give me the lecture, and I won't be able to play along and pretend to be embarrassed and say, Come on, Mom; that she will not be there when I open my college acceptance letters (or rejections); that she will never see who I grow up to be—that great mystery of who I am and who I am meant to be—finally asked and answered. I will march forth into the great unknown alone."

In Tell Me Three Things, Jessie’s life has been totally uprooted. Her mom died, her dad has gotten remarried to a woman he met online, and has moved them from Chicago into her fancy Los Angeles home with her sullen, disapproving son. And perhaps worse than that, she has to start her junior year at a private high school where everyone is rich and confident and looks like a model.

On her first day of school already in the midst of embarrassing disaster after embarrassing disaster, insult after insult, she gets an email from someone calling themselves “Somebody Nobody,” or “SN.” They claim to be a fellow student and offer to help Jessie navigate the wilds of the high school, anonymously of course.

Little by little, Jessie starts to depend on SN, like him even, but she’s desperate to know who he is. She's finding it difficult to build her own life in California without him. And as she deals with bullying and self-confidence crises and unwanted attention from a friend and issues with her dad and the new life he’s dropped her in, she wants SN in real life more than ever, even as she’s fighting her IRL attraction to a classmate.

This is a sweet book with a lot of poignancy, and as with many YA novels, the characters are funny and far more erudite than typical teens. Julie Buxbaum knows how to tug at your emotions without getting maudlin. (Her latest book, Hope and Other Punchlines, really blew me away.)

I pretty much predicted how this would resolve itself early on, and while I wasn’t disappointed with that resolution, I thought it took a little too long for the payoff. But the book was still fun and a quick read.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Book Review: "Wild at Heart" by K.A. Tucker

Ah, there's nothing quite like the feeling when the sequel of a book you loved is just as good as its predecessor!

Calla and Josh, the couple at the core of K.A. Tucker’s excellent The Simple Wild (one of my favorite books from last year), are back. After returning home to her sheltered life in Toronto, full of the creature comforts she missed while in Alaska, Calla realizes she’s miserable without Josh. The burly bush pilot feels the same way about her, and comes to Canada to tell her he’d do anything to be with her, even if it meant having to leave Alaska.

Recognizing Josh is only happy when he’s flying, and despite his promise, the fact is, Alaska is his home, she decides to make a life with him there, and start a charter airline company. Their love is intense, but is it strong enough to survive not just the elements, but the time alone Calla must endure, the doubts about their relationship, and Calla’s uncertainty about whether this is the life for her? They buy a log cabin in the woods and Calla works hard to make it a home, but is it the home she wants?

"Am I happy here? I’m happy with Jonah. I love him in a way I didn’t think existed—wholly and resolutely. But am I happy here, in my life? Or have I been fooling myself into thinking that one morning I’ll wake up and things that feel foreign and temporary will finally feel like home?"

Wild at Heart is really a great romance, full of emotion and steaminess and some memorable characters, just like the first book. (Although I missed Agnes and Mabel not being a large part of this book.) The book explores issues of doubt, trust, grief, friendship, self-esteem, communication, and passion, set against the magically mercurial backdrop of Alaska.

While you might be able to read Wild at Heart without having read The Simple Wild, I wouldn't recommend it. First of all, you'll miss all of the backstory, which will help you understand what makes these characters tick, but more importantly, it's a pretty terrific book on its own!

Loved this so much!! I’m honored to have been part of the blog tour for this book. Thanks to Social Butterfly PR, NetGalley, and K.A. Tucker for an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Book Review: "Wildland" by Rebecca Hodge

This isn’t a page-turner; it’s a page-flipper! I raced through this as fast as my pulse was racing.

Kat is planning a quiet month’s stay at a secluded cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains. She beat breast cancer a number of years ago, enduring surgeries, chemo, debilitating recovery. But now the cancer has come back again, and she’s not sure she has the strength for another fight, regardless of her daughter’s feelings.

While getting the lay of the land, she meets the occupants of the two nearby cabin, each is a man traveling with his child, but both couldn’t be more different. Malcolm, who has physical and, clearly, emotional scars of his own, is dealing with his adopted son, Nirav, while brash, demanding Scott is struggling with the challenges of his preteen daughter, Lily.

Both children are immediately taken with Kat, not to mention the two dogs she has found herself with. One night while both children are sleeping at her cabin, a lightning strike causes a fire which quickly starts to encroach on them. With no choice, Kat leads the children and the dogs deeper and deeper into the woods, hoping to escape the fire and hoping there’s a way they can be rescued.

Meanwhile, Malcolm and Scott frantically plan a rescue of the kids and Kat but are at the mercy of the fire and the authorities. And even when Malcolm is able to pull strings their efforts are hampered. Will their kids be safe? Will a woman with barely enough strength to fight her own battles be able to muster the courage to protect two children she barely knows? It’s a race against the elements, time, and the human body.

Even though I knew what would happen I couldn’t put this book down. There was a lot more complexity to these characters than you usually get in a thriller. Malcolm and Nirav could have been a book all their own. This is a book that gets your heart racing but also tugs at your heart. It also would be an excellent movie.

I’m grateful to be part of the blog tour for this book. Thanks to Kate Rock Book Tours, Rebecca Hodge, and Crooked Lane Books for providing a complimentary advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. I appreciate the opportunity!!

Book Review: "The Royal We" by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan is full of soapy royal intrigue, as the heir to the throne sets his sights on a young American woman.

When Rebecca “Bex” Porter first meets Nicholas, Prince of Wales, he lets her in to their dorm at Oxford, where she’ll be studying for a year. He even helps carry her luggage. But she hasn’t the first clue who he is.

While their second meeting isn’t much more impressive (she’s in a towel, so perhaps it was for Nick, but she also drops her tampons all over the place), over time the two develop a close friendship, bonding over their love of bad American television and junk food, and the fact that she treats him like a regular person, unlike the women he's been dating and other women he encounters.

Given the fact that one day he’ll be the King of England and she’s an American whose father invented a couch with a refrigerator under its seats, there are a million reasons they shouldn’t fall in love. But that’s what happens, despite a number of more suitable women being pushed at him.

At first they keep things quiet so as not to rile up his family or the press, but after a while Bex gets tired of hiding. She is unprepared for the frenzy that follows her wherever she goes and all the ways she’s declared an inappropriate choice. She doesn't understand why Nick expects her to rise above all of the criticism she faces from every direction, why he won't defend her.

Can true love survive the machinations of the royal machine, not to mention those of so-called friends, family, and the scandal-hungry press? Is Bex willing to transform herself into the woman she must be in order to be an appropriate bride for Nick? Is Nick willing to fight for Bex?

I’ll admit I’m a tiny bit obsessed with the royals so I really enjoyed this fun, soapy romance which was apparently inspired by William and Kate. It’s a little long, and the will-they-or-won’t-they drama drags a bit, but I was still hooked, and I’m looking forward to the second book in the series due out this summer.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Book Review: "Looking for Alaska" by John Green

Miles Halter had a pretty boring life in Florida. He didn't really have friends and did well enough in school, but there really wasn't much that sparked his interest. Except, of course, famous last words—he loved finding out what people's last words were and memorizing them.

One day, he realized he wanted more out of life. Inspired by the poet François Rabelais, whose last words were "I go to seek a Great Perhaps," Miles convinces his parents to send him to boarding school in Alabama, the same school his father attended. He hopes that the change of school, the change of scenery will set his life on a new, more exciting course.

Culver Creek is an interesting place, although Miles wonders if he'll ever get used to the oppressive heat of Alabama. (Anyone who thinks living in Florida prepared him is dead wrong.) He quickly makes friends with his roommate Chip, aka "The Colonel," a scholarship student with an enormous chip on his shoulder toward the "Weekday Warriors," the rich kids who go home on the weekends. Chip tends to drag Miles along with him almost everywhere, so it's not long before he has a small circle of misfit friends.

But it's Alaska Young who gets Miles' full attention. Opinionated, moody, larger-than-life, and absolutely beautiful, Miles is drawn to her almost immediately, but she has a boyfriend in college she isn't willing to cheat on. Alaska has their entire social circle in her thrall, even if the rest of the student body isn't as enamored because of something they think she might have done, and she leads the group in some pretty legendary pranks.

Late one night, when Miles, the Colonel, and Alaska are hanging out and drinking, Alaska suddenly gets a phone call and when she returns, she becomes tremendously emotional and leaves. And in a split second, everything changes, and Miles, the Colonel, and their friends have to figure out what sent Alaska away so late at night.

Looking for Alaska is an interesting book about the impact one person can have on your life, and how being willing to step outside your shell can actually result in wonderful things. As with many John Green books, the characters are far more sarcastic and intellectual than your average teenagers, but that never seems to bother me that much.

I enjoyed the book and found parts of it emotional, but it wasn't as powerful as I was expecting it to be. I loved The Fault in Our Stars and Will Grayson, Will Grayson (which Green wrote with David Levithan) and also really enjoyed Paper Towns and Turtles All the Way Down. This one just didn't seem to have as much of a spark the whole way through.

I learned that Hulu did an adaptation of the book, so I'll have to watch that now to see how it differs.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Book Review: "You'd Be Mine" by Erin Hahn

Be still my music- and drama-loving heart!!

In Erin Hahn's You'd Be Mine, Clay Coolidge is one of the hottest young country music stars out there. Sexy and talented, he’s perfected the frat-boy, everyone-have-fun, check-out-the-pretty-girls type of music that has netted him a Grammy for Best New Artist, and has crowds following his every move, especially women, despite his only being 18.

But Clay’s fun-loving style barely hides his drinking problem, his emotional issues that push anyone away who tries to get too close, and his penchant for getting into fights. After one raucous evening, his label gives him an ultimatum: convince Annie Mathers to tour with him or everything is canceled.

Annie Mathers is country music’s sweetheart. The daughter of two legendary entertainers who died tragically, Annie is more talented than they were but she's deathly afraid of falling into the same patterns her parents did. Still, she’s itching to perform and make her music public, so she and her band, made up of her cousin and a childhood best friend, agree to be Clay’s opening act.

From the very get-go, the two are drawn to each other, and the record label wants to take advantage of those sparks and their chemistry at every turn. Even though there is some truth to their feelings for one another, Clay knows he’ll drag her down, while Annie hopes she can save him. They both have demons to fight, but can their careers—and any chance at being together—survive?

I enjoyed this book so much from start to finish. I love music and celebrities so the subject hooked me completely, but so did Hahn’s storytelling. It was melodramatic and soapy without being ridiculous, predictable without being frustrating. I loved these characters despite their flaws.

The one thing that felt weird was that Clay was supposed to be 18, but he seemed so much older and so damaged that you’d think he was 10 years older. I had to keep reminding myself of his age throughout the book, but it didn’t dull my love for it at all.

Romance, drama, and country music—can you ask for anything more? Can’t believe this was Hahn’s debut!!

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Book Review: "Goodbye, Paris" by Anstey Harris

In Goodbye, Paris, a woman whose life is shattered finds the strength to turn everything around, thanks to two unlikely allies.

"The only way I am going to start to rebuild my life is on a ladder of honesty. This is where I start; this naked vision of me."

Grace is a talented luthier; the musical instruments she makes and restores are praised by musicians and collectors around the world. At one time she had a promising future as a musician herself, until a traumatic incident led to her departure from music school and her inability to play in front of anyone. Alone she can play forever; the minute someone steps into view she has a panic attack.

Grace has been in a relationship with David for eight years, shuttling back and forth from her home in the UK to his apartment in Paris. Everything has been arranged to fit David’s life; she has kept everyone else at bay while they’re together. She knows there will come a time when they can be together always, and she just needs to be patient. But in a split second, with a single reaction, everything changes, forcing Grace to push everything—and everyone—away, and to destroy the things she cherishes so much.

It will take the love and support of her teenage shop assistant and an elderly customer to find her passion again, to embrace the things she should and say goodbye to the things that hurt. That will involve reopening some old wounds and finding the courage to move on.

Goodbye, Paris was a really good story and I even got choked up a bit. (That should be surprising and yet not surprising at all.) It has some slow moments but Anstey Harris has created some tremendously memorable characters, and things unfold slightly differently than I expected. It's always nice to have a surprise or two when reading a romance novel, which are never that big on surprises.

My greatest criticism isn't of the book, it's of the marketing of it. The blurb refers to this book as "Jojo Moyes meets Eleanor Oliphant." I'm never keen on comparing books to the latest thing, because most of the time it either sets up expectations or makes people who didn't like the books it's being compared to shy away. Suffice it to say, there's not a trace of Oliphantishness in this book, and I'm not even certain where the Moyes comparison comes in.

Goodbye, Paris is a good book in its own right. It's a poignant, thought-provoking story worth reading.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Book Review: "Not the Girl You Marry" by Andie J. Christopher

Can love win when both people are both out for their own gain? That's the question Andie J. Christopher tries to answer in her latest rom-com, Not the Girl You Marry.

If you loved the movie How to Lose A Guy in 10 Days (with Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson), this adaptation of the film which flips the genders may be right up your alley.

Hannah is a to-hell-with-love, feisty event planner always up for a good time. She's known for planning wild events, where people are often loud and boisterous. She’s not into relationships because she’s had her heart broken more than a few times and she doesn't need a man.

Jack is almost too handsome for his own good. He has always wanted to be a serious journalist but instead the magazine he works for realizes he has a face for video, so they have him concentrate on fluff pieces for their video channel, mostly listicles. He also has sworn off relationships for a while because it seems like he’s always wanted too much from the women he’s been with.

When Hannah and Jack meet in a bar, there’s no denying their strong attraction to one another. Both realize, however, they need the other to further their careers. Hannah has to convince her boss she’s in a relationship to be considered for a promotion, because how could someone against relationships oversee weddings? Jack needs to write an article about how to screw up a relationship in order to be granted the opportunity to write a more serious story he hopes will take him off the video path forever. So both pursue the other full-stop, even while feeling guilty about what they're doing.

This is super-steamy and fun, and things unfold pretty much how you’d expect them to. I liked how Christopher explored some more serious issues, like racial identity, in the midst of it all. My one criticism is that things took a little longer to unfold than they do in most rom-coms, and I just wanted everything out in the open. Once I know what is going to happen in a book, I just want it to happen!

Monday, February 10, 2020

Book Review: "This is Kind of an Epic Love Story" by Kacen Callender

This is Kind of an Epic Love Story is a book about the often-blurry line between friendship and love, and how hard it can be to let yourself be vulnerable.

Can a book touch your heart and annoy the f—k out of you, simultaneously? I'd answer "yes" resoundingly after reading this book. (More on that later.)

Nate is a huge movie fan and dreams of becoming a screenwriter but he doesn’t believe happy endings are possible in real life. Ever since his dad died leaving his mom grieving even years later, he has equated love with getting hurt. It also hasn’t helped that his best friend Florence, whom he dated for a while, broke up with him and yet still seems unsure whether she did the right thing. But she wants him to find someone else, someone to make him happy.

"I don't really know what's worse: living without love so that you don''t get hurt, or getting hurt repeatedly in an attempt to find it."

Nate’s emotions are further thrown into turmoil with the return of Ollie, his childhood best friend, on whom Nate had an intense crush before he moved away. Ollie reawakens those feelings again, although he returns from Santa Fe in the middle of a long-distance relationship with a boyfriend. Regardless, Nate is unsure of what he wants—Florence? Ollie? Nothing?

As he tries to write his first script and juggle his feelings, he wonders whether love is even worth pursuing if in the end someone winds up getting hurt or grieving over the end of a relationship. Why risk your heart just to feel pain and sadness? If he keeps pushing people away, what happens then?

I thought this book so perfectly captured the jumble of emotions when you are falling in love with your best friend. It’s really beautifully written.

My issue with the book, however, is that so much of the plot dealt with the characters not telling each other how they felt, but instead pushing people away or lying until someone got angry. Every chapter had one character mad or hurt because of the actions of another, and after a while that got frustrating. I know this might be realistic, particularly among teenagers, but how many times can you read essentially the same thing, where a character doesn't tell another the truth, and everything blows up?

Other than their tendency to avoid conflict and telling the truth, I enjoyed these characters and their complexity. I also loved the way Kacen Callender simply made the characters' sexuality a non-issue. Nate went from Flo to Ollie and no one ever said, "Wait, now you're into guys?" What a wonderful world it would be if things worked that way...

Book Review: "The Worst Best Man" by Mia Sosa

Over the last 12-18 months, I've read a lot of rom-coms. They're the perfect foil for some of the heavier stuff and thrillers I read, and they never fail to put me in a good mood—and in some cases, even choke me up. (Not that that should surprise anyone who follows me, given that I cry watching television commercials sometimes.)

I've found that rom-coms fall into one of a few tropes: friends-to-lovers, where long-time friends suddenly realize their feelings for one another but are afraid to voice them for fear of ruining the friendship; meet cute, where there's some unexpected encounter that sparks an interest between two people, often strangers; second chance, reuniting former lovers or former rivals after a long separation only to see there's still (or suddenly) a spark; and hate-to-love, when two people who can't stand each other for whatever reason suddenly realize the animosity is covering up some serious chemistry. And with most rom-coms, once you can identify the trope, you can generally predict how the book is going to go, and that often doesn't diminish its appeal.

Mia Sosa's new book, The Worst Best Man, falls squarely in the hate-to-love category. Lina is a wedding planner who takes total control for her clients, but she is utterly thrown for a loop when her fiancé, Andrew, decides he doesn't want to get married—the morning of her wedding. The coward can't even tell her himself; he gives that assignment to his brother, Max, who apparently said some things while the brothers were drinking the night before that led Andrew to cancel the wedding. (And the worst part of it is, Max doesn't even remember what he said to his brother.)

Lina has never forgiven Max for his role in ruining her life. So needless to say, she’s unprepared to come face-to-face with Andrew and Max in the midst of an interview for an exclusive wedding planner job for a hotel chain. She has to pair up with Max on a marketing presentation to win this job, while Andrew will work with her competition. When she realizes she has no choice but to collaborate, she lets her guard down, only to discover her animosity might be hiding something else, something stronger.

Max desperately wants to win this job to prove he’s his own man, not just a carbon copy of his brother. He also can’t deny that he wants Lina—but he isn't interested in playing second fiddle to Andrew once again.

I loved how Sosa incorporated Lina’s Brazilian heritage into the book. The Worst Best Man is steamy (super steamy, actually) and fun, but it just didn’t wow me. Even though I know how rom-coms usually end, I found this almost too predictable, and the story seemed to drag for me.

Still, lots of others have loved it, so I may just be cranky. If this sounds like fun to you, give it a shot!

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Book Review: "Passion on Park Avenue" by Lauren Layne

Lauren Layne's Passion on Park Avenue is the first book in her Central Park Pact series. It's the start of a fun trilogy about love, sex, friendship, and finding your way.

Naomi Powell has come a long way from her childhood, where her mother worked as a housekeeper in a prestigious building on the Upper East Side until one day she lost her job and they were forced out on the streets. Naomi is the CEO of a tremendously successful jewelry and accessories company she built herself, and she doesn’t feel she has anything to prove to anyone.

And then she finds she is in the running for a condo in the building where her mother once worked. Suddenly she wants to show these high-society snobs what she’s made of herself. She’s thrown for a loop when she realizes one of the residents is Oliver Cunningham, the son of the family her mother once worked for, whom Naomi blames for the rapid downturn of their lives all those years ago.

She’s bent on revenge, but she can’t help but be attracted to him at the same time. Damn him for being gorgeous and infuriating. She wants to let Oliver and his father know who she is and that she still is angry for what transpired years ago, but she’s unsure what her next move should be. And then there’s also an attractive producer trying to convince her to let him adapt her life story into a television movie, which is both a flattering and terrifying idea.

Meanwhile, Naomi and her two closest friends—who meet in quite an interesting way after discovering a very unique thing in common—try to navigate how to find Mr. Right instead of Mr. Absolutely Wrong. They've promised to protect each other from winding up with someone horrible.

This is such an enjoyable book and a super-quick read. I actually read the second book in this series, Love on Lexington Avenue, before this one and it really didn’t mess things up. It’s lighthearted, sexy, and lots of fun—kind of a Sex and the City but less pretentious, not superficial, and less steamy.

Can’t wait to read the third and final book in the series, Marriage on Madison Avenue!

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Book Review: "19 Love Songs" by David Levithan

19 Love Songs, David Levithan's newest book, is a collection of stories and verse celebrating the big and small moments of love, life, relationships, and finding yourself. It was so fantastic!

"He liked the idea that when you fall in love with someone, the other person becomes your lighthouse keeper, even if it means staying up all night, even if it means staring out into the darkness until the darkness assumes the shape of your love and comes back to you."

In this collection, Levithan explores the highs and lows of love, from the exhilaration of the first spark to the moments where a relationship rises and where they sometimes fall. It’s also a look at how it feels to fully know yourself, to accept yourself for who you are.

Many, but not all, of the stories have LGBTQ themes or characters. Some deal with major moments and some deal with everyday occurrences. From a first date between a transgender football player and a male cheerleader or a young boy’s memories of Valentine’s Day with his mother, to a boy dressing as Santa Claus as a favor for his boyfriend or a story about self-discovery amidst participation in a school quiz bowl, these stories are heartfelt, sometimes funny, thought-provoking, and just gorgeously written.

Three stories feature characters from three of Levithan's books—Every Day, Boy Meets Boy, and Two Boys Kissing—but you don’t need to have read those to enjoy the stories.

"Words were my tools of creation. And love, I learned, is a constant act of creation, just as creation is almost always an act of love."

Levithan is among my favorite YA authors. (His one book for adult audiences, The Lover's Dictionary, is pretty fantastic as well.) His writing, his use of imagery, and the way he conveys emotions often brings me to tears because I feel so connected with what he’s saying. I got seriously choked up more than a few times while reading this.

Book Review: "Yes No Maybe So" by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed

Becky Albertalli's latest collaboration, Yes No Maybe So (this time with Aisha Saeed), is a lighthearted love story which deals with weighty issues, yet it is endearing and sweet.

"Some people are meant to change history. And some people are meant to change out of their vomity interview clothes."

Jamie Goldberg has political aspirations but knows he’ll never achieve them since he doesn’t do well under pressure. That’s not an understatement—he once referred to Jimmy Carter as a “penis farmer” rather than a peanut farmer, and he once threw up on a politician during an interview.

With his entire family focusing attention on a special state congressional election in their district, Jamie is pressed into action as a volunteer.

After serving as a de-facto errand boy for some time, as well as providing tech support to his social-media savvy grandmother (aka InstaGramm), his newest responsibility is to knock on doors and encourage people up vote. Much to his pleasure he is joined on this task by Maya, a childhood family friend whom he hasn’t seen in a while, but who seems to turn his insides to jelly. For her part, Maya thinks Jamie is cute and funny, but she’s far too preoccupied with the crises in her own life to think about anything else. Plus, her parents don't want her to date anyone she's not serious about, especially someone who isn't a Muslim.

The canvassing teaches them about political action, how the smallest action can have a ripple effect. It also teaches them about each other—how the anti-Semitic actions of the opponent’s supporters affect Jamie, who is Jewish, and how a bill forbidding people from wearing head coverings affects Maya and her family. They throw their all into campaigning for their candidate as they find themselves increasingly drawn to each other. But Maya has already told Jamie she's not allowed to date, and Jamie is nervous of screwing up their friendship, so what should they do?

Is this book fairly predictable? Sure, but it’s tremendously enjoyable, charming, and romantic. Albertalli's books tend to balance the emotional angst with an equal dose of positivity, and I really like that.

What I also enjoyed about Yes No Maybe So is how it made me feel seen. Growing up Jewish I rarely saw (and still don’t often see) characters like me, and books where actual Jewish holidays are celebrated rather than mentioned, and dealt with authentically. To see a character say an actual Hebrew prayer in this book was a wonderful thing.

I devoured this book in just a few hours. So now I wait for Albertalli's next one...

Monday, February 3, 2020

Book Review: "All Your Perfects" by Colleen Hoover

"If you only shine light on your flaws, all your perfects will dim."

Then: Graham and Quinn meet on one of the darkest days of their lives. Quinn returns home early from a trip and heads to her fiancé's apartment to surprise him. She finds Graham pacing outside the door, because his girlfriend is in the apartment, sleeping with her fiancé. Quinn cannot believe that her life has essentially fallen apart, but why can't she take her eyes off Graham?

Now: Graham and Quinn's marriage is falling apart, a little more each day. It seems like the things they've said—and even worse, the things they haven't said—have taken too much of a toll. How could they have gotten to this point given the intensity of their love for one another, their vows to do things differently than the relationships which have come before theirs? Is there anything that can be done to save their marriage?

"It's strange how I can miss a person who is still here. It's strange that I can miss making love to a person I still have sex with."

In All Your Perfects, Colleen Hoover traces the arc of a relationship, from the first spark until the moment where the participants have to decide whether to keep on fighting or to throw in the towel. Using chapters which alternate between past and present, she illustrates the minor faults and major cracks that threaten a relationship—the hurts, the mistakes, the lies by omission, and the overflow of emotions that sometimes get in the way of rational thought.

I found this book moving and powerful, yet frustrating at times. It deals with the issue of infertility and the emotional anguish it inflicts, so that may be a trigger for some who have dealt with similar issues. The characters are complex and flawed, and not always as sympathetic as they should be given what is transpiring. But Hoover's storytelling ability once again shines through, making this emotional story tremendously compelling even as your heart aches for these characters.

I can't believe I read my first CoHo book just last fall, and this is now my fifth. I love the way she pulls you into her characters' lives and immerses you in their emotions. While All Your Perfects wasn't quite perfect for me, I still devoured the book in just a few hours (thanks, bronchitis-related insomnia) and felt emotional when I was done.

Haven't read CoHo but love this genre? What are you waiting for?

Book Review: "10 Blind Dates" by Ashley Elston

Good lord, this book is just one giant ball of adorable!!

Sophie’s pregnant older sister is on bed rest, so their parents decide to visit her for Christmas, leaving Sophie to stay with her grandparents and extended family of cousins. But before she heads to her family’s house, Sophie goes to a party to hook up with her boyfriend Griffin, since she'll be missing him for a while.

When Sophie arrives, she overhears Griffin telling his friend he’s happy Sophie will be away and that he’s considering breaking up with her, that she's gotten boring and too serious. Shocked and devastated, she heads to her grandparents’ house.

Before the pressures of school and spending time with Griffin took priority, Sophie used to spend so much time at her grandparents' house, inseparable from two of her cousins and the son of her grandparents' next door neighbor. They used to be like the Four Musketeers, and it isn't long before they fall back into that pattern.

Sophie’s grandmother doesn’t want to see her miserable, so she proposes a plan: let 10 members of the family set her up on blind dates, one a day, and hopefully it will take her mind off her heartbreak. She gets one opportunity to say no to a date as well. While the whole thing makes her a little nervous given certain members of her family (they all insist one set of first cousins are evil), she figures she has nothing to lose.

Some dates are fun and some are ridiculous—like participate in a live nativity scene as Mary, having to fend off a handsy date and a goat enamored with her costume. Her family gets ultra-competitive about all aspects of every date, too, but the whole exercise mostly makes Sophie feel better about things. Of course, Griffin begs and begs for another chance, which confuses her, as does her feelings for a person who has always been out of reach for her.

I predicted what would ultimately happen in this book very early on and yet I didn’t care in the slightest that I was totally right. 10 Blind Dates is so charming, so endearing that I fell in love with it completely. It’s the perfect start to my month of reading mostly rom-coms and romance!!