Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Book Review: "Perfectly Famous" by Emily Liebert

To me, there's nothing more disappointing than when a thriller with tremendous potential veers off course into utter soap opera melodrama. That's what happened with Emily Liebert's upcoming book, Perfectly Famous. I was on the edge of my seat for a while, then I started to suspect what I thought would happen, and then...darn it. But is a book that gives you a good ride almost the whole way still worth a read? I think so.

Ward DeFleur is a best-selling author and a household name. Her books have been made into movies and become instant hits. Her fans are eagerly anticipating her 15-stop book tour for her latest release, and although Ward is a little bit nervous, she's determined that nothing is going to go wrong, and the tour will be a surefire success.

And then, the night of her first book signing, something goes very wrong—her teenage daughter, Stevie, is found brutally beaten (she was supposed to be spending the night at a friend's house) and ultimately, succumbs to her injuries. Ward is devastated, unable to get past this tragedy, and retreats from the world, cutting off contact with her agent and publisher and everyone else.

Bree attended Ward's book signing the night Stevie was assaulted. Having a hard time dealing with the end of her marriage and her teenage daughter's increasingly hostile attitude, she broke down in tears at the signing and Ward comforted her. Now, as she tries to build a new life for herself, she begins writing for the local newspaper, and decides what she'd like to do is tell Ward's story.

The challenge is, Ward isn't interested in being found. But Bree is resourceful, almost obsessive in her desire to track Ward down. Even as people warn her that Ward may not want her to tell her story, or even try to locate her, Bree feels this is her chance to prove something to herself again. The deeper she digs, the more danger she puts herself in, because Stevie's killer is still out there...and doesn't want Bree in the way.

Liebert really ratchets up the tension through the start of the book. And although some tired subplots threaten to derail the suspense, the story is pretty fascinating and I couldn't put it down...until things started getting tied up and all I wanted was to put the book down. This is the first of Liebert's books I've read so I don't know if this is something that happens often in her books or if this is just a fluke, but I was really disappointed.

NetGalley and Gallery Books provided an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

Perfectly Famous publishes June 2.

Book Review: "The Honey-Don't List" by Christina Lauren

Some people make their assistants do everything, even save their marriage!

Rusty and Melissa Tripp are the darlings of the design world. They’ve taken the world by storm with their designs and their coupledom, starring in a hit show and becoming their own brand. Things are about to take off for real though, as they’re about to release a new book about marriage as well as a new show of their own.

Carey has worked for the Tripps since she was 16, starting out in their first store in Wyoming before anyone knew their names. Ten years later, although officially she’s Melissa’s assistant, her contributions to the Rusty and Melissa brand are far more immeasurable than most know or will acknowledge. And in many ways, she needs the job about as much as they need her.

The thing is, the Tripp’s’ marriage isn’t as solid as it appears. In fact, Rusty wants out, and is doing everything he can to sabotage their relationship. But Melissa will let nothing derail her ambitions, not even her husband. With so much riding on the book and the show, it’s up to Carey and James, the handsome engineer who has become Rusty’s assistant, to protect their image and save them from a public meltdown before the television show premieres.

Stuck working together, little by little they overcome their initial dislike and misconceptions of each other. And as camaraderie grows into something else, just as the Tripps seem to be publicly imploding, Carey and James have to decide—is their own chance at happiness more or less important than saving their jobs and perhaps the Tripps' relationship?

I love the way Christina Lauren writes. (If you've never heard of them before, it's actually two writers behind the Christina Lauren name.) I love how they mesh humor, steam, and emotional depth. While I enjoyed The Honey-Don't List and tore through it, it didn’t really move me like their others. But it’s still fun and sexy.

If you've never read Christina Lauren before, I'd encourage you to read, in particular, Love and Other Words, Josh & Hazel's Guide to Not Dating, The Unhoneymooners, and My Favorite Half-Night Stand. They're a great team.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Book Review: "The Alice Network" by Kate Quinn

"Why did it matter if something scared you, when it simply had to be done anyway?"

Bravery can come from the least likely of sources. And in Kate Quinn's The Alice Network, she weaves together a story of some brave but unknown women from history with some fictitious ones.

In 1947, Charlotte “Charlie” St. Clair has been dragged to Europe by her mother. Charlie is 19, pregnant, and unmarried, and the plan is to go to Switzerland to have her “little problem” taken care of. But Charlie is less interested in dealing with her own issues and would rather try to find her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared during WWII.

Charlie escapes her mother’s clutches and flees to London to try and find a woman who supposedly can help her. When she meets Eve Gardiner, the woman is drunk, angry, and pointing a gun at Charlie, and refuses to help her. But when Charlie utters one man’s name, and the French city where Rose had supposedly gone during the war, Eve reluctantly agrees to help.

It turns out that Eve isn’t just a drunk older woman—during WWI she was a spy, part of the Alice Network, a group of women trained to ferret out information from the most dangerous of sources. Stationed in France, Eve was excellent at her job, until something goes awry, and a betrayal tears down the whole network. She bears the physical and emotional scars all these years later.

This is a great historical fiction book, alternating between Eve’s time in France in 1915 and Charlie’s 1947 efforts to find Rose. It’s intense, suspenseful, and emotional, and although it was a tiny bit too long, I really devoured it. I've heard Quinn's other book, The Huntress, is good as well.

It's funny: I often say that historical fiction isn't my thing because I'd much rather read contemporary stories than anything else. But strangely enough, all of the historical fiction I've read lately (without really considering it "historical") has been pretty great. So now I'm just a big contradiction, lol.

Book Review: "How to Build a Heart" by Maria Padian

When you’re getting pulled in a million different directions, how can you decide the right path?

Finding your own way, finding who you truly are can be difficult, especially for a teenager. Izzy tries to be a dutiful daughter, a good sister, a loyal friend, but she wants so much more. Her family’s life has been affected since her Marine father died 6 years ago, and she’s tired of moving into increasingly smaller and more depressing places.

But things are finally starting to fall into place. She’s a member of the popular a capella singing group at her school, and her family has been selected to get a house through Habitat for Humanity. And when she becomes friends with the group’s newest recruit, Aubrey, it comes with a side benefit: the girl’s handsome brother, a star athlete at another high school.

After a while though, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep the pieces of her life together. She doesn’t want her friends—or Aubrey’s brother—to know her family is poor and that she's on scholarship, she doesn’t want her best friend to know she’s been spending time with someone she also has a crush on, and she wants to understand why her father’s family never contacts them.

When things come to a head, Izzy must find her own way and become the person she’s meant to be. Along the way she’ll find allies in unlikely places and anger and jealousy in others. But she’ll have to act fast before everything falls apart.

I really enjoyed How to Build a Heart. I found it so engaging and well-written. It’s so nice to read a YA book that isn’t entirely full of angst or seriously depressing situations, yet there was still a lot of emotion in the story. Maria Padian is a terrific writer. She had me hooked on this story from the first page, and I read it in just a matter of a few hours.

I’ve been looking forward to this since winning the book in a giveaway on Bookstagram. Thanks so much to Algonquin Young Readers for making it available!

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Book Review: The Other Family" by Loretta Nyhan

Family—in all its forms—can be the most powerful tool we have. That's at least a theme of Loretta Nyhan's heartwarming and emotional new novel, The Other Family.

It’s not that Ally is inordinately unhappy—it’s more like she’s been in a state of suspended animation for a long while. First it was discovering that her daughter Kylie had a dangerous peanut allergy when she was very young, but now Kylie just keeps getting sick. Although doctors can’t quite pinpoint exactly what is wrong with her, they know it’s some kind of autoimmune disease.

Kylie’s health has taken its toll on Ally’s finances, her sanity, even her marriage—she and her husband Matt are separated. But that doesn’t matter, because she just wants to find answers about what’s wrong with Kylie, wants Kylie to have the life of a normal 10-1/2-year old.

When the latest doctor they’re seeing, whose methods are somewhat unorthodox, suggests the problem may be genetic, it throws Ally for a loop. She was adopted, so if Kylie takes a DNA test, it could open the door to information about her biological family, information she’s never sought before.

The DNA test finds that Ally has an aunt nearby, an aunt who never forgot about her. But is Ally ready to open up her life to new family members at the same time she’s dealing with her adoptive mother’s feelings about looking into her biological family? Not only that, but Matt is resisting the treatment being proposed for Kylie because he worries about potential harm, and he wants to start dating again. Can't Ally just get her one wish, that Kylie get the help she needs?

The Other Family was a sweet, moving book about the bonds of family and the idea that family is who we choose as much as those to whom we’re born. It’s also a powerful look at the sacrifices parents make for their children, the vulnerabilities we don't want others to see, and the struggles faced by those with autoimmune diseases.

I really enjoy the way Loretta Nyhan writes. I loved her last book, Digging In, too, as it also combined humor, poignancy, and resilience.

Thanks to Amazon’s First Reads program and Lake Union Publishing for an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review! This book publishes April 1.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Book Review: "Little Secrets" by Jennifer Hillier

Now THAT’S how you do a thriller.

It was a crazy day shopping at Pike Place Market since it was just before the holidays. Marin’s young son Sebastian was whining that he wanted a fancy lollipop from their favorite candy store, and she’ll get it for him as soon as she buys one last gift.

One second he’s right next to her and when she goes to reply to a text, in a split second, he is gone. Someone has taken Sebastian, and the two essentially have disappeared into thin air.

More than a year later, after an exhaustive search and an enormous promised reward, there’s been no sign of him. Marin can still barely go through the motions of daily life. She and her husband Derek barely speak and he’s rarely home. This isn’t a life but it’s the only one she can handle, although she knows what she’ll do if she ever learns Sebastian is dead.

One day she gets a call from the PI she hired when the FBI’s search turned up nothing. The PI has news—but it’s about Derek: he’s been having an affair with a much-younger woman.

While this news shakes Marin to her core, this time she’s not going to fall apart. Now she has an enemy she can fight to save her family. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Little Secrets was so good!! I really was captivated by this new book by Jennifer Hillier. It was full of twists and turns and emotional poignancy. While I figured stuff out before the end, I really kept waiting for another shoe to drop, and I was totally hooked. I was a huge fan of Hillier’s last book, Jar of Hearts, and this was equally great.

NetGalley and Minotaur Books provided me with an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!!

This book publishes April 21.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Book Review: "Fence Vol. 1" by C.S. Pacat, Johanna the Mad, and Joana LaFuente

Who knew there could be this much drama in fencing?

Nicholas dreams of becoming a fencing champion. Despite natural ability, he’s never had the opportunity to train properly or learn the right skills and strategies to succeed, but the fire of his determination fuels him on.

When he encounters teen sensation Seiji Katayama, he longs to make his mark so that the champion will notice his talent, but the match doesn’t go well, and Seiji dismisses him as a zero.

The two meet up again when Nicholas gets a scholarship to the prestigious King’s Row School and he must fight for a place on the fencing team against Seiji, who has nothing but disdain for him and anyone who dares challenge him.

Along the way there are rivalries, romances (one-sided ones, mostly), and challenges, as the entire team fights for their slots. Will Nicholas get out of his head and fence the way he truly can? Will Seiji face humility? Will dreamy Aiden get his comeuppance from all the boys he loves and discards?

This was a fun, tremendously well-drawn graphic novel which was mostly a set-up for future volumes. I’m totally hooked, though, so I’ll be ordering the next few volumes quickly, because I don’t like to be left hanging!

Definitely a quick, enjoyable read.

Book Review: "Last Couple Standing" by Matthew Norman

Can you save your marriage by tearing it apart? Matthew Norman's new novel, Last Couple Standing, attempts to answer that question.

They were the Core Four—four couples that met and paired up in college and remained inseparable friends. But 15 years later, one by one, the couples are breaking up, leaving Mitch and Jessica the only couple still together.

While the two don’t feel unhappy with each other or their relationship, although raising two kids and working can be exhausting, they worry that they, too, will fall prey to whatever brought their friends’ marriages to a halt. There has to be a way to inoculate their marriage and save their relationship.

The more they think about it, they realize the biggest problem for their friends was the desire to have sex with other people. So what if they head this off at the pass and allow experimentation—won’t this quench the desire and then let everything get back to normal?

They go so far as to set ground rules and approach everything methodically. No one they know, no repeat performances, etc. But they don’t count on handsome bartenders, recently divorced neighbors, coincidences, misunderstandings, and how the flush of desire actually feels with someone other than your spouse. Will this experiment save their marriage or actually destroy it?

This is a fun, moving, and thought-provoking book about relationships. The characters were real, flawed people who feel familiar, and while you’ve seen this story before, Norman’s wry humor and his ability to create emotional upheaval without real melodrama sets it apart.

This has movie or television adaptation written all over it!

Monday, March 23, 2020

Book Review: "Behind Every Lie" by Christina McDonald

In Behind Every Lie, a woman’s search for answers is complicated when she can’t trust her own memory.

The last thing Eva remembers is finding a knife in her hand and her mother’s body unconscious in front of her. But then the cops found her not far from her mother's house. It turns out she was struck by lightning and sustained a brain injury. And to top it off, her mother is dead and the cops suspect Eva.

She couldn’t have killed her mother, could she? They always had a prickly relationship, but why would she have killed her? As Eva tries to remember what happened that fateful night, she discovers that her mother had some secrets, but were they secrets worth killing for?

Against the advice of everyone—her fiancé, her family, her doctors, and the police—Eva goes to London to figure out what her mother was hiding. But when she gets too close, someone is willing to kill her to keep those secrets hidden. Is the truth worth the danger? And who is it that wants to keep her from finding it out?

There are a lot of twists in this book. One I figured out within the first few pages (which annoys me), but Christina McDonald kept throwing more twists and coincidences into the mix. It was confusing after a while and I had to reread part to be sure I understood.

The book's narration switches back and forth between Eva in the present and trying to make sense of that fateful night, and Kat, her mother, years later, so you understand her impetus for keeping secrets. I loved McDonald's last book, The Night Olivia Fell, so much, but although the emotional content of the story in this book resonated with me, it just didn’t appeal to me overall.

Lots of other people loved this, so I’m starting to wonder if thrillers are my jam. Don't be dissuaded by my review.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Book Review: "Anna K" by Jenny Lee

Anna K is a retelling of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, set among rich, privileged teenagers of New York City and Greenwich, Connecticut society.

Anna is the beautiful, smart daughter of a powerful South Korean businessman. She mostly prefers the company of her horses and show dogs to the society elite, so she attends a fancy prep school in Connecticut, as opposed to her older brother, Steven, who attends a private school in New York City.

Anna has been dating Alexander since she was 14 and he was a few years older. He now attends Yale and has his future mapped out, including marrying Anna. This is a perfect match society-wise. Anna really does love Alexander and can see spending the rest of her life with him. But sometimes she wonders whether something is missing, something more exciting.

When she meets Alexia Vronsky, she realizes that something has been missing from her relationship with Alexander. From the moment the two set eyes on each other, they are physically and emotionally drawn together. Anna knows that Alexia has a reputation as a womanizer—he’s allegedly called “the Count” because you can’t count how many girls want to be with him—but even though she knows her future is supposed to be with Alexander, she can’t stay away from Vronsky. Does she do what is right, what is expected, or does she follow her heart?

The book follows the pair’s tempestuous relationship along with other romantic duos. There’s scandal, sex, lots of drugs, and outrageous spending, not to mention a great deal of melodrama. There are elements of so many other stories and movies in here, which makes it compelling even though I felt the book moved fairly slowly.

Do you need to have read Anna Karenina? No, I haven't, and it didn't detract from my being immersed in the story. Jenny Lee shares in her author's notes some general plot points and how they parallel her story.

This is the first YA book I’d say parents should really read first to determine whether it’s right for your kids given all of the drugs, mostly. And if you’re looking for a light read, this isn’t it!

Friday, March 20, 2020

Book Review: "The Swap" by Robyn Harding

As far as Robyn Harding's upcoming novel The Swap is concerned, no one’s talking about a BOOK swap, that’s for sure!!

Low is a lonely high school senior who is either ostracized or ignored by her peers. Living on a small island in the Pacific Northwest with her polyamorous parents and their lovers, she keeps hoping something better will come along and take her away from her boring life.

And then she meets Freya, a beautiful, ethereal blonde offering pottery classes to anyone interested. Low jumps at the chance to spend time with this woman, whom it turns out is married to a handsome former pro hockey player. They spend a lot of time together and Low feels seen, feels appreciated for the first time. Freya tells Low she's the only person who understands her, tells her how special she is to her.

But when Freya meets Jamie, a woman closer to her in age, the two hit it off, leaving a jealous Low to seethe on the sidelines. Jamie and her husband have moved to the island to recover from the anguish of not being able to have a baby.

One wild night when the two couples are enjoying some illegal substances, Freya proposes swapping spouses. They don’t plan to speak about it again—and everything goes off the rails from there.

Harding throws in some good twists so I’ll leave my plot summary here. Suffice it to say there’s all the betrayal, double crossing, manipulation, and melodrama you’d expect, and even some you don’t. She is great at keeping you hooked!!

NetGalley, Gallery Books, and Scout Press gave me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

The book publishes June 23.

Book Review: "The Wife and the Widow" by Christian White

What would you risk to find out the truth? That's a question at the core of Christian White's new mystery, The Wife and the Widow.

Kate and her daughter are awaiting her husband John’s return to Australia from a conference in London. When he doesn't arrive at the airport when his flight does, they find out he never boarded the flight he was supposed to be on. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to secrets John was keeping.

Kate and her father-in-law travel to Belport, a remote Australian island where the family has had a summer home since John's childhood, in the hopes John may have escaped there for some reason. But when John’s body is found, it leaves Kate with so many questions beyond who killed him. She wonders about her marriage, as well as how well she actually knew her husband and understood the demons he was wrestling with.

Meanwhile, Abby and her husband and family live on Belport, where in the winter, life is so dull, she turns to true crime books for excitement. But when a body is found, it rocks the island community. The more she notices that her husband has been acting suspiciously, the more she’s determined to figure out what secrets he’s been hiding.

Two women are determined to find the truth about their husbands. They don’t know how far they’ll need to go, or what they’ll find. But they know they can't stop until they reach the truth.

I saw this book on a lot of friends’ feeds when it was released last month so I was looking forward to reading it. This is a bit of a slow-burn mystery but a pretty compelling one, and White threw in some fascinating twists, with at least one I totally didn’t see coming. (I'll admit there was a moment in the book where I thought, "wait, how is that..." but then I moved on.)

I really liked the way White tells a story, so although not everything in the book added up for me, I’ll definitely go back and read his earlier book, The Nowhere Child.

Book Review: "Under the Rainbow" by Celia Laskey

Celia Laskey's Under the Rainbow is a collection of poignant, thought-provoking, interconnected stories about an interesting social experiment of sorts.

Big Burr, Kansas has been determined to be the most homophobic town in the U.S. by a nonprofit group. The group decides to send an LGBTQ task force to live and work in Big Burr, and see what inroads can be made in a two-year period.

As task force members try to adjust their lives—which weren’t necessarily all that well-adjusted wherever they came from—to life in Big Burr, they encounter the expected reactions and some surprising ones, but aren’t quite sure what it all will mean. And while the residents of Big Burr aren’t all that happy about the visitors to their town, it's not always for the reasons you’d expect.

Laskey’s stories focus both on task force members and town residents. There's the daughter of the task force leader, who craves a "regular" life instead of an "alternative" life in the spotlight; the mother grieving over her son's death, who finds comfort among the outcasts; the man who has done everything expected of him, who wants to step out of the closet but is afraid of the consequences; and a task force member who thought his relationship with his partner might get better with a change of scenery, only to find they are slipping into old habits; and many more.

Some of the stories are poignant and moving and some just didn't quite resonate for me, but while at first many of these characters seem like one-note stereotypes, Laskey provides complexity, emotion, and some depressing moments in a number of the stories. (One story in particular just knocked me for a loop.)

This book definitely made me think and Laskey is a talented storyteller. Ultimately, though, I don’t know what the message of the book was. I felt like there were a lot of incidents left dangling, and while the epilogue was used to bring closure it actually pointed out the moments I would’ve loved to have seen in the book, more tell than show.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Book Review: "You Are Not Alone" by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

In You Are Not Alone, the latest thriller from Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, a witness to a suicide has her entire life upended because of her curiosity.

It seems like just another day: Shay is headed to her office to update her resume. In a crowded subway station, she sees a woman’s necklace fall. As Shay reaches to pick it up, she sees something even more horrifying: the woman jumps in front of the moving train.

The suicide rocks Shay completely. What would cause this woman, Amanda, to take her own life? She feels compelled to learn more about her and decides to attend the memorial service Amanda’s friends are having for her, to perhaps understand what might have driven her to suicide.

As Shay faces challenge after challenge in her own life—she needs to find a job and a new place to live, and she can’t go near the subway since the incident—trying to understand more about Amanda is the only thing that buoys her. When she meets Cassandra and Jane, two beautiful sisters that seem to have it all who were Amanda’s friends, they seem to be the answer to her prayers. But she doesn’t realize that their assistance comes at a very high cost, and her curiosity is causing ripples that might endanger everything—especially her life.

So, umm, this didn’t work for me. I saw lots of great reviews so it's got me thinking #maybeitsjustme. I guess I don’t like the type of thriller where the villains are always like five steps ahead, and are seemingly ordinary people yet have all of this ability to do bad things. And the coincidences? Come ON.

Lots and lots of other friends on Goodreads and Bookstagram are big thriller lovers so if you were planning to read this don’t be dissuaded by my opinion. I’m definitely an outlier here. I enjoyed their last book, An Anonymous Girl, quite a bit.

Ah well, on to the next!!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Book Review: "The Two Lives of Lydia Bird" by Josie Silver

Gotta love a book that has you sobbing in the wee hours of the morning!! Such was the case with Josie Silver's new book, The Two Lives of Lydia Silver.

Life can change in a split second. One second Lydia was waiting for her fiancé, Freddie, to arrive at her birthday dinner; the next second she learns that he was killed in a car accident on the way.

"It's probably for the best if the last time you do something momentous passes you by unheralded: the last time my mother collected me at the school gate, her hand reassuring around my smaller one, the last time my father remembered my birthday. The last time I spoke to Freddie Hunter as he dashed back to see me on my twenty-eighth birthday. Do you know what the last words he said to me were? Over and out."

Lydia and Freddie have been a part of each other’s lives since high school, and she has loved him since she was 14. She doesn’t know how to get through a day, let alone the rest of her life without him, but her family and friends try to help her navigate her grief.

One day she discovers a world where Freddie is still alive, and there, her life goes on from that fatal night. She cherishes every additional moment with Freddie and gets to envision picking out her wedding dress, the simple moments of sharing a life together. Little by little, though, she begins to see that even the fairytale life she's witnessing has its rough spots in unexpected places.

As she takes tentative steps to regain control of her life, she has to decide: live for what could have been despite its challenges, or live for now, and be present for those who love you. It’s a difficult decision for Lydia to make.

"There isn't a handy grief blueprint. You don't get over losing someone you love in six months or two years or twenty, but you do have to find a way to carry on living without feeling as if everything that comes afterward is second best."

Sure, the premise of the book is a little unrealistic, but I just found it so moving and beautifully told. I didn’t always love Lydia’s character but I just loved this story, and I so enjoy the way Josie Silver writes, having been totally besotted with her debut novel, One Day in December.

Book Review: "Check, Please! Book 1: #Hockey" by Ngozi Ukazu

OMG!! Can I have a million more volumes of this graphic novel series, please?

Eric “Bitty” Bittle doesn’t quite seem like your typical college hockey player—he’s really short, he’s a former figure skater, and he can bake like no one’s business. But typical or not, he’s landed a place on Samwell University’s hockey team.

Bitty is using his popular vlog to chronicle his adventures in college—endless practices, the hockey bros who become his best friends, and all of the amazing treats he bakes. Oh, and the fact that he tends to faint when he’s about to get checked, which in hockey is kind of an issue. (One of his teammates is convinced they can make a play out of it, but the coaches don't seem to listen.)

He also talks about the team captain, Jack Zimmermann, son of a Canadian hockey legend. Jack is serious about hockey—sometimes to the point of being mean—but his teammates all worship him, none more than Bitty, who probably feels even a little stronger for him. Jack certainly feels the pressure of living up to a legendary father and figuring out what professional team he should play on after he graduates.

Coming from Georgia, Bitty found it difficult to be himself. But in college he’s going to live life on his own terms, and hopes his teammates and friends will accept that. (Lord knows they love Bitty’s baking!)

Check, Please! is honestly one of the best graphic novels I’ve read, both in plot and quality of illustration. (It's interesting: at first glance I thought this was going to be a more juvenile-oriented book but it's definitely not, and the artwork is much more complex than first meets the eye.) Ngozi Ukazu gave this book so much authenticity and so much heart—it really is a story about hockey, bros, baking, and self-acceptance. Can you beat that?

Book 2 comes out in April and I can’t wait. This is just so sweet and funny and heartwarming. Another book I'm grateful has found its way into the hands of the younger generation.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Book Review: "The Dark Corners of the Night" by Meg Gardiner

Fans of creepy crime thrillers, this series is for you!!

A serial killer is targeting Los Angeles families. Smart, ruthless, methodical, the so-called “Midnight Man” kills both husband and wife, but leaves any children physically unharmed but terrorized, left looking at ritualistic symbols and heeding frightening warnings from the man who killed their parents.

Desperate to catch this killer, the LAPD brings in the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, including profiler Caitlin Hendrix. The daughter of a former cop, she’s young but tough as nails when it comes to her job. She also bears the physical and emotional scars of past cases, and while her extreme empathic nature makes her good at what she does it also takes its toll on her.

As the killer becomes more and more brash, the discoveries they make about him shock them, particularly Caitlin, and make it both easier and more difficult to stop him. It’s a dangerous battle with unexpected adversaries, and this killer will do all he can to wreak havoc.

Meg Gardiner’s “UNSUB” series is really intense and well-written. This is the third book in the series. They're dark and suspenseful and tremendously well-written. I love Caitlin’s character. Her sensitivity really sets her apart and I love her relationship with Sean, which didn’t get as much coverage in this book as I would’ve liked.

I think this book definitely is setting up one hell of a fourth book. There’s a lot of action and violence in here but it never seems gratuitous. If you love crime novels, pick up this series.

Thanks to NetGalley and Blackstone Publishing for an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!!

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Book Review: "Into the Fire" by Gregg Hurwitz

The fifth book in Gregg Hurwitz's Orphan X series, Into the Fire is a pulse-pounding thriller with emotional heft to it.

Evan Smoak has been moving since he was young. Pulled out of a foster home and recruited into a super-secret government program, he once was Orphan X, one of the most lethal assassins ever.

When he had enough of killing because people told him to, he reinvented himself as the Nowhere Man, a guardian angel for those in the most desperate of situations. He’ll do whatever it takes to help those truly needing the kind of help he can provide.

Max is that person. Living a desolate, lonely life, his cousin, a forensic accountant, was just brutally murdered. The same cousin who once gave him an envelope with a key in it and told him what to do in the event he died. And now people are looking for the key, some who are clearly evil and some who hide their evil deep below the surface. Max may not be happy with how his life turned out but he doesn't want to die yet.

What seems like a dangerous but fairly simple operation for Evan turns out to be anything but. And as the puzzle becomes more and more complicated—and deadly—to solve, he is torn between this mission of the Nowhere Man he gave himself and the desire for a “real” life.

"'Redemption' was an imperfect word for what he was seeking. Confronting the world with his own code, illuminating the darkness with the guttering light of his own morality—that was a process of becoming. Becoming less sharp. More human."

This is one of the best thriller series out there. Evan Smoak is such an incredible character and Gregg Hurwitz has created an amazingly complex world, and in doing so, has written a thriller series that balances incredible action scenes with rich character development.

I can’t wait to see where Hurwitz goes with this series. My thanks to NetGalley, Minotaur Books, and St. Martin’s Press for an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!!

Book Review: "Marriage on Madison Avenue" by Lauren Layne

Marriage on Madison Avenue was the sweet, romantic end to a fun trilogy.

"Audrey still believed in happy endings. She believed in them with her whole heart. She believed that a man and a woman could get married and live happily ever after as long as someone else didn't come along and ruin that happiness."

Audrey and Clarke have been best friends since childhood. She knows he’s a womanizer; he knows she has been nursing a broken heart for a while now after discovering her boyfriend was married. (And had another girlfriend.) But they’re almost always each other’s plus one, buddy, or confidante, depending upon what’s needed.

At times, Audrey has been needed to pretend her relationship with Clarke is more serious, in order to thwart a woman he’s not interested in. But when an old girlfriend who actually wounded Charlie returns, and his manipulative mother tries to push them together, Charlie doubles-down on his favorite defense, and tells them he and Audrey are engaged.

Battling a social media scandal of her own, the idea of a fake engagement doesn’t seem as wrong to Audrey as it should. But as they’re forced to make their relationship seem more genuine, and they try to figure out how to disentangle themselves, she starts falling in love with the planning process, with the idea of actually getting married. And as someone who has shied away from love, she starts to realize that she’s having real feelings for the one person she shouldn’t—her fake fiancé. But he couldn’t feel the same way, could he?

Layne’s "Central Park Pact" trilogy was a lot of fun, and this is a fitting end. (I'm sad it's the end, but I get it.) I will admit that the fake love trope may be my least favorite, and I thought the will-they-or-won’t-they thing went on a bit too long, but I enjoyed these characters very much. This series definitely surpassed my initial expectations—I was expecting Sex and the City but got much more than that.

Here’s to another book that makes you fall in love with love!!

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Book Review: "Journey: A Novel" by Andrew Zimmerman

What a tremendously thought-provoking read!

I’m honored to participate on the blog tour for this book, and thank Get Red PR, Radius Book Group, and Andy Zimmerman for advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review!

Paul is driven, a workaholic, on a path to become the CEO of an immense technology company. You’ve seen his type before—always on conference calls or emails, barely listening to a word anyone around him says, neglecting his needy wife and teenage son.

When talking with some friends visiting from the English town of Glastonbury—a mystical mecca of sorts—he learns of a woman working as a soul reader. According to Paul’s friend, this woman’s work has greatly affected others’ lives. Although he usually has disdain for the spiritual "woo woo" world, he is intrigued by the idea of having his soul read.

His encounter with Cynthia, the soul reader, changes him. He starts to recognize the value of slowing down, nurturing his soul, appreciating his wife and children more. But he doesn’t do it at the expense of his job—he just tries to shift his priorities as much as possible in the midst of the pressure.

As his awakening of sorts continues he makes some fascinating discoveries about himself and his life, and his wife both enjoys and feels threatened by his new path.

Can you achieve spiritual satisfaction simultaneously with happiness in your personal and professional life? Does making yourself vulnerable always signify weakness?

I’m not much into the spiritual world but I found this to be a quick, thought-provoking read which definitely has me re-evaluating my priorities a bit.

Book Review: "Foul is Fair" by Hannah Capin

Hannah Capin's Foul is Fair is dark, violent, and utterly crazy, but I am OBSESSED with this book!

If the mean girls of Megan Abbott and Kara Thomas’ books teamed up with Regina George and the cast of Heathers in a retelling of Macbeth, you’d have this amazingly insane book. (And that description doesn’t even really do it justice.)

Elle and her “coven” of best friends—together they’re a quartet of obscenely wealthy, beautiful California girls—decide to celebrate her 16th birthday by crashing a party being thrown by the popular crowd at St. Andrews, a tony Catholic school. That night, something happens to Elle at the hands of a group of dazzlingly handsome, privileged lacrosse players. Something awful. Something for which she and her coven vow to seek revenge.

"I can take every single thing they tried to ruin and make it mine again. Make it a weapon that cuts them down and bleeds them dry."

She reinvents herself as Jade, a new, bewitching, take-no-prisoners student at St. Andrews. She infiltrates the popular crowd and begins to work her plan of turning them all against each other, and finds one boy, her king, to set it all in motion.

There’s a lot here—rape, violence, drugs, blood—but Capin does such an excellent job weaving this story together. I seriously couldn’t read this one fast enough. It is really, really dark, and of course, utterly preposterous in places, but it will stick in my mind for a long, long time.

(True confession time: I never read Macbeth, so other than the similarities in character names, I'm not sure exactly how many parallels there are, but that didn't bother me anyway!)

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Book Review: "A Good Girl's Guide to Murder" by Holly Jackson

You know the feeling when you literally sit in the car outside your office and race to finish your book? That's what happened to me this morning with Holly Jackson's excellent debut novel, A Good Girl's Guide to Murder.

“...I don’t know who I am when I’m not working, when I’m not focused on or totally consumed by a task. Who am I between the projects and the assignments, when there’s nothing to do? I haven’t found her yet as it scares me. Maybe that’s why, for my senior capstone project this year, I decided to solve a murder.”

The murder of Andie Bell rocked Pippa Fitz-Amobi’s small New England town five years ago. She was pretty and popular, and when her boyfriend killed himself shortly after she disappeared, the case quickly closed, even if Andie’s body was never found.

But for some reason, Pippa has always felt some nagging sense that the case wasn’t as cut and dry as it appeared. She thinks everyone was too quick to accuse Sal, Andie’s boyfriend, of the crime, even if all signs pointed to his guilt.

When she decides to focus on the case as her senior capstone project, she doesn’t have any expectations of turning up new evidence, finding new suspects, or stirring up chaos, but all of those things occur. She also puts herself and her family in danger, especially as she stumbles closer and closer to answers to some unresolved questions.

How far should she go? She can’t seem to stop, especially because she wants to prove Sal’s innocence to his younger brother, Ravi, who becomes her partner of sorts. But just what is the truth? And who will it hurt if it is revealed?

This book was so good!! Even though I predicted some stuff (and as per usual, treated everyone like a potential suspect), I couldn’t get enough of this mystery. I really liked Pippa and Ravi, and I was completely hooked on the story, which had lots of twists and turns. Plus, how cool of a name is Pippa Fitz-Amobi?

Trigger warning: some implied animal cruelty, although it happens outside the narrative.

So glad this one was worth the hype, and can't wait to see what Jackson does next.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Book Review: "Oona Out of Order" by Margarita Montimore

As if life isn’t complicated enough without time travel?

“How long ‘til my soul gets it right?”
—Indigo Girls, “Galileo”

NYC, 1982. It’s New Year’s Eve. At midnight, Oona will turn 19. She’s exactly where she wants to be—at a party with her beloved boyfriend and friends, and their band is about to perform. She has a tough decision to make: should she go study economics in London or should she stay and perform with the band? But regardless of what she chooses to do, she knows it’s going to be a great year.

Then the clock strikes midnight...and when she wakes up she’s 51 years old. She’s told by a friendly stranger that she has a condition where on the cusp of the new year every year, she leaps either forward or backward in time.

This discovery is bewildering for Oona. She tries to understand all that has changed in her world and the world around her, and as she connects with the constants in her life she tries to figure out how to spend the time until she can hopefully make it back to that night in 1982.

Oona Out of Order follows Oona as she travels back and forth through her life. Guided by advice from her previous self, advice she sometimes takes and sometimes ignores, she makes some big mistakes and some shocking discoveries. Ultimately she realizes the things she can and cannot change, and is buoyed by a series of loves.

This is a poignant, moving, tremendously thought-provoking book that is so beautifully written. I love books about time travel, especially those which deal with the emotional aspects rather than the scientific. There were so many wondrous moments to be found here.

I really enjoyed this and loved the characters, including the supporting characters, so much. I felt like it dragged a bit in the middle (maybe one too many leaps through time, even though each one added more depth to her story), but I couldn’t stop reading because I needed to know how Margarita Montimore would tie things up.

This is one I won’t soon forget.